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The years of World War One were momentous for the growth of America’s Navy. The Great War demanded that the service of the seas be ready for any possible threat, whether that threat was the U-Boats of the 1910’s or the modern craft of the 21st century. Before the first major global conflict of the 1900’s, vessels such as the later influential destroyer were primarily coal burners, but would later evolve into the kings of the ocean.1America’s involvement came from the unbridled violence of Germany’s Navy and the patriotism and values of American society calling for retaliation.2 In the year 1915, European powers and neutral countries were cutting Imperial Germany off from international commerce and trade. Germany thus retaliated with aggressive, unchecked U-Boat strikes, which not only targeted military vessels but mercantile and commercial ships as well.3 By May of that year, the enemy of America’s liberty sank four American ships or vessels carrying American citizens, including the tragedy that was the Lusitania.4 Germany had previously promised neutral ships were permitted to sail unharmed, but as Germany began to suffer from loss of international economic connections, it warned that any vessel sailing through waters occupied by U-Boats would be torpedoed, neutral or otherwise.5 President Woodrow Wilson felt that Germany’s attacks committed against his country were infringing on the rights of America’s people and warned that Germany not only apologize but halt its ungoverned underwater war.6 When Germany refused to control their submarines, America entered the war, knowing the navy would need to be prepared for Germany’s violent nature and the global demand to protect international commerce. For the next three years, America’s sea service, made up of the Coast Guard, the Navy, Merchant Marines, and Naval Air Service worked through any weather to come to the aide of the Allied powers by travelling back and forth across the Atlantic to protect military supplies, troops, and cargo, and diminishing the ominous U-Boats. America was proving its abilities and influencing the war


through its naval work. Had Germany not been so unrestrained in its attacks at sea, the U.S.A. would not have begun to develop a powerful navy that would shape the Great War. Although the American Navy required aide from their allies in order to succeed, the navy on its own was well equipped and faithful to the cause, serving primarily as convoys and developing technology to combat U-Boats. Certainly, little government support for vessel production and drafting of sailors limited the impact the navy could have on the war. However, future growth planned for the service and the work of seamen augmented the consequential work during World War One. Thus, despite persistent setbacks, the navy played a significant role in the war through the protection of commerce through the Atlantic Ocean and the fight against German submarines. The technology and power of vessels-namely destroyers, patrol boats, and U.S. submarines-commanded by the navy during the war proved its capabilities and the significant role the U.S. played in the war’s outcome. Part of the ability to influence WWI was due to the mass production of destroyers which commenced right before the start of the war. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Bainbridge class destroyers had two torpedo tubes and 3-inch guns fashioned onto them, primarily operating as coal-burners. However, these “first generation destroyers” developed into 1,000 ton steam turbine-driven vessels with higher-tech torpedo tubes and more weaponry over the next decade and a half.7 These ships were armed with “twelve torpedo tubes, four 4-inch guns, a single 3-inch anti-aircraft gun and some light machine guns on a 1,190-ton, 314-foot hull”.8 While most were not used until the end of the Armistice or had been decommissioned, some were deployed and used in convoys, contributing to the navy’s efforts at sea. Destroyers served in warm, clear weather, the most deadly storms, and everything in between. Herman Whitaker, a sailor who recorded his experiences on different vessels in the navy, wrote that destroyers during storms would “rear, shiver with rage, as if she [the destroyer]


were trying to shake the bridge off her back, then plunge forward in a wild buck”.9 Sailors sleeping in the vessel would wake up bruised and battered after hours of being thrown against the ship’s walls.10 These new-age ships carried the brunt of the workload of the navy, from escorting commerce across the seas to eliminating U-Boats in the North Sea. Had America not utilized this breed of vessel and continued their production, the service’s impact would have been insignificant. Other boats, while not as equipped for the violent weather of the Atlantic, still greatly supported America’s efforts in the war. Patrol boats were fast anti-submarine vessels, armed with special listening equipment and serving in convoys.11 Especially salient efforts against U-Boats came from the U.S.’s own submarine. Although America’s were smaller compared to the U-Boat, they were still well equipped, armed with several torpedo tubes, a diesel engine for surface cruising, and electrical machinery while submerged.12 A dozen men could sleep in the quarters at a time. It was important for the submarine to be balanced; tanks would be filled or decreased to keep the submarine floating at equilibrium. Submarines in the later years of the war were equipped with powerful sonar equipment, giving them an edge against the Imperial German Navy.13 Naval air power was developing into a significant force as well. The Naval Air Service began as extra support for convoys and an advantage over U-Boats, patrolling the ocean in 40 mile sectors while convoys sailed below.14 The service had 14 complete, strategic seaplane stations located in France, the Adriatic, Ireland, and England, with another one in the works in Pauillac by the end of the war, as well as over 400 aircraft.15 A combination of aerial and maritime power made the efforts of the U.S. Navy crucial to swaying the closure of the war. The vessels in American fleets in the 1910’s were modern for the time and impacted the outcome of the war, while planes added another threat against U-Boats. Had it not been for the contemporary


war machines, the navy would not have played such a critical, influential role in decimating submarines and protecting international cargo. In addition to the impact of modern ship technology, the navy’s role in fighting U-Boats throughout the Atlantic Ocean and in different seas made the naval service imperative in the Great War. The primary job of U-Boats was to disturb the bottleneck trade routes and prevent the shipping of military aide between countries-this was countered by the U.S. deploying fleets to trade centers like the North Sea and the Mediterranean. An aspect of the navy’s significance came from its engagement in the eradication of German subs.16 The “tin fleet”, as it was known, was made up of yachts owned by millionaires, who funded the transformation of their vessels into dreadnoughts, the faster, larger cousin of the destroyer.17 This fleet took on the role of guarding the North Sea, laying out mines and hunting enemy submarines, blocking the opening of the channel, which severely limited Imperial Germany’s threat at sea.18 Whitaker remarked that ‘the quality and quantity of their [tin fleet] work may be gaged by the fact that the U-Boats have bagged only two out of nearly thirty thousand [American vessels]. Quietly, efficiently, as is the Navy way, they played a large part in the most remarkable transportation problem of all time”.19 Forces were centered to protect seas with important commerce ports, which also gave them the role of depleting the negative impact of U-Boats. American flotillas sometimes worked with Ally forces, such as Battleship Division Nine and the British Grand Fleet laying out depthmines and hunting U-Boats to keep the German High Sea Fleet stuck in a North Sea harbor, limiting the damage they could do.20 The navy’s work on its own and the collaboration between allies helped minimize the damage that Germany could do at sea. What further stalled Germany’s efforts was the work of the Naval Air Service. Submarines could not fire at the hydroplanes and blimps soaring over their heads, and being in the sky gave the planes a major


advantage in seeing subs beneath the surface and sinking them.21 Both the navy and the air service, while carrying different weight in the U-Boat conflict, dwindled the contesting force’s reign over Atlantic bodies of water rife with the commercial and cargo vessels under the responsibility of the navy. The navy’s decisive role in the war also came from its primary of job of serving as convoys for international commerce and military aide sailing throughout the Atlantic. Typically, a convoy of thirty vessels was accompanied by ten destroyers both legs of the journey.22 Cruisers also frequently joined in the crossing between ports across the Atlantic. The boats in the convoys were equipped with depth-mines and torpedoes, providing incredible protection for international trade and the economies of the Allied powers and neutral countries.23 The convoys were so significant that “while we [the sailors] passed in safety, escorted vessels were being sunk all around us”.24 Faster vessels, like cruisers, were sent to ports and channels to combat U-Boats, and the slower boats (destroyers) served as convoys. The strict naval discipline and organization practiced by convoys was essential to the navy’s success during the war; the regulation, for example, influenced the conflict in the Mediterranean Sea in America’s favor.25 The geography of the Mediterranean kept export and imports flowing through one narrow canal, giving U-Boats optimal opportunity to attack convoys and lone ships.26 The navy thus had quick, strong vessels patrolling the Mediterranean at all times and defending the slow-travelling convoys sailing through the channel.27 The navy’s job as serving as convoys for cargo, military aide, and troops changed the outcome of the war. Had there not been robust vessels protecting smaller, more vulnerable boats on their trips over thousands of miles of sea, the Allied war effort in Europe would not have been supplemented with gear and men, nor would have European economies survived without imports and exports moving under the eye the American Navy. The navy was


proud and sure of its work on the seas, as “every man who leaves for France in an Army uniform owes the safety of his passage to the navy”.28 The combined power and discipline of the navy’s forces as convoys and their powerful occupation of important seas and ports made America’s Navy an influential, significant power during the war, although the power could not have been so great had America’s allies not provided ample support. While the U.S. Navy was a powerful force on its own, the service also depended on the USSR, Great Britain, and France for supplies and military support. The Naval Air Service’s consequential work in eliminating the threat of U-Boats in the seas would not have been what it was without the support of Great Britain, as the Royal Navy supplied America with the majority of its seaplanes due to the shortfall of aircraft construction for the navy in the U.S.29 Britain’s supplying of aircraft supported the establishment of 14 seaplane bases in multiple countries, as well as stock the Northern Bombing Group in Dunkirk.30 Had Great Britain not assisted America with its aeronautic ambitions, the U.S. would have fallen behind the other Allied powers in their duty to protect commerce and ward off German submarines. When the Northern Barrage was proposed, Britain agreed to support the patriotic navy in laying an enormous, complex minefield, from the Orkneys to Norwegian territory.31 Rear Admiral Joseph Strauss took responsibility in laying mines in the largest sector of the North Sea, sparking multiple controversies. The biggest issue taken with the ambitious mine laying project was that U.S. vessels would be diverged from convoys and service in other waters to work on the mines; America did not have the capabilities to separate troops and fleets, nor the supplies to produce mines at the rate they were needed. This splitting required that America’s allies pitch in to sustain the smaller, less equipped navy.32 The Royal Navy, while arming its lesser ally, was laying mines by March 1918, ahead of America’s work on the project due to the country’s minimal materials and fleets. Despite the ample aide


received, America returned support to the Britain and the other Allied powers through minelaying operations and convoys. By June of the same year, America had caught up and surpassed Britain’s mine laying in the North Sea, thanks to its great capacity focused on the project.33 America’s Navy supplemented the Allied war effort in Europe with supplies and boats, even when those fleets were needed to come to the aide of their allies on the seas.34 Great Britain requested the deployment of dreadnoughts from Battleship Division Nine of Rear Admiral Hugh Rodman into British General David Beatty’s Grand Fleet to serve as reinforcements for British fleets, as well as using ships like the U.S.S Texas, U.S.S. Florida, and U.S.S. Wyoming as coal burners for Britain to supply fuel for British fleets at a moment’s notice.35 These ships were originally destined to serve as convoys, as Admiral Benson was working to establish as the purpose of America’s Navy in WWI. Benson was concerned with the separation of naval forces, saying “the strategic situation necessitates keeping the battleship force concentrated, and cannot therefore consider the suggestion of sending part of it across. The logistics of the situation would prevent the entire force going over, except in case of extreme necessity”.36 His eventual willingness to send part of the force to be under Britain’s command shows the support America’s Navy offered to Great Britain, France, and the USSR, whether that help came from splitting fleets up or defending international commerce all over the Atlantic. Disagreements over the purpose of America’s destroyers did not dampen their role in the decrease of cargo tonnage lost to submarine torpedoes. Lost tonnage went down from 900,000 tons a month in 1917 to 200,000 the following year.37 The U.S. proved its ability to support itself and match the capabilities of its allies by protecting the cargo of many countries. Even with minimal materials, the U.S. was already demonstrating its strength and its future powerful


standing in the world of naval warfare. Although support for the Northern Barrage was granted after reluctance and talk over the controversial plan, Britain knew that America’s Navy, if not for the duration of the war, would be incredibly powerful in the coming decade, as the Naval Act of 1916 issued a construction of battleships and destroyers to be complete by 1923.38 Slow production of boats and the need to receive support from its allies would not hold the navy back from significantly assisting countries like Britain in the war on and below the surface of the ocean, but government and public opposition would be another roadblock. While allies assisted the American Navy, their own country offered less government and public support. The Naval Act of 1916 signed by Woodrow Wilson authorized the production of ten battleships and six battlecruisers over the duration of three years-these vessels would have been beneficial to the war effort and key to the strengthening of fleets serving as convoys and reinforcements, but the construction began in 1919 and was completed by 1923, too late to implement the properly built vessels for the current war.39 Typically, vessels made in shipyards during this time were constructed and sent to the seas too quickly, resulting in defects and flaws in the ships. A shipyard in New York set the record for fastest production of a destroyer, but because the vessel was made so quickly and time was not made to properly put the ship together, the destroyer was never used.40 The ceasing of battleship manufacturing put more stress on production of other vessels and the need for forces currently in service to be constantly at sea. Pressure was also put on the navy to gain public support. The Greeneville Daily Sun published a piece of propaganda calling for the purchase of Liberty Bonds in order to fund the navy’s work and continue the convoys. The prices of boats were rising as the war continued and more financial support was needed from the people-not just from the aristocracy, who were loaning out their yachts as fashioned dreadnoughts and joining the Navy.41 The El Paso Herald


published three pieces of propaganda in 1918 encouraging men to join the navy-not only was there need to supply the naval with seamen, but special rankings like quartermaster, machinist, and fireman desperately needed to be filled.42 The navy faced such second hand support, in fact, that men were sent to the Navy after quotas of drafts were filled for the Army and Air Force.43 Propaganda in Texas targeted men not yet in the draft, saying “the American sailor is doing his bit-yours is the join the navy, Naval Reserve, or the Coast Guard”.44 Another piece published by the El Paso Herald said the navy would be the “quiet victory” behind the war, thanks to all of its work protecting commerce and ensuring the safe arrival of military cargo, but the navy could not succeed without the undying support from its nation.45 The disregard for the needs of the navy and the shift of national focus from the present battles to future wars ultimately diminished what the navy could do to benefit the Allied powers. The navy experienced more resistance when Secretary Daniels of the Navy ceased production of battleships to focus on the future, sparking public controversy. Destroyers were designed as anti-submarine craft doubling as convoy vessels, labeling the battleship as outdated.46 Daniels and the General Board argued America’s Navy would need to be prepared for inevitable conflict and tensions following the Great War, and the battleships were not fit for future violence.47 Admiral William Benson was focusing his energy and support on the abilities of the navy after the war, saying "Vessels should be built not only to meet present conditions but conditions that may come after the present phase of the world war...We may expect the future to give us more potential enemies than potential friends so that our safety must lie in our own resources”.48 The hesitation to directly support the navy during the existing conflict restricted the effectiveness of the naval service, arguably making it a less significant force.


Despite common negative opinions about the navy and little support from the nation, the service’s sailors continued their work with unwavering patriotism and bravery, fueling the power of the navy and its consequential work. Sailors fared ruthless weather, the most dangerous element being fog.49 It was common for convoys to become jumbled by the fog and lose their bearings.50 The fog would leave the convoys a mess, and it would be up to the calm demeanor of the sailors and their knowledge of the seas and their vessels to safely reorganize the convoy and get it back on track as quickly as possible.51 Thus. the strict naval discipline practiced throughout fleets limited erroneous mistakes with convoys as they traveled-the organization of America’s Navy was highly important for the war effort and influenced its outcome.52 The safe transportation of troops and cargo across the Atlantic would not have been possible had the men not been focused and selfless in their actions. The sinking of the Antilles, a ship under the protection of a yacht, was a tragedy that those at home considered to be caused by the inabilities of the sailors. One journalist wrote that “These humiliating hits by the Germans are directly chargeable to their [crew of Antilles] inefficiency and carelessness”.53 This was a deep misconception; Americans not on the battlefront did not completely understand exactly what was happening on the high seas and what sailors experienced.54 Depth-mines, which are usually found on destroyers and used to attack submarines, cause even more damage when they come in contact from a torpedo than if a torpedo were to just hit a vessels without the mines.55 An officer attempted to set the mines aboard the Antilles to “safe” to minimize the damage, but was unable to as the vessel was sinking quickly. The crew worked while the boat disappeared in the icy waters to help those who survived the explosions.56 Through the chaos of the attack, those on board put themselves last in order to rescue their shipmates; the selflessness of the crew was not an uncommon value for the navy. One officer on the Cassin, another tragic sinking, set the


depth-mines aboard the vessel to “safe”, saving the crew who were asleep in the quarters underneath. They survived with the worst injury being a broken ankle, but the sailor who set the mines died, sacrificing himself for the safety of his men.57 The navy’s seamen were devoted to their country and to the role their service played in the war effort. They risked their lives and wellbeing to safely ensure the success of the Allied powers. Patriotism proved to be one of the factors that made the U.S. Navy a compelling, momentous force in the Great War. World War One would not have been what it was without the work of America’s Navy. The service that fought through vessel defects, sailed through storms equivalent to those in Dinotopia, and powered through conflict in the Navy General Board on decisions regarding the work and future of the service. Even Britain supplying the majority of America’s vessels and aircraft did not hold the Navy back from mitigating their friends and dominating the seas by the war’s end. The growth and setbacks America experienced during the Great War were not new; at the time of the American Revolution, America’s “army” was really not an army at all-militia groups were common and disorganized, lacking the discipline and training of the army of other nations of the time, such as Great Britain. The force most coordinated and established under military discipline was George Washington’s army, which itself was not impressive compared to Great Britain’s battery. Yet, despite the colonies’ limited supplies and heavy loss from dangerous weather and their powerful enemy, their minute forces proved to succeed under pressure, uniting and serving. These values have been carried through generations of military service and evolution, exercised in World War One by America’s most significant, influential branch, the navy. The navy’s seamen served with honor and selflessness, pushing through the challenges of battle at sea and excelling expectations placed on the service. Forever would the American Navy of World War One be the hero of the war and the standards for future naval service.


1

“Destroyer History Introductions”, Destroyer History Foundation, 2017 (Accessed Feb 11, 2017), http://destroyerhistory.org/destroyers/introduction/. Para 4 2 The Day Book, “U.S. Seeks Alliance to Guard Sea Lanes-President to State Stand at Once” Library of Congress, March 20, 1917 (Accessed Feb 8, 2017), https://tinyurl.com/zdgmr9e Para 3 3 Woodrow Wilson, “The First Lusitania Note,” Digital History, 1915 (Accessed Feb 6, 2017), https://tinyurl.com/jy77cf. Para 2 4 Ibid., para 2 5 Ibid., para 3 6 Ibid, paras 5-7 7 Destroyer, para 4 8 Ibid., para 5 9 Herman Whitaker, “Hunting the German Shark,” (New York, 1918) p. 41 10 Ibid pp. 41-42 11 Paul Halpern, “The U.S. Navy in the Great War”, Great War Society, 2005 (Accessed Feb 5, 2017), http://www.worldwar1.com/tgws/usnwwone.htm. para 14 12 Whitaker, pp 62, 69 13 History World, “World War One, the Submarine”, World History Project, 2006 (Accessed Feb 7, 2017), http://history-world.org/world_war_i_and_the_submarine.htm. para5 14 Halpern, para 19, 30 15 Ibid., para 7 16 Whitaker, p. 87 17 Ibid., pp. 89-92 18 Ibid., p. 92 19 Ibid., p. 13 20 Ibid., p. 161 21 Ibid., p. 156 22 Ibid., p. 80 23 Ibid., p. 157 24 Ibid., p. 122 25 Ibid., p. 121 26 Ibid., p. 122 27 El Paso Herald, “Get into the Navy and get into the Fight!” Library of Congress, 1918 (Accessed Feb 6, 2017), https://tinyurl.com/h3d6kcg. para 3 28 Halpern, para 31 29 Ibid., para 19, 30 30 Ibid., para 33 31 Ibid., para 32 32 Ibid., para 44 33 Ibid., para 26 34 Ibid., para 26 35 Ibid., para 26 36 John Faragher et. Al, “Out of Many” (New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009) Pg 655 37 Halpern, para 3 38 Ibid., para 3


39

Ibid., para 10 Greeneville Daily Sun, “Guarding the Bridge Across the Atlantic,” Library of Congress, Oct 12, 1918 (Accessed Feb8, 2017), https://tinyurl.com/zdgmr9e. 41 Whitaker, p. 111 42 Herald, para 11 43 Halpern, para 12 44 El Paso Herald, “The Road to France is Kept Open by the Navy,” Library of Congress, 1918 (Accessed Feb 6, 2017), https://tinyurl.com/zqjm66m 45 El Paso Herald, “What You Can Do,” Library of Congress 1918 (Accessed Feb 8, 2017), https://tinyurl.com/z938xzv. Para 6 46 Ibid., para 12 47 Ibid., para 10 48 Whitaker, p. 41 49 Ibid., p. 100 50 Ibid., p. 101 51 Ibid., p. 151 52 Ibid., p. 172 53 Ibid., p. 3 54 Ibid., p. 177 55 Ibid., p 177 56 Ibid., pp. 171-174 57 Ibid. 40


Bibliography Buhle, Czitrom Armitage, and Faragher. Out of Many Sixth Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2009. El Paso Herald, “Get into the Navy and get into the Fight!”. El Paso 1918. From Library of Congress Chronicling America. Web. https://tinyurl.com/h3d6kcg (accessed February 6, 2017) El Paso Herald, “The Road to France is Kept Open by the Navy”. El Paso 1918. From Library of Congress Chronicling America. Web. https://tinyurl.com/zqjm66m (accessed February 6, 2017) El Paso Herald, “What You Can Do”. El Paso 1918. Library of Congress Chronicling America. Web. https://tinyurl.com/z938xzv (accessed February 8, 2017) Halpern, Paul. World War One, “The U.S. Navy in the Great War”. 2005 Great War Society. http://www.worldwar1.com/tgws/usnwwone.htm (accessed February 5, 2017) History-World, “World War One, the Submarine”. 2006. World History Project. http://history-world.org/world_war_i_and_the_submarine.htm (accessed February 7, 2017) The Day Book, “U.S. Seeks Alliance to Guard Sea Lanes-President to State Stand at Once”. March 20, 1917. From Library of Congress Chronicling America. https://tinyurl.com/j3shnsy (accessed February 7, 2017) The Greeneville Daily Sun, “Guarding the ‘Bridge Across the Atlantic’”. Greeneville, Oct. 12, 1918. From Library of Congress Chronicling America. https://tinyurl.com/zdgmr9e (accessed February 8, 2017) Wilson, Woodrow. The First Lusitania Note 1915. Letter. From Digital History. Web. https://tinyurl.com/jy77cfq (accessed February 6, 2017) Whitaker, Herman. Hunting the German Shark; The American Navy in the Underseas War. New York: The Century Co., 1918. "Destroyer History Introduction." Destroyer History Foundation. 2017. Accessed February 11, 2017. http://destroyerhistory.org/destroyers/introduction/.

US Naval Convoys in WWI  

A critical essay examining the significance of the naval convoys that sailed from the US to Europe and back again.

US Naval Convoys in WWI  

A critical essay examining the significance of the naval convoys that sailed from the US to Europe and back again.

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