Captain Reginald R. Belknap, Commander, Mine Squadron One, Atlantic Fleet, to Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations
MINE FORCE, UNITED STATES ATLANTIC FLEET
MINE SQUADRON ONE
U.S.S. SAN FRANCISCO, Flagship
4 May 1918.
My dear Admiral:
So far we have made good progress in getting shaken down and you may be interested in some of the particulars of our cruise since leaving Base Three.1
The HOUSATONIC was able to leave the Yard with some workmen on board Friday forenoon, 26 April. She went to the explosive anchorage south of Newport News Middle Ground to take her mines but bad weather delayed her so that it was 2.00 o’clock Sunday morning before she was ready.
About 7.00 a.m. Sunday, the five vessels2 left Base Three standing out in fairly good column formation considering that it was the first time together. There was a doubtful advisory storm warning but the chances were we could go up the coast behind the bad weather and this proved to be the case. Outside the capes, however, we very soon ran into weather bad enough to make about fifty percent seasick. Nevertheless, our tactical exercises and signals proceeded with encouraging progress and altogether it was a favorable circumstance to have this semi-rough weather so that all might get used to it at once.
Immediately outside the Capes, the QUINNEBAUG had to haul out to take up the stretch in her wheel ropes. These were partly of rope which is being replaced with wire. There was no other mishap until about 7.00 p.m. the HOUSATONIS’S steering gear broke down. All these vessels have the steering engine forward which makes long leads of wire rope. The arrangement needs very careful watching and, as there were some alterations involved in their recent conversion on account of the mine track installation, we are not yet certain that the new work was of good quality. Being single screw ships it is a very important matter but I expect to get it in hand in time.
As it was growing dark and at the same time foggy when the HOUSATONIC broke down, I sent the other three on towards Nantucket Shoal Lightship while the SAN FRANCISCO remained by the HOUSATONIC. In about two hours we were able to proceed and there was no further trouble. The HOUSATONIC hung to us all through the fog until arrival at Provincetown. During that night and next day we heard and at one time when it cleared a little thought we saw the other vessels, and we later learned that they heard us but we could not join on account of the fog, which was quite thick and steady for forty hours. During the first night we ran through what appeared to be a submarine chaser convoy. By the sound of the whistle we took the escort vessel to be the PRAIRIE.
We arrived at Provincetown about 5.00 p.m. Tuesday, 30 April, finding the CANANDAIGUA and CANONICUS there ahead of us. The CANANDAIGUA had just lost an anchor with eight fathoms of chain. A diver was trying to get a line on it while the ship took the opportunity to run over the measured mile course.
Meantime, the QUINNEBAUG had a disabled air pump and finally anchored north of Nantucket Lightship in about eighteen fathoms of water. His repairs were completed next forenoon and vessel arrived at Provincetown the morning of May 2nd.
After standardizing at Provincetown and swinging ship, we came over to Gloucester and have been engaged in mining ever since, the ships acting singly. The QUINNEBAUG arrived the afternoon of Thursday [2 May] but it seemed best to send her immediately to Boston for some minor but necessary repairs. Her feed water capacity is small and on that account the numerous leaks in her lines have unusual importance in view of the trans-Atlantic trip. An old crack in her condenser seemed likely to give trouble and there were a number of minor items which, although it might in course of time be done by ship’s force, were better got out of the way at once because in all these ships are numerous items of work which it will take ship’s force a long while to get even with. One item in the nature of an alteration which is desirable to do, if it can be done in time, is to put some form of baffles in her boilers. Under her new conditions of loading, the vessel rolls badly and as her boilers run athwartships instead of fore and aft and the main steam line has no separator in it, there is a tendency in the boilers to prime and carry water over into the engines when she is suddenly speeded up as she might have to do on sighting a submarine. I heard yesterday from Boston Yard by telephone that they would do this if possible by Monday morning [6 May] but there was at that time no decision. Word just received baffles not needed; vessel will be out early Monday morning.
Altogether the commanding officers speak favorably of the mining installation. It seems to be satisfactory with some minor adjustments which is within our capacity. The training in handling the mines likewise has gone well. On Monday we shall turn in the old Mark IV mines which we have used for drill and also each ship will land at Hingham a portion of her lot of mines which will be taken later by the SARANAC, SHAWMUT, and AROOSTOCK, thus obviate delay incident to their going to Hampton Roads to get them.
After turning in the mines we shall devote all time possible to gunnery training which has as yet been possible only to touch.
Conditions at Gloucester have been exceptionally favorable for us, clear, fair weather and smooth sea. SAN FRANCISCO completed countermining test to determine the spacing between mines necessary to prevent structural damage of adjacent mines when one is exploded. It had been previously determined that mines near the surface should not be placed closer together than 250 feet. It was thought possible that at deeper levels greater pressure of the wake might make it necessary to increase this spacing, possibly to 300 feet or more. This was shown yesterday not to be the case. The conditions for the experiment were as near ideal for the sake of accuracy as one could wish. Mines placed at 250 feet from one exploded were recovered intact structurally and the firing mechanism had not fired. This leads to the conclusion that in all the lines laid of these mines, the spacing must be not less than 250 feet and need not be more unless for other than structural reasons.
An interesting incident of the test was the fact that no surface evidence of an explosion took place until eight seconds after the mine at 160 feet submergence was exploded and not until twenty-seven seconds after the 240 feet deep mine was exploded. In the latter case there was no more upheaval of the surface that there is in a glass of aerated water. The ship was about 800 yards away from the mine. The shock was felt on board to be very heavy and sharp. The water surface all over could be seen to tremble with the shock, but directly over the mine itself there was no more surface disturbance when the gas came up than a pleasure canoe could have ridden with safety. With the 160 foot mine, the surface disturbance was somewhat greater but nothing more than an ordinary dinghy would have ridden without discomfort.
All the personnel are very interested and keen in their work and keeping at it steadily. The activity appeals to them. Commander Greenslade3 summed it up the other night when he came aboard to report about 12.15 a.m. saying “This is the life”!
We expect to reach Base Twelve4 the morning of Wednesday May 8th to take stores and coal and I hope we shall by that time have made progress enough with gunnery training and generally to feel that we may proceed by the end of that week.
With kind regards in which Butler5 joins me, I remain
R. R. BELKNAP
Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 677. Following the close, the letter is addressed, “Admiral W. S. Benson, U.S.N.,/Chief of Naval Operations,/Navy Department,/Washington, D. C.”
Footnote 1: Base Three was located at Hampton Roads.
Footnote 2: The five vessels accompanying San Francisco were Baltimore, Canadaigua, Canonicus, Housatonic, and Quinnebaug.
Footnote 3: Capt. John W. Greenslade, Commander, Housatonic.
Footnote 4: Base Twelve was located at Newport, Rhode Island.
Footnote 5: Capt. Henry V. Butler, Commander, San Francisco, and Chief of Staff to Captain Belknap.