Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

[Extract]

23rd April 1918.   

FROM:  Force Commander.

TO:    Secretary of the Navy (Operations).

SUBJECT:  General Report.

     1.  ENEMY SUBMARINE OPERATIONS.

          During the week 7-13 April, it is estimated that thirteen to fifteen large enemy submarines were out, five being vessels of the converted “Deutschland” type. Of the latter, two are homeward bound, one is about 500 miles s.w. of Finisterre, one is off Sierra Leon, and the other is off Dakar.

          From the remaining large boats activity was mainly experienced in the North Channel (but activity here moved at the end of the week further south in the Irish Sea – particularly off Holy head) and off the Isle of Wight. The North Sea was quiet as regards attacks though several reports of boats on passage come from Fair Island.

          The following table gives more detailed particulars of the enemy’s activities:

     AREA                          Average No. of submarines

                                        in area per day.

North Sea, South of 53º 30 N.                      -

North Sea, North of 53º 30 N.                    5 – 6

S.W. of Ireland                                   1

Atlantic, North of Finisterre                   1 – 2

Atlantic, South of Finisterre                   2 – 3

N.W. of Ireland and Scotland                    2 – 3

Irish Sea, North of 54º N.                         1

Irish Sea, South of 54º N.                         1

 Irish Sea, Bristol Channel                       1

English Channel, approaches                       2

English Channel, west of Lyme Regis1           1 – 2

English Channel, east of Lyme Regis             2 – 3

Bay of Biscay                                     1

ENGAGEMENTS.

          Reports of sixteen encounters with enemy submarines have been received as follows:-

                    2 by T.B.D’s. [Torpedo Boat Destroyers]

                    2 by “P” class vessel.

                    4 by Aircraft.

                    1 by Merchant Vessel.

                    6 by Auxiliary Patrol.

GENERAL INFORMATION.

          On the 7th of April H.M.S. P-12 carried out a promising attack on an enemy submarine ten miles S.W. of Dungeness.

          On the 9th April armed trawler JOHN CORNWARDER when five miles n.n.w. of Rathlin, struck a submerged object, and on listening on her hydrophone heard a submarine. Four depth charges were dropped and an extra explosion resulted and much oil came to the surface.2

          On the 11th April an enemy cruiser submarine arrived off Monrovia and after communicating with the shore bombarded the French W/T station and town.

     2.  ENEMY MINE LAYING.

          Activity was experienced in the Peterhead, Harwich and Dover (French Coast, principally) areas. Havre was also heavily mined, doubtless on account of troop movements; the port, however, was closed for a few hours only and clearing operations were effectives without accident to any vessel.

          As regards other waters Alexandria [Egypt] is now systematically mined at recurring periods, this operation also, it is presumed, being aimed at troop movements.

          A report has been received that a mine of unusual type and similar to our own submarine mines has been found off Sierra Leone. Should this have been laid by an enemy submarine, it is the first instance of submarine minelaying so far afield. Confirmation of the report is lacking, but in the meanwhile sweeping is being carried out. Fifty-four mines were destroyed. . . .

     4.  ANTI-SUBMARINE OPERATIONS.

LISTENING DEVICE SITUATION.

          The off-shore tripod installation was put down off Portland without checking the cable leads to the receiving units. Mr. Scott3 inspected the installation and reports that it will be necessary to raise the tripod and check up these leads. A compensator was hooked up and some vessels were heard. The weather was too thick to see these vessels and their distance away could not therefore be ascertained.

K-TUBE CABLE.

          Siemens Company has completed 2,000 feet of K-Tube four-conductor cable. This will be used to renew the cable of the K-tube sets installed on trawlers operating in Northern Waters.

POSSIBLE USE OF NON-RIGID DIRIGIBLES WITH SUB-CHASERS.

          An inspection trip was made on the N.S.6 to demonstrate the increased observation that one would get with a balloon operating with the chasers. The small “Z” type of British patrol dirigible was also examined and a report written on the day’s findings. A second trip was made to Pulham to examine any detection devices that they had used at that station. It was found that only the most preliminary tests had been made in using detection devices from airships. So far they have been fairly successful in using a detection device when the dirigible was [made] fast to a drogue.4 The use made by the British of their “Z” patrol type is interesting from the proposed program for the chasers. Experimental work on detection devices used from dirigibles might be undertaken with great advantage to New London.

U.S.S.CALDWELL.

          The following is a summary of the experiments conducted by Lieut. Commander Beehler on this vessel.5

          Premliminary experiments conducted on the U.S.S. CALDWELL were for the purpose of determining whether or not the machinery noises and water noises could be eliminated at high speeds at the same time making the device sensitive enough to receive outside signals. The result showed that the machinery noises could be completely eliminated when using the Submarine Signal Company’s microphones. Wave noises could not be entirely eliminated with the apparatus at hand, but were reduced to such an extent that they caused practically no interference. Further developments of this apparatus will be along the lines of more sensitive microphones, such as K-tube rats, and effort will also be made to apply the K-tube directly to this apparatus, thus making an instrument which will not only detect submarines, but give direction.

U.S.S.FLUSSER.

          Work is being undertaken to fit this vessel with the tank type of K-tube, to which it is expected that Lieut. Commander Beehler’s method of elimination of ship’s noises will be applied.

U.S.S.BIRMINGHAM.

          The question of fitting the tank type of K-tube to the BIRMINGHAM is now being considered. The idea is not that she should use it in hunting, but more for use in locating the position of a convoy in thick weather.

CHANNEL HUNTING OPERATIONS.

          D.A.S.D. Captain Fisher,6 Royal Navy, has just returned to the Admiralty after conducting two fairly successful hunts in the entrance of the channel. In neither case does he feel that the submarine was destroyed. In the first case eight depth charges were dropped, but it is believed that the submarine escaped. In the second case, twenty-six depth charges were dropped. It is doubtful whether the submarine was destroyed or not.

     5.  FORCES BASED ON QUEENSTOWN.

          The destroyers based on Queenstown continue in high sea escort duty as in the past. With the increased number of ships crossing, particularly with ships sailing independently this force still remains inadequate. Whenever, due to movement of ships, it is possible to spare any ships from escort duty, they are employed in hunting operations in the Irish Sea.

GENERAL COURT-MARTIAL –MANLEY

          The General Court-Martial of the Commanding Officer of the USS MANLEY has comp<l>eted it’s duty and the Proceedings of the Court are now being reviewed.7 Owing to the lack of officers of suitable rank, it was necessary to send the planning section to Queenstown for this duty. This however, afforded them an opportunity of acquainting themselves with the conditions existing at the base and of consulting destroyer officers concerning their actual experiences afloat. They also had the opportunity of Consulting the Submarine Division Commander8 and Submarine Officers and the report of the duty in question has been very profitable to them.

          The MANLEY has not yet been sent to a yard for repairs as the time necessary for her repairs will be entirely dependent upon the material ordered from the United States.

COURT OF INQUIRY- STOCKTON.

          A court of Inquiry has been ordered in the case of the collis ion of the STOCKTON with the small British transport SLIEVE BLOOM in which the latter vessel was sunk. In this case it was impracticbale <impracticable> to order officers for the court who were senior to the commanding officer of the STOCKTON.9

STORAGE FACILITIES –QUEENSTOWN.

          Every effort is being made to store the various supplies arriving at Queenstown. It is important of course to keep as far ahead as possible with stores and supplies in order to cover the emergency of store ships being sunk or diverted on account of enemy activity. It is also possible in case we can get sufficiently ahead with naval stores to perhaps divert in the future some of the naval store ships to army use.

          Facilities for stowage of stores at Queenstown are very poor. The store houses at Passage are full to capacity, as is also the store house at the <railroad> terminal. Storage facilities at this base have reached a very critical stage in view of the increasing personnel and other demands upon the base.

          All arrangements have been made to take over the necessary land in the vicinnity of the railroad terminal property and it now only remains necessary to obtain authorization for the necessary expenditure from the Department to erect the storage sheds.

BASE HOSPITAL – QUEENSTOWN.

          The plans in connection with establishing a base hospital at White Point in the vicinnity of Queenstown, are progressing. It is anticipated that considerable trouble will be experienced in obtaining the necessary labor to carry out this project particularly in view of the serious internal situation in Ireland which is anticipated when Conscription is put in force.

TRAINING BARRACKS.

          A total of 120 men were received at the Training Barracks during week ending 13 April and 29 <39> were transferred to general duties afloat.

          The entire force at the training barracks is kept busy in furnishing working parties in connection with stores at Queenstown and Cork and preparing recreation ground and discharging, sorting out, and storing material received on store ships.

          Instruction in the Yeoman school has been continued and candidates for Quartermaster’s school have begun work.

          The Naval Academy School has completed its first course and examinations will begin during the coming week.10

SHORE CONDITIONS AT QUEENSTOWN.

          Shore conditions at Queenstown remain satisfactory. Liberty to Cork is still suspended and there is much concern felt over the conditions which may arise when conscription is applied to Ireland.11

          The British Commander-in-Chief of Ireland12 has stated it to be his policy as far as possible to meet conditions ashore with British Forces, but all of our stations have been warned to prepare themselves as far as possible to resist any unauthorized attacks from civilian population.

          Some aviation motor trucks proceeding recently from Dublin to one of our Air Stations were stopped by civilians the drivers interrogated and the contents of the trucks examined, apparently with a view to locating arms.

     6.  FORCES BASED ON FRENCH COAST.

          The weekly report of operations from the Commander Patrol Squadrons based on the French Coast, dated 14th of April 1918, is attached to this report.13

     7.  BATTLESHIP DIVISION NINE.

          General Report from Rear-Admiral Rodman dated 13th April is attached to this report.14

     8.  MINING FORCE.

          The general activities of this force will be covered by separate correspondence. There is attached War Diary of the Mine Force Commander.15 It is understood that the British are having serious trouble with their mine anchors and mines designed for use as deep mine fields. Apparently the automatic depth features are not entirely satisfactory, and the safety feature of the mine itself, which renders it immune above certain depths, has also given trouble.

          Generally speaking, the Force Commander considers that absolute safety to surface craft in connection with so-called deep mine fields can never be assured. Regardless of the degree of perfection of design in the drafting room and “proving ground” tests, experience in the past has shown that when manufacture in large numbers is undertaken a percentage of success well below the maximum is always the result.

          It is believed that this holds with guns, torpedoes, and other naval equipment as well as mines. All of our eq<u>ipment aboard ships, including fire control gear, is dependent upon constant investigation, care and attention of personnel. It is hardly to be expected that automatic mechanisms can ever be depended upon for 100% efficiency unless personnel accompanies them for their care and upkeep.

          It is therefore considered that we will never be warranted in placing absolute dependence in such weapons as deep mine fields.

          The area once mined cannot be considered an absolutely safe area for surface craft traffic.

     9.  U.S. SUBMARINES.

          There is forwarded herewith weekly summary of operation of Submarine Division Five.16

          Encouraging reports relative to the material efficiency of our submarines are being received. The principal deficiency seems to be the periscopes which is apparently a serious difficulty. Through inefficient periscopes our submarines have on one or two occasions, received a very serious depth charge attack by destroyers.17

          The submarines report that their listening devices are very efficient, that they can nearly always pick up ships on “C” tubes or oscillators before they can see them through the periscope.

          It is reported that the L-10 and L-11 after their arrival in European Waters could have turned around and made the return trip without repairs. One of these submarines reports that the only spare part used since leaving Newport has been one small spray valve.

          One young submarine officer recently expressed himself that nine-tenths of submarine engine troubles in the past had been due to personnel.

          They report that experience in the war zone will prove a wonderful asset to our submarine service, and that they find that they know very little about submarine tactics and approaches before their present experience in which they have received the benefits of many hard and trying lessons which it has taken the British submarine service years to learn.

          One young submarine officer gave the following list of points of experience gained which had particularly impressed him as follows:-

1.  Need of more comfortable quarters.

2.  Voice tube from bridge to conning tower.

3.  Importance of being able to run at low speeds. That is a 1 -1 1/2 knots for hours.

4.  Importance of Navigation and being able to keep patrol station.

5.  The need of a deepsea sounding machine.

6.  Experience in determining the best menu for submarine cruises.

7.  Lavatory arrangements.

8.  Crash diving.

9.  Bridges, stating that our submarines have very good bridges.

10. Necessity for reliable magnetic compass, the gyro compass apparently gives considerable trouble.

11. The problem of engine running, particularly being about to run slow. One submarine states that he seldom runs over 340 R. p.m. and the ordinary <speed> is 320 and states that he considers a great deal of past trouble was due to high cruising speed. They usually run on both engines.

13. Charging air tanks to 1500 instead of 3000 pounds and thereby saving the compressors.

14. The importance of torpedo work and keeping torpedoes ready for firing. They generally run with their tubes open.

          One of our submarines recently followed an enemy submarine for over an hour and then lost him apparently owing to inferior speed. The submarine officer states that the enemy is able to maintain higher submerged speed and run very quietly. Further, that the enemy’s ability to dive quickly is remarkable.

10.  GENERAL.

DEPTH CHARGE POLICY.

     There are forwarded hereunder two recent circular letters to the forces concerning the new depth charge policy which is merely a more liberal use of depth charges in all cases.18 This has been permitted by the increased supply of these weapons.

          Until the listenting device is developed to a point of being able to follow the submarine submerged, it is considered to be fully warranted to use a very large number of depth charges whenever the slightest evidence is discovered indicating the presence of a submarine. This policy is believed to be fully justified even if a large number of depth charges are expended upon erroneous evidence.

          The number of enemy submarines is so small relative to the large areas over which they operate, and the chance of attacking even on the chance of effecting their morale.

          The following letter was received from Admiral de Bon the French Minister of Marine concerning the new depth charge policy:-

“ I should be glad if you would convey my warmest thanks to Admiral Sims for the remarkable tactics that he has sent me through you.

I was particularly struck by the scientific method shown in the drawing up of these orders, and by the facility of their practical realization, and I have communicated them to our French Service, in order that they too may benefit thereby.

     I have no doubt that the work and efforts of American submarine chasers will shortly be crowned with brilliant success and I should be happy to be the first to thank you and them for their powerful assistance in the common cause.”

CENSORSHIP.

          A news article is noted in the New York TRIBUNE under date of March 24 stating that according to passengers arriving on French and British liners, two U-boats had recently been sunk by merchant ships in the previous fortnight, nine prisoners from one submarine being taken to a French port. It is stated that the crew was taken by the S.S.FLORIDIAN after latter had sent submarine to bottom and that they are the first U-boat prisoners of the war falling into American hands. That a second submarine was accounted for by an American Destroyer convoying one of the liners reaching America on the date in question.19

          This information has not been confirmed and it is considered very undesirable to mislead the public as to the accomplishments of our forces.

          Such an account as the above mentioned wills be accepted by the majority of the people as a proven fact and, further, such accounts leave the impression that submarines are constantly being sunk. Our success against the submarine does not warrant optimistic public opinion which can not have a good effect in arousing the people to the seriousness of the international situation as created by the submarine.

ARRIVAL OF NEW FORCES.

          The increase of our forces in European Waters has been very disappointing. But three new destroyers will apparently have been added to the force up to 1st May, that is, MANLEY STOCKTON and CALDWELL.20 The difficulties which have been experienced with the new destroyer programme at home are realized, but it is hoped that even greater efforts than have heretofore been thought possible can be put forward to expedite arrival of new destroyers.

          Unfortunately, based on official figures obtained from the completion lists of Bureau of Construction and Repair, as far back as November 1917, the French and British Admiralties were notified of prospective additions to forces in European Waters of submarine chasers, mine craft, aviation material and Ford and other destroyers. This was necessary in order to take up for discussion, and begin preparations for, the necessary regular docking and overhaul of the additional vessels, and provide for the repair of damages due to accidents etc. Although it is realized that the delays could not have been avoided, still it has been very embarrassing that various programmes have fallen so far short of predicitons.

          This is not meant to be in any sense a criti<ci>sm or a complaint but merely to point out that the Force Commander has necessarily felt reluctant in advancing and supporting various measures involving changes in operation under way and programme for inauguaration of new operations, as suggested by our Planning Section and from other sources at home, until the number of our own forces engaged had reached a higher point.

MOVEMENT OF TROOP AND SUPPLY SHIPS.

          Staff officers from General Pershing’s staff have recently come to London for consultation with this staff concerning movements of army troop and supply ships. The principal new feature presented by them is a desire to use Marseilles in case necessity arises. It is understood that at present the principal difficulties on the French Coast arise from lack of rolling stock [i.e. railroad materials] which has been required by the French since the beginning of the German offensive. It is also understood that a considerable amount of rolling stock returning from Italy might be utilized from Marseilles north. The west coast ports of France would seem to be able to meet the demands of the next few months, but to prepare for emergencies, the army desires to investigate the possibilities of using Marseilles in case the necessity should arise. The increased distance involved in using the latter port, and the lack of adequate escort craft renders the use of Marseilles a difficult problem. It is possible that certain of the faster ships might be diverted to that port from time <to time> depending upon submarine activity and other circumstances.

AVIATION

          It is to be noted that the Naval Aviation Stations abroad are fast approaching completion and that the situation will soon be reached in which the stations and pilots, in accordance with our programme, will be available without the necessary machines.

SUBMARINE ACTIVITY – AFRICAN COAST.

          Four British drifters and two submarines have been sent to West African Coast in view of the activities of cruiser submarines in vicinnity of Dakar.  

REPAIR WORK BY PORTUGUESE.

          The Force Commander has received a letter from the American Minister to Portugal21 stating that the Portuguese Naval Authorities will be glad to undertake repair work for American Naval vessels at any time.

HOSPITAL FACILITIES.

          The American Red Cross are <is> making arrangements to set up a small hospital in London, for local use of the Navy, in the immediate vicinnity. This hospital will be fully equipped in every way, and will have a capacity of about fifty beds or more if needed.

          Female nurses will also be supplied by the Red Cross, and all that the Medical Department of the Navy will be called upon to furnish will be the Medical Staff and a few hospital corpsmen.

          The Red Cross are <is> arranging for a convalescent hospital within one hour of London for American Army and Navy Officers. It seems to be a definite fact in the ps<y>chycology of American Officers that they desire to spend their convalescence in a city rather than in the country. This seems to be opposite to the English custom.

          The Red Cross also have under consideration the establishment of a convalescent hospital for the enlisted men of the Army and Navy. Convalescent hospitals will naturally be used more by the Army than by the Navy.

          However, it may be well to consider their use for the members of our Aviation Corps after they have had crash landings, bad falls, etc. It may be found necessary to adopt as a policy the giving of convalescent leave to Aviation Officers after such accidents in order to get their nerve back.

WM. S. SIMS.            

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.

Footnote 1: Located in West Dorest, England on the English Channel.

Footnote 2: Both reports were mistaken; no German submarines were lost on either date. Kemp, U-Boats Destroyed: 45-46.

Footnote 3: Probably Capt. William P. Scott, Staff, Navy Department.

Footnote 4: A drogue is towed behind a ship to provide stability, particularly in storms, which also causes a reduction in speed.

Footnote 5: Lt. Weyman P. Beehler. For further discussion of his listening device, see: Pringle to Sims, 27 April 1918.

Footnote 6: Capt. William W. Fisher, Director, Anti-Submarine Warfare (D.A.S.D. presumably refers to “Director, Anti-Submarine Division).

Footnote 7: Cmdr. Robert L. Berry, commander, U.S.S. MANLEY. On 19 March MANLEY struck another ship, and a depth charge on her deck exploded, killing 34 men and igniting a large fire. Although a court-martial convicted Berry, it also urged clemency, which he was granted. Capt. Joel R. Poinsett Pringle, Chief of Staff, Destroyer Flotilla, however, strongly recommended that Berry not return to the force. For a more detailed account of the episode, see: Pringle to Sims, 29 April 1918. For more on Berry’s court-martial, see: Sims to William S. Benson, 30 April 1918.

Footnote 8: Lt. Cmdr. Wilhelm L. Friedell, Commander, Submarine Detachment, Queenstown, Ireland.

Footnote 10: Daniels was a strong proponent of selecting candidates for the U.S. Naval Academy from among the enlisted men, and even hoped that eventually anyone desiring a billet at the Academy would first be required to enlist as a seaman for one year. Naval Investigation: 2770-2771.

Footnote 11: American sailors on leave in both Queenstown and Cork, Ireland, occasionally had trouble with the locals, including fights breaking out and, in one case, an Irish laborer being killed in a brawl with an American sailor. Sims believed that the responsibility for such incidents rested entirely with Irish agitators, who wanted independence from Britain and opposed the war; he believed they deliberately provoked clashes with Americans. For a short time in September 1917, all leave to Queenstown was stopped, but the navy soon began allowing sailors to visit that city. Cork, however, was too much of a hostile environment, and the ban on visiting there remained off limits, even as the mayor and businesses eager for American money pled with Sims to lift it. See: Sims to Daniels, 11 and 15 September 1917; Pringle to Sims 5 September 1917. See also, Still, Crisis at Sea: 290-294.

Footnote 12: Gen. Sir Bryan T. Mahon, British Army.

Footnote 13: RAdm. Henry B. Wilson, Commander, United States Naval Forces Based in France. Wilson’s report has not been found.

Footnote 16: Lt. Cmdr. Ronan C. Grady. Grady’s report has not been found.

Footnote 17: For more on this, see: Sims to Benson, 16 April 1918.

Footnote 18: See: Sims Circular of 9 April 1918.

Footnote 19: Both reports were entirely false.

Footnote 20: These destroyers were not new, but had been under repair in the United States for some time and were finally ready for a return to the theater of operations.

Footnote 21: Thomas H. Birch.