Rear Admiral William S. Sims to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels
CABLE DISPATCH 16-3-12
SENT: 25th April, 1917. TO: Secretary of the Navy
THROUGH: State Department.
The “INDEFATIGABLE” and “QUEEN MARY” were sunk by explosion of their own magazines which were ignited by the gas forced down through the handling rooms from shell-exploding charges in the turrets.1 There were other ships which narrowly escaped the same fate. It is important that all flap doors be strong and gas tight. Experiments are now being carried out on an old battleship to determine the effect of explosion in upper turret chambers. I will report the results. During the battle of Jutland flame was seen issuing from the German turrets and rising in some cases as high as the mast head. Information has been received that the Germans wore gas masks throughout the ships and kept the powder cars empty at the tops of lower hoists. The Admiralty infer that the Germans fired gas charged shells.2 The British now keep ready charges at the torpedo defense guns in steel boxes two inches thick to prevent ignition from hot splinters. Great precaution must be taken to prevent flame and gas from reaching any magazines. All men in magazines and shell rooms and particularly in enclosed positions <above> side a<r>mor should wear gas masks. Details of these are being reported by Surgeon Pleadwell.3 Heavy shells exploding close by often effect the morale more than shell hitting. The British are experimenting attacking submarines with torpedoes, circling at forty to fifty foot depth and exploding on contact or at end of run. Some success has been obtained from torpedoing submarines from thirty five skid boats carrying 18 inch torpedo.4 These boats have at times proved more seaworthy than 80 foot submarine chasers.5 They lay to at night and listen with hydrophone for submarine charging batteries and then sneak for final dash. Wooden decks have not been removed and no linoleum removed from living spaces.
NO. OF COPIES: 4. REFERENCE NO:
Source Note: C, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517. “In the upper right-hand corner is typed in columnar fashion: “D/1/2/J.” The material in angle brackets was added later in pencil and above the line.
Footnote 1: The Royal British Navy battle cruisers Indefatigable and Queen Mary, along with another cruiser, Invincible, were sunk during the battle of Jutland, which was fought 31 May 1916. While the initial investigation done by the Admiralty concluded that dangerous practices in the handling of the shell propellant Cordite MD by the crews of the cruisers led to their destruction, but objections from the fleet commanders concerning these findings led to a new investigation that decided that defects in the design of the cruisers, i.e., inadequate armor and the failure of the anti-flash arrangements to prevent fires in the gun turrets passing down the ammunition trunks to the main magazines, caused the destruction of the ships. To remedy this defect a committee of fleet officers recommended replacing all doors between turrets and magazines with air-tight handling scuttles--as Sims does here. Nicholas Lambert, “‘Our Bloody Ships’ or ‘Our Bloody System’? Jutland and the Loss of the Battle Cruisers, 1916,” Journal of Military History, vol. 62 (January, 1998), 29-55.
Footnote 2: The Germans did not fire gas-charged shells during the battle.
Footnote 3: U.S. Navy Medical Surgeon Frank L. Pleadwell.
Footnote 4: “Skid boats” were presumably patrol boats carried by larger ships. The name is derived from the fact that they were stowed on skid-frames.
Footnote 5: Despite what Sims wrote here, the United States decided to produce submarine chasers and a large number were built from 1917 to 1919. The “pet” project of Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt, these vessels were 110 feet long, displaced 85 tons when fully loaded, and carried a crew of 26. They served extensively in European waters during the war. “Subchasers of World War I,” Accessed 8 February 2016, http://www.splinterfleet.org/sfww1.php.