Do I need to go send some big ship with fuel to make sure these guys can be safely brought through the Panama Canal and deployed somewhere more useful?
It's important for every Allied player to understand that off-map movement does not consume fuel, does not accrue damage, and can be done at Full speed without any effects such as fuel depletion or damage accrual. So, for example, small ships like xAKLs can do runs between EC and CT by themselves without fuel worries. Back and forth for years with no need to repair. This ability is built into the design. It's one advantage the Allies have right away when the game starts, when they have few others. It lets supplies and fuel get to the front quickly and safely, at least for a large part of the trip.
Playing the Allies one should do every bit of business possible off-map. It saves time, escorts, damage, fuel, and VPs.