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Stalking the U-BoatU.S. Naval Aviation in Europe during World War I$

Geoffrey L. Rossano

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780813034881

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813034881.001.0001

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Progress Report

Progress Report

September 1917–March 1918

(p.43) 2 Progress Report
Stalking the U-Boat

Geoffrey L. Rossano

University Press of Florida

Abstract and Keywords

Frustrations and delays aside, naval aviation made considerable progress in the late fall and winter of 1917–1918. Commander Hutch Cone and his aides established a capable and efficient headquarters organization. Construction in widely dispersed locales commenced. New programs in Ireland, England, and Italy emerged. Limited combat operations began at Le Croisic, Ile Tudy, Killingholme, and elsewhere. The powerful German drive caused great excitement, but exercised little lasting effect on aviation programs. With better weather in the offing, the United States was about to enter the fray.

Keywords:   naval aviation, Commander Hutch Cone, combat operation, Ireland, headquarters organization, World War I

Hutch Cone's arrival in Britain in September 1917 initiated a thorough overhaul of naval aviation efforts. He conferred with Sims, Whiting, Conger, and others, reviewed existing correspondence, met repeatedly with the Admiralty, and undertook a forced-draft tour of potential station sites in Ireland and England. Cone then crossed over to France and relieved Whiting October 24, assuming command of United States Naval Aviation Forces in Foreign Service with headquarters in Paris. He first occupied existing offices at 23 Rue de la Paix, but in mid-November secured larger quarters at Hotel d'Iena, 4 Place d'Iena. The Navy took over the entire 90-room structure, with plans to utilize excess space to accommodate the headquarters Marine guard and enlisted staff.1 During the next year Cone shouldered primary responsibility for developing naval aviation in the war zone, notably assisted by gunnery expert Capt. Thomas T. Craven, director of the Operations Division. In London Lt. Paul H. Bastedo of the Material Section temporarily directed aviation matters, replaced in November by Lt. Walter Atlee Edwards. Cone referred to the latter as “young Edwards” brought up from the Queenstown destroyers. A memo prepared by Sims's chief of staff, Capt. Nathan C. Twining, defined Cone's role as commander of all naval aviation forces in France and Britain, primarily responsible in areas of policy, operations, personnel, and materiel. Twining noted, “The Admiral desires to give Cdr. Cone a perfectly free hand to carry out his ideas.” The aviation section in London would be Cone's direct representative, he noted, and urged all officers to maintain the closest contact with the British.

Cone set to work enlarging and reorganizing his headquarters and within a few weeks seemed to have matters well in hand. In his first staff plan he decided to “organize the outfit in two distinct parts,” one operational and the other handling business affairs. Cone placed Operations under Cdr. Frank McCrary, a Lighter-than-Air (LTA) expert, leaving Whiting in charge of heavier (p.44) than-air matters.2 Paymaster Conger headed the Material Section. Civil Engineer Ernest Brownell took control of Public Works (Construction), having been rushed to Paris at Cone's urgent request. Brownell was “well thought of by all the aviation crowd” who had worked with him at Pensacola. Cone described Civil Engineer A. W. K. Billings, Brownell's assistant, as a man of “very high reputation.” Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Briscoe assumed leadership of the newly established Assembly and Repair section, while Surgeon H. H. Lane directed medical affairs. Cone also secured the services of two junior officers. Lieutenant Harry Guggenheim became business aide, while Lt. Norman Van der Veer came on board as military aide, both to run the details of the office. The new commander called the pair his office youngsters. Van Der Veer was well known in the fleet as editor of the Bluejacket Manual. The presence of these two young officers allowed the commander to “circulate around the French stations and visit England when it becomes necessary.”3

At the end of the year Cone updated his organization, creating a tripartite staff, including a new Intelligence and Planning Division overseen first by Lt. Virgil Griffin and then Cdr. Henry Dinger. Operations Division staff now included director McCrary (soon to be replaced by Craven), assisted by Callan (Schools), Van Der Veer (Personnel), and the as yet unnamed head of the Repair Section, as well as commanders of the various schools and stations. The Administrative Division headed by Guggenheim, included sections for Public Works, Supplies, Repair Base, and Secretariat. Surgeon Lane remained in charge of medical affairs. A new Executive Committee to coordinate office efforts consisted of Cone, the three division heads, and Ensign Fearing.4 Following reorganization, the original First Aeronautic Detachment officers who had served in Europe since June 1917 went on to fill a variety of posts. After a time in Paris, Whiting visited England to study seaplane conditions and then sailed home to organize the great Killingholme-lighter project.5 He returned in May 1918 to command NAS Killingholme, a position he held until the end of the war. Grattan Dichman directed the aviation school at Moutchic, later commanded NAS Brest, and ultimately returned to destroyer service. Godfrey Chevalier became commanding officer at NAS Dunkirk and then the Northern Bombing Group assembly and repair base at Eastleigh. Virgil Griffin served for a while on the Paris staff before spending several weeks at RNAS Yarmouth, and finally assuming command of NAS St. Trojan. Omar Conger, an unsung hero, oversaw the supply effort, until superseded by Captain Bonnafon of the Paymaster Corps late in the war. Surgeon Arthur Sinton, carried out numerous inspections at Tours, Moutchic, and Pauillac.

(p.45) Cone's (and Sims's) insistent calls for additional officers to fill out the growing staff did not always sit well with the Navy Department, which experienced identical needs on a much greater scale. Unfulfilled requests for the services of the controversial Cdr. Henry Mustin proved particularly problematic. Cone also pressed for regular Navy flyers (especially those recommended by McCrary) to command the stations. He wished them dispatched to Europe sooner rather than later so they might have time “to get wise to the game.” At the time Cone exuded reasonableness from every pore, saying, “If for any reason you (Irwin) or the Department sees fit to deny my request (for officers) I don't question your wisdom in the slightest and realize that you need able officers there as well as I do over here.” Captain Noble Irwin, in overall command of aviation, and others in the Department let him know, however, that they considered his demands unrealistic. Though expressing “no kicks about the way you fellows over there are treating us,” Cone eventually lost patience, responding shortly after New Year's. “You fellows think I am overexcited about getting officers over here,” he flared, but there were numerous holes in tables of organization, “together with the fact that we have some 1,500 men with a couple of Ensigns looking out for them, disciplining them, etc., you will realize I am really short-handed.” Cone's “pet scheme” of exchanging staff officers between Washington and Paris came to naught. These personnel issues remained a sore point until the end of the war, and after.6

Throughout autumn and early winter Cone continued perfecting his organization and filling administrative slots as fast as he could. He informed Sims on November 5 of a pressing need for civil engineers to oversee construction of bases, medical officers, an office manager, technical officers, and a Marine Corps detachment of 60 men and an officer who might act as a permanent Navy Provost Marshal in Paris. More supply men were required as well, while a desperate shortage of trained aviation mechanics hindered rapid progress. Cone and his staff set right to work acquiring aircraft and equipment for aviation stations under construction and by November 27 had placed orders for 17 Telliers, 44 Donnet Denhauts, 10 Hanriot-Duponts, and 5 dirigibles, along with 200 motors and materiel to complete 4 stations—bombs, radios, guns, gas tanks, and trucks at an estimated cost of $6 million. Eventually the Navy contracted for 140 aircraft in France. These plans, however, proved wildly optimistic. By December only 23 aircraft had been received, with 18 more ready to be shipped. Unrealistic delivery schedules, shortages of material, labor troubles, and rising demands from the French army and navy all combined to delay equipping American stations.7

Cone seemed to direct his attention in a dozen directions at once. In mid-November (p.46) he penned a lengthy missive to Irwin outlining plans to establish an aviation assembly and repair facility at Pauillac, describing the need for hundreds of tents to shelter growing numbers of personnel, and reporting on the painfully slow progress of local contractors. Cone discovered that many green recruits arriving in Europe managed to lose most of their clothing on the way over and supply officers were scrounging surplus garments from whatever naval vessels reached the French coast. The new commander stressed his efforts at cooperating with AEF aviation leaders, particularly Col. Raynal Bolling, whom Cone described as “a perfectly fine man in every way.” Paymaster Conger now served on a joint committee controlling purchases in France, with plans under way to establish a small (three members) committee of Army and Navy officers to represent the Aircraft Production Board. Cone claimed, “Rest assured that we are working in perfect harmony.” A similar report to Sims highlighted rapidly expanding manpower needs as station personnel allowances spiraled upward. Cone now calculated that manning the 15 proposed facilities required 870 officers and 8,454 men, considerably higher than earlier estimates.8

Of course, selecting personnel was not without its pitfalls. In early spring 1918, Edwards in London notified Cone, “I am really quite delighted to have such an excellent excuse to detach Ens. (Tree) from this office as he, unfortunately, appears entirely too young and inexperienced to tackle the job I had outlined for him.” It seems the young ensign's diplomat father requested his son's posting, which caused some flap at Cone's level. Two weeks later Edwards wrote, “Ens. (Wilcox), although a conscientious, hard-working officer, is absolutely unqualified for the position to which I had assigned him in this office. Very briefly his trouble is that he is stupid to a remarkable degree and has not been able to grasp the job in any degree.”9

Naval aviation's priorities in the last quarter of 1917, particularly as refined by Hutch Cone, encompassed creating a formal command structure; finalizing selection of station sites in France, Ireland, and England; commencing training at Moutchic; placing students/mechanics wherever appropriate; opening the first bases; and beginning construction of others. During the winter these goals expanded to include initiating serious construction at more bases, transporting large numbers of personnel to Europe, building up the assembly and repair facility at Pauillac, accelerating training programs, enlarging the command organization, and commencing operations at Dunkirk and Bolsena. To some degree, all of these goals were met.10

Promoted to captain in December, Cone shivered in his office next to an open coal fire grate and solidified his aviation staff by issuing Organizational (p.47) Memo III on January 29, 1918, which provided a template for all office development to follow. The Intelligence and Planning Division collected information concerning aircraft and equipment from varied sources and continuously monitored the airplane situation. The all-important Operations Division, now led by Thomas Craven and assisted by Frank McCrary (soon to be detached for duty in Ireland) and Robert Lovett, controlled the heart of the aviation mission, training and manning the fighting stations and conducting war operations. Most recently commanding officer of Sacramento at Gibraltar, Craven was an acknowledged gunnery expert, who had earlier professed ignorance of the entire field of aviation. Cone reassured him by saying that he, too, knew little about flying. Individual station commanders reported directly to Craven, who exercised day-to-day authority, while Cone tended to larger planning, program, interservice and inter-Allied affairs, and overall command responsibilities. The Administrative Division headed by Guggenheim organized the major work of building and supplying new bases, negotiating contracts and overseeing construction, as well as directing purchase and shipping of equipment. Omar Conger, who came over in June 1917 with the First Aeronautic Detachment, played a central role, as did Ernest Brownell and Benjamin Briscoe. A question also arose about how to deal with Edwards, Sims's aide in London. He had done much good work overseeing aviation efforts there, but his junior rank made it difficult for him to lead an enlarged office. Rather than replace Edwards with a more senior officer, Cone and Sims decided to leave him in charge directing personnel junior to him. The Killingholme project evolved into a separate command under Kenneth Whiting.11

Cone instituted his final reorganization March 1, 1918, incorporating slight modifications to the January 29 scheme, but retaining the three-division format of Intelligence and Planning, Operations, and Administration. Dinger continued to head the Intelligence and Planning Division. Craven's Operations Division, assisted by Lovett, exercised “direct charge of the operation of all air stations and schools.” The Administration Division, directed by Guggenheim, had “charge of all business and industrial activities,” and oversaw Supply, Public Works, Repair Base (Pauillac), and Secretarial Sections. A new Medical Department, headed by Surgeon Lane, reported directly to Cone. An Executive Committee, including Cone and his division heads, facilitated coordination of the organization. The growing headquarters required ever more office space and progressively occupied greater portions of the Hotel d'Iena site.12

In addition to the officers and enlisted ratings swelling the ranks of headquarters staff, the Navy also employed a variety of civilians, both in Paris and (p.48) elsewhere. Knowledgeable men from a wide range of specialties from construction and engineering to business and transportation were engaged to provide needed expertise. Several were enrolled into active service. The Navy generally hired civilian women to augment the clerical workforce rather than dispatch “Yeomanettes” overseas. By mid-1918 these civilian hires could be found in Paris, Pauillac, Brest, and London. In June 1918, for example, Misses Hilda Golby, Gertrude Watt, and Janet Wilson were ordered from Paris to Pauillac for duty, followed shortly thereafter by Mlle. Suzanne Dolbeau. A group photograph of Captain Craven's staff at Brest near the end of the war reveals a similar sprinkling of female staff. Such employees, however, were not found at the operating air stations or construction sites.13

With a sizable organization in place, Cone instituted frequent meetings of the headquarters Executive Committee to discuss equipment, operations, transportation, training, personnel, reports on trips and inspections, cooperation with the Army, liaison with the Allies, and any of a hundred other concerns. After September 1, 1918, the conferences convened in London. These meetings mirrored those held in Washington by Captain Irwin, who gathered representatives of Navy Bureaus that controlled portions of the aeronautic effort. Officers returning from assignment in Europe briefed this group, as did liaison personnel from the RAF.14 Attempting to move construction along, Cone in early December dispatched an inspection committee to view existing and proposed bases/sites, part of the process for finalizing the coastal station program. The group included McCrary from Operations, Surgeon Lane, and Civil Engineers Brownell and Billings. They began work December 1 at Brest and finished at Moutchic 10 days later, submitting their report December 17. This detailed document contained the name and location of each site, identified possible landing and get away fields, and described tides and currents, transportation, communication, construction requirements, piers and runways, gas storage, available/necessary equipment, sanitary conditions, water facilities, and French commitments/arrangements. An important conference held with the Ministry of Marine in early January 1918 further solidified details for establishment and operation of American stations.15

Even as officers in France developed detailed guidelines for future action, Sims's newly established Planning Section in London came to general agreement on aviation priorities for coming months, particularly those related to activity in Flanders and over the North Sea. The greatest efforts would be made toward destroying enemy submarine bases in Belgium by utilizing landbased bombing squadrons, aided by chasse and photographic reconnaissance units. The Killingholme-lighter project would go ahead as planned, while (p.49) operations in Italy should proceed as well. The planned network of patrol stations on the French coast should be built as envisioned, as well as dirigible and kite balloon bases, but with the latter's equipment halved. Pauillac would serve as principal assembly and repair facility in Europe, with Queenstown in Ireland functioning as a sub-base with two-thirds the equipment allocated to Pauillac.

At the end of the winter John Callan, then serving as head of the School Section in the Operations Division, compiled a statistical analysis of instruction efforts completed thus far. By early March a total of 180 pilots had trained at numerous European sites, including 81 officers and 99 ratings. Many enlisted aviators later received commissions. Facilities at Moutchic now provided instruction in both flying boats and pontoon scouts. Other training locations included Tours, Lac Hourtin, St. Raphael, Felixstowe, Pau, Avord, Issoudun, Gosport, Turnberry, Ayr, a variety of Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) patrol stations, Lake Bolsena, and Cranwell. In fact, at this point the number of pilots exceeded available aircraft. Enlisted observer personnel also attended several overseas schools, including St. Raphael and Cazaux. Others attended schools at Cranwell and Eastchurch/Leysdown in England. A total of 91 observers completed their courses by early March, 89 of them enlisted men. Additional bluejackets and a few officers worked at French factories to study construction and maintenance of motors and aircraft.16

Creating a headquarters organization, laying out a plan for bases, allocating men and equipment, even training personnel, offered one set of challenges, but the real-world task of commencing war operations proved another thing indeed, and in this area the process moved more slowly. In early November, officers and bluejackets reached Le Croisic and initiated limited patrols a few days later. Additional personnel occupied a partially completed station at Ile Tudy and began flight operations February 28, 1918. During the winter, men, aircraft, and supplies flowed into Dunkirk, with training/test flights under way by February. American personnel reached the dirigible station at Paimboeuf on November 11 and took control of the site on March 1. They made their first flight under Navy command March 3.

Also during fall and winter the Navy resolved the issue of choosing a site for a central European aviation assembly, repair, and distribution center, selecting Pauillac on the Gironde River near Bordeaux. While Paris served initially as principal supply center, it eventually gave way to Pauillac as more American-manufactured equipment arrived. Planning for the new facility began in October with appointment of Benjamin Briscoe to head the Assembly and Repair Section at headquarters, with responsibility for designing, constructing, (p.50) and equipping the base. A contract let in the United States called for a steel frame building measuring 260 feet × 560 feet, with materials to be delivered to the Philadelphia Navy Yard within 60–90 days. The Navy evaluated thousands of men in the United States and selected 550 for duty in France. The base officially opened December 1, 1917, but did not become operational for many months and was completed only in November 1918.

For most of World War I naval aviation's greatest activity lay not in the area of military operations but in the field of construction. The Navy Department struggled mightily to build a system of overseas bases, supply and repair facilities, and communication and transportation networks virtually from scratch in widely separated foreign countries located thousands of miles from home. Work began at places like Le Croisic, Moutchic, and Dunkirk in the late summer and fall of 1917. During the winter, advance parties of enlisted personnel descended on the coasts of France and Ireland to expand building activity. Drafts of construction workers reached the future sites of NAS Brest, St. Trojan, and Tréguier in January 1918 and Fromentine in February. In late February, Cone made an inspection trip along the coast and found things “in as prosperous a condition as one could wish under the circumstances.” Work at Queenstown in Ireland began under Admiralty auspices in December 1917, with the first U.S. Navy complement arriving the following February. Site work, grading, and construction commenced at Wexford, Whiddy Island, and Lough Foyle in December and January by gangs of 100–200 Irish laborers employed by local contractors fulfilling cost-plus contracts. Bluejackets began reaching these sites in February and March.

Despite elaborate plans and strenuous exertions, site work proceeded more slowly than headquarters wished and many stations remained uncompleted until the following summer or fall. Creating a system of bases from scratch posed a massive logistical challenge. The slowness of French contractors who lacked men, materials, and transportation severely impacted progress. Moroccan and Algerian labor often proved ineffective and there were never enough hardworking, disciplined German POWs to go around. Time-consuming local construction methods utilizing masonry, plaster, and tile/slate further slowed the program. Delays in shipping American enlisted men and extreme difficulty acquiring materials and tools from the United States on a timely basis proved crippling. In time, a few innovations helped accelerate matters. To supply sufficient barracks and office space, for example, the Navy developed a simple, mass-produced temporary building. Special crews harvested timber in the Bordeaux district and milled it at a Navy sawmill. They erected a small factory in Pauillac to manufacture prefabricated wooden structures that (p.51) could be transported by three trucks and erected in four hours. Other building components were shipped from the United States. Finally, the relatively slow trickle of aviation personnel into Europe in the fall of 1917 quickened as the months passed, and by January 1 the number of enlisted men had risen to 1,200. The pace accelerated further in the winter and by early March more than 4,300 bluejackets were at work in France, Ireland, England, and Italy. At Pauillac alone 1,500 sailors gathered, with nearly 400 at Le Croisic and Moutchic. By November 1918 the number approached 20,000.

Naval aviation in Europe did not operate in a vacuum; rather, it navigated through the Department's stormy sea of conflicting priorities, previous controversies, and competing personalities. Nowhere was this truer than in the tense relationship between Chief of Naval Operations William S. Benson and Vice-Admiral William S. Sims, commander of the United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters. Their disagreements over disposition of America's destroyer flotilla, center of gravity for the war effort, Sims's Anglophilia, Benson's Anglophobia, proper strategy for combating the U-boat threat, analysis of the aggressiveness of the Royal Navy, and overall integrity of the United States fleet were well known. Misunderstandings and almost continual back-channel gossip inevitably involved more than the two principals.

Discord over naval policy impacted development of aviation programs. Benson's prewar skepticism regarding aeronautics did not endear him to the flying contingent in Europe. Upon assuming the position of Chief of Naval Operations in 1916 he had “succeeded in reducing the aviation programs to near impotence,” with direction of the effort in turmoil. It required much time and considerable effort by Capt. Noble Irwin and Cdr. John Towers to turn the situation around. Ironically, Benson eventually showed himself to be a hesitant, but important, supporter of certain aviation initiatives, reluctantly backing the largest and most expensive programs such as Whiting's entire bases initiative, the Killingholme lighter project, and the Northern Bombing Group (NBG) bombing campaign, all of which reflected the Navy's aggressive attitude toward battling German forces.17 Benson sailed to Europe as part of the House Mission October 30, 1917, reaching Plymouth November 7. One result of his activities there was support for creation of a planning section at London headquarters, eventually assigning Captains Frank Schofield and Dudley Knox, and Cdr. Harry Yarnell. This group played a significant role in defining aviation strategy in coming months. Underlining his support for aggressive action against the submarine threat, the CNO also endorsed a plan to operate a substantial aviation station at Killingholme on the North Sea and (p.52) assemble necessary men, specialty lighters, and large flying boats to undertake long-distance bombardment of enemy U-boat facilities.

While in France, Benson met with Cone to discuss aviation affairs and visited Pauillac, where he observed “great zeal, earnestness, and intelligence on the part of both officers and men.” Returning to Washington, he increased Cone's requests for single and twin-engine flying boats and ordered Irwin to speed development of patrol stations along the French coast. Nonetheless, the CNO continued to oppose aviation's institutional ambitions, as did the Bureau chiefs. In postwar letters, Craven, who replaced Irwin as Director of Naval Aviation in May 1919, discussed the gloomy situation with Cdr. DeWitt Ramsey, saying, “Aviation looks sick in the Navy Department just at present…. I have been on the point of throwing up the sponge a couple of times, but have resolved to stick it out until the new CNO comes along who may have a different view [from Benson's].” Benson's retirement in October merited another pointed comment from Craven. “There were quite a few dry eyes around here in the Aviation section when he relinquished the chair of office. There was a slight buck-up noticeable at once.”18

If Sims had problems with Benson, relations with Rear Adm. Henry B. Wilson, commander of naval forces in France after October 1917, did not fare much better. Shortly after reorganizing the command structure in France in January 1918, Sims complained to Benson. Alluding to old Navy controversies, he claimed that Wilson had been a member of the “conservative party” when Sims experienced difficulties caused by efforts to improve fleet target practice and probably retained some prejudices from that time. Wilson, according to Sims, personally disliked Cone and had recently been overheard to say he was “one of the most dangerous men in the service.” But the real bone of contention lay in the tangled relationship between Wilson, as commander of naval forces in France, and Cone, head of naval aviation, who reported directly to Sims. This controversy lasted for many months and generated a lengthy, acrimonious correspondence. It was eventually agreed that Cone would command until the construction phase ended, at which time operational control would transfer to Wilson, something that occurred September 1, 1918.

Squabbles among Sims, Cone, and Wilson paled, however, compared to events unfolding on the Western Front. The great German offensive in the spring of 1918 threatened to disrupt important aviation activity set in motion the previous winter. Enemy advances caused the French to plan evacuation of government offices and move industrial works southward. Paris itself came under direct attack from long-range artillery. The most immediate threat to (p.53) aviation facilities existed at Dunkirk, only a few miles from the front. Coincident with the German assault on the Western Front, attacks on Dunkirk spiked sharply, with increased air raids, artillery bombardment, and destroyer sorties. Cone visited the exposed outpost March 27 to discuss the situation with Commanding Officer Chevalier, giving him instructions to assist the Allies in any way possible, including helping rebuild their aerodromes further behind the lines. Several American pilots and observers rushed to fill slots in beleaguered British squadrons and flew multiple missions in the next three weeks.

At the station, accurate information came at a premium. Recently arrived pilot Dave Ingalls told his mother in late March, “The German advance and British retreat is greatly disturbing everyone…. We know very little of what is going on. I wish I could look a week ahead or so.” As the assault continued, the Allies developed contingency plans to evacuate. As ordnance officer, Kenneth MacLeish inventoried materiel so emergency transport might be arranged. George Moseley reported that nonflying personnel would leave by destroyer (shades of 1940!). Officers at other coastal stations distributed weapons to bluejackets and commenced drilling for any emergency. On a larger scale, Sims ordered a tally made of naval forces that could be sent to the front to perform transport or auxiliary duty with Allied forces. To make men available, he ordered construction at American bases halted temporarily. Wilson's staff identified 7,000 personnel of all types, with as many as 2,000 from naval aviation. Ultimately General Foch and Admiral de Bon politely declined the American offer, saying circumstances did not call for Navy assistance.19

Artillery bombardment of Paris began March 23, inflicting extensive damage and heavy casualties. Some observers, however, remained rather blasé about the experience. In mid-April Cone told his friend Sims, “Things seem to be going along here (Paris) in a normal way, aside from an occasional shot from the big gun which has ceased to cause any excitement in this old town.” Continued advances by German troops, however, caused naval headquarters whose staff numbered approximately 220 to develop plans to evacuate Paris and relocate to Pauillac. Orders went out for 1 officer and 30 drivers to proceed from Pauillac to Brest where a shipment of trucks had recently arrived. They were to organize a convoy, each vehicle loaded with gasoline drums, drawing fuel from NAS Brest, Guipavas, and L'Aber Vrach, if necessary, along with lubricating oil and grease. The convoy, carrying four days' rations, should proceed by the shortest route to Orleans. Transportation in Paris, including trucks, cars, and ambulances, would haul staff, food, supplies, and files out of the city. They would drive to Orleans, rendezvous with the trucks from (p.54) Brest, and then push on to Bordeaux. The crisis came in June when Sims informed Benson the French Navy was removing their archives from Paris, as well as certain war manufactures. But the lines held along the Marne River and Cone's evacuation plan was never implemented.20

Frustrations and delays aside, naval aviation made considerable progress in the late fall and winter of 1917–1918. Hutch Cone and his aides established a capable and efficient headquarters organization. Construction in widely dispersed locales commenced. New programs in Ireland, England, and Italy emerged. Limited combat operations began at Le Croisic, Ile Tudy, Killingholme, and elsewhere. The powerful German drive caused great excitement, but exercised little lasting effect on aviation programs. With better weather in the offing, the United States was about to enter the fray.


(1.) Cone to Irwin, October 6, 1917, box 2, Papers as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, 1913–1920, FDRPLM; Cone to Irwin, November 16, 1917, Cohen Collection, NHHC; Cone lived in the Passy district, sharing quarters with Tom Craven and Bobby Pollock. Craven to Cone, September 12, 1918, Craven Papers, LC.

(2.) Many years later Mrs. Mary McCrary said of her husband, “He had an innate shyness, and gave credit to many others for accomplishments of his own,” quoted in Arthur, Contact! 53.

(3.) Public Works officers detailed from Bureau of Yards and Docks, accompanied by Civil Engineer Billings, in Lord, “The History of Naval Aviation, 1898–1939,” 394; Cone, Office Memorandum #1, SS/Ga-144, SHM.


(4.) Cone, Office Memorandum #2, December 30, 1917, SS/Ga-144, SHM.

(5.) Lighters were specially designed, towed craft used to ferry and launch large flying boats assigned to carry out long-range bombing/reconnaissance missions.

(6.) Cone to Irwin, November 16, 1917, and January 3, 1918, in Lord, “The History of Naval Aviation, 1898–1939,” 426.

(7.) Letter to Cone, November 17, 1917, in Craven, “History of U. S. Naval Aviation, French Unit,” 42–44, box 912, ZGU, RG 45.

(8.) Bolling at that time was head of the Joint Army and Navy Aircraft Committee in Paris. The arrival of Benjamin Foulois ended the “perfect harmony”; see Cone to Sims, November 22, 1917, box 132, GA-1, RG 45.

(9.) Edwards to Cone, April 8 and 22, 1918, box 133, GA-2, RG 45.

(10.) Progress Report, USNAFFS, March 15, 1918, box 131, GA-1, RG 45.

(11.) Craven, “History of U. S. Naval Aviation, French Unit,” 47–51, box 912, ZGU, RG 45; Cone to Craven, January 4, 1918, Craven Papers, LC; Cone to Irwin, January 22, 1918, in Lord, “The History of Naval Aviation, 1898–1939,” 427.

(12.) Craven, “History of U. S. Naval Aviation, French Unit,” 35–51, box 912, ZGU, RG 45; Progress Report, USNAFFS, March 15, 1918, box 131, GA-1, RG 45; Paris Headquarters Log begun November 1917 recorded personnel movement and command actions and decisions, box 131, GA-1, RG 45.

(13.) Paris Headquarters Log, June 17 and 18, 1918, box 131, GA-1, RG 45.

(14.) Minutes of Paris/London Executive Committee sessions in box 2, Aviation Section Reports 1918–1919 (Entry 36), RG 72.

(15.) Before departing they secured site plans of the proposed locations. See Cone to Minister of Marine, November 25, 1917, and January 8, 1918, and McCrary to Minister of Marine, January 9, 1918, all SS/Ga-144, SHM; Weekly Report, January 26, 1918, announces French approval of U.S. stations at Fromentine and L'Aber Vrach, box 132, GA-1, RG 45; Smith to Guggenheim, January 31, 1918, SS/Ga-145, SHM.

(16.) Callan, Report, March 1, 1918, box 131, GA-1, RG 45.

(17.) Reynolds, Admiral John H. Towers, 106.

(18.) Klachko and Trask, Admiral William Shepherd Benson, 87 ff., 111–112; Lord, “The History of Naval Aviation, 1898–1939,” 393; Craven to Ramsey, July 21 and October 1, 1918, box 2, Records of Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, Aviation Section (Entry 34), RG 72.

(19.) Ingalls to Mother, March 27, 1918, IF; Rossano, The Price of Honor, 149; Cable, March 30, 1918, box 156, GU file, RG 45; Extracts from the Letters of George Clark Moseley, 160–161.

(20.) Weekly Reports, March 30 and April 6, 1918, and ff., box 132, GA-1, RG 45; Cone to Sims April 18, 1918, Sims to Benson, June 14, 1918, both Sims Papers, LC.