Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly, R.N., Commander, Naval Forces, Southern Ireland
February 15th. 1918.
My dear Admiral,
On the 13th. I arrived back from Italy after an absence of nine days. In the first place the trip was entirely comfortable in all respects as we had a special train which was nicely heated and all that sort of thing. In the second place, we had in Italy unseasonably warm weather and sunlight so brilliant as to make one wonder why men will consent to live in these northern countries at all.
As to the official results of the visit, I am not so well pleased. The whole situation in the Adriatic is mixed in politics which I believe only an Italian can really understand. At all events it is perfectly apparent that there is a strong disinclination to allow either the English, French or American to take part in any aggressive action in the Adriatic, particularly against the Dalmatian Islands. This for the reason that we are distrusted by them. They seem to fear that if a landing was ever effected in that neighborhood that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to get us out. On the other hand, they seem to be so apprehensive as to their naval strength that they simply will not risk any of their own vessels in any determined offenses against the submarine bases. However, they have consented that the whole question of the anti-submarine war in the Adriatic shall be placed in the hands of Admiral Calthorpe. This is a very distinct advance, because heretofore they have not been even protecting the British drifters that were operating in the Straits of Otranto.
Without going into details I may say that the scheme that has been accepted is to establish south of Catarro and extending some little distance south of the Straits, a barrage of about 150 miles deep consisting of areas patrolled by submarines, other areas patrolled by destroyers, still others patrolled by patrol craft assisted by destroyers, and still further south by drifters. Many of these vessels will be fitted with the most improved hydrophones. There will also be direction finding hydrophones installed on the western shores of the Adriatic with which it is hoped to detect the approaching submarines even before they reach the barrage.
In addition to the above there will be established in the Otranto Straits a peculiar form of net known as the Franco-Italian net. This is held under the surface of the water about eight metres, and each short section of the net is fitted with two mines, the whole being so arranged that if a submarine runs into one of these nets, it will fold back round them and bring the mine in contact with his hull. Experiments have been carried out with the net and it is apparently effective. Whether it will remain effective after it has been down is another question.
At all events it is hoped that the barrage above mentioned will prove sufficiently dangerous to the German and Austrian submarines to induce the enemy to attack it. Cruiser forces under the British and under the Italians will be so disposed as to not only resist these attacks but to attempt to cut off the attacking vessels. This may have the effect of bringing on a more or less general offensive.
I find in Italy that many of the upper classes are very distinctly pro-German. This may be largely due to the fact that their income is derived either from Germany or from German companies established in Italy. There also seems to be a distrust of both the British and American. They of course do not relish the position of being dependent upon Great Britain for their coal supplies. There is also no doubt that while they are thankful for such assistance we Americans can give, still they would have preferred to receive this assistance from a neutral instead of an ally. They seem to have a certain dread of Americans mixing in European affairs. They seem to think that America may exert an influence inimical to their interests. There is no doubt they are in a rather desperate position particularly in reference to coal. All the way down through Italy we noticed that a great deal of timber was being cut down and loaded on railway cars. They also claim that they must have grain at once to tide them over until the next harvest comes in.
As for news here in the Admiralty there is not very much of interest except that at the present time there are more submarines than have been out at almost any previous time. About thirty are now operating to the westward of the British Isles <and in the Channel & north and Irish seas>. It is assumed that this effort is being made in anticipation of the spring offensive. Some of the submarines that have recently come out have been in port only thirty days which is an unusually short time for them. Doubtless the augmentation of submarines is also due to the fact that they have been much restricted in getting out through the Heligoland Bight, both by the British mines and by fog and unfavourable weather.
There is no doubt however, that the Straits of Dover are gradually becoming too dangerous to make it justifiable for them to attempt to get submarines through. Some of the small ones may still pass that way, but recently none of the big ones have apparently attempted it.
I have taken up the subject of the SANTEE with the Admiralty, and they tell me that the Shipping Board could not possibly consent to giving up a blue funnel vessel for the purpose recommended in your letter. The tonnage situation is increasingly serious and they cannot bring themselves to give up any single ton of it they can avoid. We are even recommending that all fleet auxiliaries on the other side be put in service to bring food and other supplies to this country. If it is not possible to get a blue funnel vessel as suggested, do you think it would be well to continue the use of the SANTEE? The Admiralty is rather of the opinion that it would and I rather fancy that Hanrahan and his gang would be much disappointed if the vessel should be taken away from them. She is now going forward with the repairs and will be available for us as soon as she is finished.
Always very sincerely yours,