Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Rear Admiral Henry B. Wilson, Commander, United States Naval Forces in France, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters

[Extract]

21 July 1918.

From:     Commander U.S.Naval Forces in France.

To:       Force Commander.

SUBJECT:  Report of Operations – week of 13 July to 19 July.

     1. (a) Vessels Available:

Destroyers –

LITTLE, CONNER, SIGOURNEY, CUSHING, NICHOLSON, WAINWRIGHT, TUCKER, ISABEL, BENHAM, CUMMINGS, WADSWORTH, PORTER, ERICSSON, WARRINGTON, WINSLOW, FANNING, BURROWS, MONAGHAN, JARVIS, LAMSON, FLUSSER, PRESTON, SMITH, REID.

Sea-going Yachts –

NOMA, APHRODITE, CORSAIR, MAY.

Coastal Convoy Escort –

WANDERER, SULTANA, EMELINE, TRUXTUN, WHIPPLE, HARVARD, VEDETTE, UTOWANA, WORDEN, REMLIK, CHRISTABEL, RAMBLER, CORONA, MACDONOUGH.

Squadron Four (Mine Sweeping) –

PIQUA, McNEAL, ANDERTON, CAHILL, COURTNEY, DOUGLAS, JAMES, LEWES, HUBBARD, HINTON.

Tugs –

CONCORD, CRICCIETH, SMEATON, BARNEGAT, GYPSUM QUEEN.

Station Ship –

PROMETHEUS.

Repair Ship –

PANTHER.

Floating Barracks –

CAROLA IV.

     (b)  Overhaul:

ROE, McDOUGAL.

     (c) Boiler Overhaul:

          STEWART.

     (d) Under Repair:

     O’BRIEN, DRAYTON, NOKOMIS.

     Repairs to ROE expected to be completed 23 July.

     McDOUGAL expected for duty 21 July.

     Repairs to DRAYTON expected to be completed 30 July.

     Repairs to O’BRIEN expected to be completed 23 July.

     Overhaul of STEWART expected to be completed 22 July,

when the MACDONOUGH will be laid off for five days.

     CUMMINGS continues to have condenser trouble and is unavailable for escort duty 20 July but will be available 21 July.

     The DRAYTON’s repairs necessitated on account of burning out bearings on last escort duty, and the O’BRIEN was damaged by tug while at anchor.

     WARRINGTON missed one tour of duty due to collision. Temporary repairs have been effected.

     2. Vessels assigned to the coastal convoys have followed their schedules, with the exceptions noted above. Movements of troop and store ships and of vessels engaged in the Army coal trade are as shown in enclosure.1 Vessels passing up and down the coast of France were placed in coastal convoys.

     Due to the increase of enemy submarine activity in the Bay of Biscay, and the rapid rate at which troop convoys have been arriving (five groups will have arrived in the ten days ending 22 July), it has been impracticable to split convoys between the various ports. The situation has been explained to the Army and they have cooperated to the utmost. This has perhaps resulted in some delay in turning around the transports, particularly in the case of the PRESIDENT GRANT which arrived twelve July and was not ready to sail by nineteen July. Convoys were sailed westward from Brest on July 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20.

     3.   MISCELLANEOUS.

          The U.S.S. WESTOVER of the Overseas Transportation
Force on her maiden trip was torpedoed at 7.00 a.m. July 11th, and sank at 7.40 a.m. in latitude 46-36 N., longitude 11-21 W. This vessel had left New York in H.B. 5 convoy
2 but due to machinery trouble was forced to drop out of the convoy during the first forty-eight hours. Her Commanding Officer3 states that these troubles were due to inexperience of the engineer force with turbine machinery and to the fact that a blank flange had been placed in the suction to the air pup by employees of the General Electric Company while under repairs at New York immediately prior to sailing. These troubles were subsequently overcome and the vessel at the time of the torpedoing was making her speed and was endeavoring to overtake the convoy. She was not zigzagging.

     She was struck by two torpedoes; the first struck on the starboard side abaft number three hatch, and the second aft on the port side. Her cargo contained a thousand tons of steel, two thousand tons of flour, ten locomotives, fourteen motor trucks, a deck load of four hundred piles and two hundred and fifty tons of second class mail.

     The submarine was not seen until after the second torpedo was fired, and it is described as being one hundred and seventy-five feet long, with one four-inch gun forward, freshly painted. The submarine’s conning tower was reported to be dented as if by shell fire. The Captain’s writer was taken aboard the submarine and subsequently released. No prisoners were taken. He has stated that the submarine was the U-54.4

     In sending out her S.O.S. signal, the radio operator who had not been properly informed of the ship’s position, gave his position as latitude 46-25 N., longitude 13-27 W. Due to this misinformation, the boats of the WESTOVER were not sighted by the U.S.S. WARRINGTON which arrived on the scene of the accident within a few hours of the time of the sinking of the vessel, and which searched the vicinity for thirty-six hours. Five boats containing the survivors made the French coast in the vicinity of Brest. The following are missing, most of whom were drowned in abandoning ship:

          Lieut. H. J. Allston, U.S.N.R.F.

          Asst.Pay. Herbert Halstead, U.S.N.R.F.

          Ensign (D) Ralph Dillingham Caldwell, U.S.N.R.F.

          John Cole, M.A. 3c,5 U.S.N.R.F.

          Bryan Deal, F.2c,6 U.S.N.

          James Brown Estes, S.2c,7 U.S.N.

          Edward Lenwood Griffin, F.3c, U.S.N.

          Frank Willard Hollows, C.M.M.,8 U.S.N.R.F.

          Harvey Harrison, F.2c., U.S.N.

          Wilfred Joseph Serey, F.2c., U.S.N.

          Austin Clyde Wilson, Sea., U.S.N.

     A Court of Inquiry is in session inquiring into all the circumstances of this disaster.

     On July 17th the cable across the mouth of the Gironde River between Royan and Verdon was laid by the U.S.S. MAY assisted by the U.S.S. GYPSUM QUEEN. The operation was completed within three hours, which is very creditable considering that the length of the cable is 20,700 feet. This cable is now in operation.

     The U.S.S. CUSHING, O’BRIEN, WINSLOW, and ERICSSON which are fitted with electric winches for towing kite balloons, are being prepared for the use of these balloons, and the CUSHING will be given a trial on the afternoon of 20 July with a balloon. In the case of the other vessels necessary electric wire for connecting up the winch with the operating panel is being obtained from the French and from transports, and the proper installation of leading blocks (marionettes) is being made by the U.S.S. PROMETHEUS, the blocks having been obtained from the French to be replaced later by us. The lidgerwood9 steam winches of which eight are on hand at this base have been reported by Aviation as unsuited for kite balloon work, due to the anticipated crushing of the cable when reeling in on the single power drum with which this type of winch is fitted. The Aviation officers believe that surge drums such as fitted on the British steam winches are necessary in order to take the strain off the reeling drum. A test of the lidgerwood winch on the SIGOURNEY will be had to develop this subject as soon as she can be fitted to handle a kite balloon. Her mainmast is to be shortened and her leading block raised to clear the mine tracks.

     4.   SUBMARINE ACTIVITY.

          Although the submarine activity along the French coast continues to be equal to the two preceding weeks, the results attained by the submarines are less. There are at least five submarines operating between latitude fifty degrees north and the north coast of Spain. . . .

     5.   MINING ACTIVITIES

          No mine activity during the week in any harbor channels on the west coast of France.

     6.   EXTRACTS FROM WAR DIARY.

14 July – The occasion of the French National Holiday10 was celebrated elaborately by all Allied forces here. . . .

14 July – The four remaining nucleus crews to be sent home in July are now being assembled. No more will be sent until after the August 1st reports are in from the ships. . . .

20 July – U.S.S. LITTLE reports that on 12 July 1918 when proceeding to the westward on escort duty at eighteen knots in a rough head sea, a large sea came aboard, carrying away an ammunition rack with fifteen rounds of four-inch on the forecastle; buckling the chart-house bulkhead, bending the bridge-rail stanchions; and carrying away all glass wind shields on the bridge. After this accident the convoy was slowed down to fifteen knots to prevent further damage.11

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 440. Document reference: “509” and “WB/(0).”

Footnote 1: The enclosure is no longer with the report.

Footnote 2: “HB” convoys went from New York to the Bay of Biscay in France.

Footnote 3: Lt. Cmdr. Alexander F. Ogilvie. William J. Byrne, The Deck School Log of the Naval Auxiliary Reserve (New York: Wynkoop, 1920), 72.

Footnote 4: U-92 sank WESTOVER. DANFS

Footnote 5: Presumably, master at arms, third class.

Footnote 6: Fireman, second class.

Footnote 7: Seaman, second class.

Footnote 8: Chief machinist’s mate.

Footnote 9: Lidgerwood was an American engineering company headquartered in New York.

Footnote 10: That is Bastille Day.

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