Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Lieutenant Commander Edward E. Spafford, U.S.N.R.F., to Captain Frank H. Schofield, Planning Section, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters

<July 1918>

My dear Captain,

               There really is’nt time here to write this up intelligently for I’m trying to go a little harder than it is possible for a cheap ordinary car to go but I’ve an idea and I want to put it through myself. Speed and secrecy are essential. Don’t mind misspelt words, etc. I have’nt time to go over them.

               In the first place the people down here have paid no attention to my kicks. They don’t use the chasers as they should be used. I know that we can get subs. if given a chance clear of interference.1 At present the surface of the water in the straits of Otranto is alive literally plastered with craft of all descriptions – destroyers, trawlers, drifters, motor boats, sloops, submarines and chasers. Our chasers are under the command of a British destroyer skipper.2 The process has been slow and painless [i.e., painful?] but none the less sure and certain. I have done everything except commit murder to prevent it but it has come and was certain to come as you and I well know. The co-operation has come to an extreme extent it is absorption, but the same thing seems to have happened to our air forces so what is the use. The thing that hurts me most is the fact that they don’t realise that our chasers are the most noiseless things which can hold the sea (I mean good sea boats) We get packed in with a lot of hodge podge which makes more noise than a boiler maker and expect us to listen and follow a sub.3 which at dead slow speed cannot be heard over a mile away while our listening apparatus is picking up other vessels 8 or 10 miles away. It simply can’t be done, especially when these same vessels move in to see if they cannot help. There is practically no attempt to divert traffic. But enough of this. Nelson is doing fine work and is carrying out the policy of the Force Commander.4 He is more than making good and is showing qualities which I never supposed that he had.

     Now to the scheme which you will note is on a separate page.

     Those subs operating off our coast can be stopped and I would like a chance to stop them. The way is to have say 12 or 24 chasers and a parent ship operate from Boston, New York or Norfolk. The chasers to operate in units. Let them receive the standard fittings except that they should have no masts or arrows.5 They should all have Aldis lanterns for signalling and star shells for illuminating the horizon at night.6 The wireless can be rigged so as not to interfere and the loss of sight due to lack of mast head is nothing. Vessels can be heard long before they are seen. Add to the chasers regular outfit a plentiful supply of depth charge racks after.7

     The radio telephone does away with flag signals. It works perfectly when kept in order and is easy to keep that way.

     Now for the parent ship. She should be of the merchant type, a good sea boat and a fairly good gun platform. Fairly well built so as to have a chance of fighting if she gets hit. Cold storage, sick bay, excess quarters, magazine, facilities and a battery superior to that of any sub. Her radio should be sufficient to operate with shore stations. Bake shop, galley, and distilling plant greater than is necessary for her own use. Gasoline tanks capable of refueling chasers at least once.

     Now say we determine that the most probable place for the next sub to appear is off Boston. Then 12 chasers and parent ship proceed to Stellwagen Bank (12 other chasers to Provincetown). The units of chasers form drifting patrol on the corners of a square 20 miles apart while parent ship, making plenty of smoke, steams through the square, stopping for regular listening periods. If any unit hears anything course is changed so as to bring the sub near one of the units if it wishes to attack. It might be better to put the units in a line, I’m not certain as to exact disposition.

          The traffic in and out of Boston would all be routed well clear of our position but the reason should be known to as few as possible. Vessels might be sent in shore to Isle of Shoals and then to some point in the Atlantic or to Cape Cod-Canal.

          If it was figured the most probable place for him to operate was off Norfolk then parent ship and chasers would follow similar tactics. Fritz always follows a route which he has found good. The next time the first sub which visited our coast returns he will follow the same route which he found good on his first trip; part of this route should be strewn with near surface mines. His tactics down here are always the same and I’ve told them a thousand times now I’m holding my tongue and expect to be told the same shortly.

          If you see any merit in my suggestion and believe it should be worked out and the powers declare it good. I recommend that chasers selected for the work be those built at Charleston Navy Yard or Jacksonville, Florida, Lawley’s or any of the other places which built good boats. I don’t think much of some of them, for instance of the Hildebrandt built boats or those turned out at the New York Navy Yard.

     Certain personnel should come from here for instance I would want Lt. (j.g.) Roswell S. Chapman, U.S.N.R.F. he can be spared and he has been with me from the beginning.8 At present he is doing work which could be done by a Warrant Machinist. I should want him for my chief engineer of parent ship and material officer. He always says “Yes.” Then I should want Unit Leaders whom I have trained if they allowed me to tackle the proposition.

     Those whom I would want from here on a basis of twelve chasers are :-

Ensign T. M. Conway, U.S.N.R.F.9

Lt.(j.g.) (T) Walter H. Wheeler, U.S.N.

Ensign Frank E. Karleson, Jr. U.S.N.R.F.

and  Ensign <VYC> Jones, U.S.N.R.F.10

          I should want to take back four listeners to be selected by me and eight radio operators.11

          All of these can be spared although I will admit that in the case of the officers they are my favorites.

          If anything is to be done it should be done at once for the bad weather will be coming along. The Department should order the boats outfitted and put in fine shape at once and parent ship should be put in shape. Cables should start us back.

          I feel certain that we can get the sub. if the Department will do as we say, namely fit us out properly and divert shipping. Over here the listening game is not being given a fair chance. Everybody’s job is always the most important on the calendar. Vessels will not observe listening periods, etc.

          Now before you do a thing about this (if you do) I want you to show this letter to Leigh12 down to this point. You know how much he has done for me and how much we think of each other. I have been very much depressed during the period of absorption and he has had to listen to a very disappointed man. He will think that this letter is prompted by my disappointment but that is not so. I had the hunch the other day in the Court Martial Room (of which I am J.A.)13 and I have decided it is good also it will be some days before American ideas of things at sea are rated very high in the minds of our chief ally. We can go back there and perhaps prove that we do have ideas which are worth considering. I don’t want to go without the consent of Captain L. I feel that this would help him. Nelson will probably miss me but he is now taking hold of the paper work and he is certainly popular with our allies. He is in fine physical condition and is making good in every way.

          It is getting very late and I must stop. Good luck to you and do let me know what was done with the suggestion.

Sincerely,              

Edward E. Spafford.     

|sn1: Interlineation in the margins: “C.O. Barrage is certainly trying very hard to accomplish this.”|

Source Note: TCy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 387. The handwritten date left-hand corner of the first page is partially obscured, and no other method of dating appears in the document. Although no recipient is listed in the document, it is clearly meant for someone on the staff of VAdm. William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters. Schofield is the most likely possibility since he was involved with submarine chasers disposition.

Footnote 2: Interlineation in the margins: “partly so for one hunt only.” The British commander at the Otranto Barrage was VAdm. Somerset Gough-Calthorpe, R.N.

Footnote 3: Interlineation in the margins: “All changed now. Chasers have their own line.”

Footnote 4: Capt. Charles P. Nelson, Commander, United States Forces Based at Corfu, and VAdm. William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters.

Footnote 5: Interlineation in the margins: “Ordered – being delivered slowly.”

Footnote 6: Interlineation in the margins: “Ordered – due in December.”

Footnote 7: Interlineation in the margins: “Not all they can carry.”

Footnote 8: Interlineation in the margins: “Go ahead take the rest & let Corfu go too.”

Footnote 9: Ens. Thomas M. Conway, U.S.N.R.F.

Footnote 10: Possibly, Ens. William E. Jones, U.S.N.R.F.

Footnote 11: Interlineation in the margins: “Oh-yez/Oh-yez.”

Footnote 12: Capt. Richard H. Leigh, Commander of U.S. Naval Forces based at Corfu.

Footnote 13: Judge Advocate.

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