Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Captain Reginald R. Belknap, Commander, Mine Squadron One

July 25th 1917 [1918].

My dear Belknap,

     I regret very much to hear of your bad luck in bringing in the mining Squadron the other day. I regard it in the light of bad luck.1 This is wartime and I recognize that time is an important element and that we must get along with the war even if it does involved a certain amount of risk. Strass has reported the circumstances and also all the extenuating circumstances in connection with the difficulties of navigation in foggy weather that you encountered. I have asked him to obtain reports from the captain concerned, but I do not propose to do anything else about it. It would be impractical without interfering seriously with our war operations to have anything like even a Court of Inquiry. I much prefer to regard this as something which is incident to the kind of duty on which you are now engaged.2

     I have recently taken up with the principal dignitaries the whole question of the Northern barrage, and I believe the ultimate result will be that we will plant our mines all the way from Norway to the Orkneys a solid barrier that all submarines passing out or passing in will have to cross. This is not entirely confirmed yet, but it is the opinion of the Admiralty and the matter will be taken up immediately with the Commander-in-Chief.3

     We are also now discussing thequesiton of mining certain passages in the Mediterranean, and in all probability Strauss will go down there to represent us on a discussion between the principal dignitaries on the spot.4

     Do not let the recent incident bother you at all.

Very sincerely yours,        

Source Note: LT, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 22. Note at top of page: “Admiral Sims’ personal file.” Addressed below close: “Captain R.R. Belknap, U.S. Navy,/U.S.S. SAN FRANCISCO,/6th Battle Squadron,/Grand Fleet.”

Footnote 1: On the third excursion of the mine force, which got underway on 14 July, the mining force encountered fog on their return journey. The swept channel that the force was using on its return was narrow and close inshore. Moreover, Belknap had ordered that it was dangerous to take soundings (i.e., verify the depth of water they were in) while in the channel that caused three of the captains for the mine layers not to take soundings. At 4:20 A.M., one of the escorting destroyers informed Belknap on the SAN FRANCISCO that the squadron was too close inshore. The squadron “turned out, stopped and backed but before headway had been checked the Roanoke and the Canonicus had grounded. Canonicus was able to back off but Roanoke remained stuck and not until the next high tide and after lightening the ship was it able to free itself. Neither vessel was damaged. Northern Barrage, 109.

Footnote 2: In his official letter to the Navy Department, Sims wrote:

The Force Commander is of the opinion that a court of inquiry should have investigated the causes for the grounding of the Roanoke, on July 16, 1918. It is, however, and has been, impracticable, to order officers of sufficient rank, to compose such a court; it is noted that damage to the Roanoke and other vessels concerned, was slight, and that their availability for duty was not impaired.

In view of the foregoing, no further action will be taken by the Force Commander, and the papers in the case will be forwarded to the Navy Department for such action as may be deemed expedient. Ibid.

Footnote 3: Adm. Sir David Beatty. As seen in Joseph Strauss to Sims, 11 July 1918, Beatty opposed laying a continuous barrage from Norway to the Orkneys. On the issues and the agreement arranged between Sims and the British Admiralty, see: Sims to William S. Benson, 28 July 1918.

Footnote 4: See: Charles P.R. Coode to Somerset A. Gough-Calthorpe, 25 July 1918. As seen in the notes there, Strauss did travel to Malta for a conference on a mining project in the Mediterranean.

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