Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels
15th September 1917.
FROM: Force Commander.
TO: Secretary of the Navy.
SUBJECT: General Report.
1. Enemy Submarine Operations.
During the period 5-10 September, information indicated that a number of enemy submarines varying from thirteen to twenty)one were operating in the Atlantic, of which between eight and thirteen operated to the westward of the British Isles. The principal area of activity was off the entrance to the English Channel, and off the Yorkshire Coast.
On the 6th September evidence indicated that seven boats, app<a>rently of the U.C. class,1 were working off the English Channel.
The feature of the week was the fact that no reports of submarine attacks in the open sea (that is well afield) were received until the 9th September.
On the 6th September one and perhaps two submarines were working to the westward of Gibraltar.
Up to September 15th no submarines were reported west of 15º long.
Twenty-nine encounters with submarines were reporte[d] in British waters during this week as follows:-
3 by Destroyers.
2 by Special Service Ships.
1 by Submarine.
13 by Auxiliary Patrol.
7 by Aircraft.
3 by Merchant Vessels.
2. ENEMY MINE LAYING.
During the period 5-10 September a marked increase in the number of mines destroyed occurred. Enemy activity was concentrated principally in the War Channel between Lowestoft and the Thames, and the Channel traffic route between the Lizard and Dungeness; the latter locality being mined in six different positions, probably with the purpose of intercepting convoys making the coast off the Lizard.
Mines were also discovered off the Orkneys and Blacksod Bay.
3. MERCANTILE CONVOYS.
There is attached a statistical report covering organized mercantile convoys to the 8th September, 1917.
Considerable interesting data compiled by the statistical division of the Admiralty was forwarded by last Mail.
4. OPERATIONS OF FORCES IN FRENCH WATERS.
There are attached copies of reports of operations from Rear Admiral Fletcher.2
The situation in French waters is gradually straightening itself out. It has primarily been complicated by the fact that the forces available – that is our own combined with the French – were wholly inadequate, the fact that our forces have attempted as far as possible to co-operate with French Coastal trade, in addition to meeting approaching convoys, and also the difficulties which unavoidably arise in communications, particularly owing to differences of languages.
Six of the yachts recently arrived have been put into convoy work with French Coastal trade. They were paired off with six of the original yachts that had already had experience in that duty. This course will release twelve French trawlers for sweeping operations.
As an example of the demands upon French vessels available for off shore work, one was recently sent to the Azores for French convoy duty from there, and two to Iceland to escort trawlers recently purchased there.
The CORSAIR was sent to Devonport to obtain depth charges and depth-charge releasing gear which the British Admiralty had agreed to furnish us. Steps are also being taken to obtain depth charges for the other forces which are now arriving.
A new system of rendezvous has been arranged off the French coast which, it is believed, will facilitate the meeting of our troop convoys for supplying them with information concerning the safety of the various channels of approach.
5. FORCES BASED ON GIBRALTAR.
There are attached copies of reports received from Rear Admiral Wilson covering operations of forces under his command from date of arrival to 1st September.3
The plan of utilizing U.S. Naval Forces mentioned in the 4th paragraph of Admiral Wilson’s letter of 25th August has been approved by me (copy attached).4
There is also attached for the information of the Department copy of correspondence from the Admiralty to me covering a report by the British Admiral Commanding at Gibraltar5 concerning operations in that area.6
Trade to Italy.
All of the trade from Gibraltar to Italy and return is in convoy, except for vessels above twelve knots in speed. Convoys are formed of vessels whose speed is within two knots of one another, and these vessels sail under the protection of an Italian cruiser. Italy has twelve cruisers in this service at the present, eleven of which are converted merchantmen, and is considering employing additional cruisers.
The convoys are under the general direction of the Italian Government, but the officers in charge have expressed willingness to accede to the wishes of Admiral Wilson in routing any American vessel to or from Italy – Vessels of a speed in excess of twelve knots are routed alone.
At the present time convoys leave Gibraltar approximately every four days, and leave Italian ports on the same schedule. There is an insufficient number of cruisers for escort work, so that some convoys sail without cruiser escort; but in all cases an effort is made to have convoys leave in company with a well armed consort.
The convoys include all allied vessels and neutral vessels bound for Italian ports.
The sailings from Gibraltar for Italian ports now average 190 ships a month.
These convoys take advantage of Spanish territorial waters as much as possible. To minimise dangers from mines, the least important shipping is placed in the lead.
This convoy to and from Italy has been very successful when measured by its results.
Trade beyond Italy.
At the present time trade beyond Italy is dispatched independently, and is routed first through Spanish territorial waters, thence across to the African coast by night. Some measure of protection is afforded along the Algerian Coast by French trawlers. It is hoped that in the near future to establish a regular convoy service every ten days between Gibraltar and Malta, and the trade beyond Italy will be placed in these convoys.
6. ESTABLISHMENT OF RECEIVING SHIP FACILITIES – LIVERPOOL.
In view of the gradual increase of naval personnel arriving by merchant liners at Liverpool, such as aviation personnel, signalmen returning from duty with mercantile convoys, officers and men for forces in European waters and so forth, and the fact that U.S. Destroyers are now using Liverpool as a port for periodic overhaul and repairs, it is recommended that Receiving Ship7 facilities be established at that port, in charge of a retired officer with a paymaster.
Authority should be given to rout<e> suitable barracks, to make disbursements, and to arrange for travel and so forth. Such an establishment should be under this command with directions to report to the Force Commander for duty and instructions.
Our signalmen placed on ships of mercantile convoys are now, after arrival, being sent to London, where they are concentrated at the Crystal Palace which is used as a Royal navy Barracks in London, and to Liverpool, where they are quartered and <subsisted> by the Admiralty. Many questions arise in connection with them, such as disciplinary matters, leave and liberty, questions of hours which they should be in barracks, and whether they should be subjected to exactly the same requirements as British enlisted personnel also quartered there, particularly as regards routine, physical drill and so forth.
It would greatly facilitate matters if all such men could be sent to a central place in charge of an officer of our own Service. The MELVILLE is too distant to meet this situation satisfactorily.
Such an establishment would also be very useful in connection with such of our destroyers as are sent to Liverpool in groups, probably of three, for ten days overhaul. This period of overhaul for the destroyers should be utilised to the maximum extent to give the men recreation and leave from the strenuous duties in the anti-submarine campaign. The noise, however, on board the destroyers while being overhauled day and night is such that the men are able to get little rest when they need it the most. A case in point is the WADSWORTH now in Liverpool having the damage to her bow repaired. The noise on board from rivet hammers and so forth has been such that the officers and men have been forced to the other destroyers in order to obtain needed rest.
A large percentage of the men are apparently sending a large part of their pay to their homes, and hence have not sufficient funds to go on leave or to spend much time ashore on liberty.
Many cases are constantly arising in regard to questions of transportation and similar subjects which at present can only be handled either through the U.S. Consul at Liverpool or else through the senior Destroyer Commander who may happen to be in port.
7. CO-OPERATION OF DEPARTMENT WITH BRITISH ADMIRALTY CONCERNING MINES.
The question of co-operation between the Department and the British Admiralty concerning mines has been under constant consideration by the Admiralty. Upon the Commander-in-Chief’s8 return from France a Conference will be held between his staff and mining officials of the Admiralty, in order that the situation can be made clear to the Department upon the return of the Commander-in-Chief.
Some misunderstandings and complications have arisen in this connection owing to the various channels of communication which have been used. For example; some cables have apparently been sent direct by the Admiralty to their Naval Attache in Washington,9 while others, have been sent through the Commander-in-Chief and through the Force Commander, and I understand also some via the British Commander-in-Chief at Halifax.10
It is recommended that as far as possible the channel of communication between the Admiralty and the Department be restricted to communications through the Force Commander in order to ensure the best possible co-operation and avoid duplications and misunderstandings.
8. MISCELLANEOUS INFORMATION CONCERNING DESTROYER FORCE.
The following comments by the British Commander-in-Chief, Ireland,11 are quoted for the Department’s information:-
Date 10th September 1917. No. W. 102.A.
In forwarding to the Admiralty, the report of the Commanding Officer of U.S. Ship AMMEN on the protection of Convoy Q M-6 from submarine attack on 3rd September, I added the following remarks:-
AMMEN’S actions were very quick, seamanlike and successful. Lieutenant Logan deserves great credit for saving the Convoy from attack.
(signed) Lewis Bayly.
Date 11th September, 1917. No. W. 102. A.
MEMORANDUM address to U.S. and British Forces operating in Irish Waters._________________________
The Commander-in-Chief wishes to congratulate Commanding Officers on the ability, quickness of decision and willingness which they have shewn in their duties of attacking submarinesand protecting trade. These duties have been new to all and have had to be learned from the beginning and the greatest credit is due for the results.
The Winter is approaching with storms and thick weather; the enemy shows an intention to strike harder and more often; but I feel perfect confidence in those who are working with me that we shall wear him down and utterly defeat him in the face of all difficulties. It has been an asset of the greatest value that the two Navies have worked together with such perfect confidence in each other and with that friendship and which mutual respect alone can produce.
Date 11th September, 1917. No. W. 102. F.
With reference to the report dated 9th September, from CONYNGHAM of operations 3rd to 8th September, the McDOUGAL is to be congratulated on her excellent look out and quick decision when meeting submarine at 1:20 a.m. on 8th September. The McDOUGAL certainly saved the convoy from attack [and] possibly serious damage.
The submarine was probably damaged.
(signed) Lewis Bayly.
Date 12th September 1917. No. W.102 A.
ROWAN is to be congratulated on her actions with “Dundee” Convoy. Her decision to guard the convoy with Tucker12 and leave two trawlers to look after Dundee was perfectly correct, though requiring courage and firmness to carry out.
(signed) Lewis Bayly.
9. CONDITIONS ASHORE -:QUEENSTOWN AND CORK.
The troubles previously reported13 which existed on shore at Queenstown and Cork have gradually subsided due principally however, to the fact that liberty was stopped to Cork and has not yet been resumed. Liberty in Queenstown was again resumed a few days after the regrettable incident which resulted in the loss of life of a labourer at the dockyard.14
Considerable opinion seems to be held that the Sinn Feiners15 and the rougher elements in the south of Ireland have attempted to stip [i.e., stir] up trouble with our men and also have attempted to make more out of what little trouble occurred than that which really existed.
A priest from the pulpit of a Catholic Cathedral in Queenstown cast serious reflections on the general behavior and character of our men, but the Bishop of the District16 has since expressed his regret that such statements were used and expressed his disapproval of them.
Our men are becoming more or less bitter against the civil population ashore on account of the treatment they have received (principally, as previously reported from the rougher element) and also on account of the fact that the treatment has been wholly unjustified.
As previously reported, careful investigation has established beyond question that, generally speaking, the behavior of our men on shore has been exemplary and exactly on a par with their behavior in their own home country. Their relations with the enlisted forces in the British Service are excellent. A spirit of excellent fraternization exists, the British sailors joining all forms of recreation with our men.
10. MATERIAL CASUALTIES.
A radio was received on the 15th inst., from the ALLEN at sea stating that her starboard propeller had been badly damaged by striking an object in the water and it would be necessary for her to go into dock. All arrangements have been made to place her in dock on her arrival and to replace the propeller should it be found necessary.
Her propellers are now at Cammell Lairds Liverpool, but one can be brought to Queenstown with little delay.
The WADSWORTH’S damaged bow caused by a mine sweeper drifting down on her while at anchor is being repaired at Liverpool during the regular overhaul period.
The WAINWRIGHT has experienced a series of minor casualtities [i.e., casualties] of late such as a hot bearing and leaky condenser. Having but one condenser, any leak becomes a serious matter.
Separate correspondence has been forwarded concerning the troubles experienced with the port turbine of the WALKE.
The HOUSTON arrived at Queenstown from Brest distributing her draft of men at both places. A number of men transferred for various reasons were sent home on her.
I regret that it was found necessary to send home Chief Carpenter Pate17 who had been condemned by medical survey for chronic rheumatism. Mr. Pate was a most excellent officer in every respect and his loss to the Dixie will be seriously felt. He was one of the principle members of the Dixie’s repair force, and it is hoped that he can be replaced by an officer of similar capabilities as early as possible.
It was necessary to ask by cable for extra yeomen on account of the gradual increase of administrative work on the tenders in connection with the destroyers. The number of available yeomen at present is wholly inadequate to handle the work which exists.
Amongst other demands, it has been found necessary to establish a more extensive communication system on the MELVILLE and at least four good yeomen are required for that purpose alone. The supply and repair departments of...
With reference to the Department’s cable as to the radio installation for new destroyers, steps have been taken to consult as many Commanding Officers as possible and the consensus of opinion will be submitted when defined. Speaking broadly, however, there can be no question that the radio range should be in no case less than that on our latest commissioned destroyers. That is, in general terms, the greater range, the better.
The radio range of our destroyers has been reduced somewhat by the lowering of the topmasts which was considered necessary in order to reduce the visibility while engaged in the present types of operations. In order, however, that our destroyers may be available for any possible future duty there can be little question that their radio range should be the maximum which can possibly be installed upon them.
Lieut. Bastedo18 is now making a complete investigation of radio material in the Flotilla which will be covered by a special report.
Radio direction finders, if feasible for destroyers, should be installed as rapidly as possible. Enemy submarines are frequently heard using their radio, particularly at night. On a number of occasions the destroyers have had reason to believe by radio interception that a submarine was in their immediate vicinity at night.
With reference to the anti-submarine campaign, generally speaking, the losses since April have not increased but, on the contrary, appear to be on the decrease. This, coupled with the fact that the number of submarines operating has, if anything, increased, is difficult to explain. There is considerable difference of opinion as to the causes for the above. The most reasonable opinion as to the decrease in submarine losses and upon which there is the greatest degree of unanimity is as follows:-
(a) The gradual extension of the convoys system together with increased experience of both the merchant shipping and escorting craft.
(b) Increase of anti-submarine craft and constant increase of experience thereof, coupled with the more extensive use of the depth charge.
(c) Effect on enemy submarine morale from the above, and particularly, from the more extensive use of depth charges. It is wholly impossible to estimate the number of actual submarine losses caused by depth charges, but the fact that depth charges are used liberally whenever a submarine is encountered, unquestionably has a marked effect upon morale.
(d) Difficulty the enemy must be experiencing in maintaining an adequate supply of efficient torpedoes.
The convoy system unquestionably has many [dis]advantages such as delays in transit, difficulty of maintenance in bad weather, and so forth, but it has one salient advantage which, it is believed, outweighs all disadvantages, and that is the fact that it permits a much better utilization of the available anti-submarine craft, or in other works [i.e., words], allows us to concentrate the efforts of our anti-submarine craft, and forces the enemy to encounter us in order to accomplish his mission against shipping.
The number of available anti-submarine craft was wholly inadequate when shipping was dispersed, and is in fact still inadequate even for the protection of shipping in convoys, but the latter permits of much better utilization of their powers.
Another important advantage of the convoy system is the fact that the shipping is there by under constant control. It can be routed at will, while the enemy is still forced to disperse hisforces in order to intercept shipping.
The question of what the enemy’s answer will be to the convoy system is under constant consideration.
Experience with British submarines has shown clearly that submarines cannot operate effectively in company. The fact that their navigation is so difficult the moment they submerge, renders it extremely unsafe for them to operate in larger numbers than pairs, and even in pairs the British submarines have frequently come to grief.
There seems to be but one answer to the convoy system, namely, an attempt to return to high sea raiding with surface craft and “long range” submarines, and it is very important that we should be prepared for this contingency.
There is some opinion held that the enemy may attempt during the coming winter to send battle or other cruisers out on the Atlantic trade routes. The British and French Intelligence information (which is believed to be very efficient) does not support this probability, and the Force Commander does not personally believe that such a course will be profitable or will be adopted by the enemy except in so far as it can be accomplished by high sea “long range” submarines and converted raiders. The possibility, however, should be considered. The most effective measure of preparedness would seem to be that of keeping our battleships and all available armo
ured cruisers or heavily armed craft prepared to take the sea if enemy developments should appear later on to warrant such a course.
One possible enemy move would be to use the relatively smaller number of long distance submarines as scouts, relatively close to the American shores for the sole purpose of locating and tracking convoys passing the information along to raiders or other submarines held in reserve nearer to the European Coast.
It would seem important to have plans prepared and kept constantly up to date at all times with a view, if the necessity should arise of initiating an
d extensive scouting campaign or else of actually individual escort of troop and other important convoys.
It is, of course, possible at any time if a serious menace should be encountered from raiders, to entirely abandon the convoy system and revert to a plan of dispersed shipping. It is strongly believed however, that such a course would not be a sound one and that greater protection will always be afforded by holding the shipping in convoys escorted by cruisers of sufficient power.
Any individual convoy could, if the occasion demanded, be dispersed at any time. It is understood that all ships of convoys are given orders as to routes to follow in case of forced dispersal.
A reversion to a system of independent sailing such as existed before the convoy system was put in operation would again return us to a situation in which the available number of anti-submarine craft operating as patrol craft would be wholly inadequate. Escort of individual vessels would be entirely out of the question.
I understand that negotiations are now under way with the Japanese Government with a view to basing their battle cruisers and perhaps some of their light cruisers on a British port as a measure of preparedness against high sea raiding during the coming winter.
To date no feasible plan for what is generally termed a strictly offensive campaign has been developed. No such plan was seriously proposed at the recent allied naval conference.19 In the absence of such a campaign, the only effective plan is that of putting forth every effort for the adequate protection of trade. Such a plan which is now, and has been for sometime in operation seems to be the most effective and immediate means for defeating the enemy submarine campaign.
Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.
Footnote 1: The U.C.-class U-boats were specifically designed for minelaying.
Footnote 2: RAdm. William B. Fletcher, Commander, United States Patrol Squadrons Operating in European Waters.
Footnote 3: RAdm. Henry B. Wilson, Commander, United States Patro Squdron Based at Gibraltar.
Footnote 4: See: Wilson to Sims, 25 August 1917.
Footnote 5: RAdm. Sir Heathcoat S. Grant.
Footnote 6: See: Grant to British Admiralty, 7 August 1917.
Footnote 7: A receiving ship is a vessel – usually one too old or damaged for any other purpose – that is kept stationed in a distant port to house incoming fresh sailors while they are being distributed amongst the fleet.
Footnote 8: Adm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet.
Footnote 9: Commo. Guy R. Gaunt.
Footnote 10: VAdm. Sir Montague E. Browning, Commander, North America and West Indies Station.
Footnote 11: VAdm. Sir Lewis Bayly.
Footnote 12: See: War Diary, Tucker, 2 September 1917.
Footnote 13: See: Pringle to Sims, 5 September 1917, Sims to Daniels, 11 September 1917, and Pringle to Sims, 13 September 1917.
Footnote 14: According to a newspaper report at the time, a Cork laborer, Fred Plummer, was killed when struck by an American sailor with a closed fist, “his head hitting the concrete flagged footpath of the beach.” Plummer was taken to the hospital where he died of a “fractured skull.” The incident reportedly “has added to tensions in Queenstown where there have been a number of disturbances involving American sailors and local civilians.” http://www.rte.ie/centuryireland/index.php/articles/man-dies-in-cork-after-fight-with-american-sailor. Consulted 30 August 2017.
Footnote 15: Sinn Fein was an Irish nationalist society dedicated to securing Ireland’s independence from Great Britain.
Footnote 16: Bishop Robert Browne.
Footnote 17: Chief Carpenter McCall Pate. See also: Pringle to Sims, 13 September 1917.
Footnote 18: Lt. Paul H. Bastedo, a member of Sims' staff.
Footnote 19: For more on the naval conference, see: Mayo to Daniels, 5 September 1917.