Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, Third cable of the day
Dec. 20th. 1917.
My dear Admiral,
I have just returned this morning form a visit to a port of the Grand Fleet, and our division of battleships, that arrived yesterday at Rosyth. I called on the Commander-in-Chief and Admiral Rodman and went to see the people on each one of the ships, except the UTAH which had a few cases of mumps.
I need hardly say, I am sure, that our ships and our people have created a very favorable impression. It would be difficult to imagine better relations than exist between the two services. Admiral Rodman, as you know, is a good mixer and is already very popular with everybody. He has been assigned to one wing of the Fleet, a sort of independent division that corresponds to Admiral Evan Thomas’ division on the other wing. According to the present battle plans, which I assume you will be acquainted with, these two divisions have a certain freedom of action which is comprised in what might be called a battle doctrine. It is thoroughly understood by our people and they are very well satisfied with it indeed.
Four days before the ships arrived at Rosyth, the British codes and signals were given to our ships and they were used with perfect success on the way down. A signal officer has been assigned to the NEW YORK and a signalman placed aboard each ship until our people are entirely familiar with the British system and can handle them with the necessary rapidity.
A liaison officer, a commander, has also been assigned to the NEW YORK in order to facilitate business between the two services. Whether this is to be permanent, or temporary, I do not know.
We talked over with the British officers concerned all questions of supply, repairs and so forth, and the division paymaster came to London with me last night and has completed arrangements with Tobey.
Admiral Beatty expressed considerable anxiety because are ships are not supplied with paravanes. When they came into Rosyth he had our ships follow as exactly as possible in the wake of the QUEEN ELIZABETH. An examination of her paravanes showed that she had probably cut down two or three mines on the way in, although the Channel had of course been swept. This was probably one of their delayed action mines which come up after being on the bottom a certain length of time. I understood from Rodman that before he left he asked to have the castings of the paravanes made and sent over as soon as possible. Of course these could be made here, but, in the absence of sufficiently detailed drawings, it would be necessary to dock the ships, take the measurements, make the castings, and then redock them to put the castings in place. For this reason I telegraphed expressing the opinion that the castings could be obtained more rapidly on the other side and sent over.
As you doubtless know, all vessels of the Grand Fleet are kept ready to go to sea at four hours notice as a maximum and sometimes much less. This does not make it possible to do any considerable repairs and overhauling of machinery. This is done periodically by the vessels of the Fleet going into a yard in the same manner as our destroyers do now after steaming about 500 hours. AS this will necessitate one of the vessels being absent overhauling during the greater part of the time, it would leave but three to balance the Evan Thomas squadron at the other end of the line. This latter squadron has a powerful battery of 15” guns. For these reasons it would seem very desirable that the TEXAS should be added to our squadron, and, perhaps it would be well to add another vessel so that there may at all times be five to balance the Evan Thomas squadron.
Our officers have of course visited the British ships and have found a number of things of very considerable interest and some that seem of quite vital interest. They are particularly struck with the fact that the WARSPITE came through the Jutland Battled with water over her berth deck and still got into port. As our vessels do not have water tight hatches on this deck, it is apparent that similar injuries would sink them. It would seem really imperative that water-tight hatches be fitted on this deck.
British experience has also shown that water tight hatches in the protected deck, and elsewhere, should have the man hole placed in them. These should also be fitted in ours.
All of our vessels machinery is in very fair condition. One vessel, the WYOMING, had to be laid up for three days for repair to steam pipe. The actual repair to the steam pipe would not have taken long, but the section needing repair was so located that a great deal of other piping had to be taken down in order to get at it.
Our vessels did not understand until I told them that it was the intention to send over another division to relieve them. In view of the information they have collected as to the number of things to be done upon our vessels an as to the amount of training they will have to do to put them in co-ordination with the British methods, all of our officers are of the opinion that these vessels should remain here and should not be relieved by another division. They say that in effect it would be to make use of the British fleet for the training of all our fleet in their methods and would therefore to that extent diminish the effectiveness of our vessels in case they have to be used in battle. I wish to make my meaning quite clear in this matter, and may do so by saying that the vessels that have recently arrived here will not have reached their maximum ability for service in battle earlier than, say, two or three months. The changes will have to be made in their hatches, paravenes will have to be rigged and so forth.
Having reached this condition of increased battle efficiency, the increase would immediately be lost if they were withdrawn an another division substituted which would have to undergo the same changes and the same amount of training.
It seems to me that this is a matter that is worthy of very serious consideration. If our vessels are to be used in action with the British, it would seem that this cannot be later than next spring at the outside. This opinion is based upon the assumption that if the Germans intend to come out they will not wait until further reinforcements arrive and can be trained and co-ordinated.
You will doubtless know that our vessels encountered very heavy weather on the way over. They did not suffer any material difficulty, beyond breaking up a number of boats, and so forth. These are now under repair in the yard at Rosyth. All their spare shafts, propellers, and so forth are being landed.
The weather on this coast during the 15th. and 16th. was very heavy indeed. We have news this morning that one of our destroyers, we think the DUNCAN, was standing by a British destroyer that was in trouble. The latter had lost two of her three smoke stacks. The position was a little bit south of Lands End. Four other British destroyers arrived in Devonport considerably the worse for the wear. A large convoy coming in was dispersed while hove to and had to scatter to make port. No losses are yet reported. We have no news that any of our destroyers suffered any considerable damage in the gale.
I am going up to Queenstown in a few days and will learn what their experience has been.
I hope that very soon we will be able to report a more satisfactory condition on the French coast. There have been many delays due to unexpected duty thrown upon those forces, so that they get a few days behind. The most serious delays, are, however, in discharging and re-ballasting vessels in ports where the facilities are not great and where ballast is very difficult to obtain.
It would seem, that it would pay in time, and consequently in the amount of tonnage transported, to leave ballast in our troop and supply transport. For example, one transport arrived with about a thousand tons of steel in her hold. It would have taken a number of days to this out and about an equal number of days to supply its place with an equal weight of sand. The port officer decided to send the vessel back with the steel in her. It seems to me that this was the wisest decision considering the delay that would have been caused by taking it out.
I hope that you had a pleasant voyage on the way back, and escaped the gales that prevailed on this side. I am afraid we cannot expect to avoid some damage to our destroyers during the gales to be expected in January, February and March. As you know, there are not enough destroyers at any of the bases where they are now employed and I there hope that you can see your way clear to sending over additional ones at the earliest practicable time.
In the meantime, I can assure you that we will do the very best we can for all the bases concerned with the vessels we now have.
Very sincerely yours,
Admiral W.S. Benson, U.S.N.
Chief of Naval Operations,
P.S. Since writing the above the question of sending divisions of battleships to this side in rotation was discussed with the Admiralty today. It is their opinion that it would be better to have the division relieved at least once every six months – the division to take its place being in thorough repair and having fitted all the appliances and having made all the alterations found necessary in the division now here. This would take a burden off the repair facilities on this side.
It is quite possible that more than one division would be required at an indefinite future date, depending upon the future attitude of Norway toward the belligerents.