Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters.
COPY Ser. No. 7223.
Origin: Opnav, Washington. <June 13, 1918.>
Refd. to CS-2
Date: June 15th.
7223. Attacks of the U-151 have been directed almost entirely against unarmed ships westbound or coasting. The protection of coastwise ships can to a large extent be handled by district craft, but unarmed westbound ships are still endangered by operation of cruiser submarines well off shore and this danger might be fairly serious if several cruiser submarines operated well off shore. It is impracticable and Department believes it is not good policy to be forced into convoying of ships to westward further than the off shore operations of submarines operating in European waters make it necessary. At same time any great amount of tonnage loss off our coast would almost inevitably raise the question of continued convoys and escorts to our shores. This would immediately bring pressure on us to retain escorting destroyers here and would force you to consider convoying all the way across westbound instead of escorting beyond European danger zone, the individual sailings rest of voyage. This particular problem will largely settle itself when all merchant vessels can be armed, but until then Department favors following policy for ships returning westbound, after discharge from destroyers escorting, returning in very small groups widely dispersed, each group to include in its number one armed merchant vessel with armed guard instead of sailing individually to destination. It would not be necessary to make any fine distinction in the matter of groups except for speed. In general, ships bound for Halifax, Gulf of Saint Lawrence and Boston might be grouped; New York to Hampton Roads, another group and Charleston S.C. to and including Gulf of Mexico, a third. 13013 7223.
Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Handwritten date confirmed by time/date stamp.