Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels
December 13, 1917.
From: Commander, U.S. Naval Forces operating in European Waters.
To: Secretary of the Navy (Operations)
Subject: U.S. Troop Convoys.
Reference: (a) Commander Cruiser Force’s1 letter of November 23, 1917.2
Enclosure: One – Copy of reference (a).
1. The following comments are submitted on the statements in Reference (a).
2. Danger from Raiders.
I concur that battle cruisers are not likely to operate as raiders; but our plans should provide for suitable measures in the event that battle cruisers escape.
3. Danger from Submarines.
It is considered very unlikely that the large submarines will be encountered in the North Atlantic, especially during winter weather. All other operations thus far have been confined to areas where good weather prevails. In one or two instances these large cruiser
s submarines have been sighted by mercantile convoys; but the large submarine made no attack on these convoys either by torpedo or gunfire.
4. Route for Slow Convoys.
I believe that slow convoys and fast convoys should be routed alike into the area where large submarines would not likely be found.
I consider it very unwise to pass near the Azores or to use the Azores as a point of call for any considerable amount of shipping. If a great deal of shipping concentrates in the vicinity of the Azores the enemy will there find profitable hunting ground, and despite the number of patrol craft based on the Azores we cannot, with present equipment and methods, keep the submarines from doing considerable damage wherever shipping concentrates. I am opposed to the proposal to escort troop convoys across the Atlantic with destroyers, until such time as we have sufficient destroyers to give better protection in the zone.
5. Routes for Fast Convoys.
I have previously indicated the best routes for our troop convoys. Fast ships crossing alone will be given special routes. In all cases convoys or single ships should be routed clear of mercantile convoys.
6. Oiling at Sea.
There will be <no> necessity of oiling at sea if escort of convoys across the Atlantic by destroyers is abandoned. The oiling at sea has resulted in one or two cases of convoys not arriving at rendezvous on schedule. Whenever a convoy is late it is likely that one or more destroyers may run out of oil and have to return to port, thus weakening the escort. And if the convoy is much delayed there will be difficulty in getting the escort back to port and ready in time to meet the next convoy.
I do not agree with the suggestion contained in reference (a). The present method has proved itself satisfactory and is also the one followed by the British and French in making contact with convoys or single ships.
I agree with the suggestion in reference (a) particularly as concerns the large ships. But I assume that the urgency for getting troops to Europe combined with the lack of transports will make it imperative that convoys be sent out on schedule, regardless of the moon. This should not apply, however, to the large ships, and an attempt will be made to regulate the sailings of the largest vessels so that they will travel through the zone on dark nights.
9. European Port Facilities.
The French ports are very poorly developed and are not adequate for the work of handling the supplies that must be sent into those ports. The U.S. army has taken this matter in hand and is making the necessary improvements.
10. Incomplete Cargoes.
A few instances of incomplete cargoes have been brought to the attention of the Force Commander, and the Department has been notified. In the case of large fast vessels it may be inadvisable to attempt to load these vessels with any considerable quantity of freight, except such freight as can be quickly handled so that the delay of these vessels will be a minimum. These large fast vessels are specially suited for troop carrying, and unnecessary delay in port simply means the loss in troop carrying power.
There seems to be no necessity at present of a base at Quiberon Bay. There are no shops or repair facilities there, and no docks. It would be better to develop the facilities at Brest and elsewhere where both docks and navyyards now exist.
12. The LEVIATHAN.
I have previously commented on the use of this vessel, and have stated that when it became necessary to employ her to carry out the troop
s programme she should be used. There is no doubt that the use of this vessel involves greater risk than the use of smaller vessels of similar speed; but this is one of the risks that must be taken in connection with the whole question of troop transport.
13. Docking the LEVIATHAN.
Arrangements have already been made for this on the first trip.
14. Rescue Vessels.
There seems no objection to sending fast freight ships with troop convoys, provided they are officered with reliable men and crew. Otherwise the route of our troop convoys may easily fall into the hands of the enemy. When Group 12 crossed the JULIA LUCKENBACH, through stupidity in the use of radio, gave out the rendezvous where destroyers were to meet the troop convoy. If a large ship was torpedoed before the destroyers joined, there is great doubt as to the advisability of a freight ship stopping to pick up survivors, as the freight ship would simply become a target for the submarine. On the whole, the only advantage in the proposed scheme seems to be that the freight vessels might partly assist in the protection of transports by being placed on the flanks of the formation as the convoy proceeded through the zone. I very much doubt, on the whole, considering the likelihood of breakdown of these vessels and the danger of their furnishing the enemy valuable information, whether this scheme is asound one.
15. Dangerous Position of Oiler.
I have previously recommended that the use of destroyers crossing the Atlantic be abandoned, hence there will be no necessity for an oiler.
WM. S. SIMS.
Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Identification numbers “01-4059 – 11/4/1” appear flush left one line below the date.
Footnote 1: RAdm. Albert Gleaves, Commander, Cruiser and Transport Force.
Footnote 2: See: Gleaves to Benson, 23 November 1917.