Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Rear Admiral Albert Gleaves, Commander, Cruiser and Transport Force to Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations



U. S. S. Seattle, Flagship

November 23, 1917.

From: Commander Cruiser Force

To:   Chief of Naval Operations.

SUBJECT: Convoys, etc.

     1. The protection of convoys during winter months involves various features to which I desire to invite the attention of the Department.

     2. Danger from Raiders-

          An armored or protected cruiser is considered sufficient against raiders unless information indicates that a German battle Cruiser is at large, in which case a battleship will be required. Battle cruiser raiders are not considered probable for the following reasons:-

          (a) Difficulty in escaping from North Sea.

          (b) Lack of sustaining facilities.

          (c) Probable brief career and great loss to Germans if destroyed.

          Raider protection is not required east of 20° W. longitude owing to the proximity of British naval forces.

     3.   Danger from Submarines-

          Sea going submarines may be encountered at any point of the voyage but the danger is much greater east of longitude 30° W and north of latitude 38° N.

     4.   Route for Slow Convoys-

          For convoys of less sustained sea speed than 14 knots, destroyer protection is necessary throughout the voyage. It is recommended that all convoys keep in the Gulf Stream where misty weather is probable (and advantageous) and where the current is favorable, and proceed to the vicinity of the Azores, about latitude 42 N longitude 30 W., a distance of about 2250 miles from New York, of which 300 miles will be current. At about this point the New York destroyers would be relieved by the destroyers based on the Azores. The New York destroyers, after oiling at the Azores, would return to the United States via Bermuda, if necessary. Azores destroyers would escort the convoy to a point about latitude 47 N Longitude 20 W and turn over the convoy to the Queenstown destroyers, returning themselves to the Azores.

          The object gained by this arrangement will be elimination of the necessity of oiling at sea and also entire voyage protection.

     5.   Routes for Fast Convoys-

          For fast convoys of a greater sustained sea speed than 14 knots destroyer protection would be dispensed with when well clear of Nantucket. The cruiser escort, however, would continue at greatest capable speed until joined by destroyers from Europe which should meet the convoy as far to the westward as possible. The remainder of the voyage under destroyer escort would be made at maximum speed. The convoys should proceed via approximate Great Circle route to latitude 46-48 N longitude 20 W.

6.   Oiling at Sea-

          The actual operation of oiling at sea is becoming increasingly difficult as the heavy weather comes on. Time is lost in oiling and it is probable that sooner as later the oil ships will be located by the enemy and destroyed, together with any transports that may be in that vicinity. It is, therefore, considered desirable to abandon this plan as soon as possible and to substitute therefor oiling in the Azores, or, if necessary, in the Bermudas.

     7.   Rendezvous-

          Rendezvous and routes should be shifted for every convoy. A rendezvous area is preferred to a fixed point or a fixed line. A typical area for the slow convoys would be Lat. 41 to 43 N Long, 29 to 31 W, and for the fast convoys Lat. 46 to 48 N. Long. 20 to 18 W. The greatest care must be taken that the appointed times for rendezvous are thoroughly understood by all concerned, to avoid serious mistakes. Too much stress cannot be laid on this point.

     8.   Moon.

          As far as practicable eastbound convoys should be routed to arrive on the French coast in dark of the moon.

     9.   European Port Facilities-

          Attention is called to the delay in the unloading of troops and cargo ships at destinations, and to the necessity of retuning the empty bottoms promptly to the United States. An example of delay is the NANS<EM>OND at St. Nazaire, which was unloading in the inner basin in the latter part of September, and was still there and not discharged, as late as November 8th.

     10   Incomplete Cargoes-

          Repeated examples of the incomplete loading of cargo vessels have been brought to the attention of the Department. On the last voyage of the DE KALB carried no cargo. Every ship should be utilized for freight when practicable-

     11.  Bases-

          Adequate Naval Bases at Quiberon Bay and in the Azores are of paramount importance to the safe transportation of troops.

     12.  Leviathan-

          There has been much discussion regarding the Leviathan as a troop ship. I do not consider that she should be eliminated. In one year, at the rate of one trip every six weeks, she would transport 63,000 soldiers. In view of the fact that our Naval transport urgent need to get a million men across as soon as possible, the war chance of her loss should be accepted.1 It is hoped and expected that, with present transports in operation, 50,000 men will be transported in the month of December.2

     13.  Docking Leviathan-

          At the end of the first eastward voyage of the Leviathan, she should be docked at Liverpool.3

     14.  Rescue Vessels-

          Recommendation is renewed that fast freight or animal vessels accompany the fast convoys, when possible, as rescue ships

     15.  Dangerous Position of Oiler-

          Attention is invited to the fact that the present position of the oil ship is only 80 miles from the barred zone just established around the Azores-

(signed)  Albert Gleaves-

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

Footnote 1: The Leviathan (former German line Vaterland) served as a troop transport throughout the war.

Footnote 2: According to statistics compiled in Gleaves’ book History of the Transport Service, 48,815 troops were transported to Europe in December including 37,445 in U.S. Navy transports. p. 241.

Footnote 3: Leviathan did dock at Liverpool, England, on its first two voyages. Thereafter, on the recommendation of Gleaves it went directly to Brest, France. when transporting troops. Crowell and Wilson, The Road to France, 2: 412.

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