Rear Admiral Henry B. Wilson, Commander, United States Naval Forces in France, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters
10 February, 1918
From: Commander U.S.Naval Forces in France.
To : Force Commander.
Subject: Necessity for More Destroyers.
1.. On 8 February a new scheme of coastal convoy was inaugurated between Brest and Bordeaux to replace the nightly convoys between Brest and Quiberon, and Quiberon and Bordeaux, which had previously existed. Continuous runs are now made through coastal channels, and the schedule is such that the portions of the run which are exposed to the dangers of submarine attack are made during daylight. The escort consists of four vessels, one vessel in each group being a vessel of considerable speed. For this service the U.S. Squadrons provide three out of eight groups, or a total of twelve vessels. This takes all of the smaller yachts previously on coastal convoy escort, plus the 400-ton destroyers.
2. Since December the Army have routed practically all of their storeships to Bordeaux or La Pallice. 23 storeships arrived at these two ports since 1 January, and 11 more enroute in convoys of which we have information. When discharged these vessels must be placed in the Verdon1 convoy for the westward trip because of the impracticability of taking them to Quiberon. These convoys sail weekly, and the average number of U.S. storeships in the convoy is five. The escort provided by the French for these convoys is inadequate, in that it consists generally of a single vessel. Thus it is necessary that we strengthen this escort, and at present the MAY, WAKIVA, CORSAIR and APHRODITE are based at the mouth of the Gironde River for this purpose. The NOMA will be assigned to this duty as soon as her repairs are completed, in about three weeks. Assuming that one of these vessels must occasionally be withdrawn for repairs, it will be noted that this escort will continue to be inadequate. Should submarine activity develop on the route of this convoy I will be forced to postpone the sailing of our storeships from Verdon until special convoys with destroyer escort can be organized.
3. All of our yachts and 400-ton destroyers are now working in these regularly organized coastal and Verdon convoys. There remain available for our most important operations – namely, the meeting of inward-bound troop convoys, meeting of New York convoys, and the escort of westbound troop and store ships from Brest and St. Nazaire – the nine larger destroyers comprising the five coal burners, and the WARRINGTON, MONA<G>HAN, ROE and NICHOLSON. The latter, which has just arrived on station, must shortly be withdrawn for refit period due on 19 February. The FLUSSER must also be withdrawn for retubing of her condensers as soon as the tubes, which have been shipped from Queenstown, arrive. Since 17 January these destroyers have handled 17 movements, totaling 66 ships in convoy.
4. In the case of the New York convoy the conditions which now exist are dangerous to an extent which forces an immediate change in methods. It is indisputable that our valuable storeships in these convoys should not be taken into the dangerous waters of the English Channel, as is now frequently done, but that they should be brought directly into a French port from the off shore destroyer rendezvous. I am in receipt today of a letter from the French Ministry of Marine which states that, at the recent discussion of the subject in London, the French Attache2 was informed that “whenever possible American destroyers from Brest will take these convoys from the destroyerrendezvous”. Inasmuch as these convoys arrive every eight days, and four days’ steaming on the part of the destroyers is required in the case of each convoy, it is manifest that the destroyers employed on these assignments are available for no other service except that they can escort to the westward such empty troop and store ships as are ready at the time of their sailing for the destroyers rendezvous.
5. I am convinced that we should take charge of the New York Convoys and should use our destroyers for this purpose in the manner suggested in the London conference.
6. I believe it to be necessary at the earliest possible moment to station the PANTHER at the mouth of the Gironde and to base the five coal burning destroyers on her at that port for the purpose of furnishing an adequate escort for our store ships in Verdon convoys. This should be done as soon as the PROMETHEUS arrives in BREST. This will leave, however, only four oil burning destroyers at Brest and, so far as now known, there is to be no considerable increase in this number. We are informed that, besides the NICHOLSON, another destroyer from Queenstown will be assigned to this force in the latter part of this month.
7. I earnestly recommend to the Force Commander th
at<e> immediate necessity of increasing the forces based on France by two divisions of destroyers.3
Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Identification numbers “509-2/10/18./p.2” appear in the upper-left corner of the second page.
Footnote 1: A river in southeastern France, not to be confused with the locality of Verdun in northeastern France, which was the site of one of World War I’s longest and bloodiest battles.
Footnote 2: Capt. Bernard de Blanpré.
Footnote 3: According to William N. Still, an authority on the U.S. Navy in World War I:
Sims promised to provide an adequate number of vessels, particularly destroyers. The Department, however, was slow in reinforcing Wilson’s force, and until late in 1918 those that arrived were second-rate, additional yachts and aged destroyers. Wilson did well despite his limited resources. Ships were torpedoed and sunk, but no transports with American troops aboard were lost en route to French ports. U.S. destroyers operating from Queenstown and British antisubmarine craft provided much of the escort until late 1918, when modern destroyers replaced or reinforced Wilson’s worn-out yachts operating from Brest...Wilson’s force made a significant contribution to the protection of troop transports. Still, Crisis at Sea: 55.