Information for Ship Owners Concerning the Armed Guard Program
CONFIDENTIAL March <13> 1917.
INFORMATION FOR SHIP OWNERS.
1. Owners of merchant vessels of American registry desiring that Armed Guards be placed on their vessels should fill out, sign and forward the attached form of application. A separate form should be made out for each vessel for which Armed Guard is requested. Upon receipt of the application, an inspection of the vessel by Naval Officers will be ordered to determine the charactor of the armament most suitable and to furnish the owners sketch plans of gun emplacements and structural changes necessary to fit the vessel to receive the guns.
2. Upon completion of inspection, the inspecting officers will report by wire to the Navy Department their recommendations. The Navy Department will decide what guns to furnish the vessel. The owners will be informed of the decision and should then go ahead with the preparation of the gun emplacements, etc.
3. The work of preparing the gun emplacement, quarters for gun crews, etc. must be done by the owners, at the owners’ expense. The Navy Yards cannot undertake this work, but will assist in placing guns and mounts on board.
4. Ship owners are required to furnish suitable quarters for one commissioned naval officer, two petty officers for each vessel, and for five men in addition for each gun assigned to the vessel. Two guns is the least number that will be assigned to any vessel. Arrangements should be made to quarter and mess the guns crews by themselves. The Armed Guard does not perform any duty on board except military duty which includes lookout duty near the guns and the cleaning of their own quarters.
5. The shipowner must quarter and mess the Armed Guard on board both at sea and in port without expense to the Government or to the Armed Guard.
6. The regulations concerning the Armed Guard are confidential and are not disclosed to shipowners until the Armed Guard goes on board.1 Copies of these regulations cannot be obtained except upon formal application of the ship owner after the Armed Guard has been ordered. The general tenor of the regulations is that the Naval Officer commanding the Armed Guard has absolute power to decide when, where, and how, the military duties of the Armed Guard shall be performed but that he shall never control the movements of the vessel. It is expected, of course, that the master and the commander of the Armed Guard will act in harmony each in his own sphere.2
7. The Commandant of the nearest Navy Yard will be pleased to furnish you such other information as pertains to any particular vessel and it is suggested that upon forwarding to this office the form referred to in paragraph 1, you get into direct communication with the Commandant, forwarding to him at the same time a copy of the above form.3
Source Note: TDS, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. The date was added as a penciled interlineation.
Footnote 1: On 12 March, the United States State Department announced that because of the German policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, the government of the United States had determined to place aboard all American merchant vessels sailing through “barred areas” an “armed guard” to protect those vessels, their crews and passengers. DNA, RG45, Entry 517B.
Footnote 2: See: Regulations Governing the Conduct of American Merchant Vessels on which Armed Guards have been placed, 13 March 1917.
Footnote 3: The Navy assigned guns to seven ships on the day this Instruction was issued. Of these the S.S. Manchuria was the first to go to sea. At the time of this Instruction, the Navy had only 376 guns of suitable calibre (3inch/50calibre to 6inch/45 calibre) not already committed to its warships and some of these were being used by naval militia units. As a result, the Navy decided to remove guns from older battleships and cruisers. Shortages of guns for the Armed Guard program continued and so did the practice of stripping older armed vessels of their armament. It took till mid-1918 for the delivery of newly-produced guns. The Bureau of Ordnance did not consider itself ahead of demand until October 1918 did. By war’s end 1,742 merchant ships were armed with 4,360 guns. Friedman, Naval Weapons of WWI: 155-56.