Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Captain Reginald R. Belknap, Commander, Mine Squadron One and Chief of Staff, Mine Force, to Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations

UNITED STATES NAVAL FORCES OPERATING IN EUROPEAN WATERS

Personal    MINE FORCE, UNITED STATES ATLANTIC FLEET

MINE SQUADRON ONE

U.S.S. SAN FRANCISCO, Flagship

Base Eighteen. [Inverness, Scotland]

13 September 1918.

My dear Admiral:-

              I have just heard there is a possibility of ordering the BALTIMORE home to carry on some experimental work in mining. Admiral Strauss1 told me this morning, saying how much he hoped it would not be done, and I venture to add my own expression. It is largely due to the spirit and standard of the SAN FRANCISCO and BALTIMORE that we owe our good performance. The presence of these two ships has had a most stimulating and sustaining effect on the others, enabling the squadron to do what could not be attempted with less efficient crews. The BALTIMORE carries only 180 mines, but these stretch over nine miles; and even without any she is valuable for other purposes, in the course of a mining excursion. Her seasoned personnel, and her equipment and ability as a regular man-of-war enable her to be employed freely where one of the other ships would have to be favored, in guiding, observing, using her extra speed, and making navigational connections with and from mine fields. It would be a great handicap to take her away, especially as the period of darkness lengthens and the weather becomes less favorable; still more if we go into operations in waters unfamiliar.2 Briefly, one wing looks to her, the other to SAN FRANCISCO. We need both wing leaders.

               When I left the Department, the DUBUQUE was still in material condition to be used as a mine experimental ship and from my experience with her I believe she could do all that is wanted in that line.3

              I have many times wished you might witness one of these mining excursions, which are exhilarating as a sport and incidentally interesting and satisfactory to a naval officer, as a tactical and seamanlike offensive achievement. There has not been much talk about this Force, and the papers frequently refer to and picture the great barrage of mines planted by the British; but that doesn’t worry us much. The truth will come out; meantime we are quite busy making the facts. It is quite the most engrossing of any work I ever had, and I find it just possible to keep abreast of the work. The spirit throughout is admirable, and the men make a fine showing, in person as well as in their ships’ accomplishment.

              For a parade and review this forenoon from five ships, six companies turned out as fresh, clean, upstanding, and trim as any I ever saw, although it was their first exercise of the kind and on short notice.

              With kindest regards to Mrs. Benson, and remembrance to Pratt, Admiral McKean,4 who I am very glad to hear is going back, and to the others in the Office, I remain <in all which Butler|5| joins,>

Respectfully yours,

RRBelknap

Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, William S. Benson Papers, Box 9. Addressed below close: “Admiral W. S. Benson, U.S.N./Chief of Naval Operations,/Navy Department,/Washington, D.C.” The heading for this letter is part of the printed stationary it was typed on.

Footnote 1: RAdm. Joseph Strauss, Commander, Mine Force, Atlantic Fleet.

Footnote 2: Despite Belknap’s plea, BALTIMORE departed for the United States on 28 September. DANFS. See also: Benson to Sims, 13 September 1918.

Footnote 3: The gunboat DUBUQUE was operating out of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands at this time, patrolling for submarines in the Caribbean Sea along the Latin American coast. After this, it was assigned to the U.S. coast and never went to Europe. DANFS.

Footnote 4: Capt. William V. Pratt, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations and RAdm. Josiah S. McKean, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 5: Capt. Henry V. Butler was Belknap’s chief of staff.

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