Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Admiral Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, to Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations

UNITED STATES ATLANTIC FLEET

THE COMMANDER IN CHIEF

SECRETPERSONAL        Care U.S.Naval Forces, Europe,

                        30, Grosvenor Gardens, London, S.W.I.,

                        10 October 1918.

My dear Admiral,

          I missed the last mail which left here for the United States, so far as regards writing you a note of our movements. My last letter to you was dated the 28th of September.1

          I remained in London from that date until Tuesday, October 1st, when, with four members of the staff and Captain Cone,2 I left London to inspect the air station at Killingholme. We spent the night at the hotel in Grimsby, and Whiting3 took us out to Killingholme Air Station the following morning. As appears very usual at this time, we had bad rainy weather on that day; notwithstanding, between showers Commander Whiting had all his force not actually on duty drawn up for inspection and they presented a very creditable appearance. I think Whiting is doing excellently well in command of the station; organization seems good and the upbuilding of the station is proceeding satisfactorily. They have had the same trouble as at other stations in obtaining necessary supplies for their motor work, but, notwithstanding, have been able to maintain a co-operation with the British in the escort of coastwise convo<y>s, as well as occasional vessels on mining excursions. In common with all the other air stations seen, Killingholme is still in process of construction. It really looks to me as if our complete outfit of air stations in Ireland and England would not be in shape for the full operation contemplated until next spring, although I think they have all, by this time, made a beginning. The personnel at Killingholme seem to be well cared for, in good spirits, and interested in their work, but it is regrettable that the Y.M.C.A. recreation facilities are not more extensive. Hull, which is the principle point to which liberty men are likely to go, is like most sea-port towns, a rather hard place, with the resulting trouble from venereal disease. Anything that can be done to increase the comfort of the Y.M.C.A. facilities or the facilities for indoor recreation, will help towards combatting this vital point. The officers at Killingholme really are not as well off in this respect as are the men, as they have, aside from their mess room and little sleeping compartments, nowhere to go except one very small, very dreary, sitting room, which can only hold six or eight with any degree of comfort.

          While at Killingholme I received a call from Vice Admiral Charlton, R.N., commanding the Defenses of East Coast of England, with headquarters at Immingham. The return call was waived, due to shortness of my visit.

          An interesting episode in connection with the visit was the fact that Colonel Williams, commanding the British R.A.F., came forty miles by airship to join us at lunch. The weather was rather bad, the wind unsteady and flawy, and the landing of the airship was watched with a great deal of interest. It was very skillfully done.

          On our way to the train that evening, we stopped at the headquarters of Group 18, under which Killingholme operates, and were shown a good deal of their office methods. We arrived back in London at 10:30 p.m. on October 2nd.

          On the morning of the 3rd, accompanied by five members of the staff of Captain Cone, we left London at 9 a.m. to visit the U.S.Naval Air Station at Eastleigh. We arrived there about 11:30, inspected the station in company with the Commanding Officer, Commander B. T. Bulmer, and some of his assistants, without interfering with any of the work going on. This is another station which is in the process of construction and, I think considering the time that has elapsed since the station was turned over to our people, they have done very well. Notwithstanding, the conditions are by no means satisfactory with the wet weather coming on; large numbers of the men are still living in tents, some of them without flooring, and their bunks are simply the English type of bunk – consisting of two cleats six or eight inches high, between which are stretched thin mine boards. This did not look good to me, especially when used on the bare ground in tents and with almost constant wet weather. However, the building is going up very rapidly and the men are doing excellent work and the spirit seems good. They had quite a number of men down with influenza at the time of my visit, but the doctors expected more medical help shortly and hope to be able to cope with the situation. They are about ready to begin their work of repairing airplane engines and are proceeding steadily with the assembly work. I was informed that a note of all their troubles had been sent to Washington, and was shown a list of twenty-nine different items of alterations and changes which had to be made in the planes as they are received from the United States. Possibly this was only to be expected, but it seems, notwithstanding, regrettable. Here, again, the recreation and Y.M.C.A. facilities are not such as they should be, but they hope for improvement in the future.

          After lunching with the officers’ mess and completing the hasty inspection of the station, we proceeded to Southampton Docks, a very short distance, and were received, by about 3 p.m., by Commander Sypher, U.S.N., the Naval Port Officer, and Captain Allenby, R.N., who represented the Senior Naval Officer in command, who was himself absent on duty. We took a hasty look through the supply base, got an idea of what Sypher was doing – and, incidentally, I believe he is doing it very well, as it is work with which he is fairly familiar on account of his previous experience, and in which he is very much interested, probably on account of its being practically independent duty – and then went on board the U.S.S. YALE. I was very glad that I did so when I found that the Captain4 had all hands lined up for inspection and was apparently very proud to be able to show me over the ship and explain how they handled the transport across the channel, and had me see his crew – all the more so as I had known him on the west coast and had known his Father, who was the light keeper in the Twelfth Lighthouse District. Our ships in the cross channel service are doing most excellent work. Captain Allenby was unqualified in his praise of them, and especially of the fact that they were able to carry such large numbers in comparative comfort. They were beginning to have trouble with influenza and at the time of my visit had one ship laid up, due to the fact that practically all her engineer’s force was down with this disease. Sypher expected to get her running shortly, but only by transferring certain portions of the officer personnel of the Engineer Department from other ships.

          At the Southampton Docks I was able to send a “Bon Voyage” to Ambassador and Mrs. Page,5 who had just embarked on board the “Olympic” for passage to the United States. The Ambassador had gone immediately to his cabin, but Mrs. Page was on deck but, due to the fact that they were shifting gangways at the time, I was not able to go on board and see her in person.

          Before leaving Southampton I left a card for Major General Balfour of the British Army, the Embarkation Officer, who I had met last year and from whom I had received various courtesies.

          We returned to London in the late afternoon, passing through, enroute, the rest camps at Winchester, where large numbers of American troops were temporarily quartered.

          Friday, October 4th, was spent in general office work and compilation of inspection notes, and at dinner entertained Admiral Grasset of the French Navy, who, by the way, wished me to convey his respects and regards to you. I am very fond of Grasset and it was evident that he has a very great admiration for you.

          On the evening of the 5th, with Captain Jackson and Commander Cook of my staff, and Captain Twining, Sims’ Chief of Staff, I left London for Inverness where I had promised to return in order to see the ships of the Mine Force. I had hoped to utilize Sunday for a trip to Corpack, on the west coast, where our mines are discharged from the oversea transports and transferred to barges to come through the canal to Inverness; but Sunday was a simply horrible day, a howling gale and a downpour of rain, so, I think very sensibly, I remained very quietly indoors during that day, although Captains Twining and Jackson went out to the hospital at Strathpeffer.

          Monday, October 7th, although the weather did not seem particularly encouraging, we proceeded to Invergordon by motor and there inspected the SAN FRANCISCO, CANANDIAGUA [i.e., Canandaigua], HOUSATONIC and QUINNEBAUG. The inspection was somewhat hurried, but we were able to get an idea of the way the ships were kept up, their spirit, interest in their work, and the health and general appearance of the crews, all of which seemed very satisfactory. The handling of the mines, both at the stations and on board the ships, has been reduced to an excellent system, and, as I think I told you in my previous letter, the British have found that they have some things to learn from our Mine Force. We motored back to Inverness and in the afternoon inspected the SARANAC and CANONICUS, which were anchored there, finishing in time to take the train that evening to return to London.

          We arrived back in London at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday and left that same evening by train for Plymouth, where, Wednesday, the day was spent in taking a look at the chaser base and the HANNIBAL. It was very interesting. The base facilities are situated compactly and conveniently, and things appear to be going along very well. As is usual with our repair ships, the HANNIBAL appears to be doing excellent work. She does not look as well as the other repair ships, but I think this is probably due to the fact that her size compels her to be cluttered up in nearly all directions. The Plymouth base is, in some respects, still in process of construction, but I think it will be but a short time before things will be in excellent shape there. This is another place where the Y.M.C.A. is going ahead rapidly and all arrangements are being made so that they will have shortly a very excellent place. The Y.M.C.A. Secretary seems to be an excellent man, thoroughly interested in his work, and one who has arranged that, as soon as the building is ready, all possible facilities will be furnished. He has already started a number of classes for instruction in various branches, and the officers and many of the qualified enlisted men in the force are giving him much assistance.

          We returned to London last night and will now be here until leaving for France, on Monday October 14th. The Military Attaché of the Italian Embassy here, General Armando Mola, lunched with us to-day and he appeared to be very glad to hear that we were going to visit Italy. I gather that the Italian feeling has been that they were somewhat “out of it” and that they welcome any representative, civil, military or naval, from the United States especially. It is surprising how thoroughly nearly everyone that I meet, either English, French or Italian, appears to recognize the valuable assistance given by the United States since coming into the war, and by this they mean by no means the material aid only. It is common to have the remark made of how American business ability has enabled efforts to be co-ordinated in a way that had not seemed possible before the Americans joined.

          We have learned that one mail to us, covering a period of a week or ten days, has probably been lost in the OTRANTO,6 hence the cable asking duplication if any important communications were contained in that mail.

          The unfortunate collision of the SHAW with the ACQUITANIA seems to have been a very serious affair, but details have not yet reached Admiral Sims.

          I do not need to comment on the news in regard to the progress of the war. The London papers comment most favorably on President Wilson’s admirable answer to the German communication.7 I confess that I am not one of the optimists who believe that the trend of events is towards an ending of the war this year. I believe there is still a long weary road ahead of us, and if the war can be brought to a successful conclusion next year, it will be about all that we can hope for. I hope I am wrong in so thinking.

          I have seen that you have begun a convoy of troops with battleships and, incidentally, I learn that it is quite likely you will direct Battleship Division Eight to base on Halifax in order to care for possible operations against raiders. I do not propose, as I told you some time ago, to submit further estimates of the situation, and recommendations as to disposition of forces, but I cannot refrain from mentioning to you that nearly all officials, British and otherwise, with whom I have talked, have ideas somewhat similar to those which I expressed, especially in regard to the desirability of having our dreadnaught forces available as a reserve on this side of the ocean. So far as I have been able to get an expression of opinion from Vice Admiral Sims, I believe he does not agree with me, but the reasons he gave did not impress me greatly, and I have had no prolonged talk with him on the subject. I am not able to get very much from Sims; he is always very cordial to me when I go to his office, but I cannot help feeling that he will be rather glad when I am started back to the United States.8 This is, of course, “entrenous.”

          The situation in regard to the influenza appears to becoming extremely serious. Of course, you have received, probably, more information than I have, but it appears clear to me that until this disease has worn itself out the Army will be obliged to reduce the number of men for transports, and especial attention will have to be given to the provision of medical supplies and, more especially, medical attendance during the trans-Atlantic voyage. It is a very serious question at present.

          I have been glad to see in the newspapers that Sir Eric Geddes9 was so cordially received and such excellent provisions made for his entertainment. I think those things will be greatly appreciated over hear [i.e., here]. I haven’t seen very much of the Admiralty officials myself for some time, but am dining with the First Sea Lord tomorrow evening.

          I propose to send along reports of inspection of various stations as fast as the individual members of the staff can make up their notes and these notes be properly compiled. I think this will be better than to hold the whole thing until our return to the United States.

          With kindest regards to the Secretary and yourself,

Very sincerely yours,

Source Note: TL, DLC-MSS, Mayo Papers, Box 10. Identifier “HTM/A” appears in the upper-right corner. Addressed below close: “Admiral W.S.Benson, U.S.N.,/Chief of Naval Operations,/Navy Department,/Washington, D.C.”

Footnote 2: Capt. Hutchison I. Cone, Aide-de-Camp for Aviation, Staff of VAdm. William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters.

Footnote 3: Lt. Kenneth Whiting, commander of the First Aeronautic Detachment.

Footnote 4: YALE was a troop transport. The commanding officer at this time is unknown.

Footnote 5: United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom Walter Hines Page.

Footnote 7: For more on German peace proposals and President Woodrow Wilson’s reaction, see: Train to Sims, 7 October 1918.

Footnote 8:Although Sims was the ranking officer in Europe, his force was technically subordinate to Mayo, and earlier in the year Sims had feared Mayo was planning to come to London and supplant him. See: Sims to Anne Hitchcock Sims, 10 June 1918.

Footnote 9. First Lord of the Admiralty Sir Eric Geddes.