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Extracts from Reports of Officers Commanding Armed Guards





May 17, 1917.      




Lieut. Jas. L. Kauffman,1 e In charge fitting out at Norfolk:-

Instructions of Captains of Merchant Ships:2

     (h) From conversation with a dozen captains or more, who have been through the war zone, it is considered surprising that more ships have not been sunk. In regard to running darkened, the majority seem to think this very dangerous, because of possible collisions, and very few have been practicing this even on recent trips.

     (i) The majority running for Liverpool insist on picking up Fastnet or Scilly Islands3 before proceeding to Liverpool. Their reason for this being that they are afraid of running aground unless they obtain a “fix”. As one captain expressed it: “If I run her aground or hit something I lose my license and job, and even if I am hit by a torpedo, I may be saved.”

     (j) Most of them dislike to run zig-zag because of the delay, also because it makes navigation more difficult. The slow freight boats are very sluggish and a change every ten minutes, makes them difficulty to navigate.

     (k) Most of them do not care for instructions, trusting principally to “luck”. The captain of the ROCKINGHAM (sunk May 1st) told me he had been over eight times and had not seen a submarine, and he thought it was a matter of luck, regardless of instructions.

     Merchant Crews:

     (l) The instructions state that the crews of merchant ships shall be instructed in handling the guns, etc. From a careful inspection of the crews on freighters, most of them appear to be foreigners and men of very nondescript character, who would be most in different pointers, sight-setters, etc. Another objection is that very few of the crews make consecutive trips on a ship. It would appear desirable to have the ship’s officers trained as pointers, sight-setters and gun captains, and if possible, 3-inch guns furnished.

     (m) Every ship that has been armed here has been delayed from four to ten days because of lack of merchant crews. Men come in here on the ships, and leave just before sailing, thus delaying the ships. Most of them receive from fifty to one hundred per cent per month, including time in port. Firemen get $100 a month, and seamen $90 per month, with $100 or more in case they lose their effects. One company asked if the Navy could furnish first and second deck officers and engineer officers, as they couldn’t get them. This delay in sailing is becoming more serious every day, and the delays becoming longer.

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          Lieutenant Hazard,4 U.S.Navy,

               In Command Armed Guard,- S.S. “FINLAND”:-

     “She averaged 12.5 knots outward and about 14 knots homeward bound. This was due not only to the weather but also to the firemen, who are of a poor grade. The Chief Engineer assures me that she should easily make 15.5 knots if given proper firemen.”

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          Lieut. A. H. Miles,5

               In Command Armed Guard,9 S.S. “PHILADELPHIA”:

     “The ship was darkened each night, save for the navigational lights prescribed by law, the master being averse to running without these although told that complete darkness was advisable.”

     “We were stopped at Rathlin and given instructions regarding route by a converted yacht. They will not use word of mouth on account of passengers and others being within hearing, but use hand semaphore. This fact alone makes it necessary that all merchant vessels have competent signalmen on board.”

     “The ship was handicapped on the eastbound trip due to poor firemen. A large number deserted just prior to sailing and the water front was scraped to get what was available. In some instances, men shipped as firemen had never handled a shovel before. We sailed with a shortage of over a dozen men, which with the inferior quality, caused our speed to only average 16 knots across. Besides the men lay off whenever they please and in many cases refuse to go on watch. There does not appear to be a semblance of discipline in this respect, and I was told by the Chief Engineer that it is due to the La Follette shipping law6 that such a state of affairs exists. This is very serious in war time and such sections of the bill that cause this should be repealed.

     Officers and men are receiving a 50% war time bonus on the American Line.”

Source Note: TD, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Roll 42.

Footnote 1: Lt. James L. Kauffman.

Footnote 4: Lt. Stanton L. H. Hazard.

Footnote 5: Lt. Alfred H. Miles.

Footnote 6: The Seamen’s Act of 1915, abolished prison for desertion, regulated working hours, established minimum rations, regulated payment of wages, set safety requirements, and required 75% of seaman to speak the officers language. The Act was spearheaded by Senator Robert M. La Follette Sr. of Wisconsin. Eric Arnesen, ed., Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working-class History, Vol. 1 (New York: Routledge, 2007), 775-76.

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