Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

G. A. Steel, Private Secretary to the First Lord of the Admiralty, to Secretary of the War Cabinet Lord Maurice P. Hankey

17th December, 1917.

Dear Hankey,

     The First Lord asks me to tell you that he has been going into the question as to whether we could look to the Americans to take over some further small craft operations in European waters.1

     The suggestion that the Americans have a surplus of naval personnel is not borne out by the latest information here. The First Lord and the First Sea Lord discussed the question with Admiral Benson, Admiral Mayo, and other United States officers2 – and the conclusion at which the Admiralty have arrived is that, not only have the United States no surplus trained men for their ships, but that having regard to their own naval construction, and the fact that the United States Navy has to man all the transports which are used for the maintenance of the American forces in Europe and elsewhere overseas, they are straining their resources and their ability to train in every possible way; and even so, they are very doubtful whether they can find the necessary crews. Admiral Benson was strongly of opinion that all the men would be required for the craft which are being built – and that they would have great manning difficulties.

Yours sincerely,

G.A.Steel.

1st Lord Admiral [Eric Geddes:] Sims’s3 view is that if Navy pay off a large number of the extra Battleships they might be able to find more men.

I know that Admiral Benson thoughts all the men would be required for the ships being built & that navy would have great manning difficulties

I think this is the latter is the correct view. In any case if men are available in USA it would be better to send them here to be trained as soldiers which would take much less time that to train as sailors

EG       

FIRST SEA LORD.  

     With reference to the attached;  my conversations with Admiral Benson, Admiral Mayo, and other United States Officers lead me to believe that not only have the United States no surplus trained men for ship, but that having regard to their own Naval construction and the fact that the United States Navy has to man all the transports which are used for the maintenance of the American forces in Europe and elsewhere overseas, they are straining their resources and their ability to train in every possible way, and even so are very doubtful whether they can find the necessary crews.

     If this is so, the suggestion which I think was put forward by the Minister of Munitions4 is based on wrong premises, but, unless you have definite information on the subject, would you please find out from Admiral Sims what the position is, and let me know what you think we should reply to the War Cabinet

Source Note: DfT with appended comments, UK-KeNA, Adm.11/1769. This was an internal Admiralty document that included Hankey’s letter to First Lord of Admiralty Sir Eric Geddes (which is discussed in note #1 below, a draft of the reply from Steel to Hankey, and comments on Hankey’s letter by Geddes and First Sea Lord Adm. Sir John R. Jellicoe, which are attached to the draft. These comments are above, immediately following the Steel to Hankey letter.

Footnote 1: On 11 December, Hankey sent a letter to Geddes conveying a suggestion raised in the Cabinet Committee on Man-Power meeting of that date that the Americans had “surplus naval personnel” and given “the efficient manner in which their Destroyers are handled, it might be justifiable to ask them to take over some other small craft operations.” Prime Minister David Lloyd George asked that the Admiralty consider the proposal and reply at their “earliest convenience.”

Footnote 2: Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William S. Benson and Commander in Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, Adm. Henry T. Mayo. Both Benson and Mayo had visited England during the fall and winter of 1917.

Footnote 3: VAdm. William S. Sims, the American commander in European waters and the United States Navy’s liaison with the British Admiralty.

Footnote 4: Winston Churchill was the Minister of Munitions at this time. There is a note in the margin at this point, possibly added by Geddes, that reads: [Frequent?] enquiries prove that W Churchill’s suggestion was strictly Personal not founded on any data.”

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