The Navy was known during the war as the “Silent Service.” Little appeared in official dispatches or in the public press regarding the operations of the United States Naval Forces either in Europe or on our own coast. In fact, in only a handful of instances, where a transport was torpedoed or where an enemy submarine was definitely accounted for, was any mention made of our naval work. Generally speaking, the people at home knew only that their Navy was successfully manning the transports and escorting the troops, munitions, and supplies in safety to the shores of France.
How very much more these operations involved is only now coming out. On our entrance into the Great War in the spring of 1917, steps were immediately taken by the Navy Department to build up an organization to be based on the French coast, primarily for the purpose of keeping the famous “Neck of the Bottle” as free as possible from German submarines. The distance from Bordeaux to Brest is a comparatively small one, and almost every ship entering the French ports from the United States had, of necessity, to pass through a narrow strip of sea. This small area had proved a famous hunting ground for enemy submarines, and it became our obvious task to send over every possible means of assistance to work with the French Navy.
The story of what our officers and men did in those early days is the best illustration of the all-round efficiency of the Navy. A large proportion of the officers and men came from civil life, but were quickly and successfully indoctrinated into their naval duties by the regular officers of the service. The tools with which they had to work were, in large part, makeshift. Yachts were hurriedly converted to naval purposes; all kinds of equipment were taken over for possible use in France. From small beginnings the organization grew until by the summer of 1918 the whole western coast of France was guarded by a string of surface vessels and aircraft.
Not only was the ”Neck of the Bottle” made safe for our troop and supply ships, but the operations were extended from the defensive type to the offensive, and the very existence of enemy submarines was rendered extremely unhealthy long before the armistice came.
To the men who took part in this great work too much credit cannot be given. Extraordinary physical endurance was called for, and more than that, imagination and a genius to meet new conditions with untried weapons was essential to success.
During the summer of 1918 I had the pleasure of visiting these French bases and of seeing the work at first hand. No part of our naval activities deserves higher credit than the part they took. They have the satisfaction, at least, of knowing that the Navy and the country are proud of them.
|Washington, D.C., April 25, 1919|
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