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Rear Admiral Albert Gleaves, Commander, Cruiser and Transport Forces, Atlantic Fleet, to Cruiser and Transport Forces




Mail Address        Telegraph Address

               Station H, New York.   2483 Broadway.

17 May 1918.       

From:     Commander Cruiser and Transport Force.


SUBJECT:  Procedure of returning Transport in Event of Submarine Gun Attack.

     1.   A number of transport Captains have recently asked me for instructions in the event of meeting an enemy submarine, and have suggested that in “Orders for Ships in Convoy”1 it be definitely stated whether transports should attack or attempt to escape.

     2.   In the “Orders for Ships in Convoy” and at the weekly conferences in New York, it has always been my deliberate policy to refrain from laying down hard and fast rules that would restrict exercise of judgement, or limit freedom of action: The strength of a ship or group of ships lies in the ability and initiative of the Commander to master the situation; and it would be unwise to fetter him with orders. This applies especially to a ship acting singly.

     3.   In order, however, that the Captains of the Transport Force may have some guide in the event of an encounter between a westbound transport and a submarine on the surface, I desire to express in a general way, my ideas on this subject. I cannot say definitely and finally a transport shall or shall not attack. There is too much variation in the size, value, speed, and armament of the transports; and other variant sea conditions, which would affect an ultimate decision. For instance, I would consider it inadvisable for the LEVIATHAN or other heavy transports2 to seek an engagement with a submarine if it could be avoided; the possible gain would not be commensurate with possible loss. On the other hand there are certain transports of much less military value, which it would be proper to risk for a fair chance of destroying a super-submarine. It seems to me that a Captain of a transport of this character is justified in acting offensively.

     4.   Thus, what is applicable to one type of transport is not to another, and in this fact lies an advantage. Uniform procedure would enable the submarine more easily to develop his tactics against the transport. An invariable policy of attack on our part would be easily turned to advantage by the enemy. He might, for example, operate his submarines in pairs, one remaining on the surface and the other submerging on the approach of a transport,. On the other hand an accepted policy of flight would undoubtedly weaken the morale of the entire Transport Force, and correspondingly strengthen that of the enemy. The best policy appears to be one that will keep the submarine in doubt as to the action of any transport he may meet; one that will leave no doubt in his mind that United States Transports are men-of-war, and dangerous to close with in a gun engagement.3


Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Addressed below close: “Copy to:/Operations./C in C [Henry T. Mayo.].” Document reference: “25019-8.”

Footnote 2: Leviathan, the former German passenger liner Vaterland,  served as a troop transport throughout the war. It was the largest troop transport the Americans had. In ten trips, it carried 119,000 troops to Europe. DANFS.

Footnote 3: In his History of the Transport Service, Gleaves discusses a number of “contacts” between U.S. transports and German submarines. Gleaves, History of the Transport Service: 161-71.