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Rear Admiral Charles J. Badger, President, General Board of the United States Navy, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels



February 4, 1917.  

From: Senior Member Present;

To: Secretary of the Navy.

SUBJECT: Steps to be taken to meet a possible condition of war with the Central European Powers.

  On account of existing conditions, the General Board recommends that the following steps be taken to meet a possible condition of war with the Central European powers;

     1. Complete complements and allowances of all kinds, first of the A and B fleet, then of the C fleet, and naval districts.1

     2. Mobilize the A fleet in the Lower Chesapeake, and increase it immediately to the B fleet (See Black Plan).2

     3. Dock and repair all ships in reserve and ordinary that will be used.

     4. Arrange for the supply of fuel to the fleet and stock all fuel depots to capacity.

     5. Establish additional recruiting stations and increase personnel of the Navy and Marine Corps to the total number required to supply complements for all the ships built, building, and authorized, and to maintain shore establishments and naval defense districts, including aviation service, with ten per cent additional for casualties as follows: 

                                      Navy      Marines

Enlisted force . . . . . . . . . . . . 150,000     30,000

Officers in the proportions

     prescribed by law.3


     6. Mobilize the naval districts, including the coast guard and light house services, and put patrol vessels, mine sweepers, etc., of the Atlantic Coast districts, on their stations; no commercial vessels to be mobilized in the Pacific Coast districts at present.4

     7. Prepare to the utmost detail for the employment of mines along our coast as may be necessary.

     8. Prepare nets and other obstruction for submarines, ready for immediate use, at the Chesapeake Capes, Delaware Capes, Entrance to New York Bay, Eastern Entrance to Long Island Sound, Narragansett Bay, Panama Canal, and Guantanamo.5 Other places as their need becomes apparent. The General Board considers it of the utmost importance that net protection shall be immediately provided for the fleet during its mobilization in Chesapeake Bay.

     9. Establish immediately the guards at all Navy Yards, magazines, radio stations, powder factories, munitions plants, bases, shipbuilding yards, and naval shore utilities in accordance with the Mobilization Plans.6

     10. Reduce the force of Marines in the Haiti and Santo Domingo to the smallest number that can maintain order there;7 transferring these men to the United States to perform necessary guard duty at Navy Yards, Magazines, radio stations, shipbuilding plants, and to form cadres for the organization of new regiments as recruits are obtained. Organize the Advance Base Force and complete its equipment.8

     11. Leave in the Caribbean a sufficient number of light cruisers to keep a lookout for submarines in those waters and for the protection of our interests there. Protect the Canal and Guantanamo as far as possible, by the use of mines and where possible by monitors, submarines, and nets.

     12. For the present use the greater part of the destroyer flotillas as patrol for submarines in the vicinity of the principal ports or entrances leading to them.9

     13. Base the submarines at Canal, Guantanamo, and points along the coast in accordance with the Black Plan.10

     14. Rush to completion all naval vessels building or authorized; also build up the Aviation Service as rapidly as possible.11

     15. Guard all bays and harbors on the coast of Maine, to prevent their use as bases of supply. Patrol waters of Haiti, Santo Domingo, Porto Rico and Danish West Indies;12 Cuban Coast Guard Service to assist in patrolling all bays and gulfs of the coast of Cuba.

     16. Prepare to close all entrances to all ports at night and discontinue or change such aids to navigation as may be necessary.

     17. Organize a comprehensive system of intelligence service covering the whole theater of war in accordance with the plans of the Office of Naval Intelligence.13

     18. Take possession of all interned vessels of war of central powers, also take control of all commercial vessels of central powers now in United States waters.14

     19. Place under surveillance all citizens of the central powers in the Navy or in government employ in naval establishments and remove them from positions in which they may do possible harm.

     20. Arm our merchant ships for purposes of defense.15

     21. In accordance with Black Plan, carry out the following:

          a) Issue proclamation prescribing defensive sea areas and put rules in regard to them in force.

b) Issue proclamation prescribing press regulations and establishing censorship of cable and radio, including naval control of all commercial and private radio stations.16

          c) Issue President’s order in regard to visit and search, capture, etc.17

     22. And as most important arrange, as soon as possible, plans of cooperation with the naval Forces of the allies for the joint protection of trans-Atlantic commerce and for offensive naval operations against the common enemy.


Source Note: DT, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520. In upper left corner of first page: “G. B. No. 425/(Serial No.666).”

Footnote 1: The “A fleet” was the Navy’s fleet in active sea service. The “B” fleet was a reserve fleet to be mobilized in case of need. The “C” fleet was the reserve fleet that was less ready for service and only mobilized in case of emergency. Reserve vessels were also said to be “in ordinary.” See, Dewey to Daniels, “Composition of the ‘A’ ‘B’ and ‘C’ Fleets for a War in the Atlantic,” March 1916, DNA, RG 80, GB425.

Footnote 2: For more on this aspect of War Plan Black, see, Ibid. In later testimony before a Congressional Committee investigating the Navy’s conduct during the war, Chief of Naval Operations William S. Benson remarked that he “opposed” bringing the Atlantic fleet to Chesapeake Bay. He believed it should remain in “southern waters,” i.e., the Caribbean, where it was then on maneuvers. Naval Investigation: 1836.

Footnote 3: The Naval Act of August 29, 1916, spelled out the “authorized strength” of the ranks and grades for officers, enlisted men, and numbers of men slated for particular branches of the Navy. See, “Appendix H: Percentage Bases of Personnel” in Annual Report of the Navy Department, 1916: 139-41.

Footnote 4: On the Naval Districts, see, Daniels to Naval District Commanders, 10 October 1916, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B; and Dewey to Daniels, “Mobilization of Naval Vessels for a Campaign in the Atlantic,” May 1916, DNA, RG 80, GB425.

Footnote 5: These areas were deemed by the writers of War Plan Black as the most vital foci for strategic purposes. See [Badger, General Board] to Daniels, “Estimate of the Situation: Destruction of German Force on Atlantic Coast, and Provision Against German Submarine Blockade of Atlantic Coast,” DNA, RG 313, Entry 9D. At the beginning of 1917 the Office of Naval Operations was preparing war and contingency plans, so we must assume that this document was not generated by the Naval War College. See, Naval Investigation: 1199.

Footnote 6: For an example of one of the overarching mobilization plan, see, Dewey to Daniels, “Mobilization Plan for a War in the Atlantic,” May 1916, DNA, RG 80, GB425.

Footnote 7: The U.S. Marines were sent to Haiti in July 1915, to counter perceived German influence and to protect American business interests during a period of political unrest. American military occupation continued until 1934. The occupation of Santo Domingo began in May 1916 and continued until 1924, and it was also sparked by political instability. It does not appear that the United States was able to reduce the size of the occupying forces during the war, however, some junior officers left for the European front and draftees were used for the enlisted men. For Haiti, see Stephen S. Evans, U.S. Marines and Irregular Warfare, 1898-2007: Anthology and Selected Bibliography (Quantico, VA: Marine Corps University, U.S. Marine Corps, 2008), 103-05. For the Dominican Republic, see, Stephen M. Fuller and Graham A. Cosmas, Marines in the Dominican Republic: 1916-1924 (Washington, DC: History and Museum, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1974), 29-31.

Footnote 8: The advance base concept i.e., the use of an operational location in case of hostilities, was first suggested after the turn of the twentieth century. Richard D. Challener, Admirals, Generals, and American Foreign Policy: 1898-1914 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), 43-45.

Footnote 9: See, “Estimate of Situation: To Protect the Trans-Atlantic Commerce Approaching and Leaving New York for a Distance of 200-Miles from Sandy Hook,” 3 March 1917, DNA, RG 313, Entry 9D.

Footnote 10: See, George Dewey to Daniels, “Mobilization of Naval Vessels for a Campaign in the Atlantic,” May 1916, DNA, RG 80, GB425.

Footnote 11: The shipbuilding program is a reference to the Naval Act of 1916. See, Joseph W. Kirschbaum, “The 1916 Naval Expansion Act.” The U.S. Navy was aware of its aerial shortcomings and officers attempted to address this issue. See, Capt. Mark L. Bristol to Naval Committee of the House of Representatives, [1916], DLC-MSS, Mark L. Bristol Papers, Box 30.

Footnote 12: The Danish Virgin Islands were purchased by the U.S. in 1917.

Footnote 13: For the intelligence network in World War I, see, Wyman H. Packard, A Century of U.S. Naval Intelligence (Washington, DC:  Department of the Navy, Office of Naval Intelligence & Naval Historical Center, 1996). The information about these activities are scattered in different chapters.

Footnote 14: The Executive Order 2651 made provision for the taking over of German ships. It was signed by President Wilson on 30 June 1917. See, Kennedy, Over Here: 311. There were also additional executive orders for the seizure of enemy ships.

Footnote 15: See, “Regulations Governing the Conduct of American Merchant Vessels on which Armed Guards have been Placed” issued by Daniels, 11 March 1917, DNA, RG 59, M367.

Footnote 16: Executive Order 2604 made provision for the censorship of submarine cables, telegraph, and telephone lines. It was signed by President Wilson on 28 April 1917. Another Executive Order 2605-A made provision for the control of radio communications. It was signed by President Wilson on 30 April 1917. These provisions and others were subsumed under the Espionage Act of 1917 on 15 June. See, Kennedy, Over Here: 5-26.

Footnote 17: See footnote no. 14.

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