Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Documentary Histories
WWI

Regulations Concerning Armed Guards

<March 13, 1917>1

R E G U L A T I O N S

Governing the Conduct of American Merchant

Vessels on which ARMED GUARDS have been placed.2

     1. Armed Guards on Amierican merchant vessels are for

the sole purpose of defense against the unlawful acts of the submarines of Germany or of any nation following the policy announced by Germany in her note of January 31, 1917. Neither the Armed Guards nor their arms can be used for any other purpose.

     2. The announced policy of Germany, in her note of January 31, 1917, to sink all vessels that enter certain areas of the high seas, has led the Government of the United States to authorize Armed Guards on merchant vessels to resist any and all attempts of the submarines of Germany or of any nation following the policy announced by Germany in her note of January 31st, to put that policy into practice.

     3. It shall be lawful for the Armed Guard on any American merchant vessel to fire upon any submarine of Germany or of any nation following the policy of Germany announced in her note of January 31, 1917, that attempts to approach, or lies within 4,000 yards of the commercial route of the vessel sighting the submarine, if the submarine is sighted within the zone proscribed by Germany.

     4. No Armed Guard on any American merchant vessel shall fire at any submarine that lies more than 4,000 yards from the commercial route of the vessel sighting the submarine, except that the submarine shall have fired first.

     5. No Armed Guard on any American merchant vessel shall take any offensive action against any submarine of Germany or of any nation following the policy of Germany announced in her note of January 31, 1917, on the high seas outside of the zones proscribed by Germany, unless the submarine is guilty of an unlawful act that jeopardizes the vessel, her passengers, or crew, or unless the submarine is submerged.3

     6. No Armed Guard on an American merchant vessel shall attack a submarine that is retiring or attempting to retire either within or without the zone proscribed by Germany, unless it may be reasonablly presumed to be manouevering for renewal of attack.

     7. In all cases not herein specifically excepted the Armed Guard on American merchant vessels shall be governed by the principles of established international law and the treaties and conventions to which the Government of the United States is a party.

     8. American merchant vessels are forbidden to pursue or search out the submarines of any nation or to engage in any aggressive warfare against them.3

     9. American merchant vessels shall make every effort compatible with the safety of the merchant vessel to save the lives of the crew of any submarine that may be sunk, or that submits, or is in distress.4

<*>  10. American merchant vessels shall make every effort to avoid the submarines of Germany and of any nation following the policy of Germany announced in her note of January 31, 1917, while in the zones proscribed by Germany.

<*>  11. American merchant vessels shall display the American colors continuously at sea.5

     12. American merchant vessels should communicate with the Commandant of the Naval District before leaving a United States port to make sure of the latest information.

     13. The safety of American merchant vessels requires that they obey all instructions of vessels of war of the United States.

ON SIGHTING A SUBMARINE IN

THE PROSCRIBED ZONES

     14. If a submarine is sighted beyond torpedo range, bring submarine abaft the beam and keep her there. If submarine attempts to close, bring her astern and proceed at highest possible speed.

     15. If submarine is sighted close aboard forward of the beam, the greatest safety lies in changing course directly toward the submarine.

     16. If submarine is sighted close aboard abaft the beam, the greatest safety lies in turning away from the submarine and proceeding at highest speed.

ON OPENING FIRE IN DEFENSE

AGAINST THE UNLAWFUL ACTS OF SUBMARINES

     17. Hoist national colors before first shot is fired.

     18. Once it has been decided to open fire, do not submit to the gun fire of a submarine so long as the armed guard can continue to fire.

     19. Send all persons except bridge force and the armed guard below decks while vessel is under fire.

     20. Watch out for torpedoes and maneuver to avoid them. If unable to avoid them, maneuver so that they will strike a glancing blow.

THE ARMED GUARD

               21. The Armed Guard is commanded by the Senior Naval Officer on board.6 He shall have exclusive control over the military functions of the Armed Guard and shall be responsible for the execution of all the regulations given herein governing the employment of the Armed Guard.

     22. The military discipline of the Armed Guard shall be administered by the naval Officer commanding the Armed Guard.

     23. The Armed Guard shall be subject to the orders of the Master of the merchant vessel as to matters of non-military character, but the members of the Armed Guard shall not be required to perform any ship duties except their military duty, and these shall be performed invariably under the direction of the officer commanding the Armed Guard.

     24. The decision as to opening fire or ceasing fire upon any submarine shall reside exclusively with the naval officer commanding the Armed Guard.

     25. The enlisted personnel of the Armed Guard shall be quartered and messed together on board both in port and at sea, at the expense of the owners of the vessel, on which the Armed Guard is serving, in a manner satisfactory to the naval officer commanding the Armed Guard.

     26. The naval officer commanding the Armed Guard shall take precedence next after the Master, except that he shall not be eligible for succession to the command of the ship. He shall be quartered and messed on board both at sea and in port, at the expense of the owners of the vessel on which he is serving, and in a manner appropriate to his precedence next after the Master.

     27. The Master of the merchant vessel shall, on request of the commander of the Armed Guard, detail members of the crew to handle ammunition, clear decks, and otherwise supplement the service of the gun.

     28. The naval officer commanding the Armed Guard shall be responsible for:-

(a) The condition of the battery and its appurtenances.

(b) The training of the guns’ crews and spotters, including members of the ship’s force detailed by the Master to assist in the service of the guns.

(c) The readiness of the ship’s battery at night.

(d) The readiness of the Armed Guard to perform its duties at all times.

(e) The continuous lookout near each gun by a member of the Armed Guard.

(f) The making of all reports required by the Navy Department.7

March 13, 1917.                    Josephus Daniels

Secretary of the Navy.8

Source Note: DTS, DNA, RG45, Entry 517B. The document is stamped “CONFIDENTIAL” at the top of the first page and the bottom of the last page and may have been added later.

Footnote 1: The date is handwritten. It is taken from the date given at the end of the document.

Footnote 2: In a diary entry of 8 March, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels wrote that he had been summoned to the White House on 8 March to discuss “arming ships” a matter Wilson wanted to be kept “secret.” Daniels added: “Decided to arm ships.” The Navy Operations branch “had prepared regulations in event we armed” which Daniels sent Wilson “that afternoon.” DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Diary, Roll 1.

Footnote 3: This section reflected a policy debate that Wilson was asked to resolve. See: Daniels to Wilson, 9 March 1917. It also may have been designed to address the concern, expressed by some, that the Armed Guards could be considered pirates. See, for example, Josephus Daniels’ diary entry of 28 March 1917, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Diary, Roll 1.

Footnote 4: When Wilson saw the proposed regulations for the Armed Guards he “suggested changes and particularly to omit ‘No ship shall go to rescue of ship attacked.’ England had adopted that rule after three ships were sunk that went to rescue of ship attacked. It seemed inhuman said President.” Josephus Daniels’ diary entry of 28 March 1917, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Diary, Roll 1; also see: Daniels to Wilson, 9 March 1917.

Footnote 5: According to a handwritten note at the bottom of this page, “* Note: Paragraphs 10 and 11 subsequently stricken out.”

Footnote 6: The Armed Guard detachments were commanded by junior officers (lieutenants and ensigns) and chief petty officers (chief boatswain’s mates and chief gunner’s mates).

Footnote 7: According to Daniels, the U.S. Navy furnished Armed Guards to 384 ships (which made 1,832 trans-Atlantic trips) and some 30,000 men were “at one time or another” employed in this service. Moreover, “the arming of merchantmen proceeded until nearly every American ship crossing the Atlantic was provided with this protection.” According to statistics compiled after the war, there were 347 sightings of German submarines by ships carrying Armed Guards and of these, there were 227 “actual” attacks but only 29 ships were torpedoed and sunk and two others were sunk by shell-fire and 193 attacks were repulsed. In terms of tonnage, 168,424 tons were lost and 1,400,000 tons were “saved.” Daniels, Our Navy at War: 186.

Footnote 8: In his diary entry of this date, Daniels wrote:

At 6:30 signed instructions to Naval officers who command Armed Guard on merchant ships. Before doing so, submitted them to Attorney General [James C. McReynolds] & talked with the President & Secy. Lansing over telephone I signed ten copies which Palmer sent over to New York by officer. Benson, Roosevelt & I went over the instructions first. It was a rather solemn time, for I felt I might be signing what would prove the death warrant of your Americans and the arming of ships may bring us into war. To-night officers, armed with these instructions, started being admonished not to mention a word of their instructions. DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Diary, Roll 1.

In a later entry in his diary, Daniels discussed a Cabinet meeting about whether the United States should enter the war. According to his entry, the formerly-pacifist Daniels remarked that the Armed Guard program “could not be wholly effective & if it succeeded we must co-operate with English & let them convoy our ships while we patrolled this coast.” Daniels then--along with the rest of the Cabinet—spoke in favor of declaring war. Daniels Diary, 20 March 1917, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Diary, Roll 1.

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