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


U.S.Naval Forces Operating in European Waters

U.S. S. MELVILLE, Flagship.

Letter No. 66.                               <5th Aug 1917.>

From: Commander, U.S. Naval Forces operating in European Waters.

To:  Secretary of the Navy (Operations)

     SUBJECT:-   U.S. Shipping in European Waters.

     The United States shipping entering European waters is divided into three large classes as follows:-

          1.   U.S. TROOP TRANSPORT.

          2.   SUPPLIES FOR U.S. ARMY.


     The plans and instruction under which shipping is now being handled are discussed under these three separate headings.

T R O O P  T R A N S P O R T.


     The arrangement with the Department with regard to the handling of troop convoys is very satisfactory, except that as much notice of the probable date of sailing should be given me as possible so that our troop convoys can be co-ordinated with the mercantile convoys, several of which are on the ocean at all times. At the present moment there are twelve mercantile convoys approaching the British Isles.

     As there are a limited number of destroyers for all escort duty, it is desirable to increase the number of ships in troop convoys not to exceed for the present a maximum of eight. This number has been successfully escorted by the British a number of times and the larger number of ships permits a greater number of destroyers to be assigned and insures greater safety.


     A number of troops have recently arrived singly in American and British ships. As these ships are liable to attack outside the submarine zone, the British Admiralty issued a formal order to all British ships as follows: -

“In future no British ship carrying Naval or Military personnel of any nationality exceeding one hundred is to leave any Atlantic port for Great Britain, France, or Gibraltar without prior approval for the embarkation and necessary instructions as to the route and escort having been obtained from the Admiralty. Similarly, approval is to be obtained for British vessels under circumstances mentioned above leaving ports in Great Britain, France or Gibraltar bound overseas. This does not apply to ships carrying civilian passengers nor to troop transports, for which arrangements have been made. Inform all concerned”.

     The British Admiralty are forming these ships into separate convoys under cruiser escort, and I have requested the Department to instruct American liners to join the British liner convoys so as to provide greater security for troops crossing the ocean as well as in the submarine zone.

     It is well understood that the paramount duty of our forces is to furnish safe escort to troop transports, and this mission will be kept clearly in mind.1

S U P P L I E S   F O R   U . S .  A R M Y.


     If separate convoys of supply ships are sent, I have requested that they be formed into convoys of at least twelve ships, and that I be informed in advance of the probable date of departure so that a sailing date can be fixed that will not interfere with the dates assigned for troop transport or the availability of the escorting forces on this side.2


     I have indicated to the Department that it will greatly simplify the question by joining supply ships to the regular mercantile convoys bound for the East Coast of England via the Channel.

     I should be informed at least three days in advance of the date of sailing of these convoys so that a convenient route can be prescribed that will facilitate the escorting of our ships when they arrive on this side.

     The British Admiralty prefer to have these supply ships joined up with the convoys sailing from Hampton Roads, as this will make the routing a little simpler, but they can be placed in the New York convoy if necessary. But in all cases they should be placed only in convoys bound for the East Coast of England.

     I should be informed, not later than the date of sailing, of the number of ships, their speed and destination, so that the necessary instructions can be furnished to the escorting destroyers.

     The dates of sailing from Hampton Roads for the East Coast ports are as follows:-

          August 11th.

            "    19th.

          and every subsequent eight days.

The dates of sailing from New York for the East Coast ports are as follows: -

          August 6th.

            "    22nd.

          And every subsequent 16 days.

M E R C A N T I L E   S H I P P I N G.


          I assume that, so far as practicable, advantage is being taken of placing U.S. merchant ships in the regular convoys sailing from Hampton Roads, British Isles, New York and Sydney, Cape Breton. The dates of sailing of these convoys for the British Isles are as follows: -

Convoys bound to ports in vici-  Convoys bound to ports in vici-nity of West Coast of England._  _nity of East Coast of England.

(August 14th                (August 6th

(August 30th                (August 22nd


From NEW YORK(and every sub-   From NEW YORK(and every sub-

(sequent 16 days.              (sequent 16 days.

(August 7th                    (August 11th


From HAMPTON  (August 15th     From HAMPTON  (August 19th

     ROADS.  (and every sub-        ROADS.  (and every sub-

(sequent 8 days.               (sequent 8 days.

(August 10th                   (August 18th

From  SYDNEY  (August 26th      From SYDNEY  (September 3rd

(and every sub-                (and every sub-

(sequent 16 days.              (sequent 16 days.

          It is the present practice to limit these convoys to slow vessels whose speed does not exceed 12 knots. It is impracticable to escort all the merchant shipping, owing to the limited number of destroyers and other light craft available for the purpose, but the convoys are formed of the slowest vessels, for these are the ones most liable to submarine attack.


          All vessels over 12 knots in speed are routed separately and are met on this side, so far as is practicable, by the available patrol vessels. It is impossible to escort all of these single ships, but those with the most valuable cargoes are given the preference and all of them are rendered assistance if possible.

          All ships that sail singly (whether merchant or naval auxiliary) should get instructions before sailing from the shipping office of the country through whose waters they are to pass.

          The process of handling British and French single ships on this side is as follows: - When a vessels sails from New York (for instance) the shipping representatives immediately cable the Admiralty giving the name of the ship, date of sailing, speed, character of cargo, and probable date of arrival at the rendezvous prescribed. This information is then forwarded to the Commander of the patrol forces in the area through which the ship will pass and, knowing the approximate date of arrival, the patrol forces are on the lookout to assist the vessels, particularly if she has a valuable cargo.

          I have recommended that the same process be followed in dispatching singly U.S. Merchant ships or naval auxiliaries, namely, that the Admiralty of the country furnishing the rendezvous be given the foregoing data as soon as a U.S. merchant ship sails, and this information will then be sent on to the patrol forces on duty in the area through which the ship passes. If this recommendation is followed it will be unnecessary to furnish me with lists of single ships sailing from U.S. Ports, as I have arranged to utilize the established facilities of the Admiralties concerned.

          The Department is doubtless aware that the whole problem of mercantile shipping, so far as concerns the submarine zone, is treated as one problem on this side, and the facilities of the British Admiralty are used all over the world. A French ship, for instance, sailing from New York for Bordeaux gets her instructions, route, etc., from the British shipping office in New York either direct or, if preferred, through the French Consul – but all routes are established by the British Admiralty.

          The French authorities insisted that this was the only way in which the whole subject could be co-ordinated, and the result is very satisfactory. A French naval officer assists the British Admiralty in determining routes etc.

          In the Mediterranean more or less unsatisfactory conditions prevailed due to the various nations involved, but the whole question is now being taken over by the British Admiralty and the governments concerned are represented in the British Admiralty.4

          Every allied ship entering the Mediterranean stops at Gibraltar for a route; regardless of whether the ship is bound for Greece, Italy, France, or through the Canal.5 West bound ships likewise stop at Gibraltar and are given instructions for their ports of destination. All these routes are prescribed by the British Admiralty.

          In addition to the regular shipping facilities, the British have placed in the various ports of the world 80 to 100 naval officers to assist in the big problem of handling allied trade and to insure secrecy of codes and cyphers in communicating routes. All of the officers are given a course of instruction in the Admiralty before taking their posts and are permitted a certain degree of freedom in prescribing routes. The European allied nations depend entirely on this big organization for handling all their shipping except coasting trade.

Wm S. Sims

Source Note: TDS, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. The date is handwritten. In the top right-hand corner of the first page, in columnar fashion, is the identifier “1/3/C/5”.

Footnote 2: For a projection of how many vessels would be needed to supply the American army in France, see: Ministry of Marine to Orton P. Jackson, 25 July 1917.

Footnote 3: In a second cable on this date, Sims spelled out certain assumptions undergirding this plan. See: Sims to Office of Naval Operations, 5 August 1917.

Footnote 4: A conference concerning the naval situation in the Mediterranean took place in Paris in July. For a report on that conference and its findings, see: Sims to Benson, 30 July 1917.

Footnote 5: The “Canal” in this case is the Suez Canal.

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