Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir John R. Jellicoe, to Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations

                            TELEGRAM.                  OUT

                       P I N K                No. 491

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To  Commodore Gaunt                               DATE 9.10.17 [i.e., 9 October 1917]

SENT 2000     

Cypher K.

491. Following from Chief of Naval Staff for Chief of Naval Operations:

     Transport of American Troops to France.

The following are the views of the British Admiralty, War Office and Ministry of Shipping as to the arrangements which should be made for the conveyance of American troops and their equipment to France :-

     In order that adequate arrangements for protection may be made in advance, taking into consideration the large amount of convoy and escort work to be carried out at present and to which this will make a considerable addition, it is most desirable that the earliest possible intimation be given to the Admiralty and it is suggested that, as proposed by General Lassiter,1 this should be sent him for communication to the Admiralty.

     Owing to the fact that cross channel cargo service is being worked to its fullest capacity at present, any additional transport of stores, &c, would lead to serious delays, it is therefore most necessary that the transport of all horses, guns, mechanical transport, equipment, &c excluding personal luggage should not pass through England but be landed in France. It is very unlikely that any assistance for this purpose can be given by British ships owing to the shortage of tonnage, and it is therefore hoped that American ships will be used entirely. In this connection it is suggested for consideration that the ships of the American line should run direct to France conveying troops, equipment and general cargo instead of running to Liverpool.

     As regards the very big ex-German liners of the Vaterland type, it will be impossible to deal with these in Liverpool.The Gladstone dock will in all probability be in use for repair of large ships and cannot be counted on. This only leaves the landing stage and the buoys available. Under the circumstances it is proposed not to use Liverpool except in exceptional cases and it is put forward for consideration that these vessels should proceed direct to France. It is very desirable that if practicable such alterations as will enable them to coal in America for the round trip should be effected. Economy in coal could be obtained by proceeding at a reduced speed say 19 to 20 knots of for vessels for 23 to 24 knots except when areas where submarines may expect to be active.

     In cases where it is necessary to take in large amounts of coal, the ships would be taken on to Southampton to coal after disembarkation, especially in the case of ships referred to in the next para which could not be coaled at Brest.

     These large ships should therefore, in the opinion of the Admiralty, proceed to Brest to disembark troops and,as they cannot get into the inner harbour, should not carry any heavy stores or kit. In the event of mines or submarines off Brest they would be diverted to Southampton.

     As regards the use of British transatlantic liners the Admiralty suggest that the arrangements for their use should be made through Mr.Guthrie,2 the representative of the Ministry of Shipping in the United States. By this means greater secrecy is ensured as it is found that Agents telegraph to their companies and vice versa of any arrangements made. It would also prevent clashing of demands as many of the ships may be required for British troops. Further as all British shipping is controlled by Govt. this method will be quicker, as the lines have to get British Govt. approval. While the Admy. will give every possible assistance as regards sending troops in these vessels it must be pointed out that large numbers sent by this means will cause congestion on the railways and cross channel services, and it is hoped that the numbers will be kept as low as possible. In any case heavy gear should not be sent, only the minimum amount of personal baggage being sent via U.K. The maximum number of American troops, Officers and men that can be dealt with via U.K. is 600 per day on the average, but the limit for “Bunching” is 5000. The OLYMPIC can be loaned to the U.S.Govt. when not required for Imperial troops and would run to Liverpool as she is required to return with invalid Canadians, &c.

     The Admy. is not in favour of using the very large ships of the Vaterland type, their great size renders them a big target for a submarine, which vessels may be expected to extend their spheres of operation very much further afield than at present, in fact they may be considered in dangerous waters for the whole voyage. If however these ships are used, it is suggested they should be sent singly being suitably armed and of high speed they would not require cruiser escort against armed raiders. On an average not more than one per week should be sent on account of the difficulty of handling them if several arrive simultaneously, especially as regards the question of camps, railway accommodation, &c, and afterwards coaling in this country. As regards dates of sailing it is most important that they should not arrive on this side during the period of full moon.

     On Admiralty experiences the maximum number of voyages which liners or troop transports could make per annum will not exceed seven.3

C.N.S.            

|fn1:General William Lassiter. For more on his role, see: William S. Sims to William S. Benson, 28 October 1917.

Source Note: Cy, UK-KeNA, Adm. 137/659. There is a distribution list below the close: “1st Lord./1st S.L./Depy. 1st S.L./D.O.D./D of T & S./M.3.” In order these are: Sir Eric Geddes; Adm. Sir John R. Jellicoe; Adm. Sir Herbert L. Heath; RAdm. George P. W. Hope; possibly RAdm. James C. Ley, Training and Staff Division; who “M.3” was has not determined.

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

Footnote 3: At this time, there was a significant divergence in opinion between the British and Americans concerning the number of troops to be transported and how they should be protected. The British were concerned that the shipment of essential goods into England was being choked by the need to protect American troop convoys. Moreover, they were not convinced that the inexperienced American Expeditionary Forces would be effective on the battlefield and that, at least until 1918, it was necessary to sacrifice the shipment of goods to bring across large numbers of these troops. See, Still, Crisis at Sea, 363-65. The large ex-German liners averaged more than seven voyages per year. Leviathan (the former S. M. S. Vaterland), for example, completed ten round trips between the U.S. and Europe during the period September 1917 to November 1918. DANFS.

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