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New York Herald Report on Alleged Submarine Attack

(Extract from NEW YORK HERALD of Thursday, August 2nd 1917).


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TEXT of Rear Admiral’s Account of U-BOAT ATTACKS is made Public.

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One of the Torpedoes Missed the Flagship

Leading the Convoy Only Thirty Yards.

WASHINGTON,D.C.,Wednesday,- Details of the attacks by Prussian submarines upon the first expedition of American troops sent to France2 became known for the first time to-day when the report of Rear Admiral Gleaves, commanding the naval convoy, was made public by Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy.

     The first attack was made on Rear Admiral Gleaves’ flagship,3leading the first group of the expeditionary forces, and at least two submarines were indicated to be engaged. The Rear Admiral stated the belief that the U-Boats had knowledge of the coming of the troop ships and were on watch for them.

     The second group of transports also was attacked by two submarines one of which was apparently sent to the bottom by a bomb dropped from an American destroyer.4There is disagreement among officers of the third group with regard to whether they were attacked, but much evidence is presented to indicate that they were also marked for destruction.  

Military Information Deleted

     Mr.Daniels made the report public, with certain military information deleted, after he had sent an uncensored copy in confidence to the Senate Naval Committee, members of which recently inquired regarding the truth of charges in the Senate that the official account of the attack published on July 3 was greatly exaggerated. When the Committee’s inquiry was first made, the full report from Admiral Gleaves had not been submitted to the Department, but the Secretary replied that he was willing to show the members the briefer despatch from which the first announcement was made.

     In his letter of transmittal today Mr. Daniels recalled those facts and continued:-

     “I am sending you the exact text of the report of Rear Admiral Gleaves giving in detail the account of the submarine attacks for the use of the Naval Affairs Committee. I am also sending you a copy for the press exactly in the words of the official report, the only changes being that the names of the ships are represented by the letter, and not by the real name of the ships; with the omission also of certain military information that cannot be published under naval regulations. However, the omissions are noted. Everything with reference to the attacks of the submarin[e]s is given in the exact words of the official report.”

Text of the Report.

     The report was prepared by Admiral Gleaves while at a French port and was submitted to Admiral Mayo, in command of the Atlantic Fleet, who forwarded it to the Navy Department. Its full text as made public as follows:-

GLEAVES REPORT                                  JLS JCR 4-5-1918

“1.  About 10:15 P.M.,June 22, the first group of the expeditionary force, of which the flagship was the leader, encountered the enemy’s submarine in lat. – N.long. – W. <[Lat.48º-00N Long. 25º-50’ W.[cable to Navy Dept.>

2.  At the time it was extremely dark, the sea unusually phosphorescent, a fresh breeze was blowing from the northwest which broke the sea into whitecaps. The condition was ideal for a submarine attack.

3.  (Paragraph 3 gives the formation and names of the vessels together with the speed they were making, and the method of proceeding, nothing else. It is, therefore, omitted for obvious reasons.)

Flagship Helm Had Jammed

4;  Shortly before the attack the helm of the Flagship had jammed, and the ship took a rank sheer to starboard. The whistle was blown to indicate this sheer. In a few minutes the ship was brought back to its course. At this time the officer of the deck and others on the bridge saw a white streak about fifty yards ahead of the ship, crossing from starboard to port at right angles to our course. The ship was immediately run off 90 degrees to starboard at full speed. I was asleep in the chart-house at the time. I heard the officer of the deck say “Report to the Admiral a torpedo has just crossed our bow.” General alarm was sounded, torpedo crews being already at their guns. When I reached the bridge the A and one of the trans-transports astern had opened fire, the former’s shell fitted with tracers. Other vessels of the convoy turned to the right and to the left, in accordance with instructions. B crossed our bow at full speed and turned toward the left column in the direction of the firing.

5.  At first it was thought on board the flagship that the wake was that of a torpedo, but from sufficient reports from other ships, and, in the opinion of Lieutenant X, who was on the bridge, it was probably the wake of the submarine boat itself. Two torpedoes passed close to the A – from port to starboard – one about thirty yards ahead of the shipand the other under her stern as the ship was turning to the northward. Captain Y reports the incident thus:-

Torpedo Thirty Yards Away.

     “‘Steaming in formation on zigzag courses, with base course 75 degrees Pac.,standard speed. At 10:25 sighted wake of a torpedo directly across our bow about thirty yards ahead of the ship. Changed course 90 degrees to left and went to torpedo defense stations. Fired two one-pounder shots and one five pound shot from port battery in alarm in addition to six blasts from siren. Passed through two wakes, one being that from the U.S.S.C. in turning to northward, the other believed to have been from the passing submarine. A second torpedo wake was reported at about 10:35 from after lookouts. After steaming in various courses at full speed resumed course 89 degrees Pac., at 11:10 for rendezvous. At 12 set course 56 degrees Pac.’

6.  The torpedo was fired as the D passed from starboard to port about forty yards ahead of the ship, leaving a distinct wake which was visible forward. Colonel Z.U. was on the starboard wing of the bridge of the D at the time and states:- ‘I first saw a white streak in the water just off the starboard bow which moved rapidly across the bow very close aboard. When I first saw it, it looked like one very wide awake and similar to the wake of a ship, but after crossing the bow, and when in line with it, there appeared two distinct and separate wakes, with a streak of blue water between them. In my opinion they were wakes of two separate torpedoes.’

U-Boat passed under Ship.

7.  The submarine which was sighted by the flagship was seen by the B and passed under that ship. The B went to quarters. When the alarm was sounded in the B, Lieutenant W. was roused out of his sleep and went to his station and found unmistakable evidence of the presence of a submarine. He had been there only a few seconds when the radio operator reported, ‘Submarine very close to us.’ As the submarine passed the B and the flagship’s bow, and disappeared close aboard our port bow, between the columns, and when the latter resumed her station she reported that there were strong indications of the presence of two submarines astern which were growing fainter. The B was then sent to guard the rear of the convoy.

8.  When I was in Paris I was shown by the United States Naval Attaché a confidential official bulletin of the information issued by the General Staff, dated July 6, which contained the following:-

     “‘Punta Delgada, Azores, was bombarded at nine o’clock A.M. July 4.5This is undoubtedly the submarine which attacked the E on June 25, four hundred miles north of the Azores, and sank the F and the G on June 29 one hundred miles from Terceira (Azores). This submarine was ordered to watch in the vicinity of the Azores at such a distance as it was supposed the enemy American convoy would pass from the Azores.’

9.  It appears from the French report just quoted above, and from the location of the attack, that enemy submarines had been notified of our approach and were probably scouting across our route. It is possible that they may have trailed us all day on June 22, as our speed was well within their limits of surface speed, and they could easily have trailed our smoke under the weather conditions withour [i.e., without] being seen. Their failure to score hits was probably due to the attack being precipitated by the fortuitous circumstances of the flagship’s helm jamming and the sounding of her whistle, leaving enemy to suppose he had been discovered.

10.  The H, leading the second group, encountered two submarines, the first about 11:50 A.M.,June 26,1917, in latitude – N., longitude – W., about a hundred miles off the coast of France, and the second at a distance of 1,500 yards and headed for it at a speed of twenty-five knots. The gun pointers at the forward gun saw the periscope several times for several seconds, but it disappeared every time before they could get on, due to the zig-zagging of the ship. The U passed about twenty-five yards ahead of a mass of bubbles which were coming up from the wake and let go a depth charge just ahead. Several pieces of timber, quantities of oil, bubbles and debris came to the surface. Nothing more was seen of the submarine.6The attacks on the second group occurred about eight hundred miles to the eastward of where the attacks had been made on the first group.

Third Group Had a Quiet Voyage.

11.  The voyage of the third group was uneventful.

12.  In the forenoon of June 28, when in latitude – N.,longitude – W. the K opened fire on an object about three hundred yards distant which he thought was a submarine. The commander of the group, however, did not concur in this opinion; but the reports subsequently received from the commanding officer of the K, and Lieutenant V. are too circumstantial to permit the incident being ignored. The commanding officer states:- “The only unusual incident of the trip worth mentioning was on the 28th day of June, about five minutes past ten A.M. The lookouts reported something right ahead of the K. (I had the bridge at the time). When I looked I saw what appeared to be a very small object on the water’s surface, about a foot or two high which left a small wake. On looking closer and with the aid of binoculars I could make out a shape under the water about 250 or 300 yards ahead and which was too large to be a blackfish, lying in a position about 15 degrees diagonally across the K’s course.

          ‘I ordered the port bow gun to open fire on the spot in the water and sounded warning siren for convoy. When judging that ship had arrived above the spot first seen I ordered right rudder in order to leave the submarine astern.

          ‘A minute or two later, the port after gun’s crew reported sighting a submarine on port quarter, and opened fire at the same time. The lookouts from the top also reported seeing the submarine under the water’s surface and about where the shots were landing.

          ‘The ship kept zigzagging and firing from after guns every time something was sighted.

          ‘Lieutenant V.,U.S.N.,was in personal charge of the firing and reports that he saw with all the gun crews and lookouts aft, the submarine fire two torpedoes toward the direction of the convoy, which sheered off from base course to right ninety degrees when alarm was sounded.

          ‘All the officers and men aft had observed the torpedoes travelling through the water, and cheered loudly when they saw a torpedo miss a transport. They are not certain, though, which one it was, as the ships were not in line then and more or less scattered.

          ‘The gunner officer and all the men who were aft at the firing are certain that they saw the submarine and the torpedoes fired by same.

          ‘A separate report of Lieutenant V.,U.S.N.,the gunnery officer, is herewith appended.7

          ‘The Kent kept zigzagging until it was considered that danger was past, and in due time joined the escorts and convoy formed column astern.

          ‘Report by signal was made to group commander of sighting submarines and torpedoes.’

13.  (Paragraph 13 deals exclusively with a recommendation as to the best methods to be employed in the future for the purpose of saving life. It is plain this ought not to be made public.).

14.  Copies of reports of commanding officers’ flagship, A, D, and H, are enclosed, also copy of report of Lieutenant V. of the K.”8

Albert Gleaves   

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

Footnote 1: RAdm. Albert Gleaves, Commander, Cruiser and Transport Force; Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

Footnote 2: There was no submarine attack. Submarines were a new technology, and naval personnel (along with their merchant counterparts) frequently had difficulty distinguishing real submarine attacks from false alarms. Subsequent reviews by the Navy Department found that the “conditions [were] ideal for imagining submarine attack,” and that it was “definitely determined” that no attack took place. After the war, research in German archives confirmed that no submarine was active in the area of the convoy on the date in question. Ibid.

Footnote 3: Seattle.

Footnote 4: The subsequent report, while concluding that the first group had not encountered any submarine, considered the second group’s claims of a submarine attack “more probable.” Ibid.

Footnote 5: For more on the bombardment of Ponta Delgada, see: John H. Boesch to Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 4 July 1917.

Footnote 6: No U-boats were lost on this date. Kemp, U-Boats Destroyed: 29-30.

Footnote 7: This report has not been found.

Footnote 8: These reports have not been located.

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