Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, to Routing Officers




11 July 1918


From: Chief of Naval Operations.

To  : All Routing Officers.

     1.   American Routing and Shipping Intelligence Officers are being established in following locations and under control of Commandants and Naval Stations as indicated:

  LOCATION                       UNDER

# Halifax (N.S)     American Naval Attache – designated1

# Portland (Me.)    Commandant, 1st Naval District2

# Boston                "        "    "       "

  Newport (R.I.)        "       2nd   "       "3

# New York              "       3rd   "       "4

# Philadelphia          "       4th   "       "5

# Baltimore             "       5th   "       "6

# Norfolk (Va.)         "        "    "       "

# Charleston            "       6th   "       "7

# Savannah              "        "    "       "

  Key West              "       7th   "       "8

# New Orleans           "       8th   "       "9

# Port Arthur (Tex.)    "        "    "       "

# Galveston (Tex.)      "        "    "       "

# Tampico (Mex.)    Ship of American Patrol Detachment at


# Havana (Cuba)     Commandant, Naval District, Guantanamo10

  Matanzas               "        "      "           "

Cienfuegas               "        "      "           "

  Antilla                "        "      "           "

  Santiago               "        "      "           "

# Cristobal – Colon      "       15th Naval District11

  San Juan, (P.R.)  Military Governor, St. Thomas.12

  St. Thomas (VI)        "        "      "   "

  San Domingo City       "        "     San Domingo13

  Port au Prince (Haiti) "        "      "      "

          NOTE: At ports marked with asterisk (#) there is                               located British route giving officer.

     2.   By agreement between the Navy Department and the British Admiralty advantage will be taken of the British Route Giving System for oversea voyages, and the routes for these voyages will, in all cases, be given by the British Route Giving Officer; control of traffic proceeding coastwise within the waters of the American Naval Districts being in the hands of the District Commandants, coastwise routing will be done by the American Routing Officer. While the arrangement is binding for only British and American vessels, vessels of other allies are accustomed to apply to the British route giving officers (or Naval Vice Consuls) for routes; and these vessels as well as neutral vessels trading in allied interests are to be given similar routing instructions.

     3.   By the same agreement with the British Admiralty the two officers for this routing will be combined or located as close together as physically possible in order to affect the following co-ordination: (a) Masters of vessels should have only one office to go to in order to obtain routings whatever may be his destination. (b) Masters of British and American vessels at this office will have a representative of their own country present and will thus have greater confidence in instructions given, and will feel that their interests are being looked out for and that the two navies are working in absolute accord. The importance of looking out for the interests of our merchant vessels and incurring their confidence in the Navy cannot be too greatly impressed on all Naval officers dealing with them. (c) Fullest exchange of information between the two systems of routing, particularly as to manner in which local conditions close to our coast may effect the overseas routes, and vice versa.

     4.   With the above co-ordination in view, it is not intended at present to include the American Routing Officers in the Allied Routing System for giving overseas routes. Allied or neutral vessels departing from ports at which there is no Allied Route Giving Officer are generally required to call at some port close to their route where there is an Allied Route Giving Officer, and they should be so directed if voyage is overseas and no general instructions covering that case may have been received. Example: A British vessel sailing oversea from Wilmington, N. C., should get her route instructions from the British Route Giving Officer, Charleston (the captain getting them before leaving Wilmington).

     5.   In giving routings to merchant vessels, the attention of all Routing Officers is called to the absolute necessity for personal interview with the master, going over the route with him and discussing such points as he may bring up; and by considerate attention to each particular case, instill in the masters confidence in the manner the Navy handles shipping.

     6.   Below are listed the routing instructions which have been issued from time to time and are in force this date. Changes in instructions will be made by dispatch, as necessity arises, and included in circular letters from time to time. Each office should keep up to date complete file of all rout Officers Circular letters and Dispatches concerning Route Orders.


          (a) Coastwise traffic for control and routing is in   the hands of Commandants, Naval Districts under general   coastwise plan, reference Opnav dispatch 10003-Opnav     1401414 

          (b) Commandants, Naval Districts will use discretion     in carrying out orders for no vessels to leave port without escort. Shipping should continue to move using best     available means as to time, routing and escort. Op. 22003

          (c) Following general instructions are issued to aid Commandants in routing coastwise traffic. These      instructions do not restrict initiative and discretion of   Commandants:

               Where possible shipping should utilize inland waters such as Long Island Sound, Vineyard Sound and Cape Cod Canal. Nantucket Light Vessel should be given a wide berth by all vessels which carry radio.

          Ports of New York, Delaware and Chesapeake Bay should be entered from the southward and eastward and at daybreak.

          All through shipping should be controlled by the plan for coastwise traffic as laid down by the Commandants.

          Trans-Atlantic vessels bound between points on the Atlantic coast should be considered coastwise traffic until departure in convoy.

          Single Trans-Atlantic vessels not sailing in convoy should clear the port at dusk and proceed at maximum speed to make as good an offing as possible by daybreak.

  Vessels which are not fitted with radio and are unable to utilize inland waters should hug the coast passing Nantucket Shoal Light Vessel during darkness.

  It has been the custom in the past for German submarines to use their running lights and thereby enable them to come to close quarters with other vessels.

  In general under the present conditions the usual shipping routes should not be followed. In cases where part of the vessel’s voyage, for instance Florida Straits, is, by nature, coastwise, instructions for this part of the voyage whould be given by the Commandant in accordance with general coastwise plan. Op. 00005

     (d) Within the area of enemy operations coastwise shipping should be handled as follows:

  Steamers will be routed by day close to shore under district escort, if available, making port at night, unless vessels are adequately armed, in which case discretion may be given as to sailing alone and as to routing. Opnav 09005--- modified as follows: In handling coastwise shipping Department considers present situation admits in general, at discretion of District Commandant, sailing by night as well as by day so long as they keep close to the shore. Opnav June 14th.

  Advantage should be taken of every opportunity of grouping unarmed vessels in company of such armed vessels as may be proceeding in same direction at that time. Merchant vessels trading in the war zone generally have armed guards and guns on board thus fitting them satisfactorily for this purpose. Opnav 14014.

     (e) Within area of enemy operations tow boats and barges will proceed close in shore under district escort, if available, anchoring in port at night. Opnav 09005: modified to read, at discretion of Commandant, sailing by day as well as by night. Opnav June 14th.

     (f) Within the area of enemy operations coastwise sailing vessels should proceed under tow in manner similar to barges with district escort, if available, unless the wind is fair for hugging the coast. Opnav 09005.

     (g) Vessels passing between Gulf of Mexico and North Atlantic use Florida Straits calling at Sand Key Light for orders when bound out of the Gulf, that portion of trip between Straits of Florida and Atlantic port to be handled as other coastwise traffic. Opnav 14014- 22003.

     (h) Between Mexican ports and other Gulf ports proceed direct to destination. Opnav 14014.

     (i) Vessels northward bound from Caribbean Sea for North Atlantic ports use normal exists, those passing out by windward passage proceed via north of Cuba and Florida Straits; when passing north by other passages to the eastward of Haiti make westings until the coast of the United States is picked then hug coast to destination. Opnav 14014”

     (j) Should the Department desire to divert Caribbean and Gulf traffic through other entrances than the ones now in force such instructions will be issued through the Commandants, Naval Districts and commander Patrol Detachment. Opnav 00005.

     (k) Vessles east of Longitude 72° W when southbound should pass parallel 40° 25' at daybreak and when northbound such vessels should cross parallel 36° 20' north at daybreak. Opnav 00005.

     (l) All vessels in coast wise traffic should show no lights whatever, except to avoid collisions. Opnav 00005, modified by Opnav dispatch June 20th. “Department considers present situation admits vessels burning navigation lights when close to the coast”.

     (m) Caution all vessels to listen at prescribed times for war warnings. In cases of vessels without radio, direct them to call at some port near their line of passage at which any Allied Routing Officer may be established in order to receive later information. Opnav 14014.

     (n) Route neutral vessels under same general instructions. Opnav 14014.

NOTE: Neutral vessels in allied service should be given the same routing as allied vessels as far as this can be done without compromising any set system of allied routes. Other neutral vessels should be given a general safe route to follow, this to be given in the form of advice. In all cases they should be routed so as to secure the benefit of such protection as may be afforded by patrolled areas (air or surface patrol).

  (o)     American vessles from South America for U. S. Atlantic ports are directed to touch at St. Thomas for orders and all allied and neutral vessels are informed that latest information as to enemy activity on this coast may be obtained there in case they call in northbound.

     8. In following the coastwise route some vessels have grounded. They should be warned that in case of thick weather or uncertainty of position they should haul off shore to a safe distance. In heavy fog the danger from submarine attack is far less than the danger from grounding in attempting to make port unless certian of position or attempting to hug the coast too closely.

     9.  At present all harbors on the Atlantic seaboard are open day and night except the Fleet Operating Base and Newport, R. I. are closed at night. In case of closing any harbor at night Commandants will notify Operations at once and Routing Officers will be informed.


     1.  Routes within the Gulf and Caribbean Sea are necessarily long and must include the passage from the Atlantic Ocean into the sea. Allied vessels from oversea ports, at which allied routing officers are stationed, will be furnished diversion code “B” which is being revised to include entrances to the Gulf and Caribbean. The entrance to this whole area will be handled as one zone.

     2.  It has been found impracticable to embrace the interior routes throughout the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico in diversion code “B” and Department’s Plan “A” gives the means of prescribing routes and controlling by radio vessels while within this area. Copy of Naval Operations letter S-12-112 Op, 23 of June 7th, giving Plan “A” for control of overseas shipping Gulf and Caribbean was sent to Commandants of each Naval District in the eastern United States and Commander American Patrol Detachment, Governor San Domingo and Governor Virgin Islands. There is enclosed herewith for the following route giving officers, who were not included in the original distribution, copy of this letter, namely; Halifax, Portland, Baltimore, Savannah, Port Arthur, Galveston, Tampico, Havana, Matanzas, Cienfuegas, Antilla, Santiago, Guantanamo, San Juan, Porto Rico, Port au Prince.

     3.  This code (Plan ‘A’) will be issued to vessels as indicated in the letter referred to.

/s/ R. S. CRENSHAW.15       

By direction.           



S E C R E T.

     After reaching destination, these instructions must be turned in to the U. S. Navy Route Officer at the first port where there is such officer.


     The route outlined below should not be shown on the chart unless absolutely necessary, and then only in such way as to be intelligible only to yourself or your Chief Officer.

ROUTE FOR S. S. "               "       Date of


From_________________________ to____________________________



     On passing following speaking stations ask for “permission to proceed”. This will be promptly granted unless it is necessary to divert you into port.

Instructions continued    (2)  S. S. "



     To speak stations, use International signals or megaphone, not radio.

     Pay particular attention to all patrols boats as they will impart the latest information and instructions to you when necessary. Obey all of their instructions.

     Submarines and raiders may be met within any port of the Atlantic but an especially good lookout must be kept for the former.

     Show no lights except Navigational lights and show them only:

     (a) When ordered by Naval Officials.

     (b) When absolutely necessary to avoid collision.

     (c) When hugging the coast.

     (d) When in Inland waters.

     After range lights should be shown only when in narrow channels.

     Navigational Lights, when shown are to be dimmed to a visibility not exceeding two miles.

     Be suspicious of signals of distress, vessels with running lights and floating spars or buoys, apparently out of position.

     Keep close lookout for mines and enemy submarines off prominent headlands and turning points.

     Keep constant radio watch, and pay close attention to C.S.P. No. 131 (War Instructions for U. S. Merchant Vessels), but do not use radio except in cases requiring immediate attention or assistance.

     When in waters where submarines can operate submerged, zig-zag during daylight and moonlight.

     If attacked by enemy, or if enemy’s presence is suspected, seek nearest port.

     When reporting courses or bearings, state whether true or magnetic.

________________________                  ______________________

       Master                                U.S. Route Officer.

(To be made out in duplicate – one given to master and one retained).

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Document identifier top right-hand corner of first page: “12.” The document is stamped “SECRET” and “CONFIDENTIAL” on an angle on the first page. While the stamps are mostly in the right margin, they do obscure a few words of text.

Footnote 1: Capt. Harold K. Hines.

Footnote 2: RAdm. Spencer D. Wood.

Footnote 3: Commo. James P. Parker.

Footnote 4: Radm. Nathaniel R. Usher.

Footnote 5: Capt. George F. Cooper.

Footnote 6: RAdm. Augustus F. Fechteler.

Footnote 7: RAdm. Frank E. Beatty.

Footnote 8: RAdm. Warren B. Fletcher.

Footnote 9: Commo. Valentine S. Nelson.

Footnote 10: Commo. Edward E. Wright.

Footnote 11: RAdm. Marbury Johnston.

Footnote 12: RAdm. James H. Oliver.

Footnote 13: RAdm. Harry S. Knapp. On this same date, Benson sent orders to all of the individuals listed above directing the establishment of the routing officer system at the ports listed in this circular letter. In his orders, Benson pointed out that routing officers would be in “closest contact with the American merchant marine,” that they would be important to encouraging its growth and in showing that the Navy was doing all it could to assist the merchant marine of the United States. He warned that the performance of the routing officers would be closely scrutinized so district commandants and military governors should insure that they had the resources they would need. Benson also directed that “speaking stations” be established to expedite the flow of maritime traffic between districts and directed points along the American coast where a vessel should be stationed to serve as a speaking station. Ibid.

Footnote 14: Neither this dispatch nor the ones listed subsequently have been found.

Footnote 15: Lt. Cmdr. Russell S. Crenshaw, who worked in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.

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