Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Rear Admiral William F. Fullam, Commander, Patrol Force, Pacific Fleet, to Captain Robert E. Coontz, Commandant, Navy Yard, Puget Sound

13 June, 1917.

My dear Coontz:-

     I have recommended to the Department that the Commandants, Mare Island and Bremerton,1 having officers and facilities most needed to inspect and decide upon the availability of ships for patrol duty in Mexico, be authorized to purchase suitable yachts, or small steam vessels, of good sea endurance for use in patrolling the Gulf.

     Acting on this the Department has authorized the purchase of the John D. Spreckels2 yacht, the “Venetia” for one hundred and sixty-five thousand ($165,000.00) dollars. She has good sea endurance and is a good sea boat.

     Previous to this another big power boat, known as the “Angel”, was bought in San Francisco.

     I am anxious to get at least two more craft like these, if possible, and I am sure the Department will approve the purchases. Do you know of a good size yacht, or sea-worthy boat, that could cruise to La Paz and from there back to San Diego, basing at La Paz, where we will supply coal and oil? Such ships ought, if possible, to have evaporators, as fresh water is important in the Gulf. I should want them to stay for comparative long intervals, relieving their crews from time to time, when necessary, to prevent men from staying too long in Mexican waters.

     I recommend small craft because they can go in close, investigate all harbors and anchorages and can anchor well inside all Mexican ports, where they can best observe what is going on.

     Please let me know what you can do.

     I am sorry not to see you, but must get to San Francisco. My address will be, in care Postmaster, San Francisco, and it is probable that my headquarters will be at San Diego.

     I regret that the appropriation bill held up the Saratoga.3 I know you and McVay4 did all you could. I need her very badly.

     With kind regards,

     Sincerely yours,  

Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, William F. Fullam Papers, Box 4. Fullam’s signature is stamped just below “With kind regards.” Below this is typed, “Captain Robert E. Coontz, U.S.N.,/Commandant, Navy Yard, Puget Sound,/Bremerton, Washington. The letters “WFF/F” are typed in the upper left-hand corner.

Footnote 1: Mare Island is located about 23 miles northeast of San Francisco, California. Bremerton is located just across the Puget Sound from Seattle, Washington. Both are home to navy yards.

Footnote 2: Spreckels was a major figure in the transportation and real estate markets in California.

Footnote 3: Fullam struggled for over a year to get the Saratoga outfitted and ready to sail, but a shortage of personnel at Mare Island and Bremerton created constant delays. In his subsequent testimony before Congress after the war, Fullam entered a letter into the record from August 1916, stating there were not sufficient enlisted men available to outfit Saratoga and West Virginia. Saratoga might have been ready in fall 1916, but an acute shortage of officers and men prevented Fullam from getting the ships under his command to sea on a regular basis, meaning he was unable to train men or evaluate the ships’ performance. When the United States entered the war in April 1917, Saratoga was under repairs at Bremerton, and on 2 May, Fullam sent a desperate plea to the Navy Department for sufficient funds to complete the repairs, insisting that the commandant’s inability to get the ship seaworthy was an embarrassment. Saratoga finally arrived at Mare Island and became Fullam’s flagship in the fall, but on 1 October Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, seized it for use in the Atlantic. Naval Investigation, 769-779.

Footnote 4: Capt. Charles B. McVay Jr.

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