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Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to Chairman Edward N. Hurley, United States Shipping Board

November 30, 1917. 

Dear Mr. Hurley:-

          With reference to your letter of November 23, 1917,1 the principal question involved, relating to the placing of men trained by the Navy on the inactive list in order that they might enter the merchant marine in a civilian status, has been discussed in a conference of representatives of the Navy Department and of the Shipping Board with the result that it was mutually agreed that such plan was impracticable.

          As was brought out in the conversation on Wednesday, the chief question at the present time is, of course, the efficient conduct of the war. In other words, the handling of ships crossing the war zone in the most efficient manner possible. This, of course, the principal desire, not only of the Navy Department, but of the Shipping Board and the country as a whole. The question, therefore, resolves itself into a consideration of what method shall be arrived at in order to carry out this purpose. It seems to us essential that all ships crossing the war zone should be officered and manned by men who are subject to Naval discipline.

          Merchant ships in the way [i.e., war] zone are almost as vital a factor in naval operations as the regular vessels of the Navy and it is of the highest importance that the officers and crews of these merchant ships have such training as will fit them for those military duties, and be subject to naval control and discipline.

          I know you will understand that the Navy is in<terested> solely in the military and naval work ahead of us in getting troops, munitions and supplies of all kinds across the Atlantic, and that in co-operating with the Shipping Board towards this end we want to do so in such a way as to assist the Shipping Board, not only in this work, but in helping it to build up an American merchant marine for the future.

          Limiting the question, therefore, to vessels crossing the Atlantic, as sug[g]ested at the recent conference, crews can be specially qualified for this work and be under necessary discipline and control if recruited and trained as Naval Reservists. Under existing laws members of the Naval Reserve must be either American citizens or citizens of friendly nations who have taken out their first papers. We realize, of course, that a large percentage of the crews of American ships are now foreigners who do not come within this category, but it is probable that with the increasing number of ships these men would find ready employment on vessels not engaged in Trans-atlantic voyages.

          In regard to those now serving in the Merchant Marine, who would be eligible for the Naval Reserve, it is hoped that a large percentage of them, both officers and men, will be willing voluntarily to be enrolled in the Naval Reserve and some satisfactory arrange[m]ent can undoubtedly be made between the Navy Department and the Shipping Board for the enrollment of a large proportion of them.

          In regard to the officers who are now on American Merchant Vessels, short courses of training can be established in order to instruct them more fully in the procedure necessary to make the voyages safe through the war zone.

          If given ample notice in advance as to the numbers and types of vessels for this Trans-Atlantic trade, with the dates of readiness, we believe that the Navy Department can obtain suffiecient men under present laws governing the Naval Reserves. While the Navy has already increased its training facilities, an additional call of this nature will require certain extensions of our stations which should be taken up at once. The manning of these vessels by Naval Reserve Officers and crews should not in any way interfere with any plans of the Shipping Board to have the operation of these vessels while in port conducted by private companies, or by the Shipping Board.2

Sincerely yours,        

Josephus Daniels   

Secretary of the Navy

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

Footnote 1: Document has not been found.

Footnote 2: The creation of the Naval Overseas Transportation Service in January 1918 resulted in a policy that all transports and most other vessels traversing the war zone were Navy-manned and operated by the Naval Overseas Transportation Service. Clephane, Naval Overseas Transportation Service, 1; Hurley, Bridge to France, 209.