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Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Memorandum to Forces in American Coastal Waters



Washington, D. C , May 17, 1918.

     In view of the possibility of hostile submarine operations off our coast, it is necessary to indicate a general method of procedure with regard to war, with assistance of and handling of merchant ships in order that same motive and same general system may prevail throughout.

     The following instructions will be observed.

     War warning first.

     It is most important that the public and that ships be not falsely alarmed nor that a state of mind be aroused which would produce a situation more dangerous than the presence of submarines themselves. It is also to the advantage of the enemy that many and false warnings should be disseminated for the purpose of confusing and holding back the natural flow of ships. To prevent this, the promiscuous broadcasting by District Commandants of warnings, verified and unverified, will cease.

     Second, all warnings that contain information of the presence of hostile submarines and general instructions regarding the handling of merchant ships will be given out from the office of Naval Operations direct, or to the District Commandants for dissemination. The following method of procedure for all Districts handling information of hostile contact of submarines and of movements of ships is directed, keep a plot on chart of all information local and general, verify each report of sighting, keep touch with contact where possible, when satisfied with accuracy of report or that the probability exists of submarines report to office of Naval Operations immediately in code, use code not English in transmitting report, use method to expedite report to Chief of Naval Operations but as far as possible restrict the use of radio.

     When directed by office of Naval Operations disseminate the information given you in the manner, to the place, in the code assigned. Control of ships must be, thirdly, a distinction is to be made between handling overseas traffic and handling coastwise traffic. Fourth, the local control of all ships for the purpose of safeguarding is vested in the hands of the Commandant during the passage in and out of port and to a safe and reasonable offing outside. Fifth, the further control of coastwise ships for the purpose of safeguarding same within the limits of each district is vested in the District Commandant when said districts are directed to assume control of coastwise ships by office of Naval Operations, but not until this message is received will this control be exercised. The General control of overseas traffic in the matter of safe ocean routes both for outgoing and incoming ships will be in the hands of the office of Chief of Naval Operations who will inform the District Commandants or the Convoy Officer in each port of the route outgoing ships should take after making a safe offing and by what route incoming ships may be expected to arrive.

     Control of active District Force. Nothing in the above is intended to restrict the local operations by the District Commandants of the active naval forces under him in any manner offensive or defensive as best suits the needs of the situation as seen by him except in the matter of moving forces from one District to another the initiative will be left in the hands of the District Commandant and the Office of Naval Operations will limit itself to general instructions and information only issued from time to time as may be necessary for the guidance of District Commandants Corporations, seventh. In all matters especially those pertaining to dissemination of proper information, active offense against the enemy, the heartiest cooperation is enjoined upon all Districts, especially those districts adjacent to each other. Acknowledge.   23017

5:18 p. m.              

(Acknowledge for Commandant, 05019).   


Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Addressed below close: “Commandants First to Eighth and Twelfth to Fifteenth inclusive [RAdm. Spencer S. Wood (First Naval District), Capt. Joseph W. Oman (Second Naval District), RAdm. Nathaniel R. Usher (Third Naval District), RAdm. James M. Helm, (Fourth Naval District), RAdm. Walter McLean (Fifth Naval District), RAdm. Frank E. Beatty (Sixth Naval District), RAdm. William B. Fletcher (Seventh Naval District), Commo. Valentine S. Nelson, (Eighth Naval District), Capt. William A. Moffett (Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Naval Districts), Capt. Robert L.Russell (Twelth Naval District), Capt. Robert E. Coontz (Thirteenth Naval District), Capt. George R. Clark (Fourteenth Naval District), Cmdr. Leonard R. Sargent (Fifteenth Naval District]./Flag San Domingo/Navy Radio, St. Thomas./Comdr. Sub. Force. [Capt. Samuel S. Robison]/Commander-in-Chief [Henry T. Mayo]./Commander Cruiser Force [Albert T. Gleaves]./Commander American Patrol [Capt. Edwin A. Anderson]./Navasta Guantanamo.” Document identifier at top of first page: “NCB (FCM) (EPK)” and “6DN WA 636 Govt.”

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