Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels


October 29, 1917



Subject: Proposed measures to close English Channel and North Sea against submarines by mine barrage.

 1. This is, of course, nothing more or less than a resurrection of my proposition, which, with all earnestness possible, I called to the attention of the President, the Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Operations, the General Board, Admiral Sims (and through him the British Admiralty), Admiral de Chair (and through him also the British Admiralty) and Admiral Chocheprat|1| (and through him the French Ministry of Marine) during the months of May and June past.|2|

 2. While I have never claimed that the proposed plan was an infallible one, and while, quite properly, I have never attempted to lay down the exact location or the exact type of mines, etc., to be used in the barrage, I did state, and still state, that every consideration of common sense requires that the attempt be made, first in the English Channel and then in the North Sea.

 3. But above all, starting when the Balfour and Viviani Missions|3| were here in May, I reiterated the need for haste. I know how unseemly it is to seem to say “I told you so,” but it is a literal fact that, while the British Admiralty may be blamed in part, our own Navy Department is at least largely responsible for failing to consider this proposition seriously during all of these months-May, June, July, August, September and October-which have gone over the dam beyond recall.

 4. Now, this is the milk in the cocoanut: The powers that be seem at last willing to take up this proposition seriously. Unless we are willing to throw up our hands and say it is too late, we must admit that the same need for immediate haste exists today as existed last May. We have done altogether too much amiable “consideration” of this matter. If it is to be carried out at all it must be carried out with a different spirit from any of the operations up to now. It will require prompt decision all along the line and an immediate carrying out of the procurement of the material-mines and ships.

 5. To accomplish the above it should be placed in the hands of one man on our part and one man on the part of the British. These two men should receive orders from their governments, not as to details, but simply orders to carry out the plan. And most important of all, these men should have all the authority requisite to do this. This is a bigger matter than sending destroyers abroad or a division of battleships, or building a bunch of new destroyers-it is vital to the winning of the war. Its success cannot be guaranteed. No military or naval operation can be guaranteed. But if it works it will be the biggest single factor in winning the war. I have seen something during the past four and a half years of how our present Navy Department organization works and it so happens that I am also fairly familiar with the way the British Admiralty works. If the suggested plan is carried out solely under the present organizations its chance of success will, in my judgment, be seriously diminished. You need somebody with imagination and authority to make the try.|4|

 6. I know you will not mind my sending a copy of this to the President, as I have discussed it with him several times.

[Franklin D. Roosevelt]

Assistant Secretary of the Navy

Source Note: Transcript, Elliott Roosevelt, ed., F.D.R. His Personal Letters, 4 volumes. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1948, II: 365-366.

Footnote 1: President Woodrow Wilson; Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels; Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations; General Board of the Navy, VAdm. Charles J. Badger, President; VAdm. William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters; VAdm. Sir Dudley R.S. de Chair, R.N., Commander, 3rd Battle Squadron; and VAdm. Paul Louis Albert Chocheprat, senior officer of the French Navy.

Footnote 2: For more on early discussions surrounding a mine barrage, see: Duff to DeChair, 13 May 1917; Sims to Daniels, 14 May 1917; Sims to Pratt, 6 June 1917; and Earle to Benson, 12 June 1917.

Footnote 3: Foreign Secretary Arthur J. Balfour and René Viviani, former Vice Premier of France. Both traveled to the United States in April 1917 for conferences related to the war effort. See: Pleadwell to Sims, 13 September 1917.

Footnote 4: Ultimately, the Allies did attempt a North Sea mine barrage. This massive undertaking included laying over 70,000 mines. Although it produced limited results, it is also worth noting that the war ended much sooner than expected in November 1918, and had it continued another year as the Allies anticipated, the barrage might very well have yielded greater results. Still, Crisis at Sea: 427-443.