Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

[Extract]

U.S. NAVAL FORCES OPERATING IN EUROPEAN WATERS

U.S.S. MELVILLE, FLAGSHIP,

TELEPHONE, VICTORIA 9110           30, GROSVENOR GARDENS

CABLE ADDRESS “SIMSADUS”           LONDON S.W.1

REFERENCE No.

September 19th, 1918    

FROM:     Force Commander

TO:       Secretary of the Navy (Operations)

SUBJECT:  General Report.

     1.   ENEMY SUBMARINE OPERATIONS

August 25th – 31st

          During the week August 25 – 31 it is estimated that seventeen submarines of a type which operate outside North Sea waters have been out included in this number being five ‘cruisers’; one converted ‘Deutschland’, one improved type, and one new class minelayer off the North American coast; one converted ‘Deutschland’ in the vicinity of the Azores; and one new class minelayer outward bound. A ‘U’ type submarine was also operating off the Azores.

          The remaining large boats have been working mainly in the Irish Sea, and its southern approaches, and in the western approaches to the English Channel, and these areas and the north-east coast of England have been the chief spheres of activity.

          The following table gives the estimated distribution in Atlantic Waters and North Sea:-

Area

Average number of submarines in area per day.

North Sea, south of 53° 30’ N.

-

North Sea, north of 53° 30’ N.

4 – 6

S.W. of Ireland.

1 – 2

Atlantic, north of Finisterre

1 - 2

Atlantic, south of Finisterre

1 – 2

Atlantic, Western.

3

N.W.of Ireland and Scotland

3 – 4

Irish Sea, north of 54°

1

Irish Sea, south of 54°

1

Irish Sea, Bristol Channel

1

English Channel, Approaches.

1

English Channel, W. of Lyme Regis

   1(?)

English Channel, E. of Lyme Regis

1

Bay of Biscay

-

Total

19 - 25

 

September 1 – 7

          During the past week there has again been a formidable concentration of enemy submarines off the approaches to the Irish Sea, English Channel and Bay of Biscay.

          In the North Sea and East Coast of England there have been the usual number of U.B. and U.C. boats, probably four in all, with one steamer to their credit. To the North of Scotland and Ireland three boats at least have been on passage. There appears to have been one boat operating in the North Channel without success.

          Two boats have been on passage through the Irish Sea. One of these, which was proceeding South, torpedoed three ships in the British Channel, and it is probable that this same boat torpedoed the PERSIC off Lands End on the 7th. There have been three small steamers sunk on the Cornish Coast during the week by the two above mentioned submarines.

          Across the convoy lanes to the Channel and Brest there were four boats operating during the first part of the week and six during the last two days. These boats have been cruising between latitude 50 and 46 North and 13 and 8 West, though one of them entered the Channel and torpedoed the S.S. WAR FIRTH south of Falmouth, being himself depth charged soon after by the U.S.S. CHESTER without result.

          The U.S.S.MOUNTVERNON had the misfortune to run into the middle of this concentration, which has turned North unexpectedly, and was torpedoed, but returned to Brest under her own steam. A new type of U-mine layer passed through this area, probably to lay mines in the neighborhood of the Gironde River.

          There has been a Flanders boat operating off Cape Vincent, with four small vessels to her credit, but she is now on her way home.

          The U type submarine that was operating off the Portuguese Coast during the week ending August 31st has returned North, well out to sea, homeward bound.

          The converted mercantile cruiser in the Canary area is still there.

     The three large submarines that have been operating off the American Coast are homeward bound, in the neighborhood of Latitude 50 and Longitude 30, and as far as is known no others are outward bound to take their places.

          Three or four ships have been sunk in the Mediterranean, where there appear to be five submarines operating.

          The tonnage sunk was again below average, i.e. 42,000 tons approximately.

ATTACKS UPON ENEMY SUBMARINES

          During the week August 25 – 31 reports of 36 engagements have been received by the British Admiralty as follows:-

4 by T.B.D’s [i.e., Torpedo Boat Destroyers]

3 by “P” class vessels.

12 by auxiliary patrol.

1 by submarine chaser

1 by sloop.

1 by submarine

11 by aircraft

2 by merchant vessels.

1 by detector minefield.

          The following reports of action of U.S.Naval Forces with submarines have been received.

September 5.   Submarine was sighted on surface by U.S.S. CHESTER 1 a.m. 200° thirty-eight miles from the Lizard. Attempt was made to ram her, but missed by twenty feet; submarine fired a torpedo and submerged. The CHESTER passed right over submarine, dropped four depth charges which possibly damaged her.

September 6. U.S.S.PARKER attacked submarine in 45.08 N 09.02 W with depth charges. Submarine continued to operate.

          Consul Oporto1 reports that a submarine was sighted off Avernes on 5th September. Four bombs were dropped by French hydroplane. Shortly afterwards it was fired at by a French Patrol vessel. Submarine went down in smoke but it is uncertain whether it was destroyed.

          Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean2 reports that at 10.7.a.m. 5th September H.M.S. WITBY ABBEY dropped depth charges on submarine in a position 220° five miles from Gallipoli and states that submarine was believed to be sunk.

     2.   ENEMY MINE LAYING

August 25 – 31

          No activity was experienced during the week August 25-31 and there was nothing of interest to record. Total number of mines destroyed eighteen. During the five weeks ending August 31 a total of 175 enemy moored mines were destroyed in British mine-sweeping areas as follows;

161 Atlantic.

14 Abroad.

During this period the loss of mine-sweepers and patrols by mines was one; British merchant ships nil.

     3.   ATTACKS ON MERCHANT VESSELS

August 25-31

          There is attached Annex “A” a list of vessels over 500 tons sunk during the week;3 also a list of vessels sunk in the previous week not previously reported. The tonnage losses this week show considerable reduction from the week ending August 24, although the tonnage which arrived at or left British ports during the week showed an increase over the previous week.

          The following table compares the percentage of tonnage of losses to tonnage of sailings for this and previous weeks, of Merchant vessels which arrived at or left United Kingdom ports.

United Kingdom Trade.

Week ending August 24.

Week ending August 31.

Overseas

.48

.90

Cross-Channel

.07

.07

Coasting

.17

.06

Total

.90

.39

          The following table compares for this and previous weeks sailings, losses and percentage of losses of British and Foreign Merchant vessels sailing in convoy completing voyages during the week; total through August 31 also given.

Sailing in Convoys.

Week ending August 24.

Week ending August 31

Total through August 31

Number of ships

1380

1488

68,916

Losses

7

5

296

Percentage of Losses

.507

.326

.574

          The loss of five ships in convoy during the week ending August 31 were as follows:-

Three in the “Atlantic Homeward” convoy

One “Outward from Devonport”.

One in the “Nile-Malta” Convoy. . . .

     5.   MISCELLANEOUS ITEMS.

          During the month of June 1918 the total number of merchant vessels arriving at or leaving French ports was 10,305, as follows:-

Channel Ports  6,820

Atlantic Ports 3,109

Western Mediterranean 1,316. . . .

          Germany has not yet shown any intention of giving way to Spain on the question of the immunity of Spanish shipping in the barred zones, and is attempting to negotiate by offering greater facilities in the issue of safe-conducts, and other evasive measures. The recent announcement of the Allies as to dealing with vessels holding these safe-conducts will undoubtedly embarrass Germany in this matter, and it is believed that the Spanish Government will maintain a firm attitude in its decision to seize interned enemy tonnage to replace future losses.

          Meanwhile two Spanish vessels have been torpedoed in the barred zones, viz. the S.S. CARASA on 25th August, with a loss of six lives, and the ATXERI-MENDI on 29th August, but the Spanish Government has postponed decisive action until complete reports on these losses are obtained.

          On 31st August the H.M.Cruiser ENDYMION was torpedoed whilst at anchor inside the nets at Stavros. Five compartments of the port “blister” were flooded, but an even keel was restored by the flooding of the starboard “blister”. Two men are missing. The attacking submarine was engaged by bombs and gunfire, and it believed to have been damaged. . . .

     6.   FORCES BASED ON QUEENSTOWN

VESSELS AVAILABLE FOR ANY SERVICE

          All vessels were available for any service , with following exceptions and comments.

WILKES-    Testing listening devices off Plymouth

SHAW

STEVENS – Injured blading of first stage starboard W.B.turbine and thrust bearing so badly scored that it had to be ground in place. One row of blades removed. Returned to service.

STERRETT – Completed refit on 3 September. Now in Service.

AYLWIN – Operating this Base. Will return Plymouth on arrival WILKES at this base.

PARKER – Based on Plymouth

CALDWELL – Now operating this Base on one engine, after section of pinion intermediate gears and main gear are being manufactured by Cammell Lairds. Estimated date of completion 12 October. Available for any service up to 18 knots.

DUNCAN – Estimated date of completion of repairs to bow 28 September.

MANLEY – Date of completion latter part of October.

BEALE – Commenced overhaul on 4 September.

OPERATIONS

          During the week this force accomplished escort of four convoys and the MAURETANIA, in the case of the convoys, being assisted by British sloops.

          Three destroyers from this force have been selected to form a hunting group whenever their service can be spared from necessary escort duty.4

          The idea of selecting three definite destroyers is in order that the assignment and installation of listening devices may be concentrated and also in order that the Commanding Officers may co-operate together in developing the necessary tactics and a hunting doctrine.

TRAINING BARRACKS

          Five-hundred-and-five men were received and one-hundred-and-seventy-five men transferred from the Training Barracks.

          Work in connection with White Point Barracks and Ballybricken House to render them more habitable continues.

TORPEDO REPAIR STATION

          Thirty one torpedoes were overhauled and tested during the week. Eighteen torpedoes are held ready for immediate issue. Seventeen torpedoes are awaiting routine overhaul and test from destroyers.

          During the week 47 torpedoes were issued to destroyers upon which work had been performed. . . .

     7.   FRANCE

          There is attached hereto copy of report of operations from Commander, U.S.Naval Forces, France, for week ending 31st August.5

          The success of the previous week in which some six ships were sunk off the Bay of Biscay has made it seem profitable for the enemy to maintain a concentration in that area. By carefully following the position of these submarines, and routing convoys clear of them, very little loss was sustained. It is likely that concentrations will be maintained off the Bay of Biscay so long as the weather is favorable, as submarines in this area not only threaten the transport of troops and supplies to France, but the ships proceeding into the English Channel, and into the Irish Sea and Bristol Channel from the Mediterranean and South American and African Ports.

          The concentration of the enemy in the above locality since August 15 appears to have been between longitude 9 and longitude 14 with maximum intensity in about longitude 10° - 30° between latitudes 46° and 48°-30’.

          The lower limit is about latitude 46°. It is evident, as stated above, that these positions were chosen by the enemy in view of their strategical location to the various convoys. It is also to be noted, however, that the general position cannot be greatly varied without sacrificing the combined purposes mentioned.

          It is not likely that the concentration would be moved appreciably to the south’ard as this would menace only the shipping destined for French ports which would not be justifiable in view of the number of submarines which the enemy seems to be able to keep at sea. The concentration can however be readily moved at any time northward where a large volume of shipping is certain to be encountered.

          It is also to be noted that the positions above referred to are such that vessels normally making the coast at daylight must pass through the majority of the submarine area during daylight. The submarines seem to have been deployed in a general way on different meridians so that those furthest to the westward could communicate with those to the eastward as to courses being pursued by convoys sighted. There has been evidence that such communications have been exchanged.

          Full and prompt information is exchanged between this office and Admiral Wilson’s office in Brest concerning the submarine situation. By arrangement with the army we have a direct wire from the Force Commander’s office in London into Admiral Wilson’s office at Brest which if devoted to our exclusive use.

          Efforts are being made to establish telephonic communication although, from experience now between London and Havre, the efficiency of the Service even is established is questionable.

          During the winter months of last year the rough weather in and off the Bay of Biscay prevented the submarines maintaining any concentration in this area, and it is expected that similar situation will arise during the coming winter months. . . .

     14.  PLANNING SECTION

          During the week the Planning Section has been engaged in the following problems –

(a)  Joint solution with British Planning Division Battle Cruiser Raid Problem.

(b)  Plan for execution of Department’s Battle Cruiser Raid Plan as modified by telegram to date.

(c)  Joint paper with British Planning Division concerning Bulgaria and Turkey.

(d)  Review of U.S.Naval Air Policies.

(e)  Concerning design of special instruments to facilitate attack on submarine by submarine chasers.6

     15.  PERSONNEL

          A draft of about thirty men have been sent in charge of a Reserve Ensign to replace personnel from the OLYMPIA which had been used to man a Russian destroyer.7

          The Armed Guard of the LAKE OWENS recently torpedoed has been returned to the United States and the Guard of the s.s.DORA is awaiting transportation in a rest camp at Portsmouth.

          The Danish steamer ARNOLD MAERSK under charter of the Shipping Board has been held up in the Azores since July 21 on account of typhoid fever. On request of the Shipping Board Admiral Dunn8 supplied sufficient personnel to permit this ship to sail for Norfolk on 31st August, 1918.

          The s.s. GUFFY will be taken over from personnel supplied by Mining Base.

          There are now at Cardiff about thirty officers awaiting duty in taking over Lake vessels.

          Admiral Wilson has been directed to provide barrack facilities at Brest to accommodate five hundred men allocated to taking over merchant ships and arrangements are being made for barrack accommodations at Liverpool for the same purpose.

          At present no accommodations for officers or men are available at Cardiff.

          The general plan of providing nucleus crews and officers of experience in the war zone for new destroyer construction has so far progressed <s>atisfactorily. All of the August quota have been sent or are now en route.

          Ten nucleus crews for Eagle boats have been sent.

     16.  DISPOSITION OF FORCES

          The urgent need for increasing the escort forces based on Brest and Gibraltar continues as previously reported. As the harbor facilities on the French coast improve, permitting an increased movement of ships on the Army’s lines of communication, the necessity for even greater increase of escort forces will be accentuated.

          The MACHIAS has arrived at the Azores with three Canadian drifters which have reported to Admiral Dunn for operation under his command. The MACHIAS immediately sailed for New London escorting the E-1.

          The second consignment of Portuguese troops from France to Portugal will sail shortly in a British Transport routed by Admiral Wilson.

          If the winter weather and ice reduces submarine activity in the western Atlantic and causes submarine activity on this side to come closer in shore as is anticipated it is urgently recommended that the maximum number of escort ships be transferred to the forces of this command.

          The necessity for an increase in the number of tugs and barges in French ports has been covered by cable.9

          From all past experience and a review of the operations of submarines to date, it is reasonable to expect that as the winter weather approaches the submarines will be forced to operate closer in shore.

          The heavy seas and swells well out to sea render submarine operations very difficult and this fact, together with the necessity which frequently arises of seeking shelter, or at least of seeking waters such as the Irish Sea and Channel where the seas are not so heavy, has in the past, apparently kept operations closer in shore in winter time than in summer time.

          For example our destroyers report that the difference in the size of seas is marked after passing the south western point of Ireland.

          It is also reasonable to expect a marked increase in mine laying activity during the winter months.

          This from the purpose of off-setting decrease in efficiency of operations further at sea with torpedoes.

          For good reasons which it is not wise to go into in correspondence the Force Commander considers that we must to a large extent depend upon the efforts of our own vessels for operations off the French Coast. This particularly applies to mine sweeping, and hence the importance of increasing our mine sweeping force on the French coast at the earliest possible time.

     17.  ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF THE NAVY AND PRINCE AXEL OF DENMARK

          The Assistant Secretary of the Navy10 in company with Prince Axel of Denmark and their respective staffs were given passage from Plymouth to Brest on a British destroyer and sailed on the LEVIATHAN.

          Commander Kerrick U.S.N. en route home for new destroyer was detailed as a special aide to Prince Axel.

     18.  OPERATIONS – SUB CHASERS

DETACHMENT ONE (Plymouth)

During the week chasers of this detachment have been kept

(a) With PARKER and WILKES in area lat.47°-49° N. long. 9°-12° W.

(b) Near Lands End in the Channel and

(c) Off the Lizard.

          The week has been a most active one, and two very excellent attacks have been made by these chasers. One of these hunts is still in progress, having been underway at last report about twenty hours.

          The PARKER with one group sighted an enemy submarine on September 2nd. The PARKER attacked with depth charges, after which the chasers made sound contact, and chased for two hours. At the end of that time they had closed to 200 yds. when they delivered a depth charge attack. After the attack the submarine was not again heard, and the chasers left the vicinity in pursuit of what proved to be a false scent. They then attempted to return to point of attack but were unable to definitely locate it. The U-53 was in the position of the attack lat.47°-58 N. long. 9° 02’ W. and is believed to have been the submarine attacked. Chaser units have been kept in this area throughout the week, reliefs going via Brest Penzance for fuel.

          Some of the chasers were unable to remain more than two days in the search area, and in one case only 24 hours. The reports indicate that the chasers cannot operate advantageously so far from base. The distance from nearest fueling point being close to 200 miles. This makes about 400 miles for going and coming leaving only about 300 miles cruising radius for the search area.

          The PARKER assisted in escorting the MOUNT VERNON into Brest, where she refueled and during the coming week will operate with two units of chasers in above area.

          The Chaser Units near Lands End on September 6th gained sound contact with enemy submarine, the sound indicating that the submarine’s engines were damaged. An attack was delivered after which sound contact was regained and engines seemed more damaged. Very easy to follow. Second attack delivered.

          During second attack S.C.226 was badly damaged, the depth charge (U.S.type) landing well forward, and being set for shallow depth exploded near stern completely wrecking engines. No one injured. Chaser towed to Base 27 [Plymouth, England]. Third attack was made by remaining chasers. No visible results from first two attacks. Report not received regarding result third attack. Hunt continuing. Some chasers had to go to Penzance to renew depth charge supply.

          Gunnery Training has been carried out in Whitson Bay with chasers available.

          An oil patch was bombed under direction of an airship the SS Z-49 on August 27th.

          Ports in Plymouth area have been visited.

          Outgoing convoys have been screened by the chasers of this detachment.

          S.C.85 rescued the crew of airship SSI-49 which had its back broken and had fallen into the sea near Eddystone.

          Three chasers were decked at Devonport yard. . . .

     25.  MR.GOMPERS AND LABOR MISSION

          During the week a visit of inspection to the Grand Fleet and particularly to the U.S.Battleships with the Grand Fleet was arranged for Mr. Gompers11 and the party accompanying him. Mr. Gompers and one other member of the party were entertained at luncheon by Admiral Beatty, the remainder of the party having luncheon on the NEW YORK with Admiral Rodman.12

          The entire party made a thorough inspection of the NEW YORK and were then given a sight-seeing trip in a boat throughout the Grand Fleet.

          I would again urge that the State Department be influenced to give the American Embassy here an allowance for the purpose of entertaining distinguished visitors during the war. At present the financial burden is largely falling on the Navy assisted to some extent by the Army.

Wm.S. Sims.

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.

Footnote 1: Samuel H. Wiley, Consul, United States Consulate, Oporto, Portugal.

Footnote 2: RAdm. Albert P. Niblack.

Footnote 3: The attachment was not included with this copy.

Footnote 4: For more on this hunt, see: Sims to Brown, 21 September 1918.

Footnote 5: RAdm. Henry B. Wilson’s report was not attached to this copy and has not been transcribed separately. For an example of these reports, however, see: Wilson to Sims, 25 August 1918.

Footnote 6: For copies of the various memoranda that Sims’ Planning Section prepared, see, American Naval Planning Section London.

Footnote 7: At this time, OLYMPIA was stationed in Murmansk as the flagship for American forces operating in Russia.

Footnote 8: RAdm. Herbert O. Dunn, Commander, Azores Detachment.

Footnote 10: Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Footnote 11: Samuel M. Gompers, President, American Federation of Labor, and Chairman, Labor Advisory Board, Council of National Defense.

Footnote 12: Adm. Sir David Beatty, Commander, British Grand Fleet; and RAdm. Hugh Rodman, Commander, Battleship Division Nine, which was attached to the Grand Fleet as the Sixth Battle Squadron.

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