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Diary of Commander Joseph K. Taussig, COmmander, Destroyer Division Eight



June 14 [1917]

Queenstown [Ireland]

     These clippings were cut from various issues of the New York Tribune.1 I think there will be frequent periods when there is a let up in the number of sinkings, and then there will be weeks when the sinkings appear abnormally large. The same number of submarines cannot always be operating, and the weather conditions have much to do with their activity. But there is no question that the larger the number of patrol boats, the harder it is for submarines to operate as they must keep below the surface to avoid being destroyed.

     In regard to the mines being laid before our arrival, I do not see how the Department expected to keep the matter confidential, so long as the telephones were used for giving orders and asking questions. Even with private wires, one can frequently hear conversations which come from other wires; and a private wire can be tapped just as well as a public one. The only way strict secrecy could have been maintained would have been for the senior officer to go to Washington and receive his instructions in person. Everything could then have been arranged quietly and without the great and manifest rush that was apparent in all matters concerning our preparations.

     The false reports of our vessels being sunk are made by the newspapers on purpose. They do it because the Department will not give out any information. I am glad to see that Mr. Daniels2 has stated he will make public any casualties to ships that may occur. We have much to learn in regard to censorship, especially as most censors are unable to tell what is important and what is not.

Yesterday (Wednesday) [13 June 1917] I was on a “Court of Enquiry” to investigate the collision between the British sloop Laburnum and the U.S. destroyer Jenkins. The court was composed of the Flag Captain (Captain Carpendale), the Captain of the Myosotis (Commander Cochrane)3 and myself. It was what we would call a Board of Investigation as no oaths were taken. I think that probably it is the first time in history that a court composed of British and American Naval Officers sat together. While the Jenkins was convoying a merchant vessel, the Laburnum came along to relieve her. It was very dark and although the Laburnum saw the Jenkins at least five minutes before the collision, it appears that the Jenkins did not see the Laburnum until they were right on top of one another and it was too late to avoid collision. The Laburnum struck the Jenkins abreast the forward fireroom, but was only going about 4 or 5 knots, the engine having been previously reversed. We did not find anybody to blame, but laid it to one of those things that must be expected where a large number of ships are operating at night without navigation lights, and in a confined area. The Court was in session from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., so I did not get back to the ship and finish my lunch until two o’clock. . . .4

     We got underway at 8:30 this morning and while turning around struck both propellers on something. Am not sure now whether it was a submerged object of the bottom. All blades are slightly bent, and are being straightened out by divers. We should be able to get underway at about six o’clock. I am much disgusted; but there is no use crying over spilt milk.

Source Note: D, RNW, Joseph K. Taussig Papers, Mss. Coll. 97. Naval Historical Collection. The diary is written on ruled paper with a vertical line one inch in along the left margin. The date is written in that space.

Footnote 1: With his diary entry, Taussig included three clippings. The first, dated 23 May 1917, is headlined “30 British Ships Sunk Last Week; U. S. Fleet Praised”; the second, dated 25 May, carries the headline: “No Warships Lost,” Daniels Declares, Replying to Rumors. Secretary Renews Promise of Complete Information When Naval Losses Occur; and the third, also dated 25 May, bears the headline: Spies Notified Berlin as U.S. Flotilla Left. Admiral Sims Reports that Mines Were Placed in Path of Vessels.”

Footnote 2: Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

Footnote 3: Capt. Charls D. Carpendale and Capt. William C. O’G. Cochrane.

Footnote 4: For a copy of the memorandum, see, Taussig, Queenstown Patrol: 58-59.