Skip to main content

Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, to Admiral Henry T. Mayo, Commander, Atlantic Fleet

SECRET                                  July 31, 1918

To:  Commander-in-Chief, U. S. Atlantic Fleet

SUBJECT:  Procedure of Returning Transports in Event of Submarine Gun Attack.

References:(a) Commander in Chief’s letter, S-385, 21 June, 1918.1

           (b) Fleet Standing Order No. 3, 5 December, 1918 <1917.>

           (c) Commander Cruiser and Transport Force’s letter 25019-, of 17 May, 1918.2

     1.   The Chief of Naval Operations agrees in general with the classification of vessels as given in paragraph one of Reference (b). He also agrees with paragraph four of Reference (b), but he believes that there is much in reference (c) that is sound, which agrees in principle with Reference (b), but which elaborates paragraph four thereof.

     2.   The chief of Naval Operations considers that to attempt to lay down definite orders concerning emergencies that may arise out of the many forms an attack on vessels of this character may assume is to take from a commanding officer the privilege of a decision which,rightly, should be based on his own experience, initiative and judgment.

     3.   The policy has been stated by the Commander in Chief, in Reference (b); but the mere fact that certain captains have asked the advice of the Commander, Cruiser Force, in regard to course to be pursued under certain conditions indicates that the commanding officers are not thoroughly indoctrinated and that further elaboration of paragraph four of reference (b) is advisable, in order that questions that may have arisen may be settled in the minds of all concerned.

     4.   It is the opinion of the Chief of Naval Operations that the spirit which breathes of offensive action should always be festered in the <breasts> of all naval officers, no matter what their immediate mission may be, and that at all times whenever, in his judgment, he believes he may serve his country usefully then is the captain of any ship justified in taking the initiative, and breaking set rules, thoroughly understanding that the responsibility is his alone, and must and ought to be shouldered by himself. In cases of doubt, it is wiser, on account of the question of morale involved, always to lean towards the offensive rather than towards the defensive attitude of mind, and no officer can go far <wrong> who, in case of doubt, is guided by the spirit of the instructions of Nelson, who told his officers that none could go far wrong, who laid their ships alongside those of the enemy. It is the opinion of the Chief of Naval Operations that tactical dispositions have less to do with ultimate success than the right frame of mind is the determination to win.

W.S. Benson

Source Note: TDS, DNA, RG45, Entry 517B, Document identifier Op-205/5-31-68 appear in the upper-left corner of the first page. “Secret” and date are stamped. Handwritten note below close: “Copy furnished Commander Cruiser & Transport force. Frederick S. Hatch.”

Footnote 1: Document not found.