Skip to main content

Rear Admiral Albert Gleaves, Commander, Convoy Operations in the Atlantic, Notes on Conversations with Officers



27 June 1917.

Commander Hussey:1 Everything is O.K. Good weather for a week then a day or two of bad weather, but the last day was a perfect one. Tried zig-zagging at night with double column but it was not a success. MAUMEE was at rendezvous on time. Saw a submarine wake yesterday about 160 or 175 miles out. CUMMINGS with a depth bomb fired on the submarine and I am quite sure he hit the submarine. A few minutes after the bomb was fired debris was seen on the surface, also heavy oil and planks. Destroyers made a smoke screen for transports.2

Received many SOS calls, in fact they were coming in most all the time. I purposely changed course to avoid passing the position reported by these calls. The trip was one of intense interest and aside from being sleepy I am all right.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Commander Taussig:3 From observation of German submarines things indicate that they undoubtedly work in pairs and they seem to work in waves, i.e., they will be very active for say ten days and all of a sudden they will not show up for several days. Just about the time we came over they seemed to have about suspended operations for several days but shortly after we arrived they showed up again in numbers. Since American destroyers arrived there has been a great reduction in the number of sinkings.4 While we have not been actually sinking them it is evident that we are keeping them down and the more they are kept down the less active they will be.

The CcDOUGAL [i.e., McDOUGAL] and O’BRIEN both lost the vessels they were convoying recently.5 I think they are afraid of us and while they will open fire on us as opportunity offers, their mission apparently is to get the merchant vessels.

Lately the submarines have been shooting from the quarter,6 and have made a great many misses.

Admiral Gleaves: What does “Allo” mean?

Commander Taussig: Allo means torpedo sighted. SOS means fired at. Some vessels send out SOS as soon as they see a submarine, feeling certain they will be fired at, if not actually so at the time the message is sent. By all means it is advisable to keep submarines down – they seem to be doing but little at night.

When we came over the PANTHEON was sent out to meet us but missed us; he had an encounter with a submarine but don’t know whether he got him or not. The PANTHEON returned to Queenstown O.K.

The WINSLOW had a run in with one.

Admiral Gleaves: I didn’t hear about that – I was so busy yesterday that I dod <did> not get to see the Captain of the WINSLOW.7

Commander Taussig: The WINSLOW’S (submarine) turned up in the moonlight and was directly in the moon’s rays. She (the WINSLOW) dropped a depth bomb (charge) but I do not know whether he got the submarine or not. A British sloop passed the spot the next day and reported that she saw oil.

O’BRIEN saw a submarine – actually saw it – and dropped his charge; he saw oil later.

Admiral Gleaves: Oh! Yes – Blakely,8 I am told, actually sunk one. The Captains aboard here yesterday told me about it.

Admiral Gleaves: How many submarines, about how many, do you think are operating around this area – this part?

Commander Taussig: I think there are about 5. I am quite sure there are some submarines which carry only mines. I believe all these mines around here were planted by submarine mine planters.

Admiral Gleaves: Well – do you know what depth they mine at?

Commander Taussig: I don’t think they mine in over forty fathoms. I don’t believe that the submarines operate in shallow water, i.e. the seagoing – regular submarines – not the mine layers. There was a ship sunk the other day off the Fastnet, I think by a German mine, as I say I don’t believe they operate in shallow water. Destroyers do not as a rule go closer than within five miles of the coast when at sea.

Lieut.Commander Neal:9 Sighted a submarine about 1500 yards on port bow; headed toward it; it was coming toward the port side of the Convoy and was headed from the North. I am sure it was a submarine. Four of my chief petty officers saw it; I saw a few bubbles come up and fired a depth charge on the spot then circled around and came back – bubbles had then stopped and after five minutes I proceeded. At this time there was heavy oil on the water. His periscope kept coming up and going down – it would stay up about three seconds and stay down about ten seconds.

Admiral Gleaves: About what was the position of the ship? Where did this occur?

Lieut. Commander Neal: I think it was about lat. 47-08 Long.---- I can’t recall now. I feel satisfied we got it.

Admiral Gleaves: How do you find things in Ireland?

Commander Taussig: The Irish take practically no part in the war; few men have gone to the front.

Commander Taussig: Liquor is the curse of the country; every other place is a public house. They won’t work – they just raise potatoes. Henry Ford is building a factory on the site of the old race track at Cork; everything is ready but he can get no help to build it. The Irishmen won’t work and it is being built solely for their own benefit – to give some of them employment. His plant is to manufacture farm tractors; farmers are poor and of primitive class. No ambition – except to raise enough potatoes to eat.

Admiral Gleaves: Are there any British destroyers in Queenstown?

Commander Taussig: There are only two. The British destroyers are with the Grand Fleet; they have about 100 destroyers with the Fleet, they also have some submarines with them. There has been only one case of where a submarine sank a submarine. A British submarine fired two torpedoes at a German submarine and sank it.

Admiral Gleaves: What have they done for Campbell, the man of the “Mystery Ship.”10

Commander Taussig: He is a very old man for his rank and at the beginning of the war had about served his usefulness – is I think over 40 years old. He is the only officer holding the D.S.O. and V.C.11 The Mystery Ship sank two submarines – killed all but two on board – an officer and a man. There was no one left to tell the take <tale> and that is where they get the name. England has built about 60 “Sloops” which carry two four inch guns and make 16 knots speed – built for mine sweepers. One chased a submarine on the surface for ten hours; the submarine could not submerge and the sloop could not catch her neither could hit the other and after ten hours he submerged and got away.

Some patrol boats have not seen a submarine for over a year. Hutchins12 ran into a submarine shelling two sailing ships, one of which was sinking; he fired a torpedo at the submarine; picked up all survivors from both ships.

Lieut.Commander Neal: One submarine fired three torpedoes at the PAULDING.13

Admiral Gleaves: Wygant,14 have you had any experiences?

Lieutant Commander Wygant: No. U. S. depth charges are no good. We have been furnished with 300 pound ones by the British.

Commander Taussig: We have 300 pound charges; we also have cocoa mats for gun crews; we have splinter mattresses for protection. We find that it is a bad idea to have any metal on the bridge screens. A shell, if it strikes the metal anywhere, will explode whereas if there was no metal around the wind shield a shell, if fired at the bridge would pass through and out of the way unexploded. Contact with any metal will explode the shell and the submarines have lately been firing at metal.

Admiral Gleaves: Cocoa mats seem an excellent idea for the gun crews.

Commander Taussig: Oh yes – but they get very dirty.

Commander Taussig: Many British sailors have been burned from exploding shells. The flame from the shells, if within a few feet will burn the hair off one’s face. The British are equipping destroyers with gloves and masks.

British bayonets stuck in a man cannot be pulled out unless the gun is fired. If a bayonet is stuck into a man and the gun is not fired the gun is lost with the man hanging to it.15 Guns have been furnished destroyers for keeping off boarders.

Lieut.Commander Gay16: They always go after the Captains and officers of the submarines.

Admiral Gleaves: I suppose they figure that by so doing they will reduce the number of trained men which is all a part of the game. What speed do you think they make?

Lieut.Commander Gay: Some people say they make 18 knots on the surface. I don’t know, myself, but I hardly think they make that much.

The JARVIS17 was convoying an oil tanker the other day, the “BATOUN” bring oil to Queenstown – oil for us, by the way – a submarine went under the JARVIS and fired a torpedo into the tanker; she was zig-zagging; the tanker was hit amidships and sank within fifteen minutes. I convoyed her through my square and turned her over to a sloop; she was attacked from abeam. The Captain and first mate saw nothing but bubbles.

Admiral Gleaves: I was told yesterday it was very hard to sink oil vessels. In the case of the Archibald the Germans had to actually go on board her and fire bombs to sink her.18

Lieut.Comdr.Gay: I am not optimistic and I think there is only one way to beat them and that is to build ships with more compartments. Its a bad proposition.

There are only two destroyers on the job. Until our arrival they had only some sloops and two destroyers to protect all shipping in this area.

Admiral Gleaves: Do you think there is any possibility of the German Fleet coming out?

Lieut.Comdr. Gay: The British think they may come out at any time and they expect it, from all reports. They don’t dare discuss the question in Ireland. Apparently, the Germans know everything. The whole Irish population are against England – the feeling is antagonistic – they say it is not their war.

Admiral Gleaves: Colonel Doyen,is19 there anything else I can do for you.

Colonel Doyen: There is nothing else now; stores were taken away much to my regret, now that this is settled there is nothing else. I understand they are to take us up on some of the old battlefields for training. About 50% of my officers and men are green but the spirit is excellent. The class of men is excellent. Only intensive training will put them in shape.

Admiral Gleaves: I did not understand you were to get away from here that soon.

Colonel Doyen: That is only rumor, nothing official. I heard, unofficially too that the Americans in Paris were trying to get us up there for some celebration on the 14th of July. Understand, this is all rumor.

NOTE: The British furnish an escort of four destroyers for the OLYMPIC20 through the danger zone, i.e., four of the U.S.Destroyers are put on the job each trip.

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG45, Entry 517.

Footnote 1: Cmdr. Charles L. Hussey, commanding officer, Birmingham.

Footnote 2: In all likelihood, the officers on Cummings were mistaken. Later searches of German records shows no U-boats in the area, and officers from Cumming’s squadron later told London reporters, anonymously, that the supposed subs were just “floating spars or blackfish.” Still, Crisis at Sea: 358.

Footnote 3: Cmdr. Joseph K. Taussig, Commander, Destroyer Division Eight. Taussig was also the senior officer present for escorting vessels based in Queenstown.

Footnote 4: The destroyers arrived 4 June 1917. See: Diary of Joseph K. Taussig, 4 June 1917.

Footnote 5: See, Diary of Joseph K. Taussig, 6 June 1917, RNW, Mss. Coll. 96; Voyage of O’Brien, 23 June 1917, DNA, RG45, Entry 517.

Footnote 6: The exact meaning of this expression is obscure. It apparently refers to a submarine firing hurriedly, without taking careful aim first, and is perhaps a variation on the more common phrase “shooting from the hip.”

Footnote 7: Lt. Cmdr. Daniel A. McElduff.

Footnote 8: Lt. Cmdr. Charles A. Blakely. See, Voyage of O’Brien, 23 June 1917, DNA, RG45, Entry 517.

Footnote 9: Lt. Cmdr. George F. Neal.

Footnote 10: Mystery ships, also known as “Q ships,” were heavily-armed vessels disguised to look like unarmed merchantmen. Although manned by naval personnel, the officers and crew dressed as civilian merchant seamen, and kept their guns carefully concealed. Believing them easy targets, German submarines would close in to torpedo the Q ships, only to have the target quickly open its gun ports and begin blasting its full firepower at the U-boat. Although Sims expressed skepticism here, after the war he had nothing but high praise for the mystery ships. He credited them with multiple kills and praised their crews for “an endurance, a gallantry, and a seamanlike skill that has few parallels in the history of naval warfare.” Sims, Victory at Sea: 122, 142, 169.

Footnote 11: Distinguished Service Order and Victoria Cross, two of the British military’s most prestigious awards.

Footnote 12: Lt. Cmdr. Charles T. Hutchins, Jr., commanding officer, Ericsson.

Footnote 13: Lt. Anton B. Anderson.

Footnote 14: Lt. Cmdr. Benyaurd B. Wygant.

Footnote 15: Apparently when a bayonet became lodged in an enemy it was nearly impossible to get them free quickly without discharging the gun and using the recoil to tear the bayonet from its victim.

Footnote 16: Lt. Cmdr. Jesse B. Gay.

Footnote 17: Lt. Cmdr. Ernest L. Gunther, commanding officer. Jarvis rescued 41 survivors from the tanker, and only one member of the crew was lost. DANFS.

Footnote 18: The editor can find no record of this incident.

Footnote 19: Brig. Gen. Charles A. Doyen of the Marine Corps organized and commanded troops in France. He died on 6 October 1918 in the influenza epidemic of 1918-19, and was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. DANFS.

Footnote 20: The R.M.S. Olympic was a British ocean liner that the Admiralty requisitioned for use as a troopship during the war.