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supplies of oil fuel to this country in the double bottoms of merchant
ships. By the end of 1917 the situation had greatly improved.

The losses of shipping during 1917 were particularly heavy in the
Mediterranean. Apart from the fact that the narrow waters of that sea
render difficult a policy of evasion on the part of merchant shipping
and give great advantages to the submarine, it was thought that the
heavy losses in the early part of the year were partly due to the method
of routeing the ships then in force, and in reply to representations
made to the French Admiralty this system was altered by the French
Commander-in-Chief. It should be noted that the Mediterranean outside
the Adriatic was under French naval control in accordance with the
agreement entered into with France and Italy. The cordial co-operation
of the French Admiralty with us, and the manner in which our proposals
were met, form very pleasant memories of my term of office at the
Admiralty. During the greater part of the year 1917 Admiral Lacaze was
Minister of Marine, whilst Admiral de Bon held office as Chief of the
Naval Staff during the whole year. Nothing could exceed the courtesy
extended to me by these distinguished officers, for whom I conceived
great admiration and respect.

The result of the altered arrangement was a decided but temporary
improvement, and the losses again became serious during the summer
months. I then deemed it desirable that the control of the traffic
should be placed in the hands of officers stationed at Malta, this being
a central position from which any necessary change in the arrangements
could be made more rapidly and with greater facility than by the French
Commander-in-Chief, who was also controlling fleet movements and who,
for this reason alone, was not in a position to act quickly.

A unified command in the Mediterranean would undoubtedly have been the
most satisfactory and efficient system to adopt, but the time was not
ripe for proposing that solution in 1917, and the alternative was
adopted of British control of the traffic routes throughout the whole
Mediterranean Sea subject to the general charge of the French
Commander-in-Chief which was necessary in such an eventuality arising as
an attempted "break out" of the Austrian Fleet.

Accordingly, with the consent of the French and Italian Admiralties,
Vice-Admiral the Hon. Sir Somerset Gough-Calthorpe, K.C.B., was
dispatched to the Mediterranean as British Commander-in-Chief; he was in
control generally of all British Naval forces in the Mediterranean, and
especially in charge of all the arrangements for the protection of trade
and for anti-submarine operations, the patrol vessels of all the
nationalities concerned being placed under his immediate orders for the
purpose, whilst the whole of the Mediterranean remained under the
general control of Vice-Admiral Gauchet, the French Commander-in-Chief.
Admiral Calthorpe was assisted by French and Italian officers, and the
Japanese Government, which had previously dispatched twelve destroyers
to the Mediterranean to assist in the protection of trade, also gave to
Admiral Calthorpe the control of these vessels.

In the requests which we addressed to the Japanese Admiralty I always
received great assistance from Admiral Funakoshi, the Naval Attaché in
London. His co-operation was of a close and most cordial nature.

The services of the Japanese destroyers in the Mediterranean were of
considerable value to the Allied cause. A striking instance of the
seamanlike and gallant conduct of their officers and men was furnished
on the occasion of the torpedoing of a British transport by an enemy
submarine off the coast of Italy, when by the work of the Japanese
escorting destroyers the great majority of those on board were saved.

Admiral Calthorpe on leaving England was charged with the duty of
organizing convoys in the Mediterranean on the lines of those already in
force in other waters as soon as the necessary vessels were available,
and a conference of Allied officers sat at Malta soon after his arrival,
when a definite scheme of convoy was prepared. There had always,
however, been a great scarcity of fast patrol vessels in the
Mediterranean for this work. Divided control of the forces in that area
was partly responsible for this. The Austrian destroyers were considered
by the Italian Admiralty to be so serious a menace in the Adriatic as to
render it necessary to keep in that sea the great majority of the
Italian destroyers as well as several French vessels of this class. The
situation at the eastern end of the Mediterranean necessitated a force
of some eight British destroyers being kept in the Aegean Sea to deal
with any Turkish vessels that might attempt to force the blockade of the
Dardanelles, whilst operations on the Syrian coast engaged the services
of some French and British destroyers. Continual troop movements in the
Mediterranean also absorbed the sendees of a considerable number of
vessels of this type.

Consequently there was a great shortage of fast small craft for escort
and mercantile convoy work. It was estimated that the escort force
required for the protection of a complete system of convoy in the
Mediterranean was approximately 290 vessels, the total number available
being about 215.

In spite, then, of the success of Admiral Calthorpe's work, the result
was that convoys were not started in the Mediterranean until October,
and they were then but inadequately protected, and losses were heavy,
both from this cause and from the fact already mentioned - that the
Mediterranean is a sea which, by reason of its confined nature, is
particularly suited for operations by submarines against trade. Its
narrowness at various points, such as the Straits of Gibraltar, the
Malta Channel, the Straits of Messina, and the passages to the Ægean
cause such convergence of trade as to make it a very simple matter for a
submarine to operate with success. Evasion by change of route is almost
impossible. Operations designed to prevent the exit of submarines from
the Adriatic were difficult, because the depth of water in the Straits
of Otranto militated against the adoption of effective mining and the
laying of an effective net barrage.

For the above reasons the Admiralty was always very averse to the
sending of a large volume of our Far Eastern trade through the
Mediterranean, and strongly urged the Cape route instead; but the
shortage of shipping, combined with the increased length of the Cape
route, influenced the Ministry of Shipping to press strongly for the
Mediterranean as opposed to the other route. A "through" convoy from
England to Port Said was started in October, and by the end of November
two ships had been sunk out of the thirty-five that had been under
convoy. The return convoy; Port Said to England, was only started in

The losses of British merchant steamships per quarter in the
Mediterranean during 1917 is shown below:

Quarter ending June 30 69

September 30 29

October and November 28

It is impossible to close this chapter describing the convoys without
mention being made of the fine work accomplished by those upon whose
shoulders fell the task of organizing and working the whole system. I
cannot hope that I have succeeded in conveying to readers of this volume
an adequate conception of the great and marvellously successful
performance that it was or a full appreciation of what immense
difficulties the staff had to contend with. They were very completely
realized by me, who saw them appear day by day and disappear under

The head of the organization was, of course, Rear-Admiral A.L. Duff, the
member of the Board and Staff immediately responsible also for the whole
anti-submarine organization. Only those who witnessed Admiral Duff's
work at the Admiralty during 1917 can realize the immense debt that the
country owes to his untiring ability, patience, energy and resource.
Capt. H.G. Henderson, who had been associated with the convoy system
from its start, was an invaluable assistant, as also was Commander I.W.
Carrington. Capt. Richard Webb, the Director of the Trade Division, and
Capt. Frederic A. Whitehead, the Director of the Mercantile Movements
Division, took an important share in the work of organization, whilst
the work of Convoy Manager was carried through with quite exceptional
skill by Paymaster-Commander H.W.E. Manisty. These officers were
assisted by most capable staffs, and the Ministry of Shipping, without
whose assistance the work could not possibly have been successfully
carried out, co-operated most cordially.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

As is well known, Admiral Sims, with the consent of the United States
Navy Department, placed all vessels which were dispatched to British
waters under the British flag officers in whose Command they were
working. This step, which at once produced unity of command, is typical
of the manner in which the two navies, under the guidance of their
senior officers, worked together throughout the war. The destroyers
operating from Queenstown came under Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly; Captain
Pringle, the senior United States officer on the spot, whose services
were ever of the utmost value, was appointed as Chief of the Staff to
Sir Lewis Bayly, whilst on the occasion of Sir Lewis Bayly, at my urgent
suggestion, consenting to take a few days' leave in the summer of 1917,
Admiral Sims, at our request, took his place at Queenstown, hoisting his

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Online LibraryJohn Rushworth JellicoeThe Crisis of the Naval War → online text (page 12 of 20)