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Archives of Naval War College, Call No. UNOpP. Declassified in accordance with DOD Memo of 3 May 1972, Subject: Declassification of World War II Records.

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Attack on Halifax and Adjacent Territory

Lt. J. J. Hunker, USN


Note: The Naval War College Class of 1894, as part of a revised curriculum introduced that year, produced a plan for a hypothetical war with the United Kingdom. The exercise was intended to sharpen the strategic thinking of the naval officers attending the college. The resulting report included a plan for a joint expedition to seize Halifax, Nova Scotia, and to destroy the coal mines of that British province.  The purpose of the proposed expedition was to inhibit the enemy's ability to attack the East Coast of the United States by depriving the enemy of a nearby naval base and a source of fuel for its coal-powered warships.


Attack on Halifax and Adjacent Territory

Lt. J. J. Hunker, USN


Expedition to Attack Halifax and Interrupt Enemy’s Communications

            The third committee, in connection with the solution of the Problem begs to submit the following:

            To harass the enemy’s garrison & arsenal at Halifax, to interrupt the lines of communication with that point and the scenes of operation against our coast, to destroy R.R., to destroy railways in adjacent districts, to destroy the means of operating the coal mines in the county of Pictou, we would suggest an expeditionary force of not less than ten thousand (10,000) men, including infantry, artillery, cavalry, one company engineers, with necessary transportation, and with as few horses as possible, consistent with efficiency.

            The Division should consist of: two brigades, one squadron of cavalry, three batteries of artillery and one company of engineers, a total strength of 10,059 men of all ranks.

            The gross tonnage for the transportation of this division is as follows:

For 10,059 officers and men   22,633.
ʺ 600 draught animals    6,000.
ʺ Casualties, & replace disabled stm’rs [steamers] and for towing, floating repair ships &c. 10%   2863
  Total tonnage   31,496

            This tonnage is found in the following list of vessels, taken from the Lloyds Register.

Gross Tonnage.
1 “City of Brockton” 2,771.
2 City of Taunton 2,882
3 City of Para. 3,532.
4 City of Panama. 1,490.
5 City of Columbia. 1,878.
6 City of Rio de Janeiro. 3,548.
7 City of Washington.            2,635.
8 City of San Antonio. 1,605.
9 City of Savannah 2,029.
10 Chatahouchee 2,676
11 Chalmott 2,983.
12 H. F. Dimick 1,786
13 Harman Winter 1,769
14 Old Dominion 1,776
15 Seneca 1,912.
16 Wyanoke 1660.

The above tonnage with a convoy from the main fleet, not less than 8 cruisers, 4 C. & 2 D, 2 gunboats, Yorktown class, [that is, 8 cruisers, consisting of 4 cruisers, 2 destroyers and 2 gunboats, Yorktown class] and 6 torpedo boats would be adequate to transport, convoy, disembark & defend landing of the division.

            The points of embarkation should be at least three, if practicable, and Boston, Portsmouth and Portland are convenient and suitable places, an allotment of tonnage being made in keeping with the indiv[id]ual facilities at those points.

            Portsmouth is selected on account of the Navy Yard facilities, and an appropriate place to fit a repair ship; Boston on account of its protected harbor and water frontage & wharves; Portland would accommodate a small tonnage, but has great depth of water and is near the point of rendezvous, the mouth of the Penobscot River. All three ports have good railway facilities, a maritime population & shipwrights, besides many other skilled mechanics, to draw upon.

            The troops should come, preferably, from New England, not only to save transportation, but would then be more or less familiar with the coast and country in which they embark.

            The destination of this force should be kept a profound secret, and the moment hostilities are decided upon all possible means of ascertaining the condition of the objective should be resorted to.

            To obtain this information a body of astute, intelligent men should be selected to comprise a secret service, and placed in charge of an officer familiar with such work. Such a man could be readily selected from the detection forces of our large cities.

            The force being embarked should assemble off the mouth of the Penobscot River, and there await instructions. The weather conditions which would probably exist at this time, the late autumn, at this point on the coast, would be cold weather, brisk to fresh W. to N.W. winds.

            The moment the main body of the enemy’s fleet & transports had sailed from Halifax and were beyond signal communication with the Nova Scotia shore, the expedition should sail for St. Margarets Bay, the first harbor to the Wd. of Halifax. This distance is 310 K. and with a sea speed of 85 knots should be covered in time to effect an entrance to the Bay at early daylight.

            It is assumed that the overland telegraph lines have been seized by the military authorities, and also the three (3) submarine cables from Mass. (2) & N.H. (1), to Nova Scotia.

            St. Margaret’s Bay is selected because, the best information available seems to show, it is not fortified, and by a hasty move no time would be allowed to fortify it. It is less than 20 miles


by each of two main roadways from Halifax, which is said not to be so heavily fortified, on the land side as upon the sea. Ingress and egress is easy, the entrance being 2 miles wide, sufficient sea room in case of fog or storms, is well sheltered, good anchorage and it contains a number of islands useful for a variety of purposes, such as hospitals &c. &c. The Bay is 9 miles long, maximum width 3 miles giving a shoreline of 25 miles.

            Apparently the beaches are practicable for landing, and the landing could be easily covered.

            The fleet of transports once at anchor in the Bay the entrance should be carefully guarded by the convoy, and the torpedo boats be in readiness to attack.

            The landings, as many as possible, being covered the landing should commence at once and be continued uninterruptedly until completed. The men should be supplied with 2 days’ cooked rations and ample ammunition, and above all with good foot-gear as snow & frost are likely to be encountered at this season.

            If nothing prevents the movement should commence in force as soon as possible, and by as many approaches as can be found available. Communication with the fleet and rear must be carefully maintained both by signal stations & telegraph or telephone lines.

            The details of the embarking and landing have been so ably touched upon during the course that they are omitted here. We deem it sufficient to say that the transports have been adequately provided with boats, and barges for the landing of men, animals and supplies. That everything has been placed in readiness to make a hasty embarkation in case of defeat or, the purposes of the expedition having been accomplished, the force ordered to reembark.

            The estimate of tonnage and supplies contemplate an absence from the home ports not to exceed ten (10) days.

            Following the occupation of the highways, the garrison of Halifax must be confined to the limits of its works. Raiding parties should start in force to Pictou overcome any resistance offered, and explode in the coal mines of Pictou heavy charges to destroy the shafts, and tunnels, and render the mines incapable of being worked; the tressels and all inflammable material should be put to the torch; the hoisting and transporting machinery be destroyed or injured beyond repair. This accomplished the retreat should be along the line of railways to the main body, destroying the R.R. as soon as passed over, by burning or wrecking bridges, culverts, heating and bending the rails, & other devices, so frequently practiced during the late civil war.

            If the assault of Halifax on the land side is found impracticable the force must be embarked & return with dispatch to the place of rendezvous.


During the absence of the division the D ships and gunboats should endeavor to intercept, dispatch vessels, coal & supply steamers of the enemy, plying between Halifax and the main fleet of the enemy operating on our coast.

            The raiding party, in force, upon the Pictou mines must start at the earliest moment practicable, in order to cover the distance, 70 miles, and return within the limited times allowed, and also to make the raid as much of a surprise as possible.

            Instructions to the Fleet of 16 Transports and 8 armed vessels comprising the convoy.

            The formation will be the “square” with steamers carrying wagons to the rear, to assist by towing, or otherwise, any disabled transports.

            Two C’s in the van, 2 C’s on the flanks. 2 gunboats to the rear while the 2 D’s should act as scouts. In case of separation the rendezvous will be the destination as originally arranged, if for any reason vessels are unable to reach that point they will return to the most available home port.

            The commander-in-chief will make such arrangements to receive information while at sea as to enable him to be overtaken by important dispatches, that might render it advisable to change the destination of the expedition, or order the enterprise to be abandoned.

            For this purpose swift class D vessels could leave with dispatches from points on the coast of Maine in telegraphic communication with the officials in authority.



Source: Archives of Naval War College, Call No. UNOpP. Declassified in accordance with DOD Memo of 3 May 1972, Subject: Declassification of World War II Records.

Published: Wed Sep 23 16:23:38 EDT 2020