Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Documentary Histories

Report by Commander Richard T. Down

Date 20th August 1917.


Report by Commander Down.


C-in-C’s.....372./G/21 of 5th July 1917.1


Commander Down.......22nd July 1917.

The Secretary

     of the Admiralty.2


                   Submitted for the information of Their Lordships, in continuation of the report forwarded with my submission No.372/G/21 of 5th July 1917. Commander Down’s report again contains much information of interest.




North America and West Indies.


22nd. July, 1917.


          In continuation of my report of the 27th. June, 1917, relative to my proceedings during my residence in the United States, I have the honour to further submit as follows:-

          Since my leaving Washington on the 28th. June to report at Hampton Roads to the Commander-in-Chief, North America and West Indies, up to my departure for Halifax on the 22nd. July for the same purpose, I have been living in the United States Fleet and have also paid a short visit to New York to see over the Works of Messrs. Sperry and Ford,3 and the U.S.S. “New York” in Dockyard hands at that Port.

          Whilst resident in the Fleet I have visited some 14 Battleships, talked to a large number of Officers, and have had the opportunity of becoming fairly conversant with the lines on which they are working and with the efficiency and general condition of the Fleet.

     GENERAL. (1) It has been somewhat gratifying to observe that many of the suggestions for improvement, based on our experience, which I had Made, have already borne fruit and are being put into practical effect. To quote but one example, the question of watertightness of bulkhead and hatches is engaging their serious attention and I understand, in all ships, with results fully justifying the emphasis I laid upon it.

          (2) I gather that Long Island Sound is to be the base of the Main Fleet in the immediate future, and is being protected accordingly. It has many advantages over harbours in Chesapeake Bay, which latter is all pilotage water and too shallow for free navigation. Practices in this Bay are therefore necessarily proscribed and the maximum range obtainable small. Moreover, it is rarely if ever possible to obtain motion on large ships sufficient to afford good practice to Gunlayers. The conditions of the North Sea are more closely approximated in Long Island Sound, and the sole objection to the Harbour is the traffic, which will have to be regulated, if practices are to be carried out without frequent interferences.

          (3) Rehearsals, as stated in my previous report, are an important and invariable feature of all Gunnery exercises. Having seen more of them, I am still further convinced that, as carried out, they are a mistake. The advantage claimed, that they will prevent a ship doing a practice before she is fully ready for it and thus wasting ammunition, is outweighed by the fact that the many difficulties resulting from unknown or surprise conditions are never simulated.

          (4) Practically all Dreadnaught ships are fitted with an admirably equipped laundry, Barber’s Shop, Post Office and Printing Office. The former does the washing of the entire Ship’s Company, days being set apart, proportionately, for Officers and Men.

     TRAINING. (5) The 8 pre-Dreadnaught ships comprising the 1st. Squadron are exclusively engaged in training the engine-room complement destined for new construction and armed ex-German merchant vessels. The men are drafted straight from shore life, after being kitted up at a Naval Shore Establishment, and are given a course of 6 weeks, which is divided up into two periods of 3 each. A fortnight in each period is spent at sea and one week in harbour for instruction in repair and overhaul, etc. The men are divided up into sections of 8. A capable Chief Petty Officer is detailed to each section and lives and has to do with them exclusively during their period of training. At the end of this period the men are selected for the various Engine Room grades, according to their abilities, which latter are of course considerably dependent on their previous employment in shore life. About 1000 trained men are turned out by this squadron for service every 6 weeks, or some 8000 yearly. All the remaining 3 squadrons have been engaged since the commencement of hostilities in training and sending out guns crews for armed Merchant Vessels, Patrols, etc. On an average, in 2  months, i.e. since the beginning of May, each ship has trained some 30 crews of 5 men, and sent out about 20. Some ships have in the same period trained as many as 50 and sent out 30. It is intended that a portion of the crews should return after 2 cruises or so and be replaced by others, with the hope that the ill effect on the Battle efficiency, which the capital ships must suffer in having to provide such large drafts, and in devoting so much time and attention to their training, will at least in part be compensated by the leavening which these ships will gradually get of men who have had some experience of work in the Danger zone and the more variable and often less pleasant weather conditions round the British Isles.

          The immediate emergency is being met in this way, but it is realised that training and sending out drafts from the Battle Fleet at the present rate cannot go on for an unlimited time without very seriously compromising its efficiency. Though the present situation is considered to demand such a policy, a time may come when the Fleet may be required for more active co-operation and its readiness cannot therefore be indefinitely sacrificed.

          It is possible that in the future, if the contemplated increase in the Merchant Navy and Auxiliary Vessels, together with the requirements for new construction, continue to make large demands on the Fleet for trained men, the solution will be found by reducing the present 2nd. Squadron (pre-Dreadnoughts) to the level of a purely Training squadron similar to the 1st., for the exclusive training of deck hands. This would free the Dreadnought ships from having to sustain an impossible proportion of the burden of training, and would place them more on a footing with our own ships in this respect, in as much as they could assist the training squadrons to a predetermined amount, having regard to the maintenance of War efficiency. 

          The problem of training in the U.S. Navy presents difficulties with which we do not have to contend to quite the same extent. Expansion in their Navy has been very sudden and very great. There has been an immediate and urgent call for a large number of trained men for auxiliary purposes. The patrol vessels, ex-German merchant ships, and the building programme has given and will continue to give them an ever increasing navy, for which there has been no provision made in men; no Naval Reserves to draw from, and no adequate training establishments other than the Active Fleet.

     RANGEFINDERS. (6) I have had long conversations with Lieutenant [Henry A.] Orr, of the “Vestal”, repair ship, who is considered the greatest expert on Rangefinders in the U.S. Navy.

          He informed me that the “Tension wire” system of suspension for the inner tube adopted by Bausch and Lomb is much superior to Barr and Stroud’s system, as even considerable distortions of the outer tube do not affect the optical parts.

          He states also that the Bausch and Lomb “Internal Adjuster” is much more accurate than that fitted by Barr and Stroud which he considers a poor one. In the Bausch and Lomb design the rays of light thrown on to the “Adjuster” are not at right angles to the longer axis of the Rangefinder, as they purport to be in the Barr and Stroud instrument, and coincidence is obtained by taking readings of the Adjuster, the rays coming in at an angle to the right and left respectively of the plane normal to the longer axis of the instrument. This is done by revolving the optical parts of the adjuster and thus eliminating errors caused by distortion of prism faces, caused by heat and imperfect grinding of prism faces, etc.

          Lieutenant Orr is fully conversant with the latest Barr and Stroud Rangefinders. He informed me that there were some 70 of these instruments in the U.S. Navy up to 15 feet base, but that the Bausch and Lomb are considered so much superior that inall Dreadnoughts the Barr and Stroud Instruments are not mounted but kept in store as a reserve. He considers that the purely optical parts of the Barr and Stroud rangefinders are of a very high standard.

          Lieutenant Orr is stationed in the repair ship “Vestal” in which excellent rangefinder repair shops are fitted up. He is responsible for the repair and upkeep of all rangefinders in the Fleet, the ships of which he frequently visits to correct or to anticipate any rangefinder troubles which may arise, and to give advice. His special knowledge is further made use of to assist Ship’s Officers by his taking classes of Rangefinder operators through special courses, this forming a regular part of his duties and of the training of Rangefinder operators in the Fleet.

     TELEPHONES.  (7) The efficiency of Ship and Control Telephones has recently been the subject of much controversy in the U.S. Navy. Telephones and head attachments are fitted and used more extensively than with us, the voice pipes for control purposes being, generally speaking, regarded as an alternation only.

          Appended is a very interesting report on the subject of telephones by Lieutenant Commander (now Commander) Hepburn of the “South Carolina”, sent in after the practices of the Spring of 1916. I have talked with him and he impressed me strongly with having a very complete knowledge of the subject. Action has been taken on the strength of his report and in accordance with his suggestions, two ships including his own have been fitted with experimental installations. These I have seen and tried, and they certainly have justified his contentions, being very clear and far superior to anything I have previously used, either in our own or the U.S. Navy.

     SEARCHLIGHTS. (8) The present standard Navy Search-Light is a 36” projector, the efficiency of which would appear to be about on a par with our own 24” twin projectors. Iris diaphrams for shutting out the after glow from the carbons when the light is switched off are universally fitted. The present service projector is not considered satisfactory and two different types of lights are now on trial in several ships, both of which seem far superior to the Service pattern light. These are respectively the Beck and Sperry searchlights.4 Both are on very much the same principle, except that in the Beck Light the carbon cooling medium used is alcohol, whereas in the Sperry the same result is obtained by an induced current of air.

          The Beck Light, though a very good one, is not suitable for general Naval Service as the liquid cooling medium prohibits high elevation, and necessitates great care in the manipulation of the light.

          The Sperry Light on the other hand has so far given the most excellent results, and it appears probable that it will shortly be accepted for general Naval service.

          The special features and advantages of the Sperry Light are:-

     (a) Small diameter core carbons of very high grade material, and impregnated with special powerful light-producing materials.

     (b) Very deep crater formed in positive carbon and filled with superheated vapour from special materials with which carbon is impregnated and which greatly increases the light producing qualities of the incandescent carbon arc.

     (c) Great increase in specific brightness per unit area of the light source, due to (a) and (b).

     (d) Automatically revolving positive carbon to maintain crater uniform and central.

     (e) Both carbons automatically fed through their respective holders.

     (f) Distance between carbon holders small and constant owing to method of feeding carbons as set forth in (e).

     (g) Both carbons are cooled by ducts from a small motor blower at the bottom of the lamp, thus maintaining low and constant resistance in carbons.

     (h) Two speed automatic feed which ensures arc being struck rapidly when switched on in case carbons are far apart. These speeds are entirely automatic, being dependent on arc resistance.

     (i) Automatic shutter which completely shuts off the After glow of the carbons when light is switched off, rendered feasible by small and constant distance apart of carbon holders.

     (j) Thermostat arc regulator.

          At recent government trials the relative efficience of the Sperry L<H>ight intensity 36” projector and the Naval Service 36” light was as follows:-

     Sperry Light illuminated target up to 9000 yards.

     Naval Service light illuminated target up to 3500 yards.

          The light stands the shock of the heaviest gun fire well and is not put out. It is about equal to other types in its capabilities when pointed into a high wind with the front glass off.

     SPERRY’S SHIP STABILIZER.(9) Th<is>adaptation of the principles of the gyroscope is an invention of Mr. Sperry’s which he has been working on for many years and which it would seem has now passed from the realms of experiment to that of practical utility. The efficiency of the installation has been tried in several small ships and a considerable number of yachts up to 1500 tons are now fitted with it. The War has delayed the extension of the principle to big ships, the transport Henderson of 10000 tons being the only large ship in which the stabilizer has at present been fitted and even in this ship,the necessity for expediting her departure for service has made it impossible up to the present to complete the equipxxment for trial. The apparatus is to be installed in the Dreadnought ships now building for the U.S. Navy. The complete installation weighs about 1% of the displacement, but this is only approximate as the actual weight of the gyro wheel depends on a multiple of three factors, metacentric height, period and displacement. The practical difficulties of casting limit the size of an individual gyro wheel. Thus the largest sets of gear which it is at present contemplated building are for the new U.S. Battleships, which will each have 4 sets, each set having a 60 ton wheel. These battleships are of over 30000 tons and having a large metacentric height (5 feet) require heavy installations. The whole apparatus is very compact and for a given weight takes up much less space than might be imagined.

          It is claimed that the strong and accurately fitting casing over the wheel entirely removes the danger which might otherwise result from the escape of the rapidly revolving gyro wheel, due to a fractured axle.

          The wheel revolves in a partial vacuum and is water cooled, and every detail tending towards mechanical perfection has been thought out and incorporated in the design. The motor used for driving the gyro is an alternating one of a very compact type and carrying no brushes.

          In large installations, owing to the tendency of the Main gyro to lag, a small and sensitive Control gyro with motor and suitable gearing is used as the “Precessing Unit” of the main gyro, thus automatically ensuring its instant response to the smallest movements of the ship. The installation can be placed anywhere in the ship; presents no mechanical difficulties in fitting up, and does not require bulkheads, stiffenings or attachments of any abnormal strength to carry it.

          Mr. Sperry claims that with the special electrical and automatic control board which he has recently perfected it will be possible to:-

     (1) Reduce any roll to approximately zero or to the desired amplitude.

     (2) Reduce a small but uneven motion to zero or to a regular one of the desired amplitude.

     (3) When there is no motion, to induce a roll of the desired amplitude.

          This is accomplished by the automatic reversal of the direction of “Precession” of the Main gyro. The possible advantages of the above for Director firing are obvious. The amount of roll which can be induced is small and could not become dangerous as it is directly dependent on the power of the small “Precessing unit”.

          Attached are some diagrams of Rolling and Stabalizing [i.e., Stabilizing] experiments which have been carried out.

I have the honour to be,


Your obedient Servant,

Richard Down.      


Source Note: TDS, UK-KeNA, Adm. 137/656.

Footnote 1: See: Down Report, 27 June 1917.

Footnote 2: Oswyn A. R. Murray.

Footnote 3: For more on the Sperry Gyroscope Company, see: Down Report, 27 June 1917.

Footnote 4: Prior to the war, the U.S. Navy had consulted with German inventor Heinrich Beck for his highly-regarded searchlights. Sperry was contracted to convert the Navy’s searchlights to Beck’s design, but instead developed his own version of the high-intensity searchlight, which was found to be superior to Beck’s in a series of trials conducted by the Army Coast Artillery Board in 1916., accessed 12 February 2019.

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