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Commander Harris Laning to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels


In reply address the Secretary of the Navy and refer to No. -.

Navy Department,

Washington, April 12, 1917.


     Memorandum. For the Secretary of the Navy

   1. I have to invite your attention to conditions so alarning [i.e., alarming] to the safety of the country that in my opinion immediate steps must be taken to avert them. These conditions are reported by the Bureau of Ordnance’s quarterly report “Preparedness for War.” These serious conditions are summarized as follows.

  (1) Shortage of shells, 14-inch caliber.

  (2) Nonaward of contracts for 1,296 torpedoes required by the 1917 building program.

   2. As the Navy stands to-day we have the following allowance of 14-inch shell on the battleships in commission having that caliber guns. These are the (1) Arizona, (2) Nevada, (3) New York, (4) Oklahoma, (5) Pennsylvania, and (6) Texas. Should these ships be called into battle and expend their ordinary supply of shells—which is only sufficient for a short battle—we have not on hand to-day sufficient reserve 14-inch shell to refill their magazines. The total reserve supply of 14-inch shells for refill is but 1,961, an average of less than 31 shells per gun. Furthermore, if this small reserve is used for refills there would be no shells at all available for the Idaho, Mississippi, and New Mexico, now well along to completion. I can not bring too strongly to your attention that without shells for the guns, battleships, and all they contain, are worthless. They not only can not defend themselves but can not even fight to save the country. To be without sufficient shells for our largest and best battleships exposes not only the Navy but the whole country to disaster. I most earnestly urge that the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance1 be given authority and orders to provide sufficient 14-inch shells at the earliest possible time to fill out the allowance for the ships built and building and to complete the reserve stores essential for those ships.

   3. While the situation as to 14-inch shell is dangerous, that with reference to torpedoes is none the less so. Our new submarines, Nos. 78 to 107, and destroyers, Nos. 75 to 94, are all being speeded to completion and will undoubtedly be required for service as soon as ready. Neither can be used unless they are equipped with the torpedoes they were built to use. Unless the contracts for their torpedoes are entered into at once the ships will be ready before their torpedoes are.

     The price for the 1,296 torpedoes involved, which has been the cause of the delay in executing the contracts, has been adjusted and the contracts have been signed by the E. W. Bliss Co. The price having now been satisfactorily arranged, it only remains to sign these contracts to start the work. It is earnestly recommended that the contracts be signed at once and the Bureau of Ordnance directed to have the work pushed to completion.1

Source Note: Naval Investigation, 2: 1814-15. Laning served as the senior assistant for the Assistant for Material, Capt. Josiah S. McKean, in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations. According to later testimony he gave to Congress, he prepared this memorandum at the request of RAdm. Ralph Earle, the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance. Although addressed to Josephus Daniels, Laning testified that it was “handed to” the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. William R. Benson. Naval Investigation, 1: 400.

Footnote 1: According to his later congressional testimony, “On or about April 28,” Laning’s memorandum was returned to him with instructions that he should find out if there “was any change in the situation.” Laning found that the contract for torpedoes had been placed, but that the one for fourteen-inch shells had not yet been executed. Naval Investigation, 1: 400-1.

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