NEVER in the history of the world has sea power
played so vital a part in the winning of a war; and never, in proportion to the
magnitude of the forces and operations involved, has the Navy played a part in
which its proverbial silence has been as marked as in the activities which
terminated on November 11, 1918, with the armistice between the Allied and the
The war in its naval aspects, has been a war of
negative action; a series of checkmates, by which the Allied navies secured the
seas from the interference of the grand fleets and raiding squadrons of the
enemy. But in this war the submarine, a new weapon of offensive warfare,
imposed new conditions. Relatively secure in its operations from the larger
vessels of the Allied navies, which themselves were in many instances its ready
prey, the submarine directed its activities against the troop and store ships by
which alone the men and means to prosecute the war were made possible.
To meet the preying warfare of the submarine,
the smaller and faster vessels of our Navy were required in European waters, to
assure the safe and uninterrupted passage of our “bridge of ships." It is
not the purpose of this narrative to deal with the operations of the United
States Naval Forces in English waters or in the Mediterranean. In
the north, the concerted action with the British Navy, and in the south the
cooperation with the navies of France and
developed operations of which it is impossible at this early date to secure
even casual data.
Of the activities of the United States Naval
Forces in France, it
is possible, however, to obtain more definite information, due primarily to the
fact that these operations were more sharply defined and more distinctly our
own. To keep open the western coast of France was
a task of the most vital importance, involving a large and capable organization
and the utmost secrecy of operation.
Due to this necessity for secrecy, little has
been known of the work of our Navy on the French coast. To the majority of the
American people our men and stores have been transported with a miraculous
freedom from disaster, but the means by which this security has been attained
have been unknown.
In no sense is this volume offered as a history
of the United States Naval Forces in France,
for a historic record of those splendid activities would require a study of the
complete operations which is at the present time impossible. Rather, it is the
present purpose to afford, by a few side lights on these activities of sixteen
months, a general view of the field and an impression of the nature of the work
involved. By these, our most recent operations in the world's most historic
waters, the forces of the Navy not only secured the desired safe passage of our
troop and store ships but by their cooperation with the French Naval Forces and
their association with the people of the French nation, on land as on the sea,
established a sentiment of mutual affection and esteem more permanent than can
be obtained by treaties or the written word.
More than the United
States can ever
realize, does it owe to those who directed our naval operations in French
waters, a gratitude for past performance and for future promise.
Brest, France, December 2, 1918.
By Franklin D.
Secretary of the Navy
THE Navy was known during the war as the
"Silent Service." Little appeared in official dispatches or in the
public press regarding the operations of the United States Naval Forces either
in Europe or on our own
coast. In fact, in only a handful of instances, where a transport was torpedoed
or where an enemy submarine was definitely accounted for, was any mention made
of our naval work. Generally speaking, the people at home knew only that their
Navy was successfully manning the transports and escorting the troops,
munitions, and supplies in safety to the shores of France.
How very much more these operations involved is
only now coming out. On our entrance into the Great War in the spring of 1917,
steps were immediately taken by the Navy Department to build up an organization
to be based on the French coast, primarily for the purpose of keeping the famous
"Neck of the Bottle" as free as possible from German submarines. The
distance from Bordeaux to Brest is
a comparatively small one, and almost every ship entering the French ports from
the United States
had, of necessity, to pass through a narrow strip of sea. This small area had
proved a famous hunting ground for enemy submarines, and it became our obvious
task to send over every possible means of assistance to work with the French
The story of what our officers and men did in
those early days is the best illustration of the all-round efficiency of the
Navy. A large proportion of the officers and men came from civil life, but were
quickly and successfully indoctrinated into their naval duties by the regular
officers of the service. The tools with which they had to work were, in large
part, makeshift. Yachts were hurriedly converted to naval purposes; all kinds
of equipment was taken over for possible use in France.
From small beginnings the organization grew until by the summer of 1918 the
whole western coast of France was
guarded by a string of surface vessels and aircraft.
Not only was the ''Neck of the Bottle" made
safe for our troop and supply ships, but the operations were extended from the
defensive type to the offensive, and the very existence of enemy submarines was
rendered extremely unhealthy long before the armistice came.
To the men who took part in this great work too
much credit cannot be given. Extraordinary physical endurance was called for,
and more than that, imagination and a genius to meet new conditions with
untried weapons was essential to success.
During the summer of 1918 I had the pleasure of
visiting these French bases and of seeing the work at first hand. No part of
our naval activities deserves higher credit than the part they took. They have
the satisfaction, at least, of knowing that the Navy and the country are proud
C, April 25, 1919
MONTHS OF THE WAR
WITH the entry of the United
States into the war
with Germany and
the Central Powers, arose the immediate necessity of naval participation and
cooperation with the fleets of the Allied nations. Never in the world's history
had been furnished an example so complete and so convincing of the vital
necessity of adequate sea power to secure the desired victory over the common
foe. For three years the great fleets of England had
been holding in leash the German Navy, but despite the assurance which England's
fleet had given for the protection of the seas from the German High Sea Fleet,
other grave dangers were clearly existent. In the Channel, on the west coast of
along the French coast and in the Mediterranean,
the German and Austrian submarines were waging a successful warfare against the
Allied shipping. To hold in port the powerful Navy of Germany, the Grand Fleet
of England was chained to its guardianship of the Helgoland gates, and on
a similar duty the French fleet watched the harbors and naval bases of Austria in
The entry of the United States into the war,
created new problems which it alone must solve; problems of transportation of
troops and supplies to the practically unprotected ports of western France.
Tied hand and foot were the fleets of the
Allies. Not only did it devolve upon us to deliver an army on French soil and
the necessary stores required by these hundreds of thousands of fighting men;
but it also became necessary for us in large measure, to protect the passage
and arrival of the vessels required for troop and store transports.
From Calais the
French coast slips in a south-westerly direction, embracing in its rugged coast
line the ports of Boulogne, Le
Havre and Cherbourg, to
the rocky point of Finisterre where in a great
sheltered harbor, at its western extremity, rests the city of Brest,
greatest of all French seaports from the aspects of naval strategy. From Brest,
the coast runs southeasterly to the Spanish line, including, from north to
south, the harbors of Lorient, Quiberon
Bay, Saint-Nazaire, La Rochelle, Rochefort,
the Gironde River and Bordeaux, the Adour River and Bayonne and the little southern fishing
port of Saint-Jean de Luz almost in the shadow of the Pyrenees. Of these ports,
Brest, Lorient, Saint-Nazaire and the Gironde offered the
best facilities for the reception of troops and stores; and it was here that
the preliminary steps were taken to prepare for their arrival. But the great
work of the Navy was apparently to be not on French soil or on the wide
Atlantic, but particularly in the submarine danger zone which naturally
centered at those points on the French coast where the greatest number of
transatlantic lanes converged; in other words, in the Bay of Biscay at Brest,
and in the Channel.
To understand more clearly the nature of the
convoy work, it may be divided into two general classes:
First, the escorting into and out of port
through the danger zone of the transatlantic convoys; and, second, the
escorting of the coastal convoys from port to port. The mission of the United
States Naval Forces in France may
thus be crystallized into the following sentence: “To safeguard United
States troop and
store ships and to cooperate with the French naval authorities."
Granted, therefore, the hypothesis that with a
limited number of ports of arrival in France the enemy submarines would have
only to watch the immediate approaches to these ports, the problem became
simplified and the work resolved itself into a system of convoys, both coastal
and deep sea, so thorough in its character, that the submarines would be forced
from the entrances of the harbors and be compelled to wait for the convoys at a
considerable distance off the coast and in the open sea where the chance of
meeting was materially reduced and where the attendant dangers and hardships
were greatly increased.
On the entire western coast of France and
in the Channel, German submarines were particularly active; it was but logical
to calculate that this activity would increase as the volume of American
shipping was augmented. To meet this submarine blockade and carry against it a
successful warfare, was especially required a type of small and swift vessels
capable of mounting guns of intermediate caliber and of being rapidly
maneuvered and, at the same time, possessing sufficient seaworthy qualities to
withstand the strains of continuous service in waters notoriously tempestuous.
For this work the destroyer was unquestionably the ideal type, but as the few
destroyers available had been sent to English waters, the yachts were taken
over and converted as far as possible to meet the requirements. Later, by the
addition of a number of destroyers, it was planned to provide a force of
sufficient strength and mobility to offset the submarine activities and assure
the safety required to place our troops and stores on French soil. To cooperate
with the United States'
Naval Forces, the French Navy afforded a number of small destroyers and fast
patrol boats, suitably armed and familiar with the waters in which the major
operations would necessarily take place. In addition, the French naval
establishment possessed adequate and most excellent mine-sweeping facilities
and also a limited force of hydroplanes and dirigibles for cooperation with the
patrol and escort vessels.
It is appropriate to recall at the beginning of
this narrative of our latest naval achievements that it was in these same
historic French waters, that our Navy found its birth, and that in Quiberon Bay the Stars and Stripes, flying from the U. S.
S. Ranger of John Paul Jones, received its first salute from a foreign nation
when the guns of the fleet of the French Admiral le Motte,
thundered a welcome to this new-born ensign of the new-born nation across the
4, 1917, a small fleet of six yachts left the New York
Navy Yard and steamed slowly down the stream. This force, a handful of
converted pleasure vessels, bore the official designation of the U. S.
Patrol Squadrons Operating in European Waters and constituted the first
American naval participation in the Great War, actually to be established in
French waters. The yachts were:
U. S. S. Kanawha U. S. S. Vedette
U. S. S. Noma U. S. S.
U. S. S. Harvard U. S. S. Sultana
and also included in this force, but temporarily
under the orders of Rear-Admiral Gleaves, were the U.
S. S. Corsair and the U. S. S. Aphrodite.
S. S. Noma
U. S. S.
Christabel The smallest and oldest ship in foreign service. The white star on
the stack means official credit for a submarine (Note: this claim is not confirmed by post-war
S. S. Rambler
S. S. Wanderer
For over a month work had been pushed to the
utmost to prepare the yachts for foreign service. Furnishings and decorations
of peaceful days were removed and stored in Brooklyn
warehouses. White sides and glittering brightwork
were hidden under coats of battle gray. Fore and aft, three-inch guns were
mounted, and guns of smaller caliber were located on the upper decks. Cutlasses
and rifles lined bulkheads of panelled oak or
mahogany. Everywhere about the ships improvised quarters, in former
smoking-rooms, libraries and sun-parlors, housed crews expanded by war-time
necessity to four or five times the original quota required to operate the
yachts in time of peace.
The six yachts anchored until the morning of
June 9 off Tompkinsville, S. I., New
York, and at 5:
30 A.M. stood out to sea at a standard speed of ten
knots, en route to Bermuda. On
the twelfth of June, the force arrived at St.
coaled; on the sixteenth again got under way and shaped a course for the Azores.
The yachts arrived at Brest, France, on
the fourth of July, after a relatively uneventful voyage, where they found the
Corsair and the Aphrodite, which had arrived ahead of them due to their greater
size which enabled them to lay a direct transatlantic course. On July 14, 1917, the
squadron commander, Captain W. B. Fletcher, U. S. N., with his staff, secured
quarters on shore and began the first actual active cooperation with the French
Navy against the enemy submarines. It is of historical interest to note that a
few hours before entering the harbor, the Noma
sighted a periscope. A few hours later, the S. S. Orleans was torpedoed,
probably by the same submarine which the Noma
sighted, and her thirty-seven survivors of the crew and the thirteen members of
the United States
naval armed guard were brought into Brest by
During the month of July, the yachts
received a strenuous introduction to the patrol duty, which consisted of a
constant patrol of defined areas of water, so continuous and so thorough that
the submarine activities, hitherto in a large measure undisputed, were
materially hampered and the safety of the convoys passing through these waters
was proportionately increased. On the afternoon of the twenty-ninth of August,
the U. S. S. Guinevere and the U. S. S. Carola IV, of
the Second Squadron of converted yachts, arrived at Brest, and on the
thirtieth, Commander F. N. Freeman, U. S. N., with the yachts U. S. S. Alcedo, U. S. S. Wanderer, U. S. S. Remlik,
U. S. S. Corona, and U. S. S. Emeline came into the
harbor, delayed by storms and with badly leaking decks.
Due to the unusually fantastic scheme of
camouflage which disguised the ships of the Second Squadron, these yachts were
commonly known as the ''Easter Egg Fleet,” every conceivable color having been
incorporated in a riotous speckled pattern on their sides. (Note: U.S.S.
Corsair - Lieut. Com. T. A. Kittinger, U.S.N., U.S.S.
Aphrodite - Lieut. Com. R. P. Craft, U.S.N,. U.S.S. Noma
- Lieut Com. L. R. Leahy, U.S.N., U.S.S. Kanawha -
Lieut. Com. H. D. Cooke, U.S.N., U.S.S. Fedette -
Lieut. Com. C. L. Hand, U.S.N., U.S.S. Christabel -
Lieutenant H. B. Riebe, U.S.N., U.S.S. Harvard -
Lieutenant A. G. Stirling, U.S.N,, U.S.S. Sultana -
Lieutenant E. G. Allen, U.S.N., Captain William B. Fletcher, U.S.N., squadron commander.)
On the fifteenth of August, the Noma reported the first actual engagement with any enemy
submarine as follows: ''At 2:
17 P.M. in position Lat. 47° 40' N. Long. 5° 05' W.
sighted a suspicious object bearing about 245° (per standard compass), distance
about 6,000 yards. Object was made out to be a submarine on the surface heading
about 320° psc. A discharge was being emitted by the
submarine, very much like smoke and was very misleading. Submarine was
evidently charging her batteries. At 2:20
P.M. went to "general quarters" and closed
in on submarine. At 2:24 P.M.
opened fire with port battery, distance about 4,000 yards. Fired ten shots.
Submarine fired three shots at this ship, one striking about 500 yards ahead of
the ship and the other two shots well over and on the quarter. At 2:27 P.M. the submarine
submerged. Proceeded to vicinity of submarine, but did not see her again. At 2:35 P.M. resumed our
Although the foregoing was the first actual
engagement, the Noma on August 8, in response to an
S. O. S. call, joined the S. S. Dunraven, which was
badly disabled by gunfire from a submarine. This ship had been shelled from
astern by the submarine, one shell having exploded in the after magazine and
disabled the steering gear. Soon after, the submarine approached closer to the Dunraven and fired a torpedo. The submarine was in this
position when the Noma came up on the opposite side
of the torpedoed vessel. Two depth charges were dropped by the Noma on the spot where the submarine submerged, but these
being of the early type, failed to detonate.
The next squadron of the patrol force, Captain
T. P. Magruder, U. S. N., in command, reached Brest
on the afternoon of September 18, and consisted of the yacht U. S. S. Wakiva, the supply ship U. S. S. Bath, and the trawlers U.
S. S. Anderton, U. S. S. Lewes, U. S. S. Courtney, U.
S. S. McNeal, U. S. S. Cahill, U. S. S. James, U. S. S. Rehoboth, U. S. S.
Douglas, U. S. S. Hinton, and U. S. S. Bauman. With these also arrived six
110-foot patrol vessels, under the French flag. Due to the construction of the
trawlers, which was soon proved to be entirely unsuited for the hard sea
service required, they were withdrawn after a few weeks from escort duty and
fitted for mine-sweeping.
It was during this period that the United
transport Antilles in convoy with
a group of three transports and store ships and escorted by the Corsair, Alcedo, and Kanawha, was torpedoed and sunk, on the
seventeenth of October, outside of Quiberon Bay. No
sign of a submarine was seen. The total number of persons on board the Antilles was
237, of whom 167 were rescued by the escorting yachts.
During the month of October, 1917, the
coal-burning destroyers U. S. S. Smith, U. S. S. Preston, U. S. S. Lamson, U. S. S. Flusser, and U.
S. S. Reid, arrived from Queenstown where they had been receiving training.
They were accompanied by the U. S. S. Panther, a supply ship, which had
acquired historical interest as a transport in 1898 during the war with Spain.
The addition of this small destroyer flotilla was of inestimable value, for the
yachts, until this time, had been required to perform the entire patrol and
escort duty, including the deep-sea troop convoys for which they were
structurally wholly unsuited and inadequate.
It is interesting to imagine the hopes and fears
of those early days of our participation. In the ancient port of
a few remnants of the French fleet remained. The streets of the gray town were
deserted. Gone were the seamen that for centuries had given it its glory; gone
too were the young men, now fighting and dying on the northern lines of France.
Small indeed must have seemed these first contributions from the great ally
beyond the Atlantic. A few
converted yachts, a few destroyers; that was all. And yet, within the brief
span of a year this almost deserted harbor was to become dense with shipping.
Great transports were to swing at moorings beyond the breakwater. Wasp-like
destroyers were to ride at their buoys in the inner harbor in rapidly increasing
numbers. Khaki-clad soldiers by the hundred thousand were to look upon the gray
town and pass on to their duty in the north. And from nothing, the
establishment of the United States Naval Forces in France was
to expand, with characteristic American enterprise, into a vast coherent
organization, embracing in its manifold ramifications the complete machinery
for the successful accomplishment of the tremendous work in hand.
Brest - The
old château and a bit of the inner harbor
The landing at Brest
The first six months of our activities on the
French coast were in a large part a period of experiment. The force was
entirely inadequate; the ships soon proved unsuited for the work required and
the officers and men of the reserve force were new to the work. There has been
little glory credited to the work that was performed, for it was at no time a
kind of work with which glory associates most freely. Here was drudgery and
danger; a silent service secretly to be performed. It was work for which a destroyer
flotilla of the largest and fastest vessels would have been none too good. But
such vessels were not available. The yachts were sent. As months passed by came
slowly the coal-burning destroyers. Later came the great oil burners, and the
yachts disappeared into the obscurity of hazardous coastal convoys and the
deep-sea convoys of merchantmen in the rough waters of Biscay.
21, 1917, Captain Fletcher was detached, and shortly
after, Rear-Admiral Henry B. Wilson arrived to take up the command. To Captain
Fletcher should be given the credit for the inception and early organization of
our naval forces on the French coast, credit which alone can offset the trials
and disappointments of those early days. With the arrival of Rear-Admiral
Wilson began the second and final period; a period of constant organization and
amplification. Fortunately endowed in generous measure with those executive
qualities characteristic of an American naval officer, Admiral Wilson was still
further happy in the possession of a diplomatic nature and keen sympathy with
the French people. With the limited tools available, he planned and executed a
program which proved itself in its attainment of the desired end. And, as the
means for prosecuting his purpose were increased, he developed his plans the
further to assure their more perfect accomplishment.
On November 27, 19 17, the destroyers U. S. S.
Roe and U. S. S. Monaghan arrived at Brest
Utilized previously for deep-sea escort duty from the United
States they had never
before touched at a French port, turning always in mid-Atlantic and returning
to the United States. On
this occasion, however, they had been assigned to escort the U. S. S. San
Diego, on which Secretary of War Baker made passage to France,
and arriving at Saint-Nazaire,
found it necessary to proceed north to Brest for
coal. As this duty was unforeseen, they were without coastal charts and
proceeded to explore their way through the perilous mine and submarine zones
with a large ocean chart as their only guide. Ignorant of the coast, they first
explored the Bay of
but finding no city there, they kept on up the coast. Inasmuch as their ocean
chart did not show the channel of Raz de Sein, they did not find it, and passed around it into the Iroise. A message was sent to them to avoid the Iroise, but as that also was not shown on their chart, they
were forced to ignore the warning. Happily, they finally reached Brest
without accident, where they were later permanently joined to the destroyer
force there. The destroyer U. S. S. Warrington joined the Brest
forces at about the same time.
In the middle of December, the torpedo boats U.
S. S. Truxton and U. S. S. Whipple reached Brest,
and shortly after, arrived the U. S. S. Wadsworth, the first thousand-ton
destroyer to be assigned to the French waters.
In the forepart of 1918, the Stewart and Worden,
two of our oldest torpedo boats, made a hazardous but successful transatlantic
passage in the extreme weather of midwinter. On February 18, 1918, the repair
ship Prometheus, the torpedo boat Macdonough and the
converted yacht Isabel moored in the harbor, and with the passing months the
fleet was further augmented by the arrival of the destroyers Porter, Wainwrite, Jarvis, O’Brien, Benham,
Winslow, Drayton, Gushing, Tucker, Burrows, Cummings, Ericsson, Fanning, and
McDougal. These were followed later by the first of the new flush-deck
destroyers: Little, Sigourney, and Conner; and about a month before the signing
of the armistice these were followed by the Taylor, Stringham, Bell, Murray,
and Fairfax. A
fourth flotilla of yachts arrived during February, under the command of
Commander David F. Boyd, U. S. N., and included the U. S. S. Nokomis, U. S. S.
Rambler, and U. S. S. Utowana and the tug Gypsum
Queen. Another yacht, the U. S. S. May, was also added to the force, having
proceeded to Brest
where she had left a number of submarine chasers which she had escorted across
the Atlantic. In addition
to these vessels were also added during the forepart of the year, the tugs
Barnegat and Concord and
the repair ship Bridgeport. On
the eleventh of November, 1918, when hostilities were suspended by the
armistice, the United States Naval Forces in France comprised a total of
thirty-five destroyers, five torpedo boats, eighteen yachts, eight tugs, nine
mine-sweepers, three repair ships and one barracks ship, three tenders, and one
Much has appeared in magazines and newspapers of
the actual debarkation of American troops on French soil. Of those landing in England, or
the ports of other countries, we are not here concerned. It is the purpose of
this narrative to deal solely with the activities of the American Naval Forces
and accordingly only with those troop ships and store ships which sailed from
American ports directly to ports in France.
The first American troops reached Saint-Nazaire on June 26, 1917.
Perhaps never in the world's history, has the deeper and finer sentiment of a
nation been so thoroughly aroused as on that famous day when the first few
thousands of khaki-clad soldiers touched foot on the soil of France. A nation
by nature of the deepest sentiment, the people of this seaport town, realized
in this slender vanguard the vivid expression of a friendship begun in our own
struggle for national freedom and sustained for a century and a half with
almost unbroken continuity.
During the second half of 1917, a constantly
increasing flood of American soldiers were transported in safety to the shores
With the new year, a greater volume began to arrive and in the month of
January, 25,280 men were landed. February showed a slight loss, with a total of
17,483, which was offset by the total of 53,043 in March and 62,615 in April.
In May, the full flood began with a total of 119,110. In June, 104,249 were
landed, a number which increased in July to 133,993. There was a sudden drop in
August to 93,376, but the September quota of 143,253, established a new record,
closely followed by a total of 107,547 in October. The grand total for the ten
months of 1918 was 859,949.
There is no more inspiring sight than the
arrival of a troop convoy and the description of a single instance may
illustrate, as characteristic, any of the one hundred and two troop convoys which
arrived during these ten months of 1918. At dawn the convoy of eight troop
ships which had been proceeding in a double line of four ships each, formed
single column, with three destroyers on either flank. The sea was calm and the
sun rose in a soft-blue, cloudless sky. On the eastern horizon a white
lighthouse lifted sharply from the thin line of the coast. The great troop
ships, famous liners of other days, rose and fell heavily on the low swells,
their high sides stripped and blocked in a strange dress of blue, gray, white
and black camouflage, their decks brown with a solid mass of soldiers straining
their eyes to catch a first glimpse of France. High overhead, two great yellow
French dirigibles moved with smooth rapidity. From four gray hydroplanes,
soaring in wide circles, came the distant reverberation of motors. On either
hand the destroyers, lean, lithe sea-whippets, shook their dipping bows and
rolled in the swells with a quick jerking motion. Over the water came the sound
of music; an Army band was playing on board the nearest transport. The convoy
passed into the channel. On the south, great brown rocks lifted from the sea,
and on either side of the entrance to the harbor, the black cliffs of Finistere, like twin Gibraltars,
marked the approach. The convoy, steaming slowly, moved up the channel. The
broad blue harbor of
unfolded, crowded with shipping. In the outer harbor great steamers swung at
their moorings, and behind the breakwater the water was gay with camouflaged
vessels, clusters of destroyers and the gray hulls of two great repair ships.
Beyond the harbor swung the circle of the green hills of Finistere,
and on the left the gray and ancient city of Brest
rose sharply from the historic fortress at the water's edge. Quietly the destroyers
slipped into the inner harbor and the transports anchored outside the
breakwater. They were "over;" delivered safely through the danger
zone by the United States Naval Forces in France.
Troop Ship at Brest
German Sea Mines
Such, in general, was the work of the Navy in
French waters during the sixteen months of its activity. It was a labor unenlivened by those inspiring engagements between ships of
a class which marked our naval activities in these waters a century and a half
before. Rather, it was a struggle with a force secretive, elusive, and
mysterious. There were thrusts in the dark from an unseen enemy; there were
engagements fought and won between ships invisible to each other. Never could
there be a moment of relaxation; never did an empty ocean, blue under a summer
sky or gleaming in the moonlight, assure the absence of the enemy. Great
vessels under escort were torpedoed, vessels of coastwise convoys and vessels
of the deep-sea traffic were sunk, but small was the percentage of loss
compared with the numbers of the mighty argosies that in safety sailed the sea
and of greatest significance stands the fact that not one loaded transport was
destroyed or the life of a single passenger lost. Few were the absolute
confirmations of the destruction of submarines, but later events have disclosed
a mortality that does compliment to Yankee perseverance and the depth charge,
that frightful enemy of the submarine, which took lavish toll of the sea-wolves
of the underseas.
THE arrival of Rear Admiral Henry B. Wilson at
Brest on Thursday, November 1, 1917, and the hoisting of his flag on the U. S.
S. Panther, marked the beginning of the second and final period of our naval activities
in French waters. On the staff of the Admiral were Commander John Halligan, Jr., U. S. N. Chief of Staff, Lieutenant Mahlon S. Tisdale, U. S. N., and Lieutenant J. G. F.
Reynolds, U. S. N. R. F., who had accompanied Admiral Wilson from Gibraltar.
Admiral Fletcher's staff was assimilated and this small nucleus grew to some
seventy officers before the armistice was signed. It is impossible adequately
to chronicle the development of these months of organization and
accomplishment. From the first establishment of Captain Fletcher, the
organization was consistently developed to meet new requirements constantly
arising, requirements necessitating the occupation of quarters on shore which
finally extended to the complete equipment which existed at the final
suspension of hostilities. Offices were acquired and new space was constantly
added. Quarters for men on shore duty were provided. Offices for the pay
department were secured; a department that at the close of the war was in
itself a complete organization, handling a volume of business undreamed of by
any of our own Navy Yards, with the probable exception of the Brooklyn Navy
Yard, in the former days of peace. To maintain good order throughout the city,
a naval patrol was established. A great post office, which in one day received
fifteen thousand sacks of mail, was created. Coal, oil, and water facilities
for the ships were planned and arranged for. Communication systems were
instituted. And in all these various activities, a cooperation was maintained with
the French authorities, both maritime and civil, unbroken in the consistent
spirit of enthusiastic friendliness.
The rapidly increasing importance of the United
States Naval Forces in France required a coherent and yet flexible organization
under single leadership, and on the twelfth of January, 1918, after calling
Admiral Wilson to London for conference the first definite amplification of the
organization of the United States Naval Forces in France was outlined by
Vice-Admiral Sims, Commander United States Naval Forces operating in Europe, to
Rear Admiral Wilson. Under this new organization, Admiral Wilson received the
title of "Commander United States
Naval Forces in France"
and took command of all United States
naval vessels operating in French waters. As a result of this comprehensive
command, the organization was naturally divided into two parts: the naval
forces afloat, including all ships assigned to duty in the Channel and the
Atlantic coasts of France, and the Port Organization and Administration,
comprising the three districts of Brest, Lorient, and
Rochefort, with an officer of captain's rank in
command of each of these districts.
Aviation, under the command of Captain H. I.
Cone, was also included under the command of Rear-Admiral Wilson, but due to
the many problems in this new branch of naval activities, a free hand was given
to Captain Cone in the building up and perfecting of the naval aviation service
and it may be considered practically a distinct organization during the phase
of construction and until the stations began to operate against the submarines.
Commander W. R. Sayles, U. S. N. (naval attache in Paris) was placed in command of the Intelligence
Service, and Captain R. H. Jackson, U. S. N., became an officer on Admiral
Wilson's staff, to act primarily as liaison officer between the Admiral and the
French authorities, although the right naturally remained to Admiral Wilson to
deal directly with the French Ministry of Marine if he should so desire. As an
addition to the Intelligence Service, a counter espionage service was organized
under the command of Commander Sayles, and in order to clarify the work, the
various activities were separated into six principal fields:
Naval Forces Afloat; Port Organization and
Administration; Aviation; Intelligence; Communication; Supplies and
In regard to the control of shipping, it was
determined that all troop and cargo transports and other vessels flying the
American flag should be escorted to their wharf, anchorage or buoy by the Navy,
and that thereafter, their subsequent movements, until they should be ready to
leave port, should be controlled by the Army or Navy, according to whom their
cargo belonged, and that, upon leaving port, they would again revert to naval
In accordance with this outline, Admiral Wilson
designated the three districts as follows:
include the territory extending from Brehat to
Penmarch, including Ushant;
the territory from Penmarch to Fromentine,
including Belle-Ile, and Rochefort,
the territory extending from Fromentine to the
Spanish line and including the outlying islands.
The district commander in charge of each of
these districts received immediate control of operations of all vessels placed
under his command and was further charged with the responsibility of repairing
and supplying of vessels assigned to his district; the development and
maintenance of adequate naval port facilities; the establishment and
maintenance of all communication with the Commander United States Naval Forces
in France, the prefet maritime, the naval port officer of the
district, and the other district commanders and the supervision of American
shipping and of United States naval personnel on merchant ships.
Naval port officers at all of the principal
ports, were established, reporting immediately to their respective district
commanders. The duties of these port officers were primarily to facilitate the
berthing, discharging, and sailing of United
States troop and
store ships, a duty which included all of the arduous details which constantly
present themselves whenever shipping in any quantity is present. Among the many
duties assigned to port officers, the following were perhaps of major
To cooperate with the United States Army and the
French authorities in the despatch of vessels; to
keep the Commander United States Naval Forces in France and the district
commander promptly informed of the arrival and the departure of all United
States vessels; to obtain from the commanding officers or masters of these
vessels upon their arrival, all interesting information regarding the incidents
of their voyage and their particular needs; to inspect the United States naval
armed guard and radio men on all United States vessels, other than those
regularly commissioned in the United States Navy and report on their
efficiency; to assist in supplying these vessels with necessary fuel and
supplies; to pay the armed guard and furnish them with clothing and small
stores; to investigate offences committed by United States naval personnel on
vessels other than those regularly commissioned United States naval vessels; to
investigate and take action on all admiralty cases involving United States
Navy; to keep the Commander United States Naval Forces in France informed of
the readiness of all vessels and of the speed which they were capable to
maintain through the danger zone; to familiarize the masters of ships with the
precautions and the prescribed convoy scheme to be followed within the danger
zone; to furnish each convoy and its escort commander, prior to sailing, with
the latest information regarding submarine and mine activities and to keep the
commander in France constantly informed as to the amount of Navy coal on hand,
expended and received.
It has been ever a part of the Navy's duty to
stand ready to assume responsibility for the fulfillment of whatever work might
be required to prosper the best interests of the Nation, for which the Navy has
been and must continue to be its outward manifestation throughout the world. To
create an organization, such as conditions in France required, sufficient not
only to meet temporary needs, but also future requirements and at the same time
to carry on an active warfare with a powerful enemy, was a commission of the
most grave responsibility, for it required not only the abilities of trained
men of business, endowed with native American energy and promptness of
decision, but there were also required those traits which are presumed to
attach solely to trained diplomats. For in all this tremendous operation and
creation, it was necessary to maintain the utmost harmony and cordiality with a
people speaking a different tongue and accustomed to those more composed and
conservative methods of accomplishment generally characteristic of an older
plane makes a bad dive. Destroyers to the rescue
The destroyer Monaghan
bow of a destroyer
(possibly the bow of Jarvis after she had rammed Benham)
charges on the stern of a destroyer
Throughout the entire history of our naval
cooperation with the French nation, a spirit of cordiality and cooperation was
consistently maintained. Nor were these relations broken by a single incident
to mar the perfect accord. The following telegram was received by Admiral
Wilson on July 1, 1918,
from the French Vice Admiral Schwerer and seems
particularly felicitous in the exact expression of the spirit existing between
the two nations:
On July 4, 1917, there
arrived in our waters the first eight ships of war sent to France by the United
States to fight with us against the enemy's piracy. These vessels were the
yachts Harvard, Vedette, Kanawha, Sultana, Christabel, Noma, Corsair and
Aphrodite. Since that period these vessels have constantly collaborated with us
in the protection of convoys and we have all been witnesses of the ardor and
the devotion brought by their personnel to the difficult and sometimes
ungrateful tasks of the patrols.
This squadron was the
vanguard of a flotilla of ships, each day more numerous and more powerful,
which arrived from the other shore of the ocean to take part in the fight.
At the moment when the
anniversary of the arrival in Brest of this vanguard approaches, I am sure that
I am the interpreter of all the officers, petty officers, and enlisted men of
the divisions of Bretagne, in addressing to our American comrades the
expression of our fraternal esteem and of our warm admiration of your great
nation which has not hesitated to throw itself into the most terrible of wars
for the defense of Right, of Liberty, and of Civilization.
(Signed) Vice Admiral Schwerer,
Commandant Supérieur des Divisions de Bretagne. Brest, July 1, 1918.
4, 1918, the following telegram was received by the
Commander United States Naval Forces in France,
from the Minister of Marine:
At the moment when the
magnificent battalions of the American Army are marching in Paris past the
statues of our cities unjustly occupied by the enemy, thus affiirming
the high ideals of justice which lead them to fight by the side of our
soldiers, I am particularly happy to address to you my most cordial regards in
recognition of the perfect and devoted cooperation which our naval forces in
Brittany have not ceased to find with the American naval forces placed under
your high direction and the systematic harmony of views and sentiments which
has not ceased to reign between us.
Rear-Admiral Wilson replied:
To the Minister of
It is a great honor and
satisfaction to receive the cordial good wishes expressed in your message of
today. The American Navy is proud of its privilege of working with the French
Navy, a service for which we have the highest admiration. Our personal
association with the flag officers of your Navy has been an inspiration to me.
(Signed) H. B. Wilson.
On September 21;, 19 18, Rear Admiral Henry B.
Wilson, U. S. N., Commander United States Naval Forces in France was promoted
to the rank of vice-admiral, U. S. N., and his flag was hoisted on the flagship
There are times when only statistics can giye a definite conception, and a few figures selected from
the mass of data relating to these impressive operations may indicate in some
measure the scope of the accomplishment. From nothing, on July 1, 1917, the United
States Naval Forces in France had
grown by October 1, 1918, to
an establishment of 22,111 officers and men; of these 1,422 were officers.
Afloat, the personnel numbered 601 officers and 7,480 men. Of the shore forces,
160 officers and 2,187 men were distributed among the three base organizations;
71 officers and 207 men among the port offices, 578 officers and 9,789 men
among the 16 naval air stations; 24 officers and 488 men with the naval railway
battery; 18 officers and 556 men with the high power radio detachment and 27
officers and 58 men on detached staff service.
During the first nine months of 1918 an
approximate total of 752,402 troops was convoyed safely through the danger zone
and landed at French ports. On one day alone sixteen ships containing over
forty thousand men were brought in safety into a single port. Two hundred and
sixty convoys, comprising 1,499 vessels, were convoyed, during the same period
through the zone, proceeding either to French ports or homeward bound. And this
was accomplished by a fleet, all told, which reached eighty odd vessels only a
few weeks before the armistice was signed, and was manned by approximately
eight thousand officers and men.
During the closing months of the war, the
activities of the base at Brest
assumed proportions far in excess of the anticipation of any of those who
contributed to the early days of its establishment. Repairs to escort vessels,
transports, merchant ships, and vessels wrecked by storm or collision, or torn
by torpedoes, necessitated operations similar to those required by the most
modern Navy Yards in the United
States. Repair shops
afloat and on shore were working in shifts, in order that the vast volume of
work might be accomplished. The administrative force had been constantly
increased to keep pace with these developments and a continuously growing
number of enlisted men had required additional barracks on shore.
THE PATH OF THE SUBMARINE
In the many engagements between Allied vessels
and German submarines in French waters the fortitude of the officers and crews
of the smaller merchantmen and particularly of the French fishing vessels
afforded many dramatic instances. Due to the limited number of French and
American patrol vessels it was but natural that many of the smaller vessels
took a "long chance" and endeavored to make their way unescorted
along the coast. Many of these vessels were attacked and a large number were
destroyed; but out of the total number of engagements there are several which
particularly illustrate the temper of the French seaman in the face of almost
At about eleven
o'clock of the morning of December 4, 1917,
the St. Antoine de Padoue, a three-masted sailing vessel left Britton Ferry for Fecamp. She was making about three or four knots in a S. S.
E. direction when a shell fell about two hundred meters off the starboard bow
and a violent explosion was heard astern. The pilot who was standing on the
poop deck with the captain saw the submarine which was headed N. E. at a
distance of four thousand meters on the port quarter. “General quarters "
was immediately sounded; the captain ordered a zigzag course to be followed in
order to confuse the aim of the submarine, and opened fire with his own guns.
After seventeen shots had been fired by the St. Antoine, the submarine submerged
and disappeared. The engagement had lasted fifteen minutes and no damage was
done to the sailing vessel. But fifteen minutes later the submarine reappeared
and resumed firing at a slightly increased distance. The first shell fell short
on the starboard side. The captain promptly responded with his stern gun and
resumed his zigzag, but within a few minutes the sighting piece of the gun was
shot away and damage to the breech put the gun temporarily out of action.
Undaunted, the captain maneuvered to bring his forward gun into action, but a
shot from the submarine struck the port side of the sailing ship, inflicting
severe damage. In spite of the heavy fire which continued, the men stuck to
their posts and continued what seemed to be a hopeless struggle. At the darkest
moment, however, a British hydroplane made its appearance and caused the
submarine to submerge. This was the third time that the St. Antoine had escaped
after having been attacked by German submarines and the captain had already
been cited as a result of these engagements.
Destroyers waiting for an incoming convoy
ship escorted by a destroyer and two sea planes
balloon on a destroyer
balloon going up
On another occasion, the St. Antoine de Padoue was engaged in fishing off Fecamp.
While the crew were attending to their nets, a small boat with two leg-o-mutton
sails appeared on the horizon at a distance of two or three miles. In waters
frequented by fishing boats the appearance of a craft of this nature would not
normally attract attention, but in this particular instance the vessel sighted
seemed to be pursuing a course parallel to the course of the St. Antoine, at a
rate of speed in excess of that justified by the small size of her sails. The
suspicions of the captain were promptly aroused and he sent his crew to battle
stations. Gradually the courses of the two ships converged and the St, Antoine
fired a shot, hoping that the suspicious vessel would show a signal. No signal,
however, appeared and a few minutes later the sails were hauled down and a
conning tower was clearly seen in silhouette against the horizon. For some
reason unknown, no attack was offered, probably due to the apparent readiness
which the captain of the St. Antoine showed for battle; and shortly after the
submarine disappeared and the St. Antoine proceeded on her course.
Another interesting attack was reported as
having occurred on the
ninth of January, 1917, against the French steamer Barsac, bound from Brest to Le
Havre. The Barsac,
entirely darkened, was proceeding at a speed of about ten knots, when at 6:35 P.M. a torpedo
suddenly exploded against the side, opposite No. 3 hatch, promptly filling the
engine-room with water. The ship filled rapidly by the stern and sank in three
minutes. No one on board saw either the submarine or the torpedo.
With the utmost calmness the crew manned the
boats, the captain alone remaining aboard the stricken vessel. When the ship
went down the captain was dragged after her by the suction, but coming to the
surface was rescued about twenty minutes later by one of the ship's boats. The
surviving members of the crew were finally picked up by a patrol boat, but
eighteen men were lost
On December 21, at a little after one o'clock in
the morning the Portuguese steamer Boa Vista in convoy with five other ships
escorted by two French patrol boats, the Albatros and
the Sauterelle, were proceeding north, enroute for Quiberon. The sea was
calm and the night clear and brilliant although there was no moon. No sign of submarine
activities appeared on the still water. Suddenly, the Boa Vista was struck by a
torpedo on the starboard side a little forward of the bridge. For half an hour
the ship sank slowly by the bow. The patrol boats "stood by,"
rescuing the crew and endeavoring to take in tow the lifeboats which she had
launched. Suddenly the conning tower of the submarine appeared at a distance of
five thousand meters and fired a second torpedo at the Boa Vista which sank
rapidly and disappeared five minutes later.
Early in January, the steam trawler St. Mathieu
left Brest on her way to the fishing grounds about one hundred miles S. S. W.
of Raz de Sein. In the
morning of the sixth, when seventy-seven miles S. W. of Belle-Ile, the lookout sighted a boat on the horizon and a few
seconds afterward a shell passed over the St. Mathieu. The captain promptly
hauled in his nets, sent his crew to battle stations and heading for the enemy,
opened fire with his bow gun. A few minutes later, a shell from the submarine
shattered the upper part of the bridge, wounding the man at the wheel and
another near the bow. Encouraging his crew, the captain of the trawler
continued his action until another shell from the submarine mortally wounded
three of the guns' crew, but undaunted, the only survivor continued to fire
until the ammunition was exhausted. The submarine was now relatively near the
trawler and her fire was extremely accurate. By this time, out of a total crew
of thirteen on board the trawler, four were killed, four badly wounded, and all
of the remaining were suffering from minor injuries.
It was now necessary to abandon ship and the
captain with the survivors put off in a small boat. A few minutes later the
submarine sank the St. Mathieu by gunfire and promptly submerged. Then followed
thirty hours of great suffering on the part of the crew of the trawler, all of
whom were more or less wounded. A heavy sea was running and navigation was
difficult. The night was very dark. Toward morning a patrol vessel heard the
cries of the sailors, but in her attempt to effect a rescue, ran into the
lifeboat and capsized it, with the result that four of the crew were drowned.
The survivors of the St. Mathieu were landed at La Palice
on the morning of the eighth of January and later the captain was awarded the
Military Medal and all of the members of the crew were cited in orders.
At about noon on the tenth of October, 1917,
the captain of the French ship Transporteur, was
exchanging semaphore signals with the Afrique II, a
French patrol boat, when he noticed in the sunlight, at a distance of about
three hundred meters, the wake of a torpedo coming toward him, a little forward
of the beam. He immediately steamed "hard-right," reversed his engine
and warned his escort by whistle. Unfortunately his action, although prompt,
proved unable to avoid the path of the torpedo, which, striking the ship at the
water line, caused a terrific explosion and brought down the forward mast. The
ship listed and forty seconds later the water was almost even with the
forecastle. For a brief period the vessel remained standing almost
perpendicular, its propeller continuing to turn rapidly in the air; then
perpendicularly and like an arrow shot from a great height, it dived into the
sea. Of the twenty-four men comprising the crew, twenty-one survivors were
rescued by the Afrique II, while swimming in the
The engagement of the French steamer La Ronce with an enemy submarine, is another example of French
fortitude. Sighting a torpedo on the port beam headed in a direction which
would undoubtedly bring it up opposite the engine-room, the officer of the deck
put his rudder "hard-left" with the result that the torpedo exploded
by No. 4 hatch, tearing a large hole in the side of the vessel. The stern gun
being destroyed, the captain manned his forward gun, but could not locate the
submarine. Little by little, the ship settled by the stern and the after part
of the deck being submerged, the water began to enter the engine-room through
the hatchways. Seeing that it was impossible to keep his vessel afloat much
longer, the captain ordered her to be abandoned and the crew embarked in boats
in a heavy sea. As several of the boats had been destroyed by the explosion,
those that were launched were overloaded and when the order was given by the
captain to " push offf," he realized their
crowded condition and remained on board the sinking ship with the engineer
officer and radio officer and with them went down with the ship.
The Voltaire II was bound for Nantes.
Sailing from Gibraltar on the eighth of December, 1917,
the captain opened his secret; instructions, issued in the event of his leaving
the convoy, and proceeded about one hundred and forty miles in a new direction.
The night was very dark and the ship was without lights. At twenty minutes to
four a torpedo struck the ship near the stern, tearing loose the mainmast and
throwing it on the bridge. The wireless antenna was carried away by the falling
mast and the water rose so rapidly that it became impossible to use the
auxiliary antenna. Due also to the rapidly rising water, the boats were jammed
against the davit-heads and with the exception of the port whaleboat, which was
launched with four men, none of them could be lowered. The ship disappeared in
three minutes, taking with her the captain and the greater part of the crew.
About twenty-four sailors were rescued by the whaleboat. Sail was made and the
boat was headed for Belle-Ile, in a heavy sea. It was
cold and the boat was so overloaded that it was difficult to keep it afloat.
The men for the most part, were about half dressed and became rapidly
exhausted. During the evening of the twelfth, the light of Penmarch
was seen, but soon after the mast broke and it became necessary to continue
with the oars. A few hours after, they passed a convoy and later a single ship,
but their signals of distress were unnoticed. Finally, at noon they were
sighted by the French trawler which rescued the men and took them to Lorient.
Two died from the cold and exposure. At no time before or after the torpedoing
did anyone see the submarine or its periscope.
British mystery ship Dunraven, under fire from a
submarine. The white smoke at the stern is from an exploding shell
The Dunraven sinking
Philomel (British) sinking after being torpedoed
of the Philomel
On her way from St. Malo,
to join a convoy of sailing vessels, the French schooner Jermaine
was attacked by a submarine which opened with four shells and followed with a
volley of fire, meanwhile circling the sailing vessel. The Jermaine
was ably commanded by a former sergeant of colonial infantry who promptly
organized the crew and prepared to defend the ship at all hazards. The sea was
running so high that it was impossible to see the submarine except at rare
intervals. Climbing into the rigging, in order personally to watch the shots
which were fired by the Jermaine whenever the enemy
became visible between the troughs of the sea, the captain tacked to run with
the wind in order to make use of his two guns. So accurate was the fire of the
sailing ship that at the fourth shot from the Jermaine,
the submarine abandoned the struggle and rapidly changed its course.
The British ship Austradale
left Milford Haven on the
sixteenth of October, 1917, in a convoy of twenty-five ships,
proceeding in columns of eight. Her position was No. 1 in the left column.
About three days out, the Austradale sighted at a
distance of approximately three miles, an object which appeared to be a
capsized fishing boat. The captain gave the signal “Suspicious object sighted
" and now believes it was put there by the submarine in order to divert
his attention from the subsequent attack which came from the opposite side. At
all events, while watching the object, the ship was suddenly torpedoed on the
port side, on a line with the engine-room, and sank in three minutes. The
forty-five surviving members of the crew embarked in a whaleboat and two
dinghies. The boats were well provided with food and as danger was imminent,
the convoy proceeded and the small boats were soon lost in the night. For seven
days, the crew navigated their small craft in heavy seas, covering a distance
of 330 miles. During this period, one man became insane and jumped into the
sea. Leaks developed which required constant baling and reduced the survivors
to a state of almost complete exhaustion. Two of the dinghies reached Port Kerrel, but one of the men later died of exhaustion. The
whaleboat, containing twenty-four men, was never heard from.
16, 1918, the Rambler rescued forty-one survivors from
the British S. S. Philomel and carried them into Lorient.
The Philomel was the leading ship of the right column of a south-bound convoy
from Brest to
La Palice and the Rambler was one of the escorting
vessels. No submarine or torpedo was seen at any time, nor was the submarine
detected by the listening devices. The Philomel was struck on the starboard
side, under the bridge, and, following the explosion, she swung to starboard
out of the column and was immediately abandoned. At 6:14
P.M, about thirty minutes after being struck, the
Philomel began to sink by the bow, taking a very sharp angle until her bow
seemed to rest on the bottom. A minute later she disappeared from sight, with
steam escaping and her whistle blowing.
Relatively few were the disasters which befell
American troop and store ships. And of those sinkings
which occurred, the large majority were among the empty vessels homeward bound.
Perhaps the slightly inferior escorts which took out the returning ships may
have been the reason, but it is more probable to suppose that the enemy found a
resistance on the part of the eastwardbound convoys
which would have been unmeasurably intensified by the
knowledge, on the part of the officers and crews of both escort and convoy that
American lives other than their own and property necessary for the prosecution
of the war were resting in their protection below the vessels' decks.
Particularly to the credit of all concerned, was
the salvaging of the ships West Bridge,
Westward Ho, and Mount Vernon.
Only through the indomitable perseverance of the officers and men were these
wounded vessels brought into port. The story of their rescue is one of the
silent epics of the war.
The torpedoing and rescue of the Westward Ho has
been told in a previous chapter but the incidents attendant on the attacks on
the West Bridge and
deserve mention in this narrative.
There was unusual activity of enemy submarines
to the west of the Bay of Biscay during the early part of August, 1918, and
three vessels, the U. S. S. A. C. T. Montanan of 6,659 tons gross, the U. S. S.
A. C. T. West Bridge of 8,800 tons gross, and the U. S. S. A. C. T. Cubore of 7,300 tons gross were torpedoed.
The Montanan was struck when proceeding in
convoy at about 7 P.M. on
August 15 and sank at 3 P.M. on
the following day. The yacht Noma, acting in the
escort, took aboard eighty-one survivors and reported that five of the
personnel were missing.
The U. S. S. A. C. T. Montanan reported that three
torpedoes were fired. Of these she succeeded in dodging two, but was hit by the
third torpedo abreast of the after end of the engineroom.
The explosion smashed a boat and put the radio completely out of commission.
The ship settled rapidly and it was in abandoning ship that the two members of
the armed guard were drowned.
o'clock in the morning on August i6, the West Bridge was
torpedoed within a few miles of the spot where the Montanan was sunk. She was
proceeding in the same convoy, but had fallen back due to engine trouble and
for some hours prior to her attack her engines had stopped entirely. While
lying in this extremely vulnerable position, she was struck by two torpedoes in
quick succession, the second torpedo being visible at the moment when the first
torpedo went home. The Concord,
Smith, and Barnegat were despatched to her
assistance, but the destroyers Drayton and Fanning which were standing by her,
were required to leave her on the afternoon of August 16 to join a convoy. One
officer and three men were missing, probably killed by the explosion in the
engine-room. The ninety-nine survivors were taken into Brest by
the U. S. S. Burrows.
At the time of the arrival of the West Bridge in Brest, it
was calculated that only one per cent of the normal buoyancy of the hull before
loading, remained. The calculated buoyancy having been reduced from ten
thousand tons to one hundred tons.
The Cubore was struck
on August 15 at ten o'clock in
the evening and sank an hour later. Fifty survivors including the captain and
the armed guard were taken off by the French gunboat Etourde.
The Westover of the Naval Overseas
Transportation Service was torpedoed on the morning of the eleventh of July, 1918,
and sank forty minutes later. The vessel left New
York in convoy, but it had been forced to
drop behind because of engine troubles; due primarily to the inexperience of
her engineer force with turbine machinery. These troubles were later overcome
and at the time she was torpedoed, the Westover was making her speed and
endeavoring to overtake the convoy. She was struck by two torpedoes. The first
struck on the starboard side, abaft No. 3 hatch and the second aft on the port
side. Her cargo contained 1,000 tons of steel, 2,000 tons of flour, 10
locomotives and 14 motor trucks, a deck load of 400 piles and 250 tons of
arrived on the scene within a few hours of the time of the sinking of the
vessel. Five boats containing the survivors made the French coast in the
vicinity of Brest;
but three officers and eight enlisted men were lost.
5, 191 8, the U. S. S. Mount Vernon, westward bound from
the United States was
proceeding in company with the U. S. S. Agamemnon. At a little before eight in
the morning, her watch sighted a submarine forward of the beam, in a position
between the Mount Vernon and
the Agamemnon. The Mount Vernon
immediately dropped five depth charges and fired one shell in the direction of
the periscope. Ten seconds later the ship received the torpedo amidships on the
starboard side, between fire-rooms three and four, killing thirty-five of the
engine and fire-room force and wounding twelve. The Mount
Vernon accompanied by three destroyers started
to return to Brest at
a speed of six knots, which was later increased to fourteen knots, arriving at Brest
the Agamemnon continued her voyage westward.
of the von Steuben after collision
with the Agamemnon
Vernon in dry-dock showing the hole torn in her
side by a torpedo
On receipt of the news of the disaster, the
Sigourney, with two other destroyers and the U. S. S. Barnegat and Anderton were sent out from Brest to
assist in escorting the Mount Vernon
into port. At the time of her departure from Brest, the
Mount Vernon was
drawing twenty-nine feet aft. On her return she was drawing thirty-nine feet,
five inches aft and thirty-three feet forward; four of her fire-rooms being
completely flooded. She was also listing 10° to port. From the time the torpedo
struck the ship until its arrival in dock, in Brest,
all of the officers and men worked untiringly on pumps, handy-billies, and buckets, putting additional shores on the
bulkheads and reinforcing hatches and doors. The Mount
Vernon docked at Brest,
repaired and later was again put into commission.
The U. S. S. Buenaventura, an American cargo
transport of 8,200 tons, sailed from Le Verdon in
convoy on the fourteenth
of September, 1918, and was struck by two torpedoes and
sank in six minutes, shortly after the convoy had been dispersed and the escort
had left on its way to the rendezvous of the incoming convoy. So sudden was the
attack and the final plunge of the vessel that only three boats were able to
get away. All reports indicate that the behavior of the officers and crew was
excellent; the captain devoted his entire efforts to save his crew, declining
to the very last to make any effort to leave the sinking ship. A motor sailer and another boat which succeeded in getting away
were picked up by the French destroyer Temeraire, and
brought into Brest, and a third boat, containing the commanding officer, the
executive officer, and twenty-seven men reached Corunna, Spain, after a number
of days at sea.
One of the last cargo carriers to meet
destruction by a submarine was the U. S. S. A. C. T. Joseph Cudahy, which was
struck by two torpedoes on the
seventeenth of August, 1918. The first
torpedo struck the Cudahy in
the fuel tank; the second in the engine-room. Two submarines took part in the
action. After abandoning ship, the captain of the Cudahy was
taken on board one of the submarines and questioned concerning the destination
and whereabouts of the convoy. Sixty-two members of the crew were lost.
A study of the circumstances, surrounding the
torpedoing of the Justicia, President Lincoln, Covington, Tuscania, Antilles,
and Tippecanoe, as well as a
number of other vessels, shows that all of these were sunk by quartering shots.
This indicates that the probable procedure of the submarine was to submerge in
advance of the convoy and at right angles to its course, having estimated from
previous bearings the convoy's general direction and the probable nature of the
zigzag, emerging when its hydrophones indicated that the convoy had passed.
From such a position, the danger to the submarine would be materially reduced,
inasmuch as the convoy would be soon in advance of the position occupied by the
submarine; provided, of course, that no escort was occupying a position astern
of the convoy. High speed on the part of the vessels attacked, would naturally,
from this supposition, prove a great asset of safety.
Large as were the dangers due to the submarine,
it is to the credit of the yachts and destroyers on the French coast that the
record of the American debarkation in France was
achieved, and also, that of the ships which were lost, the great majority were
homeward bound and hence empty of troops or cargo.
It is fair to presume that in the years to come
the part which the United States Navy played in the Great War will be in a
large part judged by the safe conduct of troop and store ships to and from the
coast of France. As
the territory stretching from Switzerland to
the Belgian coast formed the front line of our land forces, so the fighting
front of the United States Navy may be considered, in the large part, the
western coast of France.
During the long months of submarine warfare
bodies of troops were safely transported across the Atlantic,
escorted through the submarine danger zone and landed on foreign soil, in
numbers never exceeded by any similar instance in the history of the world. Not
only was an army thus convoyed in safety, but, and of equal importance, were
the vast quantities of stores necessary for its subsistence and for the
prosecution of the war carried safely through an area infested with enemy
submarines. To meet the enemy two classes of vessels were assigned to the work.
Of these the destroyers were by their construction best fitted for the duty
required and their service for this reason was in many ways of paramount value,
but credit must not be slighted to the yachts, which although manned in a large
measure by relatively inexperienced reserve officers, and themselves being by
construction entirely unfitted for the service, performed a duty the value of
which can never be adequately estimated.
In the preceding chapters has been briefly
sketched the story of the arrival of the fleet of converted yachts and the
general nature of the duties they were required to perform. To the average
conception a yacht is primarily a graceful pleasure craft, immaculate with
white paint and gleaming brightwork, with snowy decks
and awnings and pillowed wicker chairs on the after deck. The yacht is by birth
and breeding a member of a wealthy aristocracy; a frequenter of social
gatherings. She is a vessel found only on summer seas, in sparkling harbors gay
with flags; at regattas and in those places where wealth and fashion meet.
Of the fleet that sailed originally from the
United States, three may be erased from the list of active participants, for
the Guinevere lies broken on a reef and the Alcedo
and Wakiva rest somewhere beneath the restless
surface of the Bay of Biscay, the former torpedoed by the enemy, the latter
rammed by night by a ship of her convoy. As the months passed there was soon a
noticeable change of aspect, soft white decks became torn and dented by
hob-nailed boots and the heavy gear which was hauled over them. Long rows of
depth charges, ash-can-like cylinders charged each with three hundred pounds of
high explosive filled the graceful curve of their fantails. Squat "Y"
guns, heavy mortars to discharge simultaneously two depth charges, one on
either side of the vessel, crowded the hand steering gear on the after deck.
Saloon windows repeatedly shattered by heavy seas or the detonation of the guns
and depth charge were boarded up. Below decks similar changes appeared in worn
and battered furnishings repeatedly stained by sea water straining through
A few months after her arrival the graceful
bowsprit of the Noma was removed and an accident
later carried away the head of the golden figure-head on her bow. But like She
of Samothrace, the headless goddess, in a coat of
battle gray, braved to the end each wave that crashed over her dipping bow.
Down in the wide roadstead of the Gironde six of the
yachts were finally gathered, as one by one the destroyers took over the troop
ship convoys into the northern ports. But if the safeguarding of human lives was
denied them, their new duty of the safe delivery of the ever increasing fleet
of store ships was of almost equal importance. Manned for the most part by the
same crews but officered largely by newcomers to the force their arduous,
monotonous, and dangerous work went steadily on.
The man on the left is loading the "Y" gun
The man on the right is setting a depth charge
Dropping a depth charge
The detonation of a depth charge
Behind the white tower of the lighthouse at the
entrance to the Gironde a
great arm of the land holds back the sea from the sheltered roadstead before Le
Verdon. To the north of the entrance the old seaport
town of Royan
fills a hollow of the shore, and on the cliff that sweeps seaward rise the high
white villas of a fashionable summer colony. Two hours run up the muddy river
are the wharves of Trompeloup, where the great naval
air station was established, and where from hog-backed colliers swinging hard
to ebb or flood in the swift stream, the yachts drew their coal at the end of
every run. Two or three hours farther up the river were the great docks of Bassin where the stout freighters discharged their cargoes
and where miles of American tracks and hundreds of American cars assembled by
American mechanics in an American shop at La Rochelle, received stores
Still beyond, within sight of Bassin, lies Bordeaux,
fan-shaped, its broad base against the stone docks along the south bank of the
river. There were other ports from which and to which the yachts escorted the
merchant convoys; but in the latter days of the war the bulk of their convoy
work centered in the Gironde.
Fifty and a hundred freighters at a single time rode at anchor before Le Verdon. Coal-burners and oil-burners; ships of the lake
type, built in states far inland and launched in fresh water; ships of standard
design in which all sense of elegance or line was subordinated to the grim
necessities of utility, tramp steamers, fruit steamers, and passenger vessels
that once touched southern ports. Here were ships from all the Allied world;
from the South American republics; from Italy, Spain, Portugal, Japan, France, England, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Russia.
Here were ships flying the tricolor of France,
and most numerous of all were the ships that flew the flag of the UNITED
Gray, battered, and still grimy with coal dust,
the yachts dropped down the river from a wearisome night of coaling at Trompeloup. Like gray shadows, they passed among the
freighters which, painted in a wild nightmare of camouflage, seemed like honest
and stolid citizens too consciously arrayed for some fancy carnival.
Slowly, with steam-wreathed bows, the heavy
anchors of the store ships were lifted from the muddy bottom of the river and
they stood down the channel to the sea, hoists of signal flags flung from
diminutive masts and semaphore signalmen waving madly from the bridges. Like
sheep dogs, the yachts and the small French patrol boats herded the convoy
consisting usually of from ten to thirty freighters, " in ballast,"
to the open sea. Overhead the seaplanes soared like strange gray flying fish,
too high above their native element, motors snarling and throbbing on the wind.
There were bright days when the harbor seemed a
gay picture, and there were all too frequent days of low gray clouds and a
heavy green sea beyond the bar. Then followed long days and longer nights of
uneventful monotony. By day the convoys followed the zigzag course prescribed
by the escort commander; by night the darkened ships held a straight course
unless a moon and a calm sea required a continuation of the zigzag.
Clinging to an open bridge in seas so heavy that
they were constantly drenched with bucketfuls of spray the officers of the
escorting yachts watched their plunging charges wallow in the sliding seas, now
lost to sight behind a cresting wave, now pitched high against the sky, half-bared
propellers churning the sea. There were interminable nights of anxiety when the
convoy scattered in the blackness and four thousand-ton freighters were running
wild in a wilder sea; invisible, ungovernable leviathans, careening far out of
their courses, liable without warning to loom out of the darkness high above
the bridge of a yacht reeling on the flank or in the rear of the convoy. There
too were nights and days of fog and rain; opaque days and nights when the
convoy became a nightmare. And there were starlit nights and days of blue skies
and bluer seas. But the days and nights of fog and darkness held the
never-to-be-forgotten hours of hardship.
All day and night, unremittingly, the eyes of
the watchers strained for a tell-tale sign of lurking submarine, a slick of oil
along the surface of the sea, a trail of bubbles, a cloud of birds hovering
above cast-up refuse or the fleeting periscope caught for a second and then
lost among the waves.
Two or three days out at sea the signals were
given and the yachts and French destroyers abandoned the convoy to the
comparative safety of the open sea and stood off to the rendezvous where they
would intercept the incoming laden convoy. Then at some hour of night or day
the contact would be made, and several days later the shores of France would
again rise on the eastern horizon and another convoy with its almost priceless
cargoes would be carried in safety to the shelter of the harbor.
But better than a description in general terms
of the service performed by the yachts in the long months of the war may be a
brief recounting of a few instances of the service which they performed in
maintaining intact "the bridge to France."
Spectacular as some of these adventures may seem, they formed but incidents in
a dreary routine, and it is not exceeding truthful statement to remark that
these engagements and disasters served to relieve a hardship which otherwise
would have been almost insufferable
At about two o'clock on the morning of November
5, 1917, the converted yacht Alcedo, while
proceeding on the starboard flank of a convoy, bound from Brest to Saint-Nazaire, approximately seventy miles west of Belle-Ile, sighted a submarine on the surface at a distance of
about three hundred yards on the port bow. The Alcedo
turned with full right-rudder, but was struck by the torpedo on the port bow
and sank almost immediately. One officer and twenty men were killed or drowned
in the disaster. Due to the suddenness of the attack and the darkness of the
night, the other escorting vessels were for a time ignorant of the Alcedo's fate and proceeded with the convoy. Putting off
from the sinking ship in two dories, three officers and twenty-five men were
picked up by fishermen and towed to the vicinity of Pte.
de Penmarch. The remaining survivors in a whaleboat
and two dories pulled toward Penmarch, and thirteen
hours later were picked up by the French torpedo boat No. 275 and were taken
The reports from all concerned indicate that the
action of the officers and crew of the Alcedo, upheld
the finest traditions of the service. The following letter was received by
Rear-Admiral Wilson, from Vice-Admiral Schwerer, Commandant Superieur
des Petrouilles de L’Ocean
de la Manche he Centrale:
In the name of the
entire personnel of the patrol squadrons of the Channel, I seek to express to
you the regret which we feel on account of the loss of that good patrol ship
the Alcedo and our brave comrades who have
disappeared with that ship.
They have joined in the
struggle which we are waging together for the victory of right and humanity and
their deaths will go far toward drawing closer the bonds which unite our two
We shall cherish their
memory and shall strive to avenge them.
Please accept my dear
Admiral, my sympathy and my most cordial good wishes.
On the twenty-eighth of November, 19 17, the
yachts Kanawha, Noma, and Wakiva
were proceeding with a convoy consisting of the S. S. Koln
and S. S. Medina. The convoy had sailed from Quiberon
in the afternoon and were following the prescribed zigzag and formation. At 6: 20 P.M. the lookout on
the Kanawha reported a periscope on the port beam, very close and headed for
The Kanawha made the necessary signals, went full speed ahead and turned
left-rudder in the direction of the submarine. Immediately the submarine
submerged, search by all three vessels of the escort failed to locate it and
signals were accordingly made for the convoy to reform and proceed. At 6: 50 P.M. the Noma sighted a periscope on her starboard beam, apparently
steaming to the northward. She immediately made signal and swung with
right-rudder, at the same time releasing two depth charges. Twelve minutes
later the Wakiva again sighted a periscope, this time
at a distance of not more than a hundred yards. The submarine drew rapidly aft
and was apparently steaming toward the convoy, but quickly appeared to swing in
order to bring to bear a bow tube on the Wakiva. The Wakiva turned promptly with left-rudder, forcing the
submarine to cross her wake, and at the same time fired three shots from the
port aft gun, the third shot apparently striking the periscope. Shortly after
she also released two depth charges, both of which functioned. A minute later
the conning-tower of the submarine emerged and the Wakiva
opened fire with her starboard forward gun, the second shot detonating. The
conning tower immediately sank, and as the Wakiva
passed over the spot a large number of air bubbles were seen coming to the
surface, and a quantity of wreckage also appeared. The Wakiva
promptly let go two more depth charges on the spot, and, turning, again passed
near the spot, when her commanding officer thought he saw the shapes of three
men clinging to a piece of wreckage and hailed them but received no answer. On
passing near the place a fourth time the men had disappeared. (Note: this claim is not confirmed by post-war
Meanwhile the Noma
continued her search and at midnight,
sighting a periscope on her starboard bow, turned toward it and passing over
it, let go a number of depth charges but with no results.
From the evidence, it appears that two
submarines were preparing to attack the convoy and that one of these was
destroyed by the Wakiva. This is further confirmed by
the fact that about 8:45 P.M. the
radio operator on the Noma heard a vessel sending in
German code with low power and apparently in the immediate vicinity. The vessel
called three times, sending the same message each time without waiting for a
reply. The sea was smooth throughout the action and the moon was shining dimly
through a slightly overcast sky.
twenty-third of December, 1917, the Norwegian
S. S. Spro, of about 1,500 tons gross, loaded with
coal, was proceeding from Cardiff to
La Palice. At Brest,
she joined a southbound convoy which was proceeding to Quiberon.
This convoy consisted of five vessels, the Spro being No. 4. The last ship, a small French steamer,
was well in the rear. The yachts Sultana and Emeline
formed the escort and were proceeding on either flank of the convoy.
The sea was comparatively smooth and the moon had
risen about one point on the starboard quarter in a slightly clouded sky.
Suddenly the officer of the deck of the Emeline felt
a pronounced jar passing through the ship, similar to that caused when a gun is
fired from the deck. At the same instant a black column of water and debris
rose high above the masts of the Spro, In less than a
minute the stern of the Spro sank beneath the surface
of the sea, and in another minute and a half the vessel entirely disappeared,
leaving a mass of wreckage floating in a heavy oil slick. At the same time, a
dark object was observed about a hundred yards beyond the Emeline,
to port of the column and to windward, and a pronounced odor of exhaust gases
was perceptible on the breeze. The Emeline headed
directly for the object but it quickly disappeared. A boat was then launched in
answer to the cries of the men swimming in the water, and the Emeline circled about the spot where the Spro had gone down. Eight men cleared the ship, one of whom
was not recovered.
fifth of January, 1918, a convoy of fifteen ships left Brest for
Quiberon, escorted by two American yachts, the
Wanderer and the Kanawha. The convoy was formed in two parts, the S. S. Luckenbach being No. 1 in the right column. The S. S. Le Cour, S. S. Dagny and S. S. Kanaris being Nos. 1, 4, and 7 respectively in the left
column. At about 11:30 A.M. when approximately eight miles west of Penmarch, the lookout at the port cathead of the Le Cour saw a torpedo jump out of the water. A second later
the torpedo struck the ship abreast No. 4 hatch and the Le Cour
sank in forty-five seconds. Half an hour later, a torpedo struck the Luckenbach, the force of the explosion throwing several men
into the sea. The Wanderer which was nearest by saved twenty-five members of
the crew and remained in the vicinity for several hours, but no trace of the
submarine could be found. At a quarter past one in the morning the captain of
the Dagny sighted a submarine to the starboard. He
immediately began to zigzag, blew his whistle and fired two lights to attract
attention. Ten minutes later the ship was struck on the starboard side and sank
in about two minutes. At two o'clock the
guns' crew on watch on the stern gun of the Kanaris
saw the wake of a torpedo about 45° to starboard. The Kanaris
was struck on the starboard bow and sank rapidly.
The following letter was received by
Lieutenant-Commander P. L. Wilson, commanding officer of the Wanderer:
From: Commander U. S.
Naval Forces in France. To: Commanding Officer, U. S. S. Wanderer.
SUBJECT: Officers and
men U. S. S. Wanderer, manner of performance.
The Commander U. S.
Naval Forces in France congratulates the Commanding Officer U. S. S. Wanderer
for the able manner in which the officers and men under his command performed
their duty under very trying circumstances in the presence of the enemy, upon
the occasion of the sinking of the S. S. Harry Luckenbach,
sunk by enemy submarines on the night of January 5-6, 1918.
(Signed) H. B. Wilson.
About a mile east of Pte.
du Talut is a low-lying
reef which offers a constant danger to navigation. On the twenty-seventh of January, 1918, a
dense fog covered the water. The Guinevere was returning from Quiberon, and was proceeding at a speed of about nine
knots, with the commanding officer and a French pilot on the bridge, when she
suddenly struck the reef tearing her bottom so badly that within two hours her
deck was under water and the high swells were causing her to pound heavily on
the reef, threatening her complete destruction. The ship was accordingly
abandoned, as it was seen that the case was hopeless, and later investigation
proved the impossibility of salvaging her. Today a torn hull lies in French
waters, a mute reminder of the activities of an American pleasure yacht in her
strange mission of war.
On May 21, 1918, the Christabel
sighted a periscope on the starboard beam at a distance of about three hundred
yards. The crew immediately went to “general quarters" and a number of
depth charges were dropped, set at a depth of seventy feet. Following the
explosion of the second charge there was a violent third explosion which sent
up an enormous quantity of water. This explosion was distinct from the usual
double shock felt when the explosive force of a depth charge reaches the
surface. Immediately afterward the Christabel crossed
over the spot and found the surface for an area of a hundred feet in diameter
covered with large air bubbles, much heavy black oil and quantities of
splintered pieces of wood, evidence of the destruction of another enemy
submarine. (Note: this claim is not confirmed by post-war
The third of the yachts to meet her fate was the
Wakiva. On May 22, 19 18, she was proceeding with a
Le Verdon convoy. A heavy fog covered the sea, and
due to a confusion of signals resulting from the poor visibility, the S. S. Wabash
made an unexpected change in course and rammed the Wakiva.
The yacht sank rapidly and the Wakiva’s officers and
crew were picked up by the Wabash,
which vessel returned with them under escort of the Isabel to Quiberon.
up a lifeboat in the Bay of Biscay
Picking up a lifeboat from a torpedoed ship -
men were in the partly swamped boat
The Westward Ho being towed into Brest with only
one per cent floatability
On the same day while escorting a northbound
coastal convoy, the Christabel detected a wake about
three hundred yards from the convoy and running parallel to it. The Christabel promptly steamed across the wake dropping a
number of depth charges. About three hours later a submarine appeared near the
convoy and the Christabel again steamed toward it,
and as the submarine promptly submerged, crossed over the spot and dropped two
more depth charges, both charges functioning. The first charge brought up only
clear water, but the second brought up heavy oil bubbles and parts of heavy
wood and debris. Following the second depth charge, an explosion was detected
beneath the surface, which was doubtlessly a mine or torpedo in the submarine
detonated by the concussion of the second depth charge. (Note: this claim is not confirmed by post-war research.)
The U. S. S. A. C. T. Westward Ho, when about
three hundred miles off the French coast on the eighth of August, was torpedoed.
Replying promptly to an “Allo" the destroyers
Conner, Roe, and Ericsson, started to the rescue and reaching her in a few
hours, took off surviving members of the crew. The Westward Ho was apparently
in a sinking condition and as the destroyers had to proceed on their duties as
convoy escorts she was abandoned. The Westward Ho, however, remained afloat
during the night and at four o'clock the
following morning was discovered by the yacht Noma.
After investigating her condition the Noma put a
salvage crew on board, and a little later the yacht May and the French torpedo
boat Cassioppee having come up, the Westward Ho was
taken in tow. Due to the fact that she was apparently sinking by the head she
was taken in tow stern first by the two yachts and the torpedo boat and a start
was made for the French coast. At about 2
P.M. the British tugs Epic and Woonda
joined up and relieved the yachts and torpedo boats. Due primarily to the
efforts and ingenuity of the engineer officer of the Noma,
steam was started in the boilers of the Westward Ho, and at 4 P.M. with reversed
engines she was started backing at good speed. At six
o'clock on the morning of August 10, the Concord and
the French torpedo boat Glaive joined up and the Concord
passed a third tow line. In this manner the convoy proceeded to Brest
where they arrived at six o'clock on
the evening of August 11, a distance of 315 miles. The cargo of the Westward Ho
was extremely valuable and of an important character, and her salvage under
these most extraordinary conditions reflected great credit on all of the
rescuing ships concerned. The cargo consisted chiefly of aeroplanes,
field artillery parts, rifles, machine guns, ammunition, and large quantities
of grain and hay.
In forwarding the officers' reports concerning
the salvage of the Westward Ho, the Commander United States Naval Forces in France
commented in part as follows:
No criticism is made of
the master of the Westward Ho for having abandoned his vessel, inasmuch as her
condition was believed to be desperate and the destroyers which rescued her
crew were required for duty with troop transports and could not remain in the
The salvage of the
vessel was a splendid feat of seamanship.
The party from the U. S.
S. May and U. S. S. Noma, under the direction of
Lieutenant Thomas Blau, U. S. N. R. F., boarded the
vessel, raised steam, pumped compartments adjacent to No. 1 hold and started
the ship's propelling plant. The vessel was taken in tow by the U. S. S. May
and Cassioppee and subsequently by tugs which had
been dispatched from Scilly Islands and from Brest. With the
assistance of her engines she was towed stern first for a distance of 315
It is recommended that
the Navy Department address letters of commendation to the following officers,
who participated in this enterprise:
C. Windsor, U. S. N., commanding U. S. S. May, (Senior officer present);
Lieutenant H. H. J.
Benson, U. S. N. commanding U. S. S. Noma;
Lieutenant Thomas Blau, U. S. N. R. F., and
Lieutenant (j. g.) W. R.
Knight, U. S. N. R. F., who took charge of the machinery part of the vessel.
Another aspect of the hardships encountered by
the yachts in their convoy service may be taken from the log of a single trip
of the Noma. While proceeding to a rendezvous she
encountered a severe northerly blow and the seas which were unusually short
made it difficult for the yacht to take them with ease. She proceeded to the
rendezvous, however, when she slowed down, and soon after, a heavy sea on her
bow smashed in the forward skylight, causing a considerable amount of water to
leak through to the lower deck. The same sea also caused the forward deck
houses to work considerably. An hour later while running with the sea abeam, at
a speed of about five knots in search for the convoy another heavy sea struck
the starboard side denting it and bending four frames; the same sea carried
away a davit and part of the gunwale. Returning to port, having met the convoy,
the Noma began to roll deeply, the sea being abaft
the port beam, and the second lifeboat's strongback
was carried away. By this time the entire main deck had begun to work and the
deck below the main deck was wet from stem to stern, officers' rooms and the
crew's living quarters were thoroughly drenched and all of the bedding was wet.
It was hard work; long were the hours and brief
the respite. Little has been told of the merchant convoys, for theirs was a
work that required secrecy of movements, and secrecy shrouded the wearisome
voyages. Only at rare intervals was the story of some sinking told by the crowded
press. But for the most part the incidents of their story were incidents of
negative action rather than of active deed. Armed with the dreaded depth
charges the yachts reduced the submarine warfare against our merchant shipping
to a degree that rendered its effect negligible in comparison with the vast
operations which were carried through. In the coastwise convoys there were more
frequent losses, but here a smaller individual tonnage offset the losses
incurred. Without exaggeration it may be truly said that had it not been for
the yachts and the few destroyers which aided them in the escort duty of the
store ships, the German scheme of submarine warfare would have succeeded to a
degree that would have rendered impossible the maintenance for a single week of
our Army on the soil of France. And at the same time it must be added, that
without the destroyers, and in the earlier days of the war the yachts as well,
the activities of the German submarines would have rendered wholly impossible
the transportation of our Army across the sea.
In the first days of the United
States naval activities
in French waters, it will be recalled that the duty of escorting both troop and
store ships fell to the converted yachts. With the advent of the destroyers,
the system was altered; and, as the number of destroyers was increased, the
yachts were gradually withdrawn from the troop convoys and detailed to the more
southern ports to act as escorts to coastwise convoys and to the great
transatlantic convoys of store ships which centered at the Gironde River.
Later, as the destroyer fleet was materially augmented, a number of smaller
coal-burning torpedo boats were assigned to duty with the yachts, considerably
strengthening their force and compensating for the yachts which had been lost
or from their months of hard service had so deteriorated that their usefulness
was seriously impaired.
The destroyers were ideally suited for the
important work of escorting the troop convoys. Possessing the invaluable
qualities of high speed, practical armament, and seaworthiness, they were able
to cope with every emergency and meet the submarine on a basis on which the
result was certain to terminate, in the large majority of instances, in their
Within the breakwater, which shelters the inner harbor of
the destroyers swung from buoys, moored together in clusters, great rafts of
slender steel hulls above which lifted a tangle of slim masts and wireless
antenna. Painted in fantastic camouflage and swarming with crews which averaged
more than a hundred men, the destroyer flotilla that was based in the busy
harbor afforded a constant picture of absorbing interest and vitality.
A convoy is to leave at 2 P.M. and the Benham casts off from the destroyers lying on either side
of her and backs swiftly out into the open water. Sensitive and alert, she
turns sharply, as her engines shoot her ahead, and with a white curve of water,
knifed up on either side of her chisel bow, she steams rapidly through the
narrow entrance. In the wide reaches of the outer harbor, a convoy of
camouflaged liners are lifting their anchors, homeward bound. Slowly they stand
down the channel between the cliffs, the Benham and
the other destroyers of the escort loafing leisurely beside them. Outside,
standard speed is set and the convoy heads for the open sea.
Rough weather on the destroyer
tubes on destroyer Benham
Four-inch gun crew on destroyer
There is no motion on land or sea comparable to
that of a destroyer. Rolling often in five-second jerks at an angle sometimes
over 50°, there is combined with the roll, a quick and violent pitching which
produces a sensation without parallel on any other type of vessel. To those
familiar with the great buildings in our larger cities, this pitching movement
of a destroyer may be compared with the abrupt starting and stopping of an
elevator operating at high speed; a sudden sinking, in which the deck seems to
drop away beneath the feet and then an abrupt upheaving
motion, almost before equilibrium can be regained.
Like maddened switchback cars, the destroyers
gyrate in the slightest sea. Grimy with soot of fuel oil, reeking with oil
gasses, they reel and plunge at express-train speed. The officers and men on
the bridge, half choked with frequent back drafts of gaseous oil smoke, and the
reek from the "Charley Noble" (galley smokestack), peer ahead through
a blizzard of flying spray. In the wardroom, the colored mess attendants
balance like acrobats and with the expertness of long experience, perform almost
impossible feats of juggling with plates and glasses. Few are the days when
meals can be served even with racks on the tables. It is a hand to mouth
existence, a catch-as-catch-can game in which the galley challenges the sea and
the sea usually holds the cards. Even personal cleanliness becomes impossible
in an unstable world, where water will invariably find its level when the wash
bowl slants at 45° or 50°. Chairs are lashed to the bulkheads, and by night or
day, when opportunity offers, officers and men roll into troubled bunks fully
dressed, ready at a moment's notice to appear on deck.
Within the three-eighths-inch steel hull, the
great turbines, with the horsepower of a battleship, throb and spin, driving
the whirling screws. There is not a foot of wasted space. In a swinging and
bucking world, crammed like a watch case with a maze of machinery, the
engineering crew moves like magicians in a world of steel and steam. Everything
is steel. Everywhere is the smell of oil; the ship is greased with it. And day
and night, rolling, pitching, slamming over, through or under the heavy seas,
the destroyers brought in the convoys, meeting them on some square mile of Atlantic, in
the reek of fog or the blackness of night, with unerring mathematical
There was a strange emotion that came to more
than a few of our sea-borne soldiers when from some high deck on a stormy
morning, they first saw the destroyer escort shaking the great green seas in
clouds of spray from their swaying bows. On these sea-whippets lived men in
dungarees and rubber boots who met the sea and mastered it; men who lived in
oil and spray, continuously balanced in a mad unstable world, and of greatest
importance in the eyes of the men who watched from the transport's decks, was
the protective part in the great game of war that the destroyer stood ready day
and night to play. To cast loose the depth charges, to man the guns, to ram the
submarine if possible; these were the ultimate purposes of the destroyer
escort. And so thoroughly did they perform their untiring service that our army
was carried in its vast entirety to its mission beyond the seas and landed
safely on the soil of France. In
this anti-submarine warfare the depth charges proved to be the most efficient
deterrent to submarine activity. In appearance a cylinder about two feet in
diameter and about three feet in height, each charge contained three hundred
pounds of high explosive and a hydrostatic apparatus by which the explosive was
detonated which could be set for any depth from 50 to 250 feet, the force of
the explosion over an area of 140 feet in diameter being sufficient to destroy
the submarine or force it, injured, to come to the surface. On sighting a
submarine, or locating it by any of the tell-tale indications of its presence,
such as oil slicks, or a wake of bubbles, the practice was immediately to drop
a buoy, marking the spot and then to proceed on a widening circle from this
point, dropping a barrage of depth charges in rapid succession covering the
entire area ahead, behind and on either side of the submarine, thus
anticipating its movements of escape in any direction.
But there is no general description of the work
of the destroyers that can briefly convey an impression of their labors so well
as a few specific incidents of the anti-submarine warfare waged by them in the
historic waters of the French coast during the long months of war. It is
impossible to recount all the engagements which occurred; it is even more
impossible to describe the long periods when no break relieved the grind of
routine duty at sea. Day and night, month after month, they kept their flags
flying. Their whole story, which may some day be told, is a narrative of
arduous duty conscientiously performed.
On August 9, 1918, the Tucker, while leading a
column of ten destroyers, sighted a periscope on her port bow at a distance of
eight hundred yards and gave chase. The submarine dived and the Tucker, going
ahead at full speed, dropped two depth charges about two hundred yards beyond
the point of submergence. She then dropped fourteen charges in a circle, when
the bow of the submarine broached and the Tucker opened fire with four
blunt-nosed shells, two of which scored hits. The submarine then submerged and
the Tucker passed directly over the spot, sighting her at a depth of twenty
feet and dropped two charges directly on her. A few minutes later oil appeared
on the surface of the water and it was believed, with reason, that the
submarine was destroyed. (Note: this
claim is not confirmed by post-war research.)
On the twenty-fourth of April, 1918, a
southbound coastal convoy was proceeding slowly off Penmarch
with the Stewart acting as escort. About two miles to seaward of the convoy's
position, two American naval avions were seen
dropping bombs. The Stewart immediately left the escort and proceeded at full
speed to the spot indicated by the avions, where she
was joined by a French destroyer coming from the northward.
One avion heading
directly toward the Stewart, dropped a buoy and the observer pointed with his
arm in the direction of the submarine. The sea was smooth, with a slight swell
and a clear and distinct wake could be seen, with an object just breaking the
surface at the end of the wake. The Stewart headed directly for the object and
followed it to seaward, but the wake suddenly changed its direction as the
object turned at right-angles to its original course. One of the avions promptly circled and dropped a smoke bomb near the
new position of the object which had now submerged but was still visible in the
clear water from the bridge of the Stewart. The Stewart passed within fifty
feet and dropped two depth charges in rapid succession each one bringing up a
column of water darkened with a heavy oil which spread rapidly over the surface.
For a time after the explosion, the water in the vicinity was streaked with a
thick red substance, the nature of which could not be determined. The depth
charges were dropped so close to the submarine, one on each side and within
fifty feet of it and the force of the explosion was so great that it seems
impossible that the submarine could have survived. (Note: this claim is not confirmed by post-war research)
One of the many instances of timely interference
of an American destroyer, which by its presence undoubtedly saved an attacked
ship, occurred on the nineteenth of October, 19 17. The American steamer J. L. Luckenbach was about two hundred miles west of Brest when
the lookout sighted a suspicious ship about five miles on the port beam and the
captain immediately changed his course to put the supposed enemy astern. At a
distance of about eleven hundred meters the ship, which soon proved to be a
submarine, opened fire, keeping, however, well out of reach of the Luckenbach’s guns. For a considerable period heavy firing
was maintained by both vessels, the submarine endeavoring by her fire to keep
the Luckenbach at a distance and to maneuver herself
into a position from which she might fire a torpedo. Meanwhile the Luckenbach attempted to prevent the submarine taking this
action. About two hundred shells were fired by each ship, seven of the enemy's
striking the Luckenbach, At the beginning of the encouater. the Luckenbach sent an
"Allo" by radio which was picked up by the
American destroyer Nicholson (then attached to the United
States squadron based
at Queenstown), who responded that she was on her way. About the middle of the
engagement, the Nicholson sent a new signal saying, "I am coming; make all
possible smoke to make yourself visible." Shortly after, a shell struck
the mount of the after gun of the Luckenbach forcing
the captain to turn the ship to the left in order to use his forward gun. At
the end of two hours' engagement, a shell from the submarine struck the Luckenbach, damaging the engines, cutting the smokestack
and forcing the vessel to stop. But an hour later, the Nicholson appeared over
the horizon and as she neared, fired four shots at the submarine which
submerged and disappeared. After temporary repairs, the Luckenbach
continued her way and reached Le Havre,
leaking badly and with a fire in the crew's quarters.
A.M. on the
thirty-first of May, 1918, the U. S. S. President Lincoln was
torpedoed and sunk. On the first intimation of disaster, calls were sent out to
the destroyers who proceeded promptly to the rescue of the survivors, the Warrington
being the first one to arrive, reaching the spot at 11.05
A.M. Shortly after, the, Smith appeared above the
horizon and joined the Warrington,
There were twelve boat loads of survivors and a number of life rafts.
A moderate swell was running but no difficulty
was experienced in effecting the rescue. The officers and men of both the Warrington and
Smith showed great devotion to duty and initiative in handling a very difficult
and unusual situation, particularly in rescuing the men off the life rafts and
received a letter of commendation from the Commander United States Naval Forces
in France. In
all, 685 Navy and Army officers and enlisted men were rescued. Four naval
officers and twenty-three naval enlisted men were counted missing. Of these,
one officer. Lieutenant E. V. M. Isaacs, U. S. N., was taken on board the
submarine and later escaped from a German prison camp. (Note: Lt Isaacs was subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor)
destroyer Jarvis rammed the
of the Jarvis after her collision with the Benham
The side of the Benham
after being rammed
by the Jarvis
the destroyer Jarvis after collision
with the Benham
On the first of July, 1918, at a quarter after
nine in the evening, the U. S, S. Covington which had left Brest for the United
States on the morning of the same day, was torpedoed in latitude 47° 24' N.
longitude 7° 44' W., by a submarine which was not seen before or after the attack.
Prior to the explosion, however, the wake of a torpedo was seen by the
executive officer, close to the ship. When struck, the Covington was
zigzagging in the front line of an eight-ship convoy, escorted by seven
destroyers. The blow was a quartering shot, just forward of the engine-room
bulkhead, in No. 5 bunker on the port side. The bulkhead was damaged and the
engine-rooms and fire-rooms were rapidly flooded. The ship took a strong list
to port, but stayed afloat until 3:32
P.M. of July
2, 1918, when she sank very rapidly in the final
plunge. Immediately after the torpedo struck, the U. S. S. Smith opened a
depth-charge barrage and circled the Covington.
Meanwhile, as the torpedoed ship was helpless and liable to be hit again, she
was abandoned by the officers and crew in excellent order and all the known
survivors were taken on board the Smith. At daylight the captain and officers
and twenty-two men, together with one officer and eight men of the U. S. S.
Reid, which had arrived on the scene, returned to the Covington to
supervise salvage operations. The Smith was later joined by the Wadsworth,
Shaw, and Nicholson and the French gunboats Conquerante
and Engageante. At five in the morning of July 2,
1918, the Covington was taken in tow by the U. S. S. tug Concord and the
British tugs Revenger and Woonda,
but the gradual sinking of the ship finally made progress impossible and after
towing her approximately twenty-five miles, the ship was abandoned by her
salvage crew and sank in twenty minutes after the last man was taken off. The
Smith, with 743 survivors, proceeded to Brest;
and the Nicholson with the captain of the Covington and
the salvage crew, arrived at the same port a few hours later. Of the entire
crew of the Covington, only three were unaccounted for and three were drowned.
The discipline and courage of all of the officers and crew of the Covington
were excellent and crews of the fire-room and engine-room on watch at the time,
showed particular fortitude.
Illustrative of the dangers of navigation, when
navigating without lights and in crowded waters, was the collision of the
destroyers Benham and Jarvis. The night was very dark
and there was a heavy fog. Both vessels were making high speed. Suddenly the
rudder of the Jarvis jammed, she sheered quickly toward the Benham
and overrode her abreast of the bridge, tearing a great hole in her side
extending half way through the wardroom. The force of the blow tore away the
bow of the Jarvis almost completely. Fortunately, the injuries to the Benham were largely above wind and water and the collision
bulkhead of the Jarvis held sufficiently to permit her to follow the Benham to Brest.
Many were the instances of engagements between
destroyers and submarines in which the final outcome remains unknown. In a
large number of instances, however, it is highly probable to presume that the
submarine made a successful escape; but there were also many times when the
prompt action of the destroyers must have proved fatal to the submarine,
although no tangible evidence of its fate appeared. (Note: regrettably, none of these claims are confirmed by post-war
In a smooth sea, with the sky partly overcast
and a new moon low in the sky, the destroyer Cummings sighted what appeared to
be the wake of a torpedo crossing about fifty yards ahead of her bow. The
rudder was put "hard-left;” the crew sent to "general quarters"
and the Cummings shot forward at full speed and followed the wake which was
very straight and unbroken, and marked with a wake of bubbles when first
sighted. As the Cummings advanced, dense smears of oil were perceived on the
surface, terminating at a distance of three hundred yards in a large slick. A
barrage of twenty depth charges at ten-second intervals was dropped and the
destroyer circled in the vicinity for half an hour, but no evidence of the
Another instance comes from the Benham. On the morning of July 9, the junior officer of the
deck sighted a periscope on the starboard bow of one of the ships of the
convoy. Steaming at full speed, depth charges were dropped several hundred
yards before the spot was reached, in order to check the submarine and prevent
her firing her torpedoes. The destroyer then circled and dropped a barrage of
depth charges, but no wake, oil slick, or other disturbances were seen on the
Another story of a submarine comes from the
Reid, which was proceeding with a west-bound convoy on July 17. The Nicholson,
which also was with the escort, was seen shelling an object to the northward
and the Reid promptly proceeded toward the point of fire, where what appeared
to be the wash of a moving periscope was visible. When about a mile from the
point and fifteen hundred yards from the Nicholson, the Reid saw an object
break water on her port bow with a perceptible white wash and splash and a
minute later the officers on the bridge saw a torpedo headed in her direction
and toward the convoy. The Reid immediately began to drop depth charges to
deflect, or if possible, destroy the torpedo, which was proceeding, at times
broaching bright in the sunlight, at a high speed. After about ten minutes, a
wake was sighted and a number of depth charges were dropped. The depth charge
next to the last one appeared to counter-mine and exploded what was thought at
the time, to be another charge which might have been let go at approximately
the same time. This second explosion was near the surface and caused a heavy
dull shock and concussion over a wide area. Later, it was found that two
charges had not been let go simultaneously and it was therefore presumed that
the dull shock was caused by an explosion within the submarine.
The two words, "suspicious object,"
appeared frequently in the reports of the destroyers, for whenever a suspicious
object was sighted, action by the destroyers invariably followed. During one of
the summer months of 1918, the McDougal sighted a dark slate-colored object
like a low mound, at a distance of about seven miles. She proceeded immediately
at a speed of about thirty knots toward the object, which began to move in a
northwesterly direction. The crew were sent to "general quarters,"
manning the guns and torpedo tubes, depth-charge throwers and releases. By this
time the object showed a second low hump about sixty feet to the left, but no
periscope, gun, or deck line was visible and a few minutes later the object
disappeared. Heading for the spot, two depth charges were dropped on a slight
oil slick which appeared, but there were no other indications of the presence
of a submarine.
At about sunrise on the morning of the fifth of
October, while standing into the harbor at Brest, a torpedo was sighted by the
Bridgeport about one hundred and twenty-five yards from the ship, running so
close to the surface that its whole outline could be seen. It was at first
thought that the torpedo would strike the ship in the vicinity of the mainmast,
but it finally passed clear of the rudder and so close, that it was seen by a
number of people looking over the fantail. Upon sighting the torpedo, the speed
of the Bridgeport was
increased and the rudder swung "hard-left," which prompt action
undoubtedly saved the ship.
The Fanning which was escorting the Bridgeport,
immediately dashed through the convoy at a speed of twenty-two knots and headed
in the direction from which the torpedo was fired, searching for traces of oil.
A small patch of oil was finally discovered and six depth charges were dropped
at ten-second intervals. On sighting some more oil ahead, the Fanning dropped a
number of additional depth charges, and then perceiving a heavy oil wake about
a thousand yards ahead, followed it at full speed. Approaching the slick, a
clearly marked zigzag was perceptible, as if the submarine were going deeper
and slowing down. The oil was heavy and a strong oily smell was noticeable.
More depth charges were dropped and the search was continued for a number of
hours but no further indications of the presence of a submarine appeared.
It is now believed that the submarine which
attacked the Bridgeport was later sunk by a French patrol boat with a
three-hundred pound American depth charge in a position about seven miles north
of Ile de Sein, in about
thirty fathoms of water. The patrol boat sighted the periscope of the submarine
at a considerable distance on the bow and passing over the spot where the
submarine submerged, dropped depth charges. The listening apparatus established
the fact that the submarine remained on the bottom and additional depth charges
which were released produced a heavy persistent oil patch. The patrol boat
remained in the vicinity all night and the submarine was not heard to move. (Note: this claim is not confirmed by
post-war research. However USS Fanning was responsible for what is believed to
be the one success by US forces in World War 1 –the sinking of U.58 off the
Bristol Channel on the 17 November 1917. )
The explosion of the Florence H
There is another story in the following extract
from the diary of the flotilla, a simple statement ungarnished
by details, of a trip that is probably not yet forgotten by those who
participated in its stormy adventures:
The Roe, Monaghan, and
Warrington returned from danger zone escort duty with troop and store ships,
having weathered the gale of the past few days. The Monaghan lost her foremast
and the Roe her mainmast. Both vessels lost boats. The Warrington lost her liferafts.
Such was the weather off Finistere
on the nineteenth
of December, 1917.
The story of American naval activities in French
waters is relatively free from those disasters which seem an almost certain
part of any great activity, and the single grave disaster, the burning of the
Florence H. gives emphasis to our great good fortune in this respect, in spite
of the constant dangers, other than those of the submarine, to which our ships
were constantly subjected while in port; dangers due primarily to the vast
quantities of high explosives and inflammable stores with which they were
loaded. The Florence H. was anchored in convoy at Quiberon
Bay on the seventeenth of April, 1918. At a quarter to eleven in the evening, a
violent explosion on board wrecked the vessel. The cause has never been
determined, but as she was loaded with powder and there is little likelihood
that a submarine could have penetrated into Quiberon
Bay it seems plausible that the explosion was internal.
The Florence H. had been at anchor about half an
hour when the explosion occurred. At the moment of the disaster the destroyer
Stewart was passing at high speed. From the description later made by the
Stewart's commanding officer, the Florence H. burst suddenly into flame, like a
flare of flashlight powder. At intervals the flame died down sufficiently to
permit the outline of the ship to be clearly visible, then suddenly, the
incandescent glare increased again until nothing could be seen but a mass of
flame rising from the water. In about five minutes the forward part of the ship
began to break up and at rapid intervals loud explosions of ammunition
occurred. Then the sides of the vessel fell outward and the surrounding water
was strewn with burning boxes of powder. The Stewart turned from her course and
headed in toward the after section of the Florence H. which had still held
together, with the hope of rescuing the survivors of the crew. In addition to
the Stewart, the destroyers Whipple and Truxton and
the yachts Wanderer, Christabel, Sultana, Emeline, Corona, and Rambler, aided in the rescue; and
gallant work was performed by the rescuing parties who proceeded in small boats
from the various ships as close as possible to the burning ship. Of
seventy-five people on board the Florence H. at the time, thirty-four were
rescued, although many of the survivors were severely burned.
In a very few minutes after the fire had broken
out, great masses of burning wreckage spread over the sea to the leeward and
burst into sudden flame as the ammunition and powder cases exploded, shooting
long tongues of fire and bursts of gasses into the air with a roar which rose
above the sound of the burning ship. But the rescue parties from the various
ships pushed fearlessly into the burning mass of wreckage, ignoring the powder
cases which were constantly exploding around them, and by their prompt work
were responsible for the saving of the survivors.
On May 3, Vice-Admiral Moreau, prefet maritime of Brest, boarded the U. S. S.
Stewart and with the crew drawn up for muster pinned on Lieutenant H. S. Haislip, the commanding officer of the Stewart the croix de guerre for his splendid work in
rescuing the survivors of the S. S. Florence H. under very dangerous
circumstances at the time of her destruction. Admiral Moreau then addressed the
ship's company and complimented them in the warmest terms on the fine work
which they had accomplished.
And on September 26, 1918, a second interesting
ceremony took place on board the Stewart, in the harbor of Brest, when Frank
Upton, quartermaster, third class, U. S. N. and Jesse W. Covington, ships cook,
third class, U. S. N., were decorated with the Congressional Medal of Honor for
their heroic action in jumping overboard and saving the wounded from the
Florence H. at the time of her explosion and destruction by fire. In presenting
these medals, the Commander United States Naval Forces in France,
said in part:
While the department has
designated these two men, the honors were not limited to these; for the whole
ship's company, with their ship, have all consistently distinguished
THE chief work of the Navy in France was
naturally to patrol the sea and to wage an anti-submarine warfare; but there
were also other activities of the naval forces which should be included in an
account of its work abroad during the war. Books could, and doubtless will be
written covering fully these activities, and it is with reluctance that only
such brief mention can be given here. But at least this slight narrative may
give some intimation of the constant dangers and hardships in which the
officers and enlisted men of our naval forces in France
For centuries the surface of the sea has alone
afforded the setting for naval activities; but with the entrance of the
hydroplane and the dirigible balloon into modern warfare strange tales of new
adventures and achievements in another element have been written into the annals
of the sea.
But as the purpose of this narrative is to deal
primarily with the activities of the men who went down to the sea in ships, and
as by the close of the war the naval air establishment had reached a size and
scope which would require an entire volume adequately to describe, it seems
advisable to give here only a brief resume of this important work and a few
graphic instances of naval cooperation on the sea and in the air.
The aviation forces of the United States Navy in
made its first establishment on the French coast under the general command of
the Commander United States Naval Forces in France,
with Captain Hutch I. Cone in immediate command. Organized originally to
comprise three air stations situated at Dunkirk and at the entrances to the
rivers Loire and Gironde, the number was constantly
increased until at the close of the war a continuous fringe of United States
and French naval air stations for hydroplanes and dirigibles lined the coast
from Dunkirk to the Spanish boundary. Due to the fact that the French aviators
and planes were in a large measure withdrawn from the coastal work in the
earlier months of the war for land service on the German lines, the arrival of
the American forces afforded an invaluable and greatly to be desired assistance
at a time when the immeasurably increased coastal and deep-sea traffic due to
the entrance of the United States into the war created a proportionate increase
of submarine activity.
By the close of the war the entire coast was
included in a comparatively complete system of air patrols, and plans were
nearing completion for a series of fifty American and French stations to
control intensively the entire seacoast.
At the beginning, the work of the American
forces was purely of reconnaissance, and the convoy patrols were carried on
entirely by the French avions from their bases at the
larger ports. Later, a proportion of the convoy work was undertaken by the
American aviators and three kite-balloon stations were established at Brest, Lorient,
and La Trinite.
alongside the Bridgeport at Brest
view of the destroyers showing camouflage
Looking forward on a “flush deck” destroyer
Looking aft on a “flush deck” destroyer
The value of the hydroplane and the dirigible in
naval warfare cannot be overestimated. Possessing a high speed, a wide range of
operation, a relative safety from attack and operating at an altitude from
which observation over a vast area is possible, the aviator is now able to
direct the movements of fleets and guide their operations against an enemy
invisible from the level of the sea. As the swift frigate was to Nelson and the
cruiser to Togo, so to the admirals of the present war the hydroplane has made
possible a knowledge of enemy operations far in advance of the actual contact,
and as sea power in past ages has been the key to national security, so in the
future years must sea power be assured by air supremacy.
As an enemy of the submarine the sky frigates
have, in the war immediately past, proved of the greatest value, for from the
plane of their operations it was possible to scan a wide tract of sea, and even
in the depths of the water to detect the presence of the submerged submarine.
Armed with bombs and machine guns they were not limited to the work of
scouting, but under varied circumstances in a large number of in stances gave
battle to the enemy and rendered an invaluable service.
The comprehensive operations of the United
States Naval Air Force in France required an amount of construction which had
only reached completion shortly before the termination of hostilities. Had the
war continued for even a few months longer this branch of the service would
have played an enormously greater part in the conflict with the submarine. As
it was, the service rendered was of a vital nature and the entire organization
is entitled to much commendation for the work actually done and the
comprehensive plan which was brought so nearly into full operation.
The following instances have been selected as
characteristic of the work performed by the aviation forces in conjunction with
the Navy on the French coast.
twenty-ninth of October, 1917, a hydroplane
on patrol duty with a convoy departing from La Palice,
sighted the American steamship Alma
proceeding along in the direction of Rochebonne.
Flying over the ship, the aviators saw at a considerable distance the wake of a
submarine approaching the Alma.
Passing over the wake, the aviators dropped two bombs, which fell near the
wake, and a third which apparently struck in close proximity to the submarine.
The submarine realizing the danger of its situation promptly dived and
On another day of the same month two hydroplanes
left Camaret on a scouting trip. Shortly after
passing Ouessant, about twenty-five miles from Ile Verge, they picked up the wake of a submarine. Heading
for it, they perceived the outline of the submarine below the surface,
apparently headed in the general direction of several sailing ships. The
afternoon was late, it was growing dark and a strong breeze was blowing. The
two hydroplanes passed over the submarine and as they saw the periscope each
dropped a bomb. The first bomb fell near the mark and the second struck the
superstructure of the submarine. Passing over the mark again, each hydroplane
dropped a second bomb. The submarine now disappeared giving off quantities of
oil that rapidly spread over the surface of the sea. Then the periscope
suddenly shot forth and again disappeared and a heavy list was discernible in
the submarine. Seeing that their work was accomplished, the hydroplanes warned
the patrols escorting the convoy and returned to their base.
The dangers and hardships of the air service
find a good example in the experience of two hydroplanes which put out from Tréguier for patrol duty off Ile
de Batz. Late in the afternoon motor trouble
developed in one of the hydroplanes and it was forced to light about eight
miles west of Tréguier. The other machine descended
slowly and threw a message buoy to a fishing boat which was standing in the
vicinity. The buoy was picked up but the message had become detached. The first
hydroplane then released its carrier pigeons, but it was found later that these
for some reason failed to arrive at their coop. The other machine then returned
to Tréguier for help, and several patrol boats went
out and searched all night and during the following morning for the missing
hydroplane. Finally at the end of twenty-six hours the two occupants of the
hydroplane were picked up by the French destroyer Durandol,
floating helplessly in a rough sea. The machine was taken in tow but the line
parted and it sank before a new line could be passed.
The following report of an attack on a submarine
is characteristic of a number of similar engagements, and is quoted in the
aviator's own words from his report.
On Tuesday morning,
April 23, 1918, at 10:33, hydroavions No. 25 with
Pilot R. H. Harrell and Observer H. W. Studer and No.
22 with Pilot-Ensign K. R. Smith and Observer G. E. Williams, left station Ile Tudy for the purpose of
convoying and to search for hydroavion No. 26 which
was forced to land on account of motor trouble, the incident of No. 26 having
been reported on return of No. 23, which two had been out on previous patrol
Leaving station, steered
zigzag course toward Pte. de Penmarch.
At 10:58 A.M. sighted No.
26, three miles west of Pte. de Penmarch
tied astern of two-mast fishing smack. We circled over them to ascertain if all
was well. On finding them resting comfortably, steered a course to the south
along the shore to inform the motorboat crew which was sent out from station to
tow them in. Upon reaching the boat, dropped them a correspondence buoy, giving
them the location of No. 26 and informing them to follow us to her position.
Resuming course toward Pte. de Penmarch,
circled over No. 26 and signaled all was well.
Made contact with
south-bound convoy of twenty ships at 11:30 A.M. six miles
northwest of Pte. de Penmarch.
Continued flight towards northwest off starboard side of convoy, arriving at
position off end of last ship, circled to the southwest, remaining on starboard
side of ships.
At 11:43 A.M. observed an object on
the surface of water, bearing 280° off Pte. de Penmarch light and about eight miles from shore. Made
signals to my pilot to steer for that point and arriving over the object made a
closer observation. Observed water disturbance, bubbles, oily surface and small
wash of sea growth. Ensign K. R. Smith, my pilot, instructed me to arm the
bombs and bomb the spot. We then made a short circle over the position, raising
from seventy-five meters to two hundred. The bombs were armed and everything
made ready for bombing, and upon coming over the location again observed a dark
object and apparently more oil.
The first bomb was
dropped at 11:50 a.m. The results
were highly satisfactory, both in placing the shot and the bomb's effectiveness
- hitting the exact spot of disturbance and color. We then circled for another
shot which was dropped at 11:52 and hitting ten
feet farther westward than the previous shot.
During the bombing
period No. 25 was circling the same position and guarding our movements. The
observer in plane No. 25 showed his presence of mind in dropping a phosphorus
buoy marker, thereby marking the exact location and giving notice of position
to an American destroyer, which was steaming to our position at full steam.
We flew towards the
American destroyer dropping a correspondence buoy of our action. The destroyer
steamed ahead to the bombing position and upon arriving over the spot let go
three depth charges. At this juncture a French gunboat arrived at scene of
encounter, standing with all guns manned and searching for what would appear of
an enemy submarine.
We continued circling
our position over spot, observing the results of the bombs, seeing nothing but
small particles of what appeared to be cork, much sea growth, and oil. Left
scene of action at 12:30 P.M. and
continued a course to the south.
At 12:35 again made contact with convoy which had
arrived twelve miles southwest of Pte. de Penmarch and were passing a second convoy of sixteen ships
At 12:36 hydroavion No.
25 flew signal of motor trouble and both headed for station, arriving at 12:48. The conditions were: Weather, hazy;
sea, heavy ground swells; visibility of air, poor; visibility of water, good.
The duration of flight was two hours and fifteen minutes.
The use of kite balloons for observation
purposes proved of great practical value in conjunction with the destroyers,
but this means of observation was not adopted until the closing months of the
war. Early in August, 19 18, a trial trip with a kite balloon was made by the
Cushing. Extremely rough weather, a number of minor defects (partly due to the
new apparatus), the inexperience of the crew, and the seasickness of the
balloon personnel, rendered the experiment in some respects unsatisfactory. The
balloon behaved perfectly, however, except at one time when it became
considerably deflated, and, due to its violent plunging in the high wind, could
not be gassed. On this occasion the observer was obliged to dive overboard out
of the basket as the only possible way by which he could reach the destroyer.
The report of operations with a kite balloon on
the Ericsson the latter part of August gives the information that the smoke of
an approaching convoy was detected at a distance of forty miles and again, at
the same distance, a passing convoy was detected. The flying height was from
640 to 660 feet.
Although the bluejacket is naturally associated
primarily with the sea, almost every war has contained memorable instances of
the action of seamen in land operations, and in our naval operations in France the
brief but important work of the United
States naval railway
batteries proved that even in modern warfare the amphibious nature of the Navy
has not declined.
Early in 1918 it was determined to provide a
number of guns of large caliber mounted on railway carriages to work in
conjunction with our land forces. The long familiarity of the Navy with guns of
this nature resulted in the prompt decision to operate the batteries, officered
by naval officers and manned by bluejackets, as naval
Each battery consisted of one fourteen-inch
fifty-caliber naval gun weighing approximately 178,000 pounds, mounted on a
railway carriage and accompanied by a complete train for its operation and
supply, consisting of a locomotive, tender, fourteen-inch ammunition car,
anti-aircraft car, anti-aircraft ammunition car, battery headquarters kitchen
car, staff headquarters and dispensing car, berthing car, staff radio car, fuel
car and staff quarters car. The expedition was also accompanied by a
construction car with a heavy crane, a wrecking car, a staff officers car, a
spare parts car and a number of freight and flat cars. The command of the
expedition was placed with Captain (later Rear-Admiral) C. P. Plunkett, U. S.
N., and Commander G. L. Schuyler, U. S. N., second in command and gunnery
The construction of the trains was undertaken by
the Baldwin Locomotive Works at Philadelphia,
and a number of specially trained mechanics from this plant were enlisted in
the Navy and accompanied the expedition.
Early in August the guns and equipment began to
arrive at Saint-Nazaire,
and on the eighteenth of the month the first complete one-gun battery was ready
to leave for the Front. No. 2 battery was assembled and ready a short time
later, and by the latter part of September batteries Nos. 3, 4, and 5 were
ready for the field.
There had been considerable speculation
regarding the possible effect on the railroad tracks and bridges due to the
enormous weight of the trains but no damage occurred, and the trains proceeding
at a reasonable speed arrived at their destination without incident.
The honor of the first shot came to battery No.
2 which opened on a large enemy ammunition dump near Fontenoy
on September 14. For a number of weeks, batteries 1 and 2, operating under the
control of the commanding general of the first French Army, were employed in
the vicinity of Soissons and
fired chiefly on Laon, and at Mortiers
The range of these guns being approximately fifty thousand yards, it was
possible to spread destruction far inside the enemy lines, and to increase
their effectiveness they were at all times placed in very advanced positions
which brought them under more or less continuous fire.
Left to right – Vice-Admiral Moreau, French
Navy, Assistant Secretary of Navy, Roosevelt, Vice-Admiral Schwerer,
French Navy, Rear-Admiral Benoit, French Navy, and Vice-Admiral Wilson, United
States Navy, at Brest
The reports of battery No. 1 mention that on one
occasion a six-inch German shell exploded within twelve feet of the gun, but
slight damage was done, and the matter was officially dismissed with the remark
that the enemy shell "peppered” the battery. In reply to this
"hit" the battery shortly after dropped a shell into a German troop
cinema creating over one hundred casualties.
Early in October Nos. 3, 4, and 5 took up a
position at Thierville, in the Verdun Sector, and
they were later joined in the same general vicinity by Nos. I and 2, where fire
was maintained on Montmedy, Mengiennes,
Benestroff and Sarrebourg.
On October 27 an enemy shell exploded in the
vicinity of battery No. 5, wounding five men, one of whom later died of his
wounds. Due to their advanced position which brought them under constant fire
of both the long-range and smaller caliber guns of the enemy, it is remarkable
that the casualties were relatively few, and especially as the night firing
exposed the men constantly to the enemy’s observation.
A most valuable service was given by the
batteries, and had the war continued they were destined for a part which would
have been of the utmost importance. All the materiel withstood the constant
firing effectively and the highest commendation was received by the officers
and men for their skill in operating the guns.
Mine-sweeping is perhaps one of the most
important and at the same time one of the dangerous and most disagreeable
services rendered by the naval forces in modern warfare. The experiences of the
little group of United States
mine-sweepers at Lorient was
no exception. It will be recalled that the fleet of United
in French waters consisted of nine small vessels which were originally sent
over for patrol service, but being speedily condemned for this work, due to
their unsuitable construction, were later converted for minesweeping.
In this department the French Naval Forces were
particularly active, the Tossizza scissors apparatus,
a French invention by which mines caught by the sweeping gear were released and
allowed to rise to the surface where they might be destroyed by gunfire, having
proved highly effective. So valuable, in fact, was this contribution to
anti-mine work that it was adopted by the British Navy for their own extensive
concentrated their operations at Lorient,
and there worked in conjunction with the French in keeping free the channels
and in destroying enemy mine fields in the vicinity reported by ships or
The German mines were laid, by necessity,
entirely by submarines, and only the constant, untiring, daily sweeping of the
channels could assure the safety of the shipping passing through them. These
mines, of various types as the war progressed, were in the large part anchored
at a depth of about fifteen feet, on high tide, beneath the surface, to be
exploded by the sides of the passing vessel which, coming in contact with the
protruding horns detonated the mine.
The French mine-sweepers were built for this
particular duty and were a light-draft type of vessel capable of proceeding
with relative safety over an existing mine field without striking the submerged
mines. The American sweepers, on the other hand, were a converted craft and of
a draft which permitted their use for only a couple of hours on the flood tide.
At these times they could pass safely over the mines, but at lower water there
would have been considerable danger of striking and detonating the mines
encountered. In this work a number of sweepers worked together advancing over a
supposed field dragging their sweeping gear astern. As the wire cables which
comprised the sweeps caught on the anchoring cable of a mine, the scissors
either cut loose the mine or the mine was torn loose from its anchorage and
rose to the surface, when it was promptly exploded by gunfire.
In the earlier years of the war a type of mine
was employed by the German mine layers which could be "dehorned," and
after being thus rendered innocuous, could be examined. Later, however, the
mines were so constructed that an attempt to dehorn them resulted in their
explosion and the annihilation of several detachments of enterprising French
The hazardous nature of this work, its monotony
and the discomforts of the vessels made the duties of the mine-sweepers far
from enviable and much credit should be given to the men who uncomplainingly
gave themselves to this branch of the service.
The value of this service is indicated by the
following letter from the prefet maritime of
the third arrondissement, Vice-Admiral Aubrey, to the district commander at Lorient.
The C. D. P. L. has
recently informed me how much he appreciates the services of the United
States mine-sweepers in the
daily sweep and the destruction of enemy mines. He has spoken in particular, of
the zeal which these sweepers showed the second week of July, when in
conjunction with the French, they cleared the mine field Guérande
shoal. This successful operation was carried out in bad weather under very
arduous and dangerous conditions.
I wish to express to you
my sincere gratitude and will ask that you kindly convey my thanks and appreciation
to the officers and crews of the Hinton and Cahill and most particularly to the
James, which alone sank four mines.
On a gray afternoon early in November the sound
of cheering greeted the destroyer Roe as she slid out from her moorings and turned
slowly toward the opening in the breakwater. From her slender mainmasts a
hundred-foot pennant, a single row of stars in its blue field and two long
stripes of red and white beyond, curved and floated in the breeze. It was
"homeward bound." As the Roe stood out of the harbor cheers from
every vessel gave her a Godspeed as she passed. From destroyer decks groups of
men with home longing in their eyes watched her steam on toward the outgoing
convoy. A destroyer signalled "Give our regards
to Broadway," and "Good Luck, may you follow soon" came back
from the fluttering semaphore on her signal bridge. She was the first to leave
from France, and although the armistice was declared but a week later, there
were few who watched her departure on that gloomy afternoon, who dared to hope
that the end of actual hostilities was so near at hand.
A week later the harbor was glittering in
sunshine. It was noon and
the crews of the hundred-odd vessels in the great harbor of
were knocking off their work for dinner. Suddenly from the shore battery beside
the ancient fortress a puff of white smoke was followed by the dull boom of a
gun; another followed, another, and then another. The heavy voices of the guns
were augmented by a high-pitched whistle from a great French cruiser, and an
enormous tricolor broke out suddenly against the blue of the sky. Other guns
took up the challenge; deep-voiced whistles and wailing, shrieking sirens. The
armistice was signed! On every ship men crowded the decks and cheered madly. Great
flags, the unconquered emblem of America, broke out on the breeze. The hostilities
were ended. It was over, “Over There."