The Crisis of the Naval War
By ADMIRAL OF THE FLEET VISCOUNT JELLICOE OF SCAPA G.C.B., O.M., G.C.V.O.
With 8 Plates and 6 Charts
1. ADMIRALTY ORGANIZATION: THE CHANGES IN 1917
2. SUBMARINE CAMPAIGN IN THE EARLY PART OF 1917
3. ANTI-SUBMARINE OPERATIONS
4. THE INTRODUCTION OF THE CONVOY SYSTEM
5. THE CONVOY SYSTEM AT WORK
6. THE ENTRY OF THE UNITED STATES: OUR NAVAL POLICY EXPLAINED
7. PATROL CRAFT AND MINESWEEPING SERVICES
8. THE DOVER PATROL AND THE HARWICH FORCES
9. THE SEQUEL
10. "PRODUCTION" AT THE ADMIRALTY DURING 1917
11. NAVAL WORK
12. THE FUTURE
LIST OF PLATES
A Mine Exploding
A German Submarine of the U-C Type
A German Submarine of the later Cruiser Class
A Smoke Screen for a Convoy
The Dummy Deck-house of a Decoy Ship
A Convoy Zigzagging
A Convoy with an Airship
Drifters at Sea
A Paddle Minesweeper
A German Mine on the Surface
Two Depth Charges after Explosion
The Tell-tale Oil Patch
A Submarine Submerging
Periscope of Submerged Submarine Travelling at Slow Speed
A Submarine Submerged
LIST OF CHARTS
(CONTAINED IN THE POCKET AT THE END OF THE BOOK)
A. Approach Areas and Typical Routes.
B. Typical Approach Lines.
C. Barred Zones Proclaimed by the Germans.
D. Patrol Areas, British Isles.
E. Patrol and Minesweeping Zones in the Mediterranean.
F. Showing French and British Ports within Range of the German Bases at Ostend and Zeebrugge.
The Officers and Men of our Convoy, Escort, Patrol and Minesweeping Vessels and their Comrades of the Mercantile Marine
by whose splendid gallantry, heroic self-sacrifice, and unflinching endurance the submarine danger was defeated
Owing to the peculiar nature and demands of naval warfare, but few dispatches, corresponding to those describing the work and achievements of our great armies, were issued during the progress of the war. In a former volume I attempted to supply this defect in the historical records, which will be available for future generations, so far as the Grand Fleet was concerned, during my period as its Commander-in-Chief. The present volume, which was commenced and nearly completed in 1918, was to have been published at the same time. My departure on a Naval mission early in 1919 prevented me, however, from putting the finishing touches to the manuscript until my return this spring.
I hesitated as to the publication of this portion of what is in effect one complete narrative, but eventually decided not to depart from my original purpose. There is some reason to believe that the account of the work of the Grand Fleet gave the nation a fuller conception of the services which the officers and men of that force rendered in circumstances which were necessarily not easily appreciated by landsmen.
This second volume, dealing with the defeat of the enemy's submarine campaign, the gravest peril which ever threatened the population of this country, as well as of the whole Empire, may not be unwelcome as a statement of facts. They have been set down in order that the sequence and significance of events may be understood, and that the nation may appreciate the debt which it owes, in particular, to the seamen of the Royal Navy and the Mercantile Marine, who kept the seas during the unforgettable days of the intensive campaign.
This book, therefore, gives the outline of the work accomplished by the Navy in combating the unrestricted submarine warfare instituted by the Central Powers in February, 1917. It would have been a labour of love to tell at greater length and in more detail how the menace was gradually overcome by the gallantry, endurance and strenuous work of those serving afloat in ships flying the White or the Red Ensigns, but I had not the necessary materials at my disposal for such an exhaustive record.
The volume is consequently largely concerned with the successive steps taken at the Admiralty to deal with a situation which was always serious, and which at times assumed a very grave aspect. The ultimate result of all Naval warfare must naturally rest with those who are serving afloat, but it is only just to the Naval officers and others who did such fine work at the Admiralty in preparing for the sea effort, that their share in the Navy's final triumph should be known. The writing of this book appeared also to be the only way in which I could show my keen appreciation of the loyalty and devotion to duty of the Naval Staff, of the many clever, ingenious and audacious schemes developed and carried through for the destruction of submarines and the safeguarding of ocean-borne trade, and of the skilful organization which brought into being, and managed with such success, that great network of convoys by which the sea communications of the Allies were kept open. The volume shows how the officers who accompanied me to the Admiralty from the Grand Fleet at the end of 1916, in association with those already serving in Whitehall and others who joined in 1917, with the necessary and valuable assistance of our comrades of the Mercantile Marine, gradually produced the measures by which the Sea Service conquered the gravest danger which has ever faced the Empire.
There were at times inevitable set-backs as the enemy gained experience of our methods, and new ones had then to be devised, and we were always most seriously handicapped by the strain imposed upon the Fleet by our numerous military and other commitments overseas, and by the difficulty of obtaining supplies of material, owing to the pre-occupation of our industries in meeting the needs of our Armies in equipment and munitions; but, generally speaking, it may be said that in April, 1917, the losses reached their maximum, and that from the following month and onwards the battle was being slowly but gradually won. By the end of the year it was becoming apparent that success was assured.
The volume describes the changes carried out in the Admiralty Staff organization; the position of affairs in regard to submarine warfare in the early part of 1917; and the numerous anti-submarine measures which were devised and brought into operation during the year. The introduction and working of the convoy system is also dealt with. The entry of the United States of America into the war marked the opening of a new phase of the operations by sea, and it has been a pleasure to give particulars of our cordial co-operation with the United States Navy. The splendid work of the patrol craft and minesweepers is described all too briefly, and I have had to be content to give only a brief summary of the great services of the Dover and Harwich forces.
Finally, an effort has been made to suggest the range and character of the work of the Production Departments at the Admiralty. It is impossible to tell this part of the story without conveying some suggestion of criticism since the output never satisfied our requirements. I have endeavoured also to indicate where it seemed to me that changes in organization were not justified by results, so that in future years we may benefit by the experience gained. But I would not like it to be thought that I did not, and do not, realize the difficulties which handicapped production, or that I did not appreciate to the full the work done by all concerned.
It is unfortunate that attempts to draw attention to the lessons taught us by the war are regarded by many people either as complaints of lack of devotion to the country's interests on the part of some, or as criticisms of others who, in the years before the war or during the war, were responsible for the administration of the Navy. In anticipation of such an attitude, I wish to state emphatically that, where mention is made of apparent shortcomings or of action which, judged by results, did not seem, to meet a particular situation, this is done solely in order that on any future occasion of a similar character—and may the day be long postponed—the nation may profit by experience.
Those who are inclined to indulge in criticism should ever bear in mind that the Navy was faced with problems which were never foreseen, and could not have been foreseen, by anyone in this country. Who, for instance, would have ever had the temerity to predict that the Navy, confronted by the second greatest Naval Power in the world, would be called upon to maintain free communications across the Channel for many months until the months became years, in face of the naval forces of the enemy established on the Belgian coast, passing millions of men across in safety, as well as vast quantities of stores and munitions? Who would have prophesied that the Navy would have to safeguard the passage of hundreds of thousands of troops from the Dominions to Europe, as well as the movement of tens of thousands of labourers from China and elsewhere? Or who, moreover, would have been believed had he stated that the Navy would be required to keep open the sea communications of huge armies in Macedonia, Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia and East Africa, against attack by surface vessels, submarines and mines, whilst at the same time protecting the merchant shipping of ourselves, our Allies, and neutral Powers against similar perils, and assisting to ensure the safety of the troops of the United States when they, in due course, were brought across the Atlantic? Compare those varied tasks with the comparatively modest duties which in pre-war days were generally assigned to the Navy, and it will be seen how much there may be to learn of the lessons of experience, and how sparing we should be of criticism. Wisdom distilled from events which were unforeseeable should find expression not in criticisms of those who did their duty to the best of their ability, but in the taking of wise precautions for the future.
Little mention is made in this volume of the work of the Grand Fleet during the year 1917, but, although that Fleet had no opportunity of showing its fighting power, it must never be forgotten that without the Grand Fleet, under the distinguished officer who succeeded me as Commander-in-Chief at the end of 1916, all effort would have been of no avail, since every operation by sea, as well as by land, was carried out under the sure protecting shield of that Fleet, which the enemy could not face.
I am conscious of many shortcomings in the book, but it may prove of interest to those who desire to know something of the measures which gradually wore down the German submarine effort, and, at any rate, it is the only record likely to be available in the near future of the work of fighting the submarines in 1917.
ADMIRALTY ORGANIZATION; THE CHANGES IN 1917
It is perhaps as well that the nation generally remained to a great extent unconscious of the extreme gravity of the situation which developed during the Great War, when the Germans were sinking an increasing volume of merchant tonnage week by week. The people of this country as a whole rose superior to many disheartening events and never lost their sure belief in final victory, but full knowledge of the supreme crisis in our history might have tended to undermine in some quarters that confidence in victory which it was essential should be maintained, and, in any event, the facts could not be disclosed without benefiting the enemy. But the position at times was undoubtedly extremely serious.
At the opening of the war we possessed approximately half the merchant tonnage of the world, but experience during the early part of the struggle revealed that we had not a single ship too many for the great and increasing oversea military liabilities which we were steadily incurring, over and above the responsibility of bringing to these shores the greater part of the food for a population of forty-five million people, as well as nearly all the raw materials which were essential for the manufacture of munitions. The whole of our war efforts, ashore as well as afloat, depended first and last on an adequate volume of merchant shipping.
It is small wonder, therefore, that those who watched from day to day the increasing toll which the enemy took of the country's sea-carrying power, were sometimes filled with deep concern for the future. Particularly was this the case during the early months of unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917. For if the menace had not been mastered to a considerable extent, and that speedily, not only would the victory of the Allies have been imperilled, but this country would have been brought face to face with conditions approaching starvation. In pre-war days the possibility of these islands being blockaded was frequently discussed; but during the dark days of the unrestricted submarine campaign there was ample excuse for those with imagination to picture the implication of events which were happening from week to week. The memories of those days are already becoming somewhat dim, and as a matter of history and a guide to the future, it is perhaps well that some account should be given, however inadequate, of the dangers which confronted the country and of the means which were adopted to avert the worst consequences of the enemy's campaign without ceasing to exert the increasing pressure of our sea power upon his fighting efficiency, and without diminishing our military efforts overseas.
The latter points were of great importance. It was always necessary to keep the Grand Fleet at a strength that would ensure its instant readiness to move in waters which might be infested by submarines in large numbers should the Germans decide upon some operation by the High Sea Fleet. The possibility of action between the fleets necessitated the maintenance of very strong destroyer forces with the Grand Fleet.
Similarly our oversea military expeditions, with the consequent large number of merchant ships in use as transports or supply ships, required a considerable force of destroyers and other small craft. These commitments greatly reduced the means at our disposal for dealing with the hostile submarines that were attempting to prevent the import of food and raw materials into the country.
Readers of books, and particularly books dealing with war, show a natural avidity for what may be described as the human side of a contest as well as for the dramatic events. But, whether it be prosecuted by sea or by land, war is largely a matter of efficient and adequate organization. It is a common saying that we muddle through our wars, but we could not afford to muddle in face of the threat which the enemy's unrestricted submarine campaign represented. It is impossible, therefore, to approach the history of the successful efforts made by sea to overcome this menace without describing in some detail the work of organization which was carried out at the Admiralty in order to enable the Fleet to fulfil its new mission. In effect those responsible for the naval policy of the country conducted two wars simultaneously, the one on the surface, and the other under the surface. The strategy, tactics and weapons which were appropriate to the former, were to a large extent useless in the contest against mines and submarines which the enemy employed with the utmost persistency and no little ingenuity. Even in the Russo-Japanese war, where the mine was little used, it exerted a marked influence on the course of the war; the Germans based their hopes of victory in the early days of the struggle entirely on a war of attrition, waged against men-of-war, as well as merchant ships. The submarine, which was thrown into the struggle in increasing numbers, represented an entirely new development, for the submarine is a vessel which can travel unseen beneath the water and, while still unseen, except for a possible momentary glimpse of a few inches of periscope, can launch a torpedo at long or short range and with deadly accuracy. In these circumstances it became imperative to organize the Admiralty administration to meet new needs, and to press into the service of the central administration a large number of officers charged with the sole duty of studying the new forms of warfare which the enemy had adopted and of evolving with scientific assistance novel methods of defeating his tactics.
Whilst the enemy's campaign against merchant shipping always gave rise to anxiety, there were certain periods of greatly increased activity. During the summer months of 1916 the losses from submarine attack and from submarine-laid mines were comparatively slight, and, in fact, less than during the latter half of 1915, but in the autumn of 1916 they assumed very serious proportions. This will be seen by reference to the following table, which gives the monthly losses in British, neutral and Allied mercantile gross tonnage from submarine and mine attack alone for the months of May to November inclusive:
May ... 122,793 June ... 111,719 July ... 110,757 August ... 160,077 September ... 229,687 October ... 352,902 November ... 327,245
Another disturbing feature was the knowledge that we were not sinking enemy submarines at any appreciable rate, whilst we knew that the Germans had under construction a very large number of these vessels, and that they were thus rapidly adding to their fleet. It was a matter also of common knowledge that our output of new merchant ships was exceedingly small, and I, in common with others, had urged a policy of greatly increased mercantile ship construction. These facts, combined with the knowledge that our reserves of food and essential raw materials for war purposes were very low, led me, when commanding the Grand Fleet, to the inevitable conclusion that it was essential to concentrate all our naval efforts so far as possible on the submarine menace, and to adopt the most energetic measures for the protection of our sea communications and the destruction of the enemy's submarines. Although it was not easy to see the exact means by which this could be achieved, it appeared necessary as a first step to form an organization having as its sole duty the study of the question, comprising such officers as would be most likely to deal effectively with the problem, supported by the necessary authority to push forward their ideas. Another necessity was the rapid production of such material as was found to be required for anti-submarine measures.
With these ideas in my mind I had written letters to the Admiralty on the subject, and was summoned to a conference in London on November 1 by Mr. Balfour, the First Lord. The whole question of the submarine warfare was fully discussed with Mr. Balfour and Sir Henry Jackson (then First Sea Lord) during the two days spent in London. I had at that time formed and expressed the view that there was very little probability of the High Sea Fleet putting to sea again to risk a Fleet action until the new submarine campaign had been given a thorough trial. With the High Sea Fleet "in being" we could not afford to deplete the Grand Fleet of destroyers, which could under other conditions be employed in anti-submarine work, and therefore the probable German strategy in these circumstances was to keep the Fleet "in being." At the same time the situation appeared so serious that I went so far as to suggest that one Grand Fleet flotilla of destroyers might under certain conditions be withdrawn for anti-submarine duties in southern waters.
The misgivings which I entertained were, of course, shared by all those in authority who were acquainted with the facts of the case, including the Board of Admiralty.
On November 24 Mr. Balfour telegraphed offering me the post of First Sea Lord, and in the event of acceptance requesting me to meet him in Edinburgh to discuss matters. After consultation with Sir Charles Madden, my Chief of Staff, I replied that I was prepared to do what was considered best for the Service.
During the conference with Mr. Balfour in Edinburgh on November 27, 1916, and after I had agreed to go to the Admiralty, he informed me of the consequent changes which he proposed to make in flag officers' appointments in the Grand Fleet. Amongst the changes he included Admiral Sir Cecil Burney, who would be relieved of his post as second in command of the Grand Fleet and commander of the 1st Battle Squadron, as he had practically completed his term of two years in command. I thereupon asked that he might be offered the post of Second Sea Lord, and that Commodore Lionel Halsey, who had been serving as Captain of the Fleet, might be offered that of Fourth Sea Lord. In my view it was very desirable that an officer with the great experience in command possessed by Sir Cecil Burney should occupy the position of Second Sea Lord under the conditions which existed, and that one who had served afloat during the war in both an executive and administrative capacity should become Fourth Sea Lord. I also informed Mr. Balfour of my desire to form an Anti-Submarine Division of the War Staff at the Admiralty, and asked that Rear-Admiral A.L. Duff, C.B., should be offered the post of Director of the Division, with Captain F.C. Dreyer, C.B., my Flag Captain in the Iron Duke, as his assistant.
All these appointments were made.
Although I arrived in London on November 29, I did not actually take office as First Sea Lord until December 5, owing to an attack of influenza. On that day I relieved Sir Henry Jackson, but only held office under Mr. Balfour for two or three days, as the change of Government took place just at this period, and Sir Edward Carson came to the Admiralty in place of Mr. Balfour.
This book is intended to record facts, and not to touch upon personal matters, but I cannot forbear to mention the extreme cordiality of Sir Edward Carson's relations with the Board in general and myself in particular. His devotion to the naval service was obvious to all, and in him the Navy possessed indeed a true and a powerful friend.
The earliest conversations between the First Lord and myself had relation to the submarine menace, and Sir Edward Carson threw himself wholeheartedly into the work. This was before the days of the unrestricted submarine campaign, and although ships were frequently torpedoed, very large numbers were still being sunk by gun-fire. The torpedo did not come into general use until March, 1917.
One of the most pressing needs of this period of attack by gun-fire was consequently a great increase in the number of guns for use in defensively armed merchant vessels, and here Sir Edward Carson's assistance was of great value. He fully realized the urgent necessities of the case, and was constant in his efforts to procure the necessary guns. The work carried out in this connection is given in detail in Chapter III (p. 68).
During Sir Edward's tenure of office the reorganization of the Naval Staff was taken in hand. Changes from which great benefit resulted were effected in the Staff organization. Sir Edward very quickly saw the necessity for a considerable strengthening of the Staff. In addition to the newly formed and rapidly expanding Anti-Submarine Division of the Naval Staff, he realized that the Operations Division also needed increased strength, and that it was essential to relieve the First Sea Lord of the mass of administrative work falling upon his shoulders, which had unfortunately been greatly magnified by the circumstances already described.
It is as well at this point to describe the conditions in regard to Staff organization that existed at the Admiralty at the end of 1916, and to show how those conditions had been arrived at.
Prior to 1909 there was no real Staff, although the organization at the Admiralty included an Intelligence Department and a Mobilization Division. The Director of Naval Intelligence at that time acted in an advisory capacity as Chief of the Staff. Indeed prior to 1904 there were but few naval officers at the Admiralty at all beyond those in the technical departments of the Director of Naval Ordnance and Torpedoes and the members of the Board itself. The Sea Lords were even without Naval Assistants and depended entirely on the help of a secretary provided by the civilian staff at the Admiralty.
In 1910 a new branch was formed termed the Mobilization and Movements Department under a Director. This branch was a first step towards an Operations Division.
Under Mr. Churchill's regime at the Admiralty in 1911 a more regular Staff organization was introduced and a Chief of the War Staff, acting under the First Sea Lord, was appointed. The organization introduced during his term of office is thus shown graphically:
CHIEF OF STAFF Director of Director of Director of Operations Division. Intelligence Division. Mobilization Division.
In addition to other duties, the Mobilization Division was charged with the responsibility for the supply of fuel to the Fleet, from the Staff point of view.
In the organization introduced in 1911 the duties of the Chief of the Staff were defined as being of an advisory nature. He possessed no executive powers. Consequently all orders affecting the movements of ships required the approval of the First Sea Lord before issue, and the consequence of this over-centralization was that additional work was thrown on the First Sea Lord. The resultant inconvenience was not of much account during peace, but became of importance in war, and as the war progressed the Chief of the Staff gradually exercised executive functions, orders which were not of the first importance being issued by the Staff in accordance with the policy approved generally by the First Sea Lord. The fault in the organization appeared to me to lie in non-recognition of the fact that the First Sea Lord was in reality the Chief of the Naval Staff, since he was charged with the responsibility for the preparation and readiness of the Fleet for war and for all movements. Another anomaly existing at the Admiralty, which was not altered in the 1911 reorganization of the War Staff, was that the orders to the Fleet were not drafted and issued by the War Staff, but by the Military Branch of the Secretary's Department.
The system was only workable because the very able civil servants of the Military Branch were possessed of wide Admiralty experience and worked in the closest co-operation with the naval officers. Their work was of the most strenuous nature and was carried out with the greatest devotion, but the system was manifestly wrong in principle.
On the outbreak of war the necessity for placing the War Registry (a part of the Military Branch) directly under the Chief of the Staff became apparent, and this was done.
In December, 1916, when I took up the post of First Sea Lord, the Admiralty War Staff was still being worked on the general lines of the organization introduced by Mr. Churchill in 1911, but it had, of course, expanded to a very considerable extent to meet war conditions, and a most important Trade Division, which dealt with all questions connected with the Mercantile Marine, had been formed at the outbreak of war under the charge of Captain Richard Webb. This Division, under that very able officer, had carried out work of the greatest national importance with marked success.
The successive changes in the Staff organization carried out during the year 1917 were as follows:
In December, 1916, an Anti-Submarine Division of the Staff was formed. This Division did not, for some reason, appear in the Navy List as part of the Staff organization until some months had elapsed, although it started work in December, 1916. The officers who composed the Division were shown as borne on the books of H.M.S. President.
The Division relieved the Operations Division of the control of all vessels, including aircraft, which were engaged in anti-submarine offensive and defensive work, and took over also the control of mine-sweeping operations. The Division was also charged with the duty of examining and perfecting all experimental devices for combating the submarine menace and of producing fresh schemes for the destruction of enemy submarines. This organization is open to the criticism that matters concerning operations and material came under the same head, but they were so closely allied at this stage that it was deemed advisable to accept this departure from correct Staff organization. The personnel of the Division came with me from the Grand Fleet, and at the outset consisted of one flag officer—Rear-Admiral A.L. Duff, C.B.—two captains, four commanders, three lieutenant-commanders, and two engineer officers, in addition to the necessary clerical staff. The small staff of four officers already at the Admiralty engaged in anti-submarine experimental work, which had done much to develop this side of warfare, was absorbed. The new Division worked directly under me, but in close touch with the then Chief of the War Staff, Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Oliver.
In the early spring of 1917 the illogical nature of the War Staff organization became apparent, in that it had no executive functions, and as the result of discussions between Sir Edward Carson and myself the decision was taken that the duties of the Naval Staff (the term decided upon in place of that of War Staff) should be made executive, and that the First Sea Lord should assume his correct title as Chief of the Naval Staff, as he had, in fact, already assumed the position.
At the same time the operational work of the Staff was grouped under two heads, the first mainly concerned with operations against the enemy's surface vessels, and the second with the protection of trade and operations against the enemy's under-water warfare, whether the means he employed were submarines or mines.
The officer, Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Oliver, K.C.B., charged with the supervision of the first-named work was styled Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff (D.C.N.S.), and the officer connected with the second, Rear-Admiral A.L. Duff, C.B., was given the title of Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff (A.C.N.S.).
The duties of Director of the Anti-Submarine Division of the Staff, hitherto carried out by Admiral Duff, were at this time taken over by Captain W.W. Fisher, C.B., who was brought down from the Grand Fleet for the purpose. Captain Dreyer, who had been Admiral Duff's original assistant, had in the meantime been appointed Director of Naval Ordnance, and had been succeeded by Captain H. Walwyn, D.S.O.
The Mine-Sweeping Division of the Staff was also formed, and the importance of the question of signal communications was recognized by forming a Signal Section of the Staff.
The adoption of the title of Chief of the Naval Staff by the First Sea Lord necessarily made the functions of the Staff executive instead of advisory.
The Staff organization at this period is shown graphically below.
C.N.S. + D.C.N.S. . . + Operations Division. . . + Home . + Foreign . + Mobilization Division. . + Signal Section. . + Intelligence Division. . + A.C.N.S. + Trade Division. + Convoys Section. + Anti-Submarine Division. + Mine-Sweeping Division.
Stress was laid in a Staff memorandum issued by me on the fact that the various divisions were on no account to work in watertight compartments, but were to be in the closest touch with one another. The dotted line connecting the D.C.N.S. and the A.C.N.S. in the graph was defined as indicating that there should be the fullest co-operation between the different portions of the Staff.
In the summer of 1917 the growth of the convoy system necessitated further expansion of the Naval Staff, and a Mercantile Movements Division was added. The duties of this division were to organize and regulate the movements of convoys of merchant ships. A staff of officers had been by this time sent abroad to the ports from which convoys were directed to sail, and the Mercantile Movements Division, acting in close touch with the Ministry of Shipping, arranged the assembly and movements of the convoys and their protection.
The organization of the portion of the Staff under the A.C.N.S. at this stage is shown below.
A.C.N.S. Director of Director of Director of Director of Mercantile Trade Anti-Sub- Mine-Sweeping Movements Division. marine Division. Division. (Captain R.N.) Division. (Captain R.N.) (Captain R.N.) (Captain R.N.) Staff. Staff. Staff. Convoy Movements Section. Section.
The portion of the organization under the A.C.N.S. comprised the following numbers in December, 1917:
Mercantile Movements Division, 36 Officers, with a clerical staff.
Trade Division, 43 Officers, with a clerical staff of 10 civilians.
Anti-Submarine Division, 26 Officers, with a clerical staff.
Mine-Sweeping Division, 8 Officers, with a clerical staff.
Of this number practically the whole of the Mercantile Movements and Anti-Submarine Divisions were added during the year 1917, whilst large additions were also made to the Trade Division, owing to the great increase of work.
During the first half of the year 1917 the Operations Division of the Naval Staff received a much needed increase of strength by the appointment of additional officers, charged, under the Director of the Operations Division, with the detailed preparation of plans for operations. Further additions to this branch of the Staff were made in the latter half of the year.
Matters were in this position with the reorganization of the Naval Staff in hand and working towards a definite conclusion when, to the intense regret of those who had been privileged to work with him, Sir Edward Carson left the Admiralty to become a member of the War Cabinet.
Before leaving the subject of work at the Admiralty during Sir Edward Carson's administration, mention should be made of the progress made in the difficult task of providing officers for the rapidly expanding Fleet. The large programme of small craft started in the early part of 1917 involved the eventual provision of a great number of additional officers. Admiral Sir Cecil Burney, the Second Sea Lord, took this matter in hand with conspicuous success, and the measures which he introduced tided us over a period of much difficulty and made provision for many months ahead. Sir Cecil Burney, by reason of his intimate knowledge of the personnel—the result of years of command afloat—was able to settle also many problems relating to personnel which had been the cause of dissatisfaction in the past.
Sir Edward Carson, on leaving the Admiralty, was succeeded by Sir Eric Geddes as First Lord. Sir Eric had been brought into the Admiralty in May, 1917, in circumstances which I will describe later. (Vide Chapter X.) One of his first steps as First Lord which affected Admiralty organization was the appointment of a Deputy First Sea Lord. This appointment was frankly made more as a matter of expediency than because any real need had been shown for the creation of such an office. It is unnecessary here to enter into the circumstances which led to the appointment to which I saw objections, owing to the difficulty of fitting into the organization an officer bearing the title of Deputy First Sea Lord.
Vice-Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss—who had come to England for the purpose of conferring with the Admiralty before taking up the post of British Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean—was selected by the First Lord as Deputy First Sea Lord.
Shortly after assuming office as First Lord, Sir Eric Geddes expressed a wish for a further consideration of the question of Admiralty organization. To this end he appointed a joint War Office and Admiralty Committee to compare the two organizations.
Having received the report of the Committee, the First Lord and I both formulated ideas for further reorganization. My proposals, so far as they concerned the Naval Staff, were conceived on the general lines of an extension of the organization already adopted since my arrival at the Admiralty, but I also stated that the time had arrived when the whole Admiralty organization should be divided more distinctly into two sides, viz., the Operational side and the Materiel or Administrative side, and indicated that the arrangement existing in the time of the old Navy Board might be largely followed, in order that questions of Operations and Materiel should be quite clearly separated. This, indeed, was the principle of the Staff organization which I had adopted in the Grand Fleet, and I was anxious to extend it to the Admiralty.
This principle was accepted—although the term "Navy Board" was not reinstituted—the Admiralty Board being divided into two Committees, one for Operations and one for Materiel, the whole Board meeting at least once a week, as required, to discuss important questions affecting both sides. Whilst it was necessary that the Maintenance Committee should be kept acquainted with the requirements in the shape of material needed for operations in which the Fleet was engaged—and to the Deputy Chief of Naval Staff was assigned this particular liaison duty—I was not in favour of discussing questions affecting ordinary operations with the whole Board, since, in addition to the delay thereby involved, members of the Maintenance Committee could not keep in sufficiently intimate touch with such matters, and opinions might be formed and conclusions expressed on an incomplete knowledge of facts. Questions of broad policy or of proposed major operations were, of course, in a different category, and the above objections did not apply.
The further alterations in Naval Staff organization were not adopted without considerable discussion and some difference of opinion as to detail, particularly on the subject of the organization of the Operations Division of the Naval Staff, which I considered should embrace the Plans Division as a sub-section in order to avoid overlapping and delay. In my view it was undesirable for a body of officers not working under the authority of those in close touch with the daily operations of the Fleet to put forward plans for operations which necessarily involved the use of the same vessels and material, as such a procedure must inevitably lead to impracticable suggestions and consequent waste of time; the system which I favoured was that in use in the Army, where the Operations Section of the Staff dealt also with the working out of plans.
The Admiralty Staff organization necessarily differed somewhat from that at the War Office, because during the war the Admiralty in a sense combined, so far as Naval operations were concerned, the functions both of the War Office and of General Headquarters in France. This was due primarily to the fact that intelligence was necessarily centred at the Admiralty, and, secondly, because the Admiralty acted in a sense as Commander-in-Chief of all the forces working in the vicinity of the British Isles. It was not possible for the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet to assume this function, since he could not be provided with the necessary knowledge without great delay being caused, and, further, when he was at sea the other commands would be without a head. The Admiralty therefore necessarily assumed the duty, whilst supplying each command with all the information required for operations. The general lines of the Staff organizations at the War Office and at General Headquarters in France are here given for the sake of comparison with the Naval Staff organization.
1.—The British War Office.
The approximate organization is shown as concisely as possible in the following diagram:
CHIEF OF IMPERIAL GENERAL STAFF
Director of Staff Duties. Staff duties Organization and training. War Organization of forces. General questions of training. Signals and communications.
Director of Military Operations. Operations on all fronts.
Director of Military Intelligence. Intelligence. Espionage. The Press.
The other important departments of the War Office on the administration side are those of the Adjutant-General and the Quartermaster-General, the former dealing with all questions relating to the personnel of the Army under the various headings of organization, mobilization, pay and discipline, and the latter with all questions of supply and transport.
A Deputy Chief of the Imperial General Staff was attached to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. His main duty was to act as a liaison between the General Staff and the administrative departments of the War Office.
The whole organization of the British War Office is, of course, under the direction and control of the Secretary of State for War.
2.—The Staff Organization at General Headquarters in France.
FIELD MARSHAL COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF.
Chief of the General Staff G.S. (a) (Operations) Plans and Execution Intelligence. G.S. (b) (Staff Duties) War Organizations and Establishments Liason between G.S. (a) and Administrative Services.
Adjutant General (Personnel, Discipline, etc.)
Quartermaster General (Transport and Supply, etc.)
ATTACHED TO GENERAL HEADQUARTERS. (BUT NOT STAFF OFFICERS.) Artillery Adviser Engineer-in-Chief. Inspector of (Advises Chief of Advises as in case of Training. General Stall on Artillery. Artillery matters and operations). Advises Administrative Departments as necessary.
N.B.—The Inspector of Training works in consultation with the Chief of the General Staff.
It will be seen that whilst at the War Office the liaison between the General Staff and the administrative side was maintained by a Deputy Chief of the General Staff, in the organization in the field the same function was performed by the Staff Officer known as G.S. (b).
It will also be seen that neither at General Headquarters nor in the case of an Army command does the Chief of the General Staff exercise control over the administrative side.
After some discussion the Admiralty organizations shown in the Tables A and B on page 20 (below) were adopted, and I guarded as far as possible against the objection to keeping the Plans Division separate from the Operations Division by the issue of detailed orders as to the conduct of the business of the Staff, in which directions were given that the Director of the Plans Division should be in close touch with the Director of the Operations Division before submitting any proposals to the Deputy Chief of Naval Staff or myself.
During the remainder of my service at the Admiralty the organization remained as shown in Tables A and B on p. 20 below. It was not entirely satisfactory, for reasons already mentioned and because I did not obtain all the relief from administrative work which was so desirable.
First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff.
Deputy Chief of Naval Staff. Director of Intelligence Division. Director of Signals Division. Director of Operations Division. Deputy-Director of Operations Operations at home. Assistant Director Operations Division and Staff. Operations abroad. Director of Plans Division. Preparation of Plans for operations at home and abroad. Consideration of and proposals for use of new weapons and material. Building programmes to carry out approved policy.
Deputy First Sea Lord. Director of Training and Staff Duties.
Assistant Chief of Naval Staff. Director of Trade Division. Director of Mercantile Movements. Director of Mine-sweeping. Director of Anti-Submarine Division.
Board of Admiralty. Operations Committee. Naval Staff. Maintenance Committee. Shipbuilding and Armaments. Stores. Air. Finance. Personnel and Discipline, etc. Works.
Early in 1918, after my departure from the Admiralty, the following announcement appeared in the Press:
The Secretary of the Admiralty makes the following announcement:—
The Letters Patent for the new Board of Admiralty having now been issued, it may be desirable to summarize the changes in the personnel of the Board and to indicate briefly the alterations in organization that have been decided upon.
Acting Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Oliver now brings to a close his long period of valuable service on the Naval Staff and will take up a sea-going command, being succeeded as D.C.N.S. by Rear-Admiral Sydney Fremantle. Rear-Admiral George P.W. Hope has been selected for the appointment of Deputy First Sea Lord, formerly held by Admiral Wemyss, but with changed functions. Commodore Paine, Fifth Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Air Service, leaves the Board of Admiralty in consequence of the recent creation of the Air Council, of which he is now a member, and formal effect is now given to the appointment of Mr. A.F. Pease as Second Civil Lord, which was announced on Thursday last.
In view of the formal recognition now accorded, as explained by the First Lord in his statement in the House of Commons on the 1st November, to the principle of the division of the work of the Board under the two heads of Operations and Maintenance, the Members of the new Board (other than the First Lord) may be grouped as follows:—
OPERATIONS. MAINTENANCE. First Sea Lord Second Sea Lord. and (Vice-Admiral Sir H.L. Heath.) Chief of Naval Staff. (Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss.)
Deputy Chief of Naval Staff. Third Sea Lord. (Rear-Admiral S.R. Fremantle.) (Rear-Admiral L. Halsey.) Assistant Chief of Naval Staff. Fourth Sea Lord. (Rear-Admiral A.L. Duff.) (Rear-Admiral H.H.D. Tothill.)
Deputy First Sea Lord. Civil Lord. (Rear-Admiral G.P.W. Hope.) (Right Hon. E.G. Pretyman, M.P.)
Controller. (Sir A.G. Anderson.)
Second Civil Lord. (Mr. A.F. Pease.)
Financial Secretary. (Right Hon. T.J. Macnamara, M.P.)
Permanent Secretary. (Sir O. Murray.)
The principle of isolating the work of planning and directing naval war operations from all other work, in order that it may receive the entire attention of the Officers selected for its performance, is now being carried a stage further and applied systematically to the organization of the Operations side of the Board and that of the Naval Staff.
In future the general distribution of duties between the Members of the Board belonging to the Naval Staff will be as follows:—
FIRST SEA LORD AND CHIEF Naval policy and general direction OF NAVAL STAFF of operations.
DEPUTY CHIEF OF NAVAL War operations in Home STAFF Waters.
ASSISTANT CHIEF OF NAVAL Trade Protection and STAFF anti-submarine operations.
DEPUTY FIRST SEA LORD General policy questions and operations outside Home Waters.
The detailed arrangements have been carefully worked out so as to relieve the first three of these officers of the necessity of dealing with any questions not directly connected with the main operations of the war, and the great mass of important paper work and administrative detail which is inseparably and necessarily connected with Staff work, but which has hitherto tended to compete for attention with Operations work generally will under the new organization be diverted to the Deputy First Sea Lord.
The grouping of the Directors of the Naval Staff Divisions will be governed by the same principle.
The only two Directors that will work immediately under the First Sea Lord will be the Director of Intelligence Division (Rear-Admiral Sir Reginald Hall) and the Director of Training and Staff Duties (Rear-Admiral J. C. Ley), whose functions obviously affect all the other Staff Divisions alike.
Under the Deputy Chief of Naval Staff will be grouped three Directors whose duties will relate entirely to the planning and direction of operations in the main sphere of naval activity, viz.:—
Director of Operations Division Captain A.D.P. Pound. (Home)
Director of Plans Division Captain C.T.M. Fuller, C.M.G., D.S.O.
Director of Air Division Wing Captain F.R. Scarlett, D.S.O.
together with the Director of Signals Division, Acting-Captain R.L. Nicholson, D.S.O., whose duties relate to the system of Fleet communications.
Under the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff will be grouped four Directors, whose duties relate to Trade Protection and Anti-Submarine Operations, viz:—
Director of Anti-Submarine Captain W.W. Fisher, C.B. Division Director of Mine-sweeping Captain L.G. Preston, C.B. Division Director of Mercantile Movements Captain F.A. Whitehead. Division Director of Trade Division Captain A.G. Hotham.
Under the Deputy First Sea Lord there will be one Director of Operations Division (Foreign)—Captain C.P.R. Coode, D.S.O.
The chief change on the Maintenance side of the Board relates to the distribution of duties amongst the Civil Members. The continuance of the war has caused a steady increase in the number of cases in which necessary developments of Admiralty policy due to the war, or experience resulting from war conditions give rise to administrative problems of great importance and complexity, of which a solution will have to be forthcoming either immediately upon or very soon after the conclusion of the war. The difficulty of concentrating attention on these problems of the future in the midst of current administrative work of great urgency may easily be appreciated, and the Civil Lord has consented to take charge of this important matter, with suitable naval and other assistance. He will, therefore, be relieved by the Second Civil Lord of the administration of the programme of Naval Works, including the questions of priority of labour and material requirements arising therefrom and the superintendence of the Director of Works Department.
It has further been decided that the exceptional labour and other difficulties now attending upon the execution of the very large programme of urgent naval works in progress have so greatly transformed the functions of the Director of Works Department of the Admiralty that it is desirable, whilst these abnormal conditions last, to place that Department under the charge of an expert in the rapid execution of large engineering works.
The Army Council have consented, at the request of the First Lord of the Admiralty, to lend for this purpose the services of Colonel Alexander Gibb, K.B.E., C.B., R.E., Chief Engineer, Port Construction, British Armies in France. Colonel Gibb (of the Firm of Easton, Gibb, Son and Company, which built Rosyth Naval Base) will have the title of Civil Engineer-in-Chief, and will be assisted by the Director of Works, who retains his status as such, and the existing Staff of the Department, which will be strengthened as necessary.
Another important change has reference to the organization of the Admiralty Board of Invention and Research, and has the object at once of securing greater concentration of effort in connection with scientific research and experiment, and ensuring that the distinguished scientists who are giving their assistance to the Admiralty are more constantly in and amongst the problems upon which they are advising.
Mr. Charles H. Merz, M.Inst.C.E., the well-known Electrical Consulting Engineer, who has been associated with the Board of Invention and Research (B.I.R.) since its inception, has consented to serve as Director of Experiments and Research (unpaid) at the Admiralty to direct and supervise all the executive arrangements in connection with the organization of scientific Research and Experiments. Mr. Merz will also be a member of the Central Committee of the B.I.R. under the presidency of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher. The functions of the Central Committee will, as hitherto, be to initiate, investigate, develop and advise generally upon proposals in respect to the application of Science and Engineering to Naval Warfare, but the distinguished scientific experts at present giving their services will in future work more much closely with the Technical Departments of the Admiralty immediately concerned with the production and use of apparatus required for specific purposes.
The general arrangements in regard to the organization of scientific research and experiment will in future come under the direct supervision of the First Lord.
Possibly by reason of the manner in which the announcement was made, the Press appeared to assume that the whole of this Admiralty organization was new. Such was not the case. Apart from the changes in the personnel of the Board itself and a slight rearrangement of their duties and those due to the establishment of an Air Ministry (which had been arranged by the Cabinet before December, 1917), there were but slight alterations in the organization shown in Table A [above], as will be seen by comparing it with Table C on p. 27 [below], which indicates graphically the organization given in the Admiralty communique.
FIRST SEA LORD AND CHIEF OF NAVAL STAFF.
Deputy Chief of Naval Staff. Director of Signals Division. Director of Operations Division (Home). Director of Plans Division. Director of Air Division.
Deputy First Sea Lord. Director of Operations Division (Foreign) and Administrative detail work.
Director of Intelligence Division. Director of Training and Staff Duties.
Assistant Chief of Naval Staff. Director of Trade Division. Director of Mercantile Movements. Director of Mine-sweeping. Director of Anti-Submarine Division.
It will be seen that the alterations in Naval Staff organization were as follows:
(a) The new Deputy First Sea Lord—Rear-Admiral Hope—who since the spring of 1917 had been Director of the Operations Division, was given the responsibility for operations in foreign waters, with a Director of Operations (foreign) under him, and was also definitely charged with the administrative detail involving technical matters. The special gifts, experience and aptitude of this particular officer for such work enabled him, no doubt, to relieve the pressure on the First Sea Lord for administrative detail very materially.
(b) The Operations Division was separated into two parts (home and foreign), with a Director for each, instead of there being a Deputy Director for home and an Assistant Director for foreign work, both working under the Director. This was a change in name only, as the same officer continued the foreign work under the new arrangement.
(c) The Director of the Intelligence Division and the Director of Training and Staff Duties were shown as working immediately under the First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff.
(d) A Director of the Air Division was introduced as a result of the Naval Air Service having been separated from the Admiralty and placed under the Air Ministry. A larger Admiralty Staff organization for aerial matters thus became necessary, since the Staff could no longer refer to the Naval Air Service.
There were no other changes in the Staff organization. As regards the general Admiralty organization, there was no change except that caused by the disappearance of the separate Naval Air Service, the addition of a Second Civil Lord, and some reorganization of the Board of Invention and Research which had been under discussion for some months previously.
It is probable that in 1918 the Chief of the Naval Staff had more time at his disposal than was the case in 1917, owing to the changes in organization initiated in the later year having reached some finality and to the fact that the numerous anti-submarine measures put in hand in 1917 had become effective in 1918.
The future Admiralty Naval Staff organization, which was in my mind at the end of 1917, was a development of that shown in Table A, p. 20, subject to the following remarks:
In the organization then adopted the personality and experience during the war of many of the officers in high positions were of necessity considered, and the organization to that extent adapted to circumstances. This resulted in somewhat overloading the staff at the head, and the principle on which the Board of Admiralty works, i.e., that its members are colleagues one of another, and seniority in rank does not, theoretically, give greater weight in council, was not altogether followed. Thus the Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff, the Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff, and the Deputy First Sea Lord were, by the nature of their duties, subordinate to the Chief of the Naval Staff and yet were members of the Board. The well-known loyalty of naval officers to one another tended to minimize any difficulties that might have arisen from this anomaly, but the arrangement might conceivably give rise to difficulty, and is best avoided if the Board system is to remain.
The situation would be clearer if two of the three officers concerned were removed altogether from the Board, viz., the Deputy First Sea Lord and the Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff, leaving only the Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff as a member of the Board to act in the absence of the Chief of the Naval Staff and to relieve him of the administrative and technical work not immediately connected with operations.
The work of the two officers thus removed should, under these conditions, be undertaken by officers who should preferably be Flag Officers, with experience in command at sea, having the titles of Directors of Operations, whose emoluments should be commensurate with their position and responsibilities.
I did not consider it advisable to carry out this alteration during the war, and it was also difficult under the hour to hour stress of war to rearrange all the duties of the Naval Staff in the manner most convenient to the conduct of Staff business, although its desirability was recognized during 1917.
It may be as well to close this chapter by a few remarks on Staff work generally in the Navy. In the first place it is necessary in the Navy to give much weight to the opinions of specialist officers, and for this reason it is desirable that they should be included in the Staff organization, and not "attached" to it as was the case with our Army in pre-war days. The reason for this is that in the Army there is, except in regard to artillery, little "specialization." The training received by an officer of any of the fighting branches of the Army at the Staff College may fit him to assist in the planning and execution of operations, provided due regard is paid to questions of supply, transport, housing, etc.
This is not so in a navy. A ship and all that she contains is the weapon, and very intimate knowledge of the different factors that go to make a ship an efficient weapon is necessary if the ship is to be used effectively and if operations in which the ship takes so prominent a part are to be successfully planned and executed, or if a sound opinion is to be expressed on the training necessary to produce and maintain her as an efficient weapon.
The particular points in which this specially intimate knowledge is required are:
(a) The science of navigation and of handling ships of all types and classes.
(c) Torpedoes and mines.
It is the case at present (and the conditions are not likely to alter) that each one of these subjects is a matter for specialist training. Every executive officer has a general knowledge of each subject, but it is not possible for any one officer to possess the knowledge of all three which is gained by the specialist, and if attempts are made to plan operations without the assistance of the specialists grave errors may be made, and, indeed, such errors were made during the late war, perhaps from this cause.
In my view, therefore, it is desirable that specialist officers should be included in a Naval Staff organization and not be merely "attached" to it. It may be said that a Staff can take the advice of specialist officers who are attached to it for that purpose. But there is a danger that the specialist advice may never reach the heads of the Staff. Human nature being what it is, the safest procedure is to place the specialist officer where his voice must be heard, i.e. to give him a position on the Staff, for one must legislate for the average individual and for normal conditions of work.
The Chief of a Staff might have specialist knowledge himself, or he might assure himself that due weight had been given to the opinions of specialists attached to a Staff; but, on the other hand, it is possible that he might not have that knowledge and that he might ignore the opinions of the specialists. The procedure suggested is at least as necessary when considering the question of training as it is in the case of operations.
In passing from this point I may say that I have heard the opinion expressed by military Staff officers that the war has shown that artillery is so all important that it would be desirable to place the Major-General of the Royal Artillery, now attached to General Headquarters, on the Staff for operational matters.
Finally, great care should be exercised to prevent the Staff becoming larger than is necessary, and there is some danger that the ignorant may gauge the value of the Staff by its size.
Von Schellendorff says on this subject:
"The principle strictly followed throughout the German Service of reducing all Staffs to the smallest possible dimensions is moreover vindicated by restricting every Staff to what is absolutely necessary, and by not attaching to every Army, Army Corps and Divisional Staff representatives of all the various branches and departments according to any fixed rule.
"There cannot be the slightest doubt that the addition of every individual not absolutely required on a Staff is in itself an evil. In the first place, it unnecessarily weakens the strength of the regiment from which an officer is taken. Again it increases the difficulty of providing the Staff with quarters, which affects the troops that may happen to be quartered in the same place; and these are quite ready enough, as it is, occasionally to look with a certain amount of dislike—though in most cases it is entirely uncalled for—on the personnel of the higher Staffs. Finally, it should be remembered—and this is the most weighty argument against the proceeding—that idleness is at the root of all mischief. When there are too many officers on a Staff they cannot always find the work and occupation essential for their mental and physical welfare, and their superfluous energies soon make themselves felt in all sorts of objectionable ways. Experience shows that whenever a Staff is unnecessarily numerous the ambitious before long take to intrigue, the litigious soon produce general friction, and the vain are never satisfied. These failings, so common to human nature, even if all present, are to a great extent counteracted if those concerned have plenty of hard and constant work. Besides, the numbers of a Staff being few, there is all the greater choice in the selection of the men who are to fill posts on it. In forming a Staff for war the qualifications required include not only great professional knowledge and acquaintance with service routine, but above all things character, self-denial, energy, tact and discretion."
THE SUBMARINE CAMPAIGN IN THE EARLY PART OF 1917
The struggle against the depredations of the enemy submarines during the year 1917 was two-fold; offensive in the direction of anti-submarine measures (this was partly the business of the Anti-Submarine Division of the Naval Staff and partly that of the Operations Division); defensive in the direction of protective measures for trade, whether carried in our own ships or in ships belonging to our Allies or to neutrals, this being the business of the Trade and Mercantile Movements Divisions.
Prior to the formation of the Mercantile Movements Division the whole direction of trade was in the hands of the Trade Division of the Staff.
The difficulty with which we were constantly faced in the early part of 1917, when the effective means of fighting the submarine were very largely confined to the employment of surface vessels, was that of providing a sufficient number of such vessels for offensive operations without incurring too heavy risks for our trade by the withdrawal of vessels engaged in what might be termed defensive work. There was always great doubt whether any particular offensive operation undertaken by small craft would produce any result, particularly as the numbers necessary for success were not available, whilst there was the practical certainty that withdrawal of defensive vessels would increase our losses; the situation was so serious in the spring of 1917 that we could not carry out experiments involving grave risk of considerably increased losses.
On the other hand, the sinking of one enemy submarine meant the possible saving of a considerable number of merchant ships. It was difficult to draw the line between the two classes of operations.
The desire of the Anti-Submarine Division to obtain destroyers for offensive use in hunting flotillas in the North Sea and English Channel led to continual requests being made to me to provide vessels for the purpose. I was, of course, anxious to institute offensive operations, but in the early days of 1917 we could not rely much on depth-charge attack, owing to our small stock of these charges, and my experience in the Grand Fleet had convinced me that for success in the alternative of hunting submarines for a period which would exhaust their batteries and so force them to come to the surface, a large number of destroyers was required, unless the destroyers were provided with some apparatus which would, by sound or otherwise, locate the submarine. This will be realized when the fact is recalled that a German submarine could remain submerged at slow speed for a period which would enable her to travel a distance of some 80 miles. As this distance could be covered in any direction in open waters such as the North Sea, it is obvious that only a very numerous force of destroyers steaming at high speed could cover the great area in which the submarine might come to the surface. She would, naturally, select the dark hours for emergence, as being the period of very limited range of vision for those searching for her. In confined waters such as those in the eastern portion of the English Channel the problem became simpler. Requests for destroyers constantly came from every quarter, such as the Commanders-in-Chief at Portsmouth and Devonport, the Senior Naval Officer at Gibraltar, the Vice-Admiral, Dover, the Rear-Admiral Commanding East Coast, and the Admiral at Queenstown. The vessels they wanted did not, however, exist.
Eventually, with great difficulty, a force of six destroyers was collected from various sources in the spring of 1917, and used in the Channel solely for hunting submarines; this number was really quite inadequate, and it was not long before they had to be taken for convoy work.
Evidence of the difficulty of successfully hunting submarines was often furnished by the experiences of our own vessels of this type, sometimes when hunted by the enemy, sometimes when hunted in error by our own craft. Many of our submarines went through some decidedly unpleasant experiences at the hands of our own surface vessels and occasionally at the hands of vessels belonging to our Allies. On several such occasions the submarine was frequently reported as having been sunk, whereas she had escaped.
As an example of a submarine that succeeded not only in evading destruction, but in getting at least even with the enemy, the case of one of our vessels of the "E" class, on patrol in the Heligoland Bight, may be cited. This submarine ran into a heavy anti-submarine net, and was dragged, nose first, to the bottom. After half an hour's effort, during which bombs were exploding in her vicinity, the submarine was brought to the surface by her own crew by the discharge of a great deal of water from her forward ballast tanks. It was found, however, that the net was still foul of her, and that a Zeppelin was overhead, evidently attracted by the disturbance in the water due to the discharge of air and water from the submarine. She went to the bottom again, and after half an hour succeeded in getting clear of the net. Meanwhile the Zeppelin had collected a force of trawlers and destroyers, and the submarine was hunted for fourteen hours by this force, assisted by the airship. During this period she succeeded in sinking one of the German destroyers, and was eventually left unmolested.
For a correct appreciation of submarine warfare it is necessary to have a clear idea of the characteristics and qualities of the submarine herself, of the numbers possessed by the enemy, and of the rate at which they were being produced. It is also necessary, in order to understand the difficulty of introducing the counter measures adopted by the Royal Navy, to know the length of time required to produce the vessels and the weapons which were employed or which it was intended to employ in the anti-submarine war.
The German submarines may be divided into four classes, viz.: Submarine cruisers, U-boats, U.B.-boats, U.C.-boats. There were several variations of each class.
The earlier submarine cruisers of the "Deutschland" class were double-hulled vessels, with a surface displacement of 1,850 tons, and were about 215 feet long; they had a surface speed of about 12 knots and a submerged speed of about 6 knots. They carried two 5.9-inch guns, two 22 pounders, two torpedo tubes, and 12 torpedoes. They could keep the sea for quite four months without being dependent on a supply ship or base.
The later submarine cruisers were double-hulled, 275-320 feet long, had a surface speed of 16-18 knots, and a submerged speed of about 7 to 8 knots. They carried either one or two 5.9-inch guns, six torpedo tubes, and about 10 torpedoes. They had a very large radius of action, viz., from 12,000 to 20,000 miles, at a speed of 6 knots. A large number (some 30 to 40) of these boats were under construction at the time of the Armistice, but very few had been completed.
There were two or three types of U-boats. The earlier vessels were 210 to 220 feet long, double-hulled, with a surface displacement of about 750 tons, a surface speed of 15 to 16 knots, and a submerged speed of about 8 knots. They carried one or two 4.1-inch guns, four to six torpedo tubes, and about 10 torpedoes.
Later vessels of the class were 230 to 240 feet long, and of 800 to 820 tons surface displacement, and carried six torpedo tubes and 16 torpedoes. Some of them, fitted as minelayers, carried 36 mines, and two torpedo tubes, but only two torpedoes. A later and much larger class of minelayers carried a 5.9-inch gun, four torpedo tubes, 42 mines, and a larger number of torpedoes. The earlier U-boats could keep the sea for about five weeks without returning to a base or a supply ship; the later U-boats had much greater sea endurance.
The smaller U.B.-boats were single-hulled, and about 100 feet long, had a surface speed of 7 to 9 knots and a submerged speed of about 5 knots, and carried one 22-pounder gun, two torpedo tubes and four torpedoes. These boats could keep the sea for about two weeks without returning to a base or supply ship. A later class were double-hulled, 180 feet long, with greater endurance (8,000 miles at 6 knots), a surface speed of 13 knots and a submerged speed of 8 knots; they carried one 4.1-inch gun, five tubes and 10 torpedoes.
The earliest U.C.-boats were 111 feet long, with a surface displacement of 175 tons, a surface speed of 6-1/2 knots, and a submerged speed of 5 knots. They carried 12 mines, but no torpedo tubes, and as they had a fuel endurance of only 800 miles at 5-1/2 knots, they could operate only in southern waters.
The later U.C.-boats were 170 to 180 feet long, double-hulled, had a surface speed of 11 to 12 knots and a submerged speed of about 7 knots, carried 18 mines, three torpedo tubes, five torpedoes, and one 22-pounder gun, and their fuel endurance was 8,000 to 10,000 miles at a speed of 7 to 8 knots.
At the end of February, 1917, it was estimated that the enemy had a total of about 130 submarines of all types available for use in home waters, and about 20 in the Mediterranean. Of this total an average of between one-half and one-third was usually at sea. During the year about eight submarines, on the average, were added monthly to this total. Of this number some 50 per cent, were vessels of the mine-laying type.
All the German submarines were capable of prolonged endurance submerged. The U-boats could travel under water at the slowest speed for some 48 hours, at about 4 knots for 20 hours, at 5 knots for about 12 hours, and at 8 knots for about 2 hours.
They were tested to depths of at least 180 feet, but many submerged to depths exceeding 250 feet without injury. They did not usually lie on the bottom at depths greatly exceeding 20 fathoms (120 feet).
All German submarines, except possibly the cruiser class, could dive from diving trim in from 30 seconds to one minute. The U.B. class had particularly rapid diving qualities, and were very popular boats with the German submarine officers. Perhaps the most noticeable features of the German submarines as a whole were their excellent engines and their great strength of construction.
Prior to the month of February, 1917, it was the usual practice of the enemy submarine in the warfare against merchant ships to give some warning before delivering her attack. This was by no means a universal rule, particularly in the case of British merchant vessels, as is evidenced by the attacks on the Lusitania, Arabic, and scores of other ships.
In the years 1915 and 1916, however, only 21 and 29 per cent. respectively of the British merchant ships sunk by enemy submarines were destroyed without warning, whilst during the first four months of the unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917 the figure rose to 64 per cent., and went higher and higher as the months progressed.
Prior to February, 1917, the more general method of attack on ships was to "bring them to" by means of gun-fire; they were then sunk by gun-fire, torpedo, or bomb. This practice necessitated the submarine being on the surface, and so gave a merchant ship defensively armed a chance of replying to the gun-fire and of escaping, and it also gave armed decoy ships a good opportunity of successful action if the submarine could be induced to close to very short range.
The form of attack on commerce known as "unrestricted submarine warfare" was commenced by Germany with the object of forcing Great Britain to make peace by cutting off her supplies of food and raw material. It has been acknowledged by Germans in high positions that the German Admiralty considered that this form of warfare would achieve its object in a comparatively short time, in fact in a matter of some five or six months.
Experienced British naval officers, aware of the extent of the German submarine building programme, and above all aware of the shadowy nature of our existing means of defence against such a form of warfare, had every reason to hold the view that the danger was great and that the Allies were faced with a situation, fraught with the very gravest possibilities.
The principal doubt was as to the ability of the enemy to train submarine crews with sufficient rapidity to keep pace with his building programme.
However, it was ascertained that the Germans had evidently devoted a very great number of their submarines to training work during the period September, 1915, to March, 1916, possibly in anticipation of the unrestricted warfare, since none of their larger boats was operating in our waters between these months; this fact had a considerable bearing on the problem.
As events turned out it would appear either that the training given was insufficient or that the German submarine officer was lacking in enterprise.
There is no doubt whatever that had the German craft engaged in the unrestricted submarine warfare been manned by British officers and men, adopting German methods, there would have been but few Allied or neutral merchant ships left afloat by the end of 1917.
So long as the majority of the German submarine attacks upon shipping were made by gun-fire, the method of defence was comparatively simple, in that it merely involved the supply to merchant ships of guns of sufficient power to prevent the submarine engaging at ranges at which the fire could not be returned. Whilst the method of defence was apparent, the problem of supplying suitable guns in sufficient numbers was a very different matter. It involved arming all our merchant ships with guns of 4-inch calibre and above. In January, 1917, only some 1,400 British ships had been so armed since the outbreak of war.
It will be seen, therefore, that so long as ships sailed singly, very extensive supplies of guns were required to meet gun attack, and as there was most pressing need for the supply of guns for the Army in France, as well as for the anti-aircraft defence of London, the prospect of arming merchant ships adequately was not promising.
When the enemy commenced unrestricted submarine warfare attack by gun-fire was gradually replaced by attack by torpedo, and the problem at once became infinitely more complicated.
Gun-fire was no longer a protection, since the submarine was rarely seen. The first intimation of her presence would be given by the track of a torpedo coming towards the ship, and no defence was then possible beyond an endeavour to manoeuvre the ship clear of the torpedo. Since, however, a torpedo is always some distance ahead of the bubbles which mark its track (the speed of the torpedo exceeding 30 knots an hour), the track is not, as a rule, seen until the torpedo is fairly close to the ship unless the sea is absolutely calm. The chance of a ship of low speed avoiding a hit by a timely alteration of course after the torpedo has been fired is but slight. Further, the only difficulty experienced by a submarine in hitting a moving vessel by torpedo-fire, once she has arrived in a position suitable for attack, lies in estimating correctly the course and speed of the target. In the case of an ordinary cargo ship there is little difficulty in guessing her speed, since it is certain to be between 8 and 12 knots, and her course can be judged with fair accuracy by the angle of her masts and funnel, or by the angle presented by her bridge.
It will be seen, then, how easy was the problem before the German submarine officers, and how very difficult was that set to our Navy and our gallant Mercantile Marine.
It will not be out of place here to describe the methods which were in force at the end of 1916 and during the first part of 1917 for affording protection to merchant shipping approaching our coasts from the direction of the Atlantic Ocean.
The general idea dating from the early months of the war was to disperse trade on passage over wide tracts of ocean, in order to prevent the successful attacks which could be so easily carried out if shipping traversed one particular route. To carry out such a system it was necessary to give each vessel a definite route which she should follow from her port of departure to her port of arrival; unless this course was adopted, successive ships would certainly be found to be following identical, or practically identical, routes, thereby greatly increasing the chance of attack. In the early years of the war masters of ships were given approximate tracks, but when the unrestricted submarine campaign came into being it became necessary to give exact routes.
The necessary orders were issued by officers stationed at various ports at home and abroad who were designated Shipping Intelligence or Reporting Officers. It was, of course, essential to preserve the secrecy of the general principles governing the issue of route orders and of the route orders themselves. For this reason each master was only informed of the orders affecting his own ship, and was directed that such orders should on no account fall into the hands of the enemy.
The route orders were compiled on certain principles, of which a few may be mentioned:
(a) Certain definite positions of latitude and longitude were given through which the ship was required to pass, and the orders were discussed with the master of each vessel in order to ensure that they were fully understood.
(b) Directions were given that certain localities in which submarines were known to operate, such as the approaches to the coast of the United Kingdom, were, if possible, to be crossed at night. It was pointed out that when the speed of the ship did not admit of traversing the whole danger area at night, the portion involving the greatest danger (which was the inshore position) should, as a rule, be crossed during dark hours.
(c) Similarly the orders stated that ships should, as a rule, leave port so as to approach the dangerous area at dusk, and that they should make the coast at about daylight, and should avoid, as far as possible, the practice of making the land at points in general use in peace time.
(d) Orders were definite that ships were to zigzag both by day and at night in certain areas, and if kept waiting outside a port.
(e) Masters were cautioned to hug the coast, as far as navigational facilities admitted, when making coastal passages.
The orders (b), (c) and (d) were those in practice in the Grand Fleet when circumstances permitted during my term in that command.
A typical route order from New York to Liverpool might be as follows:
"After passing Sandy Hook, hug the coast until dark, then make a good offing before daylight and steer to pass through the following positions, viz:
Lat. 38 deg. N. Long. 68 deg. W. Lat. 41 deg. N. Long. 48 deg. W. Lat. 46 deg. N. Long. 28 deg. W. Lat. 51 deg. 30' N. Long. 14 deg. W.
"Thence make the coast near the Skelligs approximately at daylight, hug the Irish coast to the Tuskar, up the Irish coast (inside the banks if possible), and across the Irish Channel during dark hours. Thence hug the coast to your port; zigzag by day and night after passing, Long. 20 deg. W."
Sometimes ships were directed to cross to the English coast from the south of Ireland, and to hug the English coast on their way north.
The traffic to the United Kingdom was so arranged in the early part of 1917 as to approach the coast in four different areas, which were known as Approach A, B, C, and D.
Approach A was used for traffic bound towards the western approach to the English Channel.
Approach B for traffic making for the south of Ireland.
Approach C for traffic making for the north of Ireland.
Approach D for traffic making for the east coast of England via the north of Scotland.
The approach areas in force during one particular period are shown on Chart A (in pocket at the end of the book). They were changed occasionally when suspicion was aroused that their limits were known to the enemy, or as submarine attack in an area became intense.
[Transcriber's note: Chart A is a navigational map of the waters southwest of England, with approach routes marked.]
The approach areas were patrolled at the time, so far as numbers admitted, by patrol craft (trawlers, torpedo-boat destroyers, and sloops), and ships with specially valuable cargoes were given directions to proceed to a certain rendezvous on the outskirts of the area, there to be met by a destroyer or sloop, if one was available for the purpose. The areas were necessarily of considerable length, by reason of the distance from the coast at which submarines operated, and of considerable width, owing to the necessity for a fairly wide dispersion of traffic throughout the area. Consequently, with the comparatively small number of patrol craft available, the protection afforded was but slight, and losses were correspondingly heavy. In the early spring of 1917, Captain H.W. Grant, of the Operations Division at the Admiralty, whose work in the Division was of great value, proposed a change in method by which the traffic should be brought along certain definite "lines" in each approach area. Typical lines are shown in Chart B.