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Appendix 2: The Auxiliary Vessels Board, 1941-1948

The Auxiliary Vessels Board is mentioned frequently in the histories of the ship classes on this site. It will, however, be unfamiliar to practically everyone reading these histories. It is prominent here for two reasons: the "recommendations" of the board were subsequently cited as the legal "directives" for the construction or acquisition of the ship(s) in question, and the reports of the board provide excellent summaries of the reasons why nearly all of the auxiliary vessels of this period were built or acquired.

The Auxiliary Vessels Board was established by the Secretary of the Navy in a letter dated 23 January 1941. Its function was to make recommendations to the Secretary on various matters relating to auxiliary vessels. A few days after each report was submitted the Secretary of the Navy signed an endorsement approving the board's recommendations. Curiously, the date subsequently cited for the legal "directive" to build or acquire the ships was the date of the board's recommendation, not the date of the Secretary of the Navy's approval of those recommendations. As the war progressed, the board in many cases found itself discussing actions that had already been taken, usually by the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) or Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet (CominCh) -- both positions being held for much of the war by Admiral Ernest J. King, USN. In these cases the board's "recommendation" was essentially a means of securing formal legal ratification by the civilian Secretary of the Navy of actions taken by the Navy's uniformed leadership.

Auxiliary Vessels Board Report No. 1 was submitted on 11 February 1941, and the last report issued during World War II was Report No. 104 dated 10 July 1945. The board was remarkably thorough and discussed the great majority of the auxiliary vessels added to the Navy between these dates, plus some whose acquisition it did not recommend. It was led by three senior members: Captain R. H. English, USN (February to May 1941), Captain (later Rear Admiral) W. S. Farber, USN (May 1941 to March 1942), and Captain (later Rear Admiral) V. D. Chapline, USN (March 1942 to July 1945). Two postwar reports are known: No. 105 dated 29 March 1946 relating to AF 48-49 and No. 106 dated 16 June 1948, also relating to Provision Store Ships (AF). A similar board, the District Craft Development Board, handled service craft and was issuing reports as early as May 1940 and possibly much earlier.

The following is the text of the 23 January 1941 letter establishing the Auxiliary Vessels Board:



23 January 1941

From: Secretary of the Navy.
To: All Bureaus and Offices of the Navy Department.

Subject: Auxiliary Vessels Board to Coordinate the Demands for Additional Large Ships to Convert into Naval Auxiliaries.

1. A permanent board to coordinate the demands from all sources to acquire and convert merchant ships into Naval auxiliaries is hereby established, to consist of the following members:

  • (a) The Director of Fleet Maintenance, Office of Chief of Naval Operations, Senior Member (Op-23).

  • (b) Representative of the Director of Fleet Maintenance, Office of Chief of Naval Operations, for Auxiliaries (Op-23E).

  • (c) Representative of the Director of Ship Movements, Office of Chief of Naval Operations, for Merchant Marine Liaison (Op-38S).

  • (d) Representative of the Director of Ship Movements, Office of Chief of Naval Operations, for Cargo and Fuel Ships, member and recorder (Op-38F).

  • (e) Representative of the Director of War Plans, Office of Chief of Naval Operations, for Policy and Projects (Op-12A-2).

    In addition to the above regularly appointed members, each Bureau and the Commandant of the Marine Corps will detail representatives to attend board meetings upon receipt of notification from the Senior Member that matters of interest to the Bureaus or the Marine Corps will be discussed.
2. The board will study the requests from all Naval sources, originating both in and out of the Navy Department, for additional ships of the auxiliary classes, and determine the possible dispositions of existing ships to meet the required demands, or the number and type of ships which must be acquired or built to meet essential needs. Specifically the board will recommend as to:

  • (a) Redistribution of existing auxiliaries to meet the immediate urgent needs of the Naval service where practicable.

  • (b) The number and type of Merchant Marine ships which are suitable and should be acquired for conversion into Naval auxiliaries to meet present or the immediate future needs of the Naval service.

  • (c) A progressive Naval auxiliary building program for types which are not available or cannot be obtained by acquisition, or to provide for an orderly replacement program for overage and worn out auxiliary ships.

  • (d) The establishment of a priority under which auxiliary ships should be built or acquired.
3. After recommending with respect to action to be taken in the present situation, the board will meet from time to time at the call of the Senior Member as necessary to consider changes in the situation and to submit revised recommendations to meet new conditions. Projects for successive years should be submitted by April 1 each year in order that the Bureaus concerned may provide therefor in their annual budget estimates.

4. In all of its considerations, the board will be guided by the interests of Naval efficiency and of economy, to the end that the service requirements for auxiliary ships may be adequately met by the retention, conversion, or construction of only such types and such numbers as are required.