Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Lieutenant Ronan C. Grady, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, to Rear Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Destroyers Operating from British Bases

[Extract]

AMERICAN EMBASSY,

London.  

May 16th, 1917.

From: Lieutenant R.C.Grady, U.S.N.

To:   Rear-Admiral Wm.S.Sims, U.S.N.

SUBJECT:   REPORT TO CHIEF OF OPERATIONS.1

     1.  Upon my return to the Navy Department, Washington, I will make a report in substance as follows:-

     2.  The trip over was uneventful except for the casualties to the CONYNGHAM’S circulator and the WAINWRIGHTS condenser.2 The casualty to the condenser of the WAINWRIGHT points to the military necessity of having two condensers.

     3.  In the vicinity of Queenstown and Fastnet there is an area of submarine activity which it is very important to patrol to safeguard shipping. There will be included in the report of the Queenstown area many minor bits of information, chiefly interesting rather than instructive in character.

     4.  Before going to the Admiralty, I submitted an outline of my mission in London, a copy of which I will give to the Chief of Operations. This letter was presented to Admiral Jellicoe3 and sent by him to the Division of anti-submarine affairs. . . .

     7.  The British have in general found it impracticable to maintain an adequate patrol in the North Sea which would seriously interfere with the passage of submarines through the North Sea on account of the number of ships needed. Two net barriers of barrages which were established in the vicinity of Dover to prevent submarines from passing through were finally partially carried away by the tide and sea and though parts of them are still in place no one doubts that some of the submarines pass over to Ireland by this channel.

     8.  Most of the German submarines and particularly the large ones after clearing the mine field off the German coast head directly for Fair Island between the Orkneys and the Shetland Islands and do not hesitate to pass through to the Atlantic. The British have found it wholly impracticable to net this passage. The submarines usually made a landfall at St.Kilda west of the Hebrides and thence down to the vicinity of Fastnet and the Scillys. They are usually out twenty days, eight of which are required for the passage to and fro. Submarines usually spend two fifths of their time away from their base. As the Admiralty believe that the Germans have 150 submarines there are sixty submarines always out. The Germans are turning out about two submarines a week.

     9.  In connection with a scheme for effectively closing the North Sea by usuing mines and nets in conjunction with the patrols, the Officers of the Admiralty consider it to be impracticable, The same things was suggested several times by their own officers but after consideration was disapproved. The objections are given as the lack of necessary patrols, impossibility to maintain nets, impracticability t o mine in water over 50 fathoms with anchored mines, and the undesirability of floating mines on account of possible danger to their fleet.

     10. Patrols have been withdrawn from the North Sea except near the coast and near the Channel. At present the general line of defence is the mined area in Heligoland Bight and the patrol of the areas of submarine operations.

     11. The strategy regarding the Grand Fleet is still adhered to, with the view of its meeting the German High Sea Fleet in the near future.4

     12. The Patrols are no doubt as efficient as their numbers make it possible for them to be but on account of the need of certain flotillas being kept ready with the fleet, the patrol is reduced so much in its effectiveness.

     13. The Admiralty are somewhat re-organized and will no doubt result in improvement as the Heads are relieved of much routine and details.5

     14. I will state as my opinion that the present lines of effort are defective to some extent.

     15. At present, the policy of maintaining the fleet is of prime importance and overcoming the submarine menace is of secondary importance. This is wrong because it will be the submarine that will (if anything does) bring about the defeat of the Allies, and not the German High Seas fleet. As to secure control of the surface it is necessary to operate against the enemy on the surface, so to secure the control of the subsurface it will be necessary to operate against the enemy in subsurface areas. Surface craft could carry out subsurface operations by dropping mines and depth charges if they could see the submarine. Not being able to see the submarine the only other way to gain control of the sub-surface is to scatter mines everywhere in it so that a submarine cannot operate in it. This of course, cannot be done over the entire ocean but the North Sea presents an area which it is possible to control. Actual attempts to gain control where may prove it to be impossible but it should at least be attempted. This will require the extensive use of mines and may interfere with the Grand Fleet but even so, the movements of the Grand Fleet should be subordinated to the anti-submarine measures to whatever extent necessary.6

     16.  If present patrols are just maintaining their own, and the German submarine force is to be almost doubled, in a year it will be necessary to double the patrol force in a year.

     17.  I will also say as my own opinion that every possible craft that can be of service to the Allies in their anti-submarine campaign be immediately sent over, this for two reasons. The first is that there should be no chance for a complaint that the campaign was lost because the United States did not give adequate help in time; the second, that the submarine must be kept from getting stronger until more extensive mining operations can be carried out. Iw ill also recommend that the manufacture of mines on a grand scale be relentlessly pursued in case of any failure of the patrols.

 

[Attachment]

From: Lieutenant R.C.Grady, U.S.N.

To:  Admiral Wm S. Sims, U.S.N.

SUBJECT:- VERBAL ORDERS RECEIVED FROM CHIEF OF OPERATIONS.

1. My verbal orders from the Chief of Operations were in general to get information as to the anti-submarine operations of the Allied forces, to ascertain if it would be practicable in any way to blockade the German submarines in North Sea, and in addition to obtain any points which may be of value in connection with new submarine construction of the U.S.

     2. Some of the details I was to cover were the use of nets of all kinds and the same for mines. In addition to this the methods of patrolling were to be reported on with the areas patrolled and the number and types of ships employed. The kind, number and extent of operations of aircraft in the anti-submarine warfare.

     3. In connection with blockading the submarines a suggested plan for supplying floating mines which would be safe to surface ships and dangerous to submarines was to be discussed with various officers of the Admiralty to obtain their experienced opinions as to its practicability. These mines were to be suspended at depths in which the submarines would work and a safety device was included which would make the mine inoperative in case the mine should be drawn up toward the hull of a surface ship whenever a mine cable was fouled by a screw. These mines were to be used in broad areas in conjunction with surface patrols. Whenever practicable, with the idea of at some time forcing a submarine to submerge in this area and come in contact with the mines.

     4. In connection with getting the latest submarines information I was to try for an opportunity to visit a submarine.

/s/  R.CGRADY.  

Source Note: TDS, DNA, RG 45, Subject File box 342-44. On 31 May, Sims forwarded Grady’s report to him by cable to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. Sims explained that the report would have gone with Grady on the steamship “had it not been for my absence at Queenstown.”

Footnote 1: Adm. William S. Benson.

Footnote 2: Wadsworth and Conygham were part of Destroyer Division Eight, which left Boston on 24 April and arrived at Queenstown, Ireland, on 4 May 1917. In his diary, Lt. Cmdr. Joseph K. Taussig, commander of the destroyer division, wrote on 23 April, that Grady arrived “on board for passage to England via one of the destroyers. I assigned him to the Porter. . . Grady had instructions to tell me confidentially that there would probably not be any further orders for me, but that when the ships were ready for sea we should proceed and then would get orders by radio.” RNW, Joseph K. Taussig Papers, Mss. Coll. 97, Naval Historical Collection.

Footnote 3: First Sea Lord Adm. Sir John R. Jellicoe. The outline has not been found.

Footnote 4: The two fleets never again fought a large-scale action.

Footnote 5: To accelerate the production of ships, ordnance material, mines, etc., Jellicoe oversaw a reorganization of the Admiralty Department in the early part of 1917. Viscount Jellicoe of Scapa [John R. Jellicoe], The Crisis of the Naval War (London: Cassell and Co., 1920), 233-39, 263-79.

Footnote 6: Grady’s suggestion eventually became the North Sea mine barrage, an effort spearheaded, and largely executed, by the United States Navy.

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