Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Rear Admiral Hugh Rodman, Commander, Battleship Division Nine, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

[Extract]

Battleship Division Nine,

UNITED STATES ATLANTIC FLEET,

U.S.S. NEW YORK, Flagship.

16 March, 1918.              

From:       Commander BATTLESHIP DIVISION NINE.

To:         Secretary of the Navy (OPERATIONS),

Via:        Force Commander.1

SUBJECT:    General Report – week ending 16 March 1918.

   1.     TORPEDO AND TORPEDO-ROOMS ON BATTLESHIPS.

          There is a very serious question in my mind as to whether or not any offensive strength which our torpedoes might give to battleships, is not out ballanced by the danger that would be incurred should the torpedo-rooms be flooded.

          Our torpedoes (this division) have a range of 7500 yards; the policy of the Commander in Chief, Grand Fleet,2 is to open an engagement at maximum range, and keep beyond the enemy’s torpedo range (15,000 yards). This applies to high visibility, and at the same time there can be no question but that we may be expected to close this range under almost any conditions, during an action, and to engage at a much shorter one in low visibility; but it is very doubtful if we will close within our torpedo range and be able to use them effectively. When, therefore, we consider their short range, the amount of exact data and favorable conditions necessary to make hits, the impracticability of being always able to fire them successfully at the high speed which will be maintained in battle, when we often have troubles enough to discharge them at 18 knots, and over, it would seem wiser to land our torpedoes, strengthen the torpedo-rooms with bulk-heads, close them up tight, and use them as flotation chambers, as it would be a serious handicap or danger to have these rooms flooded.

          Torpedo range can be increased by reducing their speed; this has been done in the British service, by running them at 18 knots, instead of 28 knots as designed, but even a like procedure in ours will not give us sufficient additional distance with our present torpedoes to make them effective. In addition to which, if the ship’s speed exceed that of its torpedoes, the latter, under certain conditions, become a menace to our own ships. In the Grand Fleet regulations, ships are prohibited from firing when these conditions obtain.

          I have been informed that the present torpedo-rooms and firing spoon are to be abandoned in major ships of the British service; that torpedoes will be carried in a center-line compartment amidships, with a tube and hoist to each side, so that they may be launched somewhat after the fashion used in destroyers, that is over the side or through it. By the adoption of this method, there would be a great saving in space; only one room would be necessary. If desirable, one of our present rooms might be altered to conform to the new method. In new ships the torpedo-room and tube should be designed below the water-line and behind armor. This seems logical and desirable to me.

          Weighing all of these conditions, the following recommendations are made :-

(a)  Land our 7,500 yard torpedoes, or send them to our destroyers on this side if they can use them; strengthen and close our torpedo-rooms; or

(b)  supply long range torpedoes to these ships.

(c)  After [i.e., Alter] old ships if practicable and equip new ones for launching torpedoes above   water.3

LIGHTENING SHIP.

     2.   Recommendations:  That in order to lighten ship as much as possible and add to her flotation, the Department reduce the amount of heavy spare parts, stores, and articles to a minimum, correct the allowance lists accordingly, and authorize the landing of the surplus.

          In this connection, there are no end of such things carried by all of the ships of a division, squadron, or fleet, which could be pooled, and divided up amongst them, so that each could carry a part, and call on each other for spares and material as necessity required.

          If this be approved, it would mean more speed as well as adding to safety, and be conducive to economy4. . . .

     4.   WEATHER PROTECTION OF GUN’S CREWS.

          No matter what the caliber of gun or where situated, the most efficient work cannot be obtained from the crew unless adequate weather protection be furnished; whether this be in the form of splinter-proof, blast-proof, or wind and weather-proof shelter is a matter to be considered.

          In four days at sea under service conditions on patrol duty, from March 8 to 12, there was only one day when all of the secondary guns could be used effectively; therefore, on three days we were actually limited to one gun in continual readiness on each side; namely No. 20 and No. 21, on this ship, and they out in the open, with little or no protection against cold or wind.

          No one need be expected to stand out on a wind swept deck, in a low temperature, and high wind, at from 15 to 20 knots speed, and do efficient work for any length of time, no matter how willing or how hard he tries, unless some shelter be provided. Yet these guns are kept constantly manned, and, weather permitting, are most useful in picking up objects and lights, as well as for their offensive work.

          Recommendation:  All guns be mounted with permanent and adequate weather protections.5

       5.  PREPAREDNESS, ENDURANCE, ORGANIZATION.

          It is needless to theorize on the practicability of putting officers and men in watch and watch, having half of the turrets and secondary groups always manned and the ship ready for action; it cannot be done in practice for any extended period even if it can be on paper. As a matter of fact, almost all of the officers and most of the men are on watch all of the time, getting, when they can, a little sleep now and then, in improvised places, and having little or no regular rest or comfort. The average time for officers is from 18 to 20 hours out of the 24, and for many of the men about 18 hours.

          This condition could be somewhat ameliorated if all of our officers were of the old school, experienced, in the various duties, and well trained, and if we had a greater number of capable petty officers and experienced men.

This after four days and nights when no one undressesor goes to bed, most of the time being spent in the open on a rigid watch, with little or not rest, is quite a strain. In addition to which, the ships below are darkened; bottled up tight at night, a low temperature, steam turned off, gun deck often awash from heavy seas, and much thick weather, all add to the discomfort of officers and men. Yet there is not the slightest complaint, and every one, without exception, responds most heartily up to all demand made upon them, after a day or so, in port are fit to go again.

     6.  COMMUNICATING POLICY, PROPER ACTION TO SUBORDINATES.

     When instructions are received from the Commander in Chief for active duty at sea, all Commanding Officers of the forces should have full written instructions of the general plans and policy of the work to be carried out. They should include all contingencies likely to arise, so far as can be anticipated, what action to take under the circumstances; otherwise, there cannot be intelligent cooperation. Much responsibility is apt to develope on subordinatesat any hourl they should be fully ready to respond at once without reference to their superiors. This general principle also applies to the ship’s organisations, particularly in reference to opening fire, avoiring danger.

     6. OFFICERS VISITING THE FLEET.

     At Admiral Sim’s suggestion, an invitation has been extended to officers under him awaiting assignment, and some of the senior members of his staff, to visit this division and be assigned for temporary duty, if they remain long enough.

     8. INFORMATION RELATING TO COMMUNICATIONS:

     . . . It might be added that there is still much to be desired in the transmission and reception of signals and information,that there are numerous faults both in the system and methods that might be overcome; that there is a tremendous amount of loss of time, which, if it could be saved, would be a vast benefit. The good and the bad points will be set forth.

       9. WIRELESS TELEPHONES

          In connection with communications, I am convinced that every fighting ship and all others that accompany the fleet should be equipped with wireless telephones. To code and decode to transmit by radio in cypher, or even plain tactical letters, to formulate the original signal and have it reach its ultimate destination, takes a great deal of time. Often it is urgently necessary that information be instantly transmitted, when flag hoists, visuals, or radio are entirely too slow, and when a telephone message would instantly set matters right. The telephone would also be invaluable in controlling concentrations of fire.

          It is true enough that when a number of vessels are out for the sole purpose of doing tactical exercise, when the auxiliary set is in the conning tower or on the bridge, and only tactical signals are being set, that there is little or no lost notion, but under present conditions, when there are four or five wave lengths and a multiplicity of codes, in use at the same time, when information and orders of all kinds are continually coming and going, when flag hoists and visuals are being used, when visibility constantly changes, and when fog shuts down in the midst of a change or manoeuvers without warning, only a wireless telephone can save the day.

          It should be remembered that vessels always travel at high speeds; that on account of submarine menace they cannot slow down or stop, hence, when they get separated in thick weather on different course, quick action is necessary. It should also be remembered, that capital ships avoid the use of radio as much as possible, on account of the enemy’s direction finders, and that after a message is coded, it is sent by visual to an accompanying destroyer, thence by radio to another destroyer, and by the latter by visual to a capital ship for which it was originally intended, when it must be decoded, etc.

          A recent example will suffice: This battleship Division with screen of eight destroyers, speed 15 knots, was heading East at 5.30 a.m. to join forces at a pre-arranged 6.00 a.m. rendezvous with a light cruiser division and destroyer screen, all on convoy duty. Seeing a rapidly approaching fog bank ahead, a flag signal was hoisted “Ships right 8 point”. Before it could be gotten through to all ships and acknowledged, the fog shut down. It had to be immediately executed, not knowing whether the signal was understood or the maneuver would be carried out by all vessels. As a result we ran into the light cruisers and screen, dire confusion followed, and a number of dangerous collisions between several of the vessels of their own and other division were barely averted, by the prompt and efficient action and by the skilful handling.

          It might be added that doubt existed in the minds of some of the Commanding Officers as to whether whistle blasts were for changing course or only fog signals; and that in one instance at least, when two ships had the same pitch to their whistles, and each sounded one blast, that a near ship mistook them for two blasts from a single ship, and got deeper into trouble as a consequence.

          It remains a mystery why some were not sunk, when the two forces came together, as they passed on various courses, sometimes at right angles to each other, all at high speed, in the fog, some within a few yards of each other with nothing to spare.

          This came about because a later signal “All vessels change course to West immediately”, was not received at all or in time to avoid danger, and resulted in the divisions breaking up in groups, the forces getting mixed, and scattered over a wide area, out of sight of each other.

          It is needless to go into detail as to what followed, vessels were running here and there in the fog at 15 knots speed; some got certain signals, others did not; a rendez-vous was appointed to the westward where it was supposedly clear; before all had time to reach it, a new convoy sailed, and it became necessary for those vessels which had gotten together to head for it to protect it. A second rendez-vous was designated; more trouble with signals, etc., and it was not until 6:00 a.m. the following day, 24 hours later, and then much by chance in a low visibility that we managed much by good fortune to concentrate the force by all getting together; and all this was due solely to lack of efficient and prompt communitation, or no communication at all in some cases.

          There is no use in arguing that the enemy can hear a wireless telephone as well as the ordinary radio; true enough, but in all cases the benefits as well as the dangers must be considered. But by using low power, and placing the transmitter and receiver under protection, when it can be made instantly available, and issuing and enforcing regulations that will only permit its use under emergency, it will be a most valuable and efficient addition to the communication system.

          Already there have arisen many instances where it would have been invaluable, and I can conceive of many others, when the time saved by its use, would undoubtedly “save the day”, and add immensely to the safety and efficiency of the force.

          RECOMMENDATION: That six complete sets be immediately forwarded to this division, one for each of the ships, and one for the leader of the destroyer screen. I am aware that the WYOMING already has a set, but recommend that all be alike, and of the most improved pattern. Plenty of use can be found for the one already on the WYOMING.6

10. DRAFT OF MEN.

A draft of 73 men from home was received late Friday night, March 8, about an hour before sailing on convoy duty. . . .

11. QUARANTINE.

          The NEW YORK has been almost continually in quarantine for mumps, since our arrival; everything possible is being done to eradicate it.

     12. EMPLOYMENT OF VESSELS.

     (a) Friday, March 8, at 11:30 p.m., this division dailed [i.e., sailed] for convoy duty across the North Sea with a screen of eight destroyers. Junction was made with a light cruiser division and screen and with the convoy at an appointed rendezvous at 7:15 a.m. the next morning. Owing to heavy weather our progress was slow, and at dark the following day, then six hours be[h]ind time, we were still about 35 miles off the Norwegian port to which we were bound. It being thick, the convoy proceeded alone, the protecting force was withdrawn, courses and speeds for the night assigned, and at 6:00 a.m., rendezvous appointed. The confusion which followed due to poor communications, is sufficiently referred to in preceding paragraphs. On Tuesday, March 12, we returned to our base, and arrived at 5:30 p.m.

     (b) During our cruise both the FLORIDA and DELAWARE each sighted periscopes: the latter maneuvered to avoid the submarine, One floating mine was sunk by gun fire.

     (c) Two reports were received by radio of submarines that had been located, giving their positions and general course, and which we might encounter. The information was obtained and transmitted by direction finding stations ashore, that had fixed the submarine’s position by hearing them use radio7. . . .

     14. DRAFT OF ENLISTED MEN, TO COMMISSION A NAVAL VESSEL.

     At the request of Vice Admiral Sims, and in order to help out in an emergency, this division will, in the near future, send a draft of enlisted men to make up part of the crew of the U.S.S. BELLA, shortly to be commissioned in the WAR ZONE.8

     15. RADIO PERSONNEL.

In discussing the subject of radio personnel with Captain Todd,9 he informed me that there was a large radio school at Harvard University, and that it was very probable that some of the graduates would be available for duty with this division.

          It is not contemplated making a request for any of these men if this division is not to be augmented by the addition of more ships, but should the Department contemplate such a move it is recommended that 8 of these men for each additional ship, be sent to this division immediately in order that they may become broken in to the system in use over here and ready for transfer to the ships upon their arrival.10

(Sgd.) Hugh Rodman.     

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 382. Note below close: “To OPNAV (2)/Copies to:/Force Comdr./CinC Atl. Fleet./Chief Naval/Intelligence./File.”

Footnote 1: VAdm. William S. Sims.

Footnote 2: Adm. Sir David Beatty.

Footnote 3: There is no evidence that Rodman’s suggestions were acted on.

Footnote 4: In a report of 23 May 1918, Rodman noted that facilities ashore had been acquired to hold all surplus stores. See, Rodman to Sims, 23 May 1918, ibid.

Footnote 5: In a report of 22 April, Capt. Thomas Washington, Commander, Florida, reported that a number of the ship’s guns had been made watertight with the installation of “shutters.” Therefore, steps were taken to comply with Rodman’s suggestions. See, Thomas Washington to Rodman, 22 April 1918, ibid. However, while the Navy Department began removing hull-mounted secondary guns from battleships during the war, the battleships of Rodman’s division did not. Friedman, U.S. Battleships: 176.

Footnote 6: While telephones for internal communications had become standard, ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communications were rarely successful over fifty miles limiting their usefulness. Still, Crisis at Sea: 331. Moreover, an inspection report in November 1918 noted that tests demonstrated that “radio telephone” on battleships in Rodman’s division were not satisfactory even for some on-board uses because of “interference caused by too broad a wave and too much power.”See,  Mayo to Daniels, 1 November 1918, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 382.

Footnote 7: On 15 March, Adm. William S. Benson, the Chief of Naval Operations, sent a cable to Sims questioning the use of battleships to escort convoys. See, Benson to Sims, 15 March 1918, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. See also: Sims to Benson, 17 March 1918.

Footnote 8: Bella, a former merchant steamer, was purchased by the Navy on 22 February, and commissioned on 15 March at the Naval Air Station at Paulliac, to serve as a support ship for naval aviation units in Europe. DANFS.

Footnote 9: Capt. David W. Todd, Director of Naval Communication and Chief Cable Censor.

Footnote 10: With the exception of Texas, Rodman’s division was not “augmented.”

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