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Captain William V. Pratt, Acting Chief of Naval Operations, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels




Source    Admiral Pratt, Chief of Nav.Ops. (Op.Plan File 5).

Date:     November 3, 1917.

November 3, 1917.

From:     Chief of Naval Operations.

To:       Secretary of the Navy.

     1.        In compliance with your memorandum of October 31, 1917,1 I submit the following outline of the most important work and operations carried on by this Office during the past year, which may be made public without detriment to the public interests.


     The general problems confronting the Navy during the past year have been the following –

     (1) Preparation for impending and actual war

     (2) Cooperation with and assistance to our Allies.

(3) The carrying on of offensive operations against the enemy naval forces.

(4) Providing safe passage for carriers in conducting military operations 3,000 miles overseas.

(5) Maintaining available naval forces ina state of readiness for battle.

(6) Providing additional fighting units necessary to bring the war to a successful conclusion.

(7) Training personnel to man the new units of the Navy and to assist in manning the merchant marine.

     To meet the above demands the entire naval service afloat and shore have been diligently employed. Too much praise cannot be given to the naval personnel afloat for their patience, courage and energy.

     To meet the constantly increasing demands on the Office of Operations the office has been expanded to provide

(a) suitable equipment and personnel for the planning section;

(b) a logistic section to handle work in connection with the increased number of auxiliary vessels;

(c) a section to control the operations of armed guards;

(d) a section for handling all work in connection with signal books, codes, ciphers, etc. The advent of the war has increased this class of activity twenty fold.

The Fleet has been reorganized to meet war conditions and to adjust the organization so as to assimilate the large number of new units in the Fleet. Experimental tactical groups have been organized to keep pace with material developments in anti-submarine warfare.

On April 1 all naval vessels were mobilized and steps taken to fit them for war service as fast as their crews for full commissioning could be supplied. All naval districts were mobilized.

The Coast Guard, transferred to the Navy, have been operated by the Navy Department and all vessels belonging to that service have been repaired and refitted.

German refugee ships have been seized and certain interned German vessels taken over for naval service.2

There has been established in European waters a force suitable for offensive operations against submarines and the convoy of merchant vessels. Forces in other distant waters have been disposed to meet the conditions of the war.

There has been organized a system of convoy service in connection with the transportation of American troops abroad.

The Communication Office has been greatly enlarged to meet demands about 700% in excess of those existing prior to the war.

By Executive Order fifty-three commercial radio stations have been taken over and are now operated by the Navy. In addition, about twenty-eight commercial radio stations as well as thousands of amateur and other stations not essential for communication purposes have been closed.

A censorship of messages passing out of and into the United States over the submarine cables has been established.

Early in March the first steps were taken to provide a defensive armament for American merchant vessels. Since the beginning of the war several hundred vessels have been or are in process of being furnished with armed guards, including one schooner which successfully repelled a submarine gun attack in the Mediterranean and forced the submarine to submerge. In addition, the Navy Department has furnished armed guards to all transports chartered by the Army. Steps are in progress to supply armed guards to vessels included in the program of the Emergency Fleet Corporation.3

The gunnery training in the Fleet proceeded along well established lines dictated by the results of previous years experience and conducted successfully all forms of target practice, in spite of the fact war was declared before it was entirely completed. Since the declaration of war the greatest activity in target practice has been in connection with the training of Armed Guards crews of merchant and other vessels, and the personnel to man the large number of ships taken over and operated by the Navy. Advantage has been taken of the experiences of our allies in the war, and this, together with our well established methods of training, is expected to maintain the improvement made in the last two or three years. It is not considered advisable at this time to publish any facts or figures of greater definiteness than the above general statements in regard to target practice.

The Naval Government of the Virgin Islands of the United States has been established and steps taken for the land defense of the islands. Quarantine, medical, research and agricultural services have been established.4

Affairs in the island of Haiti, involving the peace of the Republics of Santo Domingo and Haiti have progressed satisfactorily, and the authority of the established governments of those republics has been maintained. In the two republics there are now approximately 2,000 marines. In Santo Domingo a national guard under the Military Governor and under the direction of the United States Marines has been formed and is undergoing a course of training, while in the Island of Haiti the gendarmerie is reported to be in efficient condition. A small coast guard service has been established in Haiti. In addition, there have been employed in the disturbed districts of Haiti a varying force of marines for the protection of American interests there.

We have maintained constantly in Mexican ports and along the coast a patrol by our vessels, giving special attention to the port of Tampico.5

Certain provisions have been made in connection with the safeguarding of naval stations and plants of private concerns doing work for the Navy Department.

In order to meet war conditions and to cooperate with the navies of the allied powers, the number of Naval Attaches has been increased. Information of importance in connection with the prosecution of the war received from the naval Attaches and other sources has been collected, classified, filed, and disseminated.


The vast work of equipping and repairing the Fleet has brought upon our various navy yards and shore establishments demands which have taxed their utmost capacity. Not only has it been necessary to complete the overhaul and repairs of our regular naval vessels, but repairs to the seized German merchant vessels, and the fitting out and equipping of ships taken over for service, have multiplied the work required to be done.

A submarine and aviation base has been obtained at Coco Solo, Canal Zone, and is now in operation.

Congress has approved the purchase of the old Jamestown Exposition site on Hampton Roads, together with adjacent property which enables the Navy to establish an operating base consisting of a large tract of land with suitable water frontage where there will be established a naval training station for recruits, an aviation station, base for destroyers, fuel supply depot, naval hospital and a store house for general stores, all of which will be of the greatest assistance to the Fleet. The work at this operating base is well under way and it will be practically completed before the end of next year.


Among the numerous lines in which the Navy has expanded since the war began, none is more marked than that of the Coast Patrol and the operation of the Naval Districts. Starting from a skeleton organization, there is now in operation along our coast a large number of vessels, engaged in the upkeep of anti-submarine nets, sweeping for mines off the entrances to our harbors, and in scrutinizing the goings and coming of all vessels which approach our shores. Though generally of small size and fighting power, these vessels are constantly on outpost duty and serve to give notice of the approach of enemy vessels.

In obtaining ships for this service some of the vessels of the U. S. Coast Guard Service, Lighthouse Service, Coast and Geodetic Survey and the Fish Commission have been taken over by the Navy. The greater number of vessels on this duty, however, have been obtained from among the yachts and pleasure boats of the coast and inland waters. In this connection too much credit cannot be given to those yacht owners who have placed their vessels at the service of the country without compensation, and in many instances have volunteered to serve themselves.

The Act of March 4, 1917,6 which authorized the commandeering of vessels needed by the Government has been successful in enabling vessels to be obtained without the payment of extravagant prices. About one-half of those acquired by the Navy are given generously by the owners at a nominal figure of lease of $1.00 per month, with provision for reimbursement in case of loss of the vessel.

In order to operate and direct the movements of the vessels in this service, the coast is divided into a number of naval districts, each under a commandant, and each district further subdivided into sections, which serve as bases for the patrol vessels assigned to that section. The duty performed by these vessels and their personnel is onerous to a degree. In many instances they keep the sea for days at a time in small craft originally designed for short pleasure trips in good weather. It has been an excellent school, however, for training a large class of men upon whom the Navy can draw to meet the ever increasing demands made upon it.

/sgd/ W. V. Pratt      


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

Footnote 1: This document has not been found.

Footnote 2: For more on the disposition of the interned German ships, see: Admiralty to  William S. Sims, 20 August 1917.

Footnote 5: For the situation in Haiti and Tampico, see: Benson to Daniels, 2 June 1917.

Footnote 6: See, “An Act Making appropriations for the naval service,” available at Statutes at Large: 64th Congress,