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Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

November 22, 1917.


From:     Force Commander.

To  :     Secretary of the Navy (Operations)

Subject: Troop Convoys.

Enclosure: (a) Secret memorandum from Admiralty.1

          There is forwarded herewith enclosure (a), Comments on the use of S.S. ASCANIA for carrying troops.

          As soon as I learned that the ASCANIA carrying U.S. troops, had sailed with the slow convoy from Sydney, I immediately requested the Admiralty to have the ship directed to return to Halifax, there either to unload her troops into a more suitable vessel or to join the Halifax convoy if she could made the required speed.

          It is noticed that the speed of the ASCANIA is given in enclosure (a) as 13 knots, which, so far as speed goes, would enable her to join the Halifax convoy. As a matter of fact, the vessel was included in the Halifax convoy and is now en route.

          It is extremely difficult to ascertain the reliable speed of a merchantman. Owners generally claim a much higher speed than the ship can ordinarily sustain. Hundreds of cases have arisen of Captains of ships claiming a higher speed than they can maintain, the main purpose of their claim being to be included in convoys.

          The present Halifax convoy is now crossing at a very slow speed. Four of the ships contain U.S. troops. Three of them are vessels of fair speed, but the ASCANIA considerably reduces the speed of the convoy. For the best protection of our troops it is desirable to put them only in the fastest ships available. This ensures that the convoys will pass through the zone in the shortest possible time, and that the higher speed of the convoy will make it more difficult for the submarine to deliver a successful attack.

          I strongly recommend that the Department obtain the comments of Mr. Guthrie,2 Allied shipping representative, before using any ships for troop transport. Mr. Guthrie has the records of actual performance of all available liners, and is in a position to advise the Department. Certain vessels crossing the Atlantic have proved to have unreliable machinery, and have consequently been blacklisted by the Admiralty so far as concerns troop transports It would be very inadvisable to employ any of these ships for carrying U.S. troops, especially as there are three and probably more large fast British liners that have never yet been used for carrying troops and can be placed in this service if they are needed.

          While the lowest speed set in the Halifax convoy is 300 miles a day (12-1/2 knots) most of the ships in that convoy have a speed of 14 knots or more. It is these fast ships that give the greatest security to the successful transportation of troops.


Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Document reference: “C2980.”

Footnote 1: Sims memorandum was dated to 21 November 1917, its contents are discussed in this document in full.

Footnote 2: Capt. Connop Guthrie, R.N., British Ministry of Shipping representative in New York.

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