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The Naval Bombing Experiments: Minutes of the Pre-Bombing Conferences

May 10 and May 18, 1921

Note for Naval Historical Foundation

I do not recall the names of all the officers who attended these conferences nor who kept the minutes if any formal minutes were kept.

The attached paper was found among some of my old files.

A.W. Johnson

Conference of May 10, 1921

Captain Kurtz stated that the primary object of the exercises is to learn the effect of the explosives, rather than tactical methods.

General Mitchell: As I understand this, there are several different problems. The search problem off Cape Hatteras and Cape Henlopen is a very important problem, particularly on account of the different elements making up the liaison system along the coast and in operations off the coast--the Navy, the Coast Artillery, the Coast Guard telegraph and telephone systems, Army and Navy radio stations. This offers a good opportunity to really work out something. I think we should come to a definite understanding as to how we are going to conduct that search problem.

Capt. Kurtz: We have a certain amount of equipment to use and we are entitled to use everything we have. The condition is only that we approximate war conditions.

The Iowa is to be in a certain locality within a certain time. I think we should go ahead and try to pick her up at the earliest practicable time. We cannot exactly simulate war conditions.

General Mitchell: The second thing is that we ought to have a center of control for all aircraft participating.

Capt. Johnson: The center of control of the Air Force is the Air Force Commander. The Commander-in-Chief is in charge of the entire operations, and the Commander Air Force is subject to the Commander-in-Chief. There are so many other matters to be handled that it is very complicated: observations and recording of data; furnishing of patrol vessels; mooring of ships; running a passenger service, with a vessel for newspaper photographers, Naval aides, etc. These are all done under the Commander-in-Chief. I handle the operations of the Air Force, but I cannot change the weight of bombs or any of those details. I have my instructions.

General Mitchell: I understand that the Army Air Force and the Navy Air Force will work separately.

Captain Johnson: No, they are working together.

General Mitchell: Then there should be one center for them, one staff, and one headquarters.

A tentative schedule will be arranged beforehand, and will be subject to change by the Commander Air Force, due to weather conditions, or to allow time to examine the ships.

The Base Commander at Hampton Roads runs his planes; the Base Commanders at Langley Field and Yorktown each run their planes.

The information which must come from the sea because contact with the Iowa will be made at sea, and attacks on German ships at sea, must necessarily come from the target and go to this base. It will be sent by radio to the central radio station ashore.

General Mitchell: What I was leading up to is this: We would like to know about how this air force is to be handled--first--the element of command.

Capt. Johnson: It is under the Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet.

General Mitchell: The Commander Air Force of the Navy will be over the Commander Air Force of the Army, and that is contrary to law.

Comdr. Whiting: The law says that "only on special occasions"--- -

General Mitchell: My object is to get some definite understanding, first, as to how we are to handle the search problem. We will do anything that we possibly can.

Capt. Johnson: We did not know at the time what planes you had that you wanted to put out on the search.

General Mitchell: We will thicken the scouting line up to the extent necessary to find the target. If your base commander is out here, I think that would be splendid.

Capt. Johnson: It is very difficult to get radio through around Charleston and New York, etc., as the interference is very great, unless we issued an order that there shall be no communication whatever on these land stations, and we don't want to cut that out. I had planned to get out before hand and have one or two of these search problems done on one of my ships, and if we find we can't get the communications through, Admiral Bullard is perfectly willing to cut the communication down.

General Mitchell: We have a certain amount of equipment we can use for that purpose. We also have some airships. We have four airships. We have a surveillance flight of about 8 seaplanes. We will use land planes also. We can have available 12 ships for surveillance purposes. These have radio, same as the Navy.

Capt. Johnson: The whole idea is to carry out my mission.

General Mitchell: We have certain plans we would like to submit at the proper time. If we can change these over in any way you see fit and assign ships accordingly, I think that will be all right.

Capt. Johnson: It would be ridiculous for us to scout unless we had a uniform doctrine. Otherwise we might will conduct the exercises one day for the Army and one day for the Navy.

Captain Johnson: About rules of the road, I was under the impression that there were recognized rules of the road for the air.

General Mitchell: It all depends on what we are doing. It depends on our target and method of attack. We have regular rules.

Comdr. Whiting: Our rules are the same as the international rules.

Capt. Johnson: The attack on the destroyer is with 250-lb. bombs, according to instructions. The Army has a lot of little bombs, and whether you propose to use them on the destroyer attack I don't know.

General Mitchell: You are base commander on the ship. You have your station.

Captain Johnson: I send radio to base commander and say "Commence attack at 9:30" or order them to finish at a certain time. The base commander will furnish the information to whomsoever is concerned.

General Mitchell: In the attacks on these ships I notice you do not include any torpedo work.

Capt. Johnson: No, we have no torpedoes. We have been given orders not to use torpedoes.

General Mitchell: Who is your senior officer at Hampton Roads?

Captain Johnson: Capt. Doyle; he is in command at Hampton Roads, and is also in charge of all assembly of material and all planes located at Hampton Roads.

In regard to the bombs, I take it the Army will furnish their own bombs, and the Navy will furnish their bombs.

General Mitchell: Yes, we will furnish our bombs. We will be glad to help you out with some if you need them.

General Mitchell: The next problem is in attacking the Iowa. That is an accuracy test.

Capt. Johnson: The Commander-in-Chief has appointed a board. We will take observers to locate the fall of the bombs whether they hit or not.

We also propose to make an examination of the effect.

General Mitchell: The only bomb we have that falls at all truly is the 100-lb. bomb. Can you use that?

Capt. Johnson: You can not use it with live powder on it. We are only allowed to use dummies on the Iowa. You can use it loaded with sand. One feature governing the exercises is that planes shall have full load of whatever bombs you take. If the planes can carry 2,000 pounds of bombs, we don't want any of them going out with only 2000 pounds for instance. We want them under service conditions as to weight. It is not prescribed what size bombs shall be used, or that all sized must be used, but that a full military load shall be carried of whatever size is used.

General Mitchell: I would like to ask if the Iowa has been marked or will she be in fleet formation?

Capt. Johnson: She will be marked in some way so as to be easily identified from the air, probably by painting the deck. She will be leading; that is, there will be nothing between the Iowa and the Ohio. We will have her very distinctly marked and will advise you well ahead of time. If the Henderson goes with the Iowa, she must keep well clear.

General Mitchell: On these accuracy tests, you want nothing but bombardment planes? We always cover everything with pursuit planes.

General Mitchell: On these destruction tests, as I understand it, these are really ordnance tests and you want to examine these ships after each attack.

Capt. Kurtz: We want to examine the Frankfurt, the cruiser and the battleship, after each attack. The submarine and the destroyer we don't care about.

General Mitchell: You have decided to put her down here?

Capt. Johnson: She must be at the 50-fathom line--about 60 miles off shore.

General Mitchell: We would like to suggest--we don't like to risk our planes out there. Down here (off Cape Hatteras) you can get 100 fathoms in 30 miles. We can make it in one flight from here. If you want to examine these ships after hits, we can't keep flying around. If you want to make an ordnance test of the thing and see the effect of these bombs, we would suggest if possible that you put it down there. (Cape Hatteras).

Comdr. Whiting: That would mean establishing another base. The ship will be full of gas. They will have to go aboard with gas masks, take photographs, examine the effect, etc., and there is no telling how long it will take. It means establishing a temporary base. It would be much safer from the Army point of view.

Capt. Kurtz: Hampton Roads is not the place we would have chosen. We would have chosen Cape Cod. The 50-fathom depth was decided by the Chief of Naval Operations.

General Mitchell: If we lose one bombardment ship, we have lost $60,000 or $70,000 at least. A rescue ship will not do any good, either. The plane will be ruined if it has to land.

General Mitchel: Off Cape Hatteras we can come ashore with one motor. If we are 60 or 70 miles off shore, we will have a stiff time going back. We will have gas and ammunition down there, but operate from Langley Field, and land down there temporarily. We can go down there in the morning and come back at night, or we can stay there over night. It will be safer there for both personnel and material.

General Mitchell: We would like very much in one of these tests to be able to maneuver against the target the way we actually would in attack, with pursuit and attack aviation and everything. We would like to attack with heavy equipment. We don't care what ship it is.

General Mitchell: That is the principal suggestion we would make. We would like to make these attacks for the ships.

General Mitchell: Can we take that paper and study it and have another conference to-morrow?

Comdr. Whiting: The Commander-in-Chief's representatives have to go back.

Capt. Johnson: I think we should go over this item by item and discuss it while we are all here.

General Mitchell: Our understanding was that we would attack in any way we saw fit with any size bombs and in any numbers and make not less than 2 hits.

Capt. Johnson: Not more than one large bomb can be dropped at a time.

Turning to the right after attack.

Gen. Mitchell: Army planes attack in all directions at the same time, and some turn to the right and some to the left. I think each group should have its own rules about that.

Capt. Johnson: It makes no difference to me. I only wanted to make it uniform.

It was agreed to omit the rule that land planes shall not land with bombs attached.

Pre-arranged Schedule

Gen. Mitchell: Some of our attack ships only go 70 or 75 miles an hour. Wouldn't it be better to set the time "to arrive over the target" rather than "to leave the base". Their speed depends on the wind, etc.

Radio--507 meters.

Gen. Mitchell: Some of our sets are Navy and some are not. But I think we can fix that up all right.

Capt. Johnson: It should be uniform, as the rescue ships are instructed to listen in on that wave length.

Forced Landings.

Col. Milling: You are liable to lose more than one plane your formation. The plane circling over will be losing gas.

Capt. Johnson: There is a general rule that planes running out of gas will return to base.

It was decided to omit the phrase "but should not land unless it is evident that the crew will be lost".

Squared Charts.

Comdr. Whiting: We will get those and turn them over to General Mitchell, or send them to Hampton Roads.

Gen. Mitchell: I think we have some of them.

Submarine U-117

This is not to be sunk by a Navy depth bomb, but by gunfire, according to the instructions.


Gen. Mitchell: The Army would like to be able to use bombs of any size. We have never tried bigger bombs out. We would like to use some of our larger bombs.

Capt. Kurtz: These general rules are prescribed by the Navy Department.

Capt. Watts: I think there is one thing about it that you lose sight of--the fact that these exercises are not for the development of tactics but to ascertain the damage on certain types of Naval ships of certain intensive weapons of various types. The limitations as to size and numbers of hits required, etc., are the result of careful study on the part of the material bureaus, not by the operating end of the Navy Department at all. It would be unsatisfactory, I am sure, for instance, to have a 2,000-lb. bomb dropped on the destroyer and end the thing right there. We all know it would go instantly to the bottom, and our whole experiment would be robbed of its value.

It might be run in two parts, using small bombs first, then the big bombs separately.

Capt. Watts: All this elaborate program was submitted to the War Department and was accepted, with the exception of the question as to allowing 2 hits.

General Mitchell: When we accepted that, we expected to have a battleship to attack on the first of June.

Capt. Watts: What difference does it make whether you have bombed another ship before or after?

Gen.Mitchell: It makes this difference, that we would know how our bombs worked and from what altitude.

Capt. Watts: It is a matter that we do not know and we are anxious to know whether a destroyer can stand one or two or possibly five hits with 250-lb. bombs.

Capt. Johnson: Before the time comes to conducting the experiments, the board of observers should know what form the Army attacks are going to take.

Gen. Mitchell: The Army will furnish copies of orders and plans, etc. As I understand it, we can go ahead and attack this in any way we want without limitation, except as to the weight of bombs used.


Include the statement that the "Commander-in-Chief will decide when a sufficient number of hits have been scored".

Gen. Mitchell: We have some deck-piercing projectiles (non-explosive) that we could use.

Comdr. Whiting stated that these might possibly be used on the Ostfriesland in connection with the 1000-lb. bombs, and he will take this question up with the Bureau of Ordnance.

The Army will bomb with 600-lb. bombs instead of 520-lb., in the second attack, using 16 bombs.

Gen. Mitchell: Suppose a bomb is dropped outside the ship and has a depth charge effect, will that be considered a hit, and an examination made?

Capt. Kurtz: That will be for the board to decide, but I think an examination should be made.

Gen. Mitchell: What is in the back of our heads is that when we get going, we want to follow up our attacks and push it.

Capt. Watts: That's all right if you want to destroy it, but we want to determine the effect.

Gen. Mitchell: We must have it understood beforehand.

Gen. Mitchell: Will you have included in your signals a means of suspending operations?

Capt. Johnson: Yes, we will have signals from the board to the SHAWMUT and from the SHAWMUT to the base.

The examinations of the ships will be thorough enough to determine whether damage has been done by a bomb dropping alongside.

Gen. Mitchell: The exercises on the Ostfriesland are on July 20th. It must be sunk, according to the international agreement, by the 24th, must it not?

Capt. Kurtz: No, by the 9th of August.

Gen. Mitchell: Then, that allows plenty of time, in case of bad weather, etc.

The Army will use 1100-lb. bombs. instead of 1000-lb. bombs.

It was suggested that possibly torpedoes could be used if the vessel were still afloat after the gunfire exercises. The Army would like to have the Navy join in the torpedo exercises on the Alabama.

Gen. Mitchell: In the Iowa exercises, what is the limit in weight if dummy bombs?

Capt. Johnson: There is no limit as to the weight of the bombs, except that a full military load must be carried.

It was decided to add the sentence "The Commander-in-Chief will prescribe when the exercises will end".

It was suggested that the Army dirigibles should be placed somewhere near the center of the scouting line in the Iowa exercises, to give them the shortest scouting distance.

Gen. Mitchell: If the ship should be way up here, we haven't gas capacity enough to go to it.

On page 9, it should read "the rescue ships will establish line as assigned by the Commander of the Patrol Force". This line should be between the Iowa and the nearest beach, rather than to the nearest base.

The Army representative will take the plans and study them, and have a reply ready for further conferences on Wednesday, May 18.

Notes on Bombing Conference
18 May 1921


Capt. Kurtz: I would like to ask what is the largest dummy bomb used by the Army.

Gen. Mitchell: We have no large dummy bombs. We will have to remove the explosives from our bombs, but we do not care particularly to participate in that part.

Capt. Kurtz: We have one or two minor changes to make in the original plan.

Gen. Mitchell: We would like very much to have any of your officers with our staff of the Provisional Air Brigade, which is operating at Langley Field.

In addition to these ordnance tests, we are going to carry out a regular series of maneuvers, which will last through until September.

Capt. Kurtz: You asked the other day about using 1100-lb. bombs on the Ostfriesland. That is all right.

Gen. Mitchell: Yes, we would like to drop some of those armor-piercing bombs. We would like to try them without charges to see the effect. There have been tests made which indicate that they will pierce about 3 inches of steel, but I don't think they will pierce any more than that.

Capt. Johnson: I think it is 2-3/4".

Commander Simmers: It is 2-3/16" on the Ostfriesland. One is pretty close to 3 inches aft.

Capt. Kurtz: In using these, you want to take the explosives out?

Gen. Mitchell: Either way; either with or without the explosives.

Capt. Watts: Without the explosives, I think would be very desirable, but with the explosives would be too dangerous for the lower part of the ship. You have all the penetrative data that way. You will get more information that way.

Gen. Mitchell: Could we have diagrams of these various ships. We don't want any complicated ones.

Comdr. Simmers: We have no tracer copies now, but we can get them. How many would you like to have?

Gen. Mitchell: About 10 copies of each. We would like to have all the types that are used in the problem, if you have them.

Comdr. Simmers: About 50 copies have been sent to the Commander-in-Chief.

Gen. Mitchell: I will read this letter from the Commanding Officer, Provisional Air Brigade to the Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet.

Capt. Kurtz: The date for the exercises on the Iowa has been changed to June 28th.

Gen. Mitchell: Referring to paragraph 6, all our personnel will not participate in this bombing, as the risk is too great, both for personnel and for planes.

Capt. Kurtz: Any of your personnel not taking part will be placed with our observers, or we may be able to fix you up with our additional F-5-L's.

Gen. Mitchell: Re paragraph 7, we feel badly that no torpedoes are to be used. We would like, when that ship is turned over to us, to have the Navy work with us in torpedo experiments.

Capt. Kurtz: Our hands are tied on this. We are merely carrying out the instructions of the Department in not using torpedoes.

Gen. Mitchell: We understand that, but we are very much interested in getting that information. In connection with the zero hour, I believe that will be adjusted according to the speed of the various ships so that they may be over a certain objective at a certain time?

Capt. Johnson: That applies to the Iowa experiments. The instructions are that planes cannot start from anywhere until the zero hour. That is why I allowed 1-1/2 hours to give them to take up their positions.

Maj. Milling: That will take care of the flying boats, but not the airships, they are so slow.

Capt. Johnson: That can be arranged all right.

Gen. Mitchell: If we get into any electrical storms, we may have trouble; otherwise, I think we will get along all right.

Capt. Kurtz: We have to pick out a good day. That is prescribed.

Gen. Mitchell: I wonder what date the Commander-in-Chief wants me to report to him. I can report any time he wishes.

Capt. Johnson: I think we ought to work a little together ahead of time.

Capt. Kurtz: Admiral Jones, the Senior Officer Present, will arrive there about the 16th of June.

Capt. Upham: I think it will probably be about the 17th, the afternoon of the 16th or morning of the 17th.

Gen. Mitchell: If we could send a permanent liaison officer to Hampton Roads, I think that would be desirable, and you could have one at Langley Field.

Capt. Kurtz: I have a note of that.

Gen. Mitchell: Milling has authority to carry out anything that is necessary.

Capt. Kurtz: I don't know of anything more. Has anyone from the Department anything to bring up?

Comdr. Whiting: Will you send us a copy of that letter?

Gen. Mitchell: Yes, I will send you a copy. Here is one for Capt. Kurtz. Have you diagrams of all the bombs, and the last fuse?

Lt.Comdr. Rankin: Yes, we have most of them. I can get them all right.

Capt. Kurtz: Is everything that has been taken up all right with you, General? It is satisfactory to us.

Gen. Mitchell: Everything is satisfactory to us. We don't like to go into these tests without ever having dropped a bomb at a water craft. We have sent in a request for any kind of a ship to be turned over to us by the 1st of June. I am going down to Hampton Roads next week, and will be there practically all the time after that. We are having exercises all the time.

CC to: Capt. Kurtz
Capt. Johnson
Lt.Comdr. Bartlett
Comdr. Ellyson


Published: Thu Apr 09 12:20:10 EDT 2015