Lieutenant Commander Thomas A. Kittinger, Commander, Corsair, to Captain William B. Fletcher, Commander, Special Patrol Squadron
U. S. S. CORSAIR,
July 6, 1917
COMFRAN’S FILE 675
Memo for Captain Fletcher, U.S.N.
1. During the visit of this vessel at St. Nazaire a number of U. S. Destroyers from the Queenstown Patrol were interviewed and information obtained as follows:
(a) The U. S. Destroyers operate from Queenstown, meeting merchant vessels at sea, escort them into a point where they are received by the Liverpool Patrol. Details are made and orders given by the British Patrol Commander at Queenstown.1 The British and American Destroyers work together. Some of the Destroyers have seen no submarines. It is believed that the submarines do not expos[e] themselves in the presence of patrol vessels.
(b) Destroyers pick up many survivors. This is expedited by having sea ladders that three persons can mount abreast. The boats are quickly discharged in rough weather. While doing this the Destroyer does not stop but tows the boats alongside.
(c) The 80-lb. depth charges are found ineffective, and the British Admiralty have supplied 300-lb. charges and installed the gear for handling them. These charges resemble gasoline drums. Two bill boards are installed, one on each quarter. The charges are placed on the bill boards one on each. The releasing gear operates from the bridge by means of a small hydraulic hand pump. When released the charge rolls off the bill board into the sea. The ship should be making 15 knots to clear the danger zone. The 80-lb. charges, or pills as they are called, were used as a ruse to get the sub to show up. When a fired torpedo crossed the wake a depth charge was exploded bading the submarine to believe that his torpedo had hit, and he came up to see the effect.
I understand the submarines are on to this now and it does not work.
(d) No opportunity offers to use range finders.
(e) On account of the short time that the submarines expose themselves the gun telescopes hamper pointing. Open sights have been improvised and are used. Sights are always set at “0” range and “50” deflection. Crews shoot on sight without orders. Rapidity of fire is most desirable. Most of the destroyers have dispensed with topmasts to reduce range of visibility.
(f) Destroyer skippers seem to know where and how many submarines are operating in each locality, the principal areas are at the entrance of the English and Irish Channels and off Brest. Subs going to and from the Mediterranean occasionally pick off a ship between Ushant and Finis Terre.
(g) Since the arrival of the American troop ships, submarine activity on the parallel of St. Nazaire has increased.2
(h) Most of the subs are mine layers and they are quite persistent at this. Mines are planted during the night close in shore at the principal harbor entrances. No ships leave port in the morning before the sweepers report. The French convoy keeps between the outlaying islands and the main-land as much as possible. Recently a cargo vessel disregarded this and passed to Westward of the Isle d’Yeu and was promptly torpedoed.
(i) Making passage from St. Nazaire to Brest the “CORSAIR” and “Aphrodite” proceeded as follows:
From mouth of River Loire through Chanel du Nord, thence to Westward of Belle Ile passing not closer than 6 miles to avoid shoal water which is always mined in this vicinity, thence passing Penmarch not closer than 6 miles for the same reason, thence through Raz de Sein, keeping one half mile from La Vielle Light until it bore South true, thence to Pte du Ton linguet [Pointe du Toulinguet]. No mines have been found closer than one half mile from La Vielle Light. The passage around Pte du Ton linguet is taken to avoid the waters South of Chausee des Pierre, Noires and Chenal du Four. The French Cruiser “Kleber” was destroyed by a mine recently in Chenal du Four while returning to Brest from Dakar, West Africa.
3. The St. Nazaire pilot stated that he had seen but two submarines in the three years of the war.
4. The French employ all of the larger fishing vessels as subchasers. These vessels are seen sailing off shore and mount two guns.
T. A. KITTINGER
Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG45, Entry 520.
Footnote 1: VAdm. Sir Lewis Bayly.
Footnote 2: The first convoy of American troops sailed from New York on 15 June and-despite some (unconfirmed) engagements with German submarines en route-arrived safely at St. Nazaire between 27 and 29 June.