Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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

UNTIED STATES PATROL SQUADRON,

FLAG OFFICE

  Brest,

13 September 1917.

My dear Sims:

          Your personal letter of August 30th concerning the meeting of transports off the French Coast and other matters was received on September 4th.1

          The subject of meeting transports was under consideration in a letter to you, at the time your letter was received; my letter was forwarded September 5th.2 Your telegram of Sept. 10th, stating that the proposition of August 25th about meeting transports had been approved was received yesterday.3

          The question of having sufficient vessels at hand to meet escorts with convoys is the important one now. Six of the yachts recently arrived are commencing, this week, to operate with the convoy along shore. They are paired off with and being broken in by six of the vessels which have already learned the duty. This will release twelve French trawlers which can be employed for sweeping purposes.

          As an example of the demands upon the limited number of vessels for off shore work one vessel is now being sent to the Azores for convoy duty from there, and two to Iceland to escort trawlers recently purchased there.

          Assistant Paymasters have been doing night watch here as communications officers because other officers are not available. All coding work during the day fell on one officer until we were able to get reliable men from the American Ambulance, whose time had expired, and who enlisted for Aviation.

          One of the men we now have for coding work is a graduate of Princeton, a fine capable, brainy man, and is capable of holding the rank of Ensign as are many of those as now in the reserves here. Can he be appointed?

          It should not be necessary to have these Paymasters stand a night watch, and when men enlisted for aviation are taken away we will be handicapped. Hence, the telegram and comment upon it in the weekly report asking that more officers be sent.

          Lieutenant R.C. Williams,4 who came with me as Secretary, had this day gone to the “EMELINE, in command. Lieutenant J.P. Miller,5 who brought her over, has been condemned by Medical Survey and will be sent home by transport from St. Nazaire. Assistant Paymaster Carey6 has taken Lieutenant William’s place, the work he was doing is divided among the other paymasters.

          The station has been organized along the following lines and under one head:-

Operations and Communications.

Maintenance and Material.

Accounting, Supply, Pay.

Medicine and Surgery.

          There is no need for a separate base organization here, as the only plant is the Arsenal and when the Panther comes we should be independent of that.7 The Paymaster8 has organized his supply system along Destroyer lines, so that his shore establishment takes the place of the supply ship.

          Maintenance and material has been placed in the hands of Baldwin and Dinger and they are the connecting links between the ships and the Arsenal for repairs and equipage.9

          The sick quarters established by Dr. Garrison10 is in operation and fills a great need, and is a great credit to his energy and perseverance.

          Freeman is on shore as Senior Aid.11

          In order to clear matters up here I should like to be ordered in command of this base, or station, as well as the Squadron; because as I noted above, the question of a base here is more or less of a fiction, and there is no place for two commands. As you suggested in Paris, I have placed Baldwin on my staff for purposes of the material administration of the vessels, but there seems to be the question of division of command apparent all the time. Should we pull out from here with the few supplies and the ships there would be nothing left. All the fixed property we are using is French, so that there is no such thing as a tangibel [tangible] base, of our own.

          A single organization results in simplicity of control, quick action, with the minimum of office force. The organization is in fact along the lines of the organization on board ship.

          The question of storage and supply of coal by the British Admiralty here arose some days ago. I have referred to it already in a letter and the last weekly report.12 I think it would be unfortunate if the coal is landed and handled as proposed in the Commercial Port. 8000 tons, which came in the HOUSTON and NEWPORT NEWS, is in the Arsenal coal yard. The French Government unloaded it and loads it into lighters again at a charge to us of one half franc for both handlings. If placed at the Commercial dock the charge will certainly be several francs a ton for loading and unloading by a private contractor, with the added difficulty of service, because the contractor must depend upon the Government for lighters, labor and tugs or be at the expense of buying them.. The present system is working very well.

          I would like to come to London some day when all the ships in sight have arrived here and the way is clear.

          The CORSAIR is being sent for the depth charges today. I am sorry that the NOMA is not available, but she has been placed in the convoy escort service along the coast.

          The question of a port for the assembling of merchant convoys from France has been referred to the C.D.P.B. here,13 as it would affect the sailings from other districts. Admiral Schwerer,14 who is not yet settled here, will have to be consulted before making a final reply. Brest appears to be the only suitable port for such assemblage. Quiberon Bay does not afford sufficient protected anchorage room. All such room is now occupied by the daily coast convoys. Brest Rade is large enough and vessels from French channel ports, as well as the ports south from here, can be readily collected here.

          The difficult question is to find escorts when they are once assembled.

          Twinings letter about expense incurred for quarters here has been received and will be answered at once.15

          We lost a man yesterday, who was left here with pneumonia by the NEWPORT NEWS. His remains have been embalmed and held awaiting instructions as to their disposition. The Department was informed.

W. B. FLETCHER         

Source Note: LTS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 79. Document is marked with the identification number, “624-42-8-2”. Below Fletcher’s signature is written, “To: Vice Admiral W.S. Sims, U.S. Navy,/Commanding U.S. Naval Forces Operating in European Waters,/#30 Grosvenor Gardens, London S. W.”

Footnote 2: This letter, numbered 277/A/A and dated 3 September has not been located.

Footnote 4: Raleigh C. Williams.

Footnote 5: John P. Miller.

Footnote 6: Joseph A. Carey.

Footnote 7: Panther was an auxiliary cruiser that sailed for Brest on 1 July 1917 to serve as a tender for the U. S. destroyer force based there. 

Footnote 8: Frederick B. Colby.

Footnote 9: Assistant Paymaster George S. Baldwin and Lt. Cmdr. Henry C. Dinger.

Footnote 10: Dr. Phillip E. Garrison, Surgeon.

Footnote 11: Cmdr. Charles S. Freeman.

Footnote 12: Neither of the documents to which Fletcher is referring have been located.

Footnote 13: Conseil de déploiment de patrouilles de Bretagne (Council for the Deployment of Patrol Boats in Brittany).

Footnote 14: Contré-amiral (RAdm.) Zépherin Alexandre Antoine Schwerer, Chief of Cabinet, and Navy Minister, Patrol Forces, Ocean and Channel.

Footnote 15: Capt. Nathan C. Twining, Sims’ Chief of Staff. The letter to which Fletcher is referring has not been located.

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