Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Rear Admiral Albert P. Niblack, Commander, Patrol Squadron Based on Gibraltar, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters

[Extract]

U.S. NAVAL FORCES OPERATING IN EUROPEAN WATERS,

PATROL SQUADRONS BASED ON GIBRALTAR,

U.S.S. DECATUR, FLAGSHIP.

PERSONAL.                                  3 April, 1918.

CONFIDENTIAL.

Dear Sims:

          It has been a pretty difficult matter to rearrange the personnel here to scare up the five Lieutenant-Commanders and Lieutenants for Aviation duty in France, but we have it arranged all right now.1 I will be very glad to get the young Reserve Officers for training here, as the ships are now pretty short handed. Which means as good a look-out is not kept as should be.

          I enclose herewith an unofficial memorandum of my expenses for official entertainments during the month of March. I will make the official report after the public bill has been paid. Just as a matter of interest I want to tell you that there is an awful amount of unavoidable official social business here, due to the fact that Gibraltar is a fortress town, and the officers attached [to] the regiments stationed here, are mostly old or disabled, or convalescent, and very few of them are over worked. One the other hand, of course there are a great many naval officers here of high rank, naturally anxious to be amused, and amuse themselves more-or-less. I am invited to all sorts of dinners and things, and which I avoid as much as possible, but it throws the burden on me of reciprocating, particularly so as I am living in British Government quarters.

          ...We have had five courts of inquiry this week, so business has been rather brisk. Connors of the YANKTON got two, one on his magazine and one on his handling of Convoy B-G-18. Rear Admiral Ryan, R.N., and Lieutenant-Commander Speicher, U.S.N.,2 had a court of inquiry yesterday afternoon on the former having dropped two depth charges on a French submarine, and the latter for shooting it up and killing the French officer in command and wounding several of the crew. It came up right ahead of the Convoy, and no one knew there was a French submarine in the vicinity, and while everybody regrets the occurrence, the principle regret is that it was not a German submarine, as it was a beautiful piece of work in smoking out the submarine. The instance [i.e., instant] it was sighted Ryan let go two depth charges set at two hundred feet, and that brought the submarine up to the surface, the WENONAH landed on the conning tower on the sixth shot and hit her six times. One never knows what a court of inquiry will find, but it is a pity that Speicher does not get commended for splendid shooting by the WENONAH’s crew. Ryan got another court of inquiry for the sinking of the VULTURNO in his convoy.3 It is a merry life and they are always looking for some one to be the goat. That is why when Operations want me to select five Lieutenant-Commanders or Lieutenant to go to Aviation duty in France, I sometimes feel that our best officers should be at sea in the war zone. However, shore duty has always been the most important and there is no use kicking.

     I want to express my appreciation of the fine way I have been backed up in all of my requests, and while the situation is rather difficult here on account of a lot of old type ships that we have, still I know that we are getting all that we can, and I simply am making the best of it, and am keeping it all going as well as I can.

     Ships from the United States loaded with [the] most valuable kind of cargoes come straggling along from America and pull in here at frequent intervals. No attempt has been made to form them up in Convoys but we escort and form into Convoys all of the West bound ships going from here to the United States. In the United States they seem to pass over to the British Commodore in New York the routing of ships across the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean. There are six different approach routes to the Mediterranean, and one of these is patrolled from here to meet incoming ships. The trouble is, if a ship is told to pick a certain approach route when she leaves New York, if she is not on time she may not approach by a route that is being patrolled. Also, she may come in on an approach on which a submarine is operating. It is a hit-and-miss proposition. I once knew of a man that said he hated to go out on the street because he always sow so many things he could improve, I am not that kind of a man, and am merely taking things as they come, as far as tools to work with are concerned.

     ...The situation in Genoa –as regards the armed guards crews of our ships running loose around town-has reached such a state as requires some action. The Italian Authorities do not seem to be alive to the situation. Admiral Grant has taken up with Malta the general question of conditions in Genoa.4 I enclose a copy of a memorandum from the Commanding Officer of the WENONAH, as to incidents of Convoy B-G-18.5 I get these unofficial sort of reports to keep track of what is going on. The S.O.P. makes a regular report of course to the Senior Naval Officer, but I require each Commanding Officer to submit notes of interest.

     This letter goes forward by the Commanding Officer of the YAMACRAW.6

Sinc[ere]ly Yours

Nibs

Source Note: LTS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Container 76.

Footnote 1: For more on detaching officers for shore duty, see: Niblack to Sims, 18 March 1918.

Footnote 2: RAdm. Frank E.C. Ryan had been Captain of Dockyard, Portland, England, until September 1916, but his status at this time is unknown. Lt. Cmdr. Paul E. Speicher was assigned to Melville.

Footnote 3: S.S. Volturno was a 11,495-ton steamer sunk by U.B. 50 off Bone, Algeria.

Footnote 4: VAdm. Sir William Grant, Commander-in-Chief, North America and West Indies Stations. In response to the deteriorating situation in Genoa, RAdm. Silvio Belleni of the Italian Navy was given command of the port with instructions to restore order and discipline. See: Comm. Charles R. Train to Sims, 6 April 1918.

Footnote 5: See: War Diary, Wenonha, 4 April 1918.

Footnote 6: This officer’s identity is unknown.

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