Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

[Extract]

12th May. 1918.         

FROM:     Force Commander.

TO  :     Secretary of the Navy (Operations)

SUBJECT:  General Report.

     1.   ENEMY SUBMARINE OPERATIONS.

          During the week 28 April – 4th May, it is estimated that thirteen to sixteen large enemy submarines have been out, three being vessels of the converted Deutschland type. Of the latter, one was outward bound, and the other two (one was in action on 27th April <w>ith a British merchant vessel) were porbably operating to the north of the canaries.1

          The remaining large boats have been working chiefly to the north, south-east and south of Ireland, and these localities and the eastern part of the English Channel have been the main areas of activity.

          The following table gives more detailed particulars of the enemy’s activities:-

AREA

Average No. of s/ms in area per day.

North Sea, South of 53° 30’ N.

          -

North Sea, North of 53° 30’ N.

5-6

S.W. of Ireland.

1-2

Atlantic, North of Finisterre

1-2

Atlantic, South of Finisterre

3

N.W. of Ireland and Scotland

3-4

Irish Sea, N. of 54 N.

1

Irish Sea, S. of 54 N.

1-2

Irish Sea, Bristol Channel

1 – 2

English Channel, Approaches

-

English Channel, west of Lyme Regis

1 – 2

English Channel, east of Lyme Regis

2 – 3

Bay of Biscay

1

GENERAL INFORMATION

          At 11:30 p.m. on 27 April, British S.S. RAMSAY, when 450 miles N.W. of Dakar, was attacked with torpedo by a disguised Deutschland type submarine. The torpedo missed and the merchant ship opened fire at 1,000 yards range. Seven direct hits are claimed and the vessel reports that the enemy, who only fired one shot, became a mass of flames and sank. Oil and wreckage were seen.

          On 28th April the Italian ARDEA sighted a submarine 25 miles east of Brindisi and attacked with depth charges; she then swept with Guocchia mine, which exploded, causing large quantities of oil and air bubbles to come to the surface.

          In the early morning of 30th April drifter COREOSPIS engaged with gunfire and sank an enemy submarine (UB85) in a position eleven miles E by N of the Maidens, the crew being taken prisoner. COREOSPIS was armed with a six-pounder gun only.

          On 2nd May the 7th Fish Hydrophone Flotilla hunted a submarine off Portland for 7 miles and trawler GEORGE WESTPHALL struck a submerged object. Twenty-five depth charges were dropped and oil and bubbles came to the surface.

          Another Fish Hydrophone hunt was carried out off Fair Island on 3rd May and it is claimed that the enemy was sunk.2

ENGAGEMENTS

          Reports of twenty-two encounters with enemy submarines were received as follows:-

4 by destroyers.

1 by sloop

2 by “P” class vessel.

1 by submarine.

1 by merchant vessel.

9 by auxiliary patrol.

1 by “P” class vessel and Auxiliary patrol.

3 by aircraft.

     2.   ENEMY MINE LAYING.

          The week was a very quiet one activity being experienced off May Island3 and Plymouth only. From the field to the seaward of Montrose a total of 52 mines have been accounted for and it is estimated that a minimum of twenty is yet to be swept up to the northward. Thirty-four mines were destroyer. . . .

     4.   LISTENING DEVICES.

K-TUBES

          K-tube outfits are beginning to arrive in satisfactory quantities. Those which have arrived thus far have been allocated by the Admiralty to trawlers and other vessels.

          The work of installation of K-tubes on destroyers continues, and hereafter, whenever a destroyer comes up for overhaul, a K-tube will be installed in the forward tank.

FISH TESTS.

          Tests are being conducted at Portland with the various types of towing fishes which have been made by the Admiralty<.> At the request of the Director of the Anti-Submarine Division,4 Mr. Scott,5 technical expert, Navy Department, was appointed a member of a Board which is conducting these tests. A full report of the results obtained will be forwarded upon completion of the tests. Itwas hoped that the two fishes which are to come from the United States would be available for a test at the same time that these tests are being conducted, but as yet they have not arrived.

LIEUT. COMMANDER BEEHLER’S DEVICE.

               Lieut. Commander Beehler has left England with orders to report to the Bureau of Steam Engineering, Navy Department, in order to develop his special attachment for sound detection devices.6

LOOP SYSTEM.

               Tests were conducted off Portsmouth and witnessed by the Commanding Officer of the AYLWIN7 on May 8th with the latest development of the magnetic loop system of trailing wires. A full report of these tests will be forwarded immediately upon receipt It is understood that the tests were not satisfactory.

     5.   BATTLESHIP DEIVISION NINE.

               Report of Battleship Division Commander is forwarded herewith.8

               The Force Commander fully concurs with the recommendation of the Battleship Division Commander that this division under no circumstances be considered as a training unit for personnel. The division must constantly be ready to meet the enemy in an action the consequences of which can hardly be over estimated. It is considered very important therefore that a degree of permanence in both enlisted and commissioned personnel of these ships be maintained even above that of any other forces in our Service. The circumstances are such that this division cannot be considered a parallel case to the destroyer. If the demands upon the Department are such that heads of departments or battery officers much <must> be detached, it is urgently recommended that their reliefs be assigned for a period of understudy before the actual exchange is made.

     6.   DEPTH CHARGES.

               A prisoner recently captured from an enemy submarine reported that explosions of American depth charges were well known to be more violent than those of the British depth charges. This is probably due to the difference of explosives used.

     7.   DESTROYER FORCE QUEENSTOWN.

               Operations of the Queenstown force continue as previously reported.

               The WINSLOW is in dock at Queenstown repairing damage to her bow caused by striking some submerged object.

               Owing to the shortage of ships, the refit of one of the destroyers is at present being postponed.

               The MANLEY has been towed to Cammell Lairds, Liverpool for her repairs.9 In view of the time which the MANLEY will be laid up, her officers and men are being used on other ships.

               A severe epidemic of tonsillitis and influenza has recently been experienced at the Queenstown base, the repair ships particularly suffering. The O’BRIEN had thirty-two men on the sick list in one day. It was necessary to transfer the majority of them for isolation on shore replacing them with men from the barracks and the MANLEY.

CONDITIONS AT QUEENSTOWN.

          Conditions at Queenstown and in Cork so far remain quiet. There are rumours of strikes and disorders to come but only a oneday strike has occurred so far. The conditions are such that no leave to Cork is allowed to either officers or men.10

HOISTING OF U.S. FLAG OVER AIR STATION.

          The U.S. Ensign was hoisted on 2 May over the seaplane station at Wexford and the Kite Balloon station at Berehaven, by agreement with the Admiralty.

TRAINING BARRACKS.

          On 30 April there were at the barracks 14 men for General Detail and 33 in the Radio School. During that week 59 men were received and 122 men transferred.

          The material expected on the CAMDEN was incomplete and had caused some embarrassment particularly as regards cooking facilities.

          Every effort is being made at the Barracks as well as on all ships toconserve food.

          The measures taken to conserve food are principally as follows :-

(a) Smaller portions are served.

(b) Fresh vegetables used in lieu of foods which are scarce.

(c) All meats are sliced thin.

(d) Butter is cut in small pieces.

(e) Fats and meat drippings are saved in the galley and used for cooking instead of lard. . . .

9.   SUBMARINE C<H>ASERS.

          The six submarine chasers destined for British Waters <which> have arrived at Brest,have been ordered to proceed to Portsmouth as soon as possible. They will be placed under the direct command of the commanding officer of the AYLWIN and with that vessel used as an American hunting unit in British Waters. This will be the first instance of Americ<a>n Listening devices under the direct control of American personnel being utilized for actual hunting of submarines, and it is hoped that a healthy spirit of competition between this hunting unit and the British hunting units will be productive of good results.

10.  ZEEBRUGGE RAID.

          Evidence indicates the blocking operations at Zeebrugge and Ostend has greatly restricted their use as submarine bases, at least temporarily.11 Also that the enemy is making vigorous effort to remove the obstructions. His <e>fforts are being frustrated by air bombing attacks and also by mine laying in the vicinity.

          The vessel which went ashore outside the harbor is believed to be in such a position as to cause silting in the harbor entrance.

          The innder end of the Zeebrugge breakwater was built in open work to allow the tide to sweep through to keep the entrance of the harbor clear. The second vessel mentioned is lying athwart the current which flows through the open part of the breakwater.

11.  MAIL CENSORSHIP.

     As previously reported our regular naval forces, that is ships, give very little trouble in violations of the censorship regulations. In fact they have again been commended by the Censorship Authorities.

     Considerable trouble is constantly being experienced however, from our Aviation personnel distributed at British stations and also from the storeships under charter and Navy Control.

     The Force Commander has asked, and the Admiralty have issued orders to all of their Naval Port Officers, to use his name in appealing to the Masters of such merchant ships to see that the censorship regulations are observed. It is hoped that the Department will take steps to have all of these Masters instructed and cautioned as to the importance of the censorship of mail while in foreign ports.

     The principal requirements are that the name of the ship and her movements and ports visited should not be evident in postal correspondence. In the case of these ships it is suggested that posting of letters on shore be strictly forbidden and that the masters of the ships collect all mail, have it censored, and then made up in packages duly authenticated and delivered to the naval port officer for forwarding.

     12.  ENEMY ACTION REPORTS.

     The practice has recently been instituted of having all reports of actions with enemy submarines mimeographed together with comments by the Base Commander and issued to all ships of the force. It was found that, due to the unavoidable separation of forces in convoy operations, many ships failed to hear of experiences of other ships, and it is also anticipated that the mere fact of having all reports of actions published broadcast to all ships will prove an incentive to all officers in planning their tactics and methods. Copies of these action reports from one base are also sent to other bases as well as to operations.

13.  INTELLIGENCE STAFF.

               The Department’s cablegram concerning intelligence information which has been forwarded was appreciated.12 The recent increase of the Intelligence Section of this staff by capable Reserve Officers has greatly assisted in the collection of intelligence information.

               The gradual increase of activities of the forces abroad is constantly throwing increased demands upon the headquarters staff and the work of the Intelligence Section is therefore becoming of growing importance. The Intelligence Section is organized to keep in touch with all divisions of the staff and the operations and requirements of outlying forces and it is their mission to see that all Intelligence information comes to the notice of the people concerned.

               The planning section particularly requires the constant service of an Intelligence staff.

14.  MINE LAYING BY “BALTIMORE.”

               Some difficulties have been experienced with the mine field laid in the North Channel by the BALTIMORE. Two mines were found on the surface and a large number apparently counter mined each other. An investigation is under way.13

15.  GENERAL.

          Information has been received that an enemy submarine recently stopped a Spanish steamer and transferred two badly wounded men. The report was that the submarine had been damaged by a gun encounter with British Vessel. The incident has not yet been confirmed.

          A British destroyer fitted with towing British Listening devices recently followed a submarine for five hours until she took to shoal water in the vicinity of Portland. Twenty–seven depth charges were dropped, although no definite results were established. An accompanying trawler rammed a submerged object during this encounter with such violence as to throw some of the coal out of her furnace.

     An enemy submarine was recently engaged in the Irish Sea by a drifter and destroyed by a 6-pounder gun. The submarine was apparently undergoing repair and was taken by surprise. It is not known whether an internal explosion in the submarine was the actual cause of the destruction.14

     One of the prisoners captured stated that his vessel had previously been kept down by hunting for the better part of two days and that the crew were nearly exhausted.

     It is reported that the Germans found two battleships and a number of destroyers of the Black Sea Fleet missing. It is not known where they are but it is possible that they may have been sunk by their own crews.15

     An armed collier reports that on 27 April about 300 miles north of St. Vincent, she came across what was apparently a Schooner. The latter dropped her sails and opened fire at a range of 1000 yards. The collierreports that she believes she struck the submarine several times and that it finally submerged emitting steam and smoke.

     A ship was recently attacked in the Channel and struck by a torpedo which did not explode. The same ship was attacked again some hours later and sunk.

     It is believed that at least two submarines were recently transferred from Germany to Mediterranean submarine bases.

     As a rule submarines in the past have invariably used radio while at sea and have frequently been located by radio direction finder stations which are scattered around the coast of the British Islands. Of late evidence has indicated that some of the submarines out have not used their radio at all. This has made it very difficult to keep track of them particularly when their sightings or sinkings have been infrequent and widely separated.

          Of late a great many drifting mines have been sighted in the North Sea; it is not unusual to receive reports of as many as thirty in one day. These mines are both British and German and their being adrift is probably due to the bad weather which has recently been experienced.

          The number of contacts with the submarines which are out seem to be on the increase. On 23rd April seven depth charge attacks occurred in one day, two of them by American destroyers. There is no definite evidence however in any case that the submarine was damaged or destroyed.

          The increased demand for convoy duty is illustrated by the fact that recently on one day, every vessel in the Irish Sea including those used for hunting operations, had to be employed for escort duty.

          There is every evidence that submarines frequently use Danish territorial waters in entering and leaving their bases. Effort is being made to obtain xxxxx actual legal evidence. Attempt will be made to carry out a reconnaissance from Harwich to the Danish Coast by 3 “America” planes.16 Their radius fully loaded is 360 miles but it is hoped that by eliminating weights this radius can be nearly doubled.

     16.  FORCES IN FRANCE.

               Particular attention is invited to the report of Operations of the Commander of Forces based on the French Coast forwarded herewith17 and to the special letter by theat Commander dated 22 April concerning the employment of the ships under his command.18

               Stated briefly it is apparent that the demands upon our forces in all area are constantly increasing with the increase of the number of troop and supply ships operating, and that the increase of escorting forces is not at all keeping pace with the increase of demands upon them. It is very desirable also to assign destroyers to work other than escort duty and particularly to offensive hunting operations and the development of listening devices and the tactics which are so essential to their use. It is necessary that destroyers be assigned to support our submarine chaser units but until the destroyer force is considerably increased, this will be impracticable to the extent desired without jeopardizing the safety of our convoys, which, of course, is not to be thought of.

LEVIATHAN AT BREST.

               The LEVIATHAN turned around at Brest in 3 1-2 days, Admiral Wilson expects to be able to turn this vessel around in tow <two> days, provided the weather is fair.19

               Admiral Wilson reports that the ship did not cooperate as fully with the authorities at Brest as other U.S. vessels of the transport force have done. A very small number of the c<r>ew assisted in coaling, the number probably not exceeding 200.

               He reports that credit for the rapid turn around is due largely to the U.S. Naval Forcesat Brest, assisted by excellent co-operation on the part of the U.S. Army authorities.

               It is to be noted that a temporary mooring was planted for the LEVIATHAN, which will probably suffice to hold the vessel in fair weather, but is entirely too light to hold the vessel in weather that is to be expected in Brest Roads during the winter.

               A heavier mooring suitable for holding the vessel in any weather will be planted as soon as the anchors and chains which are now en route arrive.

               It is noted that the American mine-sweeping unit based on Lorient has been highly commended by the French Naval Authorities for its efficient work.

     17.  AZORES DETACHMENT.

          Reports of operations of the Azores Detachment are attached.20 As reported by cable one of the most experienced U.S. Submarine Officers from the submarines operating in British Waters has been sent to the Azores to relieve one of the officers from that force in order to ensure interchange of experience between the two submarine forces.21

          There is no doubt that a larger force could be advantageously used at the Azores but the same applies to all the other areas in which we have forces and in view of the small number of submarines that are ever to be found within striking distance from the Azores and the relatively insignificant amount of damage they have done thus far, it is considered that other areas must be given preference.

          The Commander of the Azores detachment22 is deserving of commendation for his accomplishments with the small force available and particularly for his admirable diplomatic handling of conditions existing there which has apparently resulted in gradually removing all sources of suspicion or friction.

          The Azores Commander is kept informed of the movements of submarines which come within his range in so far as information is available. As reported by cable, there is considerable evidence to indicate that the enemy is under the impression that the Azores is a rendezvous or base for our army supply service to France. His assumptions are apparently based upon information from his secret agent and this belief is probably enc<o>uraged by the knowledge that we have established a naval base in that locality. As the type of craft which frequent the Azores are largely those which are able to cope with the submarines successfully, it is perhaps not to our disadvantage that the enemy is laboring under these impressions.

     18.  DISPOSITION OF FORCES.

          The demand for forces in all areas is even greater than in the past. The mosturgent demands at present are –

(a) Queenstown and French Forces to meet increased troop and increasing supply ship movements.

(b) Supporting destroyers for submarine chaser units.

               The latter is considered so important that an attempt will be made to send three from Queenstown force to the Otranto submarine chasers, by slowing down the regular overhaul periods, thereby not actually decreasing the available vessels at Queenstown.

          Situation at Queenstown now as follows :-

CASSIN completion due May 25.

STOCKTON        "    "   June 1.

MCDOUGAL       "    "   June 15.

MANLEY         "    "   indefinite.

SAMPSON, TUCKER and BENHAM under regular 10 day overhaul.

PATTERSON to go home for new boilers in June.

               Until the destroyer forces are materially increased it is not considered at all justified to increase the forces at Gibraltar or Azores.

               It is greatly regretted that the new destroyer program still remains so far behind expectations.23

W. S. Sims,        

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Document reference: “AC 17190 25/15/12/J/1/2/3/4-6.”

Footnote 1: The Deutschland class of U-boats were also known as the cruiser submarines. The “canaries” were the Canary Islands, which are in the Atlantic Ocean some sixty-two miles off the coast of Africa.

Footnote 2: There is no evidence to support the claim that Ramsay and Ardea sank submarines; the other reports of sinkings are supported. Kemp, U-Boats Destroyed: 47-48.

Footnote 3: The Isle of May is located in the outer Firth of Forth, Scotland.

Footnote 4: Capt. William W. Fisher, R.N.

Footnote 5: Possibly Capt. William P. Scott, Staff, Navy Department.

Footnote 6: For more on Lt. WeymanP. Beehler’s listening device, see: Joel R. Poinsett Pringle to Sims, 19 April 1918.

Footnote 7: Lt. Cmdr. David MCDOUGAL LeBreton.

Footnote 8: The report of RAdm. Hugh Rodman, dated 4 May 1918, is in DNA, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 381.

Footnote 9: On the damage done to the U.S. destroyer Manley, see: Sims to Pringle, 7 May 1918.

Footnote 10: On the unrest in Ireland at this time, see: Pringle to Sims, 27 April 1918; and Lewis Bayly to Oswyn A. R. Murray, 28 April 1918.

Footnote 11: For more on this raid, see: Sims to William V. Pratt, 29 April 1918. As seen in the note there, the raid did not restrict German use of the base.

Footnote 12: It is not known to which cable Sims is referring.

Footnote 13: The U.S. mine layer BALTIMORE was assisting in laying mines for the North Sea mine barrage.

Footnote 14: As seen earlier in this report, this was the British drifter COREOSPIS, which sank UB85.

Footnote 15: A portion of the Russian Black Sea fleet escaped to the Russian port of Novorossisk. Halpern, Naval War in the Mediterranean: 544.

Footnote 16: Presumably Curtiss H-12 flying boats, also known as “Large Americas.” Rossano, Stalking the U-Boat: 158.

Footnote 19: Leviathan was the largest troop transport in American service.

Footnote 20: This report is no longer with Sims’ general report.

Footnote 21: The identity of the officers is not known. On the use of American submarines at the Azores, see: Sims to Herbert O. Dunn, 18 May 1918.

Footnote 22: RAdm. Herbert O. Dunn.

Footnote 23: On the delay in the building of the new destroyers, see: Sims to Daniels, 23 April 1918.