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Lindon W. Bates, Chairman of the Engineering Committee, Submarine Defense Association, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters

The Submarine Defense Association.




May 9th, 1918

Admiral W. S. Sims,

United States Naval Headquarters,

30 Grosvenor Gardens, S.W. 1,

London, England.

My dear Admiral Sims:-

                     On May 3rd we had upon the U.S.S.GEM1 to witness demonstrations of the “S” Course Indicator2 a large number of British Officers, among them I may mention Admiral Henderson, Captain (Acting Commodore) Stockwell, Captains Williams and Smith, Engineer-Commanders Nibbs and Grant.3

                     All but Commander Nibbs have sailed in charge of convoys. All of them having seen and steered by the Indicator themselves are most decided in their expressions that it would be invaluable for convoy as well as single ship use. I wish you would get hold of Captain Stockwell or the Admiral and hear from them at first hand all about it and what they say, will, I hope convince you that the “S” course is much better than the Zig-Zag.

                     We believe it is to be very much desired that vessels shall be given the Automatic Course Indicator and shall be painted and treated by the Camouflage system to which our investigations have led. War success, life and property so critically depend upon doing all that is possible for ships, whether going singly or in convoy.

          The convoy system, by no means includes, nor can it include, all vessels navigating the submarine infested zones. Almost all of the ships proceeding to Europe in convoy return singly and are escorted a short distance only on their journey. Many merchantmen and war vessels at all times are obliged to proceed alone or with naval escort, Such, for instance are vessels of less than about eight knots speed, vessels engaged in European coast-wise traffic, vessels proceeding to ports other than those for which their convoy companions are destined, and vessels proceeding to or through the Mediterranean.

          Ships have been picked out of a convoy and sunk by torpedo. In many cases too, the convoy formation has not been successfully maintained, and then U-boats have attacked laggards. Massed attacks upon convoys have taken place with varying results. The convoy system has, indeed thus far prevented the loss of transports but such good fortune cannot be counted upon. Since it is quite impossible for all vessels to travel in convoy or with escort, and since the number of vessels in convoy may have to be reduced in the near future, the problem of the protection of unconvoyed and unescorted vessels remains most serious.

          Since the first successful demonstrations off New London, Conn. Opportunity has been taken to bring the Course Indicator to great precision and chronometer accuracy. A Voyage Recorder registering automatically the hours in which the ships made the official Zig-Zag and “S” courses has been devised so as to assure observance of War regulations. There has also been devised, as an extra attachment a Course Monitor for timing the turns and courses of the official and mandatory Zig-Zags when in convoy or fleet formation.

          In the present shipping crisis it is a vital necessity that vessels traversing the U-boat danger-zone have the best means of fulfilling the mandatory war instructions for navigation and manoeuvering prescribed by the United States Navy and the corresponding instructions of the authorities of the co-belligerent powers, with despatch, harmony and accuracy whether singly or in convoy.

          The Automatic Course Indicator, which among other protective measures under development by the Submarine Defense Association of New York has been demonstrated through appreciative co-operation of the United States Navy Department, is a new navigating instrument whose use on shipboard will secure ready compliance with the war instructions and emergency orders with chronometric accuracy and technical precision, will increase the speed and manoeuvering power of ships, diminish the time in the danger-zone, render more difficult torpedo and gun fire attack by submarines, and will materially contribute to the safety of lives, ships and cargoes.

          Under existing conditions in Washington, the Shipping Board puts all responsibility of approval on the Navy Department. I can quite understand that on destroyers and battle ships the Navy may not now think they need it, but, there are transports, tankers, colliers, etc. and the Shipping Board will have thousands of new ship-victims for the submarine.

          Won’t you get in touch with these experienced convoy captains? One of them, Captain Stockwell, was for two and a half years in charge of the anti U-boat patrol in the Irish Sea and I would count much on his horse sense and great experience. No one could have been more emphatic in his approval and his wish to have the convoys he conducts equipped. I cannot understand why it is impossible to get Washington to move.

          By the way we have just developed and proved a Colloidal Fuel which is 31.2% Pocahontas Coal, 67.8% Navy fuel oil, 1% a Fixateur which keeps the coal in suspense. It works as easily and as well as Navy Fuel oil and if the composition is made in Cardiff, it is absolutely certain that we can save 30% of the oil or can make more patrol mileage with the present available supply. We can use the lignites in France and Italy also. We made no change in the Standard Navy tanks, piping, preheater or burner.4

          It is quite a fuel revolution!

Sincerely yours,

                   Lindon W. Bates


     P.S. We are sending to you under separate cover two additional sets of pamphlets issued by the Association.


Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 47. The letter is typed on Submarine Defense Association stationary. In addition to the heading here, that printed stationary includes the telephone number of the association, its code address, a notice how to contact the association, and in the left margin a list of the officers, committee heads, and general committee members.

Footnote 1: Gem was a steam yacht chartered by the U. S. Navy in 1917. It was assigned to the Submarine Defense Association for experimental work in December 1917.

Footnote 2: The “S” course, or sinuous course, Bates contended, was less predictable, more easily confused a submarine observer, and allowed vessels to go faster because there is less “retardation” of the ship’s forward motion. The Automatic Course Indicator, which he developed, allowed the navigator to plot sinuous courses, spiral courses, or zigzag courses with precision. As Bates explained it: “The helmsman today is accustomed to look at a given course-mark on the compass and to keep opposite it a fixed lubber-line. With the Automatic course Indicator, the helmsman keeps the same normal course compass-mark opposite a movable lubber-line instead of a fixed one.” A lubber line is the fixed line on a compass pointing towards the front of the ship and corresponding to the vessel’s centerline (being the customary direction of movement). A photograph of the Automatic Course Indicator can be found in the Illustrations section. Lindell T. Bates, Sinuous Courses and the Automatic Course Indicator for Naval Warfare (New York: Submarine Defense Association, 1918), 35-37, 39, 41.

Footnote 3: Adm. Frank H. Henderson, Capt. Henry Stockwell, Capt. Charles A. Smith, Capt. William A. Williams, Cmdr. Ernest Nibbs, and Cmdr. William P. Grant.

Footnote 4: According to a report prepared in 1933, the study of oil-coal colloidal mixtures was undertaken in 1918 both in the United States and in England. The technology was not far enough advanced at war’s end to be used and post-war efforts by Bates to find a commercial application were unsuccessful. “World Petroleum Congress, 19-25 July 1933, General Reporter’s Summary.” Accessed on 23 April 1918,