Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Commodore Guy R. Gaunt, British Naval Attaché at Washington, to First Sea Lord Admiral Sir John R. Jellicoe

                        TELEGRAM.          No. 120.

From      NVC Washington.                                             Date 16.6.17.

To        Admy.                                                Sent 6 50 pm 15th

                                                                        Recd 3 7  am 16th

‘P’ Code

120. Following for 1st SL.  Personal.

     After long discussion at Navy Dept the following is general situation as I see it.

     Admiral Benson1 is very much against present system of patrolling the Atlantic both theirs, ours & French Squadron, his point being that when a raider is known to be out 6 (?or) 8 converted merchantmen should be sufficient to deal with situation.2 He is very keen on heavily armed merchant vessels & on my pointing out that reason our ships only carried one gun was because no more were available he promised (?talk to) (three groups corrupt) <He promised to consider whether he could arrange to>3 spare any more American guns.

     At least 8 armed yachts will be ready to leave by July 1. Possibility of more.4

     (?Group corrupt) any objection to <Twelve trawlers> carrying 2 – 3” guns, speed 10 to 12 knots are supposed to be ready about Aug 1 but I think this will be very much advanced.5 In addition to this there should be 8 other destroyers at present on a special service which may be expected in England shortly.6 This about completes all vessels in sight until requisitioning bill gets through Congress.7

     Admiral Benson’s comment on Admiral Sims’ telegram with reference to flotilla being taken from its base to meet troop ships was that at outset it shall not take them more than 72 hours & part of that time they would be on their boat.8 Admiral Benson has entirely changed his pre-war views & is very keen to do everything in his power.9 (Repetition of corrupt groups called for)

Source Note: Cy, UK-KeNA, Adm. 137/656. In a cable sent later that day, Gaunt asked that he be given “an address” to which he could send cables “which, while distinctly official, are my personal views of conditions and prospects here. But I should not like Admiral Sims or any one to convey their substance back for instance in my 120 giving Admiral Benson’s views he did not intend probably that they should be conveyed officially to you but I thought it was useful to you to know exactly what his views are.” Gaunt added that he had addressed his cable 120 as “personal” to Jellicoe and unless told otherwise would continue to “use that address for this class” of cables. On 20 June, Gaunt again addressed this “back channel” communication, writing that Benson wanted it understood that anything he said via this channel was not to be considered criticism. In a draft of a reply written on a copy of Gaunt’s cable, Jellicoe wrote that he understood and that he found the communication of “much value.”

Footnote 1: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 2: In his reply of 17 June, Jellicoe asked if Benson proposed not using cruisers to hunt commerce raiders, and, noting that all the British cruisers were now escorting convoys, asked how many converted merchantmen the U.S. Navy had available for service in the Atlantic theater.

Footnote 3: Portions of this cable were marked as “corrupt.” As seen in the last line of this cable, the person who decoded it requested that the corrupted portions be re-sent. A second cable correcting the corrupted text is to be found immediately after this cable in Adm. 137/656. The corrected text has been inserted into its intended spot and indicated by angle brackets above.

Footnote 4: On 21 May, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels informed William R. Sayles, United States Naval Attaché at Paris, that the Department would send ten or more yachts to France.  Sayles forwarded this information to then VAdm. William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, on 23 May. See: Daniels to Sayles 21 May 1917; and Sayles to Sims 23 May 1917.

Footnote 5: Daniels informed Sims that he was sending tweleve armed fishing boats (trawlers) to Europe on 20 June 1917. Ultimately, however, only five armed trawlers arrived in the Azores in late August and September 1917. Naval Investigation, 1239.

Footnote 6: The destroyers on “special service” were likely among the thirteen destroyers that left to escort the first troop convoy to France. Of those thirteen, seven arrived in Europe in late June and early July. Five destroyers returned to North American ports before reaching Europe, and one developed condenser problems on 16 June and dropped out of the convoy. Gleaves, History of the Transport Service, 34-41, and Naval Investigation, 1238.

Footnote 7: 40 Stat. L., 182. This Act of Congress, passed on 15 June 1917, read:

“Act authorizing the President: (a) To place order (commandeer) with builders and material men for ships and material; (b) to take over existing contracts, modify, suspend, or cancel; (c) to commandeer the output of any plant; (d) to commandeer a part of such plant only; (e) to commandeer any ship built or building; compliance required, but if rented, the President may take and proffer compensation, which, if declined, to pay over 75 per cent and claimant may sue in Court of Claims for balance claimed; authority herein granted to cease six months after peace; cost of purchase, requisition, or otherwise acquiring plants, material, charters, constructions, and the expediting of construction of ships under construction shall not exceed the sum of $250,000,000, exclusive of the costs of ships turned over to the Army and Navy, the expenditures of which is authorized and there is now appropriated for said purpose $150,000,000, said sums to be reimbursed from available funds under the War and Navy Departments for vessels turned over for the exclusive use of those departments.

Cost of construction of ships authorized herein shall not exceed the sum of $500,000,000 the expenditures of which is now authorized, and there is now appropriated for said purposes $250,000,000.

For the operations of ships herein authorized or acquired, exclusive of those for the Army or Navy, $5,000,000.” Digest Catalogue of Laws and Joint Resolutions, pg. 60.

Footnote 8: It is unclear to which cable Gaunt is referring, but Sims had sent several cables previously warning of the danger caused by sending destroyers to convoy troops while an insufficient number of warships remained to guard the sea lanes to the British Isles. Sims argued for the speedy return of the destroyers and the deployment of further American vessels to Queenstown. See: Sims to Daniels, 20 June 1917.

Footnote 9: At the time of the U.S. entry into the war, Benson was leery of dispersing American naval forces in order to assist the allies, and instead wanted to keep the American fleet concentrated in American waters. Klachko and Trask, Benson, 65.

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