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Captain William B. Fletcher, Force Commander, Special Patrol Squadron to Commanding Officers




6 June, 1917

From:   Force Commander, Special Patrol Squadron

To:     Commanding Officers

SUBJECT Censorship regulations1

1 Censorship within this Force and such Naval Bases as are under command of the Force Commander shall be governed by the following regulations, and will be put into effect at once: -

2 Censorship includes:

(a)    Censorship over official correspondence

(b)    Censorship over private communications

3 The Flag Secretary is ex-officio Force Chief Censor

4 The Commanding Officer of each vessel or base shall appoint an officer of the line under his command as ship or base censor and the Force Chief Censor shall be informed of the names of officers so appointed and be supplied with a copy of their initials and signatures.

5 Official correspondence [i.e. correspondence]: Routine mail shall be forwarded by the mail clerk or Yeoman in charge of the Commanding Officer’s office, only when initialed in the upper left hand corner by the Commanding Officer or censored by ship censor.

6 Private postal correspondence. All such correspondence shall be posted in post offices or post boxes controlled by the Navy Postal Service.

Rules for Censorship.

7 In no circumstances is specific reference to be made on post cards in letters, or matter posted in parcels, or in private diaries, cent [i.e. sent] from the Force or Naval Base, to the places from which they are written or dispatched: - to the military routine, to details of preparation or training of the Force or Ship; to the offensive or defensive power of any unit; to organization; numbers or movements of vessels or units; to the moral or physical condition of the personnel; to the service of supply, to engagements or past operations or to casualties; previous to the official publication of such information; to the effect of hostile fire; to plans of future operations whether rumored, surmised or known.

8 Criticism of operations is forbidden, as are statements calculated to bring the Naval Service or individuals into disrepute.

All correspondence must be written in English or French and must be perfectly understandable without the use of code or cipher. The name of the ship shall not appear in any form on the envelope or post card.

9 Mail of Commanding Officers shall be censored the same as other private correspondence unless presented to the Ship Censor with a written signed memorandum stating that all requirements have been complied with. All such mail accompanied by the above mentioned memorandum shall be passed without reading.

10 Mail is to be deposited in the regular mail box. It must be addressed and stamped, and in the case of letters or parcels, be unsealed and contain the sender’s name in the upper left hand corner of the envelope or wrapping. This mail will be collected and delivered to the censor.

11 All statements not in accordance with paragraph 7 shall be deleted by the censor, or the communication returned to the writer for correction

12 Mail which is passed by the censor or his appointed assistants, shall be sealed and stamped “Passed by Censor” with his initials and date and delivered to the mail clerk for forwarding.

13 Private mail shall not be delivered to the mail clerk until stamped “Passed by Censor” and properly initialed by a censor. Precaution shall be taken that no mail leaves the vessel or station other than thru the proper channels.

14 Private Despatches: Private despatches (radio, cable, telegraph, or telephone), shall not be forwarded unless approved by the Force Chief Censor. They shall not be presented to the censor of the vessel and if approved by him to the Chief Censor.

15 Communications requiring prepayment shall be accompanied by the necessary funds.


Source Note: TDS, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. “2-33 ID” is written in the upper left-hand corner.

Footnote 1: World War I marked the first time the United States imposed official censorship. William Still argues that the U.S. Navy probably imposed censorship after urging from the British, where the Royal Navy had been carefully monitoring all public and private correspondence since the beginning of the war. Still concludes that “sailors usually accepted censorship without complaint, although at times they tried to circumvent it.” The most likely means of bypassing the censors was to mail letters from a post office in port, although naval personnel faced the threat of a court-martial if caught doing so. Cmdr. Joseph K. Taussig, for his part, recorded in his diary that both he and his wife were “disgusted” by censorship of his letters, complaining that “I did not say anything that could be of possible use to the enemy and it seems a shame that the judgment of the Captain of a man-of-war has to be subjected to the judgment of a hireling censor-probably a woman who is following cut and dried rules.” Nevertheless, even in the privacy of his diary, he conceded that “I suppose this is one of the inconveniences of modern war that we must put up with.” Still, Crisis at Sea, 38-39, 274; Taussig, Queenstown Patrol, 56.

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