Skip to main content

Rear Admiral Spencer S. Wood, Commandant, First Naval District, to Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations


CONFIDENTIAL        Office of the Commandant

The Little Building, Boston, Mass.

            16  May  1918.

From:  Commandant, First Naval District.

To  : Chief of Naval Operations, Navy Department,

       Washington, D.C.

Subject:  Operations of Submarines in Massachusetts Bay and Cape

 Cod Bay.

References: (a) Letter of Commander Submarine Force,1 86-91-L.

            (b) Operations telegram 16314.

            (c) Commandant’s telegram 15015.2

     1. The Commandant desires to reaffirm the recommendation in reference (b), that the exercises of submarines should be held in some less important water, not frequented by shipping, etc.

     2. The one favorable place for submarines to go on the bottom and await opportunities for action is the Stellwagen Banks immediately to the north of Race Point.3 An enemy submarine desiring to get into Boston Harbor or the near entrance thereto could drop on the bottom of the Stellwagen Banks when she came to the surface. All lookouts and observers in the vicinity would almost certainly mistake her for one of our own submarines that have been operating in that vicinity and she would entirely escape detection. From this point to the entrance to Boston Harbor is only twenty-two miles. The frequent presence of fog and mist in Massachusetts Bay is most favorable to the approach of submarines and an enemy submarine would most easily be confused with ours as the latter are frequently operating in that region.

     3. The Coast of Maine has large bays such as Penobscot Bay where submarines could train and be subject to none of these dangers.

4.  The Commandant understands that Submarines are to be used offensively against enemy submarines and desires instructions as to the system adopted by which our own submarines can be readily distinguished from an enemy submarine, as there is no information in this office on that subject.

Spencer S. Wood.        

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 414. Identifier on same line as date: “No. 707 CCM-EMM.” Attached to the letter is the “1st Indorsement.” In it an aide for Benson forwards Wood’s letter to Samuel S. Robison, Commander, Submarine Force, Atlantic Fleet, seeking his comment. On Benson’s behalf, the aide also asks if it is practicable to have surface vessels present when U.S. submarines operate in Massachusetts Bay. These surface vessels could fly a signal and prevent misidentification. Robison’s reply has not been found.

Footnote 1: Capt. Samuel S. Robison.

Footnote 2: None of the documents referenced here have been found.

Footnote 3: Race Point is at the northern tip of Cape Cod.