Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Admiral Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, to Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations

UNITED STATES ATLANTIC FLEET

THE COMMANDER IN CHIEF

SECRETPERSONAL          Care U.S.Naval Forces, Europe,

                          30, Grosvenor Gardens, London, S.W.1.,

                          28 September 1918.

 My dear Admiral,

          Accompanied by all my staff, and by Lieutenant Commander Roys, detailed by Admiral Sims,1 I left London on the evening of Friday 20 September for Edinburgh. This was one day in advance of the time originally contemplated and due to information, or hints, I had received regarding probable movements of the GRAND FLEET.

          We all arrived on board the NEW YORK at Rosyth the next morning about ten o’clock, and Rodman2 immediately started me looking over the ships in order to get this done before the departure of the Fleet. I, therefore, hurriedly inspected the NEW YORK and WYOMING that forenoon and the other three ships in the afternoon; also called upon the Commander in Chief.3 I was very much pleased, indeed, with the appearance of the ships and, particularly, with the appearance of the personnel. The ships are absolutely clean and creditable in all respects, and I gathered, from various sources, that they are having a considerable affect in changing the appearance of British ships in the Fleet. I have never seen a lot of men so consistently creditable in appearance. Of course, I mean as regards uniform, our men are always clean in their persons; but the arrangements made in this division for the laundry, tailor work and clothes cleaning, are such that there appears to be no excuse for any man showing up with paint spots, rags, or anything of that kind. Altogether, it was most creditable. The spirit of the men is, I gathered, splendid; they are held much on the alert, very proud of the estimation in which they are held by the British, and can be relied upon to do their best under all circumstances. I think that all hands like to have visitors come from the United States, and the affect upon them is very much as I noted in regard to the personnel in Queenstown.4

          On Saturday evening the Commander in Chief gave a dinner on board the QUEEN ELIZABETH and, in a short speech made by him at the dinner, referred in most complimentary terms to the efficiency of our ships forming his Sixth Battle Squadron, and the efficient way in which they have fallen in with and taken up their duties in the GRAND FLEET; also referring to the fine spirit of co-operation existing among those of both nationalities, and some other remarks of the same general tenor, to which I replied in a few words as best I could.

          On Sunday the members of the staff occupied themselves on board various ships of the GRAND FLEET, while I remained quietly aboard the NEW YORK until afternoon, when I went with Captain Blue to call on the wife of Admiral Browning.5

          On Monday the Fleet was placed on two and one half hours notice at ten a.m., and early in the afternoon orders were issued to prepare for sea.

          During the day I visited the airplane ship, FURIOUS, which has been completely transformed since I saw her last year, her whole upper deck having been extended and arranged for handling of airplanes, either departing or arriving, but, I gathered from her officers, as well as from Admiral Phillimore,6 that they are not yet satisfied that they have solved the question of having planes alight directly on the deck. They had proceeded on the assumption that if they had a clear deck of sufficient length on the after part of the ship, there would be no trouble in planes landing thereon, but they are not satisfied with the results, and even go so far as to say that their previous arrangement, by having planes alight on the forecastle, was better, although in the latter method had resulted in many casualties and, I think, one or more lives lost, by making landings. The ARGUS, another airplane ship, had just arrived that morning, but she was anchored so far down that it seemed impracticable to visit her. At a distance she looks like a box, as she has no masts and no vertical funnels, her upper deck being absolutely clear and all available for handling planes.

          From the FURIOUS I visited the BARHAM, the flagship of Vice Admiral Evan Thomas,7 where I particularly wished to see their arrangement for handling airplanes on battleships. This matter has been gone into in a report made by Rear Admiral Rodman, which will probably have reached the Department before this letter.8 Desirable as it may be to have observation planes available on battleships, I am still without a fixed opinion as to the feasibility of fitting out our battleships with these planes. The conditions under which operations in the North Sea are carried out are such that the chances of having planes available when wanted are much better than they would be with ships operating in the North Atlantic. However, I was told by Admiral Evan Thomas that he had experienced some severe weather with the planes in position on the high turret, and that they had stood the weather and sea very well. Admiral Beatty, however, told me that it was necessary to estimate for thirty-five planes for each one that was desired to have capable of operating from a battleship. Under present arrangements it would hardly be practicable to mount planes on the turrets of our ships now with the Grand Fleet, as it seems to me it would be a hard matter to prevent the planes from interfering with the view from the conning tower and periscopes, etc. However, it might be feasible to arrange for all that, but I mean to point out that I think there should not be any hasty decision in regard to supplying our battleships with airplanes. The matter should be thoroughly investigated and well considered before any decision is made on the subject. It appears to be necessary to get rid of the planes either by dismantling them and stowing below, flying them off or dumping them overboard, as it is not believed they will stand the heavy gun firing.

          The Fleet got underway in the afternoon of Monday the 23rd and it was a most interesting sight to see the various components of the Fleet passing out. We had a good opportunity to do this as the Sixth Battleship Squadron was the last to leave. Weather was good when leaving, but breeze began to increase from the southward and westward and the weather was somewhat thick the following morning. I will not go into any description of the maneuvers conducted on the 24th, but they were most interesting to us and I was very much struck with the similarity between the problem carried out and those that we have carried out during the last year in our own Fleet, the great difference being, very naturally, that in the maneuvers of our Fleet we lacked the battle cruisers, the light cruisers and the destroyers, all of which are necessary for a complete Fleet. It did not strike me that the problem was handled any better, or much differently, than the way similar problems have been handled in our own maneuvers, but this must not be considered as at all unfavorably commenting on the handling that I saw in the Grand Fleet. It had been intended that after the completion of the contact and simulated engagement, to conduct concentration exercises, but this had to be given up on account of thick weather and the weather becoming somewhat heavy.

          We arrived at the northern base [Scapa Flow] on Wednesday morning and I had just time for a cursory view of the general layout, and to receive calls from Admiral Browning and Admiral Beatty before leaving on the destroyer OAK, which had been very kindly detailed by Admiral Beatty to take us across Pentland Firth to the railway port.

          We proceeded direct to Inverness, Admiral Strauss’ headquarters.9 The Admiral was in London attending a mining conference, but returned the following morning and very kindly accompanied me in making an inspection of the layout at Inverness and Invergordon, this occupying two days. Captain Belknap10 came over from Invergordon the evening that we arrived and was very anxious that I should accompany him on a mine planting excursion to start the following morning, but as he expected to be gone three full days I decided not to do so, but did send with him Commanders King and Noys.11 I had left four of the staff to remain a few days longer with the GRAND FLEET looking up matters in which they were each especially interested. I was considerably impressed with the completeness of the organization and system and the general efficiency attained at the plants at both Inverness and Invergordon. Everything seems to work regularly and well, and there is no delay in pushing through the mines and having them ready for reloading ships immediately upon their return from a mining excursion. The spirit of officers and men is good, and the personnel appears to be well looked out for. The comments on these stations will be gone into more completely in our regular report. Admiral Strauss tells me that three more excursions will complete all the work laid out for his force in connection with the northern barrage, and he will then be ready to shift base to the southward, provided no request comes from the British for further American mining in Area B.12 However, Sims has just told me that this will not be asked, so that Strauss’ force will soon be available for this transfer. Admiral Strauss is very anxious to obtain information as to the effectiveness of the work done by his force, but states that it is apparently impossible to obtain much information regarding the effectiveness of the barrage on account of the fact that there is no system of observation – there are neither patrols nor sentries for the mine fields; they do not even know how the barrage is holding out, what numbers of mines are breaking adrift, etc., etc. They have improved very much in regard to the number of mines prematurely exploding during the mine laying process, much of which is considered to be due to the producing of a soluble washer of salt, by Captain Bulmer of the BLACK HAWK. I made an inspection of the BLACK HAWK and found her to be in a very excellent condition, scrupulously clean, and the men looking contented and well cared for. The repair work appears to be carried out in a systematic and efficient manner, and the men take great pride in being able to perform any job they are called upon to do. Both Admiral Strauss and Captain Belknap appeared very anxious that I should, for the affect on the personnel of the mining force, make an inspection on the vessels themselves and the crews. I, therefore, promised, if possible, to return to Inverness so as to be there during one of their loading periods.

          Yesterday afternoon I went to the naval hospital at Strathpeffer, and Medical Inspector [Dr. Edward S.] Bogert and his assistant showed us all parts of his very large establishment. They have quite a number of patients at present, a large proportion being British. It certainly is a splendid hospital and, I understand, it is extremely popular, especially with the British, their patients stating, as gathered from censoring their letters, that they hoped they would be sent back there, rather than to a British hospital, in case it ever again became necessary for them to have hospital treatment.

          I received the impression, from a good many sources, that our ships have taken quite as much to the British GRAND FLEET as they have received from it. Our people think that there has been a noticeable bracing up in the appearance of the British vessels since their captains have had an opportunity to see the way in which our ships are maintained. The same applies to the Mine Force. They have been astonished to find that our mine vessels carried such large numbers of mines on a comparatively small displacement, and have been equally astonished at the facility with which mines were laid by our ships; also in regard to the hospitals. It is believed that the completeness and thoroughness of all equipment and appliances for our hospitals is far superior to the ordinary practice of the British.

          I was very glad to hear that our Naval Committee13 had visited so many points, among them the GRAND FLEET, and I believe and hope that the affect will be excellent as regards our own service. A view of the GRAND FLEET would not fail to impress the Committee with the necessity of having a well rounded and complete Fleet. I hope they were told of, and realized, the necessity for a considerable number of light cruisers, the British type for which appears to be excellent.

          I, with Captain Jackson and Commander Cook,14 returned to London this morning, where we will be joined during the coming week by the rest of the staff. It will be necessary to devote a few days here to put into form the notes that were made by the various individuals of the staff, and also in inspecting the aviation station and our base at Plymouth. I may not be able to visit Southampton and Horwich myself, but desire to send some of the staff to each place, all of this to be done before proceeding to France.

          The London papers this morning publish President [Woodrow] Wilson’s speech15 in regard to peace terms, in full, and the comments are, as would be expected, most favorable. It seems to be rather accepted that President Wilson will voice the ideas to be adopted by all of the allied nations. With all this comes news of the successes on practically all fronts, the application of Bulgaria for armistice preparatory to arranging for peace, and other items of good news. The feeling is, generally, optimistic.

          I trust everything is going well with you at home and hope that you personally are taking the necessary time off to enable you to keep in good shape. Don’t work too hard.

          With kindest regards to all at the Department,

                   Yours very sincerely,

Source Note: TL, DLC-MSS, Mayo Papers, Box 10. Document identifier “HTM/A” appears in the top-right corner. Addressed below close: “Admiral W.S.Benson, U.S.N./Chief of Naval Operations,/Navy Department,/Washington, D.C.,/U.S.A.”

Footnote 1: VAdm. William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, and Lt. Cmdr. John H. Roys, Sims’ liaison officer with British Naval Intelligence.

Footnote 2: RAdm. Hugh Rodman, Commander, Battleship Division Nine. Rodman’s division was attached to the British Grand Fleet as the Sixth Battle Squadron.

Footnote 3: Adm. Sir David Beatty, Commander-in-Chief, British Grand Fleet.

Footnote 5: Capt. Victor Blue, Commander, Texas. The wife of VAdm. Sir Montague E. Browning, Commander, 4th Battle Squadron was Ruth Browning (neé Boldero).

Footnote 6: RAdm. Richard F. Phillimore, Admiral Commanding Aircraft, Furious.

Footnote 7: RAdm. Sir Hugh Evan Thomas, Commander, Fifth Battle Squadron.

Footnote 8: This report has not been found.

Footnote 9: RAdm. Joseph Strauss, Commander, Mine Force.

Footnote 10: Capt. Reginald R. Belknap, Commander, Mine Squadron One and Chief of Staff, Mine Force.

Footnote 11: Cmdr. Ernest J. King, a member of Mayo’s staff. There is Noys in the Navy Register for 1918 or 1919, so this is probably a mistype of Roys.

Footnote 12: For a map of the Northern Mine Barrage, see the maps page for April 1918.

Footnote 13: A delegation from the House Naval Affairs Committee had recently toured U.S. installations in Europe. See: Sims to Bayly, 2 August 1918; Sims to Benson, 10 August, 1918; and Sims to Daniels, 16 August 1918.

Footnote 14: Capt. Orton P. Jackson, Chief of Staff, Atlantic Fleet, and Lt. Cmdr. Henry D. Cooke, Commanding Officer, Allen.

Footnote 15: This is probably a reference to Wilson’s famous “Fourteen Points” speech outlining his vision of postwar settlement. The speech is available online via the Avalon Project: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/wilson14.asp.

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