Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations
Subject Copy. File No. <11-4-19>
Cablegram Sent April 26, 1918. TCH
To Opnav, Washington. Serial No. 7027
Prep. by C-1 DM D.R.
7027. URGENT. Your 5264. It is proposed to cancel present 8-day 9.5 knot Mercantile convoy for West Coast ports on 13 May and to substitute 11.5 knot convoy consisting principally of combined cargo and passenger vessels now being diverted from other trades. As large part of cargo must proceed up channel to London it is proposed to make this convoy alternately East and West coast, that is it will be sent up Channel every 16 days and every 16 days proceed to west coast ports – probably Glasgow. 8 destroyers released by canceling 9.5 knot west coast convoy will be available for furnishing escort every 8 days. The fast Halifax convoys are to be increased to 13 knots for present.
There are two modifications in this plan over present practice so far as concerns troops.
(a) Using 11.5 knot convoys
(b) Sending troops up English Channel
Reduction of speed adds some degree of risk to a convoy but we have no data that will permit a reliable estimate to be made of the added risk. In the case of 9.5 knot convoys more than 700 ships have been handled with only 4 sinkings and the loss of 4 lives. The 12.5 knot Halifax convoys have lost the TUSCANIA and recently the KING ALFRED was torpedoed in this convoy in the Irish Sea. The reduction of a knot in speed should not in itself prove a serious objection to the use of these convoys for troops. It is expected that a few fast cargo ships and oilers will join these convoys and furnish some protection to the flanks of the convoy. In any event for the first few convoys the number of troops sent in any convoy can be limited if desired depending on the number of transports in the convoy and the protection given by flanking ships. The use of the Channel for handling troops under present submarine conditions in my opinion adds an element of danger unless the escort is augmented from the mouth of the Channel to destination or the convoy taken into Plymouth or Brest to discharge troops before proceeding up Channel. As this East coast convoy would arrive only one in 16 days it is possible that an augmented escort could be obtained from the Harwich force which is now used exclusively as a covering force for the Dover barrage.
I see no inherent objection to the use of these convoys for troops. They seem to offer the only means available of rapidly increasing our forces in France. For the present at least these convoys will be small and 8 destroyers together with flanking cargo ships should give protection. When additional destroyers are sent over added protection can be given. Further information will be sent regarding changes in ocean escort required by this new convoy. 7027.
Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.