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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.

20 August, 1917.   

From :- Force Commander.

To   :- Secretary of the Navy.

Subject : General Report to August 18th, 1917.

     1.   There is little to add to the cable despatches which have been sent during the past week.1

     2.   There is forwarded hereunder extracts of particular interest from the war diaries of the destroyer force, together with copies of certain other reports for the information of the Department.2

     3.   Nineteen or twenty large submarine were out during the week 8th to 14th August, of which nine or ten were operating to the westward of the British Islands, and the majority of the remainder seemed to be en route between their bases and their operating areas. As a result, little activity was experienced except to the south-west of Ireland. It is possible that two submarines were operating in the general vicinity of the Azores one of which had apparently been out more than ten weeks.

     4.   The appearence of submarines that can operate sofar from their bases and remain out for so long a period, together with the information that has been received that a number of these large submarines, perhaps six, are under construction, only lays greater stress upon the necessity of holding ships in convoys under escort of a cruiser.

     5.   The presence of the cruiser with ships in convoy permits better control over shipping.

     6.   The escorting cruiser can carry special cypher codes and communication can be maintained with them throughout the ocean passage.

     7.   This means practically complete control over shipping, as it can be diverted at any time,and, in fact, if necessity arose, owing to raiders or for other reason, any particular convoy could either be diverted entirely clear of the usual routes or area in which the raider was known to be, or, the convoy could, if necessary, be actually dispersed.

8.   Experience has shown it to be impossible to keep secret codes on all merchant ships and to attempt to control shipping which is scattered. The presence of the cruiser also prevents the submarines from using their guns and hence greatly restricts their operations.

9.   It is now becoming necessary to escort ships in convoys outgngng <outgoing> as well as incoming, and the necessity of more escort craft is thereby accentuated.

10   Is <It> is considered entirely impracticable to escort all shipping entirely across the ocean with destroyers, both owing to the wholly inadequate number of destroyers available, and also to their cruising raduis <radius> and sea-keeping qualities, especially during winter weather.

11.  The demands on the available destroyers are even now very difficult to meet. Precedence mast <must>, of course, continue to be given tro<o>p ships and troop supply ships, but at the same time if the demand for destroyer escort for such shipping becomes so great as to jeopardize the safety of mercantile shipping which is essential to our Allies, a serious danger is hereby involved which may easily do more <harm> than if our troops actulaay<ally> remainder,<remained> at home.

12.  Allied success in the field depends upon maintaining the lines of communication over seas, and it is of vital importance therefore that the shipping which is now being used and which will gradually increase with the transport and supply of U.S. troops mast <must> be carefully considered in connection with other essential mercantile shipping.

13.  A conference between shipping and army representatives of the U.S. and Allied countries at the earliest possible moment is unquestionably of extreme importance to the success of the combined a<A>llied military and naval campaign against the enemy.

14.  The was<war> cannot be won on the sea although it may very easily be lost thereon. The campaign at sea resolves itself into protection and manntenance <maintenance> of lines of communication. Generally speaking, it may be said that the plan of campaign on the sea in this war must take one of two general courses. First, the actual prevention of [i.e., or] destruction of the submarine itself, either at its base or enroute to or from its base. Second, the protection, control, and co-ordination of Allied shipping and shipping construction in such a manner as to defeat the submarine’s mission, granted that it cannot be prevented from gaining access to the high sea.

  15.  In the absence of a campaign based on the first course, it is vital that every effort should be put forward to ensure the success of the latter course mentioned.


  16.  At least nine mine laying submarines were operating during the week 8th to 14th August, and considerable activity occurred on the east coast of England, the North and South coasts of Ireland, in the Bristol Channel, and the westward of Scotland as well as off the coast of France. Evidence indicates a graeter tendency on the part of the enemy to lay small groups of mines considerable distances apart. This seriously complicates the problem of mine sweeping.

17.  Sixteen engagements with submarines were erported [i.e., reported] for the week –

2 by destroyers (One U.S. Destroyer)

3 by auxiliary patrol vessels.

3 by French trawlers.

1 by special service ship

5 by merchant ships

1 by French seaplane

1 by airship.

18.  The following statistics concerning the convoy system are of interest:-



Dates from and to.

Number of ships convoyed

Losses in convoy




This week

Prev. figs


This week

Prev. figs


North Atlantic

24.5 to 11.8







15 convoy arrd.


10.5 to 11.8







3 convoy arrd.

1 sunk in collision with escort, 1 sunk after colliding with presumed submarine.

Scandiavian-Lerwick Humber3

20.4 to 11.8







Including 1 sunk after detached on account slow speed.

French Coal Trade.

3.17 to 11.8







Control sailings on 3 crossings.










     19.  Generally speaking, the submarine activity during the month of July was scattered and much further at sea than during the months of May and June.

     20.  The French <Ministry> of Marine state that from now on they expect gradual increased activity in mine laying in shore, especially at the mouths of the Gironde and the Loire, and theyare very anxious to obtain a larger number of mine sweepers with aview of more effective mine sweeping operations, particularly off the ports which will be approached by our troop and troop supply ships.

     21.  It is not known whether the trawlers coming from the United States will have mine sweeping gear, but if not they should be supplied with it at the earliest possible moment.


     22.  It is important that I should be kept generally informed of orders under which independent forces in the Atlantic are operating, for example:- I am not aware to date of the orders under which the destroyers at the Azores are operating. A number of messages have been received from that force which were unsigned and which have been reported to the Department.4

     23.  Both the French Ministry of Marine and the British Admiralty have inquired as to the number of destroyers at the Azores, how long they intended to remain in that vicinity and as to the nature of their operations. A British submarine and decoy ship have been sent to operate from the Azores during the last week, and Portuguese forces are also there. It is manifestly important that Allied operations should be co-ordinated.

     24.  Inforam<ma>tion concerning enemy activity in all areas in the Eastern portion of the Atlantic, as fast as it becomes available in France or England, should be utilized to the best advantage of the forces concerned. This information will, of course, be transmitted to the Azores forces as fast as it becomes available, but it can be handled much more intelligently if full information is available as to the orders under which the forces involved are operating.

25.  I have learned from the British Admiralty that eight U.S. destroyers, apparently from thr<e> Pacific Fleet, have arrived at Bermuda and that the NORTH CAROLINA and three destroyers have arrived at St. Johns. The British Admiralty is daily informed through the Consular Service and other channels, of the movements of war vessels and it has , at times, proved embarassing to me to receive information of our own vessels’ movements from the Admiralty.


     26.  I would again call attention to the necessity of co-ordinating our secret service work aboard <abroad> with that of ourAllies. This is necessary primarily with a view to avoiding duplication and misdirected effort, and also available<ing> ourselves of the activities of the Allied secret service.

     27.  I am informed that Mr. Cusacks5 is touring in Spain to a considerable extent on secret service work the nature of which is unknown. I am also informed inderctly <indirectly> that secret service operations are being instituted by the United States Army. It is urgently recommended that competent representatives of the United States secret service, including any services which have been instituted by either the State, War or Navy Departments, should be sent to both London or Paris at the earliest moment with the above in view.


     28. Generally speaking, in a war of this character which is now in its fourth year, for all possible war activities some sort of operations have necessarily been inaugurated and are in progress. This applies to actual operations of all character, as well as secret service and other subsidiary service; it is therefore essential that a new country coming into the war, particularly one situated at such a distance as the United States, should be governed primarily by the necessity of co-operation. New plans should not be in<a>ugurated until the necessary co-operation of the Allies can be obtained, and the operations of all forces should be based in the first instance upon operations already in progress with which they must necessarily be co-ordinated.

WM S. Sims.

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. The header “Subject : General Report to August 18th, 1917.” appears at the top of each page, and the page numbers are centered at the bottom except for the last page. Identification numbers “163-17/DB- JVB” are in the upper-left corner.

Footnote 2: These attachments have not been found.

Footnote 3: Lerwick is a port in the Shetland Islands, Scotland, and Humber is located in Northern England.

Footnote 4: For more on the U.S. Navy in the Azores and the islands’ strategic significance, see, Still, Crisis at Sea: 130-139, 374-375.

Footnote 5: Prof. Carlos V. Cusachs, assigned to special duty under Capt. Benton C. Decker, United States Naval Attaché at Madrid.