Skip to main content

Vice Admiral Charles J. Badger, President, General Board of the Navy, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

G. B. No. 425.  (Serial No. 724.)  Confidential.

May 3, 1917.

From: Senior member present.1

To: Secretary of the Navy.

Subject: Further recommendations as to the employment of patrol draft [i.e., craft] to meet submarines.

References: general board letter, G.B. No. 425, of April 28, 1917 (serial No. 721).

 Subject: Immediate steps to be taken for efficient cooperation against submarines.2

     Since forwarding the above reference, the general board has obtained from the senior naval members of the British and French commissions now in this country,3 additional specific information in regard to the submarine situation; the measures with the British and French are now taking; and suggestions as to the measures which the United States may best take to supplement British and French endeavor, which is now a probable maximum.

     2. The General Board has also interviewed the officer in charge of naval districts,4 in order that concrete and specific information might be the basis of the recommendations which the General Board feels called upon to make in the present great emergency, and as supplementary to its discussion of the urgency of the present situation, in reference (a), copy appended.

     3. The statements of the senior naval members of the British and French commission before this board May 2 and 3 may be briefly summarized as follows:

     (a) The number of patrol vessels, both British and French, now available or in prospect, is not sufficient to meet the submarine campaign waged by Germany.

     (b) The present rate of destruction of food carriers to England and France, unless it can be reduced in the next two months, will result in starving both England and France.

     (c) England will be starved out before France.

     (d) The need for patrol craft is immediate; the critical period is now; and in the next two months the fate of England may be decided.

     (e) Unless armed patrol craft, destroyers, and any surface craft able to keep the sea are dispatched in the next few weeks, they will be too late to prevent disaster to England first, and to France, second.

     (f) Fifty armed surface craft dispatched now would be “a real help.” Two hundred sent now would do much to prevent the disaster which threatens England, especially.

     (g) The vessels most desired are destroyers; then sea-keeping craft armed with 5-inch, 4-inch, or 3-inch guns, capable of a sustained cruising speed of 13 knots; then any armed sea-keeping craft to relieve British patrol craft of greater speed. Ocean-going tugs are most valuable for patrol work and for towing into port damaged vessels.

     (h) In regard to other assistance, Great Britain needs now two mine layers of 18 knots speed and a large number of Navy defense automatic mines.

     (i) The belief was expressed that Germany was building submarines faster than they were being destroyed.

     4. The officer in charge of naval districts, who appeared before the General Board, stated that approximately the following numbers of listed vessels could be armed and used for patrol in British and French waters if the Government had and exercised the authority to take them over for naval purposes:

Seagoing tugs, armed with 3 to 5 inch guns . . . . 50

Yachts, armed with 3 to 5 inch guns . . . . . . . . 30

Steam fishing vessels, armed with 3 to 5 inch guns . 50

Steam trawlers, armed with 3-inch guns. . . . . . . .10

     Total                                           140

Approximate number of Government vessels available for patrol in British waters

     Destroyers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36

     Naval converted yachts and gunboats . . . . .  15

     Revenue cutters. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   10

          Total. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .61                Grand total. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   201

     5. The Bureau of Ordnance states that there are in service the following naval guns thus indicating that there are sufficient guns to arm any patrol vessels that it is practicable to fit out:

3-inch. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 864

4-inch. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 491

5-inch. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 673

6-inch. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 318

          Total. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2,346

     6. The General Board is convinced that the emergency exist now; that the time element is of overwhelming importance; that every effort should be made, first, to meet or prevent submarine attack, and, second, as of less importance, to supply additional food and munition carriers, and that sending 200 or more patrol craft to Europe in the next two months will go far toward preventing the collapse of Great Britain.

     7. The General Board, in view of the above considerations, and those more fully stated in reference (a), makes the following recommendations and urges with all the emphasis at its command that action to carry them out be immediate, and that such action be prosecuted uninterruptedly, to the exclusion of other war preparations if necessary, having constantly in view the statement of the naval members of the British and French commissions that Great Britain’s fate may be decided in the next two months by the submarine campaign alone.

     (a) Concentrate department effort upon the passage at once of legislation, if needed, to enable the President to take over and utilize the yachts, tugs, and other craft necessary for the above patrol duty.

     (b) Take over, arm, and fit out such patrol craft, in the least possible time, utilizing the full resources of navy yards and private plants to expedite the work, postponing other work which in any way interferes therewith.

     (c) Dispatch at once at least 36 destroyers for patrol work in British and French waters, accompanied by repair ships, and provide for the necessary fuel and supply ships at stated intervals.

     (d) Establish a base at a point on the Irish coast for destroyers, from which they may operate to patrol shipping routes. The senior naval member of the British commission suggests Berehaven, on Bantry Bay, Ireland, as the most suitable location and possessing all the facilities necessary for the base. Also as the patrol craft become available establish a base at Brest.

     (e) Send in advance 100 enlisted men and necessary officers to Great Britain and the same number to France for instruction in mine sweeping.

     (f) Manufacture naval mines of the anchored automatic type for use in British waters in the number to be agreed upon with the British naval authorities.

     (g) Fit out and dispatch two mine layers, 18 knot speed.

     8. The General Board wishes to reiterate with the utmost earnestness that it believes disaster to Great Britain can only be prevented by immediate action as recommended above.5

Chas. J. Badger.   

Source Note: Naval Investigation, 1: 1107-9.

Footnote 1: VAdm. Charles J. Badger.

Footnote 2: See, Badger to Daniels, 28 April 1917, Ibid., 1: 1104-5.

Footnote 3: That is, RAdm. Sir Dudley R.S. De Chair from Great Britain and VAdm. Paul Louis Albert Chocheprat from France.

Footnote 4: Probably, Capt. George R. Maxwell. A list of all the vessels taken over by the naval districts and sent to Europe or retained for use in the United States can be found in Ibid., 1: 1294-1308.

Footnote 5: Many of the board’s recommendations were implemented, however, the adoption of the convoy system for merchant vessels soon after this report was made lessened merchant ship losses and prevented the crisis predicted here. Daniels noted having received this recommendation and its urgent tone in a diary entry of 2 May 1917. DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Diary, Roll 1.

Related Content