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

AC1                                        8th January, 1918.

From:  Force Commander.

To:    Secretary of the Navy (Operations).

Subject:  General Report.

     1.   ENEMY SUBMARINE OPERATIONS.

          During week ending 29 December evidence indicated that nineteen or twenty large submarines were away from their bases or which probably ten were operating against trade. Two “converted Deutschland2 type submarines were working in the vicinity of the Azores and the African Coast south of the Canary Islands.

          No reports except in south Atlantic were received from open waters, the submarine activity begin confined mainly to the Irish Sea and English Channel. In the latter area however, at the end of the week an absence of activity was note between the Lizard and the Needles where extensive operations have been the rule of late.

          The following table gives detailed particulars of enemy operations.

 

     AREA  

 

  Average No. of submarines    

  in area per day                    

North Sea S. of 53°_30'                      

          -

North Sea N. of 53°_30'

       2  -  3

N.W. of Ireland and Scotland

          2

S.W. of Ireland

          2

Irish Sea and Bristol Channel

       2  -  3

English Channel and approaches

       3  -  4

Bay of Biscay

Atlantic

          1

       3  -  4

 

          Twelve encounters were reported as follows:

              4 by destroyers

              1 by “P” class vessel3

              1 by Special Service Ship4

              2 by Auxiliary Patrol

              2 by Aircraft

              2 by Merchant vessels.

     2.   ENEMY MINE LAYING.

          Activity during the week was above normal of sometime past. A marked new departure was experienced in the laying of mines forty miles to seaward of Aberdeen. Hitherto submarines have always confined their mine laying activities to positions within range of navigational marks. The field in question was evidently aimed at the Scandinavian convoys and perhaps incidentally at Fleet movements between northern bases. As a new policy it is somewhat disturbing as the problem is a difficult one to meet as mines were also laid in the Dover and Portsmouth areas, in the Bristol Channel and off Liverpool and Belfast.

          Sixty-four mines were destroyed.

     3.     CONVOYS.

          Table showing particulars of vessels under organized convoy is enclosed herewith,5

     4.   ANTI-SUBMARINE OPERATIONS.

          Every Effort is being put forward to meet the enemy tactics of operating in shore (in confined waters) Destroyer escorts have picked up convoys a shorter distance at sea in order to release vessels for patrol operations in shore. In the Irish Sea as many of our own destroyers and those from Buncrana and the “P” boats and other vessels based on Milford Haven have been used as far as possible for active offensive patrols against submarines. American destroyers have repeatedly escorted cross channel steamers from Ireland.

          The few hunting squadrons which are in operationhave been working in the Channel and in the North Sea with considerable success.6 Every effort is being put forward to increase the numbers of these hunting squadrons. The difficulties are both lack of listening devices and lackof trained personnel for their use as well as lack of vessels.

          All listening device personnel which can be sent from the United States will be put into actual service as rapidly as they arrive.

          It is recommended that they be sent as fast as possible and in any numbers. Also that all listening devices which can possibly be sent be rushed by liners or any other transportation available.

          It is understood that at least twenty, and perhaps more, submarine chasers equipped with listening devices and trained personnel are ready to come to these waters. The Department’s palns for getting them across the Atlantic are not fully known except for references which have been made for use of tugs.

          Experience with hunting squadrons equipped with listening devices have been so promising that it is strongly urged that the arrival of the submarine chasers be expedited with all haste. It is suggested that in view of their importance and of Captain Leigh’s reports after experience in the Channel, that they might be expedited by using battleships to convoy them to the zone where they could be met by destroyers.

     5.   USE OF LISTENING DEVICES.

          On January 3rd, a submarine was attacked in the Channel by vessels fitted with hydrophones. It is believed that the submarine was destroyed but authentic evidence is not yet available.

          Captain Leigh has returned from his experience in the Channel with the British hunting squadron equipped with both American and British devices. He reports very favorably upon the American devices.

          Captain Leigh’s Report to the Force Commander will be forwarded.7

          The principal obstacles to the introduction of these devices into active service has been, and still is, due to the following primary causes:-

(a) Slow development of the devices themselves and        

    difficulties in manufacture owing to other

    Government demands.

(b) Lack of suitable vessels.

(c) Lack of trained personnel.

Owing to the slow development due to the above causes,

the use of the devices themselves, particularly the tactics incidental to their use, have also been retarded.

     Captain Leigh reported some inertia on the part of certain officials of the Admiralty to recognize the superiority of our devices and to adopt certain practices which in his opinion are essential.

     This feeling is confined to certain subordinate officials and will be overcome. However, in view of its existence, and also of the lack of officers and personnel of experience in this field of work, I have considered it warranted to hold Captain Leigh and certain of his personnel here to assist in co-operative work with the Admiralty and pave the way for the arrival and full use of our chaser squadrons.

     6.   OFFICERS SENT FOR NEW DESTROYERS.

          It is recommended that instead of sending executive officers home, only Captains and engineer officers be sent. The two more important officers on destroyers are the Captain and the engineer. Executive officers can be easily trained and their responsibilities cannot be compared with those of the engineer officers. The very best field for engineer training is on the destroyers actually operating in the war zone. A great mass of experience is being gained with it is difficult to cover by correspondence but is covered by constant conferences and interchange of ideas while in port.

     7.     RESERVE OFFICERS.

          If Reserve Officers must be introduced into destoyers, the Force Commander cannot lay too much stress upon the necessity of giving them actual training on destroyers at sea in the war zone.

     The responsibility of commanding officers of the destroyers in the war zone is very heavy and they cannot trust the deck to new officers until thoroughly assured of their ability and methods. It is therefore recommended that all Reserve Officers intended for destroyer duty be sent to our base in these waters as far ahead as possible of the time that they would probably have to be used. It is true that the destroyers are at present crowded as far as officers are concerned, but under the necessity of actual war conditions, discomforts can be put up with, and a great deal accomplished with would not be considered practicable in time of peace.

     The destroyers can take extra officers even if they have to swing in hammocks.

     Reserve officers must have training at sea particularly under the conditions existing in the present campaign and the forces in these waters are prepared to accept al discomforts and remove all obstacles in the way of meeting the necessities of the situation.

     8.   FORCES ON FRENCH COAST.

          Commander Jurtz8 who has operation duties on Admiral Wilson’s staff spent two days in this office during the past week with great benefit to the co-ordination between the two staffs.

     Many questions were cleared up which had been the subject of misinterpretation or misunderstandings in correspondence and cables, and plans and intentions of the Admiralty, as well as of this organization, were fully discussed.

     Due to the unseaworthiness and material limitations, only five of the yachts on the French coast are now considered suitable for high sea escort work during winter weather, and ten destroyers have now been added to the French forces. These will be augmented as fast as the general situation permits.

COASTAL CONVOYS.

     All of the supplies for our Army come from America in the regular convoys that pass up in the English Channel. In the vicinity of Brest they are detached from the main convoy and proceed into Brest. They then proceed in the coastal convoys to the destination. These coastal convoys are very poorly guarded and are open to submarine attacks as the vessels proceed for the greater part in column formation. It has never been fully understood why these convoys have not been oftener attacked. The only reasonable explanation is that they are composed of small and slow ships and the submarine has been concentrating on vessels of greater value. Recently this convoy was attacked just below Brest and three ships sunk.9 The danger of this attack has been anticipated by our Forces for some time, and wherever practicable our storeships are carried from Bres<t> to St. Nazaire by a special convoy. These special convoys add greatly to the work of our forces. The congestion in St. Nazaire has not made it imperative to use Bordeaux for supply ships. This means that our supply convoys will have to be special escorted to Bordeaux instead of St, Nazaire, which more than doubles the work placed on our forces in France. We need along the French Coast all the ships we can get to make these coastal convoys safe, and top patrol certain areas so as to make it too dangerous for the submarine to operate in certain focal points.

BORDEAUX FOR TROOPS.

          The Army have also requested that we take troops to Bordeaux, as they have established a large camp there, and desire to relieve St. Nazaire of congestion.10 The use of this port brings up the following objections:-

(a)  The approaches are not as well defined as Brest

and St. Nazaire, nor are they as well swept. Our own sweepers are not concentrating on the approaches to St. Nazaire, but we have not sufficient trawlers to handle the approaches to Bordeaux.

(b)  The use of this port would require about two

hundred and fifty miles more steaming of destroyers. As it is, the destroyers barely make port and some of them have to leave the convoy and return for oil unless the convoy arrives on time.

          (c)  Assuming that the convoys have reached Bordeaux,

as we have no base facilities in that area our escorting forces much proceed from Bres<t> to Bordeaux to take ships off shore, which means a delay in time, or its equivalent, the reduction in forces on the French Coast.

     For the foregoing reasons we are trying to arrange to handle all troops in the present ports and divert to Bordeaux the majority of the storeships. This will be the better solutions if the Army can make the necessary arrangement; but even so, it will require additional work from our forces on the French coast. It merely means that the forces on the French Coast must be augmented to keep pace with the increased work.

     It has been the policy for some time to send to the French Coast every ship available. The last ten destroyers that were added to the forces have been sent to Brest, but this number, is wholly inadequate. The U.S.S. MAY has been sent from Gibraltar to Brest and all yachts now en route will be diverted to the French Coast. Unfortunately these yachts will add little to the efficiency of the coast, because they cannot keep up with the convoys and hence must be restricted to special uses. The U.S.S. ALYWIN [i.e., AYLWIN] is now en route and on her arrival another destroyer will be added to the Forces on Brest. It is evident that the most important part of our work in Europe will be on the French Coast, and steps are underway to provide adequate oil supplies and repair facilities on that coast. Additional destroyers are badly needed in order to provide proper protection to our transports and storeships. Every new destroyer arriving from the United States will be sent to Queenstown, and a reliable destroyer sent immediately from Queenstown to Brest. This plan has many advantages, the principal of which are:-

1. The destroyers sent to the French Coast will be the most reliable ones, and hence require the fewest repairs.

2. New destroyers can better learn methods in Queenstown than at Brest, and defects developing in new destroyers can be better handled at Queenstown than at Brest. What is urgently needed is six or eight more destroyers for the French Coast.

     9.   GENERAL.

          The general situation continues as critical as previously reported. With regard to the shortage of personnel in our Service the Force Commander strongly recommends that the necessity for experienced men for armed guards on merchantmen be made a secondary consideration to the necessity for experienced men on destroyers and other anti-submarine craft operating in the war zone.

          As reported in the past, the arming of merchantmen, providing the armament is not outranged by the submarine, merely results in restricting the submarine to the use of the torpedo. The arming of merchantmen is therefore no protection against enemy torpedo operations as is clearly shown by the large number of armed ships including destroyers and heavily armed Men-of-War which have been sunk by torpedo without have seen a submarine prior to the attack.

          There is not a single authentic and confirmed case during the war of armed guards on merchantmen having destroyed a submarine. The only known successful engagement between a merchantmen and a submarine, is the one which occurred about two years ago in which the submarine was rammed.

          The importance of arming merchantmen both adequately and with the highest degree of skill on the part of the personnel is not questioned, but the fact must not be lost sight of that this importance is secondary to that of the requirements of anti-submarine craft. The jocular remark is frequently heard that the armed guard of merchantmen practically accomplishes its mission if it is prepare to use its gun quickly and shoot over rather than short. Under such circumstances a submarine will seldom accept a gun duel in fact, no case has been heard of in which a submarine has accepted a gun duel as long as the merchant armament was equal in range.

     10.  INCREASE OF ADMINISTRATIVE DEMANDS OF THIS ORGANIZATION.

          With the gradual increase of our forces both ashore and afloat in Europe, the increase of administrative demands grows steadily, as of course must be expected. Practically all the mail, including packages, for our forces in France as well as England both ashore and afloat, in fact, a good share of the mail for Gibraltar, comes through England.

          In addition, a large amount of personal cablegrams are constantly received. The British postal organizations have, of course, been greatly depleted during the war and our mails have undoubtedly been badly delayed owing to the physical inability of the British Authorities to meet the demands made upon them. Both the U.S. Dispatch Agency in London and this office are gradually being strained severely to handle the mail situation. It is unavoidable that a great deal of mail that comes from the Postmaster, New York, is not properly sorted and routed. For example, a great deal of mail addressed to forces in France finds its way back to London where it has to be sored out and diverted to forces in British waters as well as to our mining and other forces on shore.

     One yeoman has been put in the Dispatch Agency to help handle the work that falls upon that office and others will soon have to be added.

     A Post Office will have to be established in this organization in the near future on account of registered mail and other postal demands. In fact, it MAY be necessary as our personnel in Europe increases, for our postal authorities at home to make arrangements with British Postal Authorities to send personnel to Liverpool or London to assist.

     11.  NEED of ARMED TUGS.  

          The urgent need of tugs at our bases and for escort duty with mercantile convoys continues as previously reported.

          Too many armed tugs could hardly be furnished for duty in these waters.

     12.  NEED FOR ADDITIONAL VESSELS.

          The need for additional destroyers and anti-submarine craft is just as urgent today as described in all the Force Commander’s dispatches beginning from four days after his arrival in Europe.

          The Force Commander still believes that the demands of the common campaign against the enemy warrants sending all anti-submarine craft which can reach this coast either under their own power or in tow.

     13.  FACILITIES OF PARENT SHIPS.

       The needs for parent ships for repair facilities, grows steadily with the increase of our forces and in the increased time of their operation in the war zone. As it is inadvisable to set aside too many ships for this duty and as ships themselves are probably not available, it is strongly recommended that authority be granted to house excess men on shore, and that the repair forces of skilled mechanics of all parent ships be so increased that their shops can be operated steadily day and night. Such a course is the equivalent of nearly doubling the repair facilities of the parent ships available.

     14.  USE OF LEVIATHAN AS DEPOT SHIP.

          It seems that the U.S. Army Authorities have recently suggested the use of the LEVIATHAN as a Depot ships in Brest for housing troops awaiting transportation ashore.11 Inquiry has been made whether the British Government could furnish a hulk suitable for this purpose but there is no hulk available and it would seem that temporary provision on shore must be provided for such needs.

     15.  DEPTH CHARGES.

          There is forwarded hereunder copy of an order issued to the Forces in European Waters concerning depth charges.12 As Depth Charges constitute our principal weapon against submarines, it is of vital importance to be prepared to use them in large numbers whenever an opportunity offers. Steps are being taken to make maximum use of an increased number of depth charges as fast as they become available.

     16.  SUPPLIES NEEDED.

          Queenstown base reports that a faster supply of acetylene and oxygen is needed.

     17.  RADIO MATERIAL.

          It is hoped that the radio material requested for bases abroad and which has been approved by the Department, can be expedited. It is believed that the radio direction finders for destroyers MAY prove to be very valuable anti-submarine devices.

     18.  COMMUNICATION SERVICE LONDON OFFICE.

          The Communication Section of this office is now handling on an average of 5000 ten-letter code groups per day but some days it has reached as high a number as 14,000.

     16 [i.e., 19]. OFFICERS’ EXPENSES ABROAD.

          A complete report has been submitted under date of January 2nd covering the necessity for increasing expense allowances for officers on duty abroad. Should legislation be necessary to carry out the recommendations made, it is urgently requested that the subject be expedited. There are many your officers abroad at the present moment who are making financial sacrifices, that are not jusitified in view of the duty they are performing.

          The Force Commander has been informed that some young officers have had to stop their allotments and in fact their insurance premiums. Under war conditions officers will be reluctant to request transfer to other duty and will submit to a considerable degree of sacrifice without complaint but there is a limit beyond which officers will not willingly go in this direction and it is plainly the duty6 of the Government to see that this limit is not reached.

     20.  LOSS OF HOSPITAL SHIP.

          On night of January 4th, a hospital ship bound from Gibraltar into the Irish Sea was sunk, but whether by mine or torpedo it has not yet been ascertained. Details are not to hand except that five hundred people were saved. She carried two hundred and fifty naval cases and fifty army cases.13

     21.  STATISTICS, QUEENSTOWN FORCE.

          Efforts are being made by the Queenstown Force to collect interesting statistics for future record. The administrative demands on the staff and on the destroyers renders it difficult however, to accomplish such work. Preliminary figures indicate the following, (they have not yet been accurately confirmed)

          Number of miles steamed, up to November 3, 1917

For 35 Destroyers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 971,000 miles.

Average per destroyer . . . . . . . . . . . . .  27,000 miles.

up to December 1, 1917.

Submarines sighted . . . . . . maximum . . . . .     99

                   . . . . . . minimum . . . . .     86

            of which, 5 were doubtful,

                      4 were probably the same submarines,

                      2 sighted twice

                      2 possible friendly submarines.

Depth Charges dropped in enemy action, on oil slicks, wakes, points of submergence . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    80

Reults: Damage and possibly destroyed . . . . . .     9

        Possibly damaged . . . . . . . . . . . .     18

        Negative results . . . . . . . . . . . .     52

Submarines sighted but not attacked . . . . . . .    53

Submarines attacked by gunfire . . . . . . . . . .   10

Enemy torpedoes fired at destroyers . . . . . . . .  13

            (to December 1st, does not include JACOB JONES).14

Sims.    

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Identification numbers at top of page: “25-13-18”; and in columnar fashion: 1/2/3/4/5/6.”

Footnote 1: Most likely this indicates the initials of the unknown typist or coder.

Footnote 2: Large long-range German submarines originally designed to carry cargo but converted for wartime use.

Footnote 3: P class ships, otherwise known as patrol boats, were a class of coastal sloops.

Footnote 4: Special Service, or “Q”, ships were heavily-armed merchantmen that were designed to lure submarines into surfacing after a torpedo attack in order to sink the merchantmen by gunfire or explosive. When the submarine surfaced and approached, the mystery ship would use its superior armament to destroy the U-boat. By 1918, German submarine captains were wary of such vessels and they were no longer effective. E. Keble Chatterton, Q-Ships and Their Story (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1972), passim.

Footnote 5: This enclosure is no longer with this report.

Footnote 6: Here Sims has overstated the effectiveness of these “hunter” patrols, at least based on the number of submarines they destroyed.

Footnote 8: This was a typographical error. The officer referred to was Thomas R. Kurtz, who was then serving as Aid for Operations and Convoys on the staff of RAdm. Henry B. Wilson. Wilson, American Navy in France, 9.

Footnote 9: Actually, four merchantmen were sunk. See: Sims to Daniels, 9 January 1918.

Footnote 11: LEVIATHAN was not used as a depot ship but continued to transport troops from the United States to France throughout the war.

Footnote 13: H.M.H.S. Rewa was sunk by a torpedo from U-55, although the Germans, fearing international outrage, blamed a loose British mine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMHS_Rewa, retrieved 2 January 2018.

Footnote 14: U.S.S. destroyer JACOB JONES was sunk by a torpedo on the night of 6 December 1917.

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