Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Commander Bernard A. de Blanpré, French Naval Attaché in Washington, to French General Staff

TRANSLATION OF ATTACHED LETTER FROM PARIS.

CONFIDENTIAL.                                6th May 1917.

General Staff,

      47th Section.

Copy of a telegram (in cipher) from the Naval

Attache, Washington.

May 6th, 1917.

     No.242.   1. Despatched May fifth from Boston for European waters the destroyers Ericsson, Winslow, Rowan, Cassin, Jacob Jones, Tucker; Flotilla commander is Commander Coutenay.1

     2.   One hundred guns sent via colliers JUPITER and NEPTUNE will be 57 millimetres in calibre.

     3.   Referring to telegram of Vice Admiral Chocheprat;2 via the same collier there will sail enlisted men intended to be trained in our aviation schools.

     4.   Two American Officers will be sent for the bases at Brest and the entrance to the Garonde [i.e. Gironde].3 A rear Admiral will probably be designated to perform at Paris the same duties as Rear-Admiral S. at London.4

     5.   A very energetic campaign, evidently initiated by the Navy Department, has been commenced in the Press here in favor of more energetic measures against submarines. The following measures are recommended: either a complete barrier in the North Sea|5| or an attack against the enemy bases.

     6.   A spirited opposition has arisen to the project of constructing wooden vessels for carrying cargo because of the lack of sufficiently seasoned wood. Construction of these vessels from steel is coming back into favor.6

Source Note: C, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 678.

Footnote 1: The second division of destroyers sent to Queenstown, Ireland. The division was under the command of Cmdr. Charles E. Courtney, commander of Rowan. It arrived in Ireland on 17 May 1917.

Footnote 2: VAdm. Paul Louis Albert Chocheprat was the senior officer of the French Navy. He was the naval adviser for a special French mission sent to the United States in April 1917.

Footnote 3: The French Government requested that the Americans establish “temporary bases” at Bordeaux and Brest and assign officers to them. See: William S. Benson to Josephus Daniels, 27 April 1917. Also, see, Daniels to Williams S. Sims, 8 May 1917, DNA, Entry 520, Box 678. In later testimony, Sims detailed how there was no follow-up on these plans, especially in regard to the base at Bordeaux. Naval Investigation, 1: 122-29. In the end no base was established at Bordeaux, but a small base was constructed at Pauillac, about halfway between Bordeaux and the sea. To develop a base in the Bordeaux region, the Navy selected Cmdr. John B. Patton, a retired naval officer with considerable experience in construction. The base at Brest was put under the command of Capt. Frank Fletcher, though after the war Fletcher testified: “I always looked upon the base, so called at Brest, as more or less a fiction.” Still, Crisis at Sea: 111, 112, 114; Naval Investigation, 1: 122-29.

Footnote 4: The job of American liaison with the French Navy was split, at least through the summer of 1917, between three officers. The first was the American naval attaché Capt. William R. Sayles, who served as the liaison with the French Minister of Marine. In June, Capt. Richard H. Jackson arrived in France with orders to act as Sims’ representative. Finally, RAdm. William B. Fletcher saw himself as the American naval commander in France and believed all matters touching on the American naval presence in France should go through his office. Still, Crisis at Sea: 51-3. This overlap was resolved on 1 November 1917, when Adm. Henry B. Wilson was named “commander United States naval forces in France.” Naval Investigation, 1: 885-86.

Footnote 5: This later became the North Sea mine barrage.

Footnote 6: This debate over wood versus steel ships raged within the Emergency Fleet Corporation between its chairman, William Denman, who favored building wooden ships, and the corporation’s general manager, Gen. William Goethals, who wanted the ships to be made of steel. The contest between the two men continued to escalate until both were forced to resign at the end of July 1917. See Edward N. Hurley, The Bridge to France (Philadelphia & London: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1927), 27-29.