Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels
9th October, 1917.
FROM: Force Commander.
TO : Secretary of the Navy (Operations)
SUBJECT: General Report.
1. ENEMY SUBMARINE OPERATIONS.
During the week ending 1 October evidence indicated that twenty to twenty-two enemy submarines were operating away from their bases of which seventeen or eighteen were operating in the Atlantic. There were few reports upon which to determine their positions and their activities were comparatively low as is shown by the reports of ships sunk.1
There has been no indication of any effort by the enemy towards concentration particularly in the focal areas in the approaches to the coast; on the contrary, from all reports that have been received, the reverse appears to be the case, the enemy apparently preferring to work well out in the Atlantic, perhaps in the hopes of meeting convoys before they are joined by escorting destroyers.
There appear to have been two, or perhaps three, submarines working between the coast of Portugal and the Azores and Madeira.
Evidence indicates that one of the large, or Deutschland type of submarines, is operating in the general vicinity of the Azores.
Several reports have been received of submarines being sighted two hundred miles west to north-west of Cape Finisterre.
2. REPORTS OF SUBMARINE ACTIVITY IN WESTERN ATLANTIC.
With reference to the information which has reached the Department recently from various sources concerning the possibility of a force of large enemy submarines operating off the Atlantic coast or in the West Indies, the Force Commander’s despatches have given practically all information available here. The Force Commander is strongly of the personal opinion that no extensive oversea campaign of this nature will be initiated by the enemy. He is further of the personal opinion that such a campaign is a practical impossibility.
No evidence gathered during the war indicates that enemy submarines are any more free from material casualties and the general restrictions which obtain with respect to surface craft than surface craft themselves; in fact, it is considered that submarines are much more restricted in their operations than surface craft. They require frequent docking and hence it is not believed that even an efficient parent ship – should such a ship be available and if it were possible to maintain her in distant fields,-would be able to furnish the facilities that the submarines on such duty would demand.
It is always, of course, quite possible that the enemy may send a small number of submarines to operate temporarily on our coast or in distant fields, with the object of affecting the disposition of our forces. It would be greatly to the interest of the enemy to force the removal of our anti-submarine force from the critical areas, that is, near to the enemy bases and in the focal areas of allied trade, upon which the war is largely dependent.
It has been a source of more or less surprise that such an operation as this has not been undertaken before, and the only theory offered to explain the fact that it has not been undertaken has been that the enemy apparently did not consider it to their interests to arouse the American public unnecessarily.
It has been believed that the enemy hopes that peace will arrive before the military pressure of the United States has become at all serious. The population of the allied countries, now in the fourth year of the war, has reached what might be called a “bitter stage” which will re-act upon the enemy following the war during the reconstruction period. The theory is therefore advanced that it will be greatly to the enemy’s advantage during the reconstruction period if the American public at large has not been given any cause to reach the so-called “bitter stage”.
On the other hand, it may be urged that a few submarines sent to operate temporarily on the American Coast or on the trade routes from South America particularly in the vicinity of the Canal,2 might result in sufficient popular agitation to force the Department into withdrawing either all or part of its forces from European Waters. The possibility of this contingency must therefore, of course, receive serious consideration.
It is not believed that the enemy at present has over sixty large seagoing submarines and it is not to be expected that much over thirty percent of these can be operating on the high sea at any one time. Information has been received to the effect that the enemy had a maximum of eight large “cruiser” submarines under construction, but the British Intelligence Service has not been able to verify that more than four are being built, two of which are apparently ready for, or are in service at the present time.
3. UNTRUSWORTHY INFORMATION.
The general question of the degree of credence which may be placed upon intelligence information is a very serious and complicated one. During the war, on numerous occasions, information concerning projected enemy movements has been received from numerous sources apparently independent which, it later developed, had apparently been disseminated by the enemy themselves. As stated in dispatch to the Department under date of 5 October, information that has been received by the British Admiralty from Copenhagen has generally been found to be incorrect and there is considerable evidence to indicate that this is a favorite German factory of misinformation.3 Agents in Italy seem also to have been used for the same purpose.
4. MINE LAYING BY SUBMARINES.
Ninety enemy mines were located and destroyed during the week ending three October. Activity was principally off the southeast coast of England but some mines were also laid off Lerwick, Portland, Waterford, and the east coast of Ireland between Tuskar and Kish.4 Reports of enemy mining activity on the French coast during this period have not been received to date.
5. ENGAGEMENTS WITH ENEMY SUBMARINES.
Twenty-seven encounters with enemy submarines were reported during the week ending October 3 as follows:-
7 by Destroyers.
1 by Special Service Ship.
1 by “P” class vessel.5
3 by Auxiliary Patrol6
11 by Aircraft.
1 by French Fishing Vessel.
3 by Merchant Vessel.
1 in conjunction with Auxiliary Patrol.
6. OPERATIONS OF THE DESTROYER FLOTILLAS.
The operations of the destroyers continue as previously reported. Their major duty is now in escorting convoys, both outward and inward bound, to the full extent possible when not engaged in troop convoy work. While in harbour ready for sea, and not under short orders for convoy escort duty, they are used for patrol duty in the near vicinity of Queenstown whenever a submarine is definitely located. The demands for convoy escort work, however, leave little opportunity for patrol or special offensive duty of this character.
They are now constantly meeting and co-operating with the British destroyer and sloop forces based on Buncrana (North of Ireland), Milford Haven, and Devonport.
A small British submarine force is now based on Berehaven, Bantry Bay. They are used for patrol duties in the entrance to the Irish Sea and Channel. Practically no attempt is made to maintain any co-operation between these submarines and surface forces. The submarines are simply instructed to keep out of the way of the surface craft.
The British submarine force based on Bantry Bay consists of the Parent Ship VULCAN and eight submarines, four of which are at present under repairs. A division of five submarines is also based on Buncrana with a Parent Ship.
There is forwarded herewith in case it has not been received by the Department (via the British Naval Attache) the latest British publication concerning disposition of British and U. S. Ships.7
There are attached extracts of particular military interest form current war diaries.8
7. MISCELLANEOUS ITEMS CONCERNING DESTROYER FORCE AND QUEENSTOWN.________________________________________
The refit of the NICHOLSON, JACOB JONES and STERETT has been completed and the vessels have returned to Queenstown.
The CUSHING, ERICSSON and WARRINGTON are at Liverpool for refit.
The storeship CAMDEN arrived at Queenstown September 29 and is now discharging stores into the storehouse at Passage. Upon completion of her discharge at Queenstown she will be despatched to Bordeaux to discharge 4700 tons of cargo coal which will be turned over to the Army, it having been learned on enquiry that the Department had not specified any destination for this coal.
Up to the present time we have been using but one upper floor of the storehouse at Passage at a weekly rental of £17. sterling, but as the capacity for stores has proved insufficient, the entire building has now been rented at £34. Sterling, a week which is considered reasonable.
This is the building which has been under consideration for a barracks for enlisted men under training. From the latest reports received from the Commanding Officer of the MELVILLE, it is not entirely clear whether the building will still be available for barracks, but this point will be cleared up and a report made to the Department at an early date.9
Liberty conditions ashore in Queenstown are now entirely normal, but liberty to visit Cork is not being granted.
John W. Parente M.M.2c. who had personal encounter with a civilian at Queenstown resulting in the death of the latter, has been turned over to the civil authorities for trial.10 Before delivering Parente the Commanding Officer of the MELVILLE procured a written statement from the District Inspector, Royal Irish Constabulary, to the effect that all proceedings against Parente would be instituted and conducted by the civil authorities and that the Military authorities would have no part in the matter.
Parente has engaged Mr. Fred. Wynne, a Solicitor to care for his interests, Mr. Wynne having been associated with the case from the beginning.
An officer from U.S.S. MELVILLE has attended all Court proceedings thus far conducted and will continue to do so until the case is finished.
8. DEPARTURE OF THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF ATLANTIC FLEET.
The Commander-in-Chief and staff accompanied by the Force Commander arrived at Queenstown 28 September. The destroyers in the harbour, the MELVILLE, and the organization activities and methods of administration of the destroyers were inspected, the Commander-in-Chief’s flag flying from the MELVILLE during his visit.
There is attached copy of the letter received by the Force Commander from the Commander-in-Chief before his departure from Liverpool.11
The Commander-in-Chief and staff sailed for the United States on the s.s. ST.LOUIS sailing from Liverpool on the 4th inst:
Captain O.P. Jackson who was in an automobile accident in France, was left behind together with Lieut. Commander A.B. Cook, who remained to take care of Captain Jackson.12 From the latest information received it seems probable that these officers will sail for the United States about the middle of October.
9. FORCES BASED ON FRENCH COAST.
The Forces based on the French Coast continue to operate as previously reported. The APHRODITE, WAKIVA, CORSAIR and ALCEDO have been placed in a group by themselves for off shore work called Group-“H”.13
The ten trawlers recently arrived have been assigned to coastal convoy work for the time being with a view to breaking in their crews and that they may become familiar with the coast and channels.
As already reported to the Department by cable, the REHOBOTH was lost off the French Coast on the 4th inst; Complete information regarding this disaster is not yet to hand, but from information received indirectly by means of intercepted message, it seems probable that the vessel caught fire and was afterwards sunk by gun fire to prevent her becoming a derelict. The officers and crew were taken off by H.M.S. CASTOR. A complete report will be submitted as soon as all the facts are known.14
Admiral Fletcher15 reports that the crews of the trawlers are very green and have had no experience in mine sweeping. He also reported that their gear is not so efficient or suitable for working on that coast as the gear used by the French, and that the winches used by the most of them are not sufficient power. It seems probable that their mine sweeping gear will have to be considerably remodelled before they can be employed for mine sweeping duty.
Their employment in coastal convoy work, however, releases a number of French vessels for mine sweeping duty.
The vessels on the French coast are ready for duty except the following :- ANDERTON – miscellaneous repairs principally deck re-caulking. Estimated time – seven days.
KANAWA II. Repairs to condenser and other work estimated time – three days.
LEWES. – Deck house badly damaged and other miscellaneous work. Time – four days.16
Of the other vessels, many decks need re-caulking and other minor repairs awaiting attention whenever apportunity affords.
Admiral Fletcher reports that the BATH is not well adapted for duty as a collier. She is better suited for general cargo work being a double deck ship and having other arrangements such that coal cannot be carried to full cargo capacity without the ship being over draft.
Captain Magruder17 has been ordered temporarily as Chief of Staff to Admiral Fletcher.
Commander Freeman will go to sea on one of the larger yachts for work off shore for meeting and escorting convoys.18
Report by telegraph has been made of the death by drowning of Ernest W. Walker, Wardroom Cook of the SULTANA. This occurred on the night of September 26 when a dory from the U.S.S EMELINE was in collision with a small tug. A court has been ordered. The body has been recovered and immediate burial was reported as necessary.
10. FORCES BASED ON GIBRALTAR.
No written report has been received from Rear Admiral Wilson covering periods since September 15th, although he has reported by cable that reports up to 1 October have been mailed.19
The general plan under which these forces are operating was reported in Rear Admiral Wilson’s cable No.44 which was repeated to the Department in my No.751 on the 4th instant.20
Under the date of 21 September, the British Admiralty telegraphed to the Senior Naval Officer, Gibraltar, a proposal for the operation of British and American forces, but I am not informed as to whether this plan has been put into effect. The plan was in substance as follows:- Six British Special Service Vessels to be temporarily based on Gibraltar for duty as zone escort and for operations for which they were specially designed, it being very doubtful whether these vessels could continue ocean escort duty during the winter months. The U.S. vessels SACREMENTO, SENECA, OSSIPEE, MANNING, YAMACRAW to act as ocean escorts in place of the British Special Service Vessels.21
11. FORCES BASED ON AZORES.
The question of whether our forces could be better situated based on Fayal or Ponta Delgada has been discussed with the Admiralty. The Admiralty favored Fayal because it was believed that that Port is better protected from gales and would be easier of protection against submarines during winter months.
As previously reported the Admiralty is making plans to install the high power radio station at Fayal and also an intelligence centre. If, however, the Department finally decides in favour of Ponta Delgada, the Admiralty is quite willing to change its plans.22
As soon as Commander Proctor23 arrives at Queenstown he will be called to London for a general discussion of the situation in the Azores and a further report will be made.
It is hoped that the Department can, through diplomatic channels, reach such an understanding with the Portuguese Government as to prevent the minor, but troublesome complications which have occurred in the Azores and which apparently promise to continue to some extent.24
12. PAY OFFICERS FOR DESTROYERS.
As cabled to the Department it is not considered practicable nor desirable to assign Pay Officers to duty afloat on destroyers.25 Aside from other considerations the accommodations are entirely inadequate.
There are now twenty-one medical officers either actually afloat on destroyers or under orders to join and it is understood from a recent cable from the Department that twenty Reserve Officers are to be sent to the Flotilla for training. These officers with the medical officers are, of course, additional to the regular complement of a minimum of five line officers required on each destroyer. As our ships in European Waters must continue to operate from a fixed base, and as accounts, records, and all papers and documents of value belonging to destroyers are kept at the Parent Ships of the bases, the Pay Officers on board the destroyers would be superfluous.
If any additional officers are to be placed on destroyers they should be line officers for training.
As recommended in the above mentioned cablegram, six pay officers could be very usefully employed at the destroyer base. Two at least of the rank of Lieutenant and with experience, and four of a lesser rank and experience.
No Pay Officer senior to Paymaster Wainwright26 is desired as that officer has had considerable experience as the Senior Pay Officer in the Flotilla and it would be undesirable to replace him in that capacity.
The general question of training officers and men will be covered by separate correspondence.
13. DEPTH CHARGES.
Depth Charges and dropping gear have now been supplied by the British Admiralty for all U.S. forces in European Waters with the exception of the WAKIVA, BATH, and ten mine sweepers which have recently arrived. Outfits for the latter are being assembled at Devonport where one of our patrol vessels will shortly call for them.
Depth charges for the vessels at Gibraltar have been assembled and will shortly be shipped.
As early information as possible is requested as to prospective delivery abroad of depth charges being manufactured at home. It is understood that the depth charges which will be supplied from home will fit the British releasing gear. If this is not the case, some complications will be introduced unless the supply from home is adequate to entirely avoid future use of British supplies.27
The drawings of the Department’s design of depth charge and other equipment in connection with it are requested as soon as possible. Sufficient number of copies of drawings and any other instructions concerning the depth charge to be supplied from the United States should be forwarded to supply each vessel of this force.
It is understood that the general question of future plans as regards mining particularly in the North Sea will be taken up with the Commander-in-Chief upon his return.
The Admiralty is thoroughly investigating this question with a view to expediting such detailed plans as may later be drawn up in co-operation with the Navy Department.
It is understood from discussions with officials in the Admiralty that the general plan proposed will involve very extensive shore work such as establishment of depots for assembly, tests, and so forth. Also that this will probably require sending over from the United States comparatively large personnel force for these shore stations.
The detailed discussions of these questions will probably be postponed by the Admiralty until the return of the Commander-in-Chief. It is recommended that the Force commander be used as the channel of communication with the Admiralty in all matters concerning this subject, as such a course will be conducive to avoiding misunderstandings and misinterpretations. If some communications or cablegrams pass direct to and from the Admiralty through its representative in Washington to the Department, and others through this office, the chance of confusion and misunderstanding will be considerable as it has been apparently in the past.28
Commander Cone has arrived and given general charge under my direction of all matters pertaining to naval aviation abroad.29
He was at once introduced to the Aviation officials of the Admiralty and before proceeding to France, is making as complete investigations as possible of the Naval Air Stations in the British Isles.
There is attached copy of report submitted by Commander Cone under date October 6.
The Department’s attention is particularly invited to paragraph 4 of this report with respect to the size of kite balloons which the British Air Service has found best. The Department has stated in a recent cablegram that a similar kite balloon was considered better by our authorities and was being built. Further information on this head will be furnished.
Steps have been taken to secure the drawings mentioned in paragraph 5 but no steps have been taken to secure any material mentioned in paragraph 10, in the absence of any knowledge as to the Department’s wishes in the matter.30
16. CONSULAR REPORTS.
It is recommended that the State Department be requested to instruct its Consular Officers abroad that they should not make reports concerning the movements, equipment or method of United States or allied naval craft.
It seems that Consuls and Consular Agencies in time of peace were in the habit of making reports on naval subjects whenever such information was available. Immediately after the Force Commander arrived in England, a number of reports were referred to him from the American Embassy which had been made by Consuls and forwarded through the regular mails and not only reporting upon the arrivals and departures of U.S. and British ships, but also going into considerable detail concerning their equipment and methods.
The Embassy in London, at the request of the Force Commander, took some steps to prevent this in England. A report has been received today (copy attached) of a letter addressed by the head American Consular Agent in Dieppe to his immediate superior head at Rouen. Such reports are manifestly undesirable in time of war particularly as they go through regular mails.31
It is considered that all U.S. Consular Officers should be instructed to confine their reports concerning naval activities entirely to such information as may be obtainable in regard to the enemy.
The necessity for increased anti-submarine forces continues as before reported. It would be of extreme importance to continue offensive patrol work in addition to convoy work if a sufficient number of vessels were available.
It is urgently requested that the Department furnish the Force Commander with a periodic report concerning these plans and intentions as they may affect the forces under his command. As much advance notice is requested as possible concerning future contemplated additions to the command in European Waters.
1. Since preparation of theabove letter, two interesting papers have been received from Paris as follows:
(a) Analysis by French Ministry of Marine of the movements and operations of enemy submarines in the Channel and Atlantic for the month of May, 1917.
(b) Summary of information concerning enemy submarines for month of September, 1917.
The Naval Attache, Paris, requests that (a) above, be ultimately given to the office of Naval Intelligence after it has served its purpose in Operations.32
WM. S. SIMS
18. According to his later testimony, the appointment of Cmdr. Frederic N. Freeman to sea duty was at the urging of Capt. Magruder who argued that there needed to be “a commander afloat, to inspect the ships, to operate a division of the larger ships, if necessary, and in fact to perform the duties of a commander afloat. Admiral Fletcher finally accepted that recommendation, and commander Freeman was put in command of a division.” RG 125, Entry 30, Box 246.|
Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG45, Entry 517B. Identification numbers “B-I234” appear in upper-left corner.
Footnote 1: See: Sims to Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 7 October 1917.
Footnote 2: That is, the Panama Canal.
Footnote 3: See: Sims to Benson, 4 October 1917.
Footnote 4: Tuskar Rock is the location of a lighthouse off the southeast coast of Country Wexford, Ireland; Kish Bank is a shallow sandbank off the coast of Dublin, Ireland; it also houses a lighthouse.
Footnote 5: “P class” were nominally patrol boats but were actually coastal sloops built for use of the Royal Navy.
Footnote 6: The British Auxiliary Patrol were composed primarily of fishing trawlers retrofitted with armaments and crewed by fishermen commanded by merchant navy men who held Royal Navy Reserve commissions. http://www.dreadnoughtproject.org/tfs/index.php/Admiral_of_Patrols, consulted 9/25/17.
Footnote 7: This was Commo. Sir Guy R. Gaunt; the publication he passed on has not been found.
Footnote 8: For an example of a war diary, see: War Diary of U.S.S. Fanning, 24 September 1917.
Footnote 9: From what Sims wrote to William S. Benson on this date, it appears that the matter had been resolved successfully. See: Sims to Benson, 9 October 1917.
Footnote 10: For additional details on this incident and the trial, see: Sims to Daniels, 15 September 1917 and Sims to Benson, 9 October 1917.
Footnote 11: The letter from VAdm. Henry T. Mayo to Sims has not been found.
Footnote 12: Capt. Orton P. Jackson and Lt. Comdr. Arthur B. Cook, both members of Mayo’s staff.
Footnote 13: These were armed yachts.
Footnote 14: The Rehoboth was one of the trawlers Sims mentioned in the preceding paragraph. It was abandoned when the hull began to leak and its crew was unable to control the flooding. H.M.S. Castor was responsible for sinking it.
Footnote 15: RAdm. William R. Fletcher, Force Commander, Patrol Squadrons, French Waters.
Footnote 16: ANDERTON was a trawler; Kanawha II was an armed yacht; LEWES was a commercial fishing boat that was turned into a minesweeper and patrol vessel.
Footnote 17: Capt. Thomas P. Magruder.
Footnote 18:According to his later testimony, the appointment of Cmdr. Frederic N. Freeman to sea duty was at the urging of Capt. Magruder who argued that there needed to be “a commander afloat, to inspect the ships, to operate a division of the larger ships, if necessary, and in fact to perform the duties of a commander afloat. Admiral Fletcher finally accepted that recommendation, and commander Freeman was put in command of a division.” RG 125, Entry 30, Box 246.
Footnote 19: RAdm. Henry B. Wilson, Commander, Gibraltar Patrol.
Footnote 20: Neither Wilson’s nor Sims’ cables have been found.
Footnote 21: See: Admiralty to Vice Admiral Heathcoat S. Grant, 21 September 1917.
Footnote 22: The Americans made Ponta Delgada their headquarters. See: Sims to Benson, 15 October 1917 and Still, Crisis at Sea, 136-37.
Footnote 23: Cmdr. André M. Proctor, commander of the First Division of destroyers, then en route from the Azores to Queenstown.
Footnote 24: According to historian William N. Still, cooperation between the United States and Portugal, the country that controlled the Azores, remained erratic throughout the war. Ibid., 137.
Footnote 25: Sims cable discussing paymasters for the destroyer flotilla has not been found.
Footnote 26: Assistant Paymaster Dallas B. Wainwright, Jr.
Footnote 27: According to historian Norman Friedman, throughout the war, the British and American navies “exchanged depth charges” so the issue Sims’ foresaw did not develop. Friedman, Naval Weapons of WWI, 397.
Footnote 28: In September, the First Sea Lord had informed his counterpart, RAdm. Benson, that the North Sea Mine Barrage had become “a feasible proposition.” Jellicoe Papers, 2: 210. With Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt pushing the project, the skeptics were won over and preparations for construction began in fall 1917. Anglo-American Naval Relations, 368-69.
Footnote 29: Cmdr. Hutchinson I. Cone. According to Sims’ Chief of Staff, Capt. Nathan C. Twining, Cone was primarily responsible for aviation maters in areas of “policy, operations, personnel, and materiel.” Rossano, Stalking the U-Boat, 43.
Footnote 30: A copy of Cone’s report can be found in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Papers at the Roosevelt Presidential Library, Hyde Park, N.Y.
Footnote 31: The enclosure has not been found.
Footnote 32: Neither of these “papers” have been found.