Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

 

22nd February 1918.

From:     Force Commander.

To:       Secretary of the Navy (Operations)

Subject:  General Report.

     1.  ENEMY SUBMARINE OPERATIONS

          During the week 2-9 February 1918, sixteen large submarines have been out, four being vessels of the converted “Deutschland” type. Of the latter, three are probably south of Madeira and north of Dakar, though no reliable reports have been received, while the other one (outward bound) was last reported on the 6th February in Latitude 28° north, Longitude 13° west.

          Of the remaining twelve large boats, it is hoped that three have been sunk – one possibly being the submarine which was rammed by H.M.S. “P-62” off the Smalls on 26th January;1 five have been operating in waters to the westward of the British Islands.

          The Northern part of the Irish Sea and to the north of Ireland have been practically the only areas of great activity. In the Mediterranean, however, considerable activity has been experienced, as many as six submarines having been reported in the Western basin between Genoa and Gibraltar.

          The following table gives more detailed particulars of the enemy’s activities:-

 

AREA

 

Average No. of

subs in area per day

North Sea, South of 53° 30' N.

-

   "   " , North of 53° 30' N.

            5 6

N.W. of Ireland and Scotland

2 3  

S.W. of Ireland

             -

Irish Sea and Bristol Channel

2 3

English Channel and approaches

1 2

Bay of Biscay

-

Atlantic

4 5

 

     Reports of twelve cruisers [rest of line faded beyond recognition]-

              5 by T.B.D.s

              1 by “P” class vessel

              2 by submarines

              1 by Auxiliary patrol

              2 by aircraft

              1 by Merchant Vessel

2. ENEMY MINE LAYING.

          The week has again been a quiet one. Lowestoft and Harwich were the only areas in which activity was experienced and the mining here synchronized with the movement of the Dutch Trade. A field of eighteen mines was removed, however,without casualty.

     Thirty mines were destroyed.

3. CONVOYS

     The accompanying table gives statistics and particulars of vessels under organized convoy.2

4. ANTI-SUBMARINE OPERATIONS.

          In regard to towing “K” tubes, no new trials have taken place since the last weekly letter.3 Three models of towing “K” tubes have been developed during the past week, and exhaustive tests of these models will take place off the Isle of Wight on Friday, February 15th. A full report will be submitted as to the results.4

          From the results obtained of the tests of compensators manufactured at Manchester, one hundred compensators have been ordered to be manufactured for the use of the Admiralty. These compensators will, of course, be of the old type, like those sent out with Captain Leigh’s party.5 The Admiralty very much desired to make these compensators of the new and improved type, but as the samples and drawings requested from the United States have not arrived, it was considered that there should be no further delay.

          The compensators which were promised by the United States to be forwarded beginning January 26th have not yet left the United States, and this delay is disappointing to those connected with the submarine detection devices. It is urgently recommended that shipment of compensators and “K” tubes be expedited. The only “K” tubes in service in English Waters are the three brought from the United States by Captain Leigh’s party, and they have just recently been transferred from trawlers in the English Channel to trawlers operating in Fair Island passage.

No report of the service of these “K” tubes has been received from those trawlers operating in Fair Island passage.

     About twenty listeners sent over from the United States have reported for duty. Practically all of them are rated electricians and a number of them understood that they were sent for duty as radio men, and in a few cases they express ignorance of sound detection devices. It is believed that it would be better not to send men who are not qualified for this duty until such time as they can be trained here.

          Tests with the Fessenden Oscillator on the AYLWIN continue. Full report has been made of the first tests conducted.6 During the past week owing to rough weather in the Channel, very little has been done in this line. The AYLWIN is now at sea with hunting vessels conducting a search.

          The Mason device7 on board the AYLWIN was not in good condition when the AYLWIN arrived at Portsmouth Navy Yard, and no satisfactory test has as yet been made of it. This device was placed in good condition during the last visit of the AYLWIN to the naval Yard, and tests will be conducted during her present hunt.

          The submarine “C” tube installed on board the E-43 has been in operation for over a week on a regular patrol of this vessel in the North Sea. A report of this operation has however not yet been received at the Admiralty.

          Further tests of the Calendar method of magnetic detection of submarines when resting at the bottom or when balancing have been conducted, and full reports of these tests have been forwarded to the Navy Department. Eight complete outfits of this apparatus have been manufactured and are now being installed on board P boats at the naval dock yard, Portsmouth.

          Full reports have been forwarded to the Department of tests made with Fessenden Oscillators installed on board the USS Downes. these tests showed about the same results as had been obtained in the United States.8

     On the night of 8 February, an enemy submarine was probably destroyed by diving into a mine field. The submarine dived in order to avoid a drifter.9

     An instructive hydrophone encounter took place on 3rd February in the eastern part of the English channel, the submarine being sighted at long range after having been picked up by the hydrophone. The hunt was subsequently misled by a “P” boat with another hunting unit, which were picked up as a faint sound and followed, though they must have been ten to twelve miles distant.

5. FORCES BASED ON QUEENSTOWN

   VESSELS OVERHAULING

          USS MANLEY, WADSWORTH and FANNING are in Liverpool. The WADSWORTH will proceed to France as soon as the STOCKTON has arrived at Queenstown.

          The Downes is being sent to Liverpool to take from the McDOUGAL one of her two generators. The Downes generator is wrecked and cannot be repaired by the forces available, and as the McDOUGAL is due for a lengthy refit, the Downes will take one of her generators.

USS McDOUGAL

          The report of the Commanding Officer on the collision to the McDOUGAL is being forwarded.10 The Senior Destroyer Officer present at Liverpool has been directed to order a Board of Investigation. Commander Church11 (Flotilla Repair Officer) will be a member of the board. Cammell Lairds [Shipbuilding Company] will undertake the refitting of the McDOUGAL and it is understood that this work will be carried on in addition to the regular refit of destroyers.

          Three destroyers are re-fitting in addition to the McDOUGAL and the regular programme of re-fitting will not thereby be ordered.

          The BALCH, Downes, and TRIPPE have completed their overhauling.

TRAINING BARRACKS.

          During the week the weather has been uniformly bad and no out door training could be done. Working parties were sent to-

(a) Aghada to prepare the aviation station at that place.

(b) Ringaskiddy to build a recreation building and to prepare the athletic grounds there.

(c) Haulbowline to assist the torpedo repair party and to construct quarters for them at that place.

(d) The USS DIXIE

          Space has been set a part for spare parts and gear from the USS BUSHNELL and submarines in order that these spare parts may be overhauled and put in condition. The BUSHNELL has left four men of special ratings for this purpose.

          Work on the barracks has gone forward.

          The Chief P.O. [i.e. Patrol Office] quarters are nearly complete. An office for the Commanding Officer of the barracks has been furnished; supports made for five extinguishers, rubbish incinerator built; medical storeroom built; all dormitories whitewashed and painted; a mooring buoy and mooring for small boats planted off station; radio antennae built; radio masts set up; electric wiring in barracks continued; and a temporary dental office constructed.

          During the week thirty-six men have been received and sixteen transferred from the barracks.

          The organization and training of men at this station has been delayed slightly, due to the necessity for employing the personnel in the establishment of the barracks. A new organization is now in preparation and systematic training and supply of personnel for destroyers will be possible.

          The following schools have been maintained:-

          (a) Radio.

          (b) Yeoman.

          (c) Signal.

There have been no absentees and only two minor offences during the week.

     6. FORCES BASED ON FRANCE.

          The report of Rear Admiral H. B. Wilson12 for week ending 10th February is enclosed.

          The Court of Inquiry in the case of the grounding of the GUINEVERE having recommended that further proceedings be taken in the case of her Commanding Officer – Lieutenant H.H.J. Benson, U.S. Navy, a General Court-Martial has been ordered.13

          The U.S.S. CAROLA IV Barracks in the Chateau, under the command of Lieut. J.D. Pennington,14 U.S. Navy was placed in commission on 6th February. On that date a draft of one hundred and fifty men from the U.S.S. HENDERSON which has been brought from St. Nazaire on the APHRODITE was received, together with fifty men transferred from the U.S.S. PANTHER. The office of enlisted personnel has been transferred from the PANTHER to the CAROLA IV Barracks. As soon as accommodations can be prepared in the barracks all enlisted men now living on shore in Brest, except those in the flag office will be housed there. Considering the difficulties which had to be overcome, commendable progress has been made in fitting the barracks. There is immediate need for a paymaster to handle the Commissary and Pay Departments in these barracks.

          In order that there may be no future delay in the movements of the Powhatan after the completion of the present job on her tiller, arrangements have been made to dock her at Brest while repairs are in progress.

          The inspections preliminary to installing guns and radio on the A.A.RAVEN and guns on the FRED LUCKENBACH have been made, the guns being placed on board these vessels for installation at Cardiff. The KERWOOD will be in spected on 10th February and the gunmounts placed on board.

          Inorder to provide necessary office space for the District Commander, Brest, arrangements have been made with the French Authorities to requisition the Hotel D’Angleterre at the foot of Rue de Siam overlooking the naval Base. It is planned to locate in this building the Navy Canteen, the base post office and Shore Patrol Office in addition to the District Commander’s Offices.

          Captain Roald Amuondson, the discoverer of the South Pole vicited [i.e. visited] Brest on 8th February, arriving at about 9:00 a.m. and leaving at 5:30 p.m. He was entertained at luncheon by the Commander, U.S. Naval Forces in France, and was shown as much of the U.S. Navy’s activities in Brest, under the guidance of Commander Frank T. Evans,15 as was possible in one day. He left a very favorable impression and expressed himself as much pleased with his visit.

          On the afternoon of 9th February a reception was given at the Hotel Continental by French Officer s for the purpose of promoting good-fellowship between the Allied officers here and the Fren ch. The American Navy was well represented at the reception by practically all the officers from the staff and from the officers of vessels which happened to be in port.

          Activities of enemy submarines on the west coast of France have been very slight during the past week but their activities continue on the north coast.

          The Norwegian steamship FANTOLT was torpedoed or struck a mine on 9th February. This vessel was proceeding in convoy from Brest to Quiberon and was sunk. No details yet received.

          The EL OCCIDENTEwhich formed part of the New York convoy reports that a submarine fired a torpedo at her at noon, 2nd, February. She fired a number of shots at the submarine which was about 2,000 meters distant.

MINING ACTIVITIES.

          The Ireise entrance to Brest has been closed during the week, a total of twelve mines have been found. These mines were well scattered across the two sub-channels. This channel was cleared by the afternoon of 10th February.

     7. BATTLESHIP DIVISION NINE.

          The report of Rear Admiral Rodman, Commander of Battleship Division Nine is forwarded herewith.16

          The Admiral states that it is extremely difficult to judge limits of visibility, distance of objects, or to obtain an accurate range by range finder in the hazy weather which obtains in the North Sea. Variations of 2,000 yards in a distance of 10,000 yds. were noted, due to lack of definition in target ships.17

          On this account, all pre-arranged plans, dispositions, manoeuvers, evolutions, approaches, and battle tactics are based primarily on visibility.

          In addition to the hazy weather accurate range finding is made difficult on account of the spray when high speeds are maintained, and to the exposed position of observer s without weather protection. Range finders located on the forward turrets(No.2 turrets) are considered useless owing to the exposed position.

          The report recommends that the forward range finder be moved to a platform above xxxxx and clear of the fire control tower in a position convenient to flag officer’s station.

          Under all conditions the observer should be protected from wind and weather and perreferably by mattrasses or splinter proof armor.

          The position of installation should be considered in connection with changes in bridge and mast construction and design in conjunction with the mast.

          Ther report points out that new design of bridges should be made with a view to affording shelter and comfort for officers and enlisted men, including those detailed flag, ship, lookout and fire control. All should be well above turret to avoid excessive blast, and to minimize effectsof spray. Heavy plate glass is extensively used in this connection in the British Ships; and it is thought that the large dead-lights18 such as are now used in cabin air ports of our vessels, might be installed.

          A number of recommendations relative to mast, bridges, flag, deck and other stations are submitted.

          It will be noted that the report recommends the use of four searchlights, two forward and two abaft.

          The use of star shells may evidently eventually supersede searchlights for illuminating target.

RESPONSIBILITY OF FORCE AND DIVISION COMMANDER’S.

          The report states that much more latitude is given force and division commanders in the British Fleet than is customary in our service. These commanders are acquainted with the policy of the Commander-in-Chief and conduct their commands with more freedom of action and are intrusted with more responsibility.

PRECISION IN FORMATION.

          It is noted that a line of bearing or column is not maintained as accurately as with us.

          The formation in approach is made to conform to distance from enemy so as to bring the maximum number of ships into action in the minimum time.

          Attention is invited to the fact that individual ships are authorized to change course one point on each side of base course to confuse the enemy in range. For example: if first salvo should go over one thousand yards, a ship would hold course and second salvo over five hundred yards, ship would go off one point towards striking point of salvo; if straddled shear off to either side, etc.

          This elasticity does not prevent the general formation being maintained.

SMOKE.

          It is interesting to note that our ships make less smoke than the British, and we make much less than formerly. This is due indirectly to efforts to increase watertight integrity, wherein fire rooms have been made much tighter. In addition, the boiler casings have been lagged and made air tight, and better combustion obtained.

UPKEEP AND SHORT NOTICE.

          All ships are continuously kept on “four hours” notice, that is, they must be ready to sail under full speed head of stern for all boilers in that time when so ordered. Since the speed is never less than 15 knots at sea, often twenty, and some times full speed, full boiler power is required.

RECOGNITION AT SEA.

          Under all conditions and in particular reference to low visibility including darkness at night, all vessels prior to departure to sea, are given full particulars of all movements of our own vessels and forces which we are liable to sight or encounter and of the enemy’s as well, if they are known.

This information covers convoys as well as war vessels and is extremely useful in assisting recognition of friend or foe, to enable fire to be opened instantly on sighting hostile ships. It is also extremely useful where a number of forces of the Grand Fleet, which may have become separated, are making port in the night, more particularly in the locality where the entrance is narrow, treacherous or dangerous and when there are very strong tidal currents, or where vessels can only pass gate obstructions in column.

U. S. S. TEXAS.

          The U.S.S. TEXAS arrived February 11th.19

CAPITAL SHIPS AND RADIO.

          When a single, or small number of capital ships are at sea with other forces, without the support of the Grand Fleet, andwish to communicate with such forces, they refrain from using radio, themselves when possible, but communicate either messages by visuals to some one of their destroyer screen, and have it transmit the message by radio.

          This method is used to prevent the enemy from knowing that a capital ship is at sea as they are able to distinguish the radio tune of different types. The enemy, by the use of radio direction finding stations, which are maintained, is enabledto locate ships using radio by cross bearings.

SECRECY AND READINESS.

          These two characteristics go hand in hand in the policy and practice of the Grand Fleet. No information whatever, no matter how interesting it may be, is imparted to anyone other than those directly concerned. Future movements and operations are kept secret and commanders of forces are most generally informed at the last minute of work to beperformed, and for which they are supposed to be always ready. Gossipping, spreading of news, other than that given out officially, and too much talk in general is discouraged.

PATROL AND CONVOY DUTY.

          Battleship Division Nine with division of light cruisers and destroyers screens, was engaged in convoy duty from Wednesday evening, February 6th until Monday morning February 10th. An outward bound convoy was picked up at sea at daylight Thursday and was escorted to the coast of Norway; a return convoy was picked up there and escorted back after sunrise.

          About mid-day on Friday February 8th, while manoeuvring off the Norwegian Coast awaiting the return convoy, four torpedoes were fired from submarines at the FLORIDA and two at the Delaware. These vessels owe their safety to their vigilance, prompt and successful maneouvring.20

EXCHANGE OF COURTERSIES.

          Exchange of courtesies and information relative to gunnery, target practices, and so forth is freely exchanged between the British and ourselves.

CONTENTMENT

          Admiral Rodman reports that as far as he is able to judge and from what the Commanding Officers and others say, in spite of the confinement on board ship, absence of liberty and amusement, officers and men are happy and contented, are taking a deep interest in the work and getting much enjoyment out of it.

     8. GENERAL.

          A committee of the Allied Naval Council with representatives from Great Britain, United States, France, Japan and Italy met in Rome on February 8th. A report of the conference will be submitted under separate cover.21 The force Commander and two aides returned to London on February 15th.

          The next meeting of the full Council will be held in the second week in March but it is not known whether it will be in London or Paris.

TUSCANIA.

          The Admiralty informs the Force Commander that twenty-eight bodies of those lost in the TUSCANIA were buried at Mulloa Mull of Oa on the 8th instant, sixty at Port Ellen and forty-nine at Port Charlotte on the 9th, and that nine more bodies had been washed ashore at Mullew Mull of Oa and will be buried there.22

          Military honours have been rendered in all cases.

CENSORSHIP OF PRESS MATTER.

          The Force Commander construes instructions from the Department to mean that no uncensored Naval News of any character may be sent from this side direct to press headquarters by press representatives. This applies to mail matter as well as cable matter[.] The procedure followed with all mail matter is submit articles to the Department.

A MUTINY AT CATTARO.

          Information considered by the British Admirlaalty to be reliable is to the effect thata mutiny occurred on or about January 3rd at Cattaro. The mutiny seems to have occurred in both land and sea forces as the Battleship ST. GEORGE is mentioned as being the storm center of the mutiny and shore batteries fired on three Austrian battleships sent from Pola to Cattaro to quell the mutiny. Information of the occurrence was received in Italy through deserters who escaped from Cattaro in an aeroplane.

          While the Force Commander was in Italy similar information was given him by the Italian authorities.

          From French sources it is reported that the revolt broke out on the Austrian Warship moored at Cattaro. The information was obtained from the Italians at Molfetta on February 4th from one officer and two non-commissioned officers of an Austrian aeroplane which gave it self up. It is because these three men were compromised in the revolt that they evaded and gave themselves up.23

          The following information from the French Naval Intelligence Service is quoted:-

          “From the source generally well informed it is confirmed that a plot had been prepared amongst the seamen of the crews at Kiel which was to have been carried out in the night of January 30th. The secret not having been held, the revolt broke out on board only one ship moored in the inner anchorage. Depots of dynamite were found on several submarines.24

          The majority of the Navy Yard workmen at Kiel are red revolutionaries. Secret meetings are often held at which seamen and soldiers take part, and it is expected that there will shortly be a thorough “sabotage” on board large ships as well as the submarines”.

PRISONERS.

          Concerning the large status of the prisoners taken by the FANNING, the Admiralty informes the Force Commander that after the completion of the examination of the Naval prisoners by the Admiralty they are turned over to the Army. The Army Council has rendered a decision that the prisoners taken by the FANNING are British prisoners.25 This is not concurred in by the Admiralty. It is not final in any respect. The matter will be taken up by the law officers of the Government for final decision.

BRAZILIAN ADMIRAL.

          Rear Admiral F. Mattes of the Brazilian Navy has arrived in London. Calls were exchanged between the Force Commander and Rear Admiral Mattes. It is learned that the Admiral is going to visit France and Italy and then return to London where he will make his Headquarters. It is understood that he will be in command of the Brazilian Forces that are expected on this side but that he will not fly his flag, a Rear Admiral afloat being in Command.

SIMS.             

Source Note: Cy, RG 45, Entry 517B. Identifier at top of first page: “AC-0488.” There is a list of enclosures after Sims’ signature, but none of these are included in this copy.

Footnote 1: U-84 was rammed by the British patrol boat PC62 in St. George’s Channel; it sank without survivors. Kemp, U-Boats Destroyed, 43. Indeed, two other submarines, UB-35 and UB-63 were sunk in the last days of January 1918 and two others, UC-50 and UB-38 in the first days of February. Ibid., 43-44. The Smalls is a series of rocks approximately twenty miles west of Marloes Peninsula, Wales, on one of which stands a lighthouse.

Footnote 2: Enclosure not printed.

Footnote 4: This report has not been found.

Footnote 5: Capt. Richard H. Leigh, an American expert in listening devices.

Footnote 6: See, Leigh to Sims, 11 February 1918, RG 45, Entry 517B.

Footnote 7: A type of submarine-detection device.

Footnote 8: Reports on Fessenden Oscillators on the Downes have not been found.

Footnote 9: UB-38 was cruising off the Strait of Dover on 8 February when it was spotted by the drifter Gowan II. The drifter was immediately joined by several anti-submarine vessels, and shortly after watching the submarine dive all heard a series of underwater explosions. UB-38 was never heard from again, and almost certainly was destroyed by mines that day. Kemp, U-Boats Destroyed, 44.

Footnote 10: On the night of 4 February 1918, the darkness and fog created extremely poor visibility, and McDOUGAL sailed into the midst of a convoy, where the British steamer Glenmorag rammed her. She was crippled from the collision and had to be towed into port. The investigation absolved McDOUGAL’s officers of any responsibility for the accident. The ship did not complete its repairs until 20 July, whereupon she resumed convoy duty. DANFS. The report from Lt. Cmdr. William T. Conn, Commanding Officer, McDOUGAL, has not been found.

Footnote 11: Cmdr. John G. Church.

Footnote 12: RAdm. Henry B. Wilson, Commander, United States Naval Forces in France. See: Wilson to Sims, 10 February 1918.

Footnote 13: Lt. Howard Hartwell James Benson. GUINEVERE wrecked on the coast of France on 25 January and was damaged beyond repair. What was left of her was sold to the Societe Americaine de Sauvetage the following year. DANFS. Benson’s fate is unknown.

Footnote 14: Lt. John D. Pennington.

Footnote 15: Cmdr. Frank Taylor Evans, formerly commander of U.S.S. May.

Footnote 16: RAdm. Hugh Rodman commanded Battleship Division Nine, which was attached to the British Grand Fleet. Sims summarizes Rodman’s report in the paragraphs that follow, but the full version has not been found.

Footnote 17: That Rodman cited the difficulties in hitting targets is not surprising; both American and British officers were shocked by how far the U.S. ships lagged behind their British peers in gunnery. Only after several months of intensive exercises were the American crews comparable to the Royal Navy’s. Jerry W. Jones, “United States Battleship Operations in World War I, 1917-1918” Doctoral dissertation, University of North Texas, 1995, 153.

Footnote 18: Covers placed over portholes and windows on a ship to obscure lights.

Footnote 19: TEXAS joined Battleship Division Nine. On the decision to send it to join the division, see: Sims to Opnav, 9 January 1918.

Footnote 20: There is some question whether either ship actually encountered a submarine. Rodman accepted the FLORIDA and Delaware’s accounts without question, but other officers on the scene claimed they never saw any torpedoes, and that at least one of the reported sightings was just a porpoise. Jones, “United States Battleship Operations,” 77-81.

Footnote 21: This report has not been found, but for a summary of the meeting of the Allied Naval Council, see: Sims to Opnav, 14 February, and Sims to Benson, 15 February 1918.

Footnote 22: TUSCANIA, a civilian vessel, was torpedoed and sunk by UB-77 on 5 February. For an extensive discussion, see: Twining to Daniels, 11 February 1918.

Footnote 23: Cattaro (Kotor), a coastal town in present-day Montenegro, was then a part of Austria-Hungary and one of the primary bases for the Austro-Hungarian Navy. On 1 February, mutineers seized control of the flagship Sankt Georg, wounding one officer in the process. The mutiny then spread to most of the fleet. The sailors demanded an end to the war on terms similar to Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points. They also demanded better pay and food, and more equitable treatment between officers and enlisted seamen. The mutiny collapsed in just two days when shore batteries opened fire on the mutineers and German submarines arrived prepared to sink any rebellious ships that attempted to escape. Seefahnrich Sesan, a leader of the mutiny, escaped by plane with two conspirators to Italy, while 40 others were tried and convicted. Only four suffered the death penalty, but several hundred sailors were taken off of their respective ships for fear they would foment further mutinies. Halpern, Naval War in the Mediterranean, 448-449.

Footnote 24: Kiel is a major German port city on the Baltic Sea. In November 1918, with the war close to an end, the sailors at Kiel mutinied when they were ordered to attempt what they perceived to be a suicidal last assault on the British Navy. The revolt took on a revolutionary character, however, with red flags flying from the ships and the a brief effort to establish an independent Republic of Oldenburg. Massie, Castles of Steel, 775-776.

Footnote 25: See: Sims to Opnav 16 February 1918.

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