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Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, to Naval District Commandants

28 March, 1918.    

From:     Chief of Naval Operations.

To  :     Commandants, First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Naval Districts.1

SUBJECT: Plan for Coastwise Shipping Control in Case of Submarine Activity on this Coast.2

     1.   It is requested that the Commandant of each Naval District forward to the Department (Operations) general recommendations on the above subject and detailed recommendations as it concerns his district. It is desired that there be taken into consideration all local conditions affecting the plan, such as, the prevalence of fogs and particularly unfavorable weather at certain seasons; the facilities for coastwise shipping entering harbors under all conditions of tide, night, etc.; character of the coastal waters, whether coasting may be done in less than ten fathoms; the off-shore areas in which there may be danger of colliding with outward-bound convoys at night, etc.

     2. Outlined below as a guide is a plan under consideration by the Department.

     (a) To all Customs officials, ship owners and others connected with operating vessels in coastwise trade will be sent out immediately a circular letter stating, that, in the event of report being received of submarine activity on this coast, upon notification the control of all shipping will immediately pass into the hands of the Navy. Coastal vessels may expect radio war warnings to be sent out in plain english giving notice of the presence of submarines and ordering all coastal vessels within designated districts to put into the nearest port for orders. The limits of the Naval Districts will be defined and the captains of the vessels will be instructed to ask for instructions from the Naval District Commandant, whose telegraph address and telephone number will be given.

     (b) Until the actual presence of submarines on this side, coastwise shipping is to follow the normal routes and schedules.

     (c) Acting upon warnings received of the location of enemy submarines, shipping will be routed in those districts, where it may be necessary, along the following general plan:

     (1) In all cases the control of shipping within a district will be in the hands of the district commandant. In order that the proper cooperation may be obtained along the whole coast, this control will follow a general doctrine, and the commandant of each district will be informed of the control of those districts adjacent to his district.

     (2) The best practice is to have coastwise shipping proceed by day hugging the shore and keeping within the five fathom curve or as near to it as practicable. Also, since it is the policy of the Shipping Committees charged with such work to allocate the smallest and least valuable ships to the coasting trade it, as a matter of expediency should be the policy to protect such shipping by the means within the districts through which the coastwise shipping passes.

     (3) When it is found expedient to route coastwise shipping by night, it should proceed independently, being routed with due regard to the warnings received of the location of enemy submarines.

     (4) Districts 1, 2 and 3 – New York to Northward.

     All coastwise shipping bound to or from New York proceed via Long Island Sound keeping to the Northern Shore and travel by night or day as far as New London.

     Since it is impractical to follow the five fathom curve, from New London Northward, proceed (1) by day or night via Buzzard’s Bay and Cape Cod Canal, or (2) by day or night via Vineyard Sound or (3) independently by night coasting when necessary to go outside.

     Northward from Nantucket Shoals or Cape Cod Canal, proceed independently by night coasting.

     (5) Districts 3, 4, 5, and 6 – Between New York and Jacksonville.

     Shipping proceed by day hugging the shore and keeping within the five fathom curve as near as it is practicable. This shipping will be protected by the means within the capacity of the Naval Districts through which it passes.

     (6) District 7 – Jacksonville to Key West.

     The coast here is too steep to allow daylight coasting in less than ten fathoms and lack of sheltered anchorages will not allow night cruising from port to port (except for small craft that can use anchorages at Settlement Point, Bimini Islands and Turtle Harbor).

     The Florida Straits should then be made safe for traffic by having it convoyed through or by aircraft and destroyer patrol. Shipping out of the Gulf Mexico should be routed North or South of Cuba as the circumstances existing at the time render more expedient.

     (7) Districts 7 and 8 – Between Key West and Galveston.

     Same as New York to Jacksonville.

     (8) District 8 – Between Galveston and Tampico.

     Night coasting.

(sgd) W. S. Benson.     

Source Note: Cy, DNA. RG 45, Entry 517B. Document reference: “2011-57-NO/Op-23/24514.”

Footnote 1: The Naval District Commandants were, Boston, RAdm. Spencer S. Wood; Narragansett, Capt. Patrick W. Hourigan; New York, RAdm Nathaniel R. Usher; Philadelphia, Capt. James M. Helm; Norfolk, RAdm. William McLean; Charleston, Capt. Benjamin C. Bryan; Key West, RAdm. William B. Fletcher; New Orleans, Commo. Valentine S. Nelson.

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