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


E X H I B I T “Q”


September 28, 1918<7>        

Red. B. 967

From:     Force Commander,

To:       Commander of the Patrol Squadrons Operating on French Coast.

Subject:  Duties of U. S. Naval Port Officers.

     1. Conditions at St. Nazaire, created by the frequent arrival at that Port of Army Transports, Supply Vessels and other shipping render it necessary, that there should be permanently stationed at that Port a Naval Officer who shall beyour immediate representative and shall have authority to control to some degree the inward and outward movements, particularly the latter, of shipping of the classes above mentioned, and to act as an intermediary between you and the U. S. Army authorities and the local French authorities.

     2. Similar conditions will soon exist, if they do not already exist, at the several ports on the Gironde River in the vicinity of Bordeaux.

     3. It has, therefore, been deemed advisable to order Commander F. P. Baldwin, U. S. N. (Retired), to St. Nazaire, to assume the duties of U. S. Naval Port Officer at that Port, and to detail Commander J. B. Patton, U. S. N. (Retired), Base Commandant at Bordeaux, to the additional duty of Naval Port Officer at Bordeaux, Pauillac and Bassens.1 It is probable that later on it will be found necessary to detail an officer for similar duties at La Pallice, and, possibly, to divide the Bordeaux duties between two, or possibly more, officers.

     4. It is to be distinctly understood by all concerned that the U. S. Naval Port Officer at any Port on the Atlantic Coast of France is your representative and is under your orders. It will be necessary that you keep him constantly informed of all facts which will affect the discharge of his duties, and it will be his duty to keep you similarly informed.

     5. SHIPPING. He should control all U. S. shipping, permitting no vessel to sail except under his orders, and in regular organized convoys. The term “U. S. Shipping” is to be construed as embracing troop transports, chartered supply vessels carrying army supplies, Naval supply vessels, all vessels under charter to the U. S. Government, and such other U. S. Merchant vessels as may visit the Port in question. Some difficulty may be experienced in controlling U. S. Vessels which are not under charter by the Government, but by working with the French authorities, it may be possible to withhold the clearance of such vessels until they express willingness to carry out orders. All Allied Shipping in British Waters isnow required to travel in convoy, regardless of nationality, and the U. S. Government is shortly to require all vessels to leave home ports in convoy. In order to reduce shipping losses on this side it is necessary to take a firm hand and dispatch our vessels in such a way as to provide the greatest security.

     6. TROOP TRANPORTS AND STORE SHIPS. The Naval Port Officer should be informed by you of the prospective arrival of Troop Transports and Store Ships, and all arrangements made for their escort into Port. In the case of vessels of the same classes outward bound they are to be detained in Port, or at a safe anchorage in the vicinity of the Port, until a convoy can be formed and a suitable escort provided. The Naval Port Officer must keep you informed as to the dates of readiness for sailing of such vessels, and permit none of them to sail except in convoys. This will, probably, result in the delay of some ships, but it will ensure safety, and it seems probable that a regular outward bound convoy from a suitable Port may be arranged to sail about once every eight days. In such convoy can be placed any Allied westbound merchant vessels. Your duty with respect to these conboys [i.e., convoys] will be to see that they are provided with suitable escort and to give instructions as to time of sailing. Ordinarily they should leave the French Coast just before dark, so as to pass through the most dangerous areas by night, and be escorted for about forty-eight hours. You would also prescribe the route to be pursued through the danger zone upon information furnished from London or Paris or derived from the local French Authorities.

     7. The internal organization of the convoy will be the responsibility of the Senior Officer of the convoy, who should provide the necessary instructions for zig-zagging, behavior under attack, dispersal, rendezvous, etc. As it is probable that the Naval Port Officer will frequently be consulted on these matters, he should be kept supplied with all the latest information as to tested and approved methods, so that he may give proper advice on request.

     8. AIRCRAFT. The Naval Port Officer should, whenever possible, arrange for the co-operation of the French Coastal Air Stations to assist our inward and outward bound convoys. This may be accomplished by your office, but the Port Officer should have full authority to communicate direct with the local French authorities as well.

     9. MINESWEEPING. The Naval Port Officer should, by constant communication with you and with the local French Authorities keep himself fully informed as to the status of the approach channels, the progress of mine-sweeping operations and the results of such operations, and should keep you similarly informed.

     10. COAL AND OTHER SUPPLIES. The Naval Port Officer should keep you informed as to the amount of coal and other supplies on hand and the amounts desired from time to time.

     11. INFORMATION. The Naval Port Officer should interview the Captain or Master of every U. S. Man-of-War[,] Transport, Supply Ship, and other vessel entering his port, for the purpose of bringing out any criticisms they may have to make as to the difficulties of entering the Ports, lack of pilots, patrols, etc., and any suggestions they may have for improvement. These matters are of urgent importance, particularly in connection with our Troop Transports and Supply Ships. Conditions that may be handled by the local French authorities should be taken up direct with them.

     12. CO-ORDINATION. It will be the duty of the Naval Port Officer to keep in constant and close touch with the U. S. Army representatives and the French Authorities at the Ports, to work in close harmony with them and to use every endeavor to avoid friction and clashes of authority.

     13. COMMUNICATIONS. The Naval Port Officer will have complete charge of the Communication Office at his Port. He will be given the services of a Communication Officer, whenever such detail is found possible, and will, also, be furnished with a Communication Staff of the necessary size.

     14. At St. Nazaire Assistant Paymaster Cunningham2 is at present detailed as Communication Officer, and he will continue in that capacity until such time as another officer can be sent for that duty. Paymaster Cunningham has certain additional duties in connection with disbursements, which he will continue to perform. A separate letter will be written, going into the duties of the Communication Officer in more detail.3

     15. The Communication Officer at each Port will, under the instructions of the Port Officer, and with his advice, assistance and cooperation, handlemall [i.e., handle all] matters in regard to communications, make suggestions for improvement and make provision for keeping a secret file of all important messages; also, he will take steps to guard against secret communications falling into the hands of any but Commissioned Officers, or such members of the Communication Force as it may be found necessary, owing to shortage of personnel, to entrust them to.

     16. It is particularly necessary that the prospective dates of arrival of troop convoys and Supply convoys be kept secret, and be communicated to the French authorities and the U. S. Army authorities only, in sufficient time to permit them to make the proper preparations for their reception.

     17. REPORTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS. All Reports made by the Naval Port Officer should be made to you direct, and the most secret and rapid means of communication utilized. The Naval Port Officer should, however, be authorized to communicate direct with my Staff Representative in Paris4 and with other Naval Port Officers in casesof urgent necessity. He should, in all such cases, immediately furnish you with copies of his communications.

     18. ARMED GUARDS. Whenever a vessel carrying a Naval Armed Guard enters a Port Officer’s Port he is to inspect the Guard, or have it inspected by a competent representative, and should make to you, for further transmission to me, a report covering the following points and any others that may suggest themselves in individual cases:-

     (a) Vessel – from – to

     (b) Master

     (c) Officer of P. O. in charge of Guard.

     (d) Number, calibre, and condition of guns.

     (e) Arrangement and condition of magazines.

     (f) Personnel

     (g) Organization

     (h) Co-operation between guards and ship personnel

     (i) Food.

     Especial attention will be paid to the question of uniforms and personal neatness of guards, as the appearance of these men will have a considerable effect on the opinion of a very large number of people as to the general efficiency of our Navy.

     19. As the appointment of Naval Port Officers is a new departure, the duties of such officers cannot be prescribed completely and with exactness. Much must be left to the individual, and, in the discharge of his duties, it will be necessary that he exercise good judgment, tact and discretion, in order to avoid friction with the local authorities, both French and U. S. Army. He must, on the one hand, use every endeavor to advance the common cause, which is that of the safe and prompt entry and dispatch of Troop Ships and other vessels. It is particularly important that between you and the Port Officer there shall be a feeling of mutual confidence, and a constant exchange of information. It is also very important, as has already been stated, that the prospective movements, both outward and inward, of U. S. Vessels, be protected by secrecy, by the greatest possible use of the convoy plan, and by the provision of suitable escorts. If these objects are successfully accomplished minor difficulties and failings will have no bearing on the final general result.5

/s/ WM. S. SIMS.

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 125, Entry 30, Records of the Office of the Judge Advocate General (Navy). This document was an exhibit in the court of enquiry of RAdm. William B. Fletcher. At the bottom of this exhibit, a stamp reads “A true copy/KMBennett” [Capt. Kenneth M. Bennett, U.S. Navy, Judge Advocate].

Footnote 1: Cmdr. Frank P. Baldwin and Cmdr. John B. Patton.

Footnote 2: John J. Cunningham, Assistant Paymaster, Corsair.

Footnote 3: This letter has not been found.

Footnote 4: Capt. Richard H. Jackson.

Footnote 5: This letter grew out of Sims’ increasing concerns that Fletcher was inadequate for the task assigned him. Also, see: Sims to Fletcher, 27 September 1917, Daniels to Sims, 28 September 1917, and Sims to Fletcher, 1 October 1917. Sims relieved Fletcher the next month, and he spent the remainder of the war commanding the Seventh Naval District (Key West). Still, Crisis at Sea: 53-55.

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