Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels
7th September, 1917
FROM: Force Commander.
TO : Secretary of the Navy.
SUBJECT: General Report to 7th September, 1917.
1. ENEMY SUBMARINE OPERATIONS
During the week 23-28 August, 15 to 16 large enemy submarines appeared to be operating in the Atlantic of which eleven were operating to the westward of the British Isles.
The chief areas of activity w
here <were> the approaches to the English Channel and to the North of Ireland; in the latter locality the submarines worked close in to the North Channel.
A marked absence of enemy activity in the approaches to the Irish Sea continued. In this area however, outside of convoys, the traffic amounts to no more than two or three ships per day.
2. SUBMARINE MINE LAYING
Mines swept up during the week were about fifty per cent below the normal. Activity was experienced at Swarbacks Minn, off the Orkneys, in the River Tay, in the Thames Estuary, off the Owers, and off the coast of France.
3. SUBMARINE ENGAGEMENTS.
Twenty-three encounters with enemy submarines were reported in British Waters as follows:-
5 by T.B.D.1
1 by Special Service Ship
7 by Auxiliary Patrol (2 French)
4 by Aircraft (2 French)
6 by Merchant Vessels (1 French)
There is attached a memorandum giving statistics and particulars concerning the convoy system up to 25th August,1917.2
4. FORCE OPERATIONS.
No changes have occurred in the method of operations of the Forces beyond those previously reported.
5. LIAISON OFFICERS.
I would again renew my recommendations that carefully selected Liaison Officers be detailed for duty with the various units of the Allied Forces.3
It would be extremely useful to me as well as to the Department for example: if a competent officer of general ability were assigned permanently to the Main Allied Fleets and also to detached forces which are not operating in direct conjunction with U.S. forces, for example: the Harwich Light Cruiser and Submarine Force and the British submarine force in the North Sea. I consider that the assignment of an officer to the French, Italian and British Main Fleets would be productive of a great deal of useful information to our Service as well as regards questions of policies which arise in the Department.
6. AZORES DETACHMENT.
The Commander of the Azores Detachment4 has reported to me a number of petty difficulties which have arisen with the Portuguese authorities for example: that export taxes for supplies purchased by our forces and harbor dues are charged each time a destroyer gets under way for patrol duty. I have taken this matter up with the Embassy in London and requested that the Embassy in Lisbon be asked to take such steps as may be possible to remove these minor difficulties which incidentally are discriminations as they are not applied to British Naval Forces operating in the vicinity of the Azores.
7. INTERNATIONAL NAVAL CONFERENCE, LONDON.
The International Naval Conference was in session in London on the 4th and 5th September, 1917. A complete report of this Conference based on stenographic notes is to be furnished and will be forwarded to the Department immediately upon receipt....5
Speaking generally, it may be said that the Conference was entirely open to free discussion and suggestion by any members present of plans of measures either in force or not in force at the present time.
I wish also to add that it was clearly brought out before the Conference that the Italian Fleet was not co-operating to any material extent in the protection of the mobile barrage of British trawlers across the Otranto Straits. The Italian Admiral6 objected to a continuous patrol and protection of this barrage and in substance, gave only as his reasons that it was a very dangerous proceeding for destroyers to be in the presence of submarines, and that they had already lost one destroyer and two auxiliary ships in this vicinity and it was the policy of his Service to conserve to the maximum extent their naval forces against a possible action with the Austrian Main Fleet. It was definitely laid before the Italian Admiral that it was equally dangerous for the trawlers to maintain their patrol and that it was hardly fair to ask them to continue their patrol without destroyer protection.
The British and French offered to furnish an equal share of destroyers with the Italian Service sufficient to maintain a constant patrol at night of a total of six destroyers, but the Italian Admiral offered many objections and the subject was eventually closed by his agreement to go back and discuss it with his superiors. This subject will appear in full when the final report is submitted, but in general I wish to state that as a result of what I have now heard at both the Paris and the London Naval Conferences, the fact is unquestionable that the Italians are not using their forces as they could easily do in opposing the escape of submarines from their only bases which are located at the head of the Adriatic.7
8. MISCELLANEOUS SUBJECTS.
The WALKE is in the Devonport Dockyard having her port turbine repaired. I understand that the repairs are progressing satisfactorily.
The BENHAM is under repairs at the works of Messrs. Mordey Carney – Newport. Temporary repairs closing the hole in her side with wood were made at Queenstown. The repair force of the MELVILLE and DIXIE performed a maximum amount of work before she left particularly in disassembling all machinery which had been immersed in salt water.8
The DAVIS, WAINWRIGHT and TRIPPE are undergoing their scheduled overhaul at Messrs. Cammell Lairds shipyards,Liverpool.
The WADSWORTH, while moored at No.5 buoy in the harbor on the night of 2nd September, sustained damages to her bow by being fouled by one of the mine-sweepers maneuvering in the harbour. The WADSWORTH’S foredeck is full of water and her outwater is bent. Her injuries are not serious, but they will necessitate her being docked.9
The MELVILLE and DIXIE are now giving their men leave to visit London.
The DIXIE arrived at Queenstown on 27th August.10 Her presence there proved necessary from every point of view and particularly in order to co-ordinate and utilize her facilities in connection with the MELVILLE.
A memorial service for officers and men of the British Navy who have lost their lives since March 1st, 1917 was held at Queenstown on the 26th August. The British authorities were kind enough to include in this service a man who lost his life by drowning from the WAINWRIGHT.11
The Commander-in-Chief – Queenstown12 was thanked for this courtesy and a number of officers and men from this Force were detailed to attend the Service.
Wm S. Sims,
Source Note: CyS, DNA, RG45, Entry 517B. An enclosure lists all inbound and outbound convoys then in operation (18), the number of ships convoyed through 25 August (606), and the number of losses while under escort (4).
Footnote 1: “Torpedo Boat Destroyers.”
Footnote 2: This enclosure is summarized in the source note above.
Footnote 3: See: Sims to Fletcher, 30 August 1917.
Footnote 4: Lt. Cmdr. Hugo W. Osterhaus, Jr. was the senior naval officer at Ponta Del Gada, Azores, which officially fell under Sims’ command. Sims wanted an admiral to assume formal command of the station, and his multiple requests were granted in November 1917 when RAdm. Herbert O. Dunn arrived to take command. Still, Crisis at Sea: 137-138.
Footnote 5: See: Mayo to Benson, 5 September 1917.
Footnote 6: VAdm. Marchese Lorenzo Cusani Visconti, Sub-Chief of Staff, Regia Marina.
Footnote 7: Italy’s reluctance to risk its own ships was a major point of contention among the Allies. The U.S., Britain, and France all protested at length to the Italian Admiralty that its vessels were not providing adequate protection against submarines in the Mediterranean, while benefitting considerably from Allied support. The Italian government, meanwhile, had entered the war based on the explicit promise it could acquire territory along the Adriatic coast, and it was determined to secure this desiderata. That meant keeping its fleet in reserve rather than risk its destruction at the hands of the Austro-Hungarian fleet. See: Sims to Benson, 30 July 1917; Still, Crisis at Sea: 481-482.
Footnote 8: According to Benham’s war diary, the British ship H.M.S. Zinnia collided with Benham on 20 August 1917, and had to be towed back into port.
Footnote 9: For more on Wadsworth’s accident, see: Sims to Daniels, 11 September 1917.
Footnote 10: Dixie had previously been stationed at Berehaven.
Footnote 11: See: Sims to Pratt, 30 August 1917.
Footnote 12: VAdm. Sir Lewis Bayly, Commander, Southern Ireland.