Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

NAVY DEPARTMENT

OFFICE OF NAVAL OPERATIONS

WASHINGTON

CONFIDENTIAL                            June 2,1917

MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF THE NAVY

     In compliance with your memorandum of May31,1917, I submit the following summary of the work in the Office of Naval Operations since the declaration of war.1

OPERATIONS

     On April 1st all naval vessels were mobilized and immediate steps taken to fit them for war service as fast as their crews for full commissioning could be supplied.2 All naval districts were mobilized and their skeleton organizations are being filled as rapidly as personnel becomes available.

     The Coast Guard, transferred to the Navy, have been operated by the Navy Department and all vessels belonging to that service have been repaired and refitted.3

     German refugee ships have been seized in cooperation with the Treasury Department, and the interned German vessels have been taken over for naval service and are being rapidly put in shape for active service.4 Refugee German vessels in Samoa, Honolulu and Porto Rico are being towed to the United States for overhaul and fitting out for service.

     There has been organized and put in operation a patrol force with the Atlantic Fleet, under the command of Captain H.S.Wilson, which patrols the offshore waters of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts from Eastport, Me., to the Rio Grande. Suitable vessels of this force are held in readiness to operate against enemy raiders that may be reported in the North Atlantic.5

     There has been established in European waters a destroyer force under the command of Vice Admiral W.S.Sims, and twenty-eight destroyers have been despatched abroad for this service, together with two destroyer tenders.6 Two supply ships, under destroyer escort, have been despatched to France, carrying cargoes of much needed material for that country.7

     By agreement with the allied powers definite areas of patrol in the North Atlantic and off the east coast of Brazil have been taken over by the U.S.Navy and a scout force has been despatched to cover the area assigned our forces in the South Atlantic, under the command of Admiral W.B.Caperton.8

     There has been established in the Pacific a patrol of the Pacific Coast, including Mexico and Central America as far south as Panama Canal, under Rear Admiral W.F.Fullam.

     There has been organized a force of small craft designated for patrol service in waters adjacent to the coast of France, and Captain W.B.Fletcher has been placed in command of the first contingent of this force, which will complete its fitting out in a few days and start for its field of operations.9

     There has been organized a system of convoy service under the general charge of Rear Admiral Albert Gleaves, in readiness for the convoy of any troops which may be despatched to France.

     In addition to the foregoing armed guards have been or are in process of being placed on all vessels, about 150 in number, plying between the United States and Europe, and the Atlantic Fleet has been given the duty of training the crews for the armed guards of merchantmen and transports.

     The organization of the several forces, the regulations for convoy service, the instructions for the operation of merchant vessels supplied with armed guards, and war instructions for United States merchant vessels have all been prepared and issued by the planning Section of the Office of Operations.10

     A board, of which Captain Pratt of the office of Operations is chairman, has been appointed to consider plans and devices connected with submarine warfare, and is in almost daily session and conference with the Research Committee of the Council of National Defense.11

     Definite and effective steps have been taken toward the organization of machinery to take over the control of the routing of all merchant vessels leaving United States ports. At present this function is being exercised by representatives of the British Admiralty stationed in our ports.12

     Preparation and distribution of various publications and ciphers for use in communication between merchant vessels and men-of-war of the United States and of the allied powers is well advanced. The Communication Office has been greatly enlarged to meet the demands of the increased work brought about by the state of war, the taking over of all radio service and the establishment of the censorship over cables. It is contemplated to establish a service of officer-messengers for the distribution of secret orders, confidential publication and ciphers.

NAVAL DISTRICTS

     The work of the Naval Districts has been extremely active, especially in Districts 1 to 5 inclusive,13 because of their greater strategic importance and because of the great trans-Atlantic traffic passing to and from the ports within their limits. The 6th, 7th and 8th Districts are filling up their organization, but are not developed to the same extent.14 Those districts on the Pacific Coast and in Hawaii have not yet been fully organized.15 Defensive sea areas have been declared and fully organized. Defensive sea areas have been declared and have been enforced in Boston, Newport, New York, Philadelphia, Cape Henry, Hampton roads and Charleston, as fast as the number of patrol boats become available efficiently to enforce control over the areas. Other areas will be enforced as the organizations grow. 612 small vessels have been inspected and found suitable for naval use. 152 have been taken into the Naval Service and assigned to scout patrol service and as mine sweepers. 138 have been ordered taken over but have not yet been delivered. Those accepted are now actively at work patrolling and mine-sweeping or are being fitted out as rapidly as possible for work. All the small craft acquired by the Naval District Commandants have been manned by enrollment of Naval Reserve within the districts, and the personnel by active employment are rapidly being trained and accustomed to the line of work which the defense of the district demands. Mine-sweeping is being carried out at Boston, New York, Delaware Bay and in the Chesapeake.

     The obligations under the emergency appropriation of $115,000,000 incurred in equipping the Naval Districts is indicated in the attached table.16

OPERATIONS ON SHORE

     The Naval Government of the Virgin Islands of the United States has been established under the governorship of Rear Admiral J.H.Oliver, and steps have been taken to supply at least a partial land defense of the islands by mounting eight five-inch guns distributed between the Islands of St.Thomas and St.Croix. Steps have been taken having in view the establishment of quarantine services, medical research services, and agricultural services in the islands.

     Affairs in the Island of Haiti, involving the peace of the Republic of Santo Domingo and Haiti, have progressed satisfactorily, and the authority of the established governments of these republics has been maintained. In the two republics there are now forces of marines aggregating 2,000. In Santo Domingo a Guardo Nacional under the Military Governor17 and under the direction of U.S.Marines has been formed and is undergoing a course of training, while in the Island of Haiti the Gendermarie18is reported to be in a very efficient condition. A small coast guard service has been established in Haiti and vessels repaired in ports of the United States assigned to this service have recently been delivered under United States Naval escort.19

     In addition, there have been employed in the disturbed districts of Cuba, caused by the recent revolution in that country, a varying force of marines for the protection of American interests there. There are at present about 450 marines maintained in the island. An information service throughout the island has been organized.20 We have maintained constantly in Mexican ports and along the coast a patrol by our vessels, giving especial interest to the port of Tampico in the vicinity of which are vast oil fields constituting a large and important source of the world’s supply of oil. From two to four vessels have been maintained continuously at this port.

MATERIAL

     The vast work of equipping and repairing the Fleet has brought upon our various navy yards and shore establishments demands which have taxed their utmost capacity. Not only has it been necessary to complete the overhaul and repairs of our regular naval vessels, but repairs to the seized German merchant vessels,21 and the fitting out and equipping of ships taken over for service, have multiplied the work required to be done.

     Repair work on battleships left unfinished before the movement of the Fleet south has been taken up and practically all naval vessels have been made materially ready and put in service. The fitting out of vessels for distant service is nearly completed, fifteen German ships badly damaged by their crews before seizure by this Government are being fitted out for naval purposes, and eight German ships are being repaired, for the Shipping Board.

AERONAUTICS.

     The Naval aeronautic program was considerably accelerated upon the severance of diplomatic relations February 3,1917, and the present program of naval aeronautic expansion may be considered to have begun on that date.

     Enrollments in the Naval Reserve Flying Corps were begun under definite standards supplied to Commandants of the various Naval Districts, and arrangements for accelerating the training of personnel at Pensacola and for establishing various other schools of training were made. There are five such schools now in operation.22

     Contracts were authorized for such aircraft as could be turned out for the Navy by July 1st, including in this number 16 coastal dirigibles, and contracts are being made for additional aircraft as fast as they can be accepted by the manufacturers. Two hundred and eight (208) aircraft have been ordered but not yet delivered. There are under construction at Pensacola 12 temporary hangars, a dirigible shed and a large hydrogen plant.

     In accordance with the recommendation of the Joint Army and Navy Board on Aeronautic Cognizance, sites for coastal air stations were examined and selected, and complete plans for the development of such stations were drawn up. Money for the acquisition of these stations is not available, but is included in an appropriation now pending. One site, however, has been obtained through permission of the use of land from the City of New York, and the construction of an air station there is now under way.23

     An allotment from the Emergency Fund of $3,000,000 was made to aeronautics. Of this sum $1,025,000 has been obligated and the expenditure of a further sum for the purchase of aircraft equipment costing approximately $2,344,000 has been authorized. The [balance?] of approximately $782,000 remains available.

/s/ W.S.Benson

 

Source Note: TDS, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520. In the upper left-hand corner is the identifying number “Op-10.”

Footnote 1: Daniels’ memorandum, which has not been found, must have gone to multiple departments. On 2 June, the Chief Clerk of the Navy Department submitted a report of his activities since the declaration of war and mentioned a 31 May memo from Daniels. See, Frank S. Curtis to Daniels, 2 June 1917, DNA RG 45, Entry 517.

Footnote 2: As war was declared on 6 April 1917, this mobilization took place pre-war.

Footnote 4: For more on the seizure and reclamation of these vessels, see, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations to Benjamin C. Bryan, 31 March 1917, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517.

Footnote 6: The activities of the American destroyer force at Queenstown (Cobh), Ireland, are discussed in a number of documents in this edition.

Footnote 7: These ships were Neptune and Jupiter. See: William S. Sims to Daniels, 8 June 1917.

Footnote 9: For more on the dispatch of American naval forces to France, see: Daniels to William B. Fletcher, 1 June 1917; and Bernard A. de Blanpré to French General Staff, 6 May 1917.

Footnote 11: Capt. William V. Pratt was a member of Benson's staff.

Footnote 12: In the end, the British continued to oversee the organization and sailing of merchant convoys from the United States.

Footnote 13: For a list of the Naval Districts on the Eastern seaboard of the United States and the commandants, see: Daniels to Naval District Commandants, 10 October 1916.

Footnote 14: The Sixth Naval District was headquartered in Charleston, S.C.; the Seventh in Jacksonville/Miami, Florida, and the Eighth in New Orleans, La.

Footnote 15: That is the Eleventh, Twelfth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Naval Districts. The latter covered the Hawaiian Islands.

Footnote 16: The table is no longer attached.

Footnote 17: The Military Governor of Santo Domingo was RAdm. Harry S. Knapp.

Footnote 18: As a result of a treaty passed by the Haitian legislature under pressure from the United States in November 1915, Haiti established the Gendarmerie d’Haiti (Haitian Constabulary), the country’s first professional military force. It was commanded by a U.S. Marine officer.

Footnote 19: In early 1917 a kind of “war fever” took hold in Haiti and U.S. Marines and Haitians spent much time searching for clandestine German submarine bases thought to be on the island. Hans Schmidt, The United States Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1971), 93-94.

Footnote 20: When conservative Cuban president Mario García Menocal was re-elected in November 1916, liberals questioned the circumstances behind his re-election. The controversy escalated into a military insurgency, centered in eastern Cuba. However, the insurgents were not strong enough to overthrow the government and in March 1917, the liberal forces were defeated at the battle of Caicaje, after which many leaders of the liberal movement were captured. The liberals also failed to gain the support of the United States. Therefore, they concluded a peace agreement with the conservatives, the result of which was many liberal leaders were forced to emigrate. Louis A. Perez, Jr. Intervention, Revolution, and Politics in Cuba, 1913-21 [Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1979], 48-68.

Footnote 21: The German crews of the vessels did significant damage to the machinery of those ships when they learned they were to be taken over by the United States. For more on the destruction and reclamation of these vessels, see, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations to Benjamin C. Bryan, 31 March 1917, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517.

Footnote 22: As of June 1917 the five Naval Air Training Stations were in: Akron, OH; Bay Shore, Long Island, NY; Newport News, VA; West Palm Beach, FL; and Pensacola, FL.

Footnote 23: Naval Air Station Rockaway, Rockaway Beach, Queens, NY.

Tags