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



May 29, 1918.

FROM: Force Commander,

TO  : Secretary of the Navy (Operations).

SUBJECT: Forwarding Planning Section Memorandum No. 18


     1.   There is forwarded herewith enclosed, copy of Planning Section Memorandum No. 18 (Problem No. 10)1 which is a joint production of the Planning Section of my Staff and the Plans Division of the British Admiralty.

     2.   This paper is forwarded as a matter of interest to the Department, although it does not meet with my entire approval. Few of the recommendations made have been put into effect.

     3.   Viewing the paper broadly, it proposes three radical changes from the present practice, viz:

(a) A change in the mission and functions of the British Grand Fleet.

(b) A reduction of danger zone escorts by 30%.

(c) A reduction in coastal patrol by 50%.

     4.   It would perhaps be nearer the mark to state instead of (a) above, that the proposal is to effect a change in the Commander-in-Chief’s conception of his own mission and to cause him to feel the same responsibility for closing to submarines the northern exits from the North Sea as is felt by the Vice Admiral at Dover to close the Dover Straits.

     5.   It is of course not proposed that the capital ships of the Grand Fleet shall engage in anti-submarine warfare. The destroyers and other vessels of similar types now attached to the Grand Fleet and needed for screening purposes would of course be very useful in assisting to close the northern exits from the North Sea and in an anti-submarine offensive. Their allocation to this sort of employment would necessitate putting the battleships into one or two harbors on about twenty hour’s notice for sea instead of four hours as at present. The result of such action might conceivably be a very serious raid on the East coast of England by the enemy’s High Seas Fleet, of which the political if not the military results would be most harmful to the Allied cause.

     6.   It is difficult to say just what the size of an escort should be for a convoy of a given size, and it may be that it is the presence of escorting vessels rather than their number that deters the submarine from attacking. We have no assurance of this, however, and must assume the contrary. It is, therefore, no wise at present to reduce the strength of escorts.

     7.   The coastal patrols might perhaps be reduced without loss of efficiency if a vigorous offensive were directed against submarines in other areas, but unfortunately vessels of the class engaged in this patrol work are the least efficient for offensive operations, having low speed and offensive power.

     8.   The laying of the mine barrage across the North Sea will begin very soon, but owing to defective functioning of the British mines, the deep mining of the section of the barrage nearest the Scottish coast cannot be undertaken at once, so that the only means for preventing the passage of submarines across that area will be the establishment of a patrol. Whether or not this can bring the decisive results contemplated by paragraph 112 of the enclosed paper is questionable. Certainly no extensive reduction in the protection now given to shipping could be considered, unless we could be assured that both the Dover Straits and the northern exit from the North Sea were closed with a reasonable degree of tightness against the passage of submarines.

     9.   With respect to the suggestions in paragraph 23:3 I am quite in agreement that the present division of command about the British Isles is not a satisfactory one, nor one that is conducive to the highest efficiency, but this is of course a matter so intensely domestic in its nature that the Admiralty could not be approached on the subject in any official way. I believe the Admiralty itself is not satisfied with the division of command in the Channel, and it is probable that some change will be made in the near future.

     10.  A considerable amount of effort has recently been devoted to an attempt to prevent the passage of submarines through the Fair Island Passage, or to operate offensively against any that may use that passage. There have been some encounters with submarines in that locality without definite results, and it is supposed that recently the German submarines have been acting under orders to avoid the passage by going North of the Shetland Islands.

/s/ WM. S. SIMS.        

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.

Footnote 1: See, “Anti-Submarine Policy, Planning Section Memorandum No. 18,” Naval Planning Section: 171-85.

Footnote 2: Paragraph 11: “Decisive results will not be obtained until a very strong mine barrage is completed, and it will be inexpedient to abandon the local protection of trade until the hydrophone is more fully developed. It is urged, however, that a concentrated offensive effort, covering the reported track of submarines, be instituted in the northern area as soon as possible.” Ibid., 179.

Footnote 3: Paragraph 23: “In addition to the proposed operations in the northern area, it is suggested that yachts, older destroyers, and the remaining trawlers employed on coastal patrols should carry out similar operations on the east coast, Channel, Irish Sea, in conjunction with drifters and mined nets, and the coastal commands be consolidated into a few groups, so as to obtain greater flexibility and more economical employment of available forces.” Ibid., 181.

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