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 Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

 

[Extract]

26th November, 1917.

From:     Force Commander.

To  :     Secretary of the Navy (Operations)

SUBJECT:  General Report.

     1. ENEMY OPERATIONS.

     The Admiralty is now furnishing the Force Commander with their so-called “Weekly Appreciation” which is prepared for the War Cabinet.1 This is a very secret document and should be given as restricted circulation in the Department as possible. The forwarding of this report will also, to a large extent, replace comment previously made by the Force Commander under the heading “Enemy Operations”.

     As the staff grows larger it will become more difficult to submit a General Report covering various subjects as has been done inthe past. It will therefore probably become necessary to have different members of the staff submit periodical reports concerning subjects coming under their supervision.

Week ending 12 November.

     An average of ten large enemy submarines were away from their base of which between five and seven were operating at any one time on the high sea. In addition to the above number, there was,probably one operating in the vicinity of the North Cape and one (a submarine cruiser) off the Cape de Verde Islands. No definite information of the latter had been received since 2nd November but evidence indicates that she is probably now on route back to her base. One submarine entered the Irish Sea but had little success.

     Apparently two submarines during the week under discussion were operating to the westward of Gibraltar where considerable activity was experienced. There was also one off the Yorkshire Coastin which locality the enemy generally keeps at least one submarine.

During the week in question, no reports were received from Atlantic Waters north of the latitude of Spain.

     An enemy submarine was located on the bottom in the vicinity of Daunt Rock, southeast coast of Ireland, but information is lacking as to how she was sunk. . . .

Week 13-17 November.

     During week ending 17 November there were nine to sixteen large submarines away from their base of which a total of seven were operating in the Atlantic, one in the Arctic Sea and one (the submarine cruiser) was apparently north west of Madeira working to the northward on about 15th November.

     During this week considerable activity was experienced off the coast of Yorkshire and the English Channel where at one time apparently as many as six boats were operating. A few reports were received from the Bay of Biscay. Convoys in the North Atlantic Waters were not attacked. . . .

     2. MINELAYING BY SUBMARINES.

Week 6-12 November.

     Only seventeen mines were located and destroyed. Mines were discovered in the Warwich area prior to the arrival of the inward Dutch convoy against which operation they were evidently laid.

Week 10-17 November.

     During the week ending 16 November, enemy mine laying activity was experienced in the Lowestoft, Harwich and Dover areas and off the south coats [i.e., coast] of Ireland. From the numberof mines swept up from the Lowestoft and Harwich areas it would seem that at least three submarines wereworking there. Also it is probable that mine laying activity in the Harwich area was particularly directed against the naval force base on that port.

     The Admiralty have been particularly impressed with the fact that no mines have been located in the vicinity of the Nore since 24 September. In view of the importance of this area to the country’s trade, as it has become well known that certain mine laying submarine commanders have specialists in certain localities a possible explanation may be the loss of the boat or boats particularly detailed to that area.

     A total of seventy-one mines were destroyed during the week.

     There has been considerable speculation as to the underlying reason of the enemy declaring the submarine mine to be extended to 30º west. The only plausible reason would [word obliterated] seem to be an attempt to affect the disposition of our forces. That is to induce us to increase the areas in which destroyer escorts are provided ther<e>by tending towards dispersion and away from concentration of our already inadequate forces available. The effect of such a dispersal of forces would mean a reduction of the number of the escorts with each convoy and hence increase the chances of submarine attack against convoys and particularly the areas in which trade must focus.

     The opinion is strongly held in the Admiralty in which I concur, that we need not fear the operation of any considerable number of submarines further west than they have been operating since the beginning of the campaign. As previously discussed in these reports, any enemy tendency towards dispersing his effort can result in nothing but advantage to allied shipping. The further the submarines operate to the westward, the less chance they will have [two words obliterated] <of> encountering convoys and the less will be their effort in the local areas where the location of shipping is comparatively easy. They may declare the zone to extend to 40º or 50º W. There will be no effect so long as our forces are maintained in the criticalarea.

     3. CONVOYS.

November 6 to 17.

     Tables giving statistics and particulars up to 17th November are enclosed with this report.2

     4. OPERATIONS OF U.S. SUBMARINES IN WAR ZONE.

     The Department’s query as to the proposed base for the submarines of the L class, which are shortly to be dispatched to these waters was replied to by the British Admiralty to the effect that they would be based on at Queenstown. While there was some irregularity in the method by which this information was conveyed to the Department, I concur provisionally in the recommendation, but I may decide later that a base at Berehaven, Bantry Bay, would be more desirable.

     The experience of the British in the present war would seem <to be> that there is no very great danger in having submarines and surface craft operation in the same area. This situation has existed in the North Sea, on the East Coast of England, and in the vicinity of the Dover Straits. At the present time there are British submarines operating in the entrance to the channel, and one is stationed to the westward of Lands End; two others are operating in about longitude 8<º>, West, latitude 50<º>, North. In all of these localities surface craft are also operating. During the entire war there have been but three serious accidents due to British destroyers or other anti-submarine vessels firing on friendly submarines. None of these accidents is of recent date, the later immunity being due to increased experience gained in such operations.

     All of these operations have been carried out without any satisfactory system of recognition signals. A new system of recognition signals has been developed and will be installed on all submarines operating in the War Zone as rapidly as possible. This system will also be available for installation on our submarines. The utmost secrecy has been maintained regarding this system.3

     It is undoubtedly true that no system of recognition signals can be devised which will be an absolute guarantee against accidents, particularly when anti-submarine craft overtake submarines suddenly in dark or hazy weather, or when submarines are entering ports that are used by other craft.

     Due to consideration last mentioned it is not entirely satisfactory or desirable, to base submarines on the same port with anti-submarine craft, and the British have in general, and particularly, recently, recognized this fact by basing their submarines and destroyers on different ports, although they may operate in the same area. At present the British submarines that are operating south and south-west of Ireland are operating from Berehaven but are based on Queenstown.

     5. RUSSIAN FLEET.

     There is naturally considerable anxiety as to the fate of the Russian Fleet in the Baltic and of the British submarines that are operating there.4 Four of the Russian battleships are of the dreadnaught type and it is particularly desirable that they should not fall into the hands of the enemy. Means are under discussion to prevent this, but nothing yet has beendecided, as the matter will have to be discussed with the members of the Government.

     Tentative propositions for accomplishing this are: first, send the British submarines into Kronstadt Harbour (if they can succeed in getting in) and torpedo them. It is not believed that this would be effective for very long because in the smooth water of the harbour and with the facilities of the dockyard it would probably not be difficult to raise them. A second proposition is to cause them to be blown up. This would of course be perfectly effective, but there is no telling what the effects upon Russia would be. There are a great many English subjects in Russia in various occupations, including Army and Navy people, hospital units Red Cross workers, and so forth. If it should be assumed that the vessels had been blown up with the crews through British Agencies, the result might be a general massacre of the English people in Russia.

     In any case it is recognized that the usefulness of the British submarine in the Baltic is practically at an end. There are four “E’s” and two “C’s”. They are all old boats and their loss would not be a serious one. The decision to bring them out or abandon them will necessarily depend upon the decision as to the disposition of the Russian dreadnaughts. It is believed that they could not all successfully pass the mine barriers and get out into the North Sea. Possibly the first one or two to attempt this might get by, but the knowledge that they had done so and the resulting increased vigilance of patrol, would probably prevent the remainder from getting out.5

     The minefields referred to are placed across the southern entrance of the Sound. They extend across south of Amager Island into shoal water to the eastward and to shoal water in the Bight to the westward of Amager Island.

     This minefield is of very considerable depth. To the westward of the Island there is a very narrow channel through the minefield, guarded at each end by station vessels and nets. Within the minefield to the westward of this channel, and surrounded by mines and nets is moored an old battleship.

     While the details of this barrage are of comparatively recent date, there is no assurance that additions or changes have not been made in it. At all events it is believed that an attempt to get the submarine past the barrier would result in the loss of nearly all of them.

     The saving of the submarines themselves is not considered of great importance, but it si [i.e., is] of great importance to save these experienced crews. It may therefore be decided to order the captains to sink the boats and bring their crews back to England. The sound is the only channel through which ana ttempt to bring the submarines out could be made, as the forces in Kiel Bay completely control the Western channel.

     6. DISPOSITION AND AVAILABILITY OF DESTROYERS IN WAR AREA.

     In connection with the general subject of the importance of the destroyer in the anti-submarine campaign and the serious question of their best allocation, there is attached hereto copy of a paper prepared in the British Admiralty.6

     In view of the unsuitability of the armed yachts on the French coast for high sea escort work, it is the intention of the Force Commander to gradually build up the destroyer force based at Brest. The importance of the work performed by the Queenstown force will necessitate such a course being a gradual one. The principal characteristics required of the Queenstown force is cruising radius and sea keeping qualities, and hence, the destroyers selected for the French base will be the smaller ones or those which are uneconomical fuel burners.

     The Queenstown destroyers do the bulk of the offshore work on the French coast and this will likely continue for some time. The force based on Brest escort out empty transports and supply ships. As these vessels are increasing in number it is necessary to increase the number of destroyers based on Brest.

     7. MISCELLANEOUS INFORMATION REGARDING DESTROYER FORCE.

     The Force Commander is particularly gratified to be able to report the manner in which the destroyer flotillas are meeting the war demands placed upon them. Agreat deal of indirect commendation is heard and received concerning both the efficiency of their operations and the manner in which they stand up to the duty. Within the past week, the Admiralty has expressed concern as to whether they are not being driven too hard. That is, as to whether the efficiency of their operation would not be continued longer if they were given longer and more frequent periods for rest and overhaul. It was stated that the British destroyer force based on Plymouth which is about the same size as the U.S. Queenstown Force, has an average of about nine destroyers out of service at all times for repairs, overhaul, casualties and rest. Against this, the Queenstown force does not as a rule average over five. There is no indication to date that the personnel or matreial [i.e., material] is being overstrained. As a matter of fact our destroyers are being overhauled every four months following the British practice, but special steps are taken to follow up the work and return destroyers to service at the aerliest [i.e., earliest] date.

     The undoub<t>ly [i.e., undoubtedly] high efficiency of our destroyers in these waters is due in great part to the fact that they are manned and operated entirely by officers and men of the regular service. Should the time unfortunately come when the Department should find it necessary to Substitute Reserve Officers for some of the regular officers a falling off of efficiency would inevitably result. This has been the British experience, and would undoubtedly be ours.

SUPPLY SHIPS.

     U.S.S. BRIDGE has proved a most satisfactory ship for general supply purposes to our forces based on Queenstown and the French Coast. Both her superior speed and facilities which she possesses, render her particularly suitable to supply service to the above mentioned forces.  It is hoped that she can be continued in this service.

     The Force Commander wishes to particularly commend the Commanding Officer of the BRIDGE who has shown a lively interest in the work in which his ship is engaged and has been very useful to the forces abroad.7

TRAINING BARRACKS.

     Work of storing, re-arranging and cleaning the training barracks is progressing as rapidly as possible.

ROWAN and TUCKER.

     The ROWAN and TUCKER were recently in collision while convoying army transports. The TUCKER is now under repairs at Rushbrook a small shipyard up the river from Queenstown.8

PERKINS and WALKE.

     The PERKINS and WALKE were selected to send home in place of the DUNCAN and DOWNES assigned to the forces here by Admiral Benson9. Agreat deal of trouble has been experienced with the machinery installations of these two vessels. Great credit is due to the officers and crews of the two ships for their constant labours to keep the vessels in operation. In spite of handicaps which do not exist on other destroyers, the officers of the PERKINS and the WALKE have so met the difficulties which confronted them that they have [word obliterated] never failed to be ready for duty when required. This, however, has required unusual efforts by the personnel.

     The two vessels have also been very much handicapped by their fuel capacity and excessive fuel consumption which has frequently necessitated their return to port before convoy operations were completed.

     The high sea work of the Queenstown force is of such value and importance that only vessels of the highest cruising radius should be stationed there.

     In the minds of the officers and men the sending home of these two vessels constitutes a real punishment particularly as they have had to work harder than other crews in order to keep their vessels operating. I would therefore particularly invite the attention of the Department to the fact that on these two vessels are some ten officers and two hundred men all of whom have had at least five months extensive experience in the war zone and that it would be in the interest of the Service if such personnel couldbe used for the formation of nucleus crews for new destroyers. . . .

FANNING’S DESTRUCTION OF SUBMARINE.

     The destruction of an enemy submarine by the FANNING is fully covered by separate correspondence.10

     The British Commander-in-Chief11 went on board the FANNING on November 20th and complimented the Commanding Officer, officers and crew on the results of their action. At the same time congratulating telegrams from the Force Commander, Admiral Benson and the British Admiralty were published to the crews. . . .

     8. FORCES BASED ON FRENCH COAST.

     Particular attention is invited to separate reports which have been forwarded concerning the serious situation existing in the forces based on the French coast on account of reserve personnel.

     The first weekly report of Admiral Wilson12 dated 11th November was delayed in transmission. As it contains a number of important subjects, it will be for<w>arded in separate correspondence with <c>momments.

     It is to be particularly noted that Admiral Wilson reports that the only vessels he has available for high sea <escort> work which can make eleven knots in moderately rough weather are the five destroyers and the CORSAIR, WAKIVA, APHRODITE and the NOMA. The KANAWA II can only be counted upon for this speed in good weather. The other yachts are suitable only for coastwise convoy and the smaller of them cannot perform this duty in bad weather.

     I intend to transfer the STERRETT from Queenstown to Brest at an early date.

     The SULTANA, EMELINE, CHRISTABEL, CORONA, VEDETTE, REMLIK cannot be depended upon for even coastal work during the coming four months of winter weather.

     Admiral Wilson reports an urgent necessity for establishing barracks on shore. It was necessary to quarter the ALCEDO survivors on board the FINLAND which happened to be in port undergoing repairs. Some seventy-three men employed at the base and officers on shore are living in town under conditions which permit of no military control.

     The PANTHER is over-crowded. Anumber of men have been held in French prison for some months awaiting trial by General Court Martial and about twenty prisoners from various vessels are quartered on the PANTHER. Steps are being taken to convene courts as rapidly as possible to dispose of these prisoners.

. . . . In order to remove the Flag Office, details in connection with the administration of the vessels based on Brest, the Commanding Officer of the PANTHER13 has been designated as Commander of Station Ship and as such, has [been] given charge of administration to enlisted personnel and material with duties as harbor master.

     9. FORCES BASED ON AZORES.

     A British Intelligence centre has been established at the Azores and has been instructed by the Admiralty to serve as a Liason <Liaison> Office<r> to the Senior U.S. Naval Officer in that area.14 The Intelligence Officer has been instructed to furnish the U.S.Senior Naval Officer with allc urrent telegrams or orders concerning routes of merchant vessels and similar subjects.

10. CO-ORDINATION OF COMMUNICATION BETWEEN DEPARTMENT AND ADMIRALTY.

     Some confusion still exists regarding the flow of communications between the Navy Department and Allied Admiralties.

     It seems that when the Department discusses questions, even informally, with foreign Naval Attaches, they naturally immediately communicate with their Admiralties direct. Therefore, when the Department sometimes follows these communications with a communication to me, a duplication occurs. For example:- the Department recently cabled to me concerning routing of the battleships butapparently had previously discussed this subject with the British Naval Attache15 who immediately cabled the British Admiralty.

     When the subject was taken up with the Admiralty by me, it was found that the Admiralty had already replied to the Department via their Naval Attache in Washington.

     Communications to and from the British Commander-in-Chief have also caused certain confusion and at times embar<r>assment to me.

     I have asked the Admiralty to communicate with the Department as a general rule through this office in order to avoid duplication or confusion.

     The recent inquiry of the Department concerning stations for submarines abroad was replied to by the Admiralty through their Naval Attache through an error.

     As practically all questions concerning co-operation between the Two Services eventually reach this office, it is considered that as a general rule confusion would be avoided if all communications wererouted via this office.

/s/ WM. S. SIMS.           

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

Footnote 1: This report has not been found.

Footnote 2: These enclosures have not been found.

Footnote 3: See: Sims to Henry B. Wilson, 11 November 1917.

Footnote 4: In November 1917, the crumbling Russian government finally collapsed, and the Bolsheviks seized power. Russia subsequently negotiated a separate peace with Germany and abandoned the war. Strachan, The First World War: 238-242, 260-265.

Footnote 5: Ultimately, the Allies never attempted any action against the Russian fleet. There was a push within the German navy to seize the fleet as a legitimate prize of war, but the final treaty between Germany and the newly-formed Soviet government left the fleet in Russian hands. Britain actually had seven submarines in the Baltic – four E-class and three C-class – which they sank to preserve them from the Germans. Halpern, Naval History of World War I: 221-222.

Footnote 6: This enclosure has not been found.

Footnote 7: Cmdr. William K. Riddle.

Footnote 8: See, Destroyer Ships Files: War Diary, ROWAN, DNA, RG 45, Entry 527, Folder 17.

Footnote 9: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 11: Adm. Sir Lewis Bayly, Commander, Naval Forces, Southern Ireland.

Footnote 12: RAdm. Henry B. Wilson, Commander, Patrol Forces in France. Wilson’s report has not been found.

Footnote 13: Capt. André M. Proctor.

Footnote 14: Capt. Samuel S. Robison.

Footnote 15: Commo. Guy R. Gaunt, R.N.

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