Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels
SENT: July 3, 1917 TO: Secretary of the Navy
Number seventy two. Your forty four1 concerning convoy system (stop) Have fully discussed with Admiralty the suggested modification of convoy system now in operation (stop) The Department’s proposals have been subject of previous study and partial trial (stop) The disadvantages are as follows: First Great difficulty and in fact impossibility of efficiently assembling merchant convoys at distant rendezvous on the high seas (stop)2 Even when convoys are assembled before departure and are operating on definite prearranged schedule the convoy’s arrival at a rendezvous cannot surely be predicted within from thirty to forty hours (stop) Second The necessity for excessive amount of wireless communication on high seas in assembling convoys.3 This feature alone a vital objection (stop) Third difficulty of handling convoys in formation which have not previous drill and experience4 (stop) The cruiser escort in addition to protection against raiders is very necessary as flagship of convoys drilling them from day of departure in zigzagging and evolutions necessary if attacked (stop) All merchant wireless codes are unsafe. It is therefore desirable that escorting cruisers should handle all communications in latest secret codes and that merchant ships should not use wireless at all (stop) It should be possible to divert convoys if necessary before escorting destroyers join. This is now accomplished by broadcasting from Poldhu5 on high power to cruisers who don’t reply and in fact even beyond wireless sending range of cruisers (stop) Four convoys from Hampton Roads have arrived safely three hundred and fifty thousand tons. Convoys are now being loaded and grouped according to European destination. For instance, all cargoes bound for eastern British ports are grouped in one convoy (stop) Convoys from Hampton Roads include cargoes from Chile, Panama, Gulf Ports, Baltimore and Philadelphia (stop) Two convoys a week are now being started from Hampton Roads and one from Cape Breton, Canada (stop) In view of information available here and present stage of development of convoy system I strongly recommend that we co-operate to the maximum extent for some time at least (stop) Can our escorting cruisers leave convoys outside of submarine zone and return without refueling? The plan is to escort outgoing empty ships clear of submarine zone and then disperse them (stop) Admiralty desires information immediately as to whether first convoy can be started from New York on July eight6 (stop) Again urgently recommend that carefully selected commander be sent immediately for duty under me in British Admiralty in connection with convoys (stop) Admiralty particularly desires this (stop) If Captain Pratt cannot be sent as Chief of Staff is Captain Twining available?7
Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG45, Entry 517B.
Footnote 1: See, Daniels to Sims, 2 July 1917, DNA, RG45, Entry 520.
Footnote 2: See: May to Browning, 1 July 1917 and Sims to Daniels, 6 July 1917.
Footnote 3: Wireless telegraph (i.e. radio) communications provided Allied vessels with the ability to coordinate and assemble on the high seas. The drawback to this communication was the danger of submarines intercepting the signal and determining the precise location of the convoy. Still, Crisis at Sea: 330-331.
Footnote 4: The train of the convoy was often composed of merchant ships, unaccustomed to maneuvering in groups. Keeping convoys together was particularly challenging for escorts. Ibid: 352.
Footnote 5: Poldhu, Cornwall, England was the site of a wireless station.
Footnote 6: The Admiralty began the first regular convoy out of Hampton Roads on 4 July and New York on 14 July.
Footnote 7: Capt. William V. Pratt and Capt. Nathan C. Twining. Commo. Guy R. Gaunt, the British Naval Attaché at Washington, reported on 3 July that “Pratt and I discussed Admiral Sims request for him on that side. I am sure he is more valuable here and he says himself he can do better work for admiral where he is.” See, Gaunt to Jellicoe, 3 July 1917, UK-KeNA, Adm. 137/656.