Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Captain Ashley H. Robertson, Commander, U.S.S. Mount Vernon

[London] November 23,1917.

My dear Robertson,

     I am in receipt of your letter of 12th November, together with the confidential memorandum which you kindly forwarded to me through Courtney.1 I congratulate you on getting safely through with the large ships. It is a big problem, and one attended with grave responsibility. I am especially interested in your comment that you were impressed with the great lack of information on the part of all in authority of the movements orders of the different elements of the convoy and escort.

     We have just received from the Commander, Cruiser Force, the confidential copy of convoy instructions dated October 10,1917, and a copy of this has been furnished to each destroyer for use with future convoys.2

     I am most anxious for your frank suggestions on any matter in which conditions can be improved after you reach the zone, particularly as relates to co-ordination between destroyer escort and the convoy. The whole problem of handling convoys is a new one, and we are anxious to get all the suggestions for improvement from those who have had the actual experience.

     I wish very much that we had more destroyers available on this side, so that greater protection could be given our troop convoys; but we have a large problem not only getting in troop convoys, but getting out empty troopships, getting in all supply ships, getting them out of the zone, getting in and out our oil tankers and assisting in protecting U.S.merchant vessels, and also assisting in protecting allied trade. Our destroyers have been worked to the utmost, and not a day has been lost with them. They have done a wonderful lot of service to the Allied cause.

     I am sending you herewith for your personal information a copy of comments that I have made on the Commander, Cruiser Force’s pamphlet of October 10.3 I would lay particular stress on the undesirability of using zigzags that give large angles of turn, especially with our largest transports. I think that the angle should not exceed 30 - 45°. It is especially important, too, that all clocks be checked.

     I am forwarding a copy of Commander Courtney’s report for any comment that you desire to make.4

     Can you tell me why the convoy was 30 hours late; and can you also tell me why the VON STEUBEN was separated from the convoy after entering the zone?5 Was this on account of the collision to which you refer?6 Great stress is laid on keeping the ships in line abreast in order to make it more difficult for the submarine to deliver a successful attack. I note that the transports were in two columns. I suggest that you have a conference before sailing with the Commander of the Destroyer escort so as to have an understanding as to what zigzag you are to use, hours when you are to change course, and so forth, so as to use, avoid misunderstandings due to mistakes in signals and so forth.7 I suggest also that you have a distinct understanding as whether your signals will refer to GMT8 or not. All allied vessels in the zone use GMT and you will note that I have recommended that this practice be followed by the transports.


WM. S. SIMS   

Source Note: Cy, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 79. Addressed below close: “Captain A. H. Robertson,/U S S. MOUNT VERNON.” Identifying numbers at the top of the first page: “C.2892”; “11-6-7” and in columnar fastion “3/C.”

Footnote 1: Neither Robertson’s letter nor his memo has been found. “Courtney” was Cmdr. Charles Courtney, commander of the destroyer U.S.S. Rowan and of the escort that met Troop Convoy #10, which included Mount Vernon.

Footnote 2: See: Albert Gleaves, Order for Ships in Convoy, 10 October 1917.

Footnote 4: The report, “Sum of Military Information in War Diaries Received No. 11-18” is in DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B, Destroyer Ships Files: Rowan, Folder 17.

Footnote 5: According to the Sailing Orders for the escort, the convoy was to arrive at 6 P.M. on 9 November. Ibid. According to Courtney’s report, the convoy did not arrive at the rendezvous point until 12:12 P.M. on 10 November. Also, the Von Steuben was not with the convoy but some twenty-five miles southwest of it so the convoy was not assembled until 3:50 P.M. Ibid.

Footnote 6: According to Courtney’s report, Von Steuben had collided with Agamemnon the night of 9 November. The bow of Von Steuben was “crushed”; the port side of Agamemnon was “damaged.” Ibid.

Footnote 7: To quote from Courtney’s report:

At 5-05 Rowan signaled to the MT VERNON: “Commander Courtney. Requests information about the ziazag, and also all courses and speeds made good. Would venture to suggest that transports preserve the line carefully, as our success in guarding the convoy depends on a good line. Reference in this signal was to the irregular formation, and to our total lack of information of the plans and instructions under which the convoy was being operated.

Plan for zigzag and formation as signaled by MT VERNON were not kept either in method or time. . . . Conditions of confusion existed druing the night. . . At 9-20 Rowan radioed to destroyers: “Do not know what convoy is doing. We are steering 90°, speed 15, have three destroyers with us.” Ibid.

Footnote 8: “GMT” is Greenwich Mean Time.

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