Skip to main content

Lieutenant Commander Herbert S. Babbit, Commander, Scorpion, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

U.S.S. Scorpion     

Constantinople, Turkey.

     December 18, 1918. 

TO:      Secretary Navy.

SUBJECT: Scorpion, October 23, 1918 till December 18, 1918.

     1. As noted in report of date November 24, 1918, forwarded thru British authorities, - and a copy of which is attached herewith,1 - the Turkish guards were removed from over Scorpion on October 23, 1918; and ship recommissioned on November 9, 1918.

     2. On and from October 25th, 1918, British prisoners began to appear in Constantinople, who had been released in San Stefano and other places, and told to go to the city. Some came from prisons in the city itself. As these had no money, no food, and no place whatever to stay, and were given no other directions when released as above, I took them on the Scorpion. In the course of two or three days the number had grown to about fifty, - all that could be accommodated on board for the time being, - and then together with Dr. Frew (a Scotch parson who had returned from exile in Brusa the day before) and Mr. Von Bummel (a Hollander previously in charge of Y.M.C.A. here),2 arrangements were made for the others who came in to lodge at the Y.M.C.A. building, (next to American Embassy), until the British Armistice Commissions came in and finally two or three weeks later they were embarked for repatriation. Most of these were Australians (from the Dardanelles Expedition); but the last two or three days, some of the Kut el Amara prisoners also appeared. About 300 of the latter were found, out of 6000 sent to the camps which evacuated into Constantinople. All these prisoners, both those in the Y.M.C.A. building as well as those on board, were given medical treatment – which was needed by the majority – on board; and once each day, the ship’s Medical Officer, Dr. Omelvena,3 also visited the Y.M.C.A. building, to examine the prisoners there who needed treatment. Colonel Cummings, Major Johnson, and Captain Matthews4 (Kut el Amara officers who had escaped from Yozg<a>d and made their way to the very outskirts of Constantinople but were then recaptured again, just before the armistice was signed), - were also released in latter part of October, and at once assumed charge of the organization and administration of the released prisoners provided for as above. I was thanked by all the above mentioned officers, before they left, for the help we had been able to give them and their men; and also from General Wilson when he arrived, thru his aide and nephew Major Wilson5 who also said the General would do anything possible for us.

     3. On or about November 8, I was informed that the first Armistice Commission would arrive on the Turkish destroyer BASRA, and together with the released Major Johnson mentioned above, met them upon their arrival, at 9:30 p.m., and reported to them for such service as possible, as regarded the Germans and German ships present. This first Armistice Commission consisted of Commander Chilton (Naval Contact Officer),6 Colonel Murphy (Military Contact Officer)7 and two assistants, one of whom I had known here four years ago. I was able to give them considerable information as to the recent movements of the German ships present, of which they had no knowledge; and what was more important, information as to all the principal German agents and spies, and to warn them against a few disloyal and continued pro-German British and Americans here. I also lent Commander Chilton a typewriter and yeoman for about 10 days, until other Armistice Commissioners had come in. The next commission which arrived was headed by Colonel Temple,8 and for intelligence service; and then other commissions, and ships, have continued to arrive every few days, since. The first ship to arrive in the Golden Horn was the cruiser “PYRAMUS”, which gave us the first news of anything which was going on with American ships; and the first news received from the United States was from Mr. Hohler,9 the British diplomatic representative who had recently come from Washington. I have received written or oral expressions of thanks for information I was able to give, from all of the above, and also from Admiral Calthorpe10 when he arrived; and particularly, from Commander Chilton and Colonel Temple.

     4. The U.S.S. NAHMA arrived with relief officers and crew for Scorpion, on December 16th, 1918; and on December 18, 1918, the command of the Scorpion was turned over to Commander Tod, U.S. Navy.11

     5. The U.S.S. Scorpion and the American Navy in general have an excellent reputation in Constantinople; and since the Armistice was signed, I have been continually asked by Ottoman subjects of all the different races, where the American sailors are (the streets are filled with those of the Allies), why no American ships come, and why there is no American Commissioner or Representative here. Several Turkish members of the government have stated they would not have felt so bad, when the Allied fleets entered, if there had been American ships too; and I believe they meant it.

/s/ H.S.Babbitt.            

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.

Footnote 1: The copy of this report is no longer attached herein, nor has the original from 24 November 1918 been located.

Footnote 2: While Dr. Frew has not been further identified, “Mr. Von Bummel”, however, was Dirk Johannes Van Bommel. The Associate Secretary of the American YMCA in Constantinople since the outbreak of the War, Van Bommel was highly regarded for his relief distribution work in aiding prisoners of war. For his efforts, both the Allied and Turkish governments decorated him.

Footnote 3: Lt. Cmdr. James G. Omelvena (Medical Corps).

Footnote 4: Lt. Col. H. A. V. Cummins, Commander, 24th Punjabis, 30th Infantry Brigade, Maj. Allen E. Johnson, and Lt. A. B. Mathews, Commander, 22nd Company, Sappers and Miners, Royal Engineers.

Footnote 5: Lt. Gen. Sir Henry F. Maitland Wilson, General Officer Commanding Allied Forces Gallipoli and Bosporus, and his nephew, Maj. Henry Maitland Wilson.

Footnote 6: Cmdr. Francis G. G. Chilton.

Footnote 7: Col. C. C. R. Murphy.

Footnote 8: Lt. Col. Reginald C. Temple, Intelligence Director, Mediterranean Naval Squadron.

Footnote 9: Minister to Turkey Sir Thomas B. Hohler.

Footnote 10: Adm. Sir Somerset Gough-Calthorpe, Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet.

Footnote 11: Cmdr. Elmer W. Tod. For a list of the other officers sent to relieve the crew of Scorpion, see, Opnav to Bunav, 5 December 1918, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.