Captain Lyman A. Cotten, Commander, United States Naval Forces Based at Plymouth, to Captain Arthur J. Hepburn, Commander, United States Submarine Chaser Base, New London, Connecticut
9 July 1918.
I am sure that, by this time, you are saying to yourself, that I, like others that have gone before me, have forgotten all about writing as soon as we reach this side. However, such is not the case. There were times while I was in New London that I thought I was quite busy, but judging by the standard that I am having to set on this side, [I] realize now that I was loafing. For days I have had a memo on my desk to write you, but each day has been so filled with things that had to be done that each night found the letter unwritten.
There is so much to tell you that I hardly know where to begin. In the first place, to take things in a chronological order, upon my arrival in Headquarters in London everyone met me in a very receptive manner and seemed to be inspired with a great deal of confidence in the Chasers and their special equipment. Of course, I made no exaggerated claim as to what I hoped to accomplish, at the same time showing in every way my own confidence in the Sub Chasers.
After remaining in London a few days; as a convoy of twelve Chasers, divisions E and F, were expected at Plymouth I thought it was up to me to get down there even though a week more in London would have been very useful to me.
My orders were most satisfactory and gratifying to me. They assign me to duty in command of all U.S. Naval Forces operating from Plymouth and, incidentally, in command of the Base there. Thus, my paramount duty is at sea with the Chasers and I fly the Senior Officer’s Pennant from such Chaser or Destroyer in which I may be embarked or as I may select when at the Base.
The Base itself was just being organized, the property having been taken over only a few days before my arrival. Everything has gone very well so far, and I have such extensive authority granted me by the Force Commander1 that I rarely have to refer anything to headquarters.
Divisions E and F arrived in very good condition so far as sea going qualities are concerned, but as you no doubt know, almost all of the M B tubes were out of condition, generally due to leaks. Also a number of guards had been lost enroute due to the manner in which they were secured. The next convoy to arrive reached here June 29th, twenty-three Chasers with the Hannibal. These arrived in much better condition, largely due, I think, to the judgement and care of Joyce.2 Even so, several of the M B tubes were out of commission and various minor repairs were necessary. I have asked Joyce to send you direct a copy of his report on the Chasers which will give you all of the technical information about them that you need.
Every officer that has come in contact with the Chasers speaks in very high terms of their sea keeping qualities and also of the ability and morale of the personnel. I may say that this last convoy began operating four days after they reached here from their trip across the Atlantic.
At present, I have the PARKER and AYLWIN assigned and later, if possible, may have two other Destroyers. In addition to the convoy of twelve and of twenty-three, I also have six of the earlier boats, making a total here of forty-one Chasers. The Chief of Staff and the Chief of the Planning Section3 were down here a few days ago looking into the possibility of basing seventy-two Chasers here and I think that at least fifty-four will be based here. The wharfage space is rather restricted and may not permit of the additional eighteen being assigned here. Just here I am sure you are saying to yourself, if Cotten gets this number, what will I get. I am not able to tell you with any degree of authority, but I did ask Captain Twining when he was down here and he said that he was very desirous of getting an officer of the rank of Captain in command of the Forces based on Corfu to relieve Leigh who is now down there, and he thought that you would probably be the man.4 The hunting down there seems to be much better than up here at present. Leigh thinks that he has gotten one Submarine to date, whereas since I arrived here, not one Submarine has appeared in the entire Start Point -- Lizard area, which is the part of the Channel assigned to me. However, since heretofore this has been such a favorite spot with the Hun Submarine I feel sure they will come back here eventually.
The Chasers, unlike the Destroyers, are operated entirely as an American Force, though, of course, the task is assigned by the British C-in-C.5 So far, I have avoided the rocks and sholas [shoals] of the situation and have carried my point without having to appeal to higher authority. I have had to stand up a number of times for our idea, developed at New London, of the necessity of the concentration of each group, and, so far, have been permitted to hold on to the idea which, I am more andmore convinced, is a correct one.
It has been very easy to keep the Chasers at sea for four day hunting periods. They then have a four day rest andrepair period, then a four day stand-by period during which time instruction and drills are carried out, and the groups aresent to sea to any locality in which it is suspected a Submarine may be.
We have made a number of changes in the doctrine and in thetactics, but do not feel that we are far enough along with these to pass them along to you. The division of six boats has disappeared as serving no useful purpose. Instead a hunting group of three boats constitu<t>es the only unit in which we deal.
I have not sufficient commissioned personnel to properly handle things, so bring over as many officers with you who know the game as possible. Ellyson and Peardon6 have been invaluable, being the only officers here beside myself who knew anything about a Sub Chaser. Besides them I have Lieutenant Dam as Engineer Officer, who you no doubt know about, and a Lieutenant Commander N.N.V.,7 named Stebbins8 who is Executive Officerof the Base. These, with a Junior Lieutenant as Assistant Engineer Officer and a Reserve Ensign as Communication Officer, constitute the entire line equipment. We also have two Paymasters and one Doctor.9
I am sure when you received the cablegram about the forty-one M B-5 tubes10 you knew that I had arrived at the Sub Chaser Base. We are looking for all kinds of stuff by the CULGOA. I had it put in the cablegram concerning her cargo to consult you as towhat she could bring. We are short of many things, but have been very successful so far in getting stuff from the British, as you may know, the<i>r Motor Launches are equipped with standard engines.
The SCC-tubes are standing up splendidly, and are giving very good results. We are giving the Listeners a great deal of training, and young Peardon is invaluable along this line. Be sure and bring someone with you for this purpose. I consider that, even now, with the short time we have had, our listeners are at least one hundred percent better than when they arrived, and I feel perfectly confident that the next six months will see an enormous development in the Listening game, that is, in in the personnel itself. Even with the SCC-tube the Listeners can now pick up Destroyers ten and twelve miles away and can identify at once the various classes of craft.
We are having the same hard struggle to get a Submarine to work with us. There is one old British Submarine here that we get occasionally and I have just asked the Force Commander to have one assigned exclusively for our use even though it is necessary to take one of our own Submarines from operating duty.
The Radio Telephones are showing up splendidly. All of them are working and working i<n> a very satisfactory manner. I have no officer here for telephone work, but have a Mr. Nelson11 of the Western Electric Company who seems very able. Lieutenant McKinley,12 whom you may remember, took a months course in the s<c>hool at New London, is down at Corfu, so I imagine the boats there are also in good condition as far as Radio Telephony is concerned.
We are having much difficulty in communicating, as we have to do all of this through the British with their systems, codes, etc., all of which strike one as being in very much of a jumble at present. However, both our signal men and our radio men are doing very well.
When you get toLondon be sure and take the time to come down here for a few days, for I know a few days here would be of great value to you at Corfu provided you go there.
Tell McDowell that his Mr. Rice13 with the Trailing Sweep is here now and I have arranged for him to make his tests in a few days. You might also tell him that the next time he sends someone over here to select a man rather than a boy.
I have been devoting a large amount of my time so far to organization, as I am sure it will repay me later.
Have been able to get out for one hunt only on a Sub Chaser. It was most interesting, but, I am compelled to say, most uncomfortable. What with sea planes and dirigibles over-head, various types of patrol craft on the surface, and enumerable “suspicious sounds” beneath the water, interspersed with an occasional “SOS” or “ALLO”, there were very few dull moments, but the look for Submarines did not materialize. However, I do not feel badly so long as there has been no vessel even attacked in this area since we arrived. Incidentally, it is giving our people a good opportunity to shake down before the real thing happens.
To say that I find the duty interesting but mildly expresses it. That the job is a big one you well know from your experience at New London. On several occasions, officers, very much our senior, have said to me that you and I were most lucky to have gotten in on the Sub Chaser game as there are numerous applicants for the Sub Chaser Force Commands on this side.
I know there are many things that I ought to write you about, but I cannot remember them at this moment. If anything occurs to me later and I think I can get it to you before you sail I will write again.
With kind regards for Mrs. Hepburn14 and yourself
Very sincerely yours.
Source Note: LTS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 24. Below the close, the letter is addressed, “Captain A.J.Hepburn,/Commander, Naval District Base,/New London, Conn.”
Footnote 1: VAdm. William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters.
Footnote 2: Cmdr. Charles S. Joyce, Commander, Hannibal. Joyce’s report on the condition of the chasers that Cotten subsequently mentions has not been located.
Footnote 3: Capt. Nathan C. Twining and Capt. Frank H. Schofield.
Footnote 4: Capt. Richard H. Leigh. Leigh returned to London at the end of the month. Shortly after this letter, Hepburn received orders to command the submarine chasers based at Queenstown instead of relieving Leigh at Corfu; Leigh’s replacement was Capt. Charles Nelson.
Footnote 5: VAdm. Sir Alexander E. Bethell, Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth.
Footnote 6: Comdr. Theodore G. Ellyson and Ens. Ross C. Peardon, U. S. N. R. F.
Footnote 7: The National Naval Volunteers. Prior to its creation in 1916, the National Naval Volunteers was known simply as the Naval Militia. According to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels’ official report on the United States Navy during wartime, “as with all organized militia, the Naval Militia...could not, under the Constitution, be called into service as such except for limited duties, such as to repel invasion. It could not be used outside the territorial limits of the United States. It is evident then that with such restrictions militia could hardly meet the requirements of the navy in a foreign war, and to overcome this difficulty the ‘National Naval Volunteers’ were created in August, 1916. Under this act members of Naval Militia organizations were authorized to volunteer for ‘any emergency,’ of which emergency the President was to be the judge.” Charles F. Horne, ed., Source Records of the Great War, Vol. V, (New York: National Alumni 1923).
Footnote 8: Lt. Cmdr. Ernest V. Stebbins.
Footnote 9: The remaining members of Cotten’s staff noted herein were: Lt. (jg) Warren E. Magee, Ens. Melville F. Cate, U. S. N. R. F., Paymaster John H. Calhoun, Assistant Paymaster Stowell W. Armstrong, and Passed Assistant Surgeon John C. Parham.
Footnote 10: This cablegram has not been located.
Footnote 11: Melvin C. Nelson.
Footnote 12: Lt. (jg) Howard B. McKinley, M. C., U. S. N. R. F.
Footnote 13: Lt. Cmdr. Clyde S. McDowell. Mr. Rice has not been further identified.
Footnote 14: Hepburn’s wife, Louisa Lowndes (neé Roman).