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 Rear Admiral William B. Fletcher, Commander, Patrol Squadrons Based in France

October 15, 1917.

From : Force Commander.

To   : Navy Department (Operations).

Subject:  U. S. Naval Forces Based on Azores.

     1.   The Department’s cablegram No. 672 of 18012,1 states that four submarines of the K class are proceeding to the Azores accompanied by the CHICAGO and BUSHNELL, which are to return immediately for other submarines.

     2.   It had been previously decided, in accordance with Admiral Mayo’s cablegram No. 396 of August 19th, and the Department’s cable No. 298 of August 31st, that a division of submarines, accompanied by the monitor TONOPAH as tender, should be based in the Azores for operations against enemy submarines in that vicinity.2

     3.   I am not at present informed as to what arrangements, if any, the Department has made for the maintenance of the submarines in the Azores and for protection of the base by means of guns and nets. In accordance with the decision given in the Department’s cable No. 584 of October 2nd, Ponta Delgada will be regarded as the permanent base rather than Horta in the Island of Fayal.3 Captain A. M. Proctor, U. S. Navy, Commanding U. S. S. PANTHER,4 is now in London for the purpose of conferring with me in regard to the situation in the Azores, and he has extended conferences with the British Admiralty officials on the same subject. The latter are now satisfied that Ponta Delgada is better of the two ports mentioned for a base, and have agreed that their proposed high power radio station should be <erected> on the Island of San Miguel.

     4.   The Department is of course aware that it will be necessary to furnish a supply of fuel oil for the submarines. It is understood that the NERO started with an oil barge in tow but lost it before reaching the Azores, but I am not informed as to whether or not the CHICAGO <or> BUSHNELL is making a similar attempt.

     5.   Captain Proctor informs me that there are no oil storage facilities whatever at Ponta Delgada, and as it is quite inadmissible that an oil tanker should be permanently stationed at Ponta Delgada for the purpose of supplying oil, it is necessary that either a barge or shore storage facilities be provided. For the latter there are no materials available in the island.

     6.   The only defense for the harbor of Ponta Delgada now existing consists of 3 – 4” guns mounted to the North and East of the city at the points designated Madra de Deus on the inset of British Admiralty Chart 1854. These guns are reported by Captain Proctor to be Elswick guns of a fairly modern pattern, but they use black powder ammunition and they are so mounted as not to command the approaches to Ponta Delgada from the westward.

     7.   To the west of the city, about a mile northwest of the sugar factory, emplacements have been prepared for additional guns, but no guns are mounted and it is understood that there are none available at present for the purpose. Those emplacements are so located that funs mounted on them would command the approaches to Ponta Delgada from the south and west, and would also command the town itself and the artificial harbor. This fact may or may not have significance with respect to the reasons for the selection of this place for mounting guns. It is believed that the Department may obtain interesting information from the State Department regarding the attitude of the Islanders toward the Lisbon Government.

     8.   For the proper protection of our forces it seems necessary that some guns of 6 or 7” caliber or above, be available, mounted either on a ship or on shore.

     9.   Owing to the height of the breakwater, which is some twenty-five feet or more, guns mounted on board a ship cannot command the approaches to the harbor over the breakwater, and it would become necessary in order to render such guns effective to anchor the vessel in the open roadstead to the eastward of the artificial harbor, where she would be exposed to the sea and torpedo attack, the latter rendering net protection essential.

     10.  To mount guns on shore would of course require the consent of the Portuguese Government, but this could doubtless be obtained through diplomatic channels if sufficient pressure were exerted through the British Government.

     11.  Admiral Mayo in his cable no. 461 of September 6th to the Department set forth the steps which should be taken regarding the Azores “after securing consent Portugal”.5 It is assumed that the Department has made such arrangements with the Portuguese Government in the premises, though probably not to the extent of securing permission to mount guns on shore. Captain Proctor while at Ponta Delgada had some informed discussions with the local authorities regarding the harbor defenses, and they apparently took the matter up with the Home Government and were informed that Lisbon had no objection to receiving such material as the United States might furnish, but would require that its operation be in the hands of the Portuguese. These conversations were of course entirely unofficial and committed us to no particular line of action.

     12.  While the British Government could probably pressure the consent of the Lisbon Government to the complete control by the United States Forces of any guns mounted  on shore, it is quite probable that the local government would take a resistant attitude toward such an arrangement which would result in considerable local friction, and the Department might think it advisable to come to some agreement by which the officer commanding our guns crews would, for certain purposes, be under the direction of the Senior Portuguese Army Officer at Ponta Delgada, which having full power to control in all essential matters.

     13.  Owing to the many possibilities of friction in dealing with the local Portuguese officials, it seems desirable that an officer of rank, either a Senior Commander or Junior Captain, and upon whose tact, discretion and good judgment, reliance can be placed, should be sent to Ponta Delgada as Senior Naval Officer.6

     14.  The Department in its cable No. 340 of September 6th stated that all Forces in the Azores would be under my general instructions, but that the WHIPPLE, TRUXTON and ATLANTIC (later replaced by the WHEELING) should not be moved from this general area.7 Under this authority I have issued instructions to the Senior Naval Officer8 to regard it as his mission to deny the Islands to submarines, and to operate offensively against submarines whenever definite reports of their whereabouts may be received, and to such extent as the capabilities of his forces permit.

     15.  In the same cable the Department stated that the radius of action of this Force would extend to the Canary Islands. As the French have an area of operations including the Canary Islands I have taken up with the Ministry of Marine, through Captain R. H. Jackson, U. S. Navy,9 the matter of adjustments in the Canaries with respect to the limits of our respective activities, so that there may be no misunderstandings or clashes.

     16.  The Department in its cable No. 584 of October 2nd, stated it would endeavor to supply nets at the base.10 The Department’s attention is drawn to the fact that anti-submarine nets will not completely answer the requirements of the situation. Anti-torpedo nets with close mesh will be required for the effective protection of vessels lying in the artificial harbor. It is believed, however, that the necessity for nets of any kind is not great if one or more submarines or destroyers are kept at Ponta Delgada, as it does not seem likely that enemy submarines would  un<d>er such conditions attempt to approach the harbor so closely as to be able to torpedo vessels lying behind the breakwater.

     17.  If an anti-submarine net is provided, it seems that it should extend from Delgada Point to Alagoa Point. It is doubtful whether a net could be maintained in this position during the winter south-westerly gales.

     18.  A torpedo net, if provided, would probably best be fitted from the end of the breakwater in about a northerly direction to the shore.

WM. S. SIMS.           

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. At the top of the document is an identification number: “B. <1428>”.

Footnote 1: This document has not been located.

Footnote 2: The documents referenced herein have not been located.

Footnote 3: This document has not been located.

Footnote 4: André M. Proctor.

Footnote 5: RAdm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet. For the cable mentioned herein, see: Mayo to Opnav, 6 September 1917.

Footnote 6: In accordance with Sims’ request, RAdm. Herbert O. Dunn took command of the base at Ponta Delgada in November 1917. Due to some hold-ups on the part of the State Department, however, Dunn did not arrive in Ponta Delgada until 23 January 1918; Still, Crisis At Sea, 137-139.

Footnote 8: Cmdr. Hugo Osterhaus Jr.

Footnote 9: Richard H. Jackson, Special Representative to the French Ministry of Marine.

Footnote 10: This cable has not been located.

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