Commander Joel R. Poinsett Pringle, Chief of Staff, Destroyer Flotillas, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters
U. S. S. MELVILLE.
July 4, 1917.
My dear Admiral:-
Gay returned yesterday to the command of his ship and she went to sea at 4 o’clock.1 I enclose herewith a copy of Gay’s written statement; the original I have retained for the files of the office here.2
As you will see from the statement, Gay took it upon himself to go beyond signal distance of his ship without having obtained permission from anyone to do so. He saw both Admiral Gleaves and Commander Taussig just before leaving, but so far as his statement shows, he did not mention to either one of the two that he desired to go to Nantes.3
I sent yesterday for Hanrahan, under whose command Gay has been serving,4 with a view to obtaining from Hanrahan, an expression of opinion as to Gay’s general value to the Flotilla. Hanrahan states to me that he does not, by any manner of means, regard Gay as being of value to the Flotilla; that his performances have not been of a high order of merit or generally satisfactory and that he (Hanrahan) concurred absolutely with my views of the case, which I am about to express to you and concurred also in the recommendation which I am about to make.
I think under the circumstances that it is necessary that Gay should be detached from his command. His performance would have been censurable in peace times, but to have so acted in war time, convinces me that he is not the man for the work at hand. We have only to picture to ourselves the position in which those of us responsible for the proper administration of these Forces would have been placed in case the BENHAM had been torpedoed with her commanding officer away on unauthorized leave from the ship. I am afraid that our friend Mr. America would not have been able to overcome the temptation to make a story out of that little incident had it happened.5
I am further recommending to you that Newton be detached from the PATTERSON and ordered to the BENHAM.6 This is in the line of promoting an efficient officer to a better command and there is no question involved of a divisional command, because Newton, when he came over, simply happened to be the senior among the boats that came with his lot and he has acted more or less as a division leader since his arrival here. He is however, far too junior to receive any regular assignment as divisional commander and when the convoy program goes regularly into effect,
additional organization will be written <broken> up anyway to a certain extent so we need not worry over that.
Gay can be sent to the Dixie as Executive Officer to relieve Lyons, who has just renewed his application for destroyer duty, the first application having been made some months ago and whom I think will do good work. He has had previous experience in a destroyer, is a good seaman, fearless, and an excellent navigator.7
I am enclosing the orders to meet these recommendations and I beg that, if you approve of these, you telegraph me to that effect as I wish to send Newton from here to Berehaven to relieve Gay of the command of the BENHAM before the BENHAM goes to sea again. She is due at Berehaven in four days and will remain there three, thus giving me a week in which to arrange the transfer. It will also permit of my getting Lyons here from Berehaven and putting him on board the PATTERSON before she goes to sea again.
I accompanied Vice Admiral Bayly8 on an inspection of the ROWAN yesterday and as result of this inspection and of other inspections, I think we may say that Admiral Bayly, the Naval Constructor, and myself, are in accord with the following, first: that the injury to the ROWAN was very much more extensive than was revealed by our first examination and second: that it would be
a <the> part of wisdom to fit additional stiffeners in all of our boats whose construction is the same as the ROWAN’S.9 Personally, I hesitate about advancing opinions as to structural strength where the calculations have been gone over by the Bureau of Construction and Repair, but since the ROWAN did crack as a result of service in heavy weather and since there are probably other ships with no more strength than the ROWAN, it appears to me quite possible that as the result of a winter’s work off the Irish coast we may have similar injuries in other boats. The matter is in hand and we at present contemplate doing all necessary work before heavy weather sets in. The date set for the completion of the ROWAN’S repairs is 25 July and I believe they will be able to complete them about that time, though it would not surprise me if it took a day or two longer, as the dock at Rushbrooke is not conveniently situated.10
I have given authority to Courtney to grant leave to his officers and men and as Courtney left yesterday for London, I dare say you will see him before long.11
Church12 arrived yesterday and I informed him that I placed him in the same class as every one else, which is what might be called, the general utility class and that he would be expected to work hard in any capacity where he might find himself called. This seemed to suit him and in the mean time, I am employing him as Force Repair Officer, temporarily attached to your staff, as by this means I am able to keep in touch with the Engineer Captain and have directed Church to take up the question of a Refit Program with him. Also Church will handle the question of additional stiffening in connection with the Flag Captain and Constructor at Haulbowline.13
The new Flag Captain is everything that could be desired and I think you made a ten strike when you engineered the change that you did.14
Nothing else of importance has transpired since I last wrote you and affairs seem to be progressing as well as could be expected.
Please don’t forget to telegraph your approval, if you do approve of the orders in order that I may get busy upon the necessary transfer. Personally I regret very much that the Gay incident should have happened and I think from every point of view we can not get him out of his ship too soon.
Very sincerely yours,
Source Note: TLS, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517. In the top left-hand corner is the identifying number “122.” This letter is written on stationery so the portion to the date is printed. Melville was a destroyer tender moored at Queenstown with the American destroyer flotilla there.
Footnote 1: Lt. Cmdr. Jesse M. Gay, Commander, Benham.
Footnote 2: Gay’s statement has not been found.
Footnote 3: RAdm. Albert Gleaves and Cmdr. Joseph K. Taussig. In charge of comvoy operations in the Atlantic, Gleaves was commander of the first convoy of troopships sent to France; Taussig commanded the destroyer escorts that accompanied the convoy through the “submarine zone.” For more on the incident involving Gay, see: Diary of Joseph K. Taussig, 16 July 1917.
Footnote 4: Cmdr. David C. Hanrahan, Commander. Destroyer Division Six.
Footnote 5: “Mr. America” was the name given to Associated Press reporter James B. Connolly; Still, Queenstown Patrol: 201n.
Footnote 6: Lt. Cmdr. John H. Newton, Commander, Patterson, and Destroyer Division Five.
Footnote 7: On 16 July, Taussig reported in his diary that Gay had been appointed Executive Officer for Dixie and Lt. Cmdr. David Lyons, not Newton, became the new commander of Benham. Gay reportedly remained Dixie's executive officer for four months and then given command of Conyngham. While in command of Conyngham, he won the Navy Cross and went on to a distinguished career in the Navy. Still, Queenstown Patrol: 200n.
Footnote 8: VAdm. Sir Lewis Bayly, Commander, Southern Ireland.
Footnote 9: Rowan (Destroyer No. 64) was laid down on 10 May 1915 by the Fore River Shipbuilding Co., Quincy, Mass., and launched 23 March 1916. It was a Sampson class destroyer (DD63-68). The American destroyers at Queenstown underwent periodic overhauls. Presumably the stiffeners would have been installed in these destroyers during these overhauls. See, Forces Based on Queenstown, Overhauls, War Diary, U.S.S. Davis, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.
Footnote 10: Rushbrooke Dockyard is located on Great Island in Cork Harbor, Ireland.
Footnote 11: Cmdr. Charles E. Courtney. Commander, Rowan.
Footnote 12: Lt. Cmdr. Albert T. Church.
Footnote 13: Haulbowline was a Royal Navy dockyard on an island in Cork harbor.
Footnote 14: Commo. Francis M. Leake.