The United States Navy in the War
( Originally Published 1918 )
LONG before war was declared the United States Government had been engaged in preparation. It had realized that unrestricted submarine warfare was sure to lead to war, and though for a time it was preserving what it was pleased to call "an armed neutrality" the President doubtless was well aware what such an "armed neutrality" would lead to. Merchant ships were being armed for protection against the submarine, and crews from the Navy assigned to work the guns. The first collision was sure to mean an active state of war. The Naval Department, therefore, was working at full speed, getting the Navy ready for active service as soon as war should be declared.
Secretary Daniels made every effort to obtain the crews that were necessary to man the new ships which were being fully commissioned with the greatest possible speed and called upon newspapers all through the country to do their utmost to stimulate enlistment.
On March 26th President Wilson issued an order increasing the enlisted strength of the United States Marine Corps to 17,400 men, the limit allowed under the law. On March 29th a hundred and three ensigns were graduated from the Naval Academy three months ahead of their time, and on April 6th, as soon as war was declared, the Navy was mobilized.
Within a few minutes after Secretary Daniels had signed the order for this purpose one hundred code messages were sent out from the office of Admiral W. S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, which placed the Navy on a war basis, and put into the control of the Navy Department the naval militia of all the states as well as the Naval Reserves and the Coast Guard Service. In the Naval Militia were about 584 officers, and 7,933 men. These were at once assembled and assigned to coast patrol service. All of the ships that were in active commission in the Navy were already ready for duty. But there were reserve battleships and reserve destroyers, besides ships which had been out of commission which had to be manned as quickly as possible.
At the beginning of the war there were 361 vessels ready for service, including twelve first-line battleships, twenty-five second-line battleships, nine armored cruisers, twenty-four other cruisers, seven monitors, fifty destroyers, sixteen coast torpedo vessels, seventeen torpedo boats, forty-four submarines, eight tenders to torpedo boats, twenty-eight gunboats, four transports, four supply ships, one hospital ship, twenty-one fuel ships, fourteen converted yachts, forty-nine tugs, and twenty-eight minor vessels. There were about seventy thousand regularly enlisted men, besides eight thousand five hundred members of the naval militia. Many yachts together with their volunteer crews had been offered to the government by patriotic citizens.
For the complete mobilization of the Navy, as it then stood, 99,809 regularly enlisted men and 45,870 reserves were necessary. About twenty-seven thousand of these were needed for coast defense, and twelve thousand at the various shore stations. Retired officers were called out, and assigned to duty which would permit officers on the active list to be employed in sea duty. The Navy therefore still lacked thirty-five thousand men to bring it up to its full authorized strength at the beginning, but after the declaration of war an active recruiting campaign brought volunteers by thou-sands. The service was a popular one and recruits were easily obtained.
One of the first phases of the mobilization was the organization of a large fleet of mosquito craft to patrol the Atlantic Coast, and keep on the watch for submarines. Many of these boats had been private yachts, and hundreds of young men volunteered from the colleges and schools of the country for this work. Many boat builders submitted proposals to construct small boats for this kind of patrol duty, and on March 31st a coast patrol. fleet was organized by the Government under the command of Captain Henry B. Wilson.
The Navy took possession immediately on the declaration of war of all wireless stations in the United States dismantling all that could not be useful to the Government. War zones were established along the whole coast line of the United States, making a series of local barred zones extending from the larger harbors in American waters all along the line. These harbors were barred at night to entering vessels in order to guard against surprise by German submarines. Contracts were awarded for the construction of twenty-four destroyers even before war was declared, and many more were already under construction.
The growth of the Navy in one year may give some idea of the efficiency of the Navy Department. In April, 1917, the regular Navy contained 4,366 officers and 64,680 men. In April, 1918, it contained 7,798 officers and 192,385 men. In the Marine Corps in 1917 there were 426 officers and 13,266 men. In one year this was increased to 1,389 officers and 88,629 men. In the organization of the Naval Reserves, naval volunteers and coast guards there were in 1917, 24,569 men ; in 1918, 98,319 men, and 11,477 officers.
While personnel of the Navy was thus expanding the United States battle fleet had grown to more than twice the size-of the fleet before the war. When war was declared there were under construction 123 new naval vessels. These were completed and contracts made for 949 new vessels. Among the ships completed are fifteen battleships, six battle cruisers, seven scout cruisers, twenty-seven destroyers, and sixty-one submarines. About eight hundred craft were taken over and converted into transports, patrol service boats, submarine chasers, mine sweepers and mine layers.
The Government also seized 109 German ships which had been interned in American ports. The Germans had attempted to dam-age these ships so that they would be useless, but they were all repaired, and carried American troops and supplies in great quantities to France.
As the fleet grew the training of the necessary officers and crews was conducted on a grand scale. Naval camps were established at various points. The main ones were those at Philadelphia, (League Island) ; Newport, Rhode Island; Cape May, New Jersey; Charleston, South Carolina ; Pensacola, Florida ; Key West, Florida ; Mare Island, California; Puget Sound, Washington; Hingham, Massachusetts; Norfolk, Virginia; New Orleans, San Diego, New York Navy Yard, Great Lakes, Illinois; Pelham, New York; Hampton Roads, Virginia; and Gulfport, Mississippi. Schools in gunnery and engineering were established and thousands of gunners and engineers were trained, not only for the Navy but for the armed merchant vessels.
The training of gun crews by target practice was a feature of this work. Long before the war began systematic training of this kind had been done, but mainly in connection with the big guns, and great efficiency had been obtained by the steady practice. With the introduction of the submarine, it became necessary to pay special attention to the training of the crews of guns of smaller calibre, and it was not long before the officers of our Navy were congratulating themselves on the efficiency of their men. It is not easy to hit so small a mark as the periscope of a submarine, but it could be done and many times was done.
Twenty-eight days after the declaration of war a fleet of United States destroyers under the command of Admiral William S. Sims re-ported for service at a British port.
The American destroyer squadron arrived at Queenstown after a voyage without incident. The water front was lined with an ex-cited crowd carrying small American flags, which cheered the destroyers from the time they were first seen until they reached the dock. They cheered again when Admiral Sims went ashore to greet the British senior officer who had come to welcome the Americans. It was a most informal function. After the usual handshakes the British Commander congratulated the Americans on their safe voyage and then asked.:
"When will you be ready for business?" "We can start at once," was the prompt reply of Admiral Sims.
This rather took the breath away from the British Commander and he said he had not expected the Americans to begin work so soon after their long voyage. Later after a short tour of the destroyers he admitted that the American tars looked prepared.
"Yes," said the American Commander, "we made preparations on the way over. That is why we are ready."
Everything on board the destroyers was in excellent condition. The only thing lacking was heavier clothing. The American uniforms were too light for the cool weather which is common in the English waters. This condition, however, was quickly remedied, and the American ships at once put out to sea all in splendid condition and filled with the same enthusiasm that the Marines showed later at Château-Thierry.
"They are certainly a fine body of men, and what's more, their craft looked just as fit," declared the British Commander.
One of the American destroyers, even before the American fleet had arrived at Queens-town, had begun war duty. It had picked up and escorted through the danger zone one of the largest of the Atlantic liners. The passengers on board the liner sent the Commander of the destroyer the following message:
British passengers on board a steamer, bound for a British port, under the protection of an American destroyer, send their hearty greetings to her Commander and her officers and crew, and desire to express their keen appreciation of this practical cooperation between the government and people of the United States and the British Empire, who are now fighting together for the freedom of the seas.
Moving pictures were taken by the official British Government photographer as the American flotilla came into the harbor, and sailors who received shore leave were plied with English hospitality. The streets of Queenstown were decorated with the Stars and Stripes. As soon as American residents in England learned that American warships were to cross the Atlantic they held a conference to provide recreation buildings, containing sleeping, eating, and recreation accommodations for the comfort of the American sailors. The destroyer flotilla was the first contribution of American military power to the Entente Alliance against Germany.
Admiral Sims is one of the most energetic and efficient of American Naval officers and to him as much as to any other man is due the efficiency of the American Navy. During the period just before the Spanish-American War Lieutenant Sims was Naval Attaché at Paris, and rendered invaluable services in buying ships and supplies for the Navy. In 1900 he was assigned to duty on the Battleship Kentucky, then stationed in the Orient. In 1902 he was ordered to the Navy Department and placed in charge of the Office of Naval Practice, where he remained for seven years and devoted his attention to the improvement of the Navy in gunnery. During that time he made constant trips to England to consult with English experts in gunnery and ordnance, and became intimately acquainted with Sir Percy Scott, who had been knighted and made Rear-Admiral for the improvements he had introduced in connection with the gunnery of the British warships. In 1909 he was made Commander of the Battleship Minnesota, and in 1911 was a member of the college staff at the Naval 'War College. In 1913 he was made Commander of the torpedo flotilla of the Atlantic fleet and in 1905 assigned to command the Dreadnought Nevada. In 1916 he was President of the Naval War College. He was, made Rear-Admiral in 1916 and Vice-Admiral in 1917 and assigned to the command of all American war vessels abroad.
Immediately upon their arrival the American vessels began operation in the submarine zone. Admiral Beatty then addressed the following message to Admiral Henry T. Mayo of the United States Atlantic Fleet :
The Grand Fleet rejoices that the Atlantic fleet will now share in preserving the liberties of the world and in maintaining the chivalry of the sea.
Admiral Mayo replied:
The United States Atlantic Fleet appreciates the message from the British fleet and welcomes opportunities for work with the British fleet for the freedom of the seas.
It may also be noted, as a fact which is not without significance, that the losses by submarine which had reached their highest mark in the last week in April began from that time steadily to diminish.
One of the main duties of the Navy was to convoy transports and supplies across the Atlantic. This was done with the assistance of Allied vessels with remarkable success. For a long period it seemed as if the U-boats would not be able to penetrate through the Allied convoy, but during 1918 four transports were torpedoed. The first was the Tuscania which was sunk in February off the north coast of Ireland, with 1,912 officers and men of the Michigan and Wisconsin guardsmen, of whom 204 were lost. The Oronsa, which was torpedoed in April, contained 250 men and all were saved except three of the crew. The Moldavia came next with five hundred troops, of whom fifty-five were lost. On September 6th the troopship Persic with 2,800 American soldiers was torpedoed but American destroyers rescued all on board, and the Persic, which was prevented from sinking by its water-tight bulkheads, was afterwards beached.
Several American ships, including the troop transport Mount Vernon, were torpedoed on return trips and a number of the men of their crews were lost, and several naval vessels were lost, including the destroyer Jacob Jones, and the patrol vessel Alcedo. The Cassin was torpedoed, but reached port under its own steam and later returned to service.
In September and October three more American transports were added to the list of American losses. On September 26th the United States steamer Tampa was torpedoed and sank with all on board, losing 118 men. On September 30th the Ticonderoga was also torpedoed, eleven Naval officers and 102 enlisted men being lost.
In addition to these submarine losses several ships and a number of men were lost through collision. The United States steamer West-gate was sunk in a collision with the steamer American on October 7th, with the loss of seven men. On October 9th the United States destroyer Shaw lost fifteen men in a collision, though she later succeeded in reaching port. On October 11th the American steamer Otranto was sunk in a collision with the British liner Cashmere. Of seven hundred American soldiers who were on board 365 were lost. At this time about three thousand anti-submarine craft were in operation day and night around the British Isles, and about five thousand working in the open sea. This was what made it possible for the Allies to win the war.
Inasmuch as the illegal use of the submarine by Germany brought America into the war it was extremely appropriate that she should take an active part in the suppression of the submarine menace. The methods which were used in fighting the submarines differed much in different cases. The action of the government in arming merchantmen and in providing them with trained gun crews did much to lower the number of such ships sunk by the U-boats.
The submarine, which had formerly been able to stop the unarmed merchantman and sink him at leisure, after a few combats with an armed merchantman began to be very wary and to depend almost entirely upon his torpedoes. It was not always easy for the submarine to get in a position where her torpedo would be effective, and the merchantman was carefully directed, if attacked, to pursue a zig-zag irregular course, and at the same time endeavor to hamper the submarine by shooting as near her periscope as possible.
Along the sea coasts and at certain points in the English Channel great nets were used effectively. Submarines, however, toward the end of the war were made sufficiently large to be able to force their way through these nets, and net-cutting devices were also used by them with considerable effect. The best way to destroy the submarines seemed to be in a direct attack by flotillas or destroyers.
By the end of the war the whole process of sinking or destroying submarines had been thoroughly organized. Practically every portion of the seas near Great Britain and France was carefully watched and the appearance of a submarine immediately reported. As the submarine would only travel at a certain well understood speed during a given time, it was possible to calculate, after the locality of one was known, about how far from that point it would be found at any later period. Destroyers were therefore sent circling around the point where the submarine had been discovered, enlarging their distance from the center every hour. In the course of time the submarine would he compelled to come up for air, and then, if luck were with the destroyer, it might find its foe before it was seen itself. Having discovered the submarine the destroyer immediately endeavored to ram, dropping depth bombs at the point where they supposed the enemy to be.
These bombs were so constructed that at a certain depth in the water they would explode, and the force of the explosion was so great that even if they did not strike the submarine they would be sure to damage it seriously, sometimes throwing the submarine to the surface partly out of water, and at other times driving her to come to the surface herself ready to surrender.
In many cases it was not necessary to use the depth bomb at all. The gunners on board the destroyers had become extraordinarily expert, and though a shot might destroy the periscope of a submarine without doing much damage, most submarines carrying extra periscopes to use if necessary, yet it was soon found that it was possible by the use of plunging shells to do effective damage. Plunging shells are somewhat similar in their operation to bombs. Such a shell falling just short of a periscope and fused to burst both on contact and at a certain depth was extremely likely to do damage.
In the pursuit of the U-boat the airplane was also extremely effective. These were sent out to patrol large districts near the Allied coast, and also, in some cases, from ships them-selves. It is possible in certain weather conditions for the observer on an airplane to detect a submarine even when it is submerged and the airplane can not only attack the sub-marine by dropping depth bombs, but it can signal at once the location of the enemy to the hurrying destroyers. Indeed, as the sub-marine warfare proceeded the main difficulty of the Allies was to locate the submarines. Many ingenious devices were used for this purpose, and many of the English vessels had listening attachments under water which were intended to make it possible to hear a submarine as it moved. These, however, do not seem to have been very effective. The submarine it-self seems at times to have been fitted out in a similar way and to have thus been able to hear the sound of an approaching ship.
Many thrilling reports of naval actions against German submarines were given out officially by the British admiralty from time to time. In most of these cases the submarine was both rammed and attacked by depth bombs. In nearly all of them the only proof of success was the oil and air bubbles which came to the surface.
One interesting encounter was that in which a British submarine sighted a German U-boat, while both were on the surface. The British submarine dived and later was able to pick up the enemy through the periscope and discharge a torpedo in such a way as to destroy the German vessel. When the British submarine arose it found a patch of oil in which Germans were swimming.
Ordinarily, however, a submarine was of little service in a fight against another for the radius of sight from a periscope is so short that it is practically blind so far as another periscope is concerned. This blindness of the submarine was taken advantage of by the Al-lies in every possible way.
Merchant ships were camouflaged, that is painted in such a way that they could not be easily distinguished at a distance. In the great convoys ships were often hidden by great masses of smoke to prevent a submarine from finding an easy mark. At night all lights were put out or else so shaded as not to be seen by the enemy. The result of these methods was the gradual destruction of the U-boat menace.
In the summer of 1918, while occasionally some ship was lost, the production of new ships was much greater than those that were sunk. During the month of June it was announced that the completion of new tonnage by the Allies had outstripped the losses by thou-sands of tons. During this period the United States had attained its full stride in building ships, airplanes and ordnance.
Archibald Hurd, the English naval expert, said : "When the war is over the nation will form some conception of the debt which we owe the American navy for the manner in which it has co-operated, not only in connection with the convoy system, but in fighting the sub-marines. If the naval position is improving today, as it is, it is due to the fact that the British and American fleets are working in closest accord, supported by an immense body of skilled workers on both sides of the Atlantic, who are turning out destroyers and other craft for dealing with the submarine, as well as mines and bombs. Some of the finest battleships of the United States navy are now associated with the British Grand fleet. They are not only splendid fighting ships but they are well officered and manned."
On May 13, 1918, in appreciation of some remarks which had been made by Sir Eric Geddes, First Lord of the British Admiralty, Josephus Daniels, the American Secretary of the Navy, addressed a letter to him in the following terms :
"Your reference to the splendid spirit of co-operation between the navies of our countries, and your warm praise of the officers and men of our navy, have been most grateful to me and to all Americans. The brightest spot in the tragedy of this war is this mutual appreciation of the men in the naval service. Our officers who have returned confirm the statements of Admiral Sims of the courtesies and kindness shown in every way by the admiralty and the officers of the British fleet. I had hoped to have the pleasure of visiting Great Britain and of personally expressing this feeling of mutual working together, but the task here of making ready more and more units for the fleet is a very serious one, and my duty chains me here. The order in all the navy is `Full speed ahead' in the construction of destroyers and other craft, and the whole service is keyed up to press this program forward. Therefore I shall not have the pleasure, until this program shall materialize, of a personal acquaintance and a conference which would be of such interest and value."
Sir Eric Geddes replied: "I am exceedingly grateful for your letter. As you know we, all of us here, have great admiration for your officers and men, and for the splendid help they are giving in European waters. Further, we find Admiral Sims invaluable in council and in co-operation. I fully appreciate how onerous your office must be and much though I regret that you do not see your way to visiting this country in the near future, I hope we may some day have the pleasure of welcoming you here."
Sir Eric afterward himself visited the United States and his visit was made the occasion of a general expression of the high regard which the United States felt for the splendid assistance which the great British navy had rendered in convoying its armies across the seas.
From August, 1914, to September, 1918, German submarines sank 7,157,088 deadweight tons of shipping in excess of the tonnage turned out in that period by the allied and neutral nations. That total does not represent the depletion of the fleets at the command of the allied and neutral nations, however, as 3,795,000 deadweight tons of enemy ships were seized in the meantime. Actually, the allied and neutral nations on September 1, 1918, had only 3,862,088 less tons of shipping in operation than in August, 1914.
These details of the shipping situation were issued by the United States Shipping Board along with figures to show that, with American and allied yards under full headway, Europe's danger of being starved by the German submarine was apparently at an end. The United States took the lead of all nations in shipbuilding.
In all, the allied and neutral nations lost 21,404,913 deadweight tons of shipping since the beginning of the war, showing that Germany maintained an average destruction of about 445,000 deadweight tons monthly. During the latter months, however, the sinkings fell considerably below the average, and allied construction passed destruction for the first time in May, 1918.
The losses of the allied and neutral ship-ping in August, 1918, amounted to 327,676 gross tonnage, of which 176,401 was British and 151,275 allied and neutral, as compared with the adjusted figures for July of 323,772, and 182,524 and 141,248, respectively. British losses from all causes during August were 10,887 tons higher than in June, which was the lowest month since the introduction of unrestricted submarine warfare.
The climax to Germany's piratical submarine adventure took place a few days after the armistice, when a mournful procession of shamefaced-looking U-boats sailed between lines of English cruisers to be handed over to the tender mercies of the Allied governments.