Rear Admiral Henry B. Wilson, Commander, Patrol Squadrons Based on the French Coast, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters
U.S. NAVAL FORCES OPERATING IN EUROPEAN WATERS
PATROL FORCES BASED ON FRENCH COAST
U.S.S. PANTHER, Flagship.
Base Seven [Brest, France]
S E C R E T
From: Commander Patrol Force
To: Force Commander.
Subject: Inefficiency of Yacht Escort for Troop Transports
Reference: (a) Memo from Commander Cruiser Force dated 1 November, 1917, forwarded with Force Commander’s letter No. C-2981.1
1. In reference (a) the Senior Naval Officer on board the MALLORY2 rates the efficiency of the yachts escorts furnished three westbound convoys from Quiberon as twenty-eight percent due to lack of speed and sea-keeping qualities, the efficiency of destroyer escorts being figures as one hundred percent.
2. The Commandeer Cruiser Force endorses these remarks with the statement “The above remarks are especially pertinent in view of the lo<ss> of the ANTILLES,3 and this disaster emphasizes all that has hitherto been written and said upon the urgent necessity of a sufficient escort through the danger zone of homeward bound transports”.
3. The Force Commander, in his letter forwarding these remarks, states: “The conditions reported I believe refer to incidents in the past, before the present commander hoisted his flag”.
4. I regret to have to state that these conditions of inefficiency of escort still obtain due to the enforced use of yachts with convoys of valuable ships. The necessity of destroyers for this purpose has already been emphasized.
1 November 1917
MEMORANDUM FOR CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS:4
The following observations are taken from a report of the Senior Naval Officer on board the MALLORY addressed to the Commander Cruiser Force and are submitted for consideration.
1. “It should be well understood beforehand by all concerned how all things are to be done when we make the coast. I have entered the port of embarkation three times and every time things have gone differently from what was evidently intended. The first time the pilot did not get on board until we were about to anchor outside the Basin, near the wreck of “La Champagne”, and there was danger of accident with so many large ships in the crowded harbor. This condition came about by misunderstandings one place or another. The second time, a small French torpedo boat with pilot on board came out to meet us, but it dropped astern on account of engine trouble. One of our destroyers went back, got the pilot, and lead us in. As we approached “La Teignouse” Channel, a French patrol boat which had come out to meet us north of Belle Isle, followed off to one side, making signal “Follow Me”; “you are running into danger”; “ string of mines”. The third time we made the land at nightfall, and failed to make contact with the patrol vessel sent to meet us with pilot. We found ourselves- the whole formation – north of Belle Isle, no pilot to lead us, misty and rainy, no light in La Teignouse and we anchored inside of Belle Isle for the night.
2. “For the first return voyage the convoy group was DE KALB, HENDERSON, MALLORY, PASTORES, and TENADORES. The escort to start out was three French patrol boats, one of which could not keep [up with] us at thirteen and one-half knots. For the last twelve hours, these patrol vessels were replaced by two mall French torpedo boats, and these left us after we had gone only twenty-four hours from the coast. Since the DE KALB and HENDERSON may be considered as escort, I will give the escort 100% efficiency for the first day; for the second 0. For the second return voyage, the convoy group was MALLORY, PASTORES and TENADORES, and the escort two French destroyers and the yacht KANAWHA. The destroyers were each 100% efficient. The KANAWHA, not being able to keep up, and not possessing the other qualities specified, was 0 efficient for the duty assigned. The escort continued with us only twenty-four hours, giving an efficiency of escort for the first day of 67% and for the second day 0%. For the third return, the convoy group was the DE KALB, MALLORY, PASTORES, POCAHONTAS and TENADORES, and the escort five yachts, one of which soon dropped astern and out of sight. The escort went with us to 15 W. forty-five hours from Belle Isle, but since these vessels have not the qualities mentioned, and furthermore, since they held back from fifteen knots speed to twelve knots, the measure of the efficiency of this escort is 0%. The average efficiency of the escort for the total time of six days to which we were entitled to escort according to the assumption made in the first place is 28%.
3. “ Speed is, of all things, the most import[ant] in lessening the danger from submarines. No vessels crossing the Atlantic should have a sustained speed of less than 15 knots. Keep the slow ones on the coast or in the West Indian and South American waters. To send sailing ships and slow steamers into submarine waters is only to encourage the submarines by increasing their tonnage sunk, and to make their work easy for them”.
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The above remarks are especially pertinent in view of the loss of the ANTILLES, and this disaster emphasizes all that has been hitherto written and said upon the urgent necessity of a sufficient escort through the danger zone of the homeward bound transports.
Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 125, Entry 30, Box 246.
Footnote 1: The memorandum from RAdm. Albert Gleaves is attached and appears below. The letter from Sims, however, has not been found.
Footnote 2: Cmdr. Hilary Williams.
Footnote 3: On the sinking of the transport Antilles, see: Sims to Joel R. Poinsett Pringle, 19 October 1917.
Footnote 4: Adm. William S. Benson.