1916-1925: America– War and Peace

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Author: Albert Gleaves  | Date: 1917

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Moving Our Troops Overseas

ON the 23rd of May, I was informed in Washington that I had been selected to command the first expedition to France. I returned to New York at once, and personally inspected the ships which the War Department had taken over; after consulting with the Army Quartermaster in charge of the conversions we notified our respective departments that the expedition would be ready to sail on June 14th, and accordingly at daylight on that date in an exceptionally thick fog, the entire force got under way from North River and the Lower Bay, and stood out to sea in prearranged order. It was a memorable occasion when the transports backed out into the river from their piers, and the cruisers, yachts and destroyers weighed anchor. Only the most skillful handling of the ships by their captains could have prevented collision at the start, but the necessity of the occasion justified all risks….

The entire number of vessels in the expedition was thirty-seven, composed of cruisers, destroyers, converted yachts and transports. The total number of troops in the first division was 15,032, under command of Major General Sibert….

Generally speaking, the formation of each group was to place the transports in the center, while the escorting ships were disposed on the flanks in such a way as to provide all around protection. The "Maumee," oil tanker, was sent on several days ahead of the expedition, with orders to maintain a certain position on the route for the purpose of refueling the destroyers at sea, a maneuver involving special gear and seamanship, which had been successfully developed in the destroyer force only a few months before. Without the ability to oil these destroyers at sea the expedition would have been greatly delayed, because all except the newest of them would have had to be towed.

The route of the expedition lay well north of the Azores, as it was known at that time the Germans were using those islands as a submarine base. The so-called submarine zone extended to 17 degrees west longitude, but the latest reports received from the Navy Department before sailing showed sinkings as far west as 30 degrees….

The voyage was uneventful save for a night attack against the first group by submarines on the 22nd of June, 1917, in latitude 48°00’00" north, longitude 25° 50’00" west. The following day the first group was met by a destroyer division from Queenstown and later by two French sloops which had been sent out to meet us, and to act as escort to Quiberon Roads. The next morning we arrived off St. Nazaire.

The second group was also attacked by a submarine when about 150 miles off the French coast. Commander Neill, who attacked the submarine, was subsequently decorated by the British Government for this exploit. The third and fourth groups arrived on schedule time, and on June 26th the last vessels were safely anchored in the St. Nazaire Roads.

This was only the beginning, but the way had been pointed out, and from this modest start was rapidly developed the greatest transport fleet in history. Subsequent voyages were of greater magnitude, but different only in details. Neither winter gales, nor heavy seas, nor the spread of submarinism to the very gates of our harbors ever delayed the sailing of a transport by an hour….

There were, in all, 1,142 troop-laden transports that sailed from these shores for Europe, and they carried a total of 2,079,880 soldiers. Forty-six and one-quarter per cent. were carried in United States ships, and all but 2 1/2 per cent. of these sailed in United States naval transports. Lacking a large merchant marine, our government was compelled to contract with foreign governments for the transportation of 55 3/4 per cent. of this army in foreign bottoms. At great expense, a total of 208 foreign ships were employed: 196 British, eight French, two Italian, one Norwegian, one Portuguese and one Brazilian. Forty-eight and one-quarter per cent. of the United States overseas army was transported in British ships, 3 per cent. in British leased Italian ships and 2 1/2 per cent. in French, Italian and other foreign ships.

In the month of July, 1918, during which more of our soldiers were transported in foreign ships than in any other month during the war, British ships carried 175,526, or 56 1/2 per cent. of the month’s total of 311,359. This was the greatest number transported in any one month under the British flag. In the same month of July, 1918, 11,502, or 3 1/2 per cent. of the total, sailed in British-leased Italian ships; 11,866, or 4 per cent. of the total, in French, Italian and other foreign ships; and the remainder, 112,465, or 36 per cent. of the total, sailed in United States ships. This was the smallest percentage carried in any one month under the United States flag.

In the matter of providing escorts for these transports, however, the figures are more satisfactory, although here again it is to be remembered that the naval power of Great Britain was concentrated in the North Sea while that of France was held for the most part in the Mediterranean. All the troops carried in United States ships were escorted by United States men-of-war; that is, cruisers, destroyers, converted yachts and other anti-submarine craft. Also, for the most part, the troops carried in British, French and Italian ships were given safe conduct through the danger zones by United States destroyers. In connection with this work it should be mentioned that, in addition to the twenty-four United States cruisers assigned for ocean escort duty, there were with my Force a squadron of six French cruisers to assist in this work and they did fine and useful service. Roughly, 82 3/4 per cent. of the maximum strength of the naval escorts provided incident to the transportation of United States troops across the Atlantic was supplied by the United States Navy, 14 1/8 per cent. by the British Navy, and 3 1/8 per cent. by the French Navy….

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Chicago: Albert Gleaves, "Moving Our Troops Overseas," 1916-1925: America– War and Peace in America, Vol.12, Pp.44-48 Original Sources, accessed July 6, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=Z7REYB7TGMMQFIA.

MLA: Gleaves, Albert. "Moving Our Troops Overseas." 1916-1925: America– War and Peace, in America, Vol.12, Pp.44-48, Original Sources. 6 Jul. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=Z7REYB7TGMMQFIA.

Harvard: Gleaves, A, 'Moving Our Troops Overseas' in 1916-1925: America– War and Peace. cited in , America, Vol.12, Pp.44-48. Original Sources, retrieved 6 July 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=Z7REYB7TGMMQFIA.