American Naval Fleet Sent Over There - 1919

American Fleet in Atlantic Waters That Has Upheld Navy Traditions.

American Fleet in Atlantic Waters That Has Upheld Navy Traditions. United States Battleships in “line of Column, ” Led by One of the Largest Superdreadnoughts. The War of the Nations, New York Times, 1919. GGA Image ID # 195d16d7bb

American Submarines Sent Over

Submarines had been successfully used by the British against enemy U-boats, and in the autumn of 1917, American submarines were sent abroad to co-operate with the British forces.

The first detachment, comprising six of the "K" class, sailed from Provincetown, Mass., October 13. The second detachment, which included six of the "L" and one of the "E" class, with the Bushnell as "mother ship," and three tugs accompanying, sailed from Newport on December 4. 

The principal American submarine base was Berehaven, Bantry Bay, on the Irish coast, from which they operated over a wide area until the end of U-boat warfare.

U. S. Battleships Joined British Fleet

The German High Seas Fleet being held behind its strong defenses and not venturing to give battle to the British Fleet which, with its allies, held control of the seas, there appeared to be, in the first few months after our entrance into the war, no necessity for sending battleships abroad. But, in the late autumn, it was decided to send over a division of battleships to co-operate with the British.

On November 25, Battleship Division 9, composed of the New York, Delaware, Wyoming, Florida, and Texas, under the command of Rear Admiral Hugh Rodman, sailed from Hampton Roads. They arrived at Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands, on December 7, and a week later joined the British Grand Fleet, with which they served for a year.

The American battleships constituted a regular division of the Grand Fleet and did their full share of the British coast and the North Sea. They were present when the German High Seas Fleet flower surrendered, under the terms of the armistice, off Scapa Flow on November 21, 1918.

In August 1918, Battleship Division 6, composed of the Nevada, Oklahoma, and Utah, under the command of Rear-Admiral T. S. Rodgers, was sent across, sailing from Norfolk, and having their base at Berehaven, Ireland.

Returned on Christmas Day

All these battleships gathered off Brest in December 1918, to receive President Wilson on his first trip to France to attend the Peace Conference. Immediately afterward, accompanied by the Pennsylvania, Admiral Mayo's flagship, which had escorted the President to France, the battleships sailed for home waters, arriving off New York Christmas Day. 

The day following a big naval review and parade was held, the Secretary of the Navy's battleships were reviewed. On his arrival, Admiral Rodman gave an interesting review of the work of the battleship division with the British Grand Fleet, in which he said:

"Sometimes we were commanded by British Admirals, sometimes they served under my command; yet there was never the slightest friction, misunderstanding or petty jealousies. In fact, our mutual association in this war's work has drawn us so close together that in the Grand Fleet, it was instrumental in ripening friendship with brotherhood.

"It is most gratifying to state that within a very short time after joining and after our first operations with the Grand Fleet, we were assigned to one of the two places of honor and importance in the battle line.

We were known and designated as the Sixth Battle Squadron, and as one of the two so-called fast wings, would take station at the head or rear of the whole battleship force, dependent upon certain conditions unnecessary to mention, when going into action.

As a matter of fact, when on one occasion we came within a few miles of cutting off from its base and engaging the German fleet, the disposition was such that the American battleship division would have been in the van and have led into action had the enemy not avoided action and taken refuge behind his defense as usual before we could catch him.

Always After the Enemy

"It was our policy to go after him every time he showed his nose outside of his ports; no matter when or where, whether in single ships, by divisions, or his whole fleet, out we went, day or night, rain or shine (and there was mighty little daylight and much less shine in the winter months) blow high, or blow low, and chased him back into his hole.

"So persistent was this performance on our part, so sure were we to get after him, that toward the end he rarely ventured more than a few miles from his base, and immediately we would start after him, back he would go into his hole and haul his hole in after him.

"In our operations in the North Sea, we were frequently attacked by submarines, and our battleships had numerous narrow escapes, often only by prompt and skillful handling.

Submarine Rammed the "New York"

"On one occasion, a submarine rammed the flagship New York, dented the bottom, demolished the starboard propeller. But there is every reason to believe that the blows from the propeller sank the submarine. En route to drydock, to make repairs and install a new propeller, three torpedoes in rapid succession were fired at her by hostile submarines. But again, she avoided them by clever maneuvering and escaped.

Flagship Narrowly Escaped Torpedoes

"Once when guarding or supporting a convoy of thirty or forty vessels on the coast of Norway in midwinter, a bunch of hostile subs fired six torpedoes at us. Again only our vigilance and instantaneous maneuvering saved us, but by a very narrow margin.

"Let it be sufficient to say that during our absence of a year, there was no other condition than that of constant and continuous readiness for action. There was no liberty or leave worth mentioning; no one allowed away from the ships after dark, nor for a period larger than four hours, and then only in the immediate vicinity of the ship, subject to recall.

All ships were completely closed and darkened from sunset to sunrise as a precaution against air and other attacks; in winter, this means from fifteen to eighteen hours per day. This, in an all but Arctic climate, was one of our many hardships.

"With all the demands which have been placed upon the ships of this division, despite this constant readiness for action, it is no exaggeration to say, that were they called upon to do so, they could steam around the world as they are now, and still be ready to go into action. 

65-Mile Column of Ships

"To give an idea of the immense size and number of vessels employed in the Grand Fleet, it might be of interest here to state that entering or leaving port, our column of ships, excluding destroyers, was on an average about 65 miles long; on one occasion, 76 miles. Its length was dependent upon weather and other conditions, as well as upon the number of ships.

"And so, after four years of war for the Grand Fleet, no more complete victory was ever won, nor a more disgraceful and humiliating end could not have come to a powerful and much-vaunted fleet than that, which came to the German High Seas Fleet. Let me try to describe it to you.

"A British light cruiser was directed to meet the Germans, who were heading west, and conduct them in between our two columns.

"Here, let me diverge for a moment and recall to the minds of any of you who have been in China or the Philippines the viciousness of and antipathy which the domesticated carabao has for a white man. How ready they are to attack, while any native child can with perfect safety and impunity go up to the most savage of them, take them by the nose and lead them where he pleases.

Surrender of the German Fleet

"And so I was reminded of this when a little British cruiser rounded to ahead of the much-vaunted German High Seas Fleet and hoisted the signal, 'Follow me,' and led them down between our columns, where our battle flags were mastheaded, turrets trained toward the enemy, crews at battle stations and all in readiness for any sort of treachery that might be attempted.

"At a prearranged signal, our forces swung symmetrically through 180 degrees, and still paralleling the enveloped Germans, conducted them into a designated anchorage in the entrance of the Firth of Forth:

"Then came a signal from the commander-in-chief to the surrendered fleet:

" 'At sundown, lower your colors and do not hoist them again without permission.' "Surely no greater humiliation could have befallen them after their frequent and taunting boasts and threats.

"There is little else to be told. After an inspection by British and American officers to gain assurance that the ships were disarmed, they were sent in groups, under guard, to Scapa Flow, in the cold, dreary, bleak, God-forsaken harbor where the Grand Fleet had spent many a dreary month and year waiting like ferocious dogs in leash, watching and waiting to pounce on the German fleet should the opportunity ever occur.

"Here, the Germans now lie at anchor in long, symmetrical lines, helpless, innocuous, harmless; their sting and bite removed; their national colors lowered for good and all as a token of submission to their masters. A single division of battleships guards them."

John Wilber Jenkins, "American Naval Fleet Sent Over There," in Our Navy's Part in the Great War, New York: John H. Eggers Company, Inc., 1919, pp. 27-29.

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