Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Suggestions for Improving Convoying, Commander Alfred W. Johnson, Commander, Conyngham

U.S.S. Conyngham – CONVOY SUGGESTIONS – Sept. 22-27.

     (Cmdr. A.W. JOHNSON). (From separate report of O.Q.8 and H.D. 4 convoys, received tardily with Diary: The vessels of (O.Q.8) kept station badly, and were with difficulty kept together in the fog1. . . . The contact (with H.D. 4) was punctually made at the appointed time in a dense fog2. . . . H.M.S. HEATHER, special service vessel assisted by taking station 30 to 35 miles ahead of each convoy. Her mission was two fold; to play the part of a special service vessel, and to apprise the convoys of the presence of hostile submarines in their track. None were seen by her . . . . . The vessels of the convoy (H.D.4) kept station excellently, and gave evidence of being well drilled. This invariably is the case in convoys escorted by regular men of war.3

     The decision of the Admiralty to place the ocean escort at the head of one of the columns, instead of zigzagging across the head of the convoy, affords considerable satisfaction to the destroyer escort commander. Being assigned a well-defined position, she is easily located in thick weather, making communication with her by megaphone a simple matter. Moreover, she is less exposed to submarine attack than when she was stationed outside of the convoy; and she in no way interferes with the zigzagging of the destroyers at the head of the convoy, as formerly was the case.

     During these operations, several wireless S.O.Ss. were heard from vessels attacked by submarines. Their positions varied from 90 to 120 miles from the convoy. As my mission was to protect the convoy, I sent no destroyers to their assistance, though my natural impulse was to do so. I believed, and hoped, that there were other destroyers closer at hand that could more promptly render assistance.

     This suggests the advisability of a central control to designate which of the escorts (nearest the scene) should detach a destroyer to proceed to the assistance of unescorted merchantmen attacked by submarines. It would be entirely practicable to exercise such a control over a considerable area, and it would enable reasonable efforts to be made to protect such merchantmen. It would, too, prevent the detachment by the escorts of more vessels than necessary, as might be the case if the escorts were not under some central control. In the absence of such a central control, it is recommended that the limits beyond which a destroyer should not proceed to render assistance be prescribed for destroyer escorts.

     Another point that has been brought to my attention is the desirability of quickly communicating an order to the convoy, in case of emergency, such, for instance, as changing course in a fog, when flag signals cannot be seen. It is suggested that each convoy be assigned a call sign for using wireless when it is necessary for the senior escorting vessel to call the entire convoy. Each vessel should, as far as practicable, keep continuous wireless watch during thick weather when nearing the Channel.)4

Source Note: D, RG 45, Entry 517B, Destroyer Ships Files: Conyngham. The report was written sometime after Conyngham returned to Queenstown, Ireland, on 27 September 1917.

Footnote 1: This was a convoy of twenty-two merchant ships. War Diary, Conyngham,  15 and 16 September 1917, ibid.

Footnote 2: This was a convoy of twelve ships from Dakar, South Africa. War Diary of U.S.S. Conyngham, entries of 21 and 22 September 1917, ibid.

Footnote 3: This convoy was escorted by H.M.S. King Alfred. Ibid.

Footnote 4: In a another report derived from the experience of convoying these merchantmen, Johnson suggested: “As the lights carried by convoy are almost without exception too bright, and not always screened in accordance with the instructions, it is recommended that the lights to be shown by the vessels of the convoy be inspected at night by a reliable person, and altered if necessary before convoy sails.” Sum of Military Information in War Diaries Received Sept. 16-23. 1917. Ibid.