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Rear Admiral William B. Fletcher, Commander, United States Patrol Squadrons Operating in French Waters, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters



Brest, France

<3> 6 Sept. 1917

From:  Commander Patrol Squadron.

To:    Force Commander, U.S.Naval Forces, Operating

                   in European Waters.

Subject:  Employment of vessels.

Reference (a) Your letter of 30th Aug. (ref. D)1

          (b) My letter of 25th Aug. Escort of Transports

                        into French Ports.2

     1.  Of the fifteen vessels now in this Squadron, three only are capable of working off shore in the weather which will be encountered here in the fall and winter. They are:-




     2.  The twelve which remain will be employed in convoy duty along the coast at the desire of the French Patrol Authorities. This will release their trawlers, at present engaged in convoy work, for mine sweeping. They are short of vessels for that work. Our vessels will then take over the entire conduct of the convoy toward and from England, and to and from Quiberon. The vessels just arrived will be paired with those which have already become familiar with the work.

     3.  This condition leaves our Force short of vessels suitable to work off shore, either to meet convoys, or to escort vessels sailing from French ports.

     4.  The French have in the Bretagne Division:-

       (a) 16 trawlers, now engaged in the Penzance, Cherbourg, Quiberon convoy.

       (b) 5 torpedo boats 400 tons and 4 gunboats 380 tons, for alongshore work.

       (c) 3 trawlers working from Legardieux in the channel.

       (d) 9 trawlers, convoy and other duty from St. Nazaire.

       (e) 11 – 40-ton boats, 9 50- to 100-ton sailing sloops and 3 motor boats, to protect fisheries.

            And in addition:-

       (f) 4 destroyers of 900 tons.

           2 sloops of 1500 tons.

           3 avisos of 750 tons.

             Four of these are now under repairs.

     5.  This makes a very limited Force to meet all the demands made upon them. With the increase in arrivals of our transports the task is increased, and it is difficult to have vessels ready both to meet them and ready to escort them when they return.

     6.  We should have more vessels here capable of going off shore in all weathers to meet arriving and to escort departing vessels. This is the central position from which they should operate.

     7.  Since this letter was commenced your letter, reference (a) has been received.

     8.  The trouble with meeting destroyers escorting transports is not at St. Nazaire. That trouble was outlined in my letter to you of August 25th, marked “Secret”, reference (b) St. Nazaire is in the Bretagne District and the movement of all patrol vessels to and from there is controlled from here.

     9.  Due to the lack of vessels the CORSAIR is now being held here on account of the Convoy which is due on the 6th, but of whose rendezvous we have not yet been informed.

     10.  The French have many demands on their few vessels capable of keeping the sea in all weathers, and I think we should have destroyers to work from this point if possible, to supplement the present force. With coal here and at St. Nazaire they can operate in and out of either place and come here for supplies.3

          The current at St. Nazaire would however, make it bad for them to lay at anchor there any length of time.

     11.  There is a large demand upon the French Patrol in escorting their own vessels, and transports which go and come from Russia and are loaded here.


Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 125, Entry 30, Box 246.

Footnote 3: In his testimony at his Court of Inquiry, Fletcher said that “no action was taken on the request for destroyers until after the sinking of the Antilles.” For more on the loss of Antilles and how it affected the relationship between Fletcher and Sims, see: Sims to Anne Hitchcock Sims, 21 October 1917.

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