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In keeping with UNDERSEA WARFARE Magazine’s charter as the Official Magazine of the U.S. Submarine Force, we welcome letters to the editor, questions relating to articles that have appeared in previous issues, and insights and “lessons learned” from the fleet.

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I have a couple of questions about the content of Dr. Edward C. Whitman’s article “The School of War: U.S. Submarines in World War I” [UNDERSEA WARFARE, Spring 2004].

I am writing an article on the early sealifting and towing of submarines for Naval History. My best source to date on the December 1917 convoy to Europe has been the flotilla movement order which describes the four towing ships as the tender USS Bushnell (AS-15), and the three tugs
USS Genesee (AT-55), USS Conestoga (AT-54), and USS Lykens (AT-56). Apparently they were to rendezvous off Provincetown with four K-class boats, an E-class boat and three L-class boats. From other accounts I can determine that there was a bad storm which broke up the convoy resulting in one towing vessel and one L-class boat turning back. But that seems to leave a total of 11 submarines still en route to the Azores, by now independently and under their own power.

My questions are: How many vessels were originally towing the 12 submarines? Were there others besides Bushnell and the three tugs, or were some subs under their own power? When the L-class boats go on to Ireland with Bushnell, are some under their own power, or does she tow them up two at a time?

Some of the K-class submarines left in the Azores seem to then go on to Portugal. Are they towed, or do they use their power? Unfortunately, DANFS [Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships] and other naval histories move these vessels around like chess pieces without a clear explanation of how they are moving with respect to their own power, escorts, tows, etc.

Anything you can tell me in answer to my questions, or any sources you could steer me toward, would be much appreciated. Thanks.

David H. Grover, Cmdr., USNR (Ret.)

A response from the author:

Dear Mr. Grover

UNDERSEA WARFARE forwarded your note about my 2004 article on U.S. submarines in World War I in the hope that I might be able to clear up some of your questions about how the U.S. Navy boats were towed to Europe.

Unfortunately, for the purposes of my article, I was not able to go into any real detail about the towing operations, and from what you’ve said in your e-mail, it’s clear that you already know much more about this subject than I ever did! In particular, I relied only on secondary sources—with some cross-
checking—and left it at that. I share your frustration with DANFS—not only are its ship histories often fragmentary, sometimes they’re dead wrong.

Sorry I can’t be of more help. I look forward to your article in Naval History.

Dr. Edward C. Whitman