MoboReader > Literature > The Crisis of the Naval War

   Chapter 6 THE ENTRY OF THE UNITED STATES; OUR NAVAL POLICY EXPLAINED

The Crisis of the Naval War By John Rushworth Jellicoe Characters: 49567

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The entry of the United States of America into the war in April, 1917, had an important although not an immediate effect upon our Naval policy. That the effect was not immediate was due to the fact that the United States Navy was at the time indifferently provided with the particular classes of vessels which were so greatly needed for submarine warfare, viz. destroyers and other small surface craft, submarines and light cruisers; further, the United States mercantile fleet did not include any considerable number of small craft which could be usefully employed for patrol and escort duty. The armed forces of the United States of America were also poorly equipped with aircraft, and had none available for Naval work. According to our knowledge at the time the United States Navy, in April, 1917, possessed twenty-three large and about twenty-four small destroyers, some of which were unfit to cross the Atlantic; there were about twelve submarines capable of working overseas, but not well suited for anti-submarine work, and only three light cruisers of the "Chester" class. On the other hand about seven armoured cruisers were available in Atlantic waters for convoy duties, and the Navy included a fine force of battleships, of which fourteen were in full commission in April.

At first, therefore, it was clear that the assistance which could be given to the Allied Navies would be but slight even if all available destroyers were sent to European waters. This was, presumably, well known to the members of the German Naval Staff, and possibly explains their view that the entry of the United States of America would be of little help to the Allied cause. The Germans did not, however, make sufficient allowance for the productive power of the United States, and perhaps also it was thought in Germany that public opinion in the United States would not allow the Navy Department to send over to European waters such destroyers and other vessels of value in anti-submarine warfare as were available at once or would be available as time progressed. The German Staff may have had in mind the situation during the Spanish-American War when the fact of Admiral Cervera's weak and inefficient squadron being at large was sufficient to affect adversely the naval strategy of the United States to a considerable extent and to paralyze the work of the United States Navy in an offensive direction.

Very fortunately for the Allied cause a most distinguished officer of the United States Navy, Vice-Admiral W.S. Sims, came to this country to report on the situation and to command such forces as were sent to European waters. Admiral Sims, in his earlier career before reaching the flag list, was a gunnery officer of the very first rank. He had assimilated the ideas of Sir Percy Scott of our own Navy, who had revolutionized British naval gunnery, and he had succeeded, in his position as Inspector of Target Practice in the United States Navy, in producing a very marked increase in gunnery efficiency. Later when in command, first of a battleship, then of the destroyer flotillas, and finally as head of the United States Naval War College, his close study of naval strategy and tactics had peculiarly fitted him for the important post for which he was selected, and he not only held the soundest views on such subjects himself, but was able, by dint of the tact and persuasive eloquence that had carried him successfully through his gunnery difficulties, to impress his views on others.

Admiral Sims, from the first moment of his arrival in this country, was in the closest touch with the Admiralty in general and with myself in particular. His earliest question to me was as to the direction in which the United States Navy could afford assistance to the Allied cause. My reply was that the first essential was the dispatch to European waters of every available destroyer, trawler, yacht, tug and other small craft of sufficient speed to deal with submarines, other vessels of these classes following as fast as they could be produced; further that submarines and light cruisers would also be of great value as they became available. Admiral Sims responded wholeheartedly to my requests. He urged the Navy Department with all his force to send these vessels and send them quickly. He frequently telegraphed to the United States figures showing the tonnage of merchant ships being sunk week by week in order to impress on the Navy Department and Government the great urgency of the situation. I furnished him with figures which even we ourselves were not publishing, as I felt that nothing but the knowledge given by these figures could impress those who were removed by 3,000 miles of sea from the scene of a Naval war unique in many of its features.

Meanwhile the British Naval Commander-in-Chief in North American waters, Vice-Admiral Sir Montague Browning, had been directed to confer with the United States Navy Department and to point out our immediate requirements and explain the general situation.

On April 6 the United States declared war on Germany. On April 13 we received information from Washington that the Navy Department was arranging to co-operate with our forces for the protection of trade in the West Atlantic should any enemy raiders escape from the North Sea, that six United States destroyers would be sent to European waters in the immediate future, and that the United States would undertake the protection of trade on the west coast of Canada and North America as well as in the Gulf of Mexico. It was further indicated that the number of United States destroyers for European waters would be increased at an early date. The vital importance of this latter step was being constantly urged by Admiral Sims.

When Mr. Balfour's mission left for the United States in April, Rear-Admiral Sir Dudley de Chair, the naval representative on the mission, was requested to do all in his power to impress on the United States Navy Department the very urgent necessity that existed for the immediate provision of small craft for anti-submarine operations in European waters and for the protection of trade.

He was informed that the position could not be considered satisfactory until the number of trawlers and sloops available for patrol and escort duty was greatly increased and that a total of at least another hundred destroyers was required.

It was pointed out that difficulty might arise from the natural desire of the United States Government to retain large numbers of small craft for the protection of shipping in the vicinity of the United States coast, but it was at the same time indicated that our experience showed that the number of submarines that the Germans could maintain on the western side of the Atlantic was very small, and that the real danger therefore existed in European waters.

Admiral de Chair was asked amongst other matters to emphasize the assistance which United States submarines could render on the eastern side of the Atlantic, where they would be able to undertake anti-submarine operations, and he was also directed to endeavour to obtain assistance in the production of mines, and the provision of ships for minelaying work. Great stress was, of course, laid upon the very important question of a large output of merchant ships and the necessity for repairing and putting into service the German merchant ships interned in U.S. ports was urged; directions were also given to Admiral de Chair to ascertain from Mr. Schwab, of the Bethlehem Steel Company, and other firms, to what extent they could build for the British Navy destroyers, sloops, trawlers and submarines, and the rapidity of such production.

The need for sloops was so great that I sent a personal telegram to Mr. Schwab, whose acquaintance I had made in October, 1914, on the occasion of the loss of the Audacious, begging him to build at once a hundred of these vessels to our order. I felt certain from the experience we had gained of Mr. Schwab's wonderful energy and power, as illustrated by the work accomplished by him in providing us in 1915 with ten submarines built in the extraordinarily short period of five months, that he would produce sloops at a very rapid rate and that there would be no delay in starting if he undertook the work. The drawings had already been sent over. However he was not able to undertake the work as the U.S. Government decided that his yards would all be required for their own work. This was unfortunate, as I had hoped that these vessels would have been built in from four to six months, seeing that the drawings were actually ready; they would have been invaluable in the latter part of 1917.

Whilst the mission was in the United States constant communications passed on these subjects, the heavy losses taking place in merchant ships were stated, and every effort was made to impress upon the Navy Department the urgency of the situation.

The tenor of our communications will be gathered from these quotations from a personal telegram sent by me to Admiral de Chair on April 26, viz.:

"For Rear-Admiral de Chair from First Sea Lord.

"You must emphasize most strongly to the United States authorities the very serious nature of the shipping position. We lost 55 British ships last week approximately 180,000 tons and rate of loss is not diminishing.

* * *

"Press most strongly that the number of destroyers sent to Ireland should be increased to twenty-four at once if this number is available.

"Battleships are not required but concentration on the vital question of defeat of submarine menace is essential.

"Urge on the authorities that everything should give way to the submarine menace and that by far the most important place on which to concentrate patrols is the S.W. of Ireland.

* * *

"You must keep constantly before the U.S. authorities the great gravity of the situation and the need that exists for immediate action.

"Our new methods will not be effective until July and the critical period is April to July."

It was very necessary to bring home to the United States Navy Department the need for early action. Admiral Sims informed me-as soon as he became aware of the heavy losses to merchant shipping that were taking place-that neither he nor anyone else in the United States had realized that the situation was so serious. This was, of course, largely due to the necessity which we were under of not publishing facts which would encourage the enemy or unduly depress our own people. Further, he informed me that an idea was prevalent in the United States that the morale of the German submarine crews had been completely broken by their losses in submarines. This impression was the successful result of certain action on our part taken with intent to discourage the enemy. Whatever may have been the case later in the year, we had, however, no evidence in the spring of 1917 of deterioration of morale amongst German submarine crews, nor was there any reason for such a result. It was therefore necessary to be quite frank with Admiral Sims; we knew quite well that we could not expect new measures to be effective for some few months, and we knew also that we could not afford a continuance of the heavy rate of loss experienced in April, without a serious effect being produced upon our war effort. We were certainly not in the state of panic which has been ascribed to us in certain quarters, but we did want those who were engaged in the war on the side of the Allies to understand the situation in order that they might realize the value that early naval assistance would bring to the Allied cause. There is no doubt that great difficulty must be experienced by those far removed from the theatre of war in understanding the conditions in the war zone. This was exemplified at a time when we had organized the trade in convoys and the system was showing itself effective in greatly reducing losses from submarine attack. We were pressing the United States to strengthen our escorting forces as far as possible in order to extend the convoy system, when a telegram arrived from Washington to the effect that it was considered that ships which were armed were safer when sailing singly than when in convoy. It has also been stated that the Admiralty held the view at this time that no solution of the problem created by the enemy's submarine campaign was in sight. This is incorrect. We had confidence in the measures-most of them dependent on the manufacture of material-which were in course of preparation by the time the United States entered the war, but our opinion was that there was no immediate solution beyond the provision of additional vessels for the protection of shipping, and the reason for this view was that time was required before other measures could be put into effective operation; this is evident from the final paragraph of my telegram to Admiral de Chair, dated April 26, which I have quoted.

The first division of six United States destroyers, under the command of Lieut.-Commander T.K. Taussig, arrived in British waters on May 2, and they were most welcome. It was interesting to me personally that Lieut.-Commander Taussig should be in command, as he, when a sub-lieutenant, had been wounded on the same day as myself during the Boxer campaign in China, and we had been together for some time subsequently.

At about this time our advice was sought by the United States Navy Department as to the best type of anti-submarine craft for the United States to build; on this subject a very short experience in the war theatre caused Admiral Sims to hold precisely similar views to myself. As a result of the advice tendered a great building programme of destroyers, large submarine-hunting motor launches and other small craft was embarked upon. Although the completion of these vessels was delayed considerably beyond anticipated dates, they did, in 1918, exercise an influence on the submarine war.

The Germans made one great mistake, for which we were thankful. As already mentioned, it was anticipated that they would send submarines to work off the United States coast immediately after the declaration of war by that country. Indeed we were expecting to hear of the presence of submarines in the West Atlantic throughout the whole of 1917. They did not appear there until May, 1918. The moral effect of such action in 1917 would have been very great and might possibly have led to the retention in the United States of some of the destroyers and other small craft which were of such assistance in European waters in starting the convoy system. Admiral Sims was himself, I think, anxious on this head. When the Germans did move in this direction in 1918 it was too late; it was by that time realized in the United States that the enemy could not maintain submarines in sufficient numbers in their waters to exercise any decisive effect, although the shipping losses might be considerable for a time, and consequently no large change of policy was made.

As is well known, Admiral Sims, with the consent of the United States Navy Department, placed all vessels which were dispatched to British waters under the British flag officers in whose Command they were working. This step, which at once produced unity of command, is typical of the manner in which the two navies, under the guidance of their senior officers, worked together throughout the war. The destroyers operating from Queenstown came under Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly; Captain Pringle, the senior United States officer on the spot, whose services were ever of the utmost value, was appointed as Chief of the Staff to Sir Lewis Bayly, whilst on the occasion of Sir Lewis Bayly, at my urgent suggestion, consenting to take a few days' leave in the summer of 1917, Admiral Sims, at our request, took his place at Queenstown, hoisting his flag in command of the British and United States naval forces. The relations between the officers and men of the two navies in this Command were of the happiest possible nature, and form one of the pleasantest episodes of the co-operation between the two nations. The United States officers and men very quickly realized the strong personality of the Commander-in-Chief at Queenstown, and became imbued with the same feelings of great respect and admiration for him as were held by British officers and men. Also he made the officers feel that Admiralty House, Queenstown, was their home when in port, and saw that everything possible was done for the comfort of the men. The very high standard of duty set by Sir Lewis, and very fully sustained by him, was cheerfully and willingly followed by the United States force, the personnel of which earned his warmest admiration. I think it will be agreed in years to come that the comradeship between the two navies, first initiated in the Queenstown Command, went very far towards cementing the bonds of union between the two great English-speaking nations.

This was the first step in co-operation. The next was taken when the United States Navy Department, as the result of a request made by us to Admiral Sims, sent to Gibraltar a detachment of three light cruisers and a number of revenue cutters as patrol and escort vessels, placing the whole force under the British senior naval officer at Gibraltar, Rear-Admiral Heathcote Grant. Here again the relations between the two navies were of the happiest nature. Finally, later in the year, I discussed with Admiral Sims the desirability of a small force of United States battleships being sent to reinforce the Grand Fleet.

When the project was first mentioned my object in asking for the ships was that they might relieve some of our earlier "Dreadnoughts," which at that time it was desired to use for another purpose. I discussed the matter also with Admiral Mayo, the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Atlantic Fleet, during his visit to this country in August, 1917, and with Admiral Benson, the Chief of Operations in the United States Navy Department, when he came over later in the year. Admiral Benson gave directions that four coal-burning battleships should be sent over. We were obliged to ask for coal-burning battleships instead of the more modern vessels with oil-fired boilers owing to the great shortage of oil fuel in this country and the danger of our reserves being still further depleted. These vessels, under Rear-Admiral Hugh Rodman, arrived in British waters early in December, 1917, and formed a division of the Grand Fleet. The co-operation afloat was now complete, and all that was needed was further co-operation between the British Admiralty and the United States Navy Department.

This had already formed the subject of discussions, first between Admiral Sims and myself, and later with Admirals Mayo and Benson.

During the summer of 1917 Admiral Sims had been invited to attend the daily meetings of the naval members of the operations side of the Board, an invitation which he accepted, and his co-operation was of great value; but we both felt it desirable to go a step farther, and I had suggested the extreme desirability of the United States Navy Department sending officers of experience of different ranks to work in the Admiralty, both on the operations and material side, officers upon whom the Navy Department could rely to place before us the views of the Department and to transmit their view of the situation as the result of their work and experience at the Admiralty. We had pressed strongly for the adoption of this course. Admiral Benson, after discussions, assented to it, and the officers on the material side commenced work in the Admiralty towards the end of 1917, whilst those on the operations side joined the War Staff early in 1918.

It was felt that this course would complete the co-operation between the navies of the two countries and, further, that the United States Navy Department would be kept in the closest possible touch with the British Admiralty in all respects.

It is particularly to be remembered that even before we had established this close liaison the whole of the United States naval forces in British waters had been placed under the command of British naval officers. This step, so conducive to good results owing to the unity of command which was thus obtained, won our highest admiration, showing as it did a fine spirit of self-effacement on the part of the senior American naval officers.

The visits of Admirals Mayo and Benson to this country were productive of very good results. The exchange of information which took place was most beneficial, as was the experience which the admirals gained of modern naval warfare. Moreover, the utterly baseless suggestion which had, unfortunately, found expression in some organs of the Press of the United States that we were not giving the fullest information to the Navy Department was completely disproved.

When Admiral Mayo arrived in England he informed me that the main objects of his visit as Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet were:

(1) To ascertain our present policy and plans.

(2) To inquire as to the changes, if any, that were contemplated in the immediate or more distant future.

(3) To ascertain what further assistance it was desired that the United States should provide from resources then available or likely to be soon available, and the measures that the United States should take to provide future forces and material.

Papers were prepared under my direction for Admiral Mayo giving full information of our immediate needs, of past procedure and of future plans. As to our needs, the main requests were:

(1) An increase in the number of destroyers, in order to enlarge the convoy system and to provide better protection for each convoy. An additional 55 destroyers were stated to be required for this service.

(2) An increase in the number of convoy cruisers for the same reason. The total addition of cruisers or old battleships was given as 41.

(3) An increase in the number of patrol craft, tugs, etc., for anti-submarine work.

(4) The rapid building of merchant ships.

(5) The supply of a large number of mines for the proposed barrage in the North Sea, and assistance towards laying them by the provision of United States minelaying vessels.

(6) Aircraft assistance in the shape of three large seaplane stations on the coast of Ireland, with some 36 machines at each station.

(7) The provision of four coal-burning battleships of the "Dreadnought" type to replace Grand Fleet "Dreadnought" battleships which it was desired to use for other purposes.

Admiral Mayo was informed that some 100,000 mines would be required from the Americans for forming and maintaining that portion of the North Sea Barrage which it was suggested should be laid by them, in addition to the large number that it was proposed that we ourselves should lay in the barrage, and that as the barrage would need patrolling by a large number of small craft, great help would be afforded if the United States could provide some of these vessels. It was estimated at that time that the barrage would absorb the services of some 250 small vessels in order that a sufficient number might be kept constantly on patrol.

It may be of interest to give the history of the North Sea Barrage so far as I can recollect it. Our views on such a scheme were sought by the United States Navy Department in the spring of 1917. Owing to various military circumstances, even at that time we had no prospect of obtaining mines in adequate numbers for such work for at least nine to twelve months, nor could we provide the necessary craft to patrol the barrage. Our view was that such mines as became available during the last months of 1917 would be more effective if laid nearer to the German North Sea naval bases, and in the Straits of Dover, than at such a distance from these bases as the suggestion involved. Apart from our desire to stop the submarines near their bases, the pros and cons of the scheme were as follows:

The advantages were:

(1) That, except for the difficulty of preventing the submarines from using Norwegian territorial waters for egress, a North Sea Barrage would be a menace to submarines using the Kattegat exit as well as those coming from North Sea bases.

(2) That the enemy would be unable to sweep up the minefield, owing to its distance (over 200 miles) from his bases.

The disadvantages were:

(1) The immense number of mines required-some 120,000, excluding reserves-and the improbability of producing them in Great Britain.

(2) The great depth of water in which many of them were to be moored, a depth in which no mines had ever been successfully laid before; time would be r

equired to devise arrangements that would enable the mines to be laid at such depths.

(3) The very large number of patrol craft that would be needed to force submarines to dive into that portion of the minefield which was safe for surface vessels and the difficulty of maintaining them at sea in bad North Sea weather.

(4) The difficulty of preventing egress by the submarines in Norwegian territorial waters, in which, even if mines were laid, they would have to be moored at such a depth as not to constitute a danger to vessels on the surface.

Shortly after the subject was broached to us we learned that the United States Navy had devised a mine that it was expected would be satisfactory for the purpose of the barrage. An experienced mining officer was at once sent over by us to inspect the mine and to give to the United States officers such assistance as was possible due to his great knowledge of mining under war conditions.

When he arrived in the United States the mine was still in the experimental stage, but later he reported that it promised to be successful, and in view of the great manufacturing resources in America, it appeared that a considerable proportion of the mines for the barrage could be provided by the United States Navy. Our own efforts to produce a mine suitable for very great depths were also proving successful and anticipations as to manufacture were optimistic. Accordingly plans were prepared for a barrage across the North Sea, which were given to Admiral Mayo before he left England on his return to the United States. Without seriously relaxing our mining operations in the Heligoland Bight, and without interfering with our mine barrage on the Folkestone-Grisnez line, we anticipated at this time that we could provide mines for our portion of the North Sea Barrage by the time that the United States supply of mines was in readiness to be laid.

Admiral Mayo was also furnished with papers dealing at length with our naval policy at the time and the intended future policy, both in home waters and abroad. Papers were given him relating to our air policy, to the attitude of neutral countries, to the Belgian coast problem, to the blockade, to the defence of trade (including one on the convoy system), to such subjects as the defensive armament of merchant ships with guns, smoke apparatus and mine defence gear, the instruction of the personnel in their use, and the system of issuing route instruction to merchant ships. An important statement was also supplied giving a detailed account of our anti-submarine policy, both at the time and in the future.

These papers gave the fullest information on the naval problem, and were intended to put the United States Naval Department in a position to appreciate the whole position and its many embarrassments, though we realized that these could be appreciated only by those who, like Admiral Sims, were in daily contact with the problems. It will possibly be of further interest if mention is made of some of the points to which attention was drawn.

Admiral Mayo, for instance, was informed that British naval policy was being directed in 1917, as during the remainder of the war, to exerting constant economic pressure upon the enemy with a view to forcing him to come to terms. We also endeavoured to prevent the enemy from interfering with the conduct of the war by ourselves and our Allies. In the effective pursuit of that policy the duty of the Navy involved:

(1) The protection of the sea communications of the Allied armies and the protection of British and Allied trade.

(2) The prevention of enemy trade in order to interfere with his military operations and to exert economic pressure.

(3) Resistance to invasion and raids.

It was pointed out that the question at issue in each case was the control of sea communications, and in order to attain that control permanently and completely the enemy's naval forces both above and below water had to be destroyed or effectually masked. As the weaker German Fleet not unnaturally refused decisive action and as its destruction had hitherto not been achieved, we had adopted a policy of guarding an area between our vital communications and the enemy's ports, and of guarding the areas through which the trade and transports passed; these were the only methods of frustrating attacks made either by surface vessels or by submarines which succeeded in reaching open waters. It was pointed out that a combination of these two methods had been in force during the wars of the eighteenth century, blockades being combined with the convoy system and the patrol of local areas by frigates, etc. History, in fact, was repeating itself.

We mentioned that a close blockade of the German North Sea and Baltic ports presented insuperable difficulties under the conditions of modern warfare, and the alternative of controlling the Dover and Norway-Scotland exits to the North Sea had been adopted. The former protected the communications of the armies in France, whilst the two combined covered the maritime communications of the world outside the North Sea and Baltic, and if they could be effectively guarded our first two objects would be attained.

So far as the Dover exit was concerned we stated that the narrowness of the waters, with the consequent risk to the enemy from our mines and torpedoes, had so far acted as a deterrent to his capital ships; we had to depend on the light forces at Harwich and Dover to deal with any enemy surface craft attacking the southern area from German ports.

We pointed out that the control of the Norway-Scotland exit depended upon the presence of the Grand Fleet at Rosyth or at Scapa. This fleet ensured the safety of all the vessels engaged in protecting trade and in hunting submarines outside the North Sea.

Mention was made of the fact that the enemy could not open the sea routes for his own war ships without risking a serious action, and that so far he had shown no inclination to run that risk. The Battle of Jutland having been fought in the previous year, any future movement of the High Sea Fleet into the North Sea would probably be merely with the object of drawing our capital ships into prepared areas so as to bring about a process of attrition by mines and torpedoes. Such a movement had been carried out on August 19, 1916. The reasons which had led to the adoption of the Orkney-Faroe-Iceland blockade line were also explained.

It was pointed out that in the early stages of the war, the foregoing general dispositions had sufficed to protect the Allies' communications and to throttle those of the enemy outside the Baltic. Although enemy cruisers in foreign waters and a few raiding vessels which had evaded the blockade had inflicted losses on trade, losses from such causes could not reach really serious proportions so long as the enemy trusted to evasion and refused to face the Grand Fleet. The danger of serious loss from attack by raiding surface craft had also been greatly minimized by the adoption of the convoy system. But as the enemy's submarines increased in size, efficiency and numbers, the situation had been modified, for evasion by submarines of the command exercised by the Grand Fleet was easy, and our vital sea communications could be attacked by them without the risk of a fleet action.

So far as the protection of trade was concerned, the effect therefore of the submarine campaign had been to remove the barrier established by the Grand Fleet and to transfer operations to the focal areas and approach routes.

As the situation developed, a policy of dealing with the submarines by armed patrol craft and decoy ships in these areas had therefore been put into force. Merchant ships had been armed as rapidly as possible, and in addition efforts had been made to intercept the submarines en route to these areas both in the vicinity of German waters and farther afield.

The great area covered by the approach routes and the increasing radius of submarine operations had made the provision of a sufficient number of patrol vessels a practical impossibility and had led to a general adoption of the convoy system as rapidly as the supply of fast small craft made this possible.

The methods of attacking German submarines before they could reach open waters, by extensive mining in the Heligoland Bight, with the exception of Dutch and Danish territorial waters, were also mentioned.

As regards future naval policy it was pointed out that the enemy submarine campaign was the dominating factor to such an extent that any sustained increase in the then rate of sinking merchant ships might eventually prove disastrous.

Mention was made of the fact that the enemy was still producing submarines faster than the Allies were destroying them; the policy of coping with submarines after they reached the open sea had not as yet been sufficiently effective to balance construction against losses, even in combination with the extensive minefields laid in the Heligoland Bight.

The future policy was therefore being directed towards an attempt at a still more concentrated and effective control in the areas between the enemy's ports and our trade routes, and it was proposed to form some description of block or barrage through which the enemy submarines would not be able to pass without considerable risk. Four forms had been considered:

(1) A method of blocking either mechanically or by mines all the exits of the submarines from their North Sea or Baltic bases.

(2) A barrage of mines at different depths, from near the surface of the sea to near the bottom.

(3) A combination of deep mines with a patrolling force of surface craft and aircraft whose object would be to force the submarines under the surface into the minefield.

(4) A force of surface craft and aircraft patrolling an area of sufficient extent to prevent submarines coming to the surface to recharge their batteries during the hours of darkness.

Admiral Mayo was informed that in our opinion the first scheme as given above, viz. that of absolutely sealing the exits, was the only radical cure for the evil, but that there were very great difficulties to be overcome before such an operation could be successfully carried out. He was shown the plan that had been prepared for a mechanical block of all the enemy North Sea bases, and he entirely concurred in the impracticability of carrying it out. Such a plan had been advocated by some officers and by other people; it was, of course, most attractive in theory and appealed strongly to those who looked at the question superficially. When, however, a definite operation came to be worked out in detail the difficulties became very apparent, and even enthusiastic supporters of the idea were forced to change their views. It was not a matter for surprise to me that the idea of sealing the exits from submarine bases was urged by so many people on both sides of the Atlantic. It was, of course, the obvious counter to the submarine campaign, and it appealed with force to that considerable section which feels vaguely, and rightly, that offensive action is needed, without being quite so clear as to the means by which it is to be carried out.

In this particular case I informed the clever and able officers to whom the planning of the operation was entrusted that they were to proceed on the assumption that we intended to seal the enemy's ports somehow, and that they were to devise the best possible scheme, drawing up all the necessary orders for the operations. This was done in the most complete detail and with great care and ingenuity, but at the end there was no difference of opinion whatever as to the inadvisability of proceeding with the operations.

It is to be observed in connexion with this question that sealing the North Sea bases would not have been a complete cure, since submarines could still make their exit via the Kattegat, where we could not block channels without violating the neutrality of other nations.

The final conclusion arrived at was to use a combination of the last three alternatives provided that a satisfactory type of mine could be produced in sufficient numbers and a sufficient supply of small craft provided by ourselves and the United States.

Full details were given to Admiral Mayo of the proposed North Sea Barrage on a line totalling 230 miles in length, which was divided into three parts, Areas A, B and C, of which Area A only would be dangerous to surface vessels.

It was estimated that Area A would require 36,300 mines, and it was proposed that this area should be mined by the United States forces with United States mines.

It was proposed that the British should mine Area B, the requirements being 67,500 mines, and that the United States should mine Area C, for which 18,000 United States mines would be required.

The reasons governing the selection of the mine barrage area were fully given, and the advantages arising from the use of the United States pattern of mine instead of the British mine for Areas A and C were stated.

Admiral Mayo was also informed of our intention to establish a mine barrage in the Channel, on the Folkestone-Grisnez line, as soon as mines were available, with a strong force of patrol vessels stationed there, whose duty it would be to compel enemy submarines to dive into the minefield. He was further made acquainted with our intended policy of still closer minelaying in the Heligoland Bight.

Although Admiral Mayo was not actually informed of the details of the future policy which it was hoped to adopt in the Adriatic for the improvement of the Otranto Barrage, various schemes were at the time being worked out between the British, French and Italian Admiralties, having as their object the prevention or obstruction of the exit of enemy submarines from the Adriatic, in the same way as it was hoped to obstruct German submarines from making their exit from the North Sea without incurring heavy losses. The great depth of water in the southern part of the Adriatic constituted the main difficulty facing us in the solution of this problem. In August, 1917, it was, however, definitely decided to establish a barrage of nets and mines across the Straits of Otranto, and the work was put in hand. This became effective during 1918.

The paper on Naval Air Policy showed the aim of the Admiralty to be:

To provide in sufficient numbers a type of airship which would be able to scout with the Grand Fleet, and, in this respect, to perform the duty of light cruisers. Airship stations had been established on the East Coast for this purpose.

To provide also a type of airship for coastal patrol work and for the escort of merchant ships in convoy. For these airships stations had been established on the East, South and West Coasts and at Scapa.

To provide a sufficient supply of kite balloons for the work of the Grand Fleet. Fleet kite balloon stations had already been established at Rosyth and Scapa, and the resources of the latter station were supplemented by a kite balloon ship. It was intended also to provide kite balloons for flotillas or single vessels engaged in submarine hunting or in convoy work. A large number of kite balloon stations for anti-submarine work had been or were being established round the coast for this work.

As to the future programme of rigid airships, Admiral Mayo was told that it was under consideration to construct three new rigid stations, also that three new stations for the use of non-rigids for anti-submarine work were to be established, while it was also proposed to provide sufficient resources to allow of a number of kite balloons being worked in vessels between the North of Scotland and Norway and to the eastward of the English Channel.

Admiral Mayo was also informed that it was proposed to provide sufficient "heavier than air" craft of various types for the Fleet, both to insure adequate air reconnaissance and to drive off hostile aircraft. The Grand Fleet was at the time already provided with three seaplane carriers, and the Furious and other special vessels were being fitted to carry aircraft. Many of the armoured vessels and light cruisers of the Fleet had also been fitted to carry aircraft, whilst the Harwich light cruiser force possessed one seaplane carrier; two carriers were devoted to anti-submarine work, and three were employed in the Mediterranean.

It was further stated that machines for naval reconnaissance were working from several East Coast stations, and that lighters to carry seaplanes for more extended reconnaissance and offensive work were under construction. The work carried out by our naval aircraft off the Belgian coast, comprising the duty of keeping the coast under constant observation, of spotting the gunfire of ships, of fighting aircraft and bombing objectives of importance, were also mentioned, as well as the work in the Mediterranean, where there were four bases in the Aegean.

The extensive anti-submarine patrol work round the British Isles and in the Mediterranean was touched upon, there being "heavier than air" stations at the time at

Houton Bay.

Dundee.

South Shields.

Bembridge.

Calshot.

Portland.

Killingholme.

Yarmouth.

Felixstowe.

Westgate.

Dover.

Newhaven.

Cherbourg.

Plymouth.

Newlyn.

Scilly.

Fishguard.

Steps were being taken to extend the number of stations as soon as possible, the new programme including stations at such places as

Padstow.

Wexford.

Queenstown.

Berehaven.

Loch Foyle.

Loch Ryan (or in the Hebrides).

Shetlands.

Peterhead.

In the event of the United States being in a position to co-operate in the work, it was recommended that the three main seaplane stations in Ireland should be taken over by the Americans, and equipped, manned and controlled entirely by United States personnel.

In regard to the convoy system a full description of the whole organization was given, with the results up to date, and details of the vessels available and still needed for its protection.

Full information was afforded on the subject of the arming of merchant ships and fitting other defensive measures to them, and the routeing system in use for merchant ships was described in detail.

In the remarks on our anti-submarine warfare it was pointed out that anti-submarine measures were carried out both on the surface, under water, and in the air.

The surface measures were described as follows:

In twelve of the twenty-two areas into which the waters round the United Kingdom were divided, regular hunting flotillas were at work, comprising trawlers and motor launches fitted with hydrophones. Before the institution of the convoy system a few fast vessels, such as destroyers or "P" boats, had been formed into hunting flotillas, but the convoy work had necessitated the withdrawal of all these vessels, and the work of the flotillas had suffered in consequence, the speed of trawlers being too slow to offer the same prospect of success in such anti-submarine measures. The flotillas of motor launches which had been formed were of considerable utility in fine weather, but they could only operate in comparatively smooth water.

At the time of Admiral Mayo's visit a force of thirty-two trawlers to work with about six sloops or destroyers was being organized as vessels became available, to operate in the North Sea with a view to engaging enemy submarines on passage in those waters.

It was also pointed out to Admiral Mayo that the coast patrol vessels which were not actually in the hunting flotillas were all engaged in anti-submarine work and did frequently come into action against the German submarines.

Finally Admiral Mayo was informed that the convoy system itself was looked upon as an offensive measure since the German submarines would, in order to attack vessels under convoy, be forced into contact with the fast craft engaged in the work of escort and thus place themselves in positions in which they could themselves be successfully attacked.

Admiral Mayo, during his stay in European waters, inspected some of our naval bases and paid a visit to the Grand Fleet.

He crossed to France in order that he might see the work being carried out at French ports by vessels of the United States Navy, and while returning from this visit he honoured the British Navy by accompanying Sir Reginald Bacon and myself in H.M.S. Broke to witness a bombardment of Ostend by the monitor Terror. On this occasion Admiral Mayo's flag was hoisted in the Broke and subsequently presented to him as a souvenir of the first occasion of a United States Admiral having been under fire in a British man-of-war. It is satisfactory to record that subsequent aerial photographs showed that much damage to workshops, etc., had been caused by this bombardment.

The Admiral and his Staff very quickly established themselves in the high regard of British naval officers, and it was with much regret that we witnessed their return to the United States. My own associations with the Admiral had led to a feeling of great friendship. He left behind him his Chief of Staff, Captain Jackson, who to our great regret had been seriously injured in a motor accident.

Admiral Benson's visit took place later in the year. I had written to him urging him to come across so that he might have first-hand knowledge of the state of affairs and of the policy being followed. During his visit the same questions were discussed as with Admiral Mayo, and important action was taken in the direction of closer naval co-operation between the Allies by the formation of an Allied Naval Council consisting of the Ministers of Marine and the Chiefs of the Naval Staff of the Allied Nations and of the United States. This proposal had been under discussion for some little time, and, indeed, naval conferences had been held on previous occasions. The first of these during my tenure of office at the Admiralty was on January 23 and 24, 1917, and another was held during the visit of Admiral Mayo and at the instigation of the Government of the United States on September 4 and 5, 1917. On this latter occasion important discussions had taken place, principally on the subject of submarine warfare, the methods of dealing with it in home waters and in the Mediterranean, and such matters as the provision of mercantile shipping for the use of our Allies.

There was, however, no regular council sitting at specified intervals, and it was this council which came into being in the early part of December. Its functions were to watch over the general conduct of the naval war and to insure co-ordination of the effort at sea as well as the development of all scientific operations connected with the conduct of the war.

Special emphasis was laid upon the fact that the individual responsibility of the respective Chiefs of the Naval Staff and of the Commanders-in-Chief at sea towards their Governments as regards operations in hand as well as the strategical and technical disposition of the forces placed under their command remained unchanged; this proviso was a necessity in naval warfare, and was very strongly insisted upon by the Admiralty.

The attention of the Council was directed at the earliest meetings to the situation in the Mediterranean, where naval forces from the British Empire, France, Greece, Italy, Japan and the United States were working, and where the need for close co-operation was most urgent. The real need in the Mediterranean, as was frequently pointed out, was the inclusion of the naval forces of all the Allied nations under one single command. In 1918 strong efforts were made to carry out this policy, and indeed the actual Admiralissimo was selected, but the attempt failed in the end.

Both these distinguished American officers were reminded, as indeed they must have seen for themselves, that the successful combating of the submarine danger depended largely on the manufacture of material, and that the resources of this country, with its great fleet and its large and increasing armies, were so seriously taxed that the execution of the plans of the Admiralty were being constantly and gravely delayed. The Admiralty was, indeed, seriously embarrassed by difficulties in the adequate supply of mines and other means of destroying submarines as well as of fast craft of various descriptions. The Admiralty, as was pointed out, were doing not what they would like to do, but what they could do, both in the way of offensive and defensive action. The supplies of raw material and labour controlled in large measure the character and extent of the operations at sea.

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares