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Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Operating Forces in European Waters, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels


Mercantile Convoy


          U.S.S. MELVILLE, Flagship.

13 August 1917.         

From:     Commander U.S.Naval Forces in European Waters.

To:       Secretary of Navy (Operations.)

Subject:  Convoys for allied mercantile ships.

     1.   Considerable progress has been made in establishing mercantile convoys for Allied shipping bound to the British Isle. At the present time mercantile convoys from North America are established from New York, Hampton Roads, and Sydney, Nova Scotia by the following schedule:-1. . .

     2.   Shipping from South America is sent to Dakar or Sierra Leone (African Coast) and there joined up into convoys with the shipping coming around the Cape of Good Hope.

     3.   Mediterranean shipping, west bound, is formed into convoys at Gibraltar and escorted out of dangerous water and the escort withdrawn, owing to insufficient number of escort vessels. A new escort picks up the Gibraltar convoys as they approach the British Isles.

          There are not sufficient escorting forces available to form convoys for the traffic through the Mediterranean. The whole question of traffic in the Mediterranean has recently been taken over by the British Admiralty,2 and and effort is now being made to simplify and limit the number of trade routes and to establish convoys on these routes. The U.S. vessels basing on Gibraltar will be of great assistance in this work.

     4.   Practically all the trade across the Channel from England to France, up the French Coast, up the east coast of England, and across to Holland and Scandinavia, is in convoy, and the losses have been very small, - for instance, between England and France some 6000 ships have passed in convoy with a loss of only 12 ships. Up to date more than 10,000 vessels have been escorted in convoy on various routes, with a total loss of less than 1/2 of one per cent.

     5.   At the present time there are 12 mercantile convoys approaching the British Isles, aside from Troop convoys, and the coastal convoys.

     6.   Thus far no ships in convoys from North America have been lost.

     7.   It is interesting to note that, prior to the establishment of convoys, by far the greatest shipping losses were of incoming ships. Conditions are now reversed and most the ships sunk are outgoing ones. This is a clear demonstration of the efficiency of convoys. The whole subject of forming outbound convoys is under consideration, and it is hoped to place outbound shipping in convoys when escorting vessels becomes available.

     8.   At present, convoys, consist of ships having a speed not over 12 knots, so that there is still some shipping coming in not in convoy   Fast convoys are shortly to be formed.

     9.   It will be realized that the large number of convoys and the escort of single fast important ships requires a great many patrol vessels, but the convoy system has been so successfully thus far that there is every likelihood that it will be continued and vessels brought in in convoy, even if escorts can not be provided.

     10.  As a protection against raiders, all exposed convoys are escorted by cruisers or converted cruisers until relieved by escorting destroyers as the submarine zone is reached.

          There is strong likelihood that, as the convoy system is extended with success, the enemy will make some move to defeat it. It is quite probable that the enemy will bring out heavily armed raiders or cruisers during the fall and winter, when the long dark nights facilitate the escape of these vessels from the North Sea. The Department should be prepared to meet this situation. I have already recommended the use of old battleships for escort duty, so as to make certain to defeat any raider encountered.

     11.  One very important feature tending to the success of the convoy system is that each convoy is commanded by a Commodore (British naval officer usually of rank of Commander or above) whose station is on board one of the vessels of the convoy (not on the escorting cruiser), and who issues all necessary orders for the convoy, method of zigzagging, route to be taken if convoy is dispersed, etc. This considered a very necessary feature of every convoy. The escorting cruiser is then free to investigate ships or attack while the convoy is being maneuvered away. It also prevents individual ships getting information of secret routes, so that the chance of information getting to the enemy is lessened.

<Wm S. Sims>  

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Addressed below close: “Copy to C-in-C Atlantic Fleet.” In the top left-hand corner are the identifiers: “80-17/AM/BAL” and “7-9-2.”

Footnote 1: Sims here re-created the table from his cable to Daniels of 5 August. See: Sims to Daniels, 5 August 1917.

Footnote 2: Sims was referring to the decision made at a recent naval conference in Paris. See: Sims to William S. Benson, 30 July 1917.

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