Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Secretary of the Admiralty Sir William Graham Greene
TROOPS IN MERCANTILE CONVOY FROM HALIFAX
November 24, 1917.
From: Commander, U. S. Naval Forces Operating in European Waters.
To: Secretary of the Admiralty, Whitehall, S.W.1.
Subject: Re.Halifax Convoys.
1. I respectfully invite Their Lordships’ attention to the following comments taken from the report of Lieutenant M.D. Langworthy, U.S.Navy, in charge of the guns crews on S.S. KROONLAND1-
During the night of Nov. 17,-18, the convoy became separated. This was apparently due to many reasons, chief among them being,
(a) At 6:50 p.m. the Calgarian, apparently broken down,2 turned over the command to the Commodore of the Convoy, on board the Missanabie.3
(b) The Commodore issued orders at 8:15 p.m., the fog having lifted sufficiently, to zig-zag. The orders were not issued enough time in advance of their hour of execution for Masters commence zigzagging when ordered, thus confusion was the result.
(c) While zigzagging, and ships apparently heading in all directions, the fog set in and orders were issued at 9:45 to cease zig-zagging.
(d) The steering gear of the KROONLAND broke down causing that ship to lose its position in convoy.
(e) The [crossed out] and course were both changed several times during the night by radio, first by the Commodore and then by the CALGARIAN
(f) The CALGARIAN apparently assumed command of the convoy without first informing the Convoy.
When the fog lifted at about 8:30 am, the ships in sight were [crossed out] the following: GRAMPIAN, Canada, Mongolia, Missanabie, Kroonland and 3 destroyers. The first two ships and two destroyers were about 5 miles ahead of the Kroonland, which was about 2 miles ahead of the Mongolia (one destroyer alongside), which in turn was about three miles ahead of the Missanabie.
At this time, as the Commodore made no effort to collect his forces in some kind of formation and as ships were not zigzagging, I advised the Master to make all the speed he could and zig-zag- which he did.
About 11a.m. the Commodore issued orders to form the convoy and ships joined the Kroonland and got into formation, which evolution was completed at 12:30 noon. At 1:30 p.m. the Convoy then being about 8 miles S.W. of Isley Island and standing in toward Rathlin Ireland, sighted the CALGARIAN and LAPLAND coming up from astern, distance about 10 miles. The Commodore on the Missanabie then issued orders to cease zig-zagging and change course 16 points and join the CALGARIAN. This evolution was completed at 3:00 p.m.
I noted that the KROONLAND was not zig-zagging. I asked the Master about it and he said that he was not zig-zagging nor was any other ship as far as he could see. He also stated he had slowed to about 11knots in order to keep near the MONGOLIA, which at that time was about 2 miles astern. I then told him that I considered that we were than [i.e., then] acting independently and that he had better increase speed to his maximum and zig-zag. He said, “Well what am I to do. My last orders from the Convoy Commander was to stop zig-zagging. If I zig-zag now I will be disobeying these orders.
Of course I will zig-zag if you order me to, but will you [crossed out] accept the responsibility? I informed him I would accept the responsibility for any advice or orders I issued. When the other ships rejoined us about noon they all started zig-zagging, without signal as far as I could see.
KROONLAND did not zig-zag continuously in the war zone, on orders from the convoy commander and Commodore (when he had command). When the convoy became separated on the morning of Nov. 11th, and this ship wasby itself, I disregarded the orders from the “Missanabie” to “cease zig-zagging” and ordered the Master to “increase speed to maximum and zig-zag”, which orders were followed out until the convoy was assembled and reformed in regular formation under orders of the Commodore of the Convoy.
I am informed orally by the captain of the MONGOLIA that due largely to errors of the Commodore 2 collisions occurred and the MONGOLIA barely avoided ramming a ship in the convoy that crossed her bow. It is understood that the Commodore of this convoy was not a commissioned officer or one familiar with operating a group of ships.
As the Halifax convoys carry a large number of U.S. troops, and as it is likely that there will be an increase in the number of U.S. troops in the Halifax convoys, I beg leave to suggest to Their Lordships –
(a) That the Commodore of the Halifax convoy be regularly commissioned officers of the British Navy of wide experience.
(b) That the most heavily armed cruisers now in convoy service be assigned as ocean escorts of the Halifax convoys.
Wm. S. Sims.
Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Document Reference: “11/2/2” and “C. 3107.” Note in top right-hand corner: “6 Copies” and under that in columnar fashion “5/C.”
Footnote 1: Lt. Elmer D. Langworthy. S.S. Kroonland was a former ocean liner that served as a U.S. Army transport through April 1918 and thereafter as a Navy auxiliary ship. Gleaves, History of the Transport Service: 246; DANFS.
Footnote 2: According to the log of the armed merchant cruiser Calgarian, at 5:55 P.M. on 17 November the vessel’s steering gear broke but was soon repaired. There is nothing in the log about turning over command of the convoy and in fact there is a note: “pm: Speed as required throughout.” Naval History, Accessed on 15 November 1917, http://www.naval-history.net/OWShips-WW1-08-HMS_Calgarian.htm.
Footnote 3: S.S. Missanabie was 12,000 ton liner owned by the Canadian Pacific Steamship Line. Wrecksite.eu, accessed on 15 November 1917, https://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?11122. The identity of the “Commodore” is not known.