Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Rear Admiral Sir Dudley R. S. de Chair to Vice Admiral Henry F. Oliver, Secretary of the Admiralty


Continuation of General Report on the progress of

Negotiations with the United States Navy Department

&c. in connection with Mr. Balfour’s Mission, from the

15th May 1917.



7th June, 1917.


     In continuation of my General Report dated 15th May from Washington,1 I beg to forward the following further information for the consideration of Their Lordships:

     1.   With a view of eliciting definite information as to the Shipbuilding situation, I obtained an interview with General Goethals2 and ascertained that all the plant in the United States was fully occupied both by Naval and Merchant Ship construction. This state of affairs seems likely to continue, even if the work on capital ships is dropped. As reported in my telegram of 24th May, there is no plant at present in existence for building 35,000-ton ships except at Newport News which is at present congested. At the same time General Goethals informed me that the Shipping Board had given an estimate that subject to possible difficulties in transportation of steel to the seaboard it was hoped to build 3,000,000 tons of steel shipping in the next 18 months, exclusive of vessels now actually under construction[.]

     A further appeal to Mr. Schwab3 with reference to the construction of sloops and minesweepers only elicited the reply that until the needs of the United States Government had been clearly defined it would be impossible for his firm to take up the question of any new ship construction. Details of the vessels required have however been left with Commodore Gaunt,4 who will again take up the matter as soon as there is a possibility of the Bethlehem Steel Works being free to accept orders.5

     2.   In connection with the Destroyer Force already despatched to British waters, the Navy Department informed me that they intended to send the necessary oilers and repair ships together with six small craft to act as sweeepers.6

     The construction of Destroyers is proceeding and it is understood that orders for an additional twenty have been placed with various firms. Eight boats should be ready in October, the remaining 36 in twelve months.7 There is however some difficulty as regards the provision of turbine machinery which may delay their completion or even force the Navy Department to accept boats of a lower speed than was originally intended.8 Your telegram No.16 of 17th May relative to gear cutting machine was communicated to the Department for information in this connection.9

     3.   The provision of small armed craft for patrol work is being energetically pushed by the Assistant Secretary of the Navy,10 and as soon as Congress gives permission he hopes to send over fifty of these vessels[.]11

     He informed me that the Yacht “NORMA” presently in the Clyde was offered to the United States Government for service, and he enquired whether she could be examined with a view to being armed. I communicated this information and the accompanying enquiries to the Admiralty in my telegram No.52 of May 19th.12

     4.   Lieutenant Commander Mock, R.N.V.R.,13 having arrived in Washington with plans and specifications of the improved Admiralty Mine, the Navy Department at once proceeded to consider their manufacture, and before I left it was decided to adopt the pattern and place the necessary orders for construction. My telegram of No.64 of 23rd May made enquiry as to the wishes of Admiralty as regards the provision of 10,000 of the Mines.14

     5.   I communicated to Admiral Benson your request that fast Light Cruisers of “Birmingham” type should be sent to assist the Allies in the Adriatic, and he stated that he had put the matter before the Secretary of the Navy, who would bring it to the notice of the President.15 I consider that a favourable decision will be given and with this hope I have reminded the Secretary of the Navy of the matter in a letter which will be referred to later.

     6.   The question of the continuation or stoppage of work on capital ships for the United States Navy had not been settled when I left Washington. In view of the susceptibilities of the authorities, and a certain anti-British element in Congress, coupled with the fear of Japanese Naval expansion, I did not think it wise to press for definite information on this point. Not only Naval but also important political considerations are obviously involved and I discussed the matter with Mr. Balfour, who decided that it was of such importance that it must be referred to the War Cabinet.16

     7.   On the 16th May, accompanied by Commander Down, R.N. I again attended a meeting of the Naval Committee of Congress when Gunnery questions generally were discussed. Commander Down was able to give useful replies to several questions put to him.

     8.   The possible despatch of Australian Troops via the Pacific and San Francisco, referred to in clause 12 of my Report of 15th May, remains an open question, no definite answer having been given by the United States Government up to the date of my departure from Washington.

     9.   I was requested by the Navy Department to lay before the Admiralty a scheme for using Aeroplanes carrying large charges of T.N.T. to blow up Zeebrugge, the Kiel Canal or German Naval Bases. I was informed that experiments which had been made had proved most successful, and a surprising degree of accuracy of flight had been achieved. This device is considered superior to the Sperry-Cooper invention.17 As the accuracy of flight is a matter of dead reckoning which would be considerably at fault in cross winds I do not altogether credit the perfection of the device at present. Mr. Hays Hammond, who is also experimenting in this matter, told me that he had under trial a scheme for directing one aeroplane by wireless telegraphy from another, and if this is successful it could be applied with great effect to the present device.18

     10.  Experiments with microphones for the detection of submarines are being conducted by Admiral Grant, U.S. Navy, and Professor Fessenden at Newport, and it is understood that they have been successful up to a distance of five to ten miles, but the noises of the ship in which the microphone is fixed remain a difficulty which must be eliminated.19 Mr. Fessenden has an idea that he will be able to overcome this in some way of which he at present prefers to retain a secret. It would be very useful if an expert officer could be sent out to the United States to get in touch with Mr. Fessenden and investigate the matter.20

     11.  Mr. D. H. Wilson, jun., a Civil Engineer, visited Washington to put before Mr. Balfour the advantages of electric welding. It would appear from the samples and photographs produced that this process can take the place of rivetting, in fact Mr. Wilson stated that submarines had been built without a single rivet. I am in possession of further details which will be placed before the Director of Naval Construction. Mr. Wilson was willing, if desired, to send over an expert to demonstrate the value of the invention.21

     12.  Before finally leaving the United States I addressed a letter to the Secretary of the Navy in which I detailed the requirements of the Admiralty. I attach a copy hereto, together with a copy of a memorandum which I left with Commodore Gaunt informing him of outstanding matters which the departure of the Mission prevented me from carrying to a satisfactory conclusion.22

     13.  On the 22nd May, accompanied by Commodore Gaunt and Fleet Paymaster Lawford, and in the presence of Admiral Benson and Captain Welles of the United States Navy,23 I deposited a memorial wreath in the tomb of Admiral Dewey as a tribute from the British Navy.24 I was informed that this recognition of the late Admiral would be very greatly appreciated by the American Navy and people generally and would serve to augment the good feeling now exhibited towards the Allied Cause. . . .

     16.  The congestion of shipping in Halifax Harbour – more particularly in Bedford Basin – is causing the Commander-in-Chief in North America and West Indies25 some anxiety, and the suggestion has been made that examination of Merchant Shipping should take place at certain United States Ports of departure. Mr. Balfour does not feel that this can be arranged at present, but he has asked the Foreign Office that something may be done at once to relieve the congestion at Halifax. I think the matter is one which will require further consideration in view of the difficulties which will be experienced in the winter when ice in Bedford Basin will make work in small craft dangerous. It would be very necessary that an experienced British Examination Officer should be placed in each United States port utilized, to ensure that all the safeguards now in force are preserved under the American system of examination. Personally I do not anticipate any objection on the part of United States Port Authorities to such an appointment, and I may mention that Mr. D.F. Malone, Collector of Customs at the Port of New York, has exhibited a very friendly disposition which would undoubtedly be reflected by his subordinates in co-operating with any British officials who might be associated with them in this work. . . .

     18.  In concluding the Report I desire to lay stress on the fact that the United States Navy Department has shewn an unmistakable desire to welcome advice and information from expert British Officers who have first-hand knowledge of present war conditions. They have in fact written officially to me asking for the services of specialists in Gunnery, Torpedo, Submarine work, and Naval Construction, the Ordnance specialist to be an expert in the matter of fuses. Should a Naval Mission be asked for by the United States at any time it should certainly include such officers, who would confer great benefit on the United States Navy if their services could be spared.

     Admiral Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, also evinced a keen desire to be informed of our Naval policy and in a personal letter to me made the following remarks:-

     “I wish to emphasize the fact that we have been obliged to

     come to our conclusions from very meagre information on

     the subject, and for this reason desire to be put in touch

     as closely as possible with the operations of the Allied

     “Naval forces, in order to more intelligently study the

     situation and render all possible assistance.”

         It would be a material assistance if this Department

     could be fully informed as to the prospective plans of the

     “Allied Admiralties, in regard to the possible action of

     the vessels of the main fleets, in order that we might

     more efficiently utilize all of our various naval forces.

     “It is needless to add that the United States Navy is not

     only ready but anxious to co-operate to the very fullest

     in every possible way with the Allies’ Naval forces in

     clearing the seas of the present enemy and establishing

     the freedom of the seas for all time.”

     19.  A copy of this letter and of my letter of 15th May have been handed to Mr. Balfour, who will I understand include them in his general Report of the work of the Mission.

I am,


Your obedient Servant, Chair

Rear Admiral.

Source Note: DS, UKLPR, Adm. 137/1436. In the margins of the report are comments apparently made Adm. Sir John R. Jellicoe. The most important of these are noted in footnotes where they appear. Another comment on the cover sheet to this report apparently by Adm. Sir Henry F. Oliver, reads: “It is requested that the earliest information may be given if any of the vessels asked for of the U.S. Navy Department are going to be provided- Information is also desired as to whether, if any of the programme asked for is carried out, it will affect our Sloop, Destroyer and Trawler programme projected in the United Kingdom –“

Footnote 2: Gen. George W. Goethals was head of the Emergency Fleet Corporation but resigned the position in July 1917 after a public feud with Edward N. Hurley, head of the Shipping Board.

Footnote 3: Charles M. Schwab, Chairman of Bethlehem Steel Corp., including its subsidiary, Bethlehem Shipping Construction.

Footnote 4: Commo. Guy R. Gaunt, the British Naval Attaché at Washington.

Footnote 5: As Bethlehem Steel remained busy doing work for the United States armed forces, deliveries for new work would, as de Chair reported in a letter dated 24 May, take up to twelve months to be completed, unless a special agreement were arranged giving the British orders priority. See, de Chair to Gaunt, 24 May 1917, UKLPR, Adm. 137/1436.

Footnote 6: See, de Chair to Gaunt, 23 May 1917, UKLPR, Adm. 137/1436.

Footnote 7: This promise was the result of repeated requests sent by Sims and, later, United States Ambassador to Great Britain Walter Hines Page during the first few weeks of the war. See, Robert M. Lansing to Page, 15 May 1917, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.

Footnote 8:

Footnote 9: This document has not been located.

Footnote 10: While Congress did authorize the dispatch of subchasers to Queenstown in June 1917, only six were initially sent for “experimental work.” By the end of the war, however, 170 of these vessels operated in European waters. Still, Crisis, 316-318.

Footnote 11: Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Footnote 12: Over “NORMA” someone has written in pencil “NAHMA” and in the margin has noted: “has been dealt with.”

Footnote 13: Lt. Cmdr. Herbert O. Mock was a member of the Department of the Director of Naval Ordnance and served as an assistant to the Director of Naval Ordnance and Torpedoes.

Footnote 14: In a telegram to VAdm William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, on 22 June 1917, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels informed Sims, “The Bureau of Ordnance is now in a position to manufacture latest type of Admiralty mine or a superior type at the rate of four thousand per week beginning sixty days from now.” The Admiralty gratefully accepted the Bureau of Ordnance’s offer to construct the new mines for use in European waters. See, Daniels to Sims, 22 June 1917, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.

Footnote 15: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, President Woodrow Wilson.

Footnote 16: See: Balfour to Cecil, 14 May 1917.

Footnote 17: The Sperry-Cooper invention to which de Chair is referring is the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane. This was a project undertaken by Elmer Sperry and Peter Cooper Hewitt during the war to develop an aerial torpedo capable of carrying explosives to a target. Though their efforts ultimately proved unsuccessful, the work that Hewwitt and Sperry did laid important groundwork for follow-up programs after the war that would later lead to the development of the cruise missile, target drones, and pilotless aircraft. Peter M. Bowers, Curtiss Aircraft 1907-1947 (London: Putnam, 1979).

Footnote 18: In the margin, Jellicoe wrote a note saying that further details of this proposal should be requested.

Footnote 19: Adm. Albert W. Grant, Commander, Submarine Force, Atlantic Fleet, and Reginald A. Fessenden.

Footnote 20: Jellicoe wrote in the margin a note to the Director of the Anti-Submarine Division saying this “must be pursued.”

Footnote 21: David H. Wilson received a patent for his system of electric welding in 1916. The results of his demonstration-and whether the British Admiralty chose to pursue electric welding for their submarines-is not known.

Footnote 22: See, de Chair to Gaunt, 23 May 1917, UKLPR, Ad.. 137/1436. The list that de Chair gave to Daniels is printed as an attachment to the memorandum to Gaunt.

Footnote 23: Vincent A. Lawford; Capt. Roger T. Welles was the Director of Naval Intelligence.

Footnote 24: Adm. George Dewey, the heroic victor at the Battle of Manila Bay in the Spanish-American War (among many accomplishments in a highly distinguished naval career), had passed away on 16 January 1917 and was buried at the Washington National Cathedral. Following his career as a commissioned officer, Dewey served as the President of the General Board of the Navy Department from its inception in 1900 until his death.

Footnote 25: VAdm. Sir Montague E. Browning.