Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to Secretary of War Newton D. Baker

CONFIDENTIAL

April 4, 1918.

From:     The Secretary of the Navy.

To:       The Secretary of War .

SUBJECT:    Control of the Air in the Dunkirk-Calais-Zeebrugge Region and Air Operations against Submarines.

References:    (a) Report of the Joint Army and Navy Board on  Aeronautic Cognizance, dated March 12 , 1917, approved by the Secretary of War and Secretary of Navy .

(b) Letter of the Secretary of War, dated Nov. 14,1917, relative to priority for material to be used against Submarines.

(c) Secretary of Navy’s letter Op.Air)0126-23, dated March 7,1918, addressed to the Secretary of War, requesting certain aircraft for use of Navy.

(d) Secretary of War’s letter D.C.B., dated March 14,1918, stating that material requested in above letter would be supplied.

Enclosures:    (A) Copy of References (a), (b), (c) and (d).1

     1.  The General Board of the Navy early in March, after having made a study of the present activities of enemy submarines, and measures which should be taken to counteract these activities, recommended that the Naval aircraft activities of the United States be so increased as to obtain control of the air in the Strait of Dover and over the shallow water off the Belgium Coast, in order that heavier bombing machines could be used against submarines in this vicinity. As the enemy is already using land fighting machines to protect their submarines in this vicinity, the General Board recommended that the Navy obtain a certain number of land fighting machines in order to obtain the control of the air mentioned above.2

     2. As the operations recommended by the General Board are clearly entirely of a Naval character and do not in any way interfere with the decision approved by the War and Navy Departments in Reference (a), copy attached, they were approved by me, and in accordance with our understanding relative to the priority to be given for use in anti-submarine warfare, Reference (b), copy attached, this Department addressed a letter, Reference (c), copy attached, to the War Department requesting certain land machines be supplied to this Department for the operations outlined above, and in reply received the War Department’s letter Reference (d), copy attached, stating that the machines requested would be supplied.

     3. The general scheme of operations outlined abo<v>e was telegraphed to the Commander of U.S.Naval forces Operating in European Waters for reference to our Allies, and a reply has been received to this despatch stating that after consultation with the Allies it was recommended that the operations outlined above by the General Board be expanded to include an attack on enemy submarines at their bases at Ostend, Zeebrugge, and other places by the use of large night bomber land machines, which would require additional machines of the fighting type to further protect the bombers.3 This Department believes that the extension of operations against submarines in their bases as recommended from abroad is also purely Naval work and does not violate the decision approved by the War and Navy Departments in Reference (a), but before proceeding with these operations, this Department requests an expression of opinion from the War Department on the following questions:

a.   Does the War Department agree with the decision of the Navy Department, as outlined above in this paragraph of this letter?

b.   If the War Department does not agree with the above decision, is it in a position to undertake the operations with large land bombers which are considered necessary?

c.   If the War Department does agree with this Department that the above operations are purely of Naval Character, is the War Department in a position to supply to the Navy Department the following additional machines.

          To be supplied by July 1st 1918.

               75 Night bombers.

               40 Chasse Type land machines for high offensive

patrol.

          To be supplied by October 1st, 1918.

               75 two-place fighters or day bombers.

4. As it is desired to complete arrangements for the above operations as soon as practicable, and early decision in this matter is requested.4

(Signed)  Josephus Daniels.

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Identifier at top of each page: “Op.Air-/0127-37.” Identifier at top of first page only: “1-IB.”

Footnote 1: None of the enclosures are now with the letter and the editors have not tracked them down.

Footnote 3: See: Hutchinson I Cone to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 23 March 1918. As seen there, Cone’s message was sent via the headquarters of the Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, VAdm. William S. Sims.

Footnote 4: While the army did agree to provide the additional airplanes, it soon became evident to the naval aviation commanders in Europe that Dunkirk was not a good location for a major airfield. The harbor at Dunkirk was found to be unsuitable for seaplanes and the site was vulnerable to German air attack therefore the station was abandoned in September 1918. Rossano, Stalking the U-Boat: 322-23; 74-75.