Admiral Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, to Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations
SECRET – PERSONAL
Care U.S.Naval Forces, Europe,
30, Grosvenor Gardens, London, SW.I.
18 September 1918.
My dear Benson,
We arrived in Berehaven on the 10th after a very sloppy passage, bad weather nearly all the time, heavy northeast gale to the northward and eastward of Bermuda, which resulted in slowing down the ship and we were, necessarily, a day late in arriving at the rendezvous with the destroyers. The unfortunate part was that all our efforts to communicate in advance and get word of the prospective delay were futile, as we failed to get in touch with any shore stations until after the time for the destroyers to leave port.
I found Rodgers, with the other two ships, in Berehaven; all hands cheerful and ships looking very well. I inspected the BUSHNELL and submarine outfit, which, by the way, seems to be in excellent shape and for which I think Lieutenant Commander Friedell is entitled to much credit. Also inspected the OKLAHOMA and visited the NEVADA. Rodgers is settling down and is endeavoring to make such a arrangements as are possible for exercise of his ships and for carrying on of necessary target practice. This can only be done by arrangements with Admiral Bayley at Queenstown as destroyer escort is absolutely essential if the ships are to move out from their anchorage behind the island at Berehaven. Mines and submarines in Bantry Bay are, they tell me, not unusual, and it seems quite likely that the Germans will pay more attention to that place than has heretofore been the case. I found, in talking with Rodgers, that I had somewhat misapprehended the purport of the cables exchanged between Operations and Sims in regard to the methods for utilizing Rodgers’ force in anti-raider operations. The whole idea of my talks with you in regard to this force was, as I recall it, to insure that the movement of troops should not be delayed or interfered with. I find that his orders contemplate the transfer of his force at once to the Azores and the movement of convoys in accordance with that, hence the concluding sentence of my cable sent to you yesterday. I agree with Rodgers that destroyers can be of little use to him, except as escorts through the coast danger zone and, afterwards, in meeting military convoys which his ships might be protecting.
From Berehaven we went by motor to Queenstown, stopping enroute at Whiddy Island Aviation Station. The station there is encouraging, but they have not yet received any planes, nor is the construction work completed, but Townsend seems to be doing very well and has things systemized fairly well. Neither he nor Commander McCrary, who was with us, had any idea when planes would arrive so they could begin actual patrol operations. They were afraid that it might be a couple of months at least before planes reached them, thinking that Admiral Bayley’s idea would be to put the more easterly stations in operation first, but at Queenstown Admiral Bayley told me that he hoped to send them a few planes in the near future, possibly within two weeks.
At Queenstown I was Admiral Bayley’s guest at Admiralty House and had a most cordial reception and a very pleasant time with him. We made a rather complete inspection of all our naval activities there and I cannot speak too highly of the spirit which is apparent as actuating the entire personnel. The aviation station at Aghadda is progressing well and is bound to be a very important station for all aviation activities in Ireland. They have not started patrol work, although they have a number of planes in operation and doing daily practice work, but I expect the patrol work will be formally inaugurated in a few days. Of course, you are aware of the troubles they have had with their planes, as I had heard something about this before leaving Washington. They have quite a large number of planes there which they are gradually getting into shape as they are able to receive parts lacking and remedy mistakes made in construction. Planes are to be sent this week to Wexford. I went through the hospital in Queenstown, which seems very complete, and which, Doctor Carpenter stated, could be utilized at any time, although he preferred to postpone the formal opening for ten days or so in order to complete minor details. It is very well arranged and seems to be complete in every respect. The training barracks at “The Passage” is in full operation and I think Laird is doing very well there and has an excellent system. He seems very enthusiastic and has his officers and men imbued with the same spirit. The headquarters of the sub chaser flotilla is at this same barracks, where they are making certain changes in order to give them as full facilities as possible. Hepburn|11| has his chasers already in operation and has made a great hit with Admiral Bayley. The Admiral remarked that he would very much like to have thirty-six more chasers, but he preferred to have Hepburn with thirty-six, rather than to have some other man with double the number. The overflow barracks at Bally Bricken provides quarters for over three hundred men of the mechanical force of the MELVILLE and DIXIE. The men a re pretty well crowded in the house and the place seemed to me rather dreary and desolate, especially as they have no recreation room, no Y.M.C.A. hut and practically no means of recreation except by walking over the hill to the large British Admiralty recreation ground. However, I am told that the men prefer to live there and that transfer to living on board ship is considered a punishment. In all of these places they seemed to have excellent messes and I could hear of no complaints in regard to food or the methods of handling the commissary. They have done a good deal of work on the Admiralty recreation grounds, which they are permitted to fully utilize; baseball fields, football fields, basket ball fields, tennis courts, etc., have been laid out and there is a very good canteen building and a large shelter building. The drawback of the place is that it is quite a long walk from the end of the long pier, at which they necessarily must land, up to the grounds, but the grounds are fine when they are reached. The torpedo repair plant recently started on Haulbowline Island is one on which those in charge are to be congratulated. It is well laid out and is doing excellent work, although considerable yet remains to be done in order to complete the full arrangements for quartering the men and for providing suitable recreation room. Mess arrangements are excellent, the spirit of the men fine, and Lieutenant Commander Moses deserves much credit. Moses’ relations with the British Captain in charge at Haulbowline Island are entirely harmonious and the latter seems to be rather proud of the fact that he has been able to assist Moses in getting this plant into successful operation. I inspected the MELVILLE, DIXIE and three of the destroyers, and had a cursory look at several of the chasers. Things are going well at Queenstown. As you have frequently heard, the relations between Admiral Bayley and our officers could not be improved upon. Captain Pringle is a host in himself and the spirit that the men have is one on which they and the naval service is to be congratulated. On the repair ships the mechanics work in three shifts – 24 hours a day and 7 days a week – and I was told that whenever it was put up to the men that work on any particular destroyer must be completed so that she could be ready to move by the time set by the Admiral, the question of hours did not come in, the men would work continually for any number of hours necessary, and they are proud of the fact that they are considered to be thoroughly dependable in this respect. I attended a minstrel shown given at the Men’s Club, which is, as you probably know, their own club, run by them and not dependent on either Y.M.C.A. or Red Cross. This club is a “life-saver.” The men are proud of it, patronize it extensively, and it is a fine place in all ways. I did not take a meal there, but others did and I was told that the best meal in Queenstown, at the lowest rate, was to be obtained at that club. The minstrel performance was extremely creditable in all respects, and the continuance of these performances and the practicing and operation of their orchestra, etc., helps very largely towards the existing contentment.
From Queenstown we motored to Dublin, stopping at Wexford enroute. The Aviation Station at Wexford seems to me to be the best arranged and best systemized of any that I saw, although they have as yet no planes in operation, but expect same very shortly. Possibly the site selected, which, I understand, was turned over by the British, was the best that was possible to obtain, but it seems regrettable that they have <t>o depend on dredging before they can hope to get planes in and out without waiting for a tide. When they begin operating planes it will be very necessary that they be furnished with a fast vessel of some kind which they can send out in case relief is necessary for a disabled plane, and, of course, it would be desirable if chasers or destroyers were available in sufficient numbers to have some of them stationed in the vicinity to work in co-operation with the patrol planes.
Jackson and two other officers of the staff left Queenstown a day in advance and went to the northern station at Lough Foyle. That is the only station which actually had, when visited, planes in operation and I believe there only two were on regular patrol duty. Jackson speaks well of the station and the personnel, but stated that it was not on a well selected site, that they can only launch or get in planes at or about high water, so it is bad in that respect.
We arrived in London Tuesday morning and had the usual reception, Admiral Sims, Flag Lieutenant, Admiral Everett, R.N., representing the First Lord, and Captain Marriott, representing the First Sea Lord, and also Commodore Gaunt, who, I believe, has been instructed to look out for me while in England if I need his services in any way. I made the usual calls yesterday and had a pretty good talk with Sims. The whole staff is getting in touch with the people in their particular lines at the Admiralty and also at Sims’ office. I expect to leave Saturday evening to go up and visit Rodman, and while in the north will visit Cardiff and Inverness, etc., before returning to London. I have had some talk with Cone, who is extremely anxious that we take plenty of time in visiting his air stations, especially the bombing stations, and I shall take all the time that appears necessary, not only there but at all other points.
I, of course, called at the United States Embassy, but only saw the First Secretary. Mr. Page is, unfortunately, in such physical shape that he does not appear at all at present, and Mr. Laughlin advised me not to try to see him at all, even at the house. He is anxious to get back to the United States as soon as possible, for his own sake. At the Embassy I met, just for a moment, Mr. Thomas Nelson Page, our Ambassador to Italy. He was kind enough to call at the hotel in the afternoon, but I, unfortunately, missed him and he left this morning to return to Rome. He expressed the wish that I would be certain to come to Rome, as he thought American officers were very much “personae grata” there at present, and he thought the visit would have a good effect aside from any purposes I might have in regard to naval observation. When the Ambassador called at the hotel he was received by Commander Pye, who had quite a talk with him. Pye jotted down for me the gist of the remarks made by Mr. Page in regard to the Italian situation, and I think perhaps the best way for me to convey this to you for your information would be just to send you a copy of the notes made by Pye. I, therefore, enclose them.
I was surprised last night to receive a telephone message from Admiral Grasset of the French Navy, who is just relieving as Naval Attaché here. He came to see me this morning and I had a long talk with him. He inquired particularly about you and wished me to send his regards. He could not speak too highly of the estimation in which all Americans are now held in France. He says the feeling in regard to Americans is much deeper and closer than the French feeling toward any other nation, which one would naturally expect to be the case. I will see him, of course, later when I return from the north.
So far, from what I can gather from remarks made at the points I have already visited, it seems that the visits have been well worth while, if merely for the effect on the personnel. They all seem to feel that they are somewhat out of the world over here, especially those in Ireland, and any evidence coming to them that they are not forgotten by the Navy Department, or that any naval officials have some interest in them, helps to cheer them up and to keep up their morale and spirit. Being called upon for a few words at the minstrel show at Queenstown the other night, I endeavored to assure them then that they were by no means forgotten, that what they were doing was well known and appreciated, and the fact that every man was doing <h>is best in the common cause was something we all realized, etc., all of which seemed to be well received.
The British officials at the Admiralty were extremely cordial. The First Lord will, I believe, shortly visit the United States, going over in company with Lord Reading. Probably you know more about that than I can tell you.
About the only thing I have not touched upon in this rather long personal note is the opinion in regard to the political situation in southern Ireland. Of course, it is impossible to get more than impression during a short visit, which impression may or may not be correct. The impression I received was that conditions are still very bad, that the Sinn Feiners are just as rebellious as ever. The Government is endeavoring to dodge the conscription act by allowing voluntary enlistments, having announced, I believe, that the conscription would not be put into effect provided they obtain 50,000 volunteers by October 1st, I think. So far they have less than 10,000, so it does not look very hopeful. I believe it requires further action by Parliament to put conscription into effect, so that it is not probable that further action shall take place prior to the first of November. What will be done then remains to be seen, and the attitude of the Government will, I believe, undoubtedly be influenced by the conditions existing on the western front. I was told that, in the opinion of some, the American successes on the western front would have a tremendous effect upon the Irish political situation, the reason given being that it had be industriously circulated among the Irish that the United States was not in the war in real earnest, that only a few men were in France and even that few could only make a bluff and would do no real damage to the Germans. The circulation of reports of American successes on the western front will do much to counteract the idea mentioned above. Another opinion received was that firm action in putting conscription onto effect might result in local troubles, but they would not amount to very much. In other words, firmly grasping the nettle would destroy its sting. The people are apparently just as rebellious as ever, but they lack organization and a good many of their leaders have been confined; also, they have very few arms and very little ammunition, so far as is known. Some of our men found a cache of arms in a cemetery not long ago and they were taken charge of by the Constabulary. Just a few days before we visited Queenstown the small guard returning from post at the Reservoir was “jumped” by a party of Sinn Feiners, their arms and equipment taken away and they bound and left by the roadside. Later, the arms were found and recovered.
It is hardly necessary for me to tell you that all those who met you here last summer, or who have met you in the United States, enquire for you and recall their having met you.
I think the visit of our Naval Committee and of the Assistant Secretary, was of great value.
It is time to stop, Benson, as this is too long already. With kindest regards,