Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters to Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations
CABLEGRAM SENT 3rd August 1917
To Opnav, Washington Serial No. 188
Number one hundred and eighty-eight. Understand from your cable of July twenty-second through Admiralty1 that you wish to know first the present manner and extent of use of the naval aircraft of Great Britain and France and types of aircraft used; second the results obtained and consequently the importance which may be given to this branch of naval effort; third the manner and extent to which the United States naval aircraft could be used and the types of aircraft which could be provided (stop) The proved value of naval aircraft is very great and is limited only by limitations of personnel and material (stop) (Paragraph) Manner of use (stop) First, anti-submarine work, as follows (stop) Channel constantly patrolled and all military transports escorted; constant patrols from numerous aircraft stations around coast for purpose of finding and destroying submarines and mines; escort and protection of merchant ships and patrol of steamship lanes; short patrols by fast machines for attack on submarines reported within sixty miles of coast; offensive bombing attacks against submarine bases; increasing visibility of destroyers, transports and other craft with kite balloons (stop) Seaplanes operating from seaplane carriers, carrying on constant scouting over North Sea, attack Zeppelins and other enemy scouting aircraft and search for submarines, kite balloons used with destroyers and cruisers for scouting (stop) (paragraph) Extent of use (stop) In month of June sixty-five thousand miles were flown oversea by British seaplanes and aeroplanes and fifty thousand by British airships (stop) In France in June thirty-nine hundred hours of flight were carried out oversea (stop) (paragraph) Types of aircraft found most useful (stop) for coast patrol and naval reconnaissance the large seaplane or flying boat such as American type is undoubtedly the best (stop) See my cable of April twenty-first through the State Department2 (stop) Two-seater float type seaplane is used in greater quantities than any other (stop) Used for patrols up to four hours at speed of fifty-five to sixty knots, carries three one-hundred-pound bombs, used for anti-submarine patrol up to sixty miles from coast, equipped with machine gun and radio (stop) Small fast seaplane carrying two sixty-five-pound bombs for hurriedly executing an immediate attack, has two hours fuel and no radio (stop) Dirigibles very useful for long patrols; kite balloons for scouting and use in connection with destroyers (stop) (paragraph) Results obtained (stop) As yet there have been no cases of ships attacked by submarines while escorted by aircraft (stop) April to July fifteenth British have attacked submarines thirty-two times (stop) French in May attacked fourteen times and in June ten times (stop) Impossible to give indication of number of ships saved by submarines being forced to dive before being seen by aircraft (stop) many bombing attacks carried out on enemy bases and much valuable scouting done (stop) (paragraph) The direction our naval aircraft efforts should take (stop) (paragraph) In assisting the work to be done around British coast, the best we could do would be to follow the course outlined by my cable number sixty-nine3 (stop) The units so provided would be used to take over certain areas of anti-submarine patrol and reconnaissance, the size of these areas being dependent on the units provided (stop) Such assistance would be of great importance and you would be justified in going as far as your constructional and training facilities permit (stop) (paragraph) In France it is proposed that the United States naval aircraft effort should be devoted to first preventing egress of submarines from Zeebrugge, second protecting military transports and commerce arriving on coast of France between Brest and northern shores of Spain, third destroy submarines mining the shores of Bay of Biscay, fourth provide supplementary effort to protect shores of Mediterranean by establishing stations at Cette [Sète, France] and Ajaccio, Corsica (stop) This would call for twelve stations of about sixteen hydroplanes each and two dirigible balloon stations; total personnel, three thousand officers and men (stop) The types of aircraft which should be provided are first large flying boats, second dirigibles (stop) To bring about close co-operation between United States Navy and Allies on question of aircraft policy and development it is very important that you send over an officer on whose judgement you can rely and make him responsible for advising you on all matters concerning aircraft (stop) At present you have Westerveldt [sic] and Child over here observing and advising on material;4 the Naval Attache’s office is given some responsibility on the same question and I am asked to advise on policies and plans (stop) Major Boling [sic], although connected with the Army only, is still another representative of the United States on aircraft questions (stop) If your efforts are to be properly directed and co-ordinated with work already going on here, you should designate some one man for the responsibility and provide him with the proper assistance (stop) Sending a British aircraft officer over to you would not do much good as none would have a sufficiently broad knowledge to be able to answer all your questions (stop) On the other hand, if you have representatives here, they can get the answers to anything you ask and, in addition, can be constantly searching for information which will be useful to you (stop) Fuller information by next mail.5
Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.
Footnote 1: See: Daniels to Sims, 22 July 1917.
Footnote 2: See: Sims to Daniels, 21 April 1917.
Footnote 3: See: Sims to Daniels, 3 July 1917.
Footnote 4: Naval Constructor George C. Westervelt and Lt. Warren G. Child. Both men were members of the Bolling Commission, an aeronautical mission headed by Maj. Raynal C. Bolling. The Commission travelled to Europe as the official representative of Secretary of War Newton D. Baker and the Aircraft Production Board, and was tasked with studying the types of military aircraft being used by the Allied Powers, and then determining which types the United States should begin producing and which should be purchased from European sources. The Commission left for Europe on 17 June 1917 and arrived in Liverpool on 26 June. The members of the mission spent a week in London, and then travelled to airfields and factories throughout Great Britain. The commission then did the same in France (two weeks) and Italy (ten days) before returning to Paris, issuing its recommendations to Washington on 15 August. For additional information, see, Bernard C. Nalty, ed. Winged Shield, Winged Sword: A History of the United States Air Force, Vol. I (Washington, D.C.: Air Force History and Museum Program, USAF: 1997), 48-49, and Maurer Maurer, The U.S. Air Service in World War I, Vol. I: The Final Report and A Tactical History (Washington, D.C.: Officer of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1978), 53.
Footnote 5: See: Sims to Benson, 4 August 1917 and Sims to Benson, 7 August 1917.