Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

[Extract]

19th December 1917.

From:     Force Commander.

To  :     Secretary of the Navy.(Operations)

SUBJECT: General Report.

     1.   Enemy Submarine Operations.

          During the week ending 8 December it was estimated that between 16 and 19 large enemy submarines were away from their bases, three being of the large or Deutschland type (one homeward and two outward bound).

          Of the above,eight or nine were operating to the westward of the line of the Straits of Dover,Orkneys and Shetlands. Their operations were exclusively confined to close waters,and in fact no reports of attacks more than seventy miles from land were received.

          The Yorkshire coast,the western entrance to the English Channel and to a minor extent the southern entrance to the Irish Sea were the principal areas of activity.

          The following table gives detailed particulars of enemy submarine activities –

Area

     Average No. of submarines

             sighted.

North Sea,South of 53 30’

-

North Sea,North  "  "  "

4 – 5

N.W. of Ireland and Scotland

 2

S.W. of Ireland

1

Irish Sea and Bristol Channel

2 – 3

English Channel and approaches

3 - 4

Bay of Biscay

1 – 2

Atlantic

1 - 2

          Seventeen encounters with enemy submarine were reported –

1 by Light Cruiser.

1 by Destroyer.

1 by Special Service Ship.

10 by Aircraft.

4 by merchant vessels.

     On December 12th an 80 ft. motor boat off the Lizard rammed a submarine and lost her propellers and rudder. She opened fire with her guns and drove the submarine under. It is thought that the submarine was severely damaged if not destroyed.

          The submarine U-53 is believed to be one of the most efficient of those which have been operating to the westward of the British Isles. She was believed to have been in the neighbourhood of the position where the Jacob Jones was sunk. It is not known whether she is still commanded by the same officer who made the cruise with this vessel to the Atlantic Coast.1

          On December 12 a telegram was received at the Admiralty stating that the U.S.ship VULCAN reported a merchant ship (KNIGHT OF THE THISTLE) had been sunk three hundred and ninety miles east by south from Sable Island. It was not believed that any submarine was in that neighborhood,and later information indicated that the merchant vessel foundered. Her reports apparently led to the belief that she had been attacked by a submarine.

          Five cases have recently occurred of submarine sinkings within Spanish territorial waters,one of these an American vessel.2

          Information has been received to the effect that enemy submarines have,at least quite recently been operating under orders not to waste torpedoes on destroyers or other military vessels but to conserve their torpedo supply to the maximum extent for use against merchant craft.

          A German prisoner recently stated however,that this prohibition against firing on destroyers and other military vessels has now been cancelled.3 One German prisoner from an enemy submarine in the Channel stated that the German submarines fear the British destroyers more than they do the American destroyers. There is no evident reason for such a statement unless it is that our destroyers’ turning circle is so great that they cannot be manueuvred with the same facility as British destroyers.

     2.   ENEMY SUBMARINE TACTICS.

          The recent reports of sinkings will show that the enemy submarines have suddenly ceased activity well out to sea and have concentrated their efforts in narrow waters such as the Channel and Irish Sea. This has undoubtedly been due to their lack of success against convoys while under way and well escorted at sea, and the better chances of attack closer to terminal ports where shipping is necessarily more concentrated for purposes both of formation of outgoing convoys and of dispersal of incoming convoys.

          The fact that practically all anti-submarine craft are now concentrated on escort work,renders it very difficult to meet such a change of operations on the part of the enemy. Every available means is used to attack the submarines operating in the Channel and Irish Sea. The distance off shore for junction of escorting destroyers with convoys was reduced in order to release some vessels for offensive patrol work.

          Every effort has been made to develop and actually put various listening devices into operation. Trawlers have been fitted with the latest type of hydrophones,and within a short time it is expected that twenty trawlers and four sloops will be so fitted. As soon as possible a definite system of patrols with such craft supported by destroyers or patrol boats will be inaugurated.

          Captain Leigh4 with his material and personnel recently arrived on the DELAWARE, is welcomed by the Admiralty who are very appreciative of his assignment and of the complete steps which the Department has taken to acquaint them with all developments to date in submarine detecting apparatus and offensive submarine tactics with vessels so fitted.5

          Captain Leigh states that the apparatus which he has brought cannot be utilized to its maximum advantage unless the waters in which anti-submarine craft so fitted are operating to a large extent clear of shipping. This will,of course,be a very difficult requirement to satisfy. The principal use of such gear would be in the narrow waters of the Channel or in the North Sea or in the lanes which shipping naturally follows, as the submarines naturally frequent such localities more than others. The entire subject will be given full consideration and extensive tests will be carried out.

          It is hoped that the departure of the submarine chaser squadrons which will be available for the above work, will be expedited as much as possible.

          It is believed that a considerable amount of success by submarines in the Channel has been due to merchant vessels exhibiting lights. Every effort is being made to correct this condition.

     3.   PRESS REPORT CONCERNING SINKING OF S.S. ROCHESTER

          A public statement noted in the “New York Herald” concerning the sinking of steamship ROCHESTER conveys the impression that the Force Commander reported that in this case three submarines were in the vicinity when the ROCHESTER was sunk, and also that this fact confirms a theory held by naval officers that submarines are now operating in groups. The statement said that in several other attacks two boats were seen. As a matter of fact this dispatch referred to was sent by the Naval Attache and stated that signals of two other submarines were seen, according to the Captain’s statement.6 It is not believed that this statement is confirmed by any other experience on record and it is not believed to be true.

          As previously reported,it is not believed that enemy submarines have ever operated in groups. I have never had any trustworthy information which indicated the operation of submarines otherwise than independently.

          Judging from British submarine experience,it is considered highly improbable that submarines will ever attempt such operation,particularly since submarines have been used as anti-submarine craft. Aside from navigational difficulties and danger of collision,it is manifest that a submarine under present conditions when encountering another submarine must always assume that the vessels encountered is hostile. Recognition signals have not yet proved efficient and it is doubted whether they ever can be rendered thoroughly reliable.

     4.   MINE LAYING BY SUBMARINES.

          Mine laying activity was experienced off Lerwick in the Firth of Forth, off south east coast of England,in the Portsmouth area and in the Clyde.

          Forty-six mines were destroyed.

          Reports prepared in the French Ministry of Marine are enclosed.7

     5.   ENEMY MINE LAYERS.

          Information indicates that the smaller enemy mine laying submarines,which carry from twelve to eighteen mines, cannot change the setting of any mine after leaving port except the upper one in each tube. The larger mine laying submarines of between 700 and 800 tons displacement,which carry about thirty-four mines,have different facilities which permit setting their mines for any desired depth. It is assumed that the general policy of enemy mine laying is controlled at some headquarters but that the submarines themselves are allowed considerable initiative in their activities within localities assigned. Evidence indicates that each submarine is assigned a general area in which to operate and that no other submarine is allowed to enter that area,this in order to avoid the danger of one boat fouling the mines of another.

          Mines are still being scattered to a considerable extent and not laid in fields. It is believed that information concerning the channels used in various parts of the United Kingdom has fallen in the hands of the enemy. This will be counteracted by issuing false information on the subject.

     6.  CONVOYS.

          There is forwarded herewith statistics,prepared in the Admiralty,of merchant vessels sailing in organized convoy.8

          The convoy system is working with good success in the Mediterranean,except that it has delayed shipping to such an extent that supply ships for Egypt and Salonica are about six days behind anticipated schedule.

          A Norwegian convoy was attacked again by surface craft on December 12th in about latitude 60 longitude 4. The Norwegian convoy system is not handled by the convoy section of the Admiralty but is under the general supervision of the Commander-In-Chief,Grand Fleet.9 It has been the policy to protect these North Sea convoys as far as possible by disposition of Grand Fleet cruiser forces. That is,by keeping the cruiser forces,as far as possible within easy call in case of a convoy attack. It has been impossible to assign cruisers for actual escort work. Every effort is being made to release cruisers for high sea escort duty,and it is hoped that the Department will find it possible to assign certain of our older battleships to this duty in accordance with previous recommendations.10 Details of the attack on the Norwegian convoy above mentioned have not been received to date, except that one of the escorting destroyers is missing and another one has arrived in a damaged condition in Bergen.11

          There is a growing feeling that,with the heavy weather during the months of January and February interfering seriously with the handling of convoys,it may be necessary temporarily to go back to patrol system. This of course, would not be advisable except in extreme necessity. Such a change,however,if adopted temporarily only might for a time prove very disconcerting to the submarines.12

          Serious trouble is occasionally still being experienced with merchant ships in convoy owing to the inability to get merchant masters to obey instructions issued for their safety. In spite of all efforts merchant craft still show lights at night and many merchant captains in other ways fail to carry out their instructions.

          A particularly bad case recently encountered was that of a ship failing to follow directions of the convoy commander. The vessel carried a valuable cargo of copper and made a practice,during an ocean passage,of deliberately dropping behind the convoy at night. On the approach to the channel the Convoy Commander particularly warned this captain to remain closed up. In spite of these orders the captain deliberately dropped behind during the night,encountered a submarine was torpedoed and sunk. It was probable that some of the vessels lights were burning or were occasionally turned on. The established facts will be published for the information of shipping circles. The Captain will be disciplined,and measures will be taken to increase the penalty for such violations of instructions.13

     7.  DESTROYER FORCE. QUEENSTOWN

TRAINING BARRACKS.

          Temporary difficulties in the way of establishment of the Training Barracks have been overcome and the personnel is housed as comfortably as possible with the temporary equipment which was available or improvised.

          Conditions are such that it will be but a short time after receipt of equipment from the United States requested before the barracks will be in excellent condition.

          The Commanding Officer and other personnel and equipment requested for these barracks should arrive at the earliest possible date.

          The question of transportation to and from the barracks particularly in the case of liberty parties,is a very serious one owing to their location and with reference to roads and railroads.

          Four 50 ft. motor launches previously requested are urgently needed . The services of two tugs would be of great use in the Queenstown harbor and in bringing in disabled vessels. Tugs and boats are also urgently needed in Brest harbor.

NUCLEUS CREWS.

          Seven nucleus crews are in process of formation,three practically complete and four others will be complete within a week.

U.S.S.Jacob Jones.

          All survivors of the Jacob Jones REmain on board the MELVILLE except the two in hospital at Falmouth. None of them are seriously injured. The Commanding Officer’s report regarding loss of ship has been forwarded.14

U.S.S.MANLEY.

          A Board has been ordered to investigate and report concerning structural weakness which developed in the MANLEY on her way to Europe,such as frame plates or frame stiffeners on either side of vertical keel from frame 20 to 42 are deformed. Some leakage exists also on starboard side of ship abreast of No.1 fire room. Details of the Findings of the Board will be forwarded by cable.

          It will be necessary to install some sort of chart house or other shelter on the upper bridge,or immediately under it,for use of the Commanding Officer,and the bridge must also be closed in for preparation protection of the personnel. As has previously been reported,such changes have been made on all destroyers in European Waters.

          It is considered very important that life rafts and boats should be fitted,if possible,so that they will either float off or be easily released in case of the ship sinking very suddenly.

CONDITONS AT QUEENSTOWN.

          Conditions ashore at Queenstown continue as previously reported. The behavior of our men has been excellent. It is believed that the state of discipline and general contentment prevailing in the destroyer force based on Queenstown is largely due to the presence and efficiency of the Men’s Club together with a very efficient patrol system maintained on shore. The Men’s Club is becoming so popular and successful,particularly with regard to its restaurant, that it is evident a marked expansion must be contemplated particularly with the increased number of men at the base when the Training Barracks are in full operation.

BASE HOSPITAL.

          Necessity for a Base Hospital in the vicinity of Queenstown is gradually developing. The Hospital Facilities at the small Navy Yard at Queenstown would not be adequate in case a severe epidemic should break out. Both the MELVILLE and DIXIE are crowded to capacity.

          A large and commodious house is under consideration in an excellent locality which is insulated from the town and ships and it is probable that a recommendation will be made in the near future to convert this house into a base hospital.15

PARENT SHIPS.

          The Force Commander wishes particularly to commend to the Department the most excellent and unusual work being performed by the destroyer parent ships. The success of the operations of our destroyers in European Waters is directly dependent upon the efficiency and manner of performance of duty of these parent ships. The manner in which these ships subordinate their own individual ship interests to those of the entire force is deserving of the highest praise. In addition to the remarkable amount of detailed repair work accomplished by these ships,they also carry on a large amount of work in procuring and distributing provisions and stores,handling liberty men,making transfers of men and generally relieving the destroyers of all possible work in port. They also,to the maximum possible extent,exchange men with destroyers on account of chronic sea sickness or other proven unfitness for duties at sea.

          The above remarks apply to the MELVILLE[,] DIXIE and PANTHER. As reported by cable,the repair facilities ashore in Brest, owing to lack of labour,are practically nil and as a result the PANTHER is strained to the limit of her ability and is,in fact,under demands which she cannot fulfil. As an example of the spirit existing on the parent ships it may be reported that the PANTHER has turned her cabin into an office and has reduced her wardroom space by nearly one half in order to increase the spaces on board available for useful parent ship work.

     8.   FORCES BASED ON THE FRENCH COAST.

          As covered elsewhere in this report,necessity exists for gradually increasing the forces based on the French Coast. The operations of the vessels there at present are being restricted due to the lack of adequate repair facilities.

          The PANTHER is not able to meet the demands,and the Navy Yard cannot be considered to any extent owing to lack of labour.

          Admiral Wilson16 has been requested to investigate the possibility of introducing American enrolled labour into the French Navy Yard.

          Consideration is also being given to taking over entirely the small French Navy Yard at Lorient in the vicinity of Quiberon Bay.

          A French Pilot was sent to the United States on board the AMERICA on 28 November. This is the first pilot to be sent in accordance with the plan of having pilots on board the larger transports when they arrive off the coast in winter weather when there is likelihood that the pilot escort may fail to make contact.

          There are enclosed herewith reports of operations of the forces based on Brest,together with a report showing the state of material readiness of the vessels of that command.17

          It was learned at St.Nazaire that our naval troop transports were giving leave to their officers and men to visit Paris, and at the same time making requests on the Army to assist in shifting cargoes and for other work on board ship. Complaints were also heard from our Naval Port Officer18 and from Army authorities that difficulty was experienced when visiting our ships in port for essential information,because officers were on leave and the officers remaining did not feel competent to take necessary action.

          As the labour situation at St.Nazaire is a serious one,as the harbor facilities are badly strained,and as there is urgent necessity for getting ships clear of the port as rapidly as possible,it is strongly recommended that the commanders of our troop transports be directed to restrict liberty to the minimum,and to co-operate with the shore authorities to the maximum extent in furnishing labor assistance. It is considered that the captains of these ships should furnish working parties for work on the docks,handling vessels,and similar duties,in exactly the same manner that working parties from the ships are utilized in Navy Yards at home.

     9.   SITUATION AT BORDEAUX.

          As Army plans for terminal ports of their supply shipping will probably soon involve Bordeaux fully as much as St.Nazaire, it may become necessary in the near future to base some of our vessels at Bordeaux for escort duty off the coast. The tides in the river at Bordeaux are so strong that it will be very difficult for destroyers to get alongside Parent Ships if moored bow and stern in the river,and as the wharfage facilities are limited,it is probable that the PANTHER will have to be sent to Bordeaux instead of the Bridgeport as originally planned.

          The general question of the best disposition of our available escort is under careful consideration. Generally speaking it may be stated that the urgent necessity for increasing the forces under this command is becoming more pronounced every day.

          As the naval aviation service in France intends to use Pauillac as its main assembling station,it is probable that all activities on shore at that place will be put under the command of the aviation forces,the naval base activities being confined to the repair ship which will be assigned there and to the handling of shipping.

     10.  SITUATION AZORES.

          The situation at the Azores remains unchanged. One large enemy submarine is operating in the general vicinity and another one is probably at sea enroute. These submarines are believed to be the U-152 and U-157.

          The large areas involved and the large cruising radius of these submarines will always render any patrol system entirely out of the question.

          The danger in these waters is so slight compared to thatin the vicinity of the British and French coats that it is urgently recommended that the force at the Azores be kept at a minimum,unless very marked changed in the enemy submarine campaign occur. It is considered that the Azores forces cannot be expected to do more than deny these islands as an enemy base,and to hold themselves in a constant state of readiness to proceed on independent operations whenever a submarine is known to be within close enough proximity.

          It is desired to point out that the Azores can never be considered as an efficient base for anti-submarine craft with out a dry dock.

          Destroyers are constantly laid up owing to bent propellers and if we attempt to base destroyers at the Azores,the necessity would constantly arise of sending vessels to Gibraltar or Queenstown for docking.

          If the Department intends to prepare the Azores as a possible future base,immediate steps should be taken to provide a floating dry dock. So long as shipping is kept away from the Azores it is most unlikely that submarines will appear in that area. . . .

     16.  TOUR OF INSPECTION BY FORCE COMMANDER.

          The Force Commander has recently made a tour of inspection of our bases on the French coast and to our naval aviation stations which are actually in operation in France.

          On December 18th,the Force Commander visited the Commander-in-Chief,British Grand Fleet and battleship division No.9 at Rosyth.19 Division had proceeded from the Fleet’s Northern Base the night before in company with the Commander-in-Chief,speed 17 knots.

          The Commander-in-Chief informed the Force Commander that he was uneasy regarding the safety of our ships owing to their lack of paravanes.

          The rapidity with which our battleships have entered in the Grand Fleet organization and the spirit of co-operation existing between the two Services is admirable. The Division has at once necessarily adopted the British signalling system and the Commander-in-Chief stated that the work of our ships was already very satisfactory after but four day’s experience.

          The Commander-in-Chief has transferred a Commander – one of his own staff – to Admiral Rodman as an aide.20

          As the Department perhaps knows,the Grand Fleet is never under less than four hours steaming notice and is frequently under two hours and in some cases half an hour’s notice. Under such conditions it is manifestly impossible for ships to maintain themselves without the assignment of periodic overhaul periods. This will,of course,reduce the number of U.S.Ships in the battle line to three upon nearly all occasions.

          The day of the Force Commander’s visit it was necessary to give one of the battleships a three day period in order to take down and repair steam lines. As our division has been assigned to the Grand Fleet as an independent unit (designated as 6th Battle Squadron)an additional ship should be assigned as soon as possible in order to insure a minimum of four ships at all times in the battle line. It would be preferable to assign this ship to this division.21

          Our division has been given perhaps the second most important position in the Grand Fleet battle line. That is,it is a fast wing on one and opposite to the 3rd Battle Squadron under Vice Admiral Sir Evans Thomas consisting of QUEEN ELIZABETH battleships.

          Rosyth has been designated as the docking and repair yard to our ships.

          Outside of certain minor engineering troubles the most important points which seems to have impressed our Division was first,their lack of paravanes,second,the number of large hatches above the protective deck which are not watertight,third, the fact that in certain large watertight hatches throughout the ships manholes should be installed for escape and entrance purposes and fourth,the belief that spare guns should be available in order to avoid delay in case of accidents during target practice.

          The Naval Constructors and other authorities of the dockyard were to make an inspection of our ships the following day in order to make estimates and discuss the question of installing watertight hatches where needed and also manholes in existing hatches.

          It is hoped that the supply needs of these ships can be regulated sufficiently in advance to restrict the number of trips of supply ships to a minimum. This is particularly important and the supply ships when next should be used to maximum capacity, and dangerous waters must be traversed.

          It is hoped that any small needs in the way of special gear or spare parts can be included either in supply ships bound for Queenstown or else on merchant ships to British western ports from where transportation by boat or rail can easily be arranged. . . .

Wm S.Sims

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Document reference: “A G 1844.”

Footnote 1: U-53, commanded by Capt. Hans Rose, was the submarine that sank the American destroyer Jacob Jones. It had infamously visited Newport, RI, in November of 1916 and afterwards attacked several Allied merchant ships off the coast of New England. See: Albert Gleaves to Henry T. Mayo, 2 November 1916. It was not sunk on this date and remained in commission until being turned over to the Royal Navy after the war.

Footnote 2: Probably Owasco, a 4,430 ton steamer sunk in the Mediterranean on 10 December 1917. United States Merchant Marine, accessed on 7 December 1917, http://www.usmm.org/ww1merchant.html.

Footnote 4: Capt. Richard H. Leigh.

Footnote 5: For an in-depth discussion of Leigh’s mission, see: Sims to the Office of the Chief of Naval Opertions, 9 January 1918.

Footnote 6: The report of Capt. E. Kokeritz of S.S. Rochester, was published in the New York Times on 11 November 1917. The Naval Attaché was Capt. William D. MacDougall, who was subsequently reassigned.

Footnote 7: The enclosure is not attached.

Footnote 8: The enclosure with the statistics is no longer attached.

Footnote 9: Adm. Sir David R. Beatty, R.N.

Footnote 11: On 12 December 1917 a force of four German destroyers attacked a convoy en route from Lerwick, Scotland, to Bergen, Norway. They sank the British destroyer Partridge, four armed trawlers, and six merchant ships. Only the destroyer H.M.S. Pellew escaped. Halpern, A Naval History of World War I, 378.

Footnote 12: The Allies did not abandon convoying, even temporarily.

Footnote 13: Possibly steamship Armenia sunk in the English Channel on 5 December 1917.

Footnote 14: See: David W. Bagley’s Report on the Loss of U.S.S. Jacob Jones, 10 December 1917.

Footnote 15: This was presumably Whitepoint house, which was indeed turned into an American hospital.

Footnote 16: RAdm. Henry B. Wilson, Commander, Patrol Forces in France.

Footnote 17: That report is no longer with this general report.

Footnote 18: Cmdr. Frank P. Baldwin.

Footnote 19: United States Navy Battleship Division Nine was composed of New York, Florida, DELAWARE, and Wyoming.

Footnote 20: RAdm. Hugh Rodman; The aide has not been further identified.

Footnote 21: After some debate, it was decided to send the battleship Texas to join the division. Jones, “U.S. Battleship Operations:” 81-4.

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