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Rear Admiral Albert Gleaves, Commander, Convoy Operations in the Atlantic, to Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet

C O N F I D E N T I A L.



               5 June 1917





     1.   Ships in convoy will be governed by the executive order dated 27 May 1917, “Naval Convoy of Military Expedition”1 and by orders and instructions contained herein. All officers will familiarize themselves with the above mentioned orders and instructions and these will be held secret.

     2.   The Senior Naval Officer attached to a transport will call upon the Commanding Officer of troops for such assistance as he may need to carry out these orders.

     3.   Each convoy group will be composed of not more than four vessels escorted by at least one cruiser and such other naval vessels as are suitable, available and necessary.

     4.   These instructions have been compiled from authorative sources and are intended as a guide for the operation but in all cases the escort commander will exercise his discretion.


     5.   The convoy will be formed in single column, distance six hundred yards.

     6.   The escort will be stationed ahead and on both bows depending upon the number of vessels in escort. < At night, ships of escort will close on convoy to such distance, depending upon visibility, that ships of escort and convoy are plainly visible to each other.>

     7.   The following formations are suggested for the number of ships in escort specified:


     8.   The distance of convoy is six hundred yards. Ships will make every endeavor to maintain this distance accurately and will be careful not to drop astern, particularly at night or in thick weather.


     9.   Speed will be assigned by signal. Speed signalled is through the water. During daylight every effort will be made to determine the revolutions necessary to make the speed of the convoy in order that each ship may maintain a more nearly constant speed during darkness.


     10.  Convoy will be maneuvered as necessary by the Battle Signal Book.2 Ships will maneuver independently in accordance with the Rules of the Road in all cases when necessary to avoid collision.

     11.  When convoy alters course each ship of the convoy will turn in the wake of her next ahead except in zig zagging when all turn together.


     12.  There will be two well protected and well arranged lookout stations aloft: one on each side of the mast as high as possible, capable of holding four lookouts each.

     13.  There will be four well protected and well arranged lookout stations on each side of the ship, capable of holding two lookouts each.

     14.  During daylight there will be an officer in each top in addition to lookouts.

     15.  At all times there will be an officer in charge of lookouts on deck who will make periodic inspection of lookouts.

     16.  No lookouts need be maintained aloft during darkness.

     17.  Lookouts will stand a continuous watch of ONE HOUR.

     18.  The communication system from lookout stations to bridge will be tested frequently.

     19.  Lookouts will be carefully selected for their fitness for lookout duty – keen eyesight – intelligence and freedom from seasickness are essential qualities. < All men selected for lookout Duty will have their eyesight tested by the Medical Officer on board.>

     20.  Lookouts will be instructed to report everything which they see.

     21.  A school for lookouts will be held daily.

     22.  Insofar as practicable lookouts will be furnished with binoculars and each lookout will always use the same glass.

     23.  Each lookout will be assigned a definite sector and will be required to maintain the closest possible watch within that sector, no matter what may be happening in other sectors. <Experience has shown that the especially dangerous time is at break of day>

     24.  Sectors will be assigned as follows:

          Foretop – 4 – 45° sectors – two sectors on each bow from ahead to abeam.

          Maintop – 4 – 4 5° sectors – two sectors on each quarter from abeam to astern.

          Starboard and Port 8 – 32-1/2° sectors from ahead to astern.


     25.  A bridge watch for signals will be maintained at all times. <Naval Officers attached to transports will stand regular watches so that one Naval Officer on each transport is up and about and on Deck continuously.>


     26.  Gun crews will be at all times in the immediate vicinity of their guns.

     27.  One man of each crew will be at all times on watch.

     28.  Effort will be made to find comfortable, well sheltered accomodations for the gun crews in the immediate vicinity of their guns.

     29.  Daily pointing, loading, and fire control drills will be held.

     30.  When conditions permit and upon orders from Group Convoy Commander target practice will be held in accordance with the prescribed forms of practice.


     31.  All visual signals will be made in accordance with the General Signal Book.

     32.  The blinker tube only will be used during darkness and then only in case of emergency which affects the safety of the ship or convoy.

     33.  A call letter will be assigned to each ship. A list of these calls will be forwarded attached to the operation order.


     34.  No radio message will be sent except in great emergency involving the safety of the ship.

     35.  A continuous radio watch will be maintained.

     36.  If it becomes necessary to communicate by radio the cipher contained in the operation order will be used.

     37.  If necessity arises for radio communication with ships of convoy or escort use cipher specified in operation order.


     38.  All vessels will be darkened so that no ray of light shall show outboard between sunset and sunrise. A single gleam of light may cause the loss of the ship.

     39.  Sentries will make constant rounds to insure the strict enforcement of this order throughout the ship. For this purpose they will have free access to every compartment in the ship that can possibly show a light outboard.

     40.  Navigational lights will not be shown except:

          (a) When specifically ordered by the convoy commander.

          (b) When immediately necessary to avoid collision and then only long enough to meet the emergency. Range lights will not be shown and all lights will be dimmed to two miles visibility.

          (c) A wake light showing over arc of one point shall be provided but not used except as ordered by the convoy commander. Visibility 1000 yards.


     41.  Smoke from the funnels must be reduced to a minimum both by day and night. All vessels will keep fuel so trimmed that maximum speed can be maintained toward end of voyage.


     42.  Neither the whistle nor the siren shall be used in submarine waters except in cases of emergency.

     43.  Care will be exercised that the leads of the siren and whistle cords are such that these cannot be accidentally pulled or become jammed.


     44.  A station bill will be prepared showing the stations at fire quarters and abandon ship.

     45.  Daily drills at fire stations and abandon ship will be held until all persons on board become familiar with their duties and then such drills as may be necessary.


     46.  Local apparent time will be kept in all ships.

     47.  A time signal will be made by Commander of Escort at 11:30 a.m. daily and all clocks will be set accordingly.


     48.  Necessary instructions in regard to rendezvous and courses will be found in sealed instructions. These sealed instructions will be opened only as directed on the outside of the envelope.

     49.  Before dark a rendezvous for 4:00 p.m. the day following will be signaled by Escort Commander. <Verbal from Adm. Gleaves 6/8/17- Rendezvous as given in sealed instructions not to be deviated from under any conditions even if change received by radio. Any change will come from [Friendly Ships?]>


     50.  Press may be copied and distributed after having been vised by the Senior Naval Officer in transport. Care will be exercised that no news of submarine activities is allowed to reach the troops.


     51.  Nothing that floats will be thrown overboard. All waste material that can be burned will be burned. Tin cans will be well punctured before being thrown overboard. Garbage that cannot be burned shall be accumulated in suitable receptacles and thrown overboard from all ships simultaneously one hour after sunset each night.


     52.  All courses will be true.

ZIG-ZAG <(See addenda for elaboration)>

     53.  During daylight and at night when specially ordered by the Convoy Commander all vessels will steer zig-zag courses in accordance with one of the following plans:3

     54.  When the signal for zig-zag is hauled down alter course the number of degrees shown by diagram according to TIME. If signal J1 is hauled down at 12:07 change course to 10° for 3 minutes, then change 30° <20> more to right for 10 minutes, etc.

     55.  If course signal is hoisted, discontinue zig zag when signal is hauled down and do not resume zig zag until ordered.


     56.  If during a fog the Convoy Commander’s ship sounds her call letter by whistle or siren each ship in succession is to do likewise. Escort from right to left being followed by convoy from van to rear.

     57.  When fog is encountered in submarine waters the use of the whistle will be reduced to a minimum. The Escort Commander will sound fog whistle at irregular intervals at his discretion.



     58.  The following is generally accepted:

          (a) Submarines on surface are visible on the horizon.

          (b) Submarine awash is visible about five miles.

          (c) Submarine awash, sighted with low position so as to appear against sky-line is visible at a greater distance than five miles.

          (d) Submarine submerged periscope showing is not visible more than two miles unless periscope appears against skyline.

          (e) Porpoising of submarine as it comes to the surface to obtain sight through periscope creates a distinct wake which is more clearly visible than the wake of periscope when submarine has steadied and is running submerged with periscope up.

          (f) Under poor conditions of atmosphere and sea the probability of detecting a submarine decreases.

     59.  It follows that constant vigilance alone will insure the early detection of a submarine.

     60.  The wake of a torpedo is distinctive and can easily be picked up in smooth water and a distance of two thousand yards. In rough water it is difficult to see the torpedo wake.


     61.  Daylight attack by surface craft will be handled by signal from the Convoy Commander.

     62.  Daylight attack by submarines shall be handled as follows by each vessel.

          (a) Open fire instantly on any submarine sighted. Don’t delay the first shot even if it is apt to go wild – it will show the direction of the submarine and will have a pronounced moral effect on the submarine.

          (b) Continue to fire as rapidly as possible. Short shots interfere with the ability of the submarine to see and aim.

          (c) If submarine appears less than six points on bow and not more than 2,000 yards distant head for submarine at best speed.

          (d) If submarine appears more than six points on the bow, abeam, or on the quarter head directly away from submarine at best speed.

          (e) If torpedo wake only is seen fire gun immediately and indicate direction to other ships and maneuver to avoid torpedo as in case of submarine, i.e., turning towards torpedo if less than six points. If torpedo is too close to parallel its track maneuver to avoid by going ahead full speed or backing.

          (f) Other ships of convoy turn from direction of submarine and scatter at best speed, maintaining keenest lookout for torpedo wake and for a possible mate to the attacking submarine.

          (g) Resume course when it is deemed that your vessel is outside the danger zone from attacking submarines.


     63.  In case of night attack all vessels instantly change course ninety degrees either to port or starboard provided however that vessel sighting submarine forward of beam will fire gun in direction of submarine and head for it at best speed – Course will be resumed before any vessel has proceeded ten miles after ninety degree change.

     64.  If any vessel is damaged by torpedo that vessel will act independently and all other vessels of convoy escape at best speed. The damaged vessel may send out radio distress signals provided for merchant vessels.

     65.  Owing to the presence of escorting ships it is not probable that submarines will be caught on the surface and therefore will not attempt to use her guns. It is very probable that the first intimation of the presence of a submarine will be the wake of her torpedo.

MINES <(See addenda for elaboration)>

     66.  Mines, floating or submerged, may be encountered. All floating objects the character of which is in any degree uncertain must be carefully avoided.


     67.  The following special signals will be used:

     Submarine sighted – Six toots on siren or if not provided with siren six toots on whistle.

     This in addition to and not substituted for gun fire.

     Zig-zag plan 1 – J1 flag hoist

     Zig-zag plan 2 – J2 flag hoist



     68.  All that applies in the orders for ships in convoy will be observed by the ships of the Escort.


     69.  The maximum number of lookouts consistent with the characteristics of the ship and her complement will be stationed.


     70.  In case of attack by submarine it is probable that the submarine will endeavor to avoid the escort and attack the convoy.

     71.  If submarine is sighted or, if gun fire from any ship indicates attack by submarine, destroyers and fast yachts of escort will head at best speed in direction of submarine, force submarine to submerge and attack as conditions permit.

     72.  The escort cruiser will proceed as directed for vessels of convoy and endeavor to reassemble convoy when danger is past.

     73.  Destroyers and yachts will rejoin convoy at earliest practicable moment.

     74.  If any ship is damaged by torpedo, two destroyers nearest of escort will stand by ship effecting such rescue as may be necessary and possible; all other vessels will reform convoy as soon as practicable and proceed to rendezvous.

Albert Gleaves.         



     75. A small number of rifles will be kept at hand aft as defense against submarines coming from astern when stern guns will not bear.


     76. When east of Longitude 20° West and during daylight all of gun crews will be retained in immediate vicinity of guns, Meals will be served to guns crews at their guns.


     77. Glow of a cigarette is visible ½ mile, Smoking on deck is prohibited during darkness.


     78. The use of hand flash lights will not be permitted.


     79. All vessels will change course simultaneously at time prescribed in diagram and will maintain standard speed.

     80. If while zig zagging fog is encountered all ships will immediately resume base course without signal.


     Add to or make corrections in each copy of Orders for Ships in Convoy as follows:

     PARAGRAPH 6. – Change

     PARAGRAPH 6 – Add: At night, ships of escort will close on convoy to such distance, depending upon visibility, that ships of escort and convoy are plainly visible to each other.

     PARAGRAPH 19 – Add: All men selected for lookout duty will have their eyesight tested by the Medical Officer on board.

     PARAGRAPH 23 – Add: Experience has shown that the especially dangerous time is at break of day.

     PARAGRAPH 25 – Add: Naval Officers attached to transports will stand regular watches so that one naval officer on each transport is up and about and on deck continuously.

     PARAGRAPH 53 – Change to read: Zig.Zag. If fuel on hand is sufficient all ships will zig zag during daylight, and at night when specifically ordered by the Convoy Commander.

          If there is a necessity for economizing fuel, ships will zig-zag during daylight until outside of the danger area bordering on the United States Coast, and will resume zig-zagging upon entering any other area where submarines are supposed to be active or whenever considered necessary by the Group Convoy Commander.

     Zig-zag courses will be steered in accordance with one of the following plans:

     PARAGRAPH 66 – Add the following: Floating mines have recently been encountered under the following conditions:

(a) Two mines connected by lines,

(b) Secured to bottom of dummy periscope, the periscope mounted in a box or other object.

(c) In water-logged boats,

(d) Attached to wreckage of various kinds.

     Whenever possible the convoy will avoid entering area where the water is less than 80 fathoms.

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B, Box 20. Text between angle brackets were handwritten interlineations that were copied from the “ADDENDA TO ORDERS FOR SHIPS IN CONVOY” at the end of the document. On 29 May 1917, Gleaves was appointed the commander of convoy operations in the Atlantic while retaining the designation, "Commander of the Destroyer Force." Because of this fact, he issued these orders as commander of convoy operations but directed them to the Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet.

Footnote 2: This signal book has not been found.

Footnote 3: Attached is a diagram of two different zigzag evasion patterns. Plan 1, Signal J 1, calls for a gradual curve to starboard with a return to the original course. Plan 2. Signal J2, calls for a zigzag pattern from starboard to port along straight headings.

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