Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Captain Francis J. Higginson to Rear Admiral Montgomery Sicard, Commander, North Atlantic Station.

U.S.S. Massachusetts, (1st Rate),

Dry Tortugas Harbor, Florida,

February 18, 1898.

Sir:-

     1.   If it should become the opinion that hostilities might be imminent I respectfully submit the following consideration in regard to the protection of our Battleships from night attacks by torpedo boats.

     2.   The present position of our Battleships lying in Tortugas Harbor in what is practically an open roadstead susceptible upon nearly every side to a torpedo boat attack, seems to me to be a very unsafe one and in my opinion measures to render it more secure would be advisable in anticipation of the arrival of an enemies torpedo boats and before declaration of war would render it too late. A Battleship without an attendant cordon of small vessels is like an army without Cavalry or scouts and is liable to surprise by the enemy at any moment. Her chief defense against torpedo boat attacks lies in her rapid fire guns and quick discovery of the approaching enemy. Both officers and crew must be kept upon a strain which would in a short time wear them out and unfit them for their proper work in the line of battle.

     3.   I think they should be relieved from this sort of nightly strain and allowed to take rest preparatory for action in the same way that Infantry of an Army sleeps under protection of Cavalry, scouts and pickets.

     4.   The Battleships should in my opinion be surrounded by a mosquito fleet of small steamers which would give them timely warning and possibly prevent the approach of a torpedo boat. For this purpose I would respectfully suggest the employment of such tugs and small vessels as may be found in abundance in the ports of the U.S. and these vessels should be fitted with at least one and if possible two machine guns, and a small search light and dynamo and one light rapid fire gun for signal or other purposes.

     5.   They would be invaluable in discovering th[e] approach of an enemy and in giving timely warning to the Battleships and, if fortunate with their machine guns, could totally disable the machinery of a torpedo boat.

     6.   These picket vessels or scouts could be indefinitely multiplied and they would be cheap at any price compared with the loss of a Battleship.

     7.   Without either nets or booms, Battleships at anchor in an open roadstead are comparatively helpless against torpedo boat attacks and for the purpose of discovery and alarm the vessels above mentioned would in my opinion be preferable even to using our own torpedo boats, of which we have at present only a limited number and which would be more useful in other and more legitimate work.1

     Very respectfully,     

Francis Higginson 

Captain, U.S. Navy

Commanding. 

Source Note: CyS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 226. Addressed below close: “Commander-in-Chief,/U.S.Naval Force on North Atlantic Station.” Document reference: “#294.” Docketed: “U.S. Flagship New York/(1st RATE)/Key West, Florida./February 20th, 1898/SUBJECT:-/Massachusetts:- Captain Higgin-/son suggests plan to protect bat-/tleships from torpedo attack./Respectfully referred to the/secretary of the Navy, through/the Bureau of Navigation./The suggestions herein con-/tained are good and probably those/measures are the only ones that we/could take, especially at first:/Of course battleships could at/times shift their berths at night,/but that operation is liable to/harass the crew after a time./M. Sicard/REAR ADMIRAL,/COMMANDER IN CHIEF U.S. NAVAL FORCE,/NORTH ATLANTIC STATION.” Stamp: This stamp contains text that forms a rectangle. “BUREAU OF NAVIGATION” is on the top, “FEB 25” is on the left side, “1898” is on the right side and “NAVY DEPARTMENT” is aon the bottom. In the middle of the rectangle is the reference no. “94627. Stamp 2: “RECEIVED/FLAG-SHIP N.A. STATION/FEB 20 1898.”

Footnote 1: As hostilities escalated concern over torpedo boat attacks increased. On 1 April, Capt. William Sampson issued orders for the protection of anchored battleships that differed from Higginson’s suggestions. Sampson ordered that:

A cruiser and two torpedo boats will be detailed nightly to proceed on picket duty about ten 10 miles to the southward of the Flagship . . . The torpedo boats will be assigned stations one to the eastward and one to the westward of the cruiser at a distance of about five 5 miles from her. The boats will move to and fro from the cruiser towards the reef covering a distance of about ten miles from her and sighting her frequently . . . The cruiser will keep her running lights, but the torpedo boats will mask theirs . . . In case a suspicious vessel is seen standing northward a torpedo boat will approach the Flagship sufficiently to enable rockets to be seen, and two will be fired simultaneously. The boat will then run in for the Squadron at full speed and communicate using her private signal as she approaches the Squadron...All will return to their anchorage in the inner harbor at early daylight. See, North Atlantic Squadron Circular, 1 April, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 228.

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