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Office of the Chief of Naval Operations Memorandum on Foreign Fuel Oil Situation



August 14, 1917.



1.  The policy of the Department with respect to thereplacement of the fuel oil consumed by our own forces abroad has been one of complete agreement with that recommended in the Sims cable of May 30, 1917, reading.

    “x x x Consider it particularly important that future records should show that our forces are independent of material assistance and self-sustaining”.1

     2.  The Department has also noted and made of specialrecord paragraph 4 of the Sims report of June 8, 1917, reading:

  “There are many important considerations which lead me to recommend that, regardless of any general arrangements or combinations which may be made to relieve the general fuel oil situation in Europe, the importance of which is not to be depreciated, it is nevertheless considered advisable to replace the fuel oil used by our naval vessels in military operations as rapidly as possible.

    “I am particularly anxious and feel sure that I am in accord with the Department’s policy thereon that our forces should be entirely self-sustaining at all times.2

    3.  The Department has estimated the total fuelconsumption of our own forces from the date of their original arrival to September 30, 1917, inclusive, at 105,000 tons; and at 25,000 tons monthly thereafter. Actual consumptions reported have been below these figures.

     4.  To assure delivery of fuel oil in the estimated amount, the Department has requisitioned and commissioned with naval personnel six tankers, namely:

          William E. Rockefeller       9,000 tons.

          Gold Shell                  7,000 tons.

Los Angeles                10,000 tons.

Standard Arrow             12,000 tons.

Topila                      7,000 tons.

Gargoyle                    5,500 tons.

                    Total    50,500 tons.

          5.  The Department estimates deliveries of oil by these, and naval tankers, before September 30, in accordance with the following schedule:

     Kanawha               Trip 1   7,500 tons

                Cycle I        Total    7,500 tons  7,500 tons.

     Rockefeller             Trip 1   9,000 tons

     Cuyama                 Trip 1   7,500 tons

     Gold Shell              Trip 1   7,000 tons

     Gargoyle               Trip 1   5,500 tons

     Maumee                Trip 1   7,500 tons

     Los Angeles           Trip 1  10,000 tons    

     Standard Arrow      Trip 1  12,000 tons

     Topila                    Trip 1   7,500 tons

              Cycle II                66,000 tons  66,000 tons.


     Cuyama                 Trip 2    7,500 tons

     “Rockefeller             Trip 2    9,000 tons

     Gold Shell               Trip 2    7,000 tons

     Gargoyle                 Trip 2    5,500 tons

     Los Angeles             Trip 2  10,000 tons

               Cycle III               39000 tons  39,000 tons.


     6. There have been some delays in starting deliveries due to installation of batteries, conversions, repairs, etc. which have now been adjusted. Maintenance of a monthly supply of 25,000 tons per month; which is roughly 5,000 tons in excess of the present actual consumption, presents no difficulties.

     7.  For your complete understanding of this question, the Department advises that, at a conference on the Fuel Oil Situation, held at the Navy Department July 3, 1917, there was read into the minutes a cable from the Admiralty paraphrased as follows:

     “British authorities fully concur in the suggestions that navy fuel sent to British or other allied ports should be pooled for indiscriminate use of the United States and British naval forces. It would be of course necessary to set up a system of accounting therefor, but this could be easily arranged. In the opinion of the British Admiralty, an opinion in which the United States Naval Representative in Great Britain concurs, it is essential for storage and supply purposes that they should be in a position to divert any vessel bringing naval fuel to whatever part is best at the time. You should take up this matter with the Navy Department.”

     8. The U.S. Naval representatives present at the Conference3 were at a loss to reconcile the text of this cable with the previous unmistakeable recommendation as to the prime necessity of replacing, ton for ton, the oil consumed by our own forces. The telegram quited [i.e., quoted] above tended to lessen the importance of that necessity; and, taken in conjunction with the Northcliffe cable, referred to in paragraph 12 this memorandum, had the effect of halting a plan, then completed, which looked to the replacement of consumptions by our own forces through requisition.

     9.  The uncertainty aroused in the mind of the Department as above described was dispelled by the receipt of the Sims Cable of July 17, beginning

“The oil supplied from destroyers abroad has not been replaced.”4

     10.  The Department at once proceeded to requisition the vessels tabulated in paragraph 4, this memorandum.

     11.  The Department has since ascertained after difficult, but persistent inquiry, that the confusing telegram quited [i.e, quoted] in paragraph 7 was in answer to a cable originating in Washington, and released by the British Embassy at the instance of the Chairman of the Petroleum Committee, Mr. Bedford, without reference to the Navy Department.5 A paraphrase of the outgoing message from the British Embassy read as follows:

“Mr. Bedford now informes me that the United States Government have decided that two tankers, mentioned in my previous telegram, must be used for carrying oil for the requirements in Europe of the United States Navy. It is understood, however, that this oil is in part intended for H. M. ships in return for the oil supplied to U.S. ships from English stocks. Would it be practicable to arrange on your side for pooling of naval supplies.”

     12.  While the Department here is in general accord with any policy of pooling which would make for general efficiency; it is in absolute agreement that our primary mission is the ton for ton replacement of the consumption by our own forces originally recommended by Admiral Sims.



     13.  The acute situation reported by the Prime Mininster in his telegram of July 2 to Lord Northcliffe, was considered in special conference at the Navy Department on July 3. It was decided at this conference that certain information, not available to the British representatives present, was essential to intelligent action along the lines requested by the Admiralty. Cable request for this information was preferred to the Admiralty on July 3 through the British Embassy.

     14.  The specific information sought was this:

(a)  The total tank tonnage under British Government control.

(b) The distribution of that tonnage over the trading routes of the world.

(c) The total stocks of fuel oil on hand in the war zone as of date July 1.

(d) The total monthly Admiralty demand in the War zone.

(e) The total monthly life from U. S. ports to the War Zone in tankers under British Government Control.

(f) The total monthly lift from U.S. ports for British private account.

     15.  The information (a) and (b) is of particular importance to this Department in order to refute statement made that the total tank tonnage under British control is not distributed with regard to the military situation alone, but is in part engaged in delivering commercial cargoes for British private account.

     16.  Any augmentation of fuel oil deliveries abroad from the United States, which already aggregate 360,000 tons monthly, not only involves requisitioning of tankers, but serious embarrassment to the industries dependent on oil fuel. The Department will go to this extreme, if necessary, but feels constrained to and that it has authoritative information to the effect that at the very time that the Admiralty was importuning the United States to requisition additional tankers for war service, at least two, and possibly five, tankers under British control were released to the Anglo-Mexican Petroleum Products Company, a British Commercial concern, for service in the Anglo Mexican-Brazilian oil trade,. One of these was the WELLINGTON, formerly the SANDSUCKER MILLS, requisitioned by the British Government for the Standard Oil Company of New York. The inability of the Department to dispel the uneasiness aroused in the minds of private owners, here by reports of this character has been a source of obvious embarrassment.

     17.  The information sought in the cable of July 3, summarized in paragraph 14, this memorandum, has not been given to the Department. On July 13, 1917, the Department was advised by the Admiralty, through the Embassy, that it was of too confidential a nature for transmission by cable and would be conveyed by special messenger, Sir William Black, who has been in the United States for a period of a week. As yet he has had no conference with the Navy Department.

     18.  The Secretary of the Navy has now advised the British Embassy, through the State Department to this effect:

“The interest of the Navy Department in the fuel oil situation is second not even to the interest of the Admiralty itself; and I suggest that arrangements be made immediately for a conference between Sir William Black and the Navy Department and that all conferences and arrangements with the Petroleum Committee be subsequent to the full agreement of the Navy Department as to the principles involved.6

Source Note: D, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520. In the top left-hand corner is the identifier: “Op-29.”

Footnote 1: This cable from VAdm. William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, has not been found.

Footnote 2: See: Sims to Daniels, 8 June 1917.

Footnote 3: The “Naval representatives” at the meeting were RAdm. Samuel McGowan, Chief of the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts, and members of his staff. For McGowan’s report, see, DLC-MSS, Samuel McGowan Papers. Much of that report is composed of the questions listed as item #14 in this memorandum.

Footnote 4: This cable has not been found.

Footnote 5: Alfred C. Bedford, who was also president of Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels was very upset by what he saw as the unwarranted interference of the Petroleum Advisory Committee and wrote a sharp letter of protest to Secretary of State Robert Lansing. See, Petroleum Mission to Europe, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520, Subject Files, ZQ.

Footnote 6: See: Paul Foley to William S. Benson, 20 August 1917. When Black finally conferred with Navy officials, he shocked them by stating that the British Grand Fleet was no longer threated by a shortage of fuel oil. He also informed them that the Petroleum Advisory Committee had agreed to provide 355,000 tons of fuel oil during the next six months, approximately 20,000 tons a month in excess of the Admiralty’s earlier estimate of need. The Admiralty, through Black, also urged that additional American tankers be designated to transport this oil. British actions with regard to the shipping of fuel oil sparked wariness toward British requests, contributed to the growing belief that information was being withheld from the Americans by the British, and, as seen in item #16 above, convinced some naval officials that British wartime shipping policies were formulated with an eye to postwar economic trade. See, for example: Benson to Sims, 2 September 1917, Still, Crisis at Sea, 180-81, and Trask, Captains & Cabinets, 170-72.

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