Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels
29 August 1918.
From : Commander,U.S.Naval Forces Operating in European Waters,
To : Secretary of the Navy (Operations).
Subject: American Commodores for Mercantile Convoys.
1. I respectfullt invite the attention of the Department to the importance of the duty assigned to Commodores of mercantile convoys. These officers may be in charge of as many as 30 or more ships of a value of many millions of dollars. The success of bringing convoys safely through to destination rests largely with the Commodore, who can by intelligent action keep his convoy together and frequently defeat the purpose of enemy vessels. In manoeuvering in fog or bad weather or under emergencies such as submarine attack, his action may result in saving the convoy from immediate or subsequent loss. His intelligence applied to the whole question of forming and handling convoys may largely assist in defeating the submarine campaign.
2. The most serious problem confronting the U.S.Navy is safe transport of troops and supplies to France. I consider that the present method of handling troops guarantees the maximum of protection to the troops. There is considered doubt in my mind, however, as to whether the U.S.Commodores recently appointed for handling storeship convoys are capable of efficiently performing this work. All of the storeships carrying supplies for the U.S.Army will shortly be manned and operated by the Navy and the majority of these ships will sail in convoys organized and controlled by our Navy. It is a matter of first importance that the highest obtainable efficiency and discipline be maintained in this service. In my judgement the officer assigned asCommodore of one of these convoys should be a Rear-Admiral or Captain in the Navy. It is only in officers of the reguler Navy that one finds the necessary experience for handling signals and manoeuvering a large convoy, particularly when emergencies occur. We are using a very large number of regular officers in providing safe transport for our troops. The results amptly justify the use of these officers. I thinks it most important that we assign Rear-Admirals or Captains as Commodores of the mercantile convoys controlled by the Department. The skill and experience required in manoeurvering a large formation is not to be expected from any one, except an experiecnced Naval officer.
3. I have not come into personal contact with the Commodores now assigned by the Department, but I have been struck by the feebleness and incompleteness of their reports and by the absence of any recommendations tanding [i.e., tending] to improve the convoy system or the method of routing or necessary precautions for defeating the submarine.
4. As the cruiser accompanying the convoy returns before entering the submarine zone, the Commodore has full responsibility for several days in dangerous waters. With intelligence application of war warning he can so alter the course of his convoy as to minimize the chances of meting enemy submarines, a very important factor of success considering the limited number of submarines at sea. Where is to be considered as well his action in the event of a heavy raider escaping into the Atlantic. All the masterslook to the Commodore for intelligent action, and when one considers the value of the convoy and the embarrassment caused by loss of ships and cargo it is evident that the Navy should do everything possible to protect these convoys.
5. In the case of HB-7,1 which was attacked at sundown on August7, it appears that the convoy was not manoeuvered by the Commodore,2 and each Master acted more or less on his own. The report of the gunner in charge of the Armed Gaurd [i.e., Guard] of the DAKOTAN states:3- “For fully five minutes after the torpedoing of the DUPETIT-THOUARS4 all ships kept their speed, presumably waiting for orders from the Commodore as to which way to alter course, for these instructions are given in the Allied Signal Manual to be carried out in case of submarine attack. As no orders were recieved, the DAKOTAN changed course nearly 8 points and started due north at top speed. We ran 40 minutes north and then resumed our mean course and rejoined the convoy at 9:30 p.m.”
Apparently the course of the convoy was not changed after the first attack, and at 1:15 a.m. a second ship was torpedoed. Although this convoy consisted of some 24 ships the Master of the PENNSYLVANIAN, which was the Commodore’s ship, reports that on the following morning only 12 shiips were in company.
6. This instance is cited to show the importance of having Commodores of experience and decision. Had submarines been operating farther along the route, it is evident that a number of the ships in HB-7 that had separated from thee convoy might have been torpedoed before reaching destination. It is only with the most careful and intelligent operation that ships, especially slow ships, can be brought safely through the zone, and all possible assistance must be counted on from the Commodores. To provide Commodores for the HB and OV5 convoys would require a total of not more than 6 or 7 regular officers, and as the ships in these convoys are practically all American storeships I consider that the handling of these vessels should be given only to officers of wide experience, not as masters of ships, but officers familiar with methods and difficulties of signalling, trained in handling formations of ships and likely to improve methods by intelligent criticism.
Source Note: Cy, DNA RG 45, Entry 517B. Document identifier in upper left-hand corner: “01. 31906” and in upper-right hand corner in columnar fashion: “1/3/C/J.”
Footnote 1: HB convoys were store ships from New York for the Bay of Biscay ports in France. HB-7 arrived in France on 10 August. Wilson, American Navy in France: 47, 53.
Footnote 2: The Commodore has not been further identified.
Footnote 3: This gunner has not been further identified.
Footnote 4: Dupetit-Thouars was a French naval cruiser that was assigned to help guard U.S. convoys. Gleaves, History of the Transport Service: 86.
Footnote 5: OV convoys were either empty store ships or troop ships that sailed from the Gironde River of France heading for either the United States or South America. Wilson, American Navy in France: 47.