Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Rear Admiral Albert P. Niblack, Commander, Patrol Squadron Based on Gibraltar, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters



Patrol Squadrons Based on Gibraltar.

U.S. DECATUR, Flagship.       

Reference No.673- CONFIDENTIAL.                 21 May, 1918.

From:     Commander U.S. Patrol Squadrons Based on Gibraltar,

To  :     Force Commander.

SUBJECT:  Operations of 30 submarine chasers on May 17-18/18. in the vicinity of Gibraltar.

Reference:  (a) Report of Lieutenant V. Wood, U.S.N., U.S.S. LEONIDAS.1

     1. Herewith is enclosed a copy of a report made by Lieutenant V. Wood, U.S. Navy, Navigator of the LEONIDAS, whowas given charge of fifteen submarine chasers under Commander Nelson, who was himself embarked upon submarine chaser No.90. This report is rather disjointed because it must be considered in connection with oral reports which were made upon the return to port of Commander Nelson and Lieutenant Wood, in the forenoon of May 18th.

     2. When word was received here on the morning of May 17th of a seaplane bombing submarine ten miles ESE of Gibraltar, the Commanding Officers of the submarine chasers were in procedd [i.e., process] of going on board the LEONIDAS for the purpose of holding a conference, prior to their sailing at 4 p.m. on that date. I immediately signalled Commander Nelson to come ashore to get his orders from Admiral Grant2 and myself for operations against the supposedly injured submarine. While Commander Nelson was with Admiral Grant and myself, a telephone message was received from a lookout station on the Rock that a submarine’s periscope was in sight about one thousand yards SE of the station reporting it. The plan formed and approved, was that Commander Nelson should take fifteen chasers, embarking on S.C. No.90, and the Lieutenant Wood take the remaining fifteen chasers, embarking on S.C. No. 338.

     3. The chasers proceeded to the Eastward around Europa Point, and the operations which followed may be divided roughly into three different incidents.

     4. In par. (1), reference (a), Lieutenant Wood details an encounter with an enemy submarine in the vicinity of Catalan Bay, on the East side of Gibraltar Rock. In this connection it is interesting to note that Rear Admiral Grant does not now believe thata submarine was sighted at all on the East side of the Rock, nor that one was encountered in Catalan Bay. Four privates of the Army however, have stated positively that what they saw was a submarine, and Lieutenant Wood seems equally positive.

     5. The second phase of the operations was, that Hunting Units 3 and 10, were despatched to the Eastward to take up the trail of the submarine which had been supposedly injured by the seaplane. This they did for twenty-eight hours, apparently keeping track of the movements of this submarine to the Eastward until they lost it at 1 pm. On the 18th off Marabello.3 The British MLs4 which were sent out to relieve them did not get up with them to take up the trail as hoped for.

     6. The third phase of the operations took place in Sardinia Bay,5 which was reached at 8:12 pm., during sweeping operations, when S.C.147 reported sounds of hammering, and the listener on board S.C.338 hear the same sounds and investigated. What followed is detailed in paragraphs 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of reference (a). The flash light and other signalling which was intercepted on shore, and the movements of the small boats and launches, were due to smuggling operations which were being carried on, and apparently had no connection with the supposed submarine lying on the bottom in Sardinia Bay, in Spanish Territorial Waters. I personally talked with Lieutenant Wood on his return and he demonstrated beyond a doubt that the tappings on the bottom were in no way connected with the shore, because he was able to isolate the sounds by moving around and above them. The evidence which he gives in par. (5) and (6) of reference (a), to the presence of another submarine signalling “TII,” was, at the time, and is now, to me conclusive that there was another submarine in the vicinity. The British Authorities here douby [i.e., doubt] the evidence very much and are inclined to believe that never more than one submarine was in the vicinity, that being the one sighted by the British seaplane.

      7. At any rate, the experience the submarine chasers had was very valuable for their future operations. In my opinion, the presence of German submarines in the immediate vicinity of Gibraltar points to a frowing [i.e., growing] boldness on the part of enemy submarines, and the conviction that sooner or later Gibraltar Bay is going to be raided.

      8. In your cablegram 10386 you ask me to explain explicitly the meaning of “a submarine base.” Unquestionably German submarines are receiving supplies and stores along the Spanish Coast. There is no evidence that they have a definite base, or a thoroughly organized system of receiving supplies, but the fishermen are in league with the smugglers, for they must be, and a great many of the Spanish Officials, and the carbineres, are equally implicated. It may be that the higher officials in the smuggling business are not in league with the Germans in supplying submarines, but unquestionable here and there the local smugglers give supplies to them. There are smuggling bases, and Sardinia Bay is one of them. If submarines can come to such points and get supplies, it amounts to having a base. I believe that there are definite points where this method of receiving supplies takes place. I have suggested to Captain Croaley7 that when it suits his purpose I will have a talk with him. The great difficulty in our doing anythingis that the British and French Authorities are apparently not desirous of breaking up the smuggling in Spain, because they get a great many of their supplies in that way themselves. Therefore, I hesitate to more than express my opinion, as actually I have no evidence to go on. The British Motor launches, and patrol boats, get many supplies from Soanish [i.e., Spanish] fishermen along the coast, and the se fisherman tell them of having had to give supplies to submarines on occasions. The whole question is an exceedingly difficult one, and, as I am operating in the intelligence business with the British, I merely express my opinion to them, and must leave it largely to them to act on it or not, as they see fit.

      9. Enemy submarine operations are growing closer and closer to Gibraltar, and are becoming daily more active and threatening. Admiral Grant has fully represented the situation to the Admiralty, and the whole matter is, I am told, now in the hands of the Inter-Allied conference. What are urgently needed here are submarine chasers of some type, and listening devices of the most improved type.

      10. I am inclined to think that the British Authorities are loath to break up the smuggling, and were somewhat embarrased by the disclosure of the smuggling operations in Sardinia Bay, as Gibraltar gets some of its supplies that way. The skepticism regarding the results of the listening of our submarine chasers makes me anxious now to get further along with such devices in this vicinity, as submarines are supposed occasionally to pass in and out of the Straits of Gibraltar almost at will.

/s/ A.P. NIBLACK.       

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 387.

Footnote 2: RAdm. Heathcoat S. Grant, Commander, British Forces Stationed at Gibraltar.

Footnote 3: Marabella, Spain, is some forty miles northeast of Gibraltar.

Footnote 4: Motor launches.

Footnote 5: That is, Sardina Bay, Spain, some ten miles northeast of Gibraltar.

Footnote 7: “Captain Croaley” has not been further identified but may have been a British intelligence officer at Gibraltar.