Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Rear Admiral Henry B. Wilson, Commander, United States Patrol Squadrons Operating in European Waters
CONFIDENTIAL. 28th May, 1918.
From: Force Commander.
To: Commander, U.S.Naval Forces in France.
Subject: 14"-50 caliber Naval Guns on Railway Mountings for use on shore.
I. A naval expedition consisting of 5 - 14" Naval Guns on Railway Mountings with necessary train equipment for supply, operation and anti-aircraft protection is being assembled in the United States for service in France with the U.S. Army.1 Three similar guns will be added later. The material for this expedition is being assembled at Philadelphia and the complete armament will be ready for shipment about [1?] June 1918.2 The War Department with the approval of General Pershing3 has designated St. Nazaire as the port of debarkation. Captain C.P. Plunkett U.S.N. will command the expedition, with Lieut. Commander G.L. Schuyler, U.S.N., as second-in command and expedition Gunnary Officer.4 U.S.Naval personnel will be furnished for the erection, assembly, operation and supply of the expedition.
2. Personnel for this expedition consists of about 450 ratings. A large part of the personnel will start ahead of the material in order to make all necessary plans to expedite the erection on arrival of material.5 A number of specially trained mechanics of the Baldwin Locomotive Works, which firm built the locomotives and railway cars, have been enlisted in the United States Navy to accompany this expedition. Special crane cars for erecting purposes are being supplied and these cars will be erected first and used for erecting the remainder of the trains. These crane cars are capable of erecting all of the material, except the gun car which involves weights beyond their capacity. A large cranes capable of a maximum lift of 173,300 lbs will be required for handling the gun. The transportation of all of the material for this expedition will be in vessels operating under the Navy and it is desired that debarkation, erection and assembly be under the direction of the Navy. With each gun there will be a complete train for its operation and supply. Each train consists generally of the following locomotive, tender, gun car 14" ammunition car, anti-aircraft car, anti-aircraft ammunition car, battery headquarters kitchen car, staff kitchen and dispensary car, berthing car, staff radio car, fuel car, staff quarters car, and the following additional cars will be with the expedition: construction car with crane, workshop car, staff office car, spare box cars, freight cars, and flat cars.6
3. Considerable space will be required for the assembly of the material as it is unloaded in St. Nazaire and for erection purposes. The shipment in any one vessel may not form a complete unit, owing to the fact that the material will probably be shipped in the order in which it is received in Philadelphia. It is desired that the Naval Port Officer, St. Nazaire,7 make such arrangements as will enable the Navy to erect and assemble this material in the shortest possible time. The amount of shop erection work, if any, will be very limited. There is no definite information at hand as to the length of time required to assemble the complete train, but letters from authorities in Washington indicate not over 2 weeks.8 It is anticipated that Captain Plunkett will probably request the Army to store its supplies, spare parts, expendable stores, and equipment, and to issue them as may be required from time to time. It is understood that this expedition is equipped with workshop cars which will be able to effect any repairs likely to be required in connection with the operations of the expedition. You will be advised as to the progress assembly and shipment of the material from the United States. You have not been previously informed of this expedition because until recently it was intended to operate this battery with the British Army and was to have been placed under their direction immediately upon being landed at a northern port in France.
4. Matters relating to supply of personnel to replace wastage and to naval discipline, in such cases as the Commanding Officer of this expedition has not authority to act, will be referred to the Commander U.S. Naval Forces in France. In all other respects this expedition will operate under and receive its orders from the Commander-in-Chief U.S. Army in France.
5. Keep the Force Commander informed of the progress made in the preparation and assembly of this expedition.
/s/ Wm. S. Sims.
Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Document identifiers: in upper right-hand corner in columnar fashion: “B/K/2/5.”
Footnote 1: For a history of the naval railway gun batteries, see, “United States Naval Railway Batteries in France,” Accessed on 21 May 1918, https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/u/us-naval-railway-batteries-france.html.
Footnote 2: The first shipment of material left Philadelphia on 20 June 1918. Ibid., 7.
Footnote 3: Maj. Gen. John J. Pershing, Commander, American Expeditionary Forces. His letter requesting the batteries was dated 23 May. Ibid., 6.
Footnote 4: Capt. Charles P. Plunkett and Lt. Cmdr. Garret L. Schuyler.
Footnote 5: The first contingent, consisting of 250 men and 8 officers under the command of Schuyler sailed from Philadelphia on 26 May 1918. Ibid., 7.
Footnote 6: For a breakdown of the all the cars needed and the number of each kind of car sent to France, see Ibid., 4.
Footnote 7: Cmdr. Frank P. Baldwin.
Footnote 8: Once the material started to arrive in France, it was decided to wait until all material needed for a complete train was on hand and in the yard. Therefore, although material starting arriving 8 July, assembly of the locomotive and cars did not begin until 20 July and the guns 26 July. The first train was completed on 11 August. Ibid., 7.