Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Rear Admiral Albert Gleaves, Commander, Convoy Operations in the Atlantic, to Admiral Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet

DESTROYER FORCE, ATLANTIC FLEET,

U. S. S. SEATTLE FLAGSHIP.

20 July 1917

From:     Commander Destroyer Force, Commander J. . Convoy Operations in the Atlantic.

To:       Commander-in-Chief, U.S.Atlantic Fleet.

SUBJECT:  Transportation of Troops and Recommendations for Future Convoy Operations.

     1.   From experience gained from the transportation of the First U.S.Expeditionary Force to France, the Commander Destroyer Force herewith submit certain recommendations for the future conduct of convoy operations. These recommendations are made with a view to expediting the transportation of troops and furnishing the maximum protection with minimum escort.

     2.   TYPES OF SHIPS.

          (a) The elements of protection against submarines are: speed, guns, helm, destroyer escort, and eternal vigilance. High speed is by far the most important single element of protection.

          (b) A submarine after sighting a vessel, must obtain a favorable position for firing a torpedo. The higher the speed of the ship, the less opportunity the submarine has for gaining this position. If the speed of the ship is less than the surface speed of the submarine, the submarine may trail during daylight, close at dusk, and select its own time under the most favorable conditions for attack. If the speed of the ship is greater than that of the submarine, only submarine forward of the beam become a menace. Each knot of speed above the maximum surface speed of the submarine directly lessens the danger. From reports received abroad and from conversations with captains of U.S.destroyers operating in European Waters, the Commander Destroyer Force is convinced that a ship of a speed of 25 knots, proceeding singly and zig-zagging is practically immune from attack by a single submarine.

          (c) The time spent in the submarine zone varies inversely as the speed of the ship. The lack of speed of a ten-knot ship renders her far more liable to attack than a twenty-knot ship and she must be exposed to attack twice as long.

          (d) The larger the transport the smaller the escort required for a given number of troops.

          (e) Having in mind the difficulty of obtaining sufficient large vessels of high speed for transport service, the Force Commander recommends that the largest vessels obtainable be requisitioned, chartered or purchased, and that only vessels be used in this service which have a sustained speed of not less than sixteen knots for the entire passage across the Atlantic.

     3.   DESTROYER ESCORT.

          (a) Destroyer escort is the next greatest element of safety. There is every indication that submarine fear most the destroyer and will, under ordinary circumstances, avoid placing themselves in a position where they are subjected to the depth charge of a destroyer.

          (b) The 1000-ton type destroyers of the U.S.Navy are admirably adapted for long voyages even under adverse weather conditions. The maximum destroyer protection possible should be furnished the transports through the submarine areas. It is therefore recommended that the necessary number of 1000-ton destroyers be withdrawn from their present duty and be used as escorts.

     4.   PORT OF DEPARTURE – ESTABLISHMENT OF BASE

          (a) The necessity for secrecy regarding the movements and times of departure of transports is obvious. Practically no secrecy attended the departure and movements of the First U.S.Expeditionary Force to France. The transports were outfitted and the crews embarked at the largest port in the United States. Troops were marched aboard at Hoboken docks five days before sailing where the majority of the population, of German extraction, could not but be aware of their movements. The necessity for outfitting and perhaps loading the transports at a port having proper facilities is recognized, but it is believed that the embarkation of the troops and the future movements of the transports should be kept absolutely secret.

          (b)  It is therefore recommended that a Departure Base be established which will fulfill the following requirements:

(1)  Within easy distance of proper railroad facilities.

(2)  Where a patrol can be established and all unauthorized persons excluded.

(3)  Distant from all thickly populated distracts.

(4)  Sufficient territory for the establishment of temporary camps and maneuver fields, etc.

(5)  Harbor facilities for large transports.

(6)  Radio and private telephone and telegraph communications.

(7)  Construction of docks to permit eventually, the loading of transports as well as the embarkation of troops.

          (c)  The eastern end of Long Island appears to be a suitable place for the establishment of such a base, and it is recommended that Ford Pond Bay be suitably netted and protected and used for this purpose.1

     5.   PORT OF ARRIVAL – ESTABLISHMENT OF BASE.

          (a)  The number of troops which a single vessel can transport in a given period of time depends directly upon the rapidity with which this vessel can be “turned” in ports of departure and ports of arrival. In order that this may be accomplished in the minimum time, the establishment of an arrival base with proper port facilities such as docks, fuel, water and tugs is necessary. Stevedores must be supplied from the United States owing to the scarcity of labor in France, and must for the purpose of discipline, be enlisted. This is imperative.

          (b)  The present conditions on the French Coast are as follows: German submarines, both mine laying and torpedo, are active in all parts of the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel. The French have not sufficient vessels available to properly patrol this coast, and submarines operate close inshore off the entrance to harbors almost at will. To insure safety it is necessary that a transport be not delayed even for a moment off the entrance to the port of destination. Approaches to all harbors and the vicinity of all shoals are thickly strewn with mines. Patrol vessels provided with the very latest information with regard to mines must meet all transports off the port of destination and pilot them through the mine fields.

          (c)  The requirements of a port of disembarkation may be summarized as follows:

(1)  Sufficient depth of water at all stages of tide for any vessel.

(2)  Dock facilities for berthing and unloading simultaneously four large transports.

(3)  Fuel and water supplies.

(4)  Repair facilities.

(5)  Tugs of at least 1200 tons for handling ships; barges of 300 to 400 tons capacity; lighters, etc.

(6)  Protection – Mine sweepers, patrol vessels, seaplanes, dirigibles, etc.

(7)  Railroad and shore transportation.

     6.   It is recommended that a Naval Base be established at the port in France selected as the port of disembarkation for the troops. That a Naval officer, representative of the Convoy Commander, be in command of this base. That the base be supplied with sufficient vessels to properly undertake the protection of the harbor by patrol, netting and mine sweeping; that the necessary supplies of fuel and water and the necessary lighters and tugs be supplied; that a high powered radio station be installed, and that one aviation base be established.

     7.   With the addition of the above-mentioned naval base, Sait Nazaire, France, would answer the requirements of a port of disembarkation as outlined above. While the harbor of Saint Nazaire itself is not capable of taking the largest vessels which may be placed in transport service, for example the VATERLAND, the anchorage in Guiberon Bay, properly protected, would overcome this difficulty. The disembarkation of troops in this case would be accomplished by lighters La Pallice is considered the next most suitable port.

     8.   INTERMEDIATE BASE.

          An intermediate base between the port of departure and the port of arrival has many advantages. There are only a few vessels in the U.S.Navy which can carry sufficient fuel for continuous voyage from the port of departure to port of arrival at the desired speed of transports. With one or two exceptions, no destroyer can accomplish this passage under unfavorable conditions of weather without refueling.

     9.   In the Western Atlantic, from the port of departure to longitude 35° west, the liability to attack by hostile vessels is at present small, and with proper speed of transports there is little necessity for escort except cruiser protection against raiders. The maximum escort possible is required from longitude 35° west, to destination. With an intermediate base, destroyers could be refueled and held in readiness to meet transports at a given rendezvous and accompany them to destination and then return to intermediate base.

     10.  There is sufficient evidence to indicate, beyond a doubt, that enemy submarines are based on and operate from the Azores. This constitutes a serious menace to the safety of all transports crossing the Atlantic. The Azores should be a United States base and not an enemy base.

     11.  It is therefore recommended that a naval base be established in the Azores. That this base be equipped with sufficient patrol vessels to clear the islands of submarine bases and to prevent provisioning and refueling submarines in that vicinity. It is further recommended that a supply of fuel be maintained at this base and that ahigh powered radio station be installed and an aviation base be established.2

     12.  To sum up the above recommendations, the following would be the organization and operation for transporting troops and their equipment to France:

          ORGANIZATION.

          (a)  Commander Convoy Operation afloat with Staff in such ports as may be deemed necessary from time to time, with radio communication to the Navy Department, the Azores, and, viz the Azores, to the port of destination.

          (b)  Representative of Commander Convoy Operations in Azores in charge of fueling, watering and dispatching. Cipher communication by radio or cable.

          (c)  Representative of Commander Convoy Operations in Azores in charge of fueling, watering, unloading and dispatching. Cipher communication by radio.

          (d) Armored cruisers and cruisers of CHARLESTON and BIRMINGHAM close as required.

          (e)  Not less than twelve destroyers and more if required for escort duty between Azores and port of destination.

          (f)  Patrol vessels at port of destination to act as escort through mine fields

          (g)  Transport vessels as required having a capacity of not less than 3000 troops each, sustained speed of not less than sixteen knots.

          (h)  Oil ships and colliers as required.

          OPERATIONS

          (i)  Transports to be dispatched in groups of not more than four escorted by at least one cruiser to rendezvous within 500 mile circle from Azores.

          (j)  Transports to be met at rendezvous by destroyers and escorted to port of destination.

          (k)  Transports to be met off port of destination by patrol vessels and escorted through mine fields.

          (l)  Cruisers refuel at Azores.

          (m)  Destroyers escort empty transports from foreign base back to vicinity of Azores; cruisers escort transports from vicinity of Azores to United States.

          13.  If it should be impracticable to establish a base in the Azores, the same method of operation will hold except that cruisers must proceed to final destination to obtain fuel.

Albert Gleaves     

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG45, Entry 517B.

Footnote 1: Gleaves suggestion was not followed and Hoboken continued to be the main port of embarkation for troops transports for the duration of the war. Over 2,000,000 American troops went through the Port of Embarkation from 1917-1918. Darien Worden, “A City in Wartime: Hoboken, 1914-1919,” Hoboken Historical Museum, https://www.hobokenmuseum.org/explore-hoboken/historic-highlights/hoboken-in-wwi/, accessed 12 July 2017.

Footnote 2: The Azores were already becoming a center of American convoying and the anti-submarine effort. Daniels ordered the storing of coal and supplies for American convoys in the Azores as early as 13 June 1917. See, Josephus Daniels to Edward Breck, 13 June 1917, RG 45, Entry 517B, Box 9.

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