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Captain Hutchinson I. Cone, Commander, United States Naval Aviation Forces, Foreign Service, to Captain Noble E. Irwin, Director of Naval Aviation

U. S. Naval Aviation Forces, Foreign Service



     AMNAVPAR-PARIS                                 PASSY 13-80



In Reply Refer To 8195        June 19th, 1918.

My dear Irwin:

              I have just been on a short trip to London on important business, and will now gossip with you a few minutes concerning matters that I picked up over there.

              The object of my trip primarily was to get the Admiral’s1 views on the question of a change in our organization to meet the operating conditions of the different stations now that we will have them practically completed in about a month. We have finally arrived at the conclusion that the center of effort of my acticities is concentrated in England, so I will probably move my Headquarters office to London in the course of time. The organization as rigged was primarily to construct the stations and get them in an operating condition, and I think I can say without fear of failure that this will be practically completed in a few weeks. In fact, it is about completed now and a number of our stations are ready to operate seaplanes.

              I am off tonight for Brest to see Admiral Wilson2 and if I can secure his approval, propose to organize the stations in France into one unit under his command, so that our organization will be shaped up something like the following: a single operating unit in Ireland with a Commanding Officer; one unit at Killingholme with a Commanding Officer; the Northern Bombing Squadrons with a Commanding Officer of the entire group; the two Seaplane Stations in Italy with a Commanding Officer, and all the Seaplane Stations in France with a Commanding Officer. This will result in a considerable part of the Headquarters’ organization going over to the Commanding Officer in France for the reason that a considerable part of our efforts have been directed toward the construction of the different stations in France. Headquarters will then concern itself primarily with the general supervision over all, planning for the future, securing material and personnel to meet future events, and dividing up same between the different units to the best advantage, supplying you with all possible technical information etc., etc. I will let you know, of course, as soon as we arrive at some definite conclusion. In the meantime we will go along here as we are <as we have> plenty of time to rearrange affairs.

              I had a long talk with Whiting3 and he seemed to be very optimistic generally about things in Washington, but informed me that you were very anxious to go to sea, a desire which I can well understand and one which I share with you. This naturally is very disappointing for me to hear, because I had visions of your returning with Briscoe4 and looking us all over here and getting filled up with our point of view, and going back to continue the good work of boosting us along. Whiting further told me that in case you left there was a chance that Frank Clark5 might be induced to take the job, and if such is the case I know you will lend yourself to seeing that he is put in charge, for no better man could be found.

              I hope you will allay the fears of anyone at home who thinks that we are going to get out of our legitimate field of operations in connection with the Northern Bombing Squadrons, for I have no idea of doing that. We are now organizing them under the Admiral at Dover,6 and they will work right in with a Naval Group which the English have already found necessary to establish in the Dunkerque area under General Lambe, who was Captain Lambe of the Royal Navy before the amalgamation of the forces.7 When they talk amalgamation of the operation of these affairs at home, the action of the British authorities is rather illuminating, for they had not been operating but a very few weeks under the combined forces before they found it necessary to establish what they call Group Five and place this commander over under the command of the Admiral at Dover, which really is established for operating purposes as a small part of the old R.N.A.S.

              As you know, I have written you in the past that I rather lean to the question of amalgamation, but since my recent visit to England I am strongly of the opinion that it will never do to amalgamate the operation of aircraft, and I think anyone who desires to do this had better look into the results following the amalgamation in England, and especially the effect on the Navy as it concerns its anti-submarine campaign.

              The English have sent a commission to the United States with General Brancker8 in charge, and from all I gathered in England, he is a light weight; in fact, they are using this method to unload him. At any rate, he first started out to go over and recommend to the President9 that we amalgamate our Air Services, but after an interview with Sims and looking into the matter, he claimed when he left that he was going to advocate no such thing. I am rather curious to know what the results of this commission have been. I personally believe that the main motive behind its visit is one to justify the English in their foolish move in the middle of war.10

              Another important thing that came up while I was in England was the fact that they are running very short of personnel, both flying and ground, to man their different Air Stations, and are submitting to me a list of what they will require, and are very anxious to know if we will loan them the services of these men. I don’t know in what shape it will come to me, but if it is in any reasonable shape I shall recommend that we do loan them the services of pilots and ground men with the proper proportion of ground officers, of course, with the understanding that when our men have become sufficiently trained and experienced that we will be given our proportionate share in the control and command of the different stations. I think it a splendid idea for us to secure a large number of experienced pilots as well as ground men, and I am sure that if the English are to keep up the present anti-submarine campaign in the air around their coast, that it will be necessary for us to loan them this personnel. For this reason I would strongly advise that you not curtail in any way the training of flying personnel and also ground personnel. Probably long before this letter reaches you I will have taken this matter up by cable, as the matter seemed to be quite urgent from what I gathered in England.

              All of the high air officials in England were very kind to me and were very complimentary of the manner in which we were meeting our obligations, which of course, was gratifying, and especially so under the circumstances. As you know, when I came over here I made no promises to have the Stations in operation before July 1st, and then I told them that I thought we would have our stations in full operation. While all of our stations won’t be in full operation at this time, nevertheless they will be so near it as to enable us to say that we have fulfilled our obligations in every particular because our final undertakings were so many times larger than those we originally obligated to do. This meeting of obligations has undoubtedly produced a good effect in England because the fact is established, as far as I am able to obtain information, that we are the only people in the air game, not excepting the English air service itself, who have anywhere near met promised dates.

              I am glad to be able to inform you that we have assembled several HS-1s at Pauillac already, and they are now flying with good results. We are also assembling the first H-16 and reports today inform me that within a short while we will be in a position to turn out several daily, so you can see your plans are really being realized after all. Of course, we will have some difficulties such as the landing of most of our planes at Brest from the transports, but this is small and for Heaven’s sake continue to send them over in any way you can, for I am organizing a subsidiary plant in a hangar at Brest and we will meet the situation without seriously embarrassing us in the least.

               With best regards, I am


H. I. Cone                

Source Note: LTS, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Subject File, Roll 26. Below the close, the letter is addressed, “Captain N. E. Irwin, U.S.N.,/Office of Naval Operatings,/Navy Department/ Washington, D.C.”

Footnote 1: VAdm. William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters.

Footnote 2: RAdm. Henry B. Wilson, Commander, United States Naval Forces in France.

Footnote 3: Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth Whiting, Commander, Naval Air Stations 14 and 15 at Killingholme. Whiting arrived in England on 1 June to assume this command, although the official transition of the stations under his authority did not occur until 20 July.

Footnote 4: Lt. Cmdr. Benjamin Briscoe, head of the Assembly and Repair Section, United States Naval Aviation Forces, Foreign Service.

Footnote 5: Cmdr. Frank H. Clark.

Footnote 6: VAdm. Sir Roger J. B. Keyes.

Footnote 7: Charles Laverock Lambe, Commander, Royal Naval Air Service Dover Command, and General Commanding Office, VII Brigade, Royal Air Force.

Footnote 8: William Sefton Brancker, Director of Military Aeronautics and Controller-General of Equipment, Royal Air Force.

Footnote 9:Woodrow Wilson.

Footnote 10: For Sims’ take on the amalgamation debate, see: Sims to William S. Benson, 14 June 1918; Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels shared his opinion on this issue during a press conference on 19 June. The British lobbied hard for Navy officials to implement amalgamation of its air forces-Brancker was a notable exception in this regard-throughout spring and summer 1918. This issue, however, was not settled by the time of the Armistice in November, and indeed, this battle continued to rage fiercely in both Britain and the United States for years after the war’s conclusion; Rossano, Striking the Hornet’s Nest, 139-140.

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