Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to Secretary of State Robert Lansing, et al.

 

ADDRESS REPLY TO

THE SECRETARY OF THE NAVY

AND REFER TO INITIALS

AND NO.

NAVY DEPARTMENT

WASHINGTON

December  27th,  1917.

Confidential

From:          Secretary of   the Navy

To:       Secretary of  State

               "    "    Treasury

               "    "    Commerce

               "    "    Labor

          Chairman  "    Shipping Board

          Chairman  "    War Trade Board.

                   

SUBJECT:-  First requisite for the defense of our coast from submarine effort.

1.   After careful consideration of the character of operations which our enemies may, during the present stage of the war, carry to American shores, and having in mind the fact that the surface of the seas is controlled by the Allied Forces, the Navy Department is of the opinion, that the first prime requisites for the protection of the American coast, and the commerce debouching from our ports, lie as much in certain necessary preliminary precautions which are apart from pure naval effort, as they do in naval effort itself.

2.     The possible danger, though to some extent remote, lies in the effort of the so-called cruiser submarine of great radius of action. Even these craft must cross over 3,000 miles of water against the prevailing westerly winter gales, and upon arrival would operate either in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, or along the North Atlantic Coast. To operate successfully, or even at all in either the Northern or Southern area, requires first of all a basis of supply for the enemy submarine. This base may be either floating or permanent. The winter season makes the question of both the floating or permanent base of submarine supply an extremely difficult one for the submarine to handle in our North Atlantic waters.

3.     Therefore the probable area of enemy efforts, directed towards the establishment of permanent or temporary bases (during the winter season at least), lies in that tract of water bounded by the South American and The Central American Coast, and the islands of the Caribbean fringe. Outside of this tract of water the probabilities of the enemy establishing bases of supply for himself do not seem good, for not only are the distances to his striking points to great, but the contours and character of the coasts of North and South America do not lend themselves readily to such efforts. Above all, within the probable area of basing efforts, the great number of neutrals of rather unstable character and government, coupled with known German interests, lead us to view this particular area as one demanding constant attention.

4.     The barring of sailing vessels from the war zone, and the establishing of convoy does, of course, prohibit unscrupulous persons from trafficking directly with the enemy within the war zone. But it should be borne in mind that if the enemy decided upon cross Atlantic operations, his first concern would be to establish those chains of supplies so necessary to his existence. Once we prevent or break the chain of supply and base, it is with extreme difficulty that the submarine may operate directly against our shores.

5.     It therefore seems of the utmost importance that our Government as the first preliminary to the protection of our coast, our ships, and our troops, should, apart from any naval effort:–

(a)   Arrange for such an information service that reports of enemy activity may be quickly known to us.

(b)   Scan most carefully the lists of people shipping goods to Cuban and Haitian ports, Columbian and Haitian ports, Central American and Mexican ports, and the island of Curacao. And the reliability of people, even those not on the enemy trade-list, should be looked into.

(c)   Consider most carefully the question of character of ships to persons trading in this area, paying particular attention to sailing vessels.

(d)   Watch most carefully the character and quantity of goods shipped to points within the area described above. Limit the supply to the needs of the country to which goods are shipped, noting and restricting especially such goods as fuel oil, foods (especially tinned goods), electrical supplies, metals (especially copper), rubber, cotton, and materials used in manufacture of high explosives.

(e)   Note most carefully the ports for which vessels trading in the dangerous areas clear, bearing in mind the fact that ship trading with the enemy might discharge some portion of their cargo before entering the port for which cleared, claiming marine disaster for any portion of a deck load, but more likely trading through a third intermediary party.

(f)   Watch most carefully the character of the cruise ships or any passengers carried on vessels trading within the dangerous area.

(g)   Where suspicion exists place a secret agent on the suspected vessel.

6.   The Navy Department is of the opinion that a strict and systematic adherence to the above policy by the interested parties, will do much to lessen the danger of enemy cruising submarines operating on our coasts. Further, the Department believes that adherence to this policy furnishes the best form of cooperation with the Navy, enabling it to lessen its purely defensive operations and to increase its forces near the fighting front, at points best suited for them to operate actively against the enemy submarine.

Josephus Daniels        

Source Note: TD, DNA, RG 59, M367, Roll 66. Routing and index stamps, handwritten routing information, and declassification stamp are on top of the first page.

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