Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels
6th March, 1918.
FROM: Force Comman<d>er.
TO : Secretary of the Navy (Operations).
SUBJECT: General Report.
1. ENEMY SUBMARINE OPERATIONS.
<D>uring the week 17-23 February, it is estimated that twenty-three submarines were out, six being vessels of the converted “Deutschland” type. Of the latter, two were outward bound, two were probably homeward bound in a position to the westward of the Bay of Biscay, one was working in the vicinity of the Canary Islands, and one was last reported one hundred miles north-west of Sierra Leone.
Of the remaining large boats, nine to twel<ve> were operating in the waters off the British Islands (except the North Sea) and it appeared that as many as five were in the Irish Sea, where greatest activity was experienced, at the end of the week.
One large submarine was working in the eastern Channel, and two at least were in the western Channel entrance.
The following table gives more detailed particulars of the enemy’s activities -
Average No. of submarines
in area per day.
North Sea, South of 53° 30' N.
" " , North of 53° 30' N.
5 - 6
N.W. of Ireland and Scotland
1 - 2
S.W. of Ireland
1 - 2
Irish Sea and Bristol Channel
3 - 4
English Channel and approaches
4 - 5
Bay of Biscay
4 - 5
Reports of ten encounters with enemy submarines have been received as follows:-
4 by destroyers
1 by destroyer and airship
1 by auxiliary patrol
3 by aircraft.
2. ENEMY MINE LAYING.
The week has been marked by a recrudescence of activity and for the first time during a considerable period mines were laid in the Tyne area. Mines were also located in the Clyde area, inside the Cumbrae passage, one being swept up almost abreast Skelmrile Bank,1 which indicates considerable enterprise on the part of the submarine. For some reason, however, large Channel was not visited and so it was possible to divert traffic through that route and no delay was occasioned. Fifty-four mines were destroyed.
The accompanying table gives statistics and particulars of vessels under organized convoy.
4. ANTI-SUBMARINE OPERATIONS.
Tests with towing K-tubes have been conducted throughout the past week, a number of preliminary tests having been made, and on the 27th instant, final tests which were witnessed by the Director of the Anti-Submarine Division of the Admiralty and Captain Leigh, were conducted at Portland.2 In these tests three different types of fish were used, and some of the results were very satisfactory. Generally speaking, however, the results were not consistent and further development must be made before a satisfactory towing K tube is obtained. In practically every instance the water noises were eliminated from the fish directional qualities. were poor. Tests of towing L-tubes will be continued.
An official report from the trawlers operating in Fair Island Passage, on which K-tubes were installed, has been forwarded to the Bureau of Steam Engineering. This report clearly demonstrates the necessity of having a stronger cable for use with the K-tube in rough weather. The weather in Fair Island channel was very rough, and, while the K-tubes operated satisfactorily, the cable was broken in a number of instances upon taking the K-tube on board. Steps have been taken to secure sufficient cable of a stronger type in England to replace the cable at present being used with these K-tubes, and a cable has been sent to the Bureau of Steam Engineering calling attention to the necessity for a stronger type of cable.
A plan for a K-tube sound barrage in the English Channel to assist in preventing raids on Dover Strait has been placed before the Admiralty, and a copy of this plan prepared by the Planning Section has been forwarded to the chief of Naval Operations. A cablegram has been sent to the Bureau of Steam Engineering for the immediate shipment of twelve K-tubes for this work, and reply has been received to the effect that these tubes were shipped on February 26th.
Upon the return of the AYLWIN from her present hunt in the Channel – about the 6th March – a K-tube will be installed in a forward trimming tank of this ship. It is believed that a K-tube may be successfully operated in this location.
Tests of K-tubes for directional qualities have been conducted through a cable twenty-one miles in length. These tests clearly demonstrated that the directional qualities of the K-tube were not effected by this longer cable.
A full report of the cruise of the AYLWIN during the past week has been forwarded to the Chief of Naval Operations.3 The AYLWIN is at present in the English Channel engaged in a hunt for submarines with a unit of the British trawlers equipped with Nash-Fish hydrophones.
During the past week one of the hunting units of British trawlers equipped with Nash Hydrophones pursued a submerged submarine for about thirteen hours. The submarine was first heard about 11:15 a.m. on the starboard bow by the trawler WAR GREY. At 1:00 p.m. a submarine appeared to be very close, and great difficulty was experienced in getting a “silent zone”. The fighting vessel accompanying this hunting unit – the “P-20” – upon instructions from the WAR GREY, dropped four depth charges but there were no outward results. The submarine was again picked up on the hydrophones and chased until 6:15 p.m. when it took refuge on the bottom in about 20 fathoms of water. A buoy was put over and watch kept. At 12:20 a. m. the following morning the submarine came to the surface within 200 yards of the buoy and escaped.
Tests of the Callendar Method of Magnetic Detection of submarine located on the bottom continue with about the same results as heretofore: so far this device has not proven satisfactory for this purpose.
The Walzer apparatus4 which was to be installed on the CASSIN has been traced to Portugal. It appears that upon arrival of the steamer on which it was shipped from Brest at Cardiff, this device was not landed and the steamer departed from Lexioes [i.e. Leixoes], Portugal with the apparatus still on board. Efforts are being made to have it returned directly to Cardiff, and while it will not be installed on the CASSIN, it will be placed on some other vessel.
BRITISH REPORTS ON SUBMARINE HUNTING.
The British Admiralty reports that an interesting account was received on 17th February of the hunting of two submarines by the destroyer escort for the Dutch trade traffic. The four destroyers hunted and kept the enemy down till the convoy was well clear, expending in all forty depth charges.
On the 17th February, the paddle mine-sweeper “ATLANTA-II” sighted a submarine six miles east of Orford Ness and attacked with five depth charges. Later two explosions occurred in the mine nets.
On 20th February Japanese Destroyer “KASHI” escorting a convoy sixth miles N.W. of Malta delivered what she believed to be a successful depth charge attack on a submarine.
On 21st February an Italian Destroyer dropped depth charges on a submarine which had unsuccessfully attacked a merchant ship forty miles E.S.E. of Brindisi. Bubbles and wreckage were seen.5
5. FORCES BASEDON QUEENSTOWN
The FANNING, WADSWORTH and MANLEY have completed their refits. The DUNCAN, ERICSSON and STERRETT have arrived at Liverpool for overhauling.
INJURIES TO SHIPS.
The CUMMINGS refitted at Passage and is now again in active service. The ROWAN turbine difficulty has been corrected. The generator trouble on the DOWNES has been corrected and the DOWNES is now again in service.
U.S.S.McCALL – ARRIVAL AT BASE.
The McCALL arrived on 22 February. She appears to be in good condition and has been equipped with depth charges devices and prepared in other respects for anti-submarine duties.6
The WADSWORTH has been transferred to duty under command of Commander, U.S. Naval Forces in France.7
NAVAL TRAINING BARRACKS
During theweek werking [i.e., working] parties were sent to Ringaskiddy, U.S.S.DIXIE, and to the storehouses at deep water quay.
The following work has been carried on at the barracks: the clothing and small store issuing room has been finished and the sick-bay and post office are well under way. Dormitories have been whitewashed and touched up.
Instructions have been continued in radio,yeomen, and quartermaster’s schools. Press news from Poldhu is received,8 and messages in code are intercepted for practice. Fifteen radio operators will graduate in thirty days.
During the week 176 men have been received and 104 transferred as follows:-
General Detail . . . . . . . . . . . . 95
Aviation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81
Total. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .176
Destroyer Flotilla. . . . . . . . . . . 47
Mine For[c]e Base 18. . . . . . . . . . 28
Aviation Aghada. . . . . . . . . . . . 29
Total. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 104.
ATTACK ON BRITISH SUBMARINES L-2
An interesting report from the Commanding Officer U.S.S. PAULDING and the Commander of British Submarine L-2 is forwarded herewith.9
The PAULDING reports that during the afternoon of February 24, while the PAULDING, DAVIS and TRIPPE were returning to Base Six, a periscope was sighted distant about 1800 yards of the port bow. The submarine was attacked with depth charges and came to the surface. Gun fire was opened by the three destroyers. The submarine came to the surface, opened conning tower, and the crew came out showing a British National Ensign. It developed that the submarine was not badly damaged by the attack.
The report of the Commander of the submarine states that at the time of the attack they had sighted the destroyer but under estimated her distance and considered they had ample time to avoid her.
It is fortunate that the situation was handled well by both sides else the submarine would have been destroyed.
6. FORCES BASEDON FRANCE.
The report of Rear Admiral H.B.Wilson is forwarded with this report.10 The admiral states that the vessels assigned in coastal convoy trade have followed their schedules with the exception of the WANDERER which was withdrawn for one tour of duty in order that she might be docked. It was found later that it would become necessary to postpone her docking.
The arrivals of convoys on the coast of France within the past week were such that it was impossible to combine the movements of ships westward with the movements of east-bound convoys so that the destroyers which escorted O.B.S 11 and O.P.-6 to westward, intercepted special Hampton Roads coming east and took them to Quiberon.
The U.S.S. PROMETHEUS arrived 18 February.12 The Commanding Officer of the PROMETHEUS reported that he had left the MacDONOUGH and ISABEL at sea, the MacDONOUGH being out of fuel and the ISABEL with insufficient fuel to bring her in.13 Commander F.T.Evans was directed to proceed with the McCALL and DRAYTON to sea to search for these vessels and to render necessary assistance. Communication was established with the ISABEL, which located the vessels in a position 165 miles southwest of Brest. Contact was made by DRAYTON and McCALL after considerable difficulty due to fog. The McCALL towed the MacDONOUGH to port, the ISABEL proceeded under her own steam.
COURT OF INQUIRY
A Court of Inquiry has been convened with Captain H.H.Hough, who reported for duty as district commander Brest, on 22 February, as Senior Member. The Court has been ordered to investigate the loss of the French Submarine Chasers 28 and 319 which were lost between BERMUDA and the AZORES. Chaser No.28 has since arrived at Horta Fayal.
FACILITATING AT BREST FOR HANDLING LARGE TRANSPRTS.
During the past week Captain Smith of the Royal Naval Reserve and Mr.G.R.Jones, a coal merchant at Southampton, England, have been investigating facilities at Brest with a view to determining the practicability of handling the LEVIATHAN, AQUITANIA, OLYMPIC and other large transports at Brest. Commander Jeffers was assigned to assist. It was the opinion of the above that it would be impracticable to fuel, water and berth those vessels at this port.14
REPAIR FACILITIES FOR FRENCH VESSELS.
An offer to undertake with our repair ships of the work on the more important French escorting vessels, in order to reduce the time that these ships lay up, has been accepted by the French Authorities and work will be done on these ships precisely as on American vessels. It is believed that the result of this use of repair facilities will be on increase in the effectiveness of the joint forces.
The following report regarding port facilities has been received –
Brest is a protected harbor with limited berthing facilities both in number and in draftavailable. Therefore, big ships must anchor in the harbor and discharge troops in cargo by lighter.
Under existing circumstances, the capacity to unload is 600 tons per day and approximately 1500 troops per day. No animals.
When work now under authorization is completed and necessary lighters are provided, discharge can be increased to 1200 tons per day.
The troop capacity of this port is largely limited by the train service, and the French claim they can handle three drafts of 1,000 men each per day.
Ten berths are now available. The remodeling of the entire track arrangements to expedite the movement and release of cars is practically completed.
The present capacityis 3000 tons per day. With lighters and floating derricks now under construction, this will be increased to 5000 tons per day.
There is under consideration the construction of a large water terminal and storage yard just east of St.Nazaire. The construction of this will depend upon holding ground for piles and on depth of water. Both subjects are under consideration by a Board of American Engineering Officers, to which have been added two French Officers.
In case the location, methods of construction, and so forth, are approved by this board, the present plans contemplate immediate construction of one pier with four berths and further plans for extensions to four piers and sixteen berths.
It will take at least ten months to get the first pier in use which, when completed, should give a capacity of 2,400 tons a day and capable of extension to 9,600 tons per day.
For the construction of the first pier, to provide four berths, ship tonnage of approximately 13,500 tons will be required for the transportation of long piles not obtainable in France, and the necessary timber and crane facilities. The balance of construction material, with the exception of small timber and piles can be obtained in France.
For the completion of the total project approximately 50,000 tons of shipping space will be required.15
At Nantes there are five berths available with good facilities, but the draft of water is so light, that with the present ships in use on our Service, only two ships at a time and a discharge of 1000 tons a day is possible.
An additional berth has been offered for light draft vessels (about 22’) and if this is used a discharge of approximately 3000 tons a day can be made.
There are no construction changes in view at Nantes, although some modification of the track arrangements, which will facilitate the movements of cars to and from the berths, is under construction.
At La Pallice there are three berths which can discharge in the aggregate 1200 tons per day. The present outlook is that it will not be possible to obtain any other berths from the French at this port. No construction is in view.
At Rochefort four berths have been turned over to the United States by the French but there is a limit on both draft and length of vessels, and, on account of the small size of vessel that can enter the port, it is not possible to average over one ship at a time and a discharge of about 500 tons a day.
At Old Bassens six berths have been turned over to the United States and the unloading facilities average, under present conditions, about 2,400 tons per day.
There are three berths under construction by the French which they have agreed to turn over to us. They have promised completion of these berths for the first of May and these should give an additional discharge of 1,200 tons per day.
At New Bassens immediately N.W. of Old Bassens, there are under construction new docks which, when completed, will give a total of ten berths. Because of the non-receipt of certain essential material from the States and the inferior quality of certain other material which did come, it was necessary to change the original design in the case of eight berths, and they will have to be equipped without heavy modern cargo handling facilities. These eight berths should be completed in April and should give a capacity under ship tackle and locomotive cranes, of about 3,200 tons a day.
The remaining two berths will be equipped with gantries and should be completed in June, which should give an added capacity of 1600 tons per day. The total proposed capacity at New Bassens is 4,800 tons a days.
Two berths have been assigned to the United States by the French. No use has yet been made of these berths as there is no storage on the pier and no sheds or storage nearby, and it is extremely difficult to obtain cars at this point.
If storage room is provided these two berths can be utilized and an average daily discharge of 800 tons be obtained.
The fore-going covers merely the ports which the army expects to use for Trans-Atlantic cargo, troops, and animal ships, but does not include the unloading of coal from England, nor of oil or gasoline from the United States.
The coal that is handled at French berths, not included in the figures that have been given above, and oil and gasoline, are being unloaded at a special berth at La Pallice and at two Points on the Gironde River near Bordeaux.
Nor does the foregoing cover the means by which is handled a large proportion of the shipments proposed in England aside from coal. The bulk of this will be handled through the ports at Havre and Rouen at British berths, or offside ships for barge and canal transportation.
In case the proposed site at Montoir is not used, there is another site in the Gironde available at Talmont. The Montoir site is preferable, not only for transportation reasons but also after a careful equation of the difficulties of construction at both sides, the Montoir seems more available.
After Montoir shall have been constructed, if authorized, and in event that additional berths should be necessary, a further extension may be developed at Talmont.
A suggestion is offered that if, after the first of August it can be assured that a safe handling of cargo ships in the Mediterranean is possible, the port of Marseilles is thoroughly equipped for deep draft heavy vessels of all kinds, and t6herefore the bringing of the necessary material from the States for either Montoir or Talmont could be entirely avoided.16
A resume of the above situation is as follows:-
Present Future Future
Present Berths. Discharge. Berths. Discharge. Possible.
Brest 4 6600 4 1,200
St.Nazaire 10 3,000 10 5,000
Montoir 0 0 - 2,400 16 – 9,000
Nantes 4 1,000 6 3,000
La Pallice 3 1,200 3 1,200
Rochefort 4 500 4 2,000
Old Bassens 6 2,400 9 3,600
New Bassens 0 0 10 4,800
Pauillac 2 0 2 800 _________
33 8,700 53 24,000 64 – 21,200
The above report is signed by W.W. Atterbury, Brigadier General N.A.17 It will be noted that the proposed construction covers a considerable period of time. If it were possible to complete the above construction as proposed and at the same time put all of the troops and supplied necessary over the railway lines to the front, it would seem desirable to proceed with this construction.
Any construction however, requires tonnage for the material necessary, and since tonnage may not be available, it would seem absolutely necessary to use the present transportation system developed by the British Army for putting troops and supplies at the fighting front.
The tonnage necessary to bring the building material could well be used for troops and army supplies rather than for construction material.
It is likely that great delays will occur in connection with any construction, or building operations undertaken on this side.
A complete copy of this report is attached.18
7. FORCES BASED ON GIBRALTAR.
The report of operation of the Commander, Patrol Squadron based on Gibraltar from 3 – 9 February inclusive is attached.
8. FORCES BASED ON AZORES.
The weekly report of Commander of the Azores Detachment is attached.19
Admiral Dunn reports that a board of Inspection after examining the U.S.S. GALATEA, finds here structurally weak and unseaworthy except for short trips in smooth water. No decision has yet been made as to what to do with this vessel.
SUBMARINE CHASER NO.28.
No details have been received from Rear Admiral Dunn regarding the experiences of French Submarine Chaser No.28. The vessel lost sight of the U.S.S. CONCORD on January 15th and did not know her position. She had a good compass but no other navigational instruments and reached Horta Fayal be estimating here position. She ran out of lubricating oil, and , although she still had gasoline, was obliged to make headway by means of improvised sails. Two of these were made of bed covers which gave her a speed of two or three knots before the wind. The crew was placed on short rations, and had enough remaining to last several days more at the time of her arrival at port. She stood the heavy sea very well, but will require about three weeks repairs.
9. BATTLESHIP DIVISION NINE.
The report of Commander, Battleship Division Nine is attached.20
STATUS OF PRISONERS OF WAR.
In a letter received from the Secretary of the Admiralty it is stated that the status and custody of prisoners of war captured by the U.S. Naval Forces operating in European Waters, and handed over to the British authorities is, for the present, as follows:- That these prisoners of war shall be regarded as entrusted to British Custody temporarily, in order that it may be possible at any time to transfer them to the United States is such a course is considered advisable.
If such an arrangement be adopted, any prisoners who may be handed over to the British authorities by the U.S. Naval Forces will receive the same treatment and privileges as other prisoners of war in British hands but will not be entitled to benefits by any agreements concluded by H.M. Government and enemy Governments for the repatriation, exchange or internment in a neutral country of prisoners of war. Further, the U.S.Naval Force by whom they are entrusted for the time being to British authorities, it would appear necessary that the notification of their capture to the enemy, prescribed by article 14 of the Fourth Hague Convention, should be made by the original captor and not by H.M.Government. Arrangements could then be made at any time subsequently to transfer such prisoners to the United States should a request to that effect be received.
It appears to be of importance to obtain the concurrence of the U.S.Government in any arrangement respecting the custody and disposal of prisoners of war captured by the United States Naval Forces. Therefore a copy of the correspondence in regard to this matter will be communicated to the “Prisoners of War” Department” with the request that steps may be taken to ascertain through the diplomatic channel whether the United States Government are in agreement with the procedure which it is proposed to adopt.21
An important official of the Admiralty expressed himself as much impressed by the general estimate of the situation(Planning Section Memorandum No.8 copy forwarded to Chief of Naval Operations February 22) made by members of our Planning Staff connected with the Admiralty. The importance of this staff cannot be over estimated; the account and value of work accomplished is considerable.22
Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Document identifier at top of first page: “AC 10777 26-13-12.” The “AC” is repeated at the top of seven of the fourteen subsequent pages though seemingly not in any set pattern.
Footnote 1: That is, Skelmorlie Bank in the Upper Firth of Clyde. The Cumbraes are two islands in the lower Firth of Clyde. The Firth of Clyde is in southwestern Scotland.
Footnote 2: Capt. William W. Fisher headed the Anti-Submarine Division of the British Admiralty; Capt. Richard H. Leigh, Commander, Submarine Chasers, was an expert on listening devices.
Footnote 3: The report of the U.S. destroyer Aylwin is no longer with this general report. For a copy, however, see, Sims to William S. Benson, 28 February 1918, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B, Destroyer Ships Files, Folder 12.
Footnote 4: for more on this apparatus, see: Sims to Daniels, 28 February 1918.
Footnote 5: Of the attacks listed in this section of the report, only one resulted in the destruction of a U-boat and that was the sinking of U-boat UXXIII by the Italian destroyer Airone in the Strait of Otranto. Kemp, U-Boats Destroyed, 44.
Footnote 6: An older, slower destroyer, McCall had been on duty at New York before being sent to Europe.
Footnote 7: RAdm. Henry B. Wilson.
Footnote 8: Poldhu is on the Lizard Peninsula in south Cornwall, England.
Footnote 9: The report of the submarine captain has not been found; for the report of Lt. Cmdr. John S. Barleon, Commander, Paulding, dated 26 February 1918, see, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B, Destroyer Files, Paulding.
Footnote 10: Wilson’s report has not been found.
Footnote 11: Someone crossed through “O.B.S.” and handwrote “OR-8.” However, according to a list compiled by RAdm. Wilson after the war the only O.R. convoys that sailed from France in February 1918 were O.R. 6 (which left France on 12 February), O.R. 7 (February 16), and O.R. 9 (February 19).
Footnote 12: Prometheus was a repair ship that served as the Navy’s headquarters ship at Brest.
Footnote 13: Capt. Frank Lyon, Commander, Promethues.
Footnote 14: Despite the findings of this committee, Brest became the main port of debarkation for American troops arriving in France.
Footnote 15: Montoir de Bretagne was never developed.
Footnote 16: While U.S. Army transports were sent to Marseilles, it did not become a major American port of entry.
Footnote 17: Brig. Gen. William W. Atterbury was the American Expeditionary Forces’ Director General of Transportation. Donald Smythe, Pershing: General of the Armies (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), 165.
Footnote 18: This report has not been found.
Footnote 19: Neither the report of RAdm. Albert P. Niblack, Commander, United States Patrol Squadron Based at Gibraltar, nor that of RAdm. Herbert O. Dunn, Commander, Azores Detachement, Atlantic Fleet, has been found. For examples of their reports, however, see: Niblack to Sims, 2 February 1918 and Dunn to Sims, 15 February 1918.
Footnote 20: See: Hugh Rodman to Daniels, 2 March 1918.
Footnote 21: For more on the prisoner of war situation, see: Sims to Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 1 March 1918.
Footnote 22: This memorandum is no longer with the report, but for a printed copy, see, American Naval Planning Section London, 37-58. For more on the planning section, see: Sims to William S. Benson, 7 March 1918.