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Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels


<March 11, 1918->

as April, 1918.

From:     Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Operating in European Waters.

To  :     Secretary of the Navy (Operations).

Subject:  Report of voyage to England and return on S.S. NEW YORK, American Lines.

Reference: (a) Opnav’s letter of 22 March, 1918, Op-35-B. 28754-26:78, enclosing report of Lieut. (j.g.) F.A.Johnson, USNRF.1

     1.   The following comments are submitted on the report of Lieutenant Johnson:-

     (a)  Smoked Glasses.

     I concur that a limited number of smoked glasses should be provided lookouts, as submarines generally prefer to deliver their attacks approaching from the direction of the sun.

     (b)  Protection of Lookouts.

     It is most important that lookouts be well protected and warmly dressed. It is most important, too, that these lookouts be stationed in such position as will enable warnings to get to the bridge instantly. Most ships keep their lookouts in the vicinity of the bridge, so that the sighting of a submarine or torpedo can be communicated by voice to the officer of the deck, enabling him to manoeuvre the ship promptly. Lookouts who are dependent on the use of telephones or long complicated voice tubes are greatly handicapped, as the information they have should be gotten to the officer of the deck instantly.

     (c)  Zigzag Plans.

     Zigzag plans are worked out and promulgated both in instructions for British mercantile convoys as well as U.S. mercantile vessels. Every effort is made to carry on all signalling by day and to avoid the use of signalling after dark. It is considered a wise precaution to make a change of course shortly after sunset. But in practice this is done only if a submarine is known to be in the vicinity, or is suspected of following the convoy.

     (d)  Lighthouses.

     The suggestion of raising the beam of light has been considered both by the British and French authorities, who have thus far been unable to find any practical way of accomplishing it. There is no doubt that submarines make use of lighthouses to identify ships. In general, vessels should give strong lights a wide berth at night.

     (e)  Efficiency of Lookouts.

     As the submarine is doing a great bulk of his damage with torpedo, it follows that the armed guard cannot defend the ship with gunfire under such conditions. Every effort should be made to perfect systems of lookouts and particularly communication between lookouts and the bridge. Instances are occurring nearly every day of ships being saved by vigilant lookouts, who report either the periscope of the submarine or the wake of a torpedo that has been fired.

     (f)  Commissioning of Ships.

     There is no doubt that regularly commissioned vesels under the jurisdiction of the Navy Department are more efficient than vessels with merchant crews.

     (g)  Otters.2

     The British authorities place considerable dependence on otters for merchant vessels. All large men-O’-war are provided with paravanes, and some 1600 British merchantmen have been provided with otters, and others are being fitted as opportunity offers.

     (h)  Submarine Menace.

     There are many indications that we are at least holding our own against the submarine menace, and the various steps taken to protect shipping are making it increasingly difficult for the submarine, and offensive measures against the submarine are resulting in increased losses. The Straits of Dover are not yet closed completely, but only a small number of the submarines operating pass through the Dover Straits,the greater part passing around Scotland. The submarines that pass Dover Straits do so only with considerable risk, and with a fair chance of being lost.

     (i)  Defense against Submarines.

     I fully concur that gun crews are secondary in defending against submarine attack. Alert llokouts, instant communication and prompt manouvring of the ship are of primary importance.


Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Document reference: “01.16199/3/C/H/J.”

Footnote 2: Otter boards were used to spread out and direct mine sweeping nets.

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