Rear Admiral Henry B. Wilson, Commander, United States Patrol Squadrons Operating in European Waters, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters
U. S. NAVAL FORCES OPERATING IN EUROPEAN WATERS
FORCES IN FRANCE
U.S.S. PROMETHEUS, Flagship.
22 April, 1918.
From: Commander U.S. Naval Forces in France.
To: Force Commander.
Subject: U.S. Naval Forces in France; Employment of.
1. The ships, other than repair and station ships, attached to this Force may be divided into the following classes:
(1) Ships capable of efficiently escorting troop and Army store ships of any speed to or from the coast of France.
(2) Ships capable of escorting convoys along the coast of France, which convoys contain so many of our laden Army store ships and ships in the Army Coal Trade.
2. The only vessels which can properly be assigned to Class One are destroyers.
To class Two may be assigned all yachts. In addition, in order to enable this coast escort to efficiently perform its duty, one fast ship should be added to each group. To this duty the four hundred ton destroyers are assigned, two to one group and one each of three others.
3. The larger yachts are, due to the fact that insufficient destroyers are assigned to duty with this Force, escorting empty store ships westward from Verdon, and piloting troop ships into the Gironde, but it is not considered that they can properly escort laden store ships to France.
4. The work now required of thetwelve destroyers and the ISABEL is as follows:
(a) Meet New York convoys every eight days at destroyer rendezvous and escort them to Brest. This requires five ships and the escort is usually augmented by one French ship.
(b) Pilot into St. Nazaire and Brest troop ships every six to ten days, requiring usually four destroyers.
(c) Meet special high speed troop convoys requiring three to six destroyers, and additional destroyers for light ship duty.
(d) Take empty troop ships west from Brest, St. Nazaire and Bordeaux, and the larger faster store ships, the smaller slower ones being escorted west from Verdon by the larger yachts.
(e) Odd jobs which arise from time to time, like taking ships to and from across the channel.
5. It will be seen from the above that the resources of this force are strained to the utmost, in fact it is impossible to give convoys the protection which they really should have and keep up the flow of shipping. It has been previously reported that the Verdon convoys are insufficiently escorted.
6. Shipping has been kept moving as well as it has simply due to the fact that there has for some time been little enemy activity west of France, but if enemy submarines again begin operating well to the westward so that stronger protection must be given and shipping escorted further to sea it will be impossible, unless this force is augmented, to avoid delay in turning ships westward.
7. It should be remembered in comparing the days at sea with days in port of this force that most of the work done by the destroyers is of relatively high speed, thus increasing the miles steamed, that five of the destroyers are coal burners resulting in increased work for personnel both at sea and in port, and that although this force handles special groups of troop transports, in addition to often re-enforcing the groups which the Queenstown destroyers handle, must always provide ships of proper speed to pilot into Brest and St. Nazaire the ships of every group which the Queenstown destroyers handle. While this last does not require many days at sea it necessitates destroyers getting clear of the harbor the night before groups arrive there, lessening the time available for overhaul and means that ships must be kept in reserve for that duty.
8. This force will hereafter be required to meet the H.B. convoys each sixteen days.1 It is not considered that yachts can furnish adequate protection to laden ships sothat whenever practicable destroyers will be employed, unless otherwise directed. From information now available an escort will be required for H.N. 652 at the same time that H.B. 1 must be met, and if it should develop that a troop convoy must be met at the same time there are not enough destroyers attached to this force to give all three convoys adequate protection.
9. Judging from past experience the utmost assistance that can be expected from the French is one vessel to assist with New York convoys, one and at times two with the Verdon convoys, and perhaps one with the H.B. convoys.
10. The use of the smaller destroyers in the coast convoys, combined with running these convoys during daylight, has up to the present time undoubtedly kept the shipping on the coast free from attack, and it is considered very inadvisable to divert them from this duty.
11. With the increase in work, and with the increase of submarine activity which may be expected with the advent of more seasonable weather, it is absolutely necessary that the number of destroyers attached to this force be increased. The operations of enemy submarines in southern waters are watched with a view to ascertain when they start the return voyage to their base, but, of course, this cannot always be predicted.
12. Altnough [i.e., Although] the waters west of France are not [i.e., now?] comparatively free of enemy submarine activity, it must be borne in mind that our first warning of their reappearance may be through the sinking of ships in an insufficiently escorted convoy.
H. B. WILSON.
Source Note: TDS, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520, box 414. Identifiers: “495”; “Od/O”; “File 495-FMR/O/.” The latter appears at the top of pages 2 and 3 of this three-page document.
Footnote 1: H.B. convoys were loaded store ship convoys from New York for the Bay of Biscay ports. Wilson, American Navy in France: 47.
Footnote 2: H.N. convoys were loaded store ship convoys from New York for France. Ibid.