Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Rear Admiral Sir Dudley R. S. De Chair to Secretary of the Admiralty Sir W. Graham Greene

[Extract]

GENERAL REPORT ON THE PROGRESS OF NEGOCIATIONS WITH UNITED STATES NAVY DEPARTMENT, &c, IN CONNECTION WITH Mr BALFOUR’S MISSION.1

British Mission,   

Washington, D.C.   

15th May. 1917.2    

. . . .

2.- The work of the Mission which arrived in Washington on Sunday, 22nd April, started on Monday 23rd April, when I visited Mr Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy, who had with him Admiral Benson and Rear-Admiral Fletcher.3 From that date I have been in communication daily with the Heads of Bureaux of the Navy Department with whom cordial relations have been established, leading to a frank exchange of ideas which should prove useful to both countries. Among others, the following gentlemen have shown themselves anxious to further the Naval designs in every way :-

     Mr. Franklyn D. Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

     Admiral W.S.Benson, Chief of Naval Operations.

     Rear-Admiral Frank F. Fletcher.

     Admiral Henry T.Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet.

     Rear-Admiral Charles J.Badger, Member of the General Board.

     Captain Roger Welles, Director of Naval Intelligence.

     Chief Constructor D.W.Taylor, Chief of Bureaux of Construction and Repair,

     Chief Engineer F.R.Harris, Chief of Bureaux of Yards and Docks.4

And they have given me cordial co-operation and assistance.

     3.- At first the Navy Department did not seem to be alive to the gravity of the submarine menace and the inclination was towards keeping their forces, particularly Destroyers, within the limits of American Waters, but after repeated representations this view altered. On 25th April the first Flotilla of Six boats was despatched to Queenstown followed on 8th May by Six more and on 13th May by a third division of Six. Meanwhile 18 boats were ordered to their Dockyards in order to be in readiness to proceed to European Waters with their tenders “MELVILLE” and “DIXIE”, one of the latter being designated as the flagship of the Squadron.5

     4.- Some difficulty was experienced in securing that these boats should all go to British Waters as there was a large section of the Navy Department in favour of Destroyers being sent to assist French Patrols, but after it had been pointed out how fatal this policy would be, it was decided to send the Flotillas to the South West coast of Ireland where they would be placed under the orders of an United States Flag Officer (probably Rear-Admiral Sims) and would work from there.6

     5.- As I telegraphed on 4th May the Navy Department expressed their willingness to forward at once 2,000 ELIA Mines of an improved type, together with 2,000 Mines of an earlier type, and they stated they were prepared to start manufacturing 10,000 Mines of the latest type if required, promising that delivery should commence in July.7

     6.- I have frequently touched on the question of the arming of Merchant Ships, pointing out the obvious desirability so often proved by our experience, of providing all shipping with some means of defence against submarines, and I am now informed that it has been decided to remove the light guns from several of the older ships of the Fleet and to reduce the light armament of the newer vessels in order to provide for the requirements of Merchant Vessels in this direction.8

     7.- On 4th May, accompanied by Admiral Benson, I attended a meeting of the Naval Committee of Congress behind closed doors and explained the situation and answered questions, and I understand that it was practically decided after I left to proceed with the “Ship Appropriation Bill”, and to requisition all necessary small craft in United States harbours which would probably mean approximately 150 vessels of varying types.9

     8.- I have been repeatedly informed by the Navy Department that they are most anxious to co-operate with us in the efficient direction and control of Merchant Shipping, and it appears to me that the United States Government is prepared to adopt many of our measures to secure the stoppage of supplies to Germany.

     9.- In the matter of Mercantile Ship Construction and the building of small craft I have experienced some difficulty for the following reasons :-

(a) the policy of the United States Government as to building is not yet decided on, and it remains uncertain whether heavy Warship construction, wooden or steel merchant ship building, or the building of Destroyers and small craft is to be given preference.10

(b) the relations between the Shipping Board and Mr Schwab are far from good, and the latter is practically debarred from accepting any contracts except for Patrol Craft and Submarines to which he does not seem anxious to confine himself though I am urging him to do so.11

     I am however hopeful of gaining some concession from the Shipping Board through General Goethals, the most practical man on that body, which may enable us to obtain the type of vessel we need.12

. . . .

11. At Mr Balfour’s request I visited the Minister of Commerce and discussed with him a projected plan for blocking the passage of the North Sea by means of nets stretched from the North of Shetland to a point on the Norwegian Coast south of Bergen – roughly 150 miles.13 This project, concerning which I am telegraphing, is much favoured by the Navy Department, and if it is considered feasible the propose to put it into execution and maintain it with their own resources in the way of personnel, small craft and other necessary material. The question of the violation of Territorial Waters is involved in this scheme but the United States Authorities appear to have no scruples and they are prepared to take the consequences as regards Norway provided we favour the scheme.14

. . . .

     13.- At the request of Rear-Admiral Badger I delivered a short lecture at the Navy Board Office to some seventy Officers in which I outlined generally our Naval Policy and emphasised the need of immediate co-operation on the part of the United States Navy.

     14.- In common with other Heads of the Mission I have given interviews to members of the American Press in which I have endeavoured to impress on the American Public through their readers the necessity of prompt and decisive action against Germany. It is of course understood that the information given to the Press has been of a more general and optimistic nature than the details which I have placed at the disposal of the Navy Department.

     15.- Many inventions and so called sovereign remedies applicable to the present critical situation have been sent to the Mission for consideration and some of them may be worthy of notice though most seemly wildly impracticable. I am forwarding them to the Assistant Naval Attaché who has dealt with such matters in the past.-15

     16.- With reference to your telegram of 20th April and mine of 24th April, I have repeatedly asked the Navy Department whether two of the ex-German Passenger Liners could be turned over to us for use as Mine-Layers.16 The Department is favourable to the request but the matter, together with several others, is being held up in Congress where there is still a certain anti-British Party which endeavours to block measure intended in any way to facilitate our operations in the War.

     17.- During a short visit to New York I took an opportunity of going over the Brooklyn Navy Yard and saw several Destroyers completing for service in European Waters. I also noticed a dozen 100-foot wooden motor boats (chasers) being built in this Yard. They are to have a speed of 18-knots and appear to be too small for their work.

Work was proceeding on the battleship “NEW MEXICO” which was lately launched.17

        18.- I am taking the opportunity of an Embassy Bag to carry this report which will be continued in a further letter as opportunity offers.

I have the honour to be,

SIR,          

Your obedient Servant,

D.R. deChair

REAR-ADMIRAL.

Source Note: D, UK-KeNA, Adm. 137/1436. On the first page is stamped: “29 MAY REC.” At the foot of the first page the addressee “The Secretary of the Admiralty,/Whitehall, S.W.” is given. Someone added in pencil accent marks over the e’s in “matériel” and “Attaché.”

Footnote 1: Lord Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary, arrived in the United States on 21 April 1917, at the head of a large mission, including De Chair, to discuss joint war measures. For more on the dispatch and arrival of the mission, see, Charles H. Towne, ed., The Balfour Visit: How America Received her Distinguished Guest; and the Significance of the Conferences in the United States in 1917. (New York: George H. Doran Co., 1917), 15-24. A delegation from France headed by René Viviani, a former premier, and Marshal Joseph Joffre arrived at the same time.

Footnote 2: The date was handwritten and appears to have been added later.

Footnote 3: Fletcher was a member of the General Board of the Navy and the joint Army-Navy Board.

Footnote 4: Adm. William S. Benson, Adm. Charles J. Badger was president of the board. Chief Constructor David W. Taylor, Civil Engineer Frederic R. Harris, Chief Engineer of the Bureau of Yards and Docks.

Footnote 5: Melville\, which arrived at Queenstown Ireland on 22 May 1917, became the destroyer squadron’s flagship. Still, Crisis at Sea, 92-93, 156.

Footnote 7: In the end the British declined the American offer and adopted the German pattern for their mines. Marder, From Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, 4: 86-88.

Footnote 9: Presumably Benson and De Chair attended a meeting of the Naval Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives. It appears that De Chair was too optimistic concerning both pieces of legislation. The fight over the “Ship Appropriation Bill and money for the Shipping Board would continue into June. Wilson, Papers, 42: 568n. And on about 19 May, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed a letter to Congress spelling out the need for the legislation to commandeer vessels. Army and Navy Journal, 19 May 1917, 572.

Footnote 10: When the issues were decided, the United States opted to suspend the construction of battleships and concentrate on destroyers and to build steel merchant ships. Naval Investigation, 1: 1213-15; Wilson, Papers, 42: 568n.

Footnote 11: Charles M. Schwab, chairman of the board of Bethlehem Steel Corporation. His company was asked to construct merchant ships for the British, which aroused the ire of some American officials, including William Denman, chairman of the U.S. Shipping Board. For more on Schwab, see, De Chair to Guy R. Gaunt, 23 May 1917, UK-KeNA, Adm. 137/1436.

Footnote 12: Gen. George W. Goethals was general manager of the U.S. Shipping Board. He and Denman were involved in a dispute concerning the type of ships that the board would produce. In the end, Wilson was forced to ask them both to resign. See, Wilson Papers, 43: 257-61.

Footnote 13: Secretary of Commerce William C. Redfield. Capt. Nicholas H. Heck, a hydrographic engineer from the Commerce Departments’ Coast and Geodetic Survey, devised the scheme and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt became an enthusiastic supporter. The plan, which De Chair sent to the Admiralty, is laid out in detail in E. Lester Jones to Redfield, 15 May 1917, Uk-KeNA, Adm. 137/1436. The Admiralty was not impressed and actively discouraged the scheme. See: William S. Sims to Navy Operations Branch, 11 May 1917. See also, De Chair to Roosevelt, 12 July 1917, UK-KeNA, Adm. 137/1437.

Footnote 14: Probably Cmdr. Arthur T. Blackwood.

Footnote 15: De Chair was referring to the German vessels seized when the United States entered the war. On 22 May, De Chair gave Daniels a memorandum specifying “what small craft and mine layers Great Britain wished to obtain from this country,” but it appears that the United States retained the German passenger liners to use to transport troops to Europe. DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Diary, Roll 1.

Footnote 16: These submarine chasers were another project promoted by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt. Despite reservations on the part of De Chair, and several high-ranking American naval officers, a number of the subchasers were built and deployed to European waters. Still, Crisis at Sea, 316-18.

Footnote 17: The 32,000 ton New Mexico was launched 13 April 1917, but not commissioned until 20 May 1918. It did not see action during the war, but did escort the ship that carried President Woodrow Wilson to the Versailles peace conference. DANFS For more information on negotiations, see: See: DeChair to Henry F. Oliver, 7 June 1917.

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