Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Summary of War Diary of U.S.S. Davis for period 16 to 23 December 1917



     Davis, (Cmdr. R.F. ZOGBAUM Jr.), (escorting 6 ships of Hampton Roads convoy to Brest, with BURROWS), from separate report: At 8-45 p.m. French torpedo boat signalled that she was escort into Brest, and to follow her. I attempted to signal leader of convoy to follow Frenchman, but with no result. The leader persisted in following Davis, <so> for fear of losing convoy altogether Davis followed Frenchman, and convoy followed Davis. The convoy straggled very badly, and the Frenchman got well ahead and was finally lost sight of; but as navigational lights were burning, Davis led the convoy in through the Goulet.1 . . . Four ships of convoy were counted as having entered, when radiograms were received from BURROWS that the other two vessels of convoy had lost sight of leaders and refused to enter port without pilots. BURROWS was told to bring them in, which she did successfully.

     At daylight Davis sent boats around harbor to locate SS. DEMERARA (which she had been ordered to escort to Milford Haven)2. . . . Commanding Officer went ashore to communicate with Rear Admiral Wilson, U.S.N., in an endeavour to get the desired information, and for permission to leave with DEMERARA. Admiral Wilson had not information; had noteven been informed that two American destroyers had entered port. The French Admiral3 was seen, the desired information and permission to sail obtained. . . CONCLUSION: That unless there are more adequate provisions made to pilot merchant vessels into Brest, it seems unwise to send them in at night. Only the presence of the Davis and BURROWS, and the very fine weather, insured the safe entry of the 6 vessels of the convoy. Merchant captains are not anxious to enter port at night without pilots; and though they almost invariably handle their ships in a very efficient manner, they are not experienced in keeping station, and some will invariably stray from the column, and wait outside for daylight or a pilot. This is not considered safe. In addition, navigational lights are not habitually kept burning. It is suggested, when American destroyers are ordered to Brest, that the American Admiral be informed. Had he been so informed, it is believed that the DEMERARA would have been met with outside Brest, and some 12 or 14 hours of time saved.

Source Note: TDS, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B, Destroyer Ship Files: Davis, Folder 7. The elliptical marks are in the original document and indicate material had been cut out. It appears that Zogbaum drafted these thoughts on 17 December but that this summary was not done until 23 or 24 December. Ibid.

Footnote 1: The Goulet de Brest is a strait linking the roadstead at Brest to the Atlantic Ocean.

Footnote 2: S.S. Demerara was an 11,484 ton stemship.

Footnote 3: Adm. Antoine Schwerer, Commandant Superieur des Patrouilles de l’Ocean et de la Manche Centrale.

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