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Lieutenant Commander Forde A. Todd to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels


U.S.S. UTAH.  

10 November, 1917

From:     Lieutenant Commander Forde A. Todd, U.S.N.

To:       The Secretary of the Navy (Operations)

Subject:    Convoying with Submarines

     1.   From news accounts, Service information, and information contained in many confidential publications of the Office of Naval Intelligence that have come to my notice there are two facts that seem to stand out which are not taken advantage of in conjunction with each other for destroying enemy submarines. They are, first, that submarines almost invariably come to the surface to view their victim and interrogate the survivors, and secondly, that English submarines destroy about half of the enemy submarines that are accounted for.

     2.   The method I propose may have been used partially or in isolated cases, but has surely not been prosecuted with vigor nor as a concerted policy. With the advent of our torpedo destroyers and submarines in the war zone a policy could be formulated along the lines proposed below, which would, I think, result in the destruction of the enemy submarines without materially diverting the vessels from the work along the lines in which they are now engaged.

     3.   The method of attack I propose is to have each cargo carrying vessel, especially the slow ones, either tow a submarine alongside, or have it run on the surface alongside, through the danger zone when outward bound and then be turned over to a destroyer on patrol duty and, in turn, be returned in company with a vessel in ward bound.

     4.   By this procedure the convoying submarines would be in a most advantageous position for attack every time a vessel is torpedoed. This practice may seem on first blush to be putting the cart before the horse or locking the stable door after the horse has been stolen, but upon closer examination there is <much> logic to commend it.

     5.   Since last February over six hundred British vessels above sixteen hundred tons have been destroyed by enemy submarines. In almost every instance as can be verified by official reports, as soon as the submarines hears the explosion indicating that the shot has gone home, it comes to the surface and became engrossed with watching its victim sink and interrogating the survivors. It takes but a small knowledge of human nature to realize what a natural and unpreventable course of action this is: the desire of the hunter to view his prey, and the wish to be able to report the tonnage, cargo, and destination of the destroyed ship to those at home in order to secure the large bounties offered by the German Government for vessels destroyed. This destruction of cargo ships is still going on at the approximate rate of a dozen a week.

     6.   It is firmly believed that if in each case a submarine had been in company with the destroyed ship and had immediately submerged it could have successfully manoeuvred to an advantageous position for torpedoing the enemy submarine. It would be even too much to ask of an efficient German to keep a sharp lookout and see a small periscope with the spectacle of a sinking ship and men and precariously overloaded life-boats floundering in the water to distract his attention.

     7.   The chances of the submarine alongside the vessel being seen by the enemy are considered small. The chance is fifty per cent that the attack will be made on the opposite side and the sash of the ship, the waves, and curvature of the earth would almost surely obscure its presence from a periscopic view by the enemy.

     8.   A submarine could easily run awash alongside a slow merchantmen and be towed astern at night or alongside in daytime.

     9.   A rendezvous for the submarine to be dropped and returned would be essential in order to prevent it being destroyed or destroying other of our own submarines.

     10.  Of course, any additional use could be made of the submarine to fight off following submarines or raiders and prevent destruction of the vessel. However used in this manner, the same logic holds good that causes men to take ferrets to the sept infested by rats and send them in after the rats.

     11.  Only the main features have been dealt with in proposal, but the writer believes that the details are feasible and that the proposed method of attack would bring a rich harvest with comparatively little risk.1

(Sgd.) Forde A. Todd.

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Copies to: C in C2

           C. B. F.3


1st Endorsement.         U.S.S. UTAH       November 13, 1917.

From:     Commanding Officer.

To  :     Secretary of the Navy (Operations).

     1. Forwarded.

(Sgd.) C. T. OWENS.5   

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 341. Identification numbers in the top right-hand corner: “11-16-8” and in columnar fashion: “1/3/C/J/H.”

Footnote 1: There is no evidence that Todd’s plan was attempted.

Footnote 2: Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet Adm. Henry T. Mayo.

Footnote 3: Commander, Battle Force VAdm. DeWitt C. Coffman.

Footnote 4: Commander, Battle Force, Division 7 RAdm. Thomas S. Rodgers.

Footnote 5: Cmdr. Charles T. Owens. Todd, presumably, was the ship’s executive officer.