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Lieutenant Kenneth Whiting, Commander, First Aeronautic Detachment, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels




July 7th, 1917.



Quote. After an inspection of nearly the entire coast from Dunkirk to point near the Spanish border in company with senior aviation officer in Navy Department and Conger,1 and a mature consideration of the situation from every point of view; strategic offensively and defensively for protection of shipping against submarine attack, logistics, labor, food and material supply, land and water transportation, existing communication facilities and possible and necessary extensions, and the needs and ability of the French, I have agreed with them to the following disposition of 1st. Aeronautic Detachment: one station mouth of Loire, one station mouth of Gironde, one station Dunkirk, one station at Lacanau Lake near Bordeaux for firing and training school.2 Stop. Men under instruction fifty for pilots at Tours, thirty-eight for machinist and fourteen for observers at Saint-Raphael, will furnish pilots and observers for beginning. Organization of Detachment is not well balanced. For each pilot ten men are necessary, mechaniciens, helpers, ha<n>dlers, carpenters, fabric workers, radio operators, etc…. Details are in possession of Captain B.L.Smith, Marine Corps and French Naval Attache.3 First stations will be built and furnished with equipment by French at first. Stations are to be manned, operated and administered entirely by Americans. Stations being widely separated, and communication undertain [i.e., uncertain] each should be a complete unit, with pay-officer, doctor and staff as for 200 men as on ship.

          Many more officers are necessary, at least four urgently needed at once. Request sending of Reed, Corey, Bartlett and Spencer immediately.4 Supply and financial problems are involved and difficult. Very urgently request revocation of Conger modified orders July 3rd. He is thoroughly conversant with situation. His detachment now means handicap and set backs. Request that another supply officer be ordered in his place to Brest.

          The submarine situation is of no vital importance that too much cannot be done nor can it be done too quickly and I urgently recommend that our Navy adopt the plan suggested in the letter now in possession of Captain B.L.Smith, U.S.Marine Corps, and the French Naval Attache at Washington, and that I be advised immediately of the Department’s wishes.5

          A detailed report follows.6 Action should be taken without awaiting its arrival.7 Smith well informed as to details. Whiting. Unquote. Forwarded. Earnestly request careful consideration and approval. 18012. Sayles.

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. The first three lines of the heading, until the date, are repeated on both pages of the copy. On the top of the second page, after “SENT” is the message’s identifying number “362.” This cable was sent for Whiting by the American Naval Attaché at Paris, Cmdr. William R. Sayles, who added the plea for action at the end of the cable, immediately before his name.

Footnote 1: Capitaine de Fregat Jean Félicité M. Cazenave, Chief of the Naval Air Service, and Paymaster Omar Conger.

Footnote 2: In a longer report dated 20 July, Whiting wrote that the French were surprised when he and his unit arrived as “there was practically no understanding as to the arrangements made in the United States whereby this Detachment had been sent to France.” The bases they agreed to were at Dunkirk, St. Nazaire (mouth of the Loire) and Brest (mouth of the Gironde). The location of the school was moved from Lake Lacanau to Lake Hourtin-Carcans in the Médoc region of France. See: Whiting to Daniels, 20 July 1917.

Footnote 3: Capt. Bernard J. Smith, U. S. M. C, Assistant Naval Attaché (Aviation) at Paris; the French Naval Attaché at Washington was Cmdr. Bernard A. de Blanpré.

Footnote 4: Lt. Albert C. Read, Lt. William M. Corry, Lt. Harold T. Bartlett, and Lt. Earl W. Spencer, all were attached to the Navy’s Flight School at Pensacola with Whiting in 1914-15. George van Deurs, Wings for the Fleet: A Narrative of Naval Aviation’s Early Development, 1910-1916 (Annapolis, MD: United States Naval Institute, 1966), 152.

Footnote 5: This letter has not been located.

Footnote 6: See: Whiting to Daniels, 20 July 1917.

Footnote 7:  This tour and Whiting’s decisions “laid the foundation for much of the U.S. Navy’s wartime aviation program,” and happened without Whiting possessing, “any real knowledge of larger strategic or logistical concerns or familiarity with the situation in England,” and “tilted” U.S. naval aviation “toward a Franco-centric policy.” Rossano, Stalking the U-Boat, 16. Following the war, an aide to VAdm. William S. Sims, Commander, United StatesNaval Forces Operating in European Waters, observed that had the question of establishing American air bases been the subject of a conference between the U.S. and the Allies, the First Aeronautic Detachment “would have been diverted to England or to Ireland,” adding that the concentration of American air power on the coast of France was not “justified by the exigencies of war.” Lord, “History of Naval Aviation,” 350.

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