Skip to main content

Rear Admiral William S. Sims to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels



Sent:— April 23rd 1917.                      CYPHER

     For the arming of merchant ships there exists an imperative need of mounts, sights and rapid fire guns.  Complete details of contracts in the United States are in the possession of Admiral of British Commission.1  I advise Department aid in facilitating.

     Your April 15.2  In reply flat-nosed projectiles are not used by English.  There are no standard screen formations.  Upon the number and presence of battle cruisers and cruisers depends the distance and formation of destroyer shields and these shields vary with the nature of the service on which the fleet employed, and in particular as regards the presence of submarines and other enemy ships.  With the exception of when it is north of latitude sixty-two, the fleet manoeuvers at not less than fifteen knots.  Steam is at highest fleet speed in dangerous areas, all vessels having steam for highest speed.  Pending the location of the enemy’s forces by advance scouts, the standard cruising formation line of divisions usually six interval six cables.3  To extend front and as they are most unprotected, wing divisions in echelon away from center.  Forward of fleet beam at such distance as will bar torpedoes getting into fleet, are destroyer shields on flanks. No advance guard of destroyers.  Greatest possible width of front and the least possible depth of formation is the general principle.  It seems that the submarines dread getting in front and being run into.  Whenever cruisers are about they make a shield at a distance of about twenty miles in advance preceded by a destroyer shield.  Whenever battle cruisers are about they with the cruisers make a shield about forty miles in advance, also preceded by a shield of destroyers.  It has been demonstrated by experience that the submarines do not try to get under the shields.

     By a movement of certain ships in unison made often at varying periods, the fleets while cruising changes its objective.  With the exception of when it is in sight of the enemy radio is never used for maneuvering.  Messages are never sent straight to the fleet from land.  The fleet never speaks. Its orders are sent from one land station to another and stopped on the way.  The radio direction finders of the enemy render this necessary.  An unvarying stream of message is maintained at all times between land stations so that there shall be no suggestion of the whereabouts of the fleet.


Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517. Someone has written at the top of this copy. “Cablegram/April 23, 1917,/ To: Secnav, Through State Department.” That person also wrote and crossed through; “Copy/From: Alusna, London,/5 copies” followed by a five-point summary—that is very difficult to read--of the topics covered in the memorandum: “1.[Charges?] 2. Merchant ships screen 3. Screens, searchs 4. Fleet operations 5. Ammunitions.”

Footnote 1: Adm. Sir Dudley R.S. De Chair. On 17 May, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William S. Benson informed the British Naval Attaché at Washington that the United States Navy was prepared to supply “twenty guns of 4-inch or 5-inch caliber, with 150 rounds of ammunition per gun” to the British government for their merchant ships. Benson to Guy R. Gaunt, 17 May 1917, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517.

Footnote 2: Daniel’s cablegram, which was received on 15 April, but may have been sent 14 April, is in DNA, RG 45, Entry 517. In that same cablegram, Daniels asked how the British formed their destroyer screens for the Grand Fleet and the orders for “manoeuvering of battleships” when submarines were sighted.

Footnote 3: Presumably, Sims is writing that the fleet forms in six columns with an interval (distance) between columns of six cables (3,600 feet). A nautical mile is ten cable lengths.

Related Content