Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Commodore Guy R. Gaunt, British Naval Attaché at Washington, to Secretary of the Admiralty Sir William Graham Greene

 

COMMODORE GAUNT, R.N.                       <Confidential>

   British Embassy

    Washington D.C.

 Telephone, North 560

5th July, 1917

 

Sir:

          With reference to the general naval situation here, I have the honour to submit the following:

          The appointment of Captain Pratt as Chief of Staff in place of Captain Chase, who died suddenly last week, has made a very great difference to everything.1 The difficulty before has always been that Admiral Benson dealt with the matters directly himself; he has a very great deal to do, practically no staff, and although he means to help in every possible way, requests get put on one side, after an answer has been promised for the following day.2 When the next day arrives he has probably temporarily forgotten all about the matter, and it was very difficult to strike a border line between reminding him of his promise of an answer and appearing to be continually asking or urging things. Again he is very loyal to his Chief, the Secretary of the Navy and felt that he ought to put even the smallest matters before him, which led to delay and things getting sidetracked.3 As an example of the difficulties of the situation, I had some secret documents to turn over to him, but he asked me not to do so, implying he would have to show them to his Chief and that meant a leak straight away, therefore, in reply to my query he felt that he could not be responsible for them being kept secret, and I still have them in my safe.. He always consulted Captain Chase, but I think that was about all.4 Under the new regime, Captain Pratt is a strong man; I can discuss things with him and he is very glad to do so, and he will go into details with me, and once having decided that such a thing can be done, I have a strong advocate who takes the matter up, puts it on paper, and will get it done at once. As an instance,- before he took over, I went into details as much as I could with Admiral Benson, who insisted that the U.S. had no cruisers to spare, so long as a fixed patrol remained, and, in fact, many other reasons why more vessels of all sorts could not be supplied. I could not argue with him, but directly Captain Pratt took office we went over the lists together and the result was at once cruisers for convoy work, release of destroyers, and, I hope, several other items; but the great point is that it is done immediately.5

          I know that Vice Admiral Sims is very anxious to get Captain Pratt on his staff.6 I sincerely trust he will be left here. I am sure he is a much greater asset to us over here than he would be on the other side.

          I urge that some settled policy, as far as possible, be telegraphed to me.  Admiral Benson does not exactly complain, but points out that all we do is to ask for things as they come along, but there is no settled policy that he can put forward and say we are working along those lines. For instance, what is the Admiralty idea as to the future of the American capital ships in the event of the Norwegian situation developing?7 Are they likely to require them? I think that he has a sort of feeling that he should be taken closer into the general scheme of the Allies’ sea policy, instead of, as at present, just being asked from time to time to supply units which have no connection with one another.

          The Americans were very anxious to leave the question of routing ships as at present, but to move all the officers into the various custom houses, and to appoint an American staff to assist the British. I think there is a sort of feeling that it is wrong that Masters of other nations should have to go to the British Consulate (where our officers now are) in an American port. They promised that if this was done they would appoint a staff under instructions from our people for the examination of ships, and so relieve Halifax; with this reservation that they would not deal with neutral ships bound for a neutral port.

          The foregoing is not official, but I know it is their wishes in the matter.

          I have the honor to be, Sir,

                         Your obedient Servant,

                                        Guy R Gaunt

                                             Commodore, R.N.

Source Note: LTS, UK-KeNA, Adm. 137/1437. Addressed below close. “Secretary of the Admiralty.”

Footnote 1: Assistant Chief of Naval Operations, Capt. William V. Pratt.

Footnote 2: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 3: Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

Footnote 4: Capt. Volney O. Chase, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack on 24 June 1917. See: Guy R. Gaunt to Admiralty, 26 June 1917.

Footnote 5: For a lengthier discussion of the meeting between Benson, Pratt and Gaunt, See: Gaunt to Jellicoe, 1 July 1917.

Footnote 6: VAdm. William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces in European Waters. Sims sent several requests to Daniels asking him to assign Pratt to duty in London on Sims’s staff. When Pratt was appointed Assistant Chief of Naval Operations, following the death of Volney Chase, Sims lamented to Pratt, “I also assume that it is the end of my hopes that you may come over here to assist me.”  See, Sims to Pratt 3 July 1917, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 78.

Footnote 7: United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom Walter Hines Page wrote to Secretary of State Robert Lansing on 23 June informing him that Germany was subjecting Norway to “humiliating treatment” and that, although Britain was counselling Norway not to enter the war, there could well be an “early outbreak of hostilities.” If Norway did declare war, Page noted, the United States would be asked to “send several large men-of-war to guard certain parts of Norway’s southern coast” and the British government wished to know if “such naval help could be expected.” FRUS, 1917, Supplement 2, 108-9.

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