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Assistant Secretary of War Benedict Crowell to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels


Washington, D. C.

June 12, 1918.               

The Honorable,

  The Secretary of the Navy.


     For the past several months at the request of the United States Shipping Board the Panama Railroad company has been operating its two colliers, the SACHILLES and the USLYSSES, between Norfolk and Boston for the purpose of meeting the urgent need for coal of the New England industries.1 The Shipping Board has provided tonnage, consisting principally of ships engaged in the nitrate traffic, sufficient to offset the amount of cargo coal that would have been carried by the ACHILLES and ULYSSES to the Isthmus.

     In connection with the presence of German submarines off the Atlantic Coast,2 the Panama Railroad Company has just made an urgent request for the installation of adequate guns on board these two colliers. These Boats are of deep draft and cannot operate close to shore, which handicaps their operations and specially jeopardizes them under existing condition.

     You may recall from previous correspondence that gun foundations and magazines were installed on these two boats last year in the New York Navy Yard, and it was then understood that batteries could be placed on board these ships in two or three days’ time. In view of this fact and in view of the importance of taking all necessary steps to protect these two large colliers, will you kindly arrange to furnish and mount the necessary guns for their protection at the earlies practicable time and advise when and where this work will be done, giving such general information and instructions as the circumstances would warrant? It is also requested that an adequate supply of ammunttion [i.e., ammunition] be furnished each vessels and that consideration be given to the question of detailing gun crews to these vessels at the proper time.

     In order to save time and to avoid unnecessary delays, it is requested that you reply to this letter direct to the Chief of Office, The Panama Canal, Washington, D. C. and that all future correspondence regarding the matter be sent through him, as he is handling this subject for the Panama Railroad Company.3

     It is urged that the foregoing natter [i.e., matter] be given special consideration by the Navy Department and that nothing be left undone toward expediting action upon the request contained herein.4

For the Secretary of War:         

Very respectfully,           


The Assistant Secretary of War.

Source Note: TLS, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.

Footnote 1: On the shipping of coal to New England, see: William G. McAdoo to Daniels, 3 June 1918.

Footnote 2: There was only one submarine, U-151, operating in American waters. For more on its operations, see: Warning to All Ships and Stations, 3 June 1918.

Footnote 3: The next day the Chief of the Panama Canal Office in Washington, D.C., A. L. Flint, sent Daniels a note enclosing a letter he had just received from the vice-president of the Panama Railroad Company reiterating the request for arming the colliers. He added that he had spoken with the Commandant of the New York Navy Yard and the Third Naval District and both men told him to “apply at once to the Secretary of the Navy in order to get quick action.” He mentioned that Achilles and Ulysses, because of their deep draughts, were obliged to operate “75 to 100 miles off shore” on their runs between Hampton Roads and Boston. He added that the work could be done at New York, as both colliers were going to be at that place in the next day or two. He also asked that a gunner’s mate be assigned to each ship “to organize and drill gun crews.” E.A. Drake to A.L. Flint, 12 June 1918, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.

Footnote 4: On 14 June, Chief of Naval Operations contacted A.L. Scott and assured him that the colliers would be “furnished with armament and Armed Guards as soon as they are suitably prepared to receive them” and that preparations would start “immediately.” Benson to Flint, 14 June 1918, Ibid.

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