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Address by Vice Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly, Commander, Coast of Ireland, to American Destroyer Captains in the Destroyer Division Nine


26 May 1917.

From:     Commander, American Forces.

               Operating from British Bases.

To:       Destroyer Force.

SUBJECT: Address delivered by Vice Admiral Lewis Bayly, R.N.

     1. The following address delivered by Vice Admiral Lewis Bayly, R.N., on May 19, 1917, to Commanding Officers of U.S. Destroyers is quoted for your information:

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     I have called you together in order to say a few things about the work ahead of you. I need not mention that our problem is a serious one. You are aware of that.

     In two days you will go out on a war mission. When you pass beyond the defenses of the harbor you face death, and live in danger of death until you return behind such defenses. You must presume from the moment you pass out that you are seen by a submarine and that at no time until you return can you be sure that you are not being watched. You may proceed safely, and may grow careless in your watching; but, let me impress upon you the fact that if you do relax for a moment, if you cease to be vigilant, then you will find yourself destroyed, your vessel sunk, your men drowned.

     To give an example of what constant vigilance will accomplish, I will tell you of the PARTHIAN. This destroyer proceeded to sea. The night came on and just before nightfall a submarine rose to the surface of the sea 150 yards ahead. The watchfull eyes of the crew saw her instantly; the watchful Commanding Officer drove his ves[s]el at her, and the watchful and ready gun’s crew opened fire instantly. The submarine was struck eight or ten times in a space of a minute. Her tower was shot up, and she rolled over and sank at once. I cite this to show that in a space of perhaps two or three minutes a submarine was destroyed. If vigilance was lacking the opportunity would have been lost. You may go out day after day, week are week, and never see a submarine. Yet, when the opportunity comes, you must be ready. Therefore keep watch faithfully day and night.1

     Lookout for yourselves – for a lucky shot, a chance shot may end your career.

     It is my intention to send you out for a period of five days during which you will search out and destroy the enemy. You may then go into the port of ----2 for two days for rest. Again proceed to sea for five days to act against the enemy, then return here for two days rest. This will be the programme. Once a month, or say after five hundred hours of operation, you will be permitted to have a period of five days in which to overhaul your boilers and rest.

     While at sea – beware of a periscope that is stationary. It may be a decoy with a bomb attached. You may be sure a submarine will not remain on the surface if you charge at him at fast speed. Therefore avoid a periscope that does not move. You may fire at it, first with a view of determining if it is a decoy and second it will test out your shells – the explosive character, how they act, etc.

     If you come across survivors of ships sunk, beware of stepping [i.e., stopping] to pick them up. If you thoroughly explore the area, and feel sure you are in no danger, it is permissible to pick them up. On the other hand, you must not risk the lives of your crew to save a few others. Of the conditions you must be the judge.

     I may mention that sometime ago the submarine, after torpedoing a vessel, sailed away for miles. Now they do not and usually remain in the vicinity to loot the vessel if conditions are favorable. If you see a ship struck, or come upon one having been struck, be sure you go after the submarine. The rescue work must wait. You are to understand that it is your duty:

     1st – To destroy enemy submarines.

     2nd – To convoy and protect shipping.

     3rd – To save lives if you can.

     To lose an opportunity to sink a submarine means he lives to sink other peaceful vessels and destroy more lives.

     Do not try to tow a large vessel. You are not built for it. And never tow another destroyer unless you can get a convoy. It is fatal since you become slow and unmanageable and subject of attack.

     Do not use searchlights – it discloses your position. If you do rescue work – do the best you can without lights. If you must use lights do not keep them on longer than necessary. And remember that even after you shut off the current, the carbons glow for an appreciable period. Therefore, as soon as you shut down your light, put a bag over the lamp to hide the glow of the carbons. On moonlight nights keep a cover on the searchlight, as the moon’s rays may brighten the surface of lens and the reflected light reveal your position.

     Do not permit matches to be lighted at night. You would marvel to know how small a flicker of light might show and the distance spanned. The glow of light up through hatches should be guarded against.

     The areas of operations will be given you in the operation order.3

     Your speed must depend on wind and sea. Never make less than thirteen knots. And zig-zag always. Never for a moment neglect this. Your course must be irregular so that the submarine cannot plot your position.

     As to convoying – be sure to change course at break joint with the convoyed ship. That is – if the convoying vessel ahead of her turns to port the vessel convoyed should turn to starboard.

     When you are hidden temporarily by smoke, haze, fog, or squalls, change course considerably and go back to base course several miles later.

     The Germans are now using an inferior grade of torpedo. In the beginning many hits were scored and few misses recorded. This is now changed and many misses are being recorded. Perhaps the submarine Commanders are taking pot shots. At any rate – many torpedoes miss. A German Officer, taken from the water from a destroyed submarine, stated that they were now working out to 17 deg. West long.4 It is their custom to use the sun as a blind, the submarine getting between the sun and the target. You, too, may utilize this idea. When a submarine sees a vessel, he steams away at speed of fifteen knots or more to gain position ahead. He then gets masts in line and submerges to occupy a suitable position. It is the endeavor, to get within eight hundred yards at least as the chance of hitting at long range is slight.

     When you are on Patrol, do not patrol to end of area assigned and then to other end. Be sure to proceed irregularly so that the submarine may not establish your position [i.e., position].

     Make signals short. Do not ask permission to get underway when you have in your possession orders to proceed. Your Division Commander will direct you as to the order of sailing.

     When convoying, do not report the name of the ship frequently. That is – instead of reporting “The BOSTON is in company”, say “The convoy is in company.” Of course it is understood that headquarters understand what ship you are reporting when once reported. Therefore do not repeat the name as the enemy may discover it. This applies to very valuable vessels and it is known that the enemy has special instructions to destroy certain vessels if possible.

     Submarines frequently disguise themselves, using masts and sails and funnels. Do not be surprised at cruious [i.e., curious] looking vessle [i.e., vessel], but investigate every one you see.

     Watch fishing vessles, they may be submarines in disguise. If you shoot away a conning tower, do not be sure you have destroyed the submarine. Cases are known where repairs sufficient to return to port have been made by the crews.

     Depth charges are harmful but not always fatal. You must get them close to the submarine to destroys her.

     When you return to port come and see me next day. If there should come up any difficulties come and see me. I want to straighten things out at once. We will handle matters frankly. This is all I have to say at this time. Good Day Gentlemen.”

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517. This copy of Bayly’s talk was sent to the entire American destroyer force by VAdm. William S. Sims for their information. Bayly commanded the base at Queenstown (Cobh), Ireland, out of which operated the American destroyers then in European waters.

Footnote 1: Parthian was a British M class destroyer built in 1916, but there is no evidence that it sank a German submarine.

Footnote 2: Undoubtedly Berehaven, the advance base for Queenstown.

Footnote 3: For an example of such operational orders see: Diary entry of Joseph K. Taussig, 8 May 1917.

Footnote 4: Seventeen degrees west longitude runs through Iceland and Madeira Island.