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Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, to Rear Admiral Ralph Earle, Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, and Rear Admiral Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet

February 19, 1917.

From: Chief of Naval Operations.

To: <Bureau of Ordnance & C-C Atlantic Fleet>

Subject: Mine Force, Notes on the Functions, Organization and

Training of the Force.

Reference (a) Command in Chief’s letter: 227, of 10-28-16

     1.   The General Board1 indorsed the reference as follows. This indorsement was approved February 13, 1917

“Returned.

     “2.  As pointed out by the Commander of the Force,2 the mining done by the Coast Artillery is under the guns of coast fortifications,3 whereas the function of the mining force of the Navy is that of ‘effective mining’. There are, however, ‘wide’ stretches of accessible coast and many shelters, harbors and landing places far from fixed defenses’ which are clearly not within the province of the Coast Artillery to mine, and the control of which necessitates the control of the coastwise and local harbor craft, already under the Navy Department as represented by the Commandants of the Naval Districts.4

     “3. The General Board concurs in the view that the organization of this branch of defense, its training, the standardization of its equipment, and the designation of the areas to be mined according to war plans, should be under the cognizance of the Navy, and recommends that the Commandants of the Naval Districts shall have [control] of such matters within their Districts.5

     “4. The General Board believes that offensive or tactical mining and mine laying should be done by vessels of high speed, such as cruisers and destroyers temporarily detailed from the active fleet, and the Mine Force unless specially directed should not be charged with this duty. It is not intended to recommend that cruisers and destroyers shall carry mines either anchored or floating as part of their permanent equipment. Such mines are to be carried by mine depot ships or other fleet auxiliaries ready for issue when needed.

     “5. The Navy Department has already designated the following vessels to be provided with portable installations of mine tracks, those tracks in the case of destroyers to carry 10 mines and in case of cruisers and gunboats 20 mines each:

Destroyer Force – Atlantic Fleet.

Torpedo Flotilla – Pacific Fleet, 1st Division:

PAUL JONES                PERRY          PREBLE

TRUXTON                  WHIPPLE

 

Torpedo Flotilla – Asiatic Fleet:

BAINBRIDGE                BAGLEY              CHAUNCEY

DALE                     DECATUR

 

Cruisers:

ALBANY                   NEW ORLEANS          BIRMINGHAM

CHESTER                  SALEM                CINCINNATI

RALEIGH                  DENVER              DES MOINES

TACOMA                  CLEVELAND            GALVESTON

CHATTANOOGA

 

Gunboats:

ANNAPOLIS                 HELENA              NEWPORT

PETREL                    WILMINGTON          SACRAMENTO

 

     “ 6. The above installations of mines on portable tracks are for Mark III and Mark IV mines,6 of which the Navy has now on hand only 2500, which are distributed as follows:

     BALTIMORE                     200

     SAN FRANCISCO                   200

     DUBUQUE                      45

     MELVILLE                      100 (for issue to destroyers)

     Stored in New York District   875

     En route to the

     following ports:

       Navy Yard, Puget Sound      800 (for Pacific Fleet)

       Pearl Harbor               200

       Cavite                     _ 80

          Total                  2500

     “7.  Two thousand additional mines are now nearing completion at the Navy Yard, Norfolk, and an order has recently been placed at that yard for the manufacture of 4000 more.

     “8.  As the design of our more recent destroyers and the new scout cruisers the deck space aft has been so arranged as to permit the shipment of tracks to carry 10 mines on destroyers and 20 mines on cruisers. The General Board believes that where practicable the capacity of the mine planting installation of these vessels should be increased. The German Navy has long followed the custom of fitting light cruisers and destroyers to carry mines for tactical mining. Prior to the war now going on in the world destroyers were fitted to carry 40 mines each, the [HAMBURG] class 60 each and the STRASSBERG class 100 each.7 After the war broke out the number carried by the cruisers was doubled. The new light cruisers in the Italian Navy, the MIRABELLIO, RIBOTY and RACCHIA, are fitted with tracks on each side of 50 mines, or 100 in all.8 The displacement of these cruisers is given as 1500 tons.

     “9.  With the organization and functions of the Mine Force as summed up in paragraph 18 of the Mine Force Commander’s letter9 as modified in paragraphs 3 and 4 of this endorsement, and with the proposed organization of the standard mine unit or mine squadron as outlined in paragraph 33, the General Board is in accord.”10

W. S. Benson

Source Note: DTS, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517. At the top of each page is the identifying number “27958-13/p-14.” Centered at the top of the first page is: “CONFIDENTIAL.” The addressees are handwritten in and seemed to have been added later; those addresses are also given below the signature. This copy of the memorandum is of poor quality with many of the typed letters broken or barely visible. There is a note below the signature: “The above letter has been sent to –/Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet/Chief of Bureau of Ordnance.”

Footnote 1: The General Board of the Navy was an advisory body to the Secretary of the Navy. At the time of this memorandum, its members were: Retired Adm. Charles F. Badger, President, other members were: RAdm. Frank F. Fletcher, Capt. William B. Fletcher, Capt. Hugh Rodman, Capt. Albert P. Niblack, Capt. William R. Shoemaker, and the Secretary Cmdr. Henry J. Ziegemeier. There were also several ex officio members including Benson, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Maj. Gen. George Barnett, the President of the Navy War College, and the head of the Office of Naval Intelligence.

Footnote 2: Cmdr. Reginald R. Belknap.

Footnote 3: The “Coast Artillery” was a branch of the Army. On the division of responsibility in the defense of the American coastline, see: Joint Army and Navy Board to Harry S. Knapp, 1 March 1916.

Footnote 4: For a list of the Naval Districts on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States and the commandants, see: Josephus Daniels to Naval District Commandants, 10 October 1916.

Footnote 5: It appears that the commandants did not get “control” of the mine fields because on 3 March Benson ordered the Navy officers in charge of patrolling “the mine fields and submarine nets” to report to the “Commander Coast Defenses.” RG45, Entry 517.

Footnote 6: The Mark III was an adaptation of the British Vickers Elia mine. The Mark IV was supposed to be an improved version but did not work out, and the program was cancelled. Friedman, Naval Weapons of WWI, 375.

Footnote 7: That is, SMS Strasburg, although in most lists of German Imperial Navy ships it is listed as being in the Magdeburg class. http://www.german-navy.de/hochseeflotte/ships/smallcruiser/strassburg/index.html, consulted 12/3/2015.

Footnote 8: That is, the Italian Navy scout cruisers Carlo Mirabello, Carlo Albert Racchia, and Augusto Riboty. They are listed as 1,700 to 2,000 tons. Aldo Fraccaroli, Italian Warships of World War 1 (London: Ian Allen, 1970), 51-2.

Footnote 9: Belknap’s report has not been found.

Footnote 10: There is no evidence that the American destroyers and cruisers were so altered.

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