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]

29 May 1918.       

From:     Force Commander.

To  :     Secretary of the Navy (Operations)

SUBJECT:  General Report.

     1.   ENEMY SUBMARINE OPERATIONS.

          During the week 12 -18 May, it was estimated that fifteen large enemy submarines were out, two being vessels of the converted Deutschland type, one homeward bound, and the other located on a comparatively circumstantial report 180 miles south of Nantucket on the 19th. instant.1

          The feature of the week was the concentration of five submarines in the western approaches to the English Channel, between 4° 30’ W. and 3° W. Considering the amount of traffic passing through the area, these submarines did not meet with great success.

          Other areas of activity have been the Irish Sea and to the north and south of Ireland.

          A large “U” type of submarine was supposed to be operating to the westward of Gibraltar; it would appear that this was the boat which put into Cartagena on May 18th. presumably on account of damage incurred through and attack carried out by a seaplane on 17th. May.2

          Enemy submarines were active in the Mediterranean having made seventeen attacks, as against a weekly average of twelve for the year.

          The following table gives more detailed particulars of enemy 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.

3

S.W. of Ireland

1

Atlantic, north of Finisterre

-

Atlantic, south of Finisterre

3 – 4

N.W. of Ireland and Scotland

3 – 4

Irish Sea, north of 54° N.

1

Irish Sea, south of 54° N.

1 – 2

Irish Sea, Bristol Channel

1 – 2

English Channel, approaches

2 – 3

English Channel, W. of Lyme Regis

1

English Channel, E. of Lyme Regis

1 – 2

Bay of Biscay

1 – 2(?)

 

GENERAL INFORMATION.

          On 12th May submarine D-4 torpedoed and sank UB-72 25 miles S.W. of Portland.3

          On 11th. May submarine E-35 torpedoed and sank a Deutschland type submarine in the vicinity of the Azores. Two torpedoes were fired, both of which hit.4

          On 14th. May armed trawler “NULLI SECUNDUS” heard a submarine in her hydrophone which came to the surface to be attacked with gun-fire, the trawler claiming a hit. The enemy dived and was hunted with hydrophones; depth charges were dropped and oil appeared.

          A French armed trawler engaged and sank an enemy submarine, believed to be UC-35, by gunfire in position 50 miles west of Cape Fresca, Sardinia.5

ENGAGEMENTS.

          Reports of thirty-three encounters with enemy submarines were received as follows:-

5 by T.B.S’s.6

3 by sloops

2 by “P” class vessel.7

3 by submarines.

6 by aircraft.

2 by Merchant Vessels (Transports)

9 by Auxiliary Patrol.

1 by Special Service Ship.

2 by Merchant Vessels.

     2.   ENEMY MINE LAYING.

          Activity was experienced in the Peterhead, Dover, Holyhead and – after a lull extending over a longer period than usual- Harwich areas. Here however, mines were lain considerably further from the shore than hitherto, probably on account of the increased obstacles in the way of a submarine reaching the War Channel in the locality.

          Fifty mines were destroyed. . . .

     4.   FORCES BASED ON QUEENSTOWN.

REFITS.

          The BALCH and DOWNES are refitting at Liverpool and it is expected that all work in connection with them will be completed by 30 May. The PARKER should be completed about the same time.

     The ROWAN, JENKINS and WAINWRIGHT are the next ships to refit.

     The TRIPPE was docked at Rushbrooke on 21 May to examine and tighten up the stern tube gland which had been leaked considerably. The result of this examination is not yet known.

K-TUBE – INSTALLATION OF

     It has been arranged with Cammel Lairds to send a representative to Base Six to install templates for the installation of K-tubes tanks in the various ships. By this arrangement the time necessary for the installation of K-tubes tanks in the various ships will be reduced and consequently the ships will be returned to service after a shorter period.

U.S.S. PARKER – DAMAGE TO

          The PARKER was in collision with H.M.S. ENGADINE on morning of 13 May. She is now undergoing repair at Devonport dockyard. Copy of the Commanding Officer’s8 report is attached hereto.

U.S.S. BURROWS – ACCIDENT TO

          The BURROWS was in collision with H.M.S. P-62 on May 20, was hit in the forward fire-room, but proceeded to Liverpool under her own steam. A dense fog prevailed at the time. . . .

MATERIAL UPKEEP OF DESTROYERS.

               It is believed that one of the principal reasons for the excellent showing of our destroyers as regards material upkeep is due to the more or less rigid routine always observed as regards time for overhaul.

               Except in extreme emergencies, a definite schedule is at all times observed. In other words, the destroyers are always aware while operating that, at the end of stated periods, they will be given periods for overhaul. This permits systematic and definite plans being made in advance.

               It is believed that one of the principal difficulties that our forces suffered from in time of peace was our apparent inability to adhere to Fleet schedules made out in advance. The destroyers based on Queenstown are always assured, except in unusual cases of extreme necessity, that when they arrive in port their machinery may safely be disabled and work which has been planned may be carried out methodically. The excellent record made by the destroyers as regards material upkeep and the unusual percentage of time which they have been able to maintain themselves ready for actual operation is believed to be an excellent example well worthy of being observed throughout the Service. . . .

     12.  GENERAL.

          During the past week the submarines in the mouth of the Channel sunk three ships out of three separate convoys. One of these was a meat ship from New Zealand

          It is now believed that the five submarines off the mouth of the Channel, mentioned in the week’s report, were not sent there to work in unison. They exchanged however, numerous signals and apparently were so acting. One was bound south towards the Bay of Biscay. Four destroyers with fish hydrophones were sent hunting for them.

          A “P” boat recently attacked a submarine with depth charges in the southern part of the Irish Sea. A little further north a seaplane attacked a submarine which was afterwards depth charged by an American destroyer. Three destroyers of the Harwich Force attached a submarine east of Harwich, dropping twenty-eight depth charges. The report is that the submarine is believed to be sunk.9

          A vessel was recently sunk in the Malta Channel and one out of Port Said was torpedoed but got in. There was also an attack on a small convoy off Sardinia and one vessel was torpedoed but not sunk.

          The U-39 is interned at Cartagena and prisoners report that this submarine was bombed by a British plane. It is not believed however that the crew could tell the difference between the British and French planes as they have the same markings.

          A telegraphic summary of an article by Captain Perseus states that the captain warns the German Admiralty that the attacks on Zeebrugge and Ostend should be considered as forerunners of other and more serious attacks.10

          A submarine that was blown up by mines in the Dover Straits on April 11th, has been located and divers have opened the tower and gotten some bodies out.

          Information from Dunkirk is that recent bombing has been successful in harassing the enemy. Photographs show a destroyer which was sunk by a bomb between the THETIS and one of the blockships. The enemy is occupied in cutting away a part of the pier on the western side in order to make a channel. Photographs show that destroyers in Bruges have been spread along the Canal so as to lessen their danger from bombs. They all havetheir bows to the westward.

          Submarines have been given orders not to use Ostend.

          British depth charges are now being fitted so that they may be set from any depth up to 200 feet.

          A submarine east of Beechy Head torpedoed the MACEDONIA with convoy of meat and troops bound for London at 4 a.m. 23 May.

          On May 10th. a Zeppelin was brought down in the North Sea by a thunderstorm. The crew was rescued by a neutral vessel.

          One-hundred-and-twenty-seven bombs have been dropped on Bruges. These were 112 lbs in weight.

          Information has been received that there is a considerable shortage of oil in the German Fleet. Though they have not many vessels that burn oil exclusively, most of their vessels use considerable quantities of oil in connection with coal. Oil-fields are open to the Germans, but the difficulty is in transporting it by rail.

          The steamer GRAFTON HALL was recently torpedoed. She had left a west bound convoy, and it is probable that a submarine had followed the convoy and torpedoed the GRAFTON HALL when she overtook her. The steamer was not sunk and proceeded to port in tow.

          The OLYMPIA has arrived at Mourmansk.11

          A submarine was torpedoed on 24 May by a British submarine off the Otranto barrage.

          The steamer RUTH RICKMAN was attacked on 24th. inst. to the east of the Azores. The report was sent in by survivors who landed at Terceria Island on May 27th. A transport was sunk about 100 miles off Alexandria; she had about 3000 troops on board of which all are accounted for except 600 that are reported in the ships boats.

          The Commander-in-Chief at Dover12 reports that he believes a submarine was destroyed in one of the loop minefields. The submarine’s engines were very distinctly heard followed by a heavy explosion, and afterwards there was no further sound of the engines.13

          The patrol at Mourmansk is to be increased by a number of trawlers.

          Two prisoners were taken from the U-52 that was torpedoed in the Adriatic. For some reasons not at present understood, the Italians objected to these prisoners being sent to England by rail, They will be sent to Malta and thence to England by sea.

ASSIGNMENT OF NAVAL OFFICER –GENERAL PERSHING’S STAFF.

     The necessity has been realized for sometime to have an naval officer on the staff of General Pershing in France. Captain Jackson’s14 position at the French Ministry of Marine does not permit him to be in close enough touch with General Pershing’s staff headquarters in the field.

     General Pershing on frequent occasions has found it necessary to send an officer to London to confer with this staff. Questions frequently arise at Army General Headquarters of a nautical nature particularly as regards sea transportation service, which cannot be covered by occasional liaison officer service, that I have therefore detailed Commander Roger Williams, at least temporarily for this duty. Whether the assignment will be permanent or not will depend upon reports received from Commander Williams after he has been with the Army a sufficient length of time. . . .

WM. S. SIMS        

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Document reference: “25-13-12/AC 19051/J/E/2/3/4/5/6.”

Footnote 3: UB-72 was successfully sunk by D-4 as described on 12 May 1918. Kemp, U-Boats Destroyed: 49.

Footnote 4: On 11th. May submarine E-35 torpedoed and sank U-154. Kemp, U-Boats Destroyed: 48-9.

Footnote 5: UC-35 was sunk by the French vessel Ailly on 17 May 1918. Kemp, U-Boats Destroyed: 49-50.

Footnote 6: Torpedo Boats.

Footnote 7: Patrol Boats.

Footnote 8: Cmdr. Wilson Brown, Commander, U.S.S. PARKER.

Footnote 9: There is no evidence of a submarine sunk at this location. Kemp, U-Boats Destroyed: 48-50.

Footnote 10: Captain Perseus was a moniker a German naval critic used to publish anonymously in the newspaper Berliner Tageblatt. His article was referring to multiple British attacks on Zeebrugge and Ostend during the months of April and May 1918. See: Sims to William V. Pratt, 29 April 1918.

Footnote 11: For more information, see: Jesse Halsey to William S. Sims, 17 May 1918.

Footnote 12: Adm. Reginald H.S. Bacon, R.N., Commander-in-Chief at Dover.

Footnote 13: Probably UB-119, believed to be lost to a mine collision in May 1918. Kemp, U-Boats Destroyed: 50.

Footnote 14: Maj. Gen. John J. Pershing, U.S.A., Commander, American Expeditionary Force; and Capt. Richard H. Jackson, United States Staff Officer in Paris.