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Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Rear Admiral Richard H. Jackson, Commander, United States Naval Forces Based at the Azores, to Admiral Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet

29 May 1919.

From:     Detachment Commander.

To  :     Force Commander.

Subject:  Flight of Navy hydroplanes across the Atlantic.

     1.   The report in the form of a daily diary was submitted the day after the arrival of the Navy planes at Ponta Delgada, on May 21st, to be carried by seaplane to Lisbon.1 This report is submitted in a narrative form as giving the main points of the operation instead of a compilation of telegrams in diary that was first submitted.

     2.   A despatch was received from the Force Commander on Thursday, May 15th, that the Navy seaplanes had started from Trepassey Bay, but this information was not confirmed and later proved to be incorrect.

     3.   A cable was received from Washington late in the afternoon of Friday May 16th, to test out the arrangements for quick cable service. This was handled quickly and a reply telegraphed to the cable station by the local Postmaster.2 A separate report will be made of the trouble experienced with the local Postmaster in regard to communications.

     4.   At 2:05 a.m., May 17th, received a radiogram stating that U. S. Seaplanes NC-1, NC-3 and NC-4 left Trepassy for Azores at 2209 GMT.

     5.   At 1:30 p.m., May 17th, received message from Horta that NC-4 had landed there, crew and seaplane O.K.

     6.   As the last message from NC-1 at 1540 read “SOS Landing now. We want bearings. Lost in fog about position twenty,” destroyers DENT, PHILLIPS, WARD and HARDING were at once sent in search of that plane in the vicinity reported. During the night S.S. IONIA came across NC-1, Lat. 3940 Long 3024, took the crew on board and attempted to tow the seaplane. The line parted and the plane was abandoned. The crew was taken into Horta. The COLUMBIA directed the FAIRFAX to take charge of the seaplane and endeavor to bring it into port when weather permitted. As no further news had been received from the NC-3 since her report that she was off her course between stations 17 and 18, all available vessels were ordered in search of her on the 18th. The COLUMBIA, which presumably had the best information, was directed to take charge of the scouting line of all available destroyers on the 4th leg. The TEXAS and FLORIDA were ordered to join in the search, getting their information from the COLUMBIA. A line of destroyers was formed north of Corvo to sweep to the westward, as the region between there and Station 18 seemed to be the most probable position in which the NC-3 had come down.

     7.   The officer in charge of this search gave no report until the next day, when I discovered his position far to the westward of Station 18. He was immediately directed to turn his scouting line and proceed eastward with despatch, as I was now convinced that NC-3 was probably between Corvo and Fice, as there was no reason to suppose he would alight except for fear of overrunning his position or coming into collision with high land. During this period from Saturday noon until Monday morning the weather was bad, with south-westerly gales, with violent rainstorms at times and weather frequently thick. Monday the weather improved as to visibility, although wind was still blowing from five to seven. This, of course, made the search very uncertain and difficult.

     8.   At 3:50 p.m., May 19th, the lookout seven miles west of Ponta Delgada reported the NC-3 sighted proceeding on the surface under her own power about three miles from shore. An hour later the NC-3 arrived in harbor and made the buoy under her own power. The crew was at once brought ashore to Headquarters, where arrangements had been made for their reception. The Governor, Naval, Military and other local authorities were on hand, as well as a medical officer with blankets and hot drinks if needed. Needless to say, the moving picture and cameramen were also present. The whole town had turned out on the water front to witness the arrival and proceeded in a body with bands of music to the plane in front of the Naval Headquarters, where the aviators were loudly cheered when they appeared on the balcony.

     9.   A brief statement of the trip of the NC-3 is as follows:

          She sighted destroyers regularly up to No. 13, during which time the visibility was steadily decreasing. They had difficulty with their search lights, and with increased cloudiness went up to 4,000 ft. to get astronomical bearings. They were much helped by the star shells during this time. As the weather became increasingly bad for navigating, and on account of dense cloudiness, the plane came down near No.20 to a position below the clouds in hopes of getting sight of land. They had six hours rain and fog, and after fifteen hours flying came down on the sea to determine their position. The sea was rougher than expected, and struts of the forward engine were bent so that the flight could not be resumed. About noon Saturday and until five o’clock Monday afternoon they proceeded stern first in the direction of Ponta Delgada, a distance of 205 miles. Sunday morning lost pontoon of left wing and just off the harbor entrance the pontoon of the right wing. After the loss of the pontoon it required very careful manipulation to prevent it from being capsized, especially in the westerly gale which prevailed from Saturday evening until Monday. Subsequent observations show that the NC-3 landed in 3745 N. 3025 W., at about 1330 GMT.

     10.  The NC-4 had left Trepassey Bay 1005 GMT, afternoon of the 16th, and separated from the others at dark. Sea smooth and wind astern about 12 knots. Flew at an average altitude of 800, power plant in excellent condition. Sighted all destroyers in turn until No. 16, at 8:30 a.m. the 17th. Climbed to 3400 ft.; at 11:27 picked up Flores and headed for and picked up Destroyer No. 22. Weather variable, clear streaks. Encountered fog; missed No. 23, picked up Fayal; landed Horta 12:30 p.m., May 17th, lapse of time 18 hours 18 minutes, average speed 78.4 miles. The NC-4 was held in Horta by boisterous weather until May 20. Left that date at 12:39; arrived at Ponta Delgada 1015 A.M., May 28th. Arrived Lisbon 2002.

     11.  The arrival of the NC-3 on Monday and the NC-4 on Tuesday were greeted with greatest enthusiasm by the townspeople. On the afternoon of the arrival of the NC-4 the Governor gave a reception in his palace to the aviators to which all the dignities of the town were invited. He made an eloquent speech and rousing cheers were given for the victorious aviators. Copy of his speech is enclosed.3

     12.  The day following the arrival of the NC-4 at Ponta Delgada was excellent forflying, but the aft-center machine was missing a little and before the trouble was remedied Lieutenant-Commander Reed thought it was too late to continue the flight. The next day was rather rough and it was thought there was danger in attempting to get the machine off of the water without injury. From that date until the 28th the weather was boisterous and the sea rough, so that it was impracticable to make an attempt.

     13.  On the morning of the 28th, after a delay of about three hours, due to the missing of the starboard motor, the NC-4 started for Lisbon on the fifth leg, completing her trans-Atlantic flight at 2002 GMT.

     14.  In the course of these operations the Station handled over thirty destroyers and twelve large vessels with despatch and without a single hitch in the crowded harbor of Ponta Delgada.

R. H. JACKSON      

Source Note: D, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520. Distribution list below close: “Copies:/Force Comdr./Opnav./Comdesfor./File.”

Footnote 1: In the file this letter was taken from, there is a compilation of official dispatches received by the Navy Department during the flight, which is probably what Jackson is referring to. See, Ibid.

Footnote 2: This cable and its reply has not been found.

Footnote 3: See, Address of the Governor of San Miguel to the American Aviators, 29 May 1919, ibid.

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