Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Diary of Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

[Extract]

1917 Friday 13 April

     . . . Pres. agreed that I at once order work on German war ships.1 They are damaged and cannot easily be put in commission. The officers evidently intended to make it impossible to use them.

     Knight2 telegraphed from China he would intern ships. We ordered him (Lansing & I) not to intern without specific orders. We have prevented revolution in China & protected people, & hope still to do so. Japs may demand to go in if we stay. Delicate question.3

     President appointed George Creel as Chief of Information & Lansing, Baker, & I to control.4 Creel went to L to sign letter whereupon L wanted it written on State Dept. paper & he sign first. Precedence!

Source Note: AD, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Diary, Roll 1.

Footnote 1: This is a reference to the interned German merchant ships and passenger liners in American ports. For more on the destruction and reclamation of these vessels, see: Navy Department (Operations) to Capt. Benjamin C. Bryan, Commandant, Sixth Naval District, 31 March 1917. “Pres.” refers to President Woodrow Wilson.

Footnote 2: Adm. Austin M. Knight, commander of the Asiatic Squadron.

Footnote 3: Following the outbreak of war in 1914, the American Asiatic Squadron assumed patrol duties on the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) River and other sites formerly patrolled by vessels of Great Britain and other belligerent nations. See, for example, Daniels to Knight, 21 February 1917, RG 45, Entry 517. When the United States entered the conflict on 6 April, the Chinese government, fearful of Japanese incursions into these areas, insisted upon at least nominal internment of all American naval ships remaining in Chinese waters. The Chinese planned to allow the crews to remain on board, but wanted the breech blocks of their guns to be deposited at the nearest American consulate. Knight reluctantly agreed to this policy. Daniels soon modified his stance. In a cablegram of 15 April, written in response to protests from Knight, Daniels allowed that Knight should not “refuse to intern if insisted upon” but should “try to obtain all possible delay without giving offense.” DNA, RG 45, Entry 517. In early May, Daniels and Secretary of State Robert Lansing agreed to allow limited internment, which continued until China declared war on Germany on 14 August 1917. Thereupon, the Americans resumed active patrolling. Braisted, The United States Navy in the Pacific, 1900-1922: 313-15.

Footnote 4: See, Woodrow Wilson Executive Order, 13 April 1917, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517. On the role Daniels played in establishing the government’s war-time censorship policy, in the creation of the Committee on Public Information, and the appointment of George Creel as its chairman, see: Daniels to Wilson, 11 April 1917.