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Chapter 16

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The First Yale Unit

by
Ralph D. Paine

printed at
The Riverside Press
Cambridge (Mass.)
1925

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 18
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

Vol. I
p187
Chapter XVII

Bay Shore and Rockaway

Thus far in the story it has been possible to consider the Unit as a group held together by a single purpose and working toward a common end. It was all for one and one for all. Henceforth they were to steer divergent courses and to be found in almost every tide and current in the war. To follow them and describe what they severally did is not to glorify the individual nor to exploit the personal achievement beyond its dues. To these twenty‑odd aviators was vouchsafed an amazing variety of experiences and duties. They were conspicuously useful in organizing and promoting the whole problem of naval aviation at home. They performed similar services abroad, from the Adriatic to Brazil, from the North Sea to the Bay of Biscay.

Youthful as they were, three were made lieutenant commanders, and twenty‑one senior lieutenants, while only four retained their original commissioned rank as ensigns. Of these two were killed before promotion was conferred and another seriously injured. The list of decorations and other honors was a brilliant one. They included rewards of merit from the governments of France, England, Italy, and the United States. All this signified that the fundamental training had been sound and that the need for such men was imperative.

A record in detail of the activities of the Unit is, to a large extent, a history of naval aviation in the war. It can be said for such a volume as this that no other attempt has been made to amplify the subject and to present its manifold aspects. Naval aviation was a dramatic phase of the p188American endeavor to do tremendous things in a race against time, to send millions of men to France, to build thousands of merchant ships, to cover the sky with aeroplanes and the sea with destroyers and sub‑chasers. Amid a welter of waste and haste, the personnel of the regular Navy went about its business with traditional efficiency. It knew how to handle the blue-water job of convoy and escort duty, of training recruits, of operating with the Grand Fleet or laying a mine barrage across the North Sea, of cruising in all weathers with the hard-driven destroyer divisions from the Queenstown base, or manning the yachts that went rolling out of Brest.

The air service, however, was a problem of an exasperating war in which the German submarines had played the devil with all naval doctrines. At its wit's ends, the American Navy Department soon found that anybody who knew anything about aviation was worth his weight in gold. Stations had to be created and set going along the home coasts, besides which the plans in the war zone were conceived on a magnificently elaborate scale. Describing the operations abroad, Lieutenant Commander Edwards says:

The building up of the personnel and equal was but a part of the task; the men and the machines must be housed, landing fields and repair shops be provided — in fact, everything necessary to render offensive operations possible. This meant the construction of bases. Some idea of what this 'digging in' process was may be obtained by the realization that it involved the use of 21,384,000 feet of lumber, or sufficient to build a boardwalk four feet wide from New York to the island of Malta, a distance of 4,127 miles; that the total cubical contents of all structures erected, if assembled and made into one, would represent a box in which ten Woolworth Buildings could be housed; that 500 miles of telephone wires were run and hangars were assembled sufficient to cover forty city blocks if made into one. The total appraised value of all this construction work was approximately $11,250,000 — the total sum expended p189in aviation was $52,256,398 — a large sum of money, but an investment which would, I think, have returned us handsome dividends had the war continued. Indeed, by the summer of 1918 we began to see and feel the results of our efforts, for eleven stations had been built, of which six were in operating commission with planes which had been borrowed from our Allies. Twenty-seven air stations were provided for, of which eighteen were in France, five in Ireland, two in Italy and two in England. The air service was operating more than 400 aeroplanes and seaplanes, 50 kite balloons and 3 dirigibles. It had to its credit a total of 22,000 flights and had patrolled over 800,000 nautical miles.

So much for the demands of Admiral Sims and the Allied War Council. To a large extent the men, equipment, and material had to be supplied from the United States. And a coast patrol system had to be built up and maintained not only for training purposes but also to quiet the nerves of a populace which saw German submarines in its sleep and expected flocks of them to harry the coast from Portland, Maine, to Key West. In the same way New England seashore cottages had been emptied during the Spanish War for fear Admiral Cervera's cruisers might waste expensive projectiles on them.

For all these reasons it was decided by the Navy Department to divide the Yale Unit between home and foreign service. One line of duty was as important as the other. Ten times the number of trained young aviation officers would not have been enough. By force of necessity, these few young men were pitched into tasks that appeared too large for them, but they proceeded to eat up the work. Some were later recalled from overseas to pass along the experience gained at the front. Others were shifted to positions of greater responsibility. In fact, they were so frequently going somewhere else that the present writer finds it difficult to untangle the threads of their separate careers and weave them into a coherent design against the confused and turbulent background of the war.

p190 The exodus from Huntington began during the first week of August. Conflicting reports and unauthorized 'dope' had kept the Unit in a state of uneasy suspense. On July 31st, Foster Rockwell was writing to Dave McCulloch, 'Vorys and Sturtevant will get orders to go to Squantum, Massachusetts. Gates and Lovett have passed and will stay here and instruct on the Rs, three of which are now here. No one will go abroad for a couple of months, according to the latest rumor.

This melancholy forecast was knocked galley-west only three days later when Colonel Thompson rushed down to the beach and waved a telegram. He registered excitement. This was unusual. As a rule, he was the kind of man who could hold four aces without betraying the slightest emotion. He had great news to announce. The Unit had received its first sailing orders from the Bureau of Navigation. The Boss was about to abdicate. His 'young ducks' were ready to try their wings.

Who would be sent abroad? This was the eager query. They were all crazy to go. Lovett and Gates were the first two selected for duty overseas, sailing on August 15th. They were envied and congratulated. A few days previous to this, Lieutenant McDonnell had recommended them for promotion in the following letter to the Supervisor, N. R. F. C.:

Ensign Gates and Lovett have qualified as naval aviators. These two officers have been leaders in every way among the twenty-nine students of this detachment. They have displayed ability, alertness, and keen interest in their work. Both have done very well in theoretical and practical aeronautic work, and then have been in charge of seaplanes with groups of students under them. It would be a good example and incentive among the other students of this detachment and would show that exceptional ability and industry will be rewarded. They have both qualified in professional examination on line subjects, a copy of which is enclosed.

p191 Both officers have had over one hundred hours flying as pilots and have been on duty as instructors, and they are capable of taking charge of a flying school. I recommend that they be advanced immediately to the rank of lieutenant (j.g.) in the Naval Reserve Flying Corps.

The recommendation was approved and the two officers received their promotions under date of September 27, 1917.

Five men were sent to the station of the New York Naval Militia at Bay Shore. These were Ames, Ditman, Gould, Brown, and Rockefeller. They took it like good sportsmen. It was all in the day's work. The others received their orders at intervals through August and well into September. Curtis Read, Bartow Read, and Kenneth MacLeish went to Hampton Roads where Dr. McAlpin kept them company and Lieutenant McDonnell joined them. Sturtevant and Vorys sailed for France via England on September 14th. A group of seven followed them on the 23d, Walker, Smith, McIlwaine, Coombe, Landon, Ingalls, and Beach. Farwell was assigned to the naval aviation detachment at Buffalo which consisted of the Second Yale Unit organized by Ganson Depew.

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Harry Davison went to Newport as the officer in charge of enlistments, and was transferred to Hampton Roads a month later. Graham Brush proceeded to Washington as a technical expert in the Bureau of Steam Engineering. Oliver James was also given a desk in the Navy Department as assistant to Lieutenant E. F. Johnson who was in general charge of the flight schools. Thompson was made executive officer at the Naval Aviation Ground School at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Lynch and Lawrence were ordered to the station at Squantum, Massachusetts, and from thence to Rockaway Beach. Ireland's commission as ensign was delayed because of clerical errors in handling his papers in the p192Bureau of Navigation. At home on waiting orders, he was sent to Hampton Roads on October 17th. Foster Rockwell found scope for his energies in the Red Cross under Mr. H. P. Davison.

Bay Shore was the first station to which members of the Unit were assigned for active duty. It meant hard, inglorious work that was often disheartening. A dreary place to spend the winter, the harbor frozen and flying impossible, while a perfectly good war was going on and one's comrades were in the thick of it! The Bay Shore and Rockaway Beach stations were typical of the efforts to create a coast patrol system at short notice with an untrained personnel and insufficient material and equipment. Excellent experience, but apt to wear the best disposition to a frazzle. Even 'Alphy' Ames had his dark hours of pessimism before he finally escaped to help Admiral Sims win the war in London. The reminiscences of A. Ames, Esq., include a chapter on Bay Shore. He was not favorably impressed. This may be conjectured by what he has to say:

At first sight it seemed a hopeless proposition, but with the war spirit in everybody, it didn't take long for a new arrival to feel more cheerful about the future of the station. The aviation supplies amounted to practically nothing. The buildings and hangars were totally inadequate. The enlisted personnel lived all over the town and in a large hotel rented by the Government. The officers had to find their own quarters.

There was no regular supply officer or an engineer officer. This oversight handicapped the station more than anything else. In other words Bay Shore tried to run for six months without one of the cardinal factors of a military organization. The fact that the Unit at Huntington was equipped with enough spare parts to keep all their machines going at full speed makes it hard to understand why a regular naval station, after a half year of the war, lacked the materials necessary to keep a few machines in the air part of the time.

The commanding officer was Lieutenant A. C. Read who later p193flew the NC‑4 across the Atlantic.a He was the only officer at the station who had seen much actual air service. His subordinates were from the Naval Militia and the National Naval Volunteers. Only two of them had done any flying. Several were first-class leaders, however, among them R. M. Poor and Philip A. Cusachs, who were also delightful men personally. They had a great deal to do with building up the station to a condition of efficiency. A lot of the enlisted force were college men who wanted to learn to fly.

I was an instructor in flying. Albert Ditman had a similar job, but he took on some technical duties, plane construction and ordnance work. Erl Gould carried on as a sort of impromptu engineer officer. Not to be outdone, I let them wish on me the supply department, mostly aviation materials. Wells Brown and Bill Rockefeller, who turned up a little later, played about the same game, instructing and making themselves handy in various positions. Lieutenant Read seemed to think we were doing the best we could. He kept things moving and nobody sulked. I was easily the worst instructor of the lot.

After a month or so we managed to get in a fair amount of flying with what equipment we had. It was a tremendous help to get the use of the machines from Huntington. Without them we would have spent most of the autumn on the ground. Early in October five Aeromarine pontoon machines were added to the station. They were worse than nothing. With my class of four men, the five machines were good for about ten minutes in the air every morning. They were still in the experimental stage. We were the goats.

A shift of officers placed Erl Gould in charge of the flying. He took hold of it in fine style and had all kinds of courage and initiative. This was in spite of a couple of mishaps which failed to shake his nerve. Soon after reporting at Bay Shore, he bounced off the water while moving fast and slammed right into the hangars. He and his pupil crawled out with no bones broken. Some time later, his ailerons caught while in an R‑6 and he fell from a height of seventy-five feet. Never touched him!

Erl Gould and I did our first loops in October. He was going out for a flight one day and I told him that if he didn't loop, I was all set to beat him to it. This was a sort of taunt. Roger Poor went up with Erl in an R‑6. They were radiant with smiles and all puffed up when they came back. This put it up p194to me. I could hardly wait until the next morning. 'Blacky' Rhoades was with me. The motor barely turned up 1150, but we struggled up to 3000 feet and made a couple of loops. As I look back on it now, I wonder the whole machine didn't fall apart with the strain of those clumsy dives. However, the Lord takes care of babes and fools.

We were bound to have some accidents in a station as large as this. The most terrible was the death of Jack Reynders. He reported early one morning to get in some extra flying and had been promised a machine to himself all day. The air was pretty rough and he was warned to fasten his belt. He took a turn, apparently hit some sort of a bump, and, with an unfastened belt, pulled himself over on his back so that he fell out of the machine and crashed into the water. Just the night before we had dined together at Babylon. He was one of the most popular men at the station and one of the finest.

About Christmas time Lieutenant Mason was relieved by Lieutenant Masek who had succeeded Lieutenant Read. It was not a happy job to take over. The station was all torn up, with building new hangars and barracks and officers' quarters. About eight hundred men arrived, raw recruits with no Army or Navy experience. We could scarcely take care of the regular station personnel, and this new crowd was dumped on us. They were even shy of uniforms. I saw one of them strolling about in sailor's trousers and blouse with a derby hat, high collar, red tie, and gray cloth-topped shoes. It was funny.

Although I was only an ensign, in charge of the flying school after Erl Gould went south, I took my rank very seriously. I was very much upset when one of the green gobs slapped me on the back and said, 'Hey, Chief, where kin I get me foot fixed?' These men were quickly organized into classes and taught to be mechanics and plane men. I am afraid I was over-anxious in recommending some of them for foreign service after only a few weeks training. Late in January Albert Ditman, who had been taking a great deal of interest in ordnance and experimental work, was transferred to the Bureau of Ordnance in Washington. Not long after this, I was ordered to report to the Royal Flying Corps at Fort Worth, Texas, for a course in aerial gunnery.

Albert Ditman found much to interest him in the technical part of his work at Bay Shore. He is worth quoting:

p195 There was a great spirit and everybody put their shoulders to the wheel to build up the station. Gradually Navy planes were secured for training, and additional barracks, hangars, etc., were erected so that it slowly turned into a regular station. I made regular trips to the submarine base at New London, flying from Bay Shore in an R‑6. These trips always proved most interesting and very beautiful. Never once did my engine quit and while at New London I would either experiment with the Davis gun or listening devices.

My job at the Bay Shore station soon became a liability rather than a pleasure because suspicion had been placed on several of the students as being German sympathizers, and it was supposed that the trouble we had been having with some of our planes was due to tampering with them. The same thing was going on at Mineola where several accidents had resulted. It was found that acid had been used on the turn-buckles so that they broke under a strain. I made it my business to keep in touch with the different stations on these matters, and I suppose that for this reason whenever a suspect was rounded up he was put on my crew.

Several of the men whom I was instructing had to be closely watched, and I always had the feeling that some trick might have been played on every plane I took up. The only safeguard was to make the suspects fly as much as the rest of us. They never knew at what time I might call on them to go up. For the sake of saving their own necks, I think, no accidents occurred at the station from this cause.

On November 30th I received orders to make an investigation of the new listening device that had been invented by the Western Electric Company at Lynn, Mass. I proceeded to Buffalo where plans were made to install this device on an H‑12. This comprised cutting a hole in the bottom of the boat, and after the boat had landed on the water the device was lowered about twenty feet under the surface. This installation was later given up because it was found impossible to make the hole water-tight.

We were very short of instructors at Bay Shore so that those of us who were willing had an opportunity of flying all day long. It was necessary, but became very tiresome. The flying season lasted right up to the middle of winter, for although the greater part of the Bay was frozen, we took advantage of the small open p196space in front of the hangars which was just large enough to allow us to take off.

By means of all this concentrated training, we were able to turn out a number of skilled aviators from this station. These men went to Pensacola where they were given their advanced training in flying, gunnery, and bombing.

Along with other duties I was given charge of the ordnance department. The station arsenal consisted of twenty Springfield rifles borrowed from the Reserves, six revolvers, and a dozen dummy bombs. This job seemed safe until one day they sent in a few real bombs and gave me the mercury caps to keep. Then I felt scared and began asking Washington for rules and regulations about storing and handling explosives.

During this correspondence I came in contact with Lieutenant Commander Stone who had returned from his fourth visit to the front. He was in charge of Ordnance Aviation in Washington and was getting an organization together. At the time when he inspected our station we had done a little bomb dropping under the direction of Clark & Company, the manufacturers of the Mark IV, so we were able to show him that we had at least overcome our fear of touching a bomb, although we had never dropped a live one nor had a suitable plane or sight for this work.

One day we got a call from the Commandant of our district that a German submarine had been sighted and to send out a patrol. All hands were ashore, including the C. O., so I told the Commandant I would go get the sub. The only plane running was an N‑9, so we went out in that, but running light, as we had no armament, not even a revolver. Needless to say we did not bag Fritz.

On January 18th, Rockefeller wrote to Colonel Thompson:

There is absolutely nothing doing here in the way of flying — eighteen inches of ice on the Bay and no signs of warmer weather. The efforts of the station are now turned to teaching the principles of an aeroplane to large classes of quartermasters, coppersmiths, blacksmiths and machinists's mates enlisted for aviation duties. I am the teacher of a collection of thirty‑odd hoboes from all parts of the country in the mysteries of blacksmithing. I barely know the anvil from the forge, while they are professional blacksmiths. So you see how busy I am.

p197 Ditman and Alphy Ames are the only ones of the Huntington crowd here now, with the exception of some of the enlisted personnel. I don't know whether you have heard the story of 'Doc' Payne's rise in the world and every one's estimation. Anyhow he has risen to the rating of a chief petty officer, is much liked, a hard worker, very conscientious, and always smiling. . . .

Colonel, I guess it is never too late, so I must thank you now for all you did for us at Palm Beach and at Huntington. I meant to write you soon after arriving here, but put it off so long that I was finally ashamed to, but it is better late than never. None of us can ever thank you enough for those five months, but I guess you know that and have heard it from all the others, so you know what I mean.

'Bill Rockefeller spent the winter in this exile at Bay Shore and called it 'a battle.' Most of the officers and men were moved to kindlier climates where flying could be carried on. The station hibernated until spring.

During January, February, and part of March [he explains], there was nothing we could do in the flying line except talk about what we were going to do when the ice melted. The only break in the monotony was a sort of mechanics and quartermasters school in which we drilled into the heads of two hundred newly enlisted men some idea of their jobs. In this work some of the regular chief petty officers who came from Huntington with us did wonders and deserve a lot of credit.

A few students arrived from Boston Tech in March, so we resurrected the machines we had and put them in order and got ready to instruct in earnest. I had charge of a squadron made up of R‑4s, several of the first vintage of Aeromarines, and an old F‑boat. In April Roger Poor and I made weekly excursions to Keyport, New Jersey, to fly new machines from the Aeromarine factory to Bay Shore. Sometimes we had to putter around and wait several days before we could coax the machines to fly for us. The flights were great fun, when they did come off, across the Narrows and New York Harbor, with the convoys of troop transports forming in column or steaming out.

Along in May the German submarines appeared off the coast and for several weeks we were kept busy doing patrol work and occasionally escorting the transports to sea. It was monotonous, in a way, but rather wonderful to look back on. There was p198always the risk of a forced landing and a certain amount of adventure, for we were usually out of sight of land and might have drifted about for days. However, we were very lucky and the planes that had to come down at sea were picked up by passing steamers.

At the end of May I was placed in charge of the ground school and had to see to it that the various courses of instructions prescribed by 'Op‑Air' in Washington were carried out. At this time we had about a hundred student Naval aviators, so I was very busy with the classes in gunnery, radio, semaphore, and seamanship. Most of the students came from the Middle West and it was no sinecure to teach them such elemental seamanship as pulling an oar and tying knots.

In June, 1918, I was ordered to Pensacola 'for further instruction in night bombing.' Upon arrival there I found that a prospective night bomber was rather a curiosity. I was put through the course, which required about one month, and was then retained on the station until September, 1918, serving in the meanwhile as flight commander, squadron commander and as officer in charge of the bombing school.

About the middle of September I was ordered to 'report to the Commanding Officer, Naval Air Station, Miami, for detail to Miami Flying Field, not to exceed three hours solo.' Here I learned to fly land machines. Upon the completion of this duty my orders called me to Washington, where I received orders abroad. My orders were to report to the Northern Bombing Group, via London, where I arrived about the middle of October. In London my orders were changed and I was sent to the U. S. N. Air Station at Killingholme, where my duty was as pilot, but the Armistice came before I made many flights, and I was soon ordered to return to the United States and placed on inactive duty.

The effect which the Unit had on Naval Aviation was broad, in several ways. Thanks to the foresight of those that formed the Unit, its members were trained at an early date, so that we were qualified in the summer of 1917 when qualified Naval aviators were scarce and so could be of real service in helping to build up the Naval Air Service. The Unit also had a great effect in that through it a large amount of the 'esprit de corps,' of which we had a lot, was spread into this service and also because the members of the Unit helped to distribute the enthusiasm p199and energy and patriotism with which the man who conceived and planned the Unit inspired us.1

Wells Brown spent only a few weeks at Bay Shore and was then sent to Rockaway for patrol duty. There he found Frank Lynch and Francklyn Lawrence who had been moved from Squantum. Throughout the war the members of the Unit were meeting in this fashion, forming a little group here and another there, and often separating to meet again. A compilation of their travel orders makes one dizzy. They were like pegs in a cribbage game which the Navy Department played with a complicated and secretive set of rules.

The Rockaway station was in the throes of construction and organization. Its problems were so much like those of Bay Shore that in this narrative they really belong together. The C. O. was Lieutenant Commander W. G. Child, with Lieutenant Stone as executive and seaplane officer. Both were old naval fliers and fine men. Wells Brown mentions the hardships of that bitterly cold winter:

Whenever the ice broke up to show patches of open water we took the machines up. It was freezing work and we could not stay out more than an hour or so. We managed to patrol the outer bay now and then and made several trips to New York Harbor to get the lay of the land. Toward the end of the winter we started on our first real patrol duty. A course was laid out from the station to Ambrose Channel light-ship, from there p200along the Jersey coast as far as Barnegat light, back again to Ambrose, and east along the Long Island coast as far as Fire Island light-ship.

A change of command impaired the efficiency of the station. The new C. O. tried to make a name for himself by increasing the number of flying hours. He seemed to lose sight of the fact that the Rockaway was a patrol station meant for real war work and not for unnecessary sailing about in the air merely to boost the flying time record. He would order machines sent up to fly around the Bay for two or three hours at a time with no other object than to fatten the figures. As a consequence, when an emergency call came in the machines were in no condition to go out because they had been wearing out the motors in this foolish stuff. I protested very strongly and got myself in all wrong with the commanding officer.

Late in the spring we had our first submarine scare, some steamer reporting the enemy as operating near the coast. We were ordered to stay on the station continually, no one being allowed to go ashore even after nightfall. Almost every day we received urgent calls to send planes out to certain areas where submarines were said to have been sighted. This keyed things up at the station and everybody pitched in for good hard work which occasionally lasted all night. Our patrols left the station about 4.30 in the morning, staying out as long as the fuel capacity permitted. The afternoon patrols went out late and often returned in the dark.

As the weather began to turn warm, the R‑6 machines were very unsatisfactory. The motors became so hot that we were unable to use the machines in the middle of the day at all. We tried every possible means of cooling them and even sent for Kirkum, the Curtiss man who had invented the motor, but it was a hopeless proposition. It was an uncomfortable sensation to fly out of sight of land in one of these machines and watch the water temperature creep up to the boiling point. Many times I had to return with the motor throttled so low that I could hold the machine in the air only by skimming close to the surface of the water where the air seemed to be heavier.

In May we received our first consignment of HS boats. They seemed wonderful to us after the old R‑6s and we were able to extend our patrol as far south as Atlantic City. It was a flight of about five hours. It was not carried on with any thoroughness or p201real system but it sounded well. Another change of commanding officers braced things up in every way. It was like another place. The seaplane officers were divided into watches and assigned to divisions which operated from the different hangars. In this way the officers flew the same machines and took pride in keeping up the division. A new plan of patrol was put into effect. There were two separate patrol flights and areas. One covered the Long Island coast, fifty miles to seaward, and the other the Jersey coast south of New York Harbor and sixty miles at sea. Every morning at daybreak two machines were sent to each of these patrols, staying out five and a half hours. It would have been almost impossible for a submarine to have operated in these areas without discovery.

We had our first real excitement at the station when the cruiser San Diego was blown up and sunk near Fire Island light-ship. We sent out every plane that could be made to fly and several of the fellows went so far as to claim credit for having sunk the submarine. What really happened was that the bombs dropped by the planes brought up great quantities of air and wreckage from the San Diego itself. It was definitely decided later that the cruiser had struck a floating mine. It was a lot of fun while it lasted, and we thought all the time there was actually a German submarine somewhere about. I remember starting out the next morning and flying through a heavy fog in order to reach the scene before daybreak. Destroyers and sub‑chasers were dashing about all over the place.

The station did a lot of work in escorting convoys that sailed from New York. In fact, every one of these groups of transports was escorted far out to sea by planes from Rockaway. We did it in all kinds of weather, rain, snow, and wind. We felt a sense of responsibility for the safety of these precious ships, and the station deserved some credit for its part in getting them all away without mishap. There were usually ten or fifteen steamers in the troop convoys, with a surface escort of one or two destroyers and one of the old cruisers. The supply convoys were much larger and I have often counted as many as thirty-five ships in one fleet. These moved at slow speed and would have been easy marks for a submarine. We tried to have at least four planes out on all this escort work and we covered a good many miles all around them, staying out as long as we could.

p202 One sinking occurred in our district, but I am quite sure it was not by submarine attack. It happened within sight of the Jersey coast, off Bay Head, at two o'clock in the morning. The vessel was a tanker which sank until only her bow as far back as the bridge was visible. We had planes on the spot early next morning and combed the sea for miles but found no sign of a sub. We had received one report of a submarine sighted previously. One of the pilots claimed that when returning from a patrol he had looked down at a submarine submerged directly beneath him. He turned and tried to get over it but this put the sun in his eyes and he found nothing. I don't know how much truth there was in this story.

We had a great deal of trouble with the bombs supplied by the Ordnance Department. It was always a gamble whether they would explode when dropped. The affair at Chatham, where planes from that station dropped bombs within effective distance of the German submarines which had shelled and sunk several ships, was a glaring example of the unreliability of the fuse mechanisms.

The daily patrol work was a very monotonous task, and at times it seemed pretty useless, but I do think that it helped to safeguard the troops and tonnage sent to the war‑zone. New York was the chief shipping base for troops and supplies. This was all I saw of the war, but Rockaway was of real service and carried out its purpose which was to coöperate in protecting the waters outside of New York.


The Author's Notes:

1 From the Fitness Reports, Navy Department:

(Lieutenant [j.g.] W. A. Rockefeller)

Period from 1 April to 24 April, 1918:

A good reliable officer.

William Masek, Lieut. U. S. N.,

N. A. S. Bay Shore, L. I., N. Y.

Period 19 June, to 27 September, 1918:

A conscientious, capable officer of quiet but attractive personality. Hard working and painstaking. Good judgment.

E. F. Johnson, Comdr., U. S. N.,

N. A. S., Pensacola, Fla.


Thayer's Note:

a The trans-Atlantic flight of the NC‑4 in 1919 was as epochal as Lindbergh's solo flight a few years later; a good account of it is given in Alden & Earle, Makers of Naval Tradition, pp339‑343.

Page updated: 1 Nov 13