Edwin L. Reed, Aide for Information, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Naval Districts, to Captain Roger Welles, Director of Naval Intelligence
C O P Y - WD
May 15th, 1918.
From: Aide for Information, Ninth, Tenth & Eleventh Naval Districts.1
To : Director of Naval Intelligence, Washington, D.C.
Subject: INVESTIGATION OF CERTAIN MATTERS FOR THE UNITED STATES SHIPPING BOARD.
Reference: O.N.I. letter of May 11th, 1918 – 21036-924.2
1. The aide for Information personally called and interviewed Mr. H. Penton, the district officer in charge, Emergency Fleet Corporation, and Mr. W. H. Williams, in charge of operations, U.S. Shipping Board, Emergency Fleet Corporation, Room 209 Perry-Payne Building, Cleveland, Ohio.
The situation with reference to accidents, delays, etc. to all ships built and launched on the Great Lakes for the Emergency Fleet Corporation, is very serious –briefed as follows:
(A) Thirty-four (34) vessels have been put into operation by the Emergency Fleet Corporation from Great Lakes ship yards. Without exception, all of these ships have had trouble and accidents of various kinds. A few of these accidents might possibly be charged to natural causes, but it is believed by Mr.Penton and Mr. Williams that either propaganda work is responsible, or, at least, a very widely spread individual effort is being made to impair, delay and injure these new vessels. To illustrate:
(B) Steering gears have repeatedly broken, and frequently at critical times.
(C) Pieces of steel, rivets, and other obstacles have been found after a break-down in delicate parts of the ship’s machinery.
(D) Compasses are reported to be out of order frequently, to such an extent that the Shipping Board has found it necessary to re-examine and re-adjust all compasses at Montreal, Canada, notwithstanding the fact that the compasses are all standard,and should last at least thirty (30) days, in good condition. In the experience of the Shipping Board, they last less than ten (10) days.
In some of these instances suspicion is strong that the Great Lakes crews of the vessels are responsible.
(E) Other break-downs, such as the breaking of a shaft – it would be impossible for the crew to be responsible for such accidents, and the shipping board believes that such damager [i.e., damage] is done at the Great Lakes ship building yards at the time the vessel is launches or during the installation of its machinery. Unfortunately, the shipping board is unable to furnish a clear-cut specific instance of this, but its suspicions are strong.
2. During the day spent in the office of Messrs. Williams and Penton (May 14th) several severe accidents and delays were reported by telegram and otherwise to Mr. Williams.
3. In other instances, suspicion is strong with the shipping board that their captains of these ships are not putting forther their best efforts to avoid delays in shipping cargo, and in expediting matters generally, in connection with their official capacity.
4. The officers and crews of the Emergency Fleet Corporation’s vessels, built and launched at Great Lakes ports, are furnished through Mr. Williams, who is in charge of operation of these vessels. The Captain of the vessel, and possibly some of the other officers, remain with the ship, which, as a general rule is loaded at Great Lakes ports with cargo for over-seas. All members of the Great Lakes Seamen’s Union proceed as far as Montreal only, at which point the Great Lakes crew return, under orders from the shipping board, to another port, to take out another vessel. The Canadian authorities furnish a crew for the vessel from Montreal to Quebec, Canada. At the latter port, a crew furnished by an ocean operating company, (Crowell & Thurlow, Boston, Mass.,) boards the ship, which proceeds to its destination with the latter crew.
5. It is the opinion of this office (concurred in by Messrs. Williams and Penton) that the placing of an agent on these ships would avail very little. However, the placing of secret service men – in other words, sailors, working under cover, one to each of the new ships of the Emergency Fleet Corporation, should bring about the desired results, and the writer recommends that this be done, and is in a position and requests authority to carry out the recommendations.
6. It is the opinion of this office (Messrs. Williams and Penton concurring) that two or more secret service agents, working as mechanics in each one of the several Great Lakes shipbuilding companies having contracts with the Emergency Fleet Corporation, and making frequent reports to an authorized supervisor, will secure the desired information. This office is prepared to execute this recommendation and requests authority to carry out the recommendation.
7. The writer is very familiar with such secret service and under-cover work, as is indicated in paragraphs (5) and (6), and further, is thoroughly familiar with the expense such detailed action entails, and without specific authority to act, as above recommended, this office would not feel justified in using the Confidential Fund. However, the situation is unquestionably serious, and the government is suffering great loss, as well as delay, in its shipping program in so far as building and operation on the Great Lakes through to tide water is concerned.
8. The enclosed letter3 from Mr. Williams sets forth briefly their situation, and calls specific attention to a great loss accruing through the accident to the Steamer “Lake Como” which went aground yesterday in the St. Lawrence River.4
9. The writer believes this entire subject is worthy of a consultation (if need be, at Washington,) with the Director, and if circumstances had been such at the Chicago Office, that the writer could leave, he would request travel orders to proceed to Washington. However, the Aide is temporarily without other commissioned help in the office – hence the attempt to adequately handle this matter by correspondence.
10. All of the foregoing is referred for your information and instructions.
(Signed) Edwin L. Reed.
Source Note: TLS, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 677.
Footnote 1: All three of these districts were located in the Great Lakes and jointly under the command of Capt. William A. Moffett.
Footnote 2: This letter has not been found.
Footnote 3: This letter has not been found.
Footnote 4: Reed’s suspicions were never confirmed, as there is no record of any German infiltration or any kind of sabotage on the Great Lakes during the war.