Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Captain Edwin T. Pollock to Rear Admiral Albert T. Gleaves, Commander, Cruiser and Transport Force

U.S.S. George Washington.

27 April, 1918.    

From:     Commanding Officer.

To:       Commander Cruiser Force.

Subject: Zigzagging at Night, Group 21.

Reference: (a) CCF secret letter No.25006-2-4-dated 27 April 1918.1

     1.   The destroyer escort joined the convoy the morning of 21 March, with instructions for a course which crossed meridian twelve during the night. That day SOS calls, about fifteen minutes apart were intercepted from vessels gunned by subs about forty miles apart, and one call was at that time about twenty miles north of course to be made. There was also another call which indicated a probable third submarine. The Wilkes seemed to think there was but one,2 although the evidence was that there were at least two, and this latter was the conclusion drawn by the Commander of Naval Forces in Brest,3 evident from his intercepted messages. Not only on the account of the evident submarines near our route, but also that moon rise occurred about midnight. I signalled that it was unwise to stop zigzag and that it would be moonlight at midnight. This message was repeated by radio by the Wilkes to the destroyer group. The night of 2[1] March, even before moon rise, at least two of the destroyers were visible, from the high bridge of this vessel practically all the time. The vessels of the convoy must have been easily visible to the destroyers.

     2.   Referring to the second night, the convoy for St. Nazaire had to cease zigzagging in order to make Quiberon Bay in daylight, and I understand some of them were able to get up to St. Nazaire that evening before dark, and had the entire group gone there I would have done the same thing. The speed of each part of the convoy was the same – a scant twelve knots (Susquehanna – St. Nazaire, and President Grant – Brest, being the slow ships). As the distance to Brest was considerably shorter than that to Quiberon Bay, there were the following alternatives, so as not to to make the inshore rendezvous during darkness:

     (a) Keep up the maximum speed of twelve knots, stop zigzag until the moon rise, but turn about for an hour.

     (b) Slow the group to 10½ knots and steer a straight course.

     (c) Continue at the maximum speed and zigzag.

     3.   Referring to paragraph 2:

     (a) Turning three ships about with their largely different turning circles, the largest circle in the middle – the George Washington, and the possibility of collision or losing the others was too dangerous to attempt.

     (b) It was considered very unwise to go slow.

     (c) Was considered the best solution, and while the night was dark, the three ships maintained accurate position throughout the night, and arrived at the designated point off Brest at daylight.

          Arriving off Brest, in any event, before three hours of sun is generally a poor policy for two reasons – one on account of the morning mist on a bad coast, the other on account of the possibility of mines being laid during the night, as, I understand, happened that same night, and compelled the convoy to go through a narrow and danger channel.

     4.   Orders in Convoy, while forbidding the zigzagging at night under certain conditions, also state that the “Senior Officer Present is to use his discretion bearing in mind that of collision two vessels are endangered”. That the alternative chosen was the best under the circumstances was evidenced by the confirmation of it by the other transport Commander, when we talked over various matter later.

(sgd) E.T. POLLOCK.

Source Note: TCy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 342-344. Document reference: “3/C/H/J” on page one of this document and “1/3/C/H/J” on page two.

Footnote 1: “CCF” is Commander Cruiser Force; the letter has not been found.

Footnote 2: RAdm. Henry B. Wilson, Commander, United States Naval Forces in France.

Footnote 3: Lt. Cmdr. Thomas A. Symington commanded the destroyer Wilkes.

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