Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Admiral Henry T. Mayo, Commander, Atlantic Fleet, to Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations

United States Atlantic Fleet,

U. S. S. “Pennsylvania,” Flagship,

Base 2, May 5, 1917.

From: Commander in Chief

To: Chief of Naval Operations.

Subject: Status of work on battleships, divisions 5, 6, 7, and 8.

  1. The material conditions of battleships of divisions 5, 6, 7, and 8, when they left the navy yards in January last for the winter’s drills and exercises, was, in general good, although all had some uncompleted authorized work at the time of departure. This was reported in detail in correspondence forwarded to the department by the commander in chief’s first indorsement, file 124, of February 27, 1917.1 Requests for additional work have been submitted by all these vessels from time to time since leaving the navy yards, but except in some few cases—Arkansas turbine work, for example—no special report of this additional work has been made to the department.

  2. Relative to the uncompleted work when the battleships went south, the commander in chief in his letter file 124 of March 13, 1917, in reply to the department’s radio 14112, March, stated that no work was necessary in the immediate future, but that if the vessels were to put in condition for war service at some indefinite future date, certain work was required, as was specifically mentioned in the letter above referred to. The commander in chief in this letter also invited the department’s attention to a previous comment on the material readiness of the fleet as follows: “In case of mobilization, or war, the commander in chief assumes that the department, upon its fuller knowledge of conditions, will determine the policy to be followed, whether the fleet is to be first put in the best material condition or whether all ships which can possibly keep the sea are to do so from the time of mobilization.”

  3. The commander in chief is without definite information as to the department’s policy regarding material matters, and therefore considers it necessary to present certain facts to the department for consideration.

  4. Under the normal conditions the vessels referred to would have gone to their home yards for docking and work during the period April 15 to May 15 and some of them would have remained for a longer period for more extensive work. So far only the Oklahoma and Nevada have been sent to a navy yard since the fleet’s return from Cuban waters, both to Norfolk on March 29, where the Nevada remained until April 24, and the Oklahoma is to remain until June 9. Arrangements have also been made, as reported in commander in chief’s letter, file 1566, of May 4, 1917, for docking certain battleships at Norfolk commencing May 6, and instructions have been received from the department to undertake certain work on the Pennsylvania at Norfolk during the period June 4 to June 30. No instructions relative to work on other vessels of battleship divisions 5, 6, 7, and 8 have been received by the commander in chief.

  5. It is evident that battleships are no expected to “keep the sea,” or to do any cruising outside inclosed waters for sometime to come, but what may be required of them in future is problematical. While the vessels mentioned can continue based in Chesapeake Bay or inclosed waters, or could operate near our coasts, if necessary, without any work being done at navy yards, they are, in general, not now in proper material condition to permit them to operate indefinitely from some foreign base. Such operation may not be required, but conditions may demand just that. All vessels should not go to the navy yards at once, nor should any vessel be sent to a navy yard unless the yard is fully prepared to undertake all authorized work. If, however, action is deferred, and a demand is made later for one or more divisions of battleships, they would necessarily be sent to navy yards, and there would be a congestion of work and delay in readiness for service that could be avoided if they are sent in now from time to time as the yards can handle the work.

  6. If there was an actual emergency immediately existing, the vessels are able to meet it, but to send them away from the Atlantic coast to operate for an indefinite period is not, in their present condition, advisable. To send any vessel away with her auxiliary machinery, hull, or engine, or with any of her fittings or appliances in any but the best condition, would be a mistake, as breakdowns after arrival, even if within the capacity of the ship’s force to make good, would impair efficiency at a time when it should be highest. There is hardly a vessel in the four divisions mentioned, however, that is not now without a number of items of authorized work on each vessel, which while not requiring any immediate action, can not be made good under present conditions. Material conditions will not improve even, as is hardly possible, should they get no worse. Except for training the personnel, there is at present no demand for these battleships; there may be a demand for them as fighting units later on. Now, while there is a favorable opportunity, they should be put in the very best material condition.

  7. Without going into minute details of outstanding items of work certain items will be specifically brought to the department’s attention as requiring action before the vessels concerned can be considered ready for any service: . . . .2 

  8. In view of the above the commander in chief recommends that the department decide without delay, upon a policy by which work on the battleships may be taken in hand at earliest practicable date.3

H. T. Mayo.   

Source Note: Naval Investigation, 1: 629-30.

Footnote 1: In his testimony, Mayo did not include this report of 27 February, but did include a detailed report of “Battleship force: Readiness for war service” dated 4 February 1917. Ibid., 1: 617-27.

Footnote 2: Mayo then provided a list of fourteen battleships with specific repairs or improvements needed for each.

Footnote 3: In his testimony, Mayo included a memorandum dated 10 July, specifying that ten battleships that he designated, including two from the Pacific fleet not under his command, would be sent to five different navy yards for repairs ranging in length from 25 days (5 of the battleships) to 48 days (1 Pacific Fleet battleship). According to this schedule, the work was to bestaggered from 5 July through 30 August, with completion projected from 11 August through 25 September. Ibid., 1: 631.