Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

MERCANTILE CONVOY

March 1, 1918.     

SECRET

From:     Commander, U.S.Naval Forces in European Waters.

To  :     Secretary of the Navy (Operations).

Subject:  Traffic Routes to United Kingdom and France.

Enclosures:    Copies of Sketch “A”.1

          The following description of traffic routes into the United Kingdom and France is forwarded for the information of the Department and those concerned with routing supplies and stores to U.S.Naval Forces in European Waters.

MERCANTILE CONVOY SYSTEM

from

NORTH AMERICA TO UNITED KINGDOM AND FRANCE

AND RETURN.

     1.   TRUNK LINES.

          There are two main trunk lines carrying all the traffic from North America to the United Kingdom and France. The Southerntrunk line carries what are known as “East coast convoys” – that is, convoys for the east coast of England and Scotland. These convoys all enter the English Channel and proceed up that Channel through the Dover Straits and up the east coast of England. Ships drop out of convoy as they pass their destinations.

          The Northern trunk line contains what are known as “West coast convoys”. This trunk line passes north of Ireland and carries traffic for ports on the West Coast of England and Scotland, and ports on the Irish Sea.

          All the convoys from North America pass over one or the other of these two trunk lines.

     2.   BRANCH LINES.

          Branch lines are as shown in sketch “A”. For the “West coast convoys” a branch runs to the northward to Scapa and Rosyth: Other branches run to ports in the Irish Sea and Bristol Channel.

          From the “East coast convoys” branches run down the French Atlantic coast. Vessels are also branched off in the English Channel to French and English ports on the Channel, and the convoys continue up the east coast of England until all vessels have reached their destinations.

     3.   ROUTING OF SHIPS

          It will be noted that there is a continuous flow of traffic as laid out by these trunk lines and branches. Vessels should be loaded and destined in accordance with the manner in which traffic is routed. For instance, ships should not be loaded for Brest and Scapa, as the normal flow for Scapa would be via the “West Coast” trunk line, thence up the West coast of Scotland, then home from Scapa. A vessel loaded for Brest or French Atlantic ports should be routed via “East coast convoy” and be loaded so as to discharge first at Brest then at Bordeaux and then home by way of the convoy out of Bordeaux. Vessels for Queenstown only should be routed via east coast convoy to Brest, thence by branch line from Brest to Queenstown, thence home. Vessels loaded for both Dublin and Queenstown should be routed via west coast convoy to Dublin where special escort will be provided from Dublin to Queenstown, thence home. Vessels with partial cargo for Azores should be routed to European destination first and instructed to touch at Azores on return trip.

     4.   LOADING OF SHIPS.

          It is important that in loading vessels they be prepared to discharge in accordance with the established flow of traffic. A case recently arose in which a vessel discharged part of her cargo at Brest, then proceeded to Bordeaux to discharge the bulk of her cargo then had to return to Brest for final discharge and then to Bordeaux to join convoy for home. This not only increases the danger but considerably delays the discharge of the vessel.

     5.   SPECIAL LOADINGS.

          In case of partial cargoes for different destinations where it is evident that the vessel cannot be loaded so as to follow the normal flow of traffic, cables should be sent in advance of sailing to Commander, U.S. Naval Forces in European Waters, so that recommendation can be made to route the vessel, to make the best use of escorts and return the vessel to the United States with the least delay.

     6    TRANSHIPMENT.

          Facilities throughout the United Kingdom for transshipment are excellent. Where cargoes are consigned to two or more destinations not on the normal flow of traffic, a small amount of cargo for one destination can be transshipped so as to relieve our supply ship from unnecessary travel through dangerous waters and to permit the vessel to return to U.S. with the least delay.

          Facilities for transshipment in France or between U.S. and France are very poor.

     7.   SAILINGS OF CONVOYS FROM NORTH AMERICA.

          The following schedule of eastward sailing is in effect in North American Waters:-

( Sydney – Cape Breton (Halifax while Sydney is frozen) one convoy every 16 days for east coast, minimum speed 200 miles.

( Sydney – Cape Breton   do.  do.  for west coast minimum speed 200 miles.

Halifax – One convoy every 8 days for west coast only minimum speed 300 miles a day.

( New York – One convoy every 8 days for west coast ports, minimum speed 228 miles a day.

( New York     do.  do.  east do. minimum speed 228 miles a day.

( Hampton Roads – one convoy every 16 days from west coast ports; minimum speed 200 miles a day.

( Hampton Roads -   do.  do.  east do. minimum speed 200 miles a day.

     8.   WESTWARD CONVOYS.

          Westward convoys of ships bound out of United Kingdom or France sail from the following ports;-

Bordeaux one convoy every 8 days, speed 200 miles

Plymouth,Eng.       "    " 4 "     "

Milford Haven, Wales"    " 4 "     "

Queenstown          "    " 4 "     "

Lamlash, Isle of Arran, " " 4 "     "

Scapa, Sailings to the westward when required.

          At present all of these convoys are dispersed when clear of dangerous waters.

     9.   PROPOSED STORESHIP CONVOY DIRECT TO FRENCH COAST.

          In order to avoid concentration of shipping and the dangers inherent in bringing storeships in east coast convoys into the English Channel and then branching them down along the French Atlantic Coast to destinations, thereby subjecting them to additional danger both from mines and submarines, it has been proposed to establish an additional convoy sailing direct from United States for the French Atlantic Coast and containing ships bound for ports on the French Atlantic Coast only. This convoy would break joints with the convoy now sailing out of Bordeaux – that is, the convoy from Bordeaux would be sailed so as to be dispersed at the edge of the submarine zone and the escorts would then pick up the eastbound convoy and bring it to a central point on the French Atlantic Coast, thence by coastal route to destinations.

WM. S. SIMS             

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Addressed below close: “Copy to/C.-in-C., Atlantic Fleet [Adm. Henry T. Mayo]/with one sketch.” Document reference: “C/J11/41./01.10643-11-4-13.”

Footnote 1: This enclosure has not been found.

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