NEUTRALITY ESCORT POLICY AND BACKGROUND
The tasks of Commander Task Force 4, as they increased and became more diversified during the Spring and Summer of 1941, necessarily required a considerable amount of escort work. During this period there occurred many situations, both tactical and political, out of which there naturally developed concepts concerning escort policy. Let us consider the background and policy of neutrality escort operations and the events from which it grew in this time prior to the United States' entry into the war.
On the 2nd of July 1941 a letter from the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, to the Chief of Naval Operations says that the part of WPL-46 which provided for the sending of certain U.S. Naval Forces to Northern European waters was premised in ABC-1, (U.S.-British Staff Conversations Report) which in turn was predicted on circumstances and expectations already some four months old. While the premises partially anticipated conditions which might require the British to base convoy-escort forces in Iceland, they did not contemplate the circumstances which impelled the basing of British convoy-escort forces in Newfoundland, nor did they anticipate the occupation of Iceland before M-Day. Said Admiral King,
It is a cardinal principle for the successful cooperation of allied armed forces that the force of each country concerned shall each have their own definite spheres of operations in order to remove the difficulties inherent in the coordination of mixed forces, and so to simplify the cooperation of allied powers. Therefore, it is recommended that WPL-46 be revised so that the Western Atlantic area will include Iceland; that the British convoy-escort forces operating from bases in Iceland and in Newfoundland will be replaced by U.S. Naval Forces; that the British Naval Forces thus made available will take over the escort work now allocated in WPL-46 to certain U.S. Naval Forces which were to have aided in the control of Northwestern Approaches; that these U.S. forces be reassigned to Iceland and Newfoundland escort.1
On the following day Admiral Bristol sent out a directive to the Support Force in an effort to clarify operational policy. He mentioned that it had come to his attention as Force Commander that there existed some uncertainty as to exactly what procedure to follow in the event of contact with Axis vessels. For clarification he quoted the provisions listed below from the Atlantic Fleet Operation Plan No. 4-41, since they had special bearing on the subject.
- Prevent interference with U.S. flag shipping by belligerents by force of arms, if necessary.
- Maintain constant and immediate readiness to repel hostile attack.
- To the end that untoward incidents may be prevented; when east of longitude 65° West, north of 20° North latitude, also east of 60° West longitude, and south of 20° North latitude, show navigational lights and normal deck and other outboard lights.2
Admiral Bristol felt that the practical application, as far as the Support Force was concerned, was that an unprovoked attack on an Axis vessel might very well prove to be the incident leading to the involvement of the United States in simultaneous war on two fronts. Therefore, taking everything into consideration, he issued the following directive:
In the event of contact with an Axis ship, trail and report as required: Protect American shipping by the deterring influence of your presence and physical interposition between American ships and Axis ships; Do not attack unless the Axis ship actually attacks first or attempts physical interference with American shipping; and finally, if an Axis ship attacks, use every weapon at your disposal to destroy the Axis ship.
This, with variations and modifications, remained the policy of the Support Force until it was declared open season on the Atlantic.
"U. S. Navy Western Hemisphere Defense Plan No. 4" (WPL-51), of 11 July, says that by now the naval operating forces of the Atlantic Fleet are said to include Naval Operating Base Bermuda, and Naval Operating Base, Newfoundland. Paragraph four states that the Western Atlantic area (26° West), is under the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, except that the appropriate units of the Iceland Garrison are under direct command of the Chief of Naval Operations and of the Commanding General, General Headquarters of the
United States Army. The general concept of this plan states that entrance into the Western Hemisphere of Axis ships or planes will be viewed as actuated by a possibly unfriendly intent toward territory or shipping within the Western Hemisphere.
The plan quotes President Roosevelt on the occupation of Iceland:
The occupation of Iceland by Germany would constitute a serious threat in three dimensions: (1) the threat against Greenland and the northern portion of North American Continent, including the islands which lie off it. (2) The threat against all shipping in the North Atlantic. (3) The threat against the steady flow of munitions to Britain --- which is a matter of broad policy clearly approved by Congress. It is, therefore, imperative that the approaches between the Americas and those strategic outposts, the safety of which this country regards as essential to its national security, and which it must therefore defend, shall remain open and free from all hostile activity or threat thereof. As Commander in Chief, I have consequently issued orders to the Navy that all necessary steps be taken to insure the safety of communications in the approaches between Iceland and the United States, as well as on the seas between the United States and all other strategic points. This Government will insure the adequate defense of Iceland, with full recognition of the independence of Iceland as a sovereign state.
It was to implement this statement that WPL-51 was prepared. The tasks of the Navy were: to insure the safety of communications with United States strategic outposts; insure the adequate defense of Iceland; defend United States and Iceland flag shipping against hostile attack or threat of attack; warn Western Hemisphere powers against possible impending danger. The task of the Atlantic Fleet was to
protect United States and Iceland flag shipping against hostile attack by escorting, covering and patrolling as required by circumstances, and by destroying hostile forces which threaten such shipping. Forces were to be considered hostile if they entered the Western Atlantic area of United States or Canadian Coastal zone in the Atlantic and Caribbean. The plan also provided for the escort of shipping of any nationality other than United States or Icelandic which happened to join such a convoy, but the Chief of Naval Operations excluded this part when the plan was put into execution on 26 July, 1941.
Admiral King (Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet) premised a new operations plan on WPL-51 and Admiral Stark's, (Chief of Naval Operations) secret letter (080912) of 12 July, 1941, and on the following day he informed the Chief of Naval Operations that initially the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, would handle all ocean escort matters, and that they would be contained in a subsidiary plan separate from the general plan.3 Admiral King said that he would bring these papers to Washington for the Chief of Naval Operations' consideration as soon as they could be put together, because it appeared essential to get started correctly on this complicated situation. In connection with this,
the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, wrote to Commander Task Force 19 (Admiral LeBreton, formerly CTF 1), notifying him that Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, would act as Commander Task Force 1 until further notice, and would take such action as might prove necessary.
Admiral Little, head of the British Naval Staff in Washington, told Admiral Stark on 14 July that submarines had been moving westward as they received "knocks" closer to the United Kingdom. He said that recently they had been working as far as 45° West between Iceland and Newfoundland, and that about the first of the month a pack of them got onto a homeward bound convoy and attacked it persistently for several days. The Admiralty had transferred some of the escorts from two outgoing convoys to this one, and although six ships were sunk, three subs were definitely known to have been destroyed. As a result of this and other similar cases it was his belief that convoys should have from ten to twelve escorts, i.e. eight destroyers and from four to six corvettes, for the Nazi's had from one hundred to a hundred and fifty submarines in operation, about thirty of which were on station all the time during this period.
On 15 July, Admiral King revised Operation Plan No. 4-41 of 1 July 1941, and in Operation Plan No. 5-41, he defines what he considered a threat to United States and Iceland
My interpretation of threat to U.S. or Iceland flag shipping, whether escorted or not, is that threat exists when potentially hostile vessels are actually within sight or sound contact of such shipping or its escort. Maintain constant and immediate readiness to repel hostile attack. Operate as under war conditions, including complete darkening of ships when at sea.
That same day King also wrote to Stark telling him that he thought paragraph 7b of WPL-51 should read: "Escort United States or Iceland flag shipping between North American and Iceland ports, including convoys of any nationality, which may join such U.S. or Iceland shipping, to and from their juncture point with the route to and from Iceland in approximate longitude 26° West, as may be directed by the CNO."4 (This formerly read: "Escort Convoys of U.S. and Iceland flag shipping including shipping of any nationality which may join such convoys, between U.S. ports or bases and Iceland.") King added that unless he was ordered otherwise, he would use this in his revision of orders for Task Force One. Distribution of the plan began that very day, but was not to be completed until about the 22nd of July when units were to have been allocated to conform, and other measures had been taken preliminary to putting it in effect. King's Operation Plan 5-41 shows a combination of Commander Task Force 4 and Commander Task Force l.5
A directive in 5-41 states that Task Force 1 will operate as separately directed, basing at Argentia, Iceland, Narragansett Bay, Casco Bay, and Boston.
In answer to Admiral King's letter of 2 July recommending modifications of ABC-1 and WPL-46, Admiral Stark argued that Iceland was directly related to the strategy of Northern Europe; that Iceland and the British Isles together formed a unit that should remain under the same strategic direction. Stark acknowledged some disadvantages and said that a loss of efficiency would occur through the operation of forces of two nations in a common task. However the disadvantages were outweighed by the beneficial effect it would have on the morale of the British people and the intensified interest of the American people in the outcome of the war. "Since the U.S. has a better technique for the coordination of air and surface forces, it is considered that U.S. naval, rather than British naval forces will be more effective in the protection of commerce in that area."6
Operation Plan No. 5-4l had been mailed on 18 July and Operation Plan 6-41 was sent out "first thing in the morning of 21 July." The latter stated that 6-41 would become effective concurrently with 5-41. Operation Plan 6-41 is really an Operation Order to Task Force l under the direct charge of Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet. In this he completely takes over Commander Task Force 4's destroyer flotilla, together with Patrol Wing 7. Operation Plan 6-41 was issued from the USS AUGUSTA at Newport, Rhode Island, 19 July, 1941, and is devoted solely to the "separate direction" for Commander Task Force 1.7 The plan stated that approximately 8 Canadian destroyers, 19 Canadian corvettes and 3 French corvettes would be engaged in escorting convoys. In addition to these forces, some 5 Canadian destroyers and 8 Canadian corvettes would operate in Canadian Coastal zones -- 20 Canadian patrol planes and 60 land-type bombers in Canadian Coastal zone to protect shipping. It further
stated that this force would,
Escort convoys of U.S. and Iceland flag shipping, including shipping of any nationality which may join such U.S. or Iceland flag convoys, between U.S. ports and bases, and Iceland; be alert to support the defense of Iceland; support the operations of TG 6.5 (Greenland Patrol), and support operations elsewhere in the Labrador-Greenland area; maintain mail service between Boston, Argentia, Reykjavik.
After listing the tasks of Task Groups 1 and 2 the plan says Task Group 3 (Admiral Bristol) would,
provide the light-force escort detachments required for the operations of TG1; maintain appropriate patrol plane escort operations from Iceland and Newfoundland in connection with the operations of group 1; supervise and support the operations of TG 6.5 (Greenland Patrol) and support operations elsewhere in the Labrador-Greenland area; ... base primarily at Argentia; in Iceland and at Shelburne (N.S.) as necessary; home bases Casco Bay, Narragansett Bay, and Boston. (The CNO was to route shipping generally, and exchange information with the British, transmitting it as necessary.)
Having issued his Operation Plan 6-41 (Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, signed it not as such but as Commander Task Force 1), he got out an amplifying letter (this time not as Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, not as Commander Task Force 1, but as Commander Task Group 1.1) on 21 July 1941. This was called "Letter of Instruction, My Operations Plan 6-41" and it was issued to all unit Commanders and Commanding Officers of Task Force 1, any of whom might be called upon to command Escort Detachments. The letter stated that LANTFLT 9 would be their "Bible". Respective group commanders were to inform escort commanders as to the composition
of escort detachments and concerning information as to routing and movements of shipping. In general, Commander Task Group 1.2 would determine the composition and location-in-readiness of heavy escorts; Commander Task Group 1.3 for light-force escorts. The Chief of Naval Operations would furnish meeting points with convoys, the convoy routes and speeds, and the end-point of escort-of-convoys; information to be supplied direct or via task channels. Patrol planes would operate as practicable from Argentia and from Iceland in conformity with Chapter IX of LANTFLT 9.8
July 20th Admiral King pointed out to Admiral Stark that a survey of present and prospective destroyer requirements based on WPL-51, plus troop movements to Iceland and elsewhere, required urgent consideration be given to obtaining large Coast Guard Cutters; also Atlantic Naval District seagoing patrol vessels which could maintain sea speeds of twelve or more knots to be assigned temporarily to the Atlantic Fleet. The following day Commander Task Group 1.3 (Bristol) was told to maintain in readiness at all times at Argentia and at Casco Bay at least one escort unit. This was to be comprised of five or six destroyers. Other ships not employed or in readiness could be at home bases (preferably Casco Bay) for training, upkeep, and recreation. He was
also to maintain a minimum of one patrol plane squadron in Iceland and two at Argentia with appropriate tender services; the remainder of planes and tenders at home bases.
The Chief of Naval Operations gave the order to execute WPL-51 at 1200 GCT on the 20th of July 1941, except for a part of it, which was to be executed at a later date after necessary arrangements had been made.
It is of interest to note the progression of ideas in the following statements: (1) in Op Plan 5-41 of 28 July, it stated "destroy hostile forces which threaten shipping of U.S. and Iceland flag." It also said, "Entrance into the Western Hemisphere by naval vessels and aircraft of belligerent powers is to be viewed as actuated by potential unfriendly intent . . . trail naval vessels and aircraft of belligerent powers . . . met with in executing tasks and broadcast in plain language their movements." (2) On 5 September, Modification 3 to Op Plan 5-41 says, "destroy potentially hostile surface raiders and submarines which attack or threaten. Threat exists when such potentially hostile vessels are found within one hundred miles of U.S. flag shipping or anywhere within proclaimed neutrality zone." (3) On 12 September Op Plan 6-41 says, "destroy potentially hostile forces which are encountered within the Western Atlantic Area." Furthermore, 3 (x)(l) of 5-41 said, "CinClant has announced that his interpretation of threat
to U.S. or Iceland flag shipping, whether escorted or not, is that threat exists when potentially hostile vessels are actually within sight or sound contact of such shipping or of its escort." In Op Plan 6-41, 3(x)(2) says, "threat to U.S. or Iceland shipping, whether escorted or not, exists when potentially hostile forces (surface war vessels, submarines or aircraft) are within the Western Atlantic Area, or United States or Canadian Coastal zones in the Atlantic or Caribbean."
Admiral Stark forwarded a draft on 29 July to Admiral King in which he said:
You are aware of the fact that, subsequent to the promulgation of WPL-51, discussions were held between representatives of the Office of Naval Operations and British and Canadian naval and air representatives. The purpose of the conference was to arrive at agreements, and to clarify responsibilities, which the U.S., United Kingdom, and Canada would assume, after WPL-51 would be placed in effect.
A copy of the proposed agreement was shown to King at that time, and received the latter's approval. The letter continued:
For reasons which will be apparent to you, the CNO has decided that he is unable to enter into any formal agreements with foreign authorities concerning the operation of U.S. naval forces under present circumstances. Whatever action is undertaken by the U.S. Navy must, therefore, be on its own initiative, and instructions concerning such action must be unilateral. For this reason the CNO is constrained to reject the proposed agreement which was shown you, and to have it redrafted in a form which will be in accordance with instructions received from the President.9
(The gist of it was that the U.S. would so time the sailing of United States and Iceland flag convoys as to afford protection to vessels of other nationalities which desired to join such a convoy).
Also at this time Commander Support Force put out his Operation Plan 11-41 in which he acknowledges the fact and informs the Support Force that it has been partially taken over by the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet. "The Support Force will remain organized as Task Force 4, and certain units will also be organized as TG 1.3." LANTFLT 9 (Escort-of-convoy Instructions) was to govern. This force was to:
Provide light force escort detachments required for the operation of TG 1.1; maintain appropriate patrol planes escort operations from Iceland and Newfoundland in connection with the operations of TG 1.1, supervise and support the operations of TG 6.5 (Greenland Patrol) and support operations elsewhere in the Greenland-Labrador area; maintain mail service between Boston, Argentia, and Reykjavik; maintain swept and marked channels in Argentia Area.10
Support Force units that were not assigned to Task Group 1.3 were to continue to operate in accordance with the most recent directives. Commander Task Force 1 (Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet) in AUGUSTA, Commander Task Force 4, and Task Group 1.3 (Commander Support Force) in PRAIRIE.
This plan was to be effective upon receipt.
Admiral King's letter of 31 July, in answer to an earlier letter from Admiral Stark11 said that no escort unit was available in Iceland, but one unit was standing by at Argentia and another was at Casco Bay starting August 3rd, ready to begin the escort cycle from south of Newfoundland, Northward. He pointed out that a speed of 10 knots required seven days one way from the vicinity of Cape Race to Reykjavik; that allowance of two days at Reykjavik for fuel and leeway made the round trip 10 days. Added to this would be fueling time and layover at Argentia, to make it a minimum average of a 20 day cycle for the escort unit.12 Also on 31 July Admiral King informed the United States Naval Attache in Ottawa that by direction of the Navy Department he would escort the Iceland ships DETTIFOSS, 11 knots,
sailing from Louisburg on 4 August, and LARGERFOSS, 8-9 knots, from Halifax on 6 August. He requested that the best routing advice be sent him.
To all intents and purposes by now we can consider that the season was open in the Atlantic and as the result of a natural progression of events, the escort-of-convoy set up was getting into full swing. From the middle of the summer until the United States actually declared war on the Axis in December, there was a period of "armed neutrality" during which time conditions closely approximated those of open but undeclared warfare.
1. CinClant sec. ltr. ser. 00109 of 2 July, 1941, to CNO. 2. ComSupFor sec. ltr. ser. 0059 of 3 July, 1941, to SupFor. 3. CinClant sec. ltr. ser. 131630 of 13 July, 1941 to CNO. 4. CinClant sec. ltr. ser. 1503556 of 15 July 1941, to CNO. 5.
The task organization is listed as follows without group designations:
BatDivs 3, 5
DesRons 2, 8,27 (less DesDiv 54)
PatWing 7 (from TF 4)
Other available vessels
6. CNO sec. ltr. ser. 077412 of 16 July 1941, to CinClant. 7.
The Task Organization 1.1 TASK GROUP ONE - OCEAN ESCORT 1.1.1 to 1.1.9 Escort detachments made up from time to time from Task Groups 2 and 3 below. 1.2 TASK GROUP TWO - RADM LEBRETON BatDivs 3, 5
DesRons 2, 8
1.3 TASK GROUP THREE - RADM BRISTOL DesFlot (TF 4)
DesRon 27 less DesDiv 54
PatWing 7 (TF 4)
8. CinClant sec. ltr. ser. 00127 of 21 July 1941 to TF 1. 9. CNO sec. ltr. ser. 087012 of 29 July 1941, to CinClant. 10. ComSupFor Op Plan 11-41 sec. ser. 0069 of 20 July-2 August, 1941, to SupFor. 11. CNO sec. ltr. ser. 292355 to CinClant. This stated that Iceland had agreed to let the Navy Department control sailing dates of Icelandic flagships; that vessels concerned were DETTIFOSS at New York, soon to leave for Iceland, GODAFOSS, then on the North Coast of Iceland, due to sail for U.S.; that speed of both was between 11-12 knots; LARGERFOSS, going then from Halifax, and SELFOSS, in Halifax and DATLA, at Reykjavik, and EDDA, due to sail from Reykjavik 26 July for Halifax, 9-10 knots. He added that CinClant should make the necessary preparations for escorting only Icelandic or American flag ships in accordance with WPL-51, as modified by his secret letter serial 251600; that exact dates of sailing and ports of departure of vessels in the category would be supplied as soon as information was available, then CinClant was to inform vessels as to when and where they should report for escort. 12. CinClant sec. ltr. ser. 310358 of 31 July 1941, to CNO.
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