Captain Thomas P. Magruder, Commander, Squadron Four, Patrol Force, to Rear Admiral Henry B. Wilson, Commander, United States Patrol Forces based in France
U.S. NAVAL FORCES OPERATING IN EUROPEAN WATERS
SQUADRON FOUR, PATROL FORCE,
U.S.S. GUINEVERE, Flagship.
2 January, 1918.
From: Commander Squadron Four.
To: Commander Patrol Squadrons.
Subject: Information re Condition of Vessels of Squadron Four.
Reference: (a) Dispatch No. 1645, from Chief of Naval Operations to Force Commander.1
(b) Commander Patrol Squadrons Letter File 496 of 29 December, 1917.
1. Squadron Four, Patrol Force, consisting of the WAKIVA, Flagship, ten mine sweepers, and the collier BATH, arrived Brest, France, on 18 September last. Soon after arrival, despite protests of the Squadron Commander, this Squadron was merged into the Squadrons based on Brest, and the Squadron Commander detached and ordered to duty on shore. The vessels of Squadron Four were detailed for escort duty, and performed this duty until one of them, the REHOBOTH, foundered at sea, whereupon these vessels were relieved of escort duty and permission obtained from the French Ministry of Marine to have them fitted as mine sweepers. This work was undertaken by the Arsenal at Brest and progressed slowly.
2. On 1 November I was ordered to assume command again of Squadron Four, and on 11 November I received orders from the present Commander of the Patrol Squadrons Operating in European Waters to expedite, in every way possible, the completion of the fitting out of the mine sweepers. The U.S.S. GUINEVERE was designated as Squadron Flagship, and orders were given to fit this vessel for that duty.
3. The Commander Squadron Four used every practicable effort to expedite the work of fitting the vessels of his division as mine sweepers. Delay in completion of this work was due, in my opinion, to the following:-
(a) Lack of workmen at the French Arsenal,
(b) Congestion of work at the Arsenal due to the manufacture of munitions, repairs on French ships, both naval and commercial, repairs to the U.S.A.T. FINLAND,2 and further to urgent repairs on U.S.vessels that could not be cared for by the repair ship PANTHER.
(c) The lack of adequate facilities and workmen for repairs directly under the Commander Patrol Force.
4. Upon the arrival at Brest of the Chief of Naval Operations,3 the following vessels of Squadron Four were undergoing repairs; namely, the GUINEVERE, JAMES, COURTNEY, DOUGLAS and HUBBARD. The repairs to the GUINEVERE and JAMES were completed on December 12 and 19 respectively. The COURTNEY, DOUGLAS and HUBBARD are still at the Arsenal, having sweeping gear installed. The main item of repairs to the GUINEVERE was strengthening the boiler with stay tubes. The GUINEVERE has been steaming without an opportunity for boiler overhaul since leaving the United States; it became necessary to make repairs on 5 November. The mine sweepers were available for having the sweeping gear installed from the time of their arrival until the work was authorized about a month later. The responsibility for the slow progress in making the installations on the mine sweepers is indicated in the preceding paragraph.
5. Although not required by reference (b) to comment or make recommendations concerning paragraph 3 of reference (a), I cannot refrain from inviting the attention of the Commander Patrol Squadrons to the fact that a grave reflection is made upon the commanders and other officers serving on the ships under my command, in that it is suggested that these officers are not making the efforts and obtaining the results which the gravity of the situation demands.
6. In view of the fact that the operations of, and the results obtained by, the vessels of the Squadron under my command are my direct and sole responsibility, I deem it my duty, and in justice not only to the officers under my command but to myself, to submit the following:-
The Commanding and other officers of the mine sweepers are, with three exceptions, officers of the Reserve Force, whose qualifications for the hazardous and arduous duties to which they are detailed were unknown and problematical when these officers were assigned to their respective duties. Some of the Commanding Officers failed, in my opinion, as such, and I did not hesitate to have these officers detached or returned to the United States. Of the seven Commanding Officers of the Reserve Force who left the United States with me, only three are still in command of the ships they had when sailing from the United States. Others of the Reserve Officers failed, through inexperience, to measure up to the requirements of their positions. Due to the lack of reliefs for these cruisers, it has been necessary to exercise patience with a view to training the inexperienced officers, who show a maximum of energy and zeal, in order to fit them for the positions they hold.
7. I am fully aware of the fact that the Fourth Squadron has not obtained the results that I had expected when I sailed with it from the United States. The foregoing reasons, together with others which are fully known by the Commander Patrol Squadrons, have caused this failure, through no lack of effort. At the moment of writing there are officer in my Squadron who should be relieved. There are, however, no reliefs available In this condition there remains but one course of action; to get the best out of these possible.
/s/ H.B. WILSON.
Source Note: TCy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 413. Apparently this cable was sent to Wilson by the commander of Squadron Four, Capt. Thomas P. Magruder. Wilson then must have sent a copy to his commander, VAdm. William S. Sims, and it is for this reason that it bears Wilson’s signature and not Magruder’s.
Footnote 1: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations. See: Benson to William S. Sims, 18 December 1917.
Footnote 2: United States Army Transport Finland was torpedoed in December 1918 while in convoy. See: Nathan C. Twining to Albert T. Gleaves, 24 December 1917.
Footnote 3: Benson visited Brest in early December 1917. Klachko and Trask, Benson: 101.