Skip to main content

Lindon W. Bates, Chairman, Engineering Committee, The Submarine Defense Association, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters

The Submarine Defense Association.



File No  

May 13th, 1918

Admiral W. S. Sims,

U. S. Navy Headquarters,

30 Grosvenor Gardens,

London, S.W. 1,


My dear Admiral Sims:-

                     On Friday last we had the pleasure on the U. S. Gem of having Lieutenant Commmander H. H. Caldwell1 among some thirty civilian experts to see the extremely successful demonstrations of the

I.   Colloidal Fluid Fuel

                    67.8% Navy Oil

                    31.2% Navy Coal

                     1.0% Fixateur

II.  Pulverized New River Navy Coal

     and also

III. The Automatic Course Indicator2

                    You know him, of course, as Admiral Dewey’s Aide at Manila Bay.3 He now commands the AMPHITRITE – the “harbor watch” at the Narrows here. He gave me permission to write you that everything went finely and that he considered the Indicator a most valuable instrument finely worked out. In this he agrees with the conclusions of the British Officers mentioned in my last letter who were on board a week earlier.4

                    Lieutenant Commander Caldwell wants very much to get “over there” – and he is a splendid officer.


     I learn that the United States Shipping Board has adopted the so-called “British (or Wilkinson) Dazzle”,5 “Urgently recommended by Admiral Sims” the notice reads.6 You have not had time received the report we prepared relative to very lowest visibility outside the danger area and utmost deception inside the danger area.7 Now we have riveted upon us a “system” which in view of the most scientific and painstaking research ever instituted is certainly inferior to the best which may be done combining both a “low visibility and Deception”. If you will only look at the table on Page 41 you will see that the “British Dazzle” is 70 times more visible than Omega Gray on the “Gem”.8 Yet beyond all question deception or dazzle stripes or patterns can be made which will be equally or more effective in producing “twist” yet melt into Omega gray at any distance desired, 3,000 to 6,000 or more yards and thus be additionally helpful.

     Competent British convoy officers tell me frankly that the British Dazzle does not deceive them a bit and surely in conducting convoys they have equal experience to U-boat Captains.

     I have one abiding solace which is that a truth once found and enunciated does not die – but will come into its own some day and present views may change.9

Very truly yours,            

Lindon W. Bates              


Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 47. The letter is typed on Submarine Defense Association stationary. In addition to the heading reproduced here, the printed stationary includes the telephone number of the association, its telegraphic code address, a notice how to contact the association, and, in the left margin, a list of the officers, committee heads, and general committee members belonging to the association. The Submarine Defense Association was an organization formed to represent both marine insurers and shipowners, the latter including almost one hundred of the most important British and American companies. Its goal was to find new technologies, including camouflage, to protect ships against submarine attack. David Williams, Naval Camouflage, 1914-1945: A Complete Visual Reference (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2001), 55.

Footnote 1: Lt. Cmdr. H. H. Caldwell, Commander, Amphitrite. Gem was a steam yacht chartered by the U.S. Navy in 1917. It was assigned to the Submarine Defense Association for experimental work in December 1917.

Footnote 2: The Automatic Course Indicator was a device that Bates developed in order to make the spotting of submarines easier and more efficient by allowing a navigator to plot sinuous courses, spiral courses, or zigzag courses with precision. Bates, Sinuous Courses and the Automatic Course Indicator for Naval Warfare: 35-41, passim.

Footnote 3: Adm. George Dewey, who, as Commander of the Asiatic Fleet during the Spanish-American War, led the naval forces under his command to a spectacular victory in the Battle of Manila Bay. See: Naval Document of the Spanish-American War.

Footnote 4: See: Bates to Sims, 9 May 1918. These British officers were: Adm. Frank H. Henderson; Capt. Henry Stockwell; Capt. Charles A. Smith; Capt. William A. Williams; Cmdr. Ernest Nibbs; and Cmdr. William P. Grant.

Footnote 5: For more on the camouflage system developed by British artist Norman Wilkinson, see: Sims to Josephus Daniels, 1 February 1918.

Footnote 6: Sims did play a role in sending Wilkinson to the United States; See: ibid.

Footnote 7: This report, authored by Bates, was published under the title, “The Science of Low Visibility and Deception as an Aid to the Defense of Vessels Against Attach by Submarines.” Williams, Naval Camouflage, 1914-1945: A Complete Visual Reference: 55.

Footnote 8: For a photograph of Gem with the camouflage system advocated by Bates, see: Illustrations for May 1918.

Footnote 9: By middle of 1918 virtually all previous systems, including the one advocated here by Bates, had been replaced by the Wilkinson dazzle system. Ibid., 56; Ship Camouflage, Accessed on 3 May 2018,

Related Content