The U.S. Navy marks the 100-year anniversary of underway replenishment to refuel and resupply combatant ships at sea in May.
Starting in 1898, the Navy began experimenting with ways to transfer coal from colliers to battle ships, spending 15 years trying different methods to perfect an at-sea transfer system. A system of alongside refueling of liquid fuel dates to 1917, when then-Lieutenant Chester Nimitz jury rigged a system with ship booms supporting two hoses between the ships. Using this system, the USS Maumee (AO2) transferred fuel to 34 destroyers during a three-month period during World War I. These fuel transfers were done with only a 40-foot separation between the moving ships.
The foundations for the Navy's current replenishment system date to the 1950s and 1960s with the development of a multi-product ship that could deliver fuel, ammunition and stores to an aircraft carrier task force. These ships saw the first use of a transfer system using a ram tensioner that keeps the highline between the ships tensioned, allowing for smooth transfer and accounting for the movement of the ships. This method evolved into the system used today, the Standard Tensioned Replenishment Alongside Method (STREAM).
Rear Adm. Dee L. Mewbourne, Commander, Military Sealift Command, said: “Our ability to successfully conduct underway replenishments gives our Navy the ability to remain on-station, forward-deployed, ready to answer the call. This is just one more example of how the work we do at Military Sealift Command, assured maritime logistics, contributes to the security of our nation.
“We should not lose sight of the fact that the success of our underway replenishment systems over these 100 years emanates from accomplished seamanship and ingenious engineering solutions. It’s really people, mariners and those who developed these systems, who enable us to celebrate this anniversary.”