Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Operations Report, U.S.S. Destroyer Benham

[Extract]

U. S. S.  B E N H A M,

21 December, 1917.

From:              Commanding Officer1

To   :              Commander-in-Chief, Queenstown,2

Via  :              Force Commander.3

Subject:            Report of operations 10 – 19 December.

     1.  As requested the following account of the operations of this vessel, from 10 to 19 December, is herewith submitted.

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Operations from 10 – 19 December, 1917.

     On the evening of 10 December this vessel left Queenstown as part of a destroyer escort; the convoy having sailed from Liverpool enroute to Port Said. The Benham, in company with the U. S. S. CUMMINGS, was ordered by the escort commander to proceed to Smalls Lt., there to intercept the U. S. S. BIRMINGHAM with one other vessel, part of the convoy. The other ships of the escort proceeded on scouting line up the Irish Sea.4

     Owing to the thick weather, the convoy was unable to assemble until the morning of 12 December; meanwhile the CUMMINGS and Benham having fallen in with two vessels of the convoy on the afternoon of 11 December, were ordered into Milford Haven to await the assembling of the convoy. On account of a condenser leak, this vessel proceeded to Pembroke, affected repairs, took on fresh water, refueled, and proceeded at noon December 12 to overtake convoy, and fell in with it at noon 13 December. At 5:00 p.m. the outward bound convoy was dispersed, and the following morning the homeward bound convoy was intercepted and taken under escort. At noon 15 December the Devonport escort joined, and the U. S. S. Benham in company with U. S. S. DRAYTON and H. M. S. MOREA, set course for Devonport, arriving off the harbor at 6:00 a.m. December 16th.

     In company with the DRAYTON, this vessel then proceeded enroute to Queenstown. At 7:30 a.m. four life boats, one of them under sail, were sighted. Had it not been for the very efficient flare-up lights [i.e., flares] shown by the boats, they would not have been seen, and the survivors must have been lost, as the wind was then increasing and within two hours was blowing a whole gale from the north west. The Benham picked up 29 men from three boats, and the DRAYTON 11 men from the remaining boat. This was the entire crew of the Foylemore, a 6000 ton ship of the Johnson Line (Furness-Withey4), which had been either mined or torpedoed at 2:00 a.m. the morning of the 16th. She was enroute from Devonport to Manchester,with a cargo of steel.

     Having picked up the survivors, course was again shaped for Queenstown, but the sea was running so heavily that the fore and main topmasts, with the aerial, went by the board. A jury aerial was rigged, and permission obtained to proceed to the nearest British port with survivors. Owing to the very thick weather, the visibility not being more that 500 yards, it was necessary to stand off and on to await clearing. At 3:40 p.m. entered Falmouth harbor, and anchored in outer examination anchorage. . . . .

     Course was then shaped for Queenstown. At 3:55 p.m., Runnelstone Bucy then bearing North (magnetic), distant two miles, the lookout on the bridge reported “splash board on port bow”. At that time the ship was making twenty knots, zig-zagging. The sun was about 5 high, the sea calm, and numerous trawlers and other vessels in sight. In fact, not an hour before the officer-of-the-deck had counted ten large steamers in the vicinity.

     The relative position of the submarine when the torpedo was fired was almost directly in the path of the sun.

     The rudder was immediately put hard left, full speed, rung up, and all hands called to quarters. A second broach of the torpedo was observed, and as the vessel swung to the left, the torpedo crossed the bows about a hundred yards away. Thereafter the torpedo ran submerged. Its wake was very distinct, as was the point of launching, which was indicated by a large slick of oil and air bubbles, and which was reached in about a minute and a half from the time the torpedo was first seen. But there was no indication whatever of the submarine. A depth charge was dropped at the point of launching the torpedo, and the vicinity searched until dark. There was no indication of damage having been inflicted upon the submarine.

     A W/T message was broadcasted to all allied men-o-war, reporting the position and circumstance, and the Benham then proceeded to Queenstown.

/S/ D. ZONE <LYONS>

Source Note: DTS, RG 45, Entry 517B, Destroyer Ship Files: Benham, Folder 14. Identification numbers at top of first page: “GBV/DWR” and “O-13-7.”

Footnote 1: Lt. Cmdr. David Lyons.

Footnote 2: Adm. Sir Lewis, Bayly, R.N.

Footnote 3: VAdm. William S. Sims.

Footnote 4: In its War Diary, U.S.S. CUMMINGS reported that on 11 December the convoy was joined by a British dirigible that dropped a bomb on an oil spot late in the afternoon. It also reported that the convoy escorted by H.M.S. light cruiser BIRMINGHAM consisted of three merchantmen. RG 45, Entry 517B, Destroyer Ship Files: CUMMINGS, Folder 3.

Footnote 5: Furness Withy was a company that operated both tramp steamers and liners.

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