Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in Europe, to Rear Admiral William B. Fletcher, Commander, United States Patrol Squadrons Operating in European Waters
U.S.NAVAL FORCES OPERATING IN EUROPEAN WATERS.
U.S.S. MELVILLE, FLAGSHIP.
30 Grosvenor Gardens,
September 12, 1917.
From: Force Commander.
To: Commander, Patrol Squadrons based on France.
Subject: Employment of U.S. Naval vessels in French Waters.
Reference: (a) Your letter 277/A/A of 3 September 1917.1
The primary duty of the forces placed under your command is the protection of troop transports and supply transports, whether inbound or outbound. Included in this is the necessity for maintaining open channels to avoid enemy minefields, and to see that local escorts are furnished to guide our vessels safely in and out of dangerous waters. In disposing our forces this primary mission should be kept clearly in mind.
Your secondary mission is to cooperate to the fullest extent with the French forces in assisting them in every way possible not in conflict with your primary mission.
I realize full well the many demands on patrol forces, and that you could use double or treble the number of vessels now under your command. The Department is fitting out additional vessels for duty in European Waters, and it is hoped to augment your force not only with more yachts but perhaps with destroyers later on.
You have full authority to regulate the dates of sailing of our transports, supply ships, chartered vessels, and so forth, so as to form them into convoys and sail them at the most convenient times.
I have already requested you to advise me as to the practicability of organizing a regular outbound convoy at frequent intervals. It is desirable not to delay ships unnecessarily, but their safety is of the utmost importance and any delays must be accepted.
The Department has stated several times that the loss of any of our transports or supply ships would seriously interfere with their programme and every effort must be made to avoid any losses.
In order to relieve the strain on your forces, I expect to escort in all troop ships with Queenstown destroyers; but the escort out of these forces is to be provided from your command.
While I desire to assist the French in every way, nothing must be done to interfere in any way with providing sufficient escort for our own vessels.
I know that you receive a number of requests from merchant ships for assistance and escort as these vessels approach the French coast. I have requested the Department to place all American vessels in convoy, whether carrying passengers or cargo. The losses under convoy are many times less than in vessels sailing alone. If our merchant vessels refuse convoy they take additional risk. There is no objection, of course, to escorting as many of these vessels as practicable, and it is desirable to give them such assistance as is practicable.
You will shortly have the fourth patrol squadron added to your force, and the disposition of these forces I will leave entirely to your, always bearing in mind that it is desirable to keep our forces as concentrated as practicable.
I note that you propose to release a certain number of trawlers for mine sweeping. It is of the utmost importance that clear channels be maintained into our ports of entry, as the mining of a vessel would be quite as serious as the loss of one by submarine attack.
/s/ Wm. S. Sims.
Source Note: TLS, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.
Footnote 1: Fletcher’s letter to Sims of the date listed has not been found. However, Fletcher sent a report on Cooperation with French Allies to Sims on 9 August 1917, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.