Skip to main content

Diary of Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels


OCTOBER                     MONDAY 29                     1917

     Had talk with Lord Northcliffe1 who was evidently depressed & said he hoped we would build fire under English Navy. Jellico2 had but one thought and that was to preserve the great fleet. Not accustomed to fighting & had no real engagement since Nelson's day.3 Going to London to international conference, but feared there would be no commanding figure, with initiative. He saw me in Chicago and came back happy over the splendid spirit of the patriotic West.

     McKean:4 After visiting Greece and seeing soldiers smoking and drinking in cafes & asking "Why don't the power come and save us?" he no longer believed the story of Thermopylae5—did not think such men could have begotten the men now inhabiting Greece. Felt the same way about Italy.

     Roosevelt after reading report of General Board for a bar[r]age across North Sea said "I told you so last May."6 Badger7 called and had long conference & said by process of elimination he had come to conclusion that the bar[r]age of mines, with closing of English Channel, in the North Sea was feasible and the only big thing the combined navies could do. All the General Board and Capt. Pratt8 held that view, and I authorized Pratt to Capt. Belknap9 at work on the mining, it being regarded he was the most capable man on mining and for Admiral Hoogewerff's10 division to take it in hand. A stupendous undertaking—perhaps not impossible but to my mind of doubtful practicality. North Sea too rough & will necessitate withdrawing all our ships from other work and then we can destroy the hornets nest or keep the hornets in?

     Monday night. Edison11 spent whole evening, discussing a system of routing he thought would save many ships. He had maps showing all submarines since February.

Source Note: D, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Diaries, Roll 1.

Footnote 1: First Baron Northcliffe, Alfred C.W. Lord Harmsworth, Head of the British War Mission to the United States.

Footnote 2: Adm. Sir John R. Jellicoe, R.N., First Sea Lord.

Footnote 3: Adm. Horatio Nelson, one of Britain’s most revered figures, won multiple victories against French fleets during the Napoleonic Wars.

Footnote 4: Capt. Josiah S. McKean, Staff, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 5: A famous battle in 480 BC that occurred during Persian Emperor Xerxes I’s invasion of Greece. The battle culminated in a small force of Greeks, led by King Leonidas of Sparta, making a last stand against a much larger Persian army. Although the Greeks were annihilated, they inflicted massive casualties and stalled Xerxes’ invasion. The battle has long been regarded as an example of heroic courage and of the advantage enjoyed by citizen-soldiers defending their homeland against a foreign aggressor.

Footnote 6: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy. The North Sea Mine Barrage was an attempt to block the German submarine fleet with a massive minefield stretching across the entrance to the North Sea. Despite British opposition, American insistence finally won out, and the first mines were laid in June 1918. Ultimately, the barrage consisted of over 70,000 mines and cost upwards of $40 million. Its effectiveness in combating submarines is highly questionable, although the war ended very soon after it was completed, and had the conflict continued it might have made a greater contribution. Halpern, Naval History of World War I: 438-441.

Footnote 7: Adm. Charles J. Badger, President, General Board of the Navy.

Footnote 8: Capt. William V. Pratt, Assistant (Acting) Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 9: Capt. Charles Belknap, Jr.

Footnote 10: RAdm. John A. Hoogewerff, Commander of the Mine Force.

Footnote 11: Inventor Thomas A. Edison, head of the Naval Consulting Board.