Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

NAVY DEPARTMENT.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY’S OFFICE.

WASHINGTON.

CONFIDENTIAL.                                  June 26, 1917.

MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY.

ON VISIT TO FIRST, SECOND, AND THIRD NAVAL

DISTRICTS, JUNE 21st, 22nd, AND

23rd. 1917.

     1. Accompanied by Admiral Palmer,1 I visited Boston, Newport, and New York on June 21, 22, and 23, respectively.

     2. BOSTON, FIRST NAVAL DISTRICT.

              Matters connected with the First Naval District are on the whole satisfactory in spite of the fact that the theory of organization is wrong. Captain Rush,2 the Commandant of the Boston Navy Yard, has the rare faculty of being able to take over additional work and doing the new work well without detriment to the regular work of the yard.

          (a) Regular Enlisted Men: Commonwealth Pier has been fitted up in excellent shape as a permanent receiving ship for regular enlisted men. They now have 1,448 men there, and all that will be needed for winter use will be additional heating. This matter is in hand. Outside the pier there is enough vacant land for two baseball fields, and I am satisfied with conditions. The rest of the regular enlisted men will be quartered at Hingham, in a camp now being completed. This will be ready July 4th, and, while not probably as good for winter use as the Commonwealth Pier, can be made sufficiently serviceable.

          (b) Naval Reserve: All told, there have been enrolled in Class 4 of the Naval Reserve 4,345 men. Of these only 2,059 are on active duty, leaving 2,300 not yet called out. Plans for the distribution of these reserves are as follows:

              1,200 on District Defense vessels

                350 acting as relief for above

                250 at Radio School

                200 yeowomen

              _1,000 under training at Bumpkin Island

               3,000 total

This leaves about 1,300 reservists whom Captain Rush says he can assimilate in various lines of special duty, training, etc.

              The section bases for the First District will be as follows:

          1.  Machias, Maine, with Cutler or some other point near the seacoast as the operating base. One boat now there. Total of six boats to operate from there eventually. House for winter quarters to be rented. This base not yet established.

          2.  Bar Harbor. Six boats now there. This is to be regular number. Thirty to forty men to be ashore in building to be rented. This base not yet established.

          3.  Rockland. Six boats now there, eventually a total of twelve boats. Wharf with building has been already rented and will be a base for 300 men. A dispensary has been chosen and is to be rented.

          4.  Bath. One boat now there, six boats eventually. It is proposed to rent the Kennebeck Yacht Club as base at $50 per month. Base not yet established.

          5.  Portland. Eleven boats now there, total of twelve eventually. Wharf has been rented and prepared for winter. This base is established, except for additional heat on wharf.

          6.  Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Six boats now there. This is total complement. They will base on U. S. S. TOPEKA at the Navy Yard, and no further arrangements are necessary.

          7.  Gloucester, Massachusetts. No boats now there, twelve to be there eventually. This base will require another ship, which has not yet been acquired.

          8.  Boston Harbor. This base has been established and will operate from Bumpkin Island and Commonwealth Pier. (See remarks on these two places).

          9.  Provincetown. No boats now there, twelve boats to be assigned eventually. They will require a mother ship not yet required. Section headquarters, hospital, radio, etc., now being established ashore.

              In addition to these bases, it is proposed to maintain the Eastern Yacht Club, at Marblehead, as a station in commission in reserve in keeping a few men there and using it in case of necessity only.

              In addition to the two mother ships commissioned, the District wishes two other mother ships, all of these vessels to be seagoing and armored. I believe this advisable, because of the length of the district coastline and difficulty of communication.

              Bumpkin Island.Barracks for 1,000 men are under way. There is an excellent building built as a hospital, and this will be used as an administration building, officers’ quarters, hospital, galley, etc.

SUMMARY.

              To sum up, conditions in the First District are on the whole good, due largely to the personality of Captain Rush, although it is evident that delays in making prompt decisions and too much red tape by the Department itself has prevented things from going anything like as fast as they should.

     3. NEWPORT, SECOND NAVAL DISTRICT.

              Matters in the Second Naval District are and have been thoroughly unsatisfactory and under the present management given little promise of improvement. These remarks do not apply to the Torpedo Station or to the Naval Training Station, except that, in the case of the latter, the great number of regular enlisted men now there demands immediate action to acquire additional land for drill and recreation purposes. The island itself is badly overcrowded, and the suggestion below of leasing Coddington Point will meet the situation. With great difficulty I obtained the following information:

              This district was originally organized on a different plan from the others. Whatever the plan was,it was not carried out. Now a new plan has been promulgated, and practically nothing has been done to carry it out there. This plan calls for six sections:

          1.  Nantucket. Nothing has been done to establish this section.

          2.  Woods Hole. Nothing has been done to establish this section.

          3.  New Bedford. A boat has been sent to this section, and they are talking about hiring a wharf. Practically nothing has been done to establish this section.

          4. Newport. This is the only section in actual operation, and from the material side seems to be satisfactory, but, in regard to personnel, is entirely inadequate.

          5.  Block Island. Nothing has been done to establish this section.

          6.  New London. It is proposed to lease a part of the State pier, but, apparently, little consideration has been given to its use during the winter.

        (a)  Naval Reserve: In the Second Naval District 4,663 Naval reserves are enrolled. Of these 2,306 are in active service, leaving 2,357 still to be called out.

             Of the 2,306 now in active service 1,450 are in Newport ostensibly in training, 350 are at the Torpedo Station, and 500 are on boats or doing special duty in various places.

             Practically all of the 2,300 men of the Naval Reserve in active service are living around in private houses, in an armory, in a Y. M. C. A., in a church, etc., etc., and the fact that this is so after nearly three months is a disgrace. To remedy this, the only steps taken have been to erect some barracks intended eventually to house 2,000 men on some land just north of the hospital. This land is low-lying and in part swampy and will be entirely occupied by the barracks, leaving no place for drill or recreation grounds. In addition the land is altogether too close to the city, and some of the new buildings are next to the new hospital erected for contagious wards. The distance between is about 25 feet. Even if these barracks are completed they will not be sufficient to take care of 2,357 men in the Reserve who are still waiting to be called out, quite aside from those of the 2,306 now in the service who still require training.

              It is estimated that out of the total of 4,663 reservists in the Second District about 2,000 will next winter be employed on vessels or at the different section bases if and when the latter are established.

             The problem is, therefore, to house between 2,500 and 3,000 men in Newport. During my visit, I directed that work be stopped on four of the new barracks near the hospital, and that,if we can obtain Coddington Point on reasonable terms, these four buildings and sufficient others to house between 2,500 and 3,000 be erected on Coddington Point, the houses to be of better construction than the ones now going up.

SUMMARY.

             I regret to have to report that Captain Bryan3 has not grasped the situation in any way. I recommend most strongly that he be given other duty and that Rear Admiral Cameron McRae Winslow be ordered as Commandant of the Second Naval District.4 Again in this district emphasis must be placed on the error of combing the work of the Commandant of the Station with that of the Naval District. The work of the two assignments should be kept entirely separate.

     4.  NEW YORK, THIRD NAVAL DISTRICT.

             Ever since the middle of April,I have begged that a change be made in the New York organization, and my visit this time merely confirms these recommendations. Every phase of the situation shows procrastination, inability to decide, slowness in execution, etc. The questions involved must be divided into the logical two parts as in every other district.

              (a) Navy Yard and Regular Enlisted Men: Work at the Yard is somewhat confused by the fact that regular ships, patrol ships, enlisted men, Reserve, Militia, etc., are all mixed up together. Without question all work on patrol vessels, conversion of yachts, etc., should be taken away from the Yard; also all Reserves and Naval Militia. The enlisted men are now quartered on the German ships, which will be taken away in about a month. Barracks should be built for them with a capacity of 3,000 in the city park adjoining the Yard. The City of New York will agree to this.

              (b) Naval Reserve: Less than half of the enrolled number of Reserves have been called out. The men now called out will find employment during the summer on the various patrol vessels and at the section bases. The other men should be called out as soon as we can house them, and I recommend that barracks be erected immediately in Pelham Bay Park to have a capacity of about 4,000 men.

SUMMARY.

              In New York, as in Newport, the situation is bad, and, because of the greater number of vessels and men, conditions are relatively worse.

     5. GENERAL CONCLUSION.

              As I have many times recommended, the organization of the Naval District Defense should be radically changed.

              I recommend:

          (a) That an officer with the rank of Rear Admiral be detailed in the Department under the Division of Operations to have general supervision of the Naval District Defense.5 This officer should be made responsible for the materiel and personnel also. It is found necessary in England to do this, and the present system points to the necessity of a change here.

          (b) That in each Naval District an officer be appointed in command of the Naval District Defense, such officer to be entirely independent of the local Navy Yard commandant.

          (c) That instructions be issued that the Naval District Defense work and the training of the personnel, etc., be kept as far as possible separate from the materiel and personnel at the different Navy Yards.

          (d) The officer in charge in the Department should have an assistant,who will be able to travel to each district constantly, in the capacity of instructor. The chief weakness with the present system is that nobody in the Department knows exactly what is going on in each district.

              The theory of decentralization is all very well if the central authority knows what is going on and whether the work is being carried out right. It should not be necessary for the Assistant Secretary to go to Boston, Newport, and New York in order to find out that things are going badly. I have for nearly two months insisted that the work was going badly, and certain officers in the Division of Operations have admitted as much, but these officers frankly have failed utterly to remedy the conditions. It is all very well for them to admit that change and improvement <are> necessary, but I should like to see the change and improvement take place. Meanwhile the days, and the weeks, and the months, are piling up and I should very much like to see some definite action taken.6

Franklin D Roosevelt

Assistant Secretary.

Source Note: DTS, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Special Correspondence, Reel 59.

Footnote 1: RAdm. Leigh C. Palmer, Chief, Bureau of Navigation.

Footnote 2: Capt. William R. Rush.

Footnote 3: Capt. Henry F. Bryan was re-assigned; he became chief of staff to Commo. James P. Parker, who became commandant of the Second Naval District. Daniels, Cabinet Diaries, 238n

Footnote 4: Winslow later served as inspector for all of the naval districts on the Atlantic coast of the United States.

Footnote 5: As seen in note four, RAdm. Cameron McRae Winslow took over that role.

Footnote 6: On 7 September 1917, Roosevelt sent a second memorandum to Daniels informing him that he had made a second inspection trip and “that the conditions are to all intents and purposes no better.” Carroll Kilpatrick, Roosevelt and Daniels: A Friendship in Politics (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1952), 37. It was not until early 1918 that the Navy executed the re-organization Roosevelt advocated in this memorandum. See: Josephus Daniels, General Order 372, 28 February 1918.

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