Subject: GENERAL IMPRESSIONS OF THE UNITED STATES FLEET
From: THE COMMANDING OFFICER, H.M.S. “VICTORIOUS”
Date: 1ST. SEPTEMBER, 1943
To: THE SECRETARY OF THE ADMIRALTY
(Copy to: British Admiralty Maintenance Representative).
“Victorious served with the United States Fleet for eight months.
1. We arrived at NORFOLK, Va., on 1st. January, 1943, were there for five weeks, at Pearl Harbor for two months and operated from NOUMEA, New Caledonia for 2 ½, months, returning to NORFOLK, Va., on 1st. September, 1943 via Pearl Harbor and San Diego.
2. I have sent in reports on our experiences of American Carriers, Fighter Direction, Radar Organization of Naval Air Bases, Navy Yard amenities, Torpedoes, American system of deck landing, Notes on Operations by United States Naval Aircraft, Meteorology, and cruising Dispositions in use in the United States South West Pacific Fleet etc., but it was thought that my general views on the United States Fleet might be of interest to their Lordships.
3. There is no doubt that the American Pacific Fleet is very efficient and there is a fine spirit among the officers and men. Earlier in the year we found that units did not have the same standard of common doctrine as ourselves, as each Task Force had its own orders which varied in a number of details. Units of a Task Force worked very well together but I felt that odd units joining up could not take their place so easily as in our fleet. However, this is well realized and standard cruising orders which included tactical instructions have recently come into force for the whole Pacific Fleet.
4. Aircraft carriers are the core of the Fleet and manoeuvring is done on the principle that “a carrier can do no wrong”. When flying is taking place, the screen manoeuvre without signal except for the display of shapes (corresponding to our Aeroplane Flag) by the duty officer.
5. In the event of an air attack, the carriers are screened by destroyers, AA Cruisers and Battleships, all on a 2000 yards circle, with the carrier in the centre. In fact, the Battleships become AA vessels and are unscreened. During AA attacks, with the Battleship steaming at high speed, the risk of a submarine attack is accepted. More and more short range weapons are being crammed into all types of ships. Battleships are surrendering their aircraft and catapults, and AA cruisers, two 5” turrets for 40 mm guns. Barrage from heavy guns would not be employed against aircraft as it would immobilize too many short range weapons.
6. There is not quite the same polish in Fleet Work as in our fleet: e.g. precision in taking station, etc., but this may be due to the fact that navigation is not such a specialty as with us.
7. The fleet is well equipped for long periods at sea. Oilers whose maximum speed is 20 knots can steam with the Fleet and are well armed with AA guns and radar, and carry out AA practices at sea with the other units. A cruiser oiled from Starboard Side of an oiler at sea, while Victorious was doing the same on the port side.
8. Destroyers are handled well and are frequently required to transfer personnel, mails and stores to heavy ships at sea. Incidentally, mails, which had only been posted in England 21 days previously, were transferred to Victorious in the Coral Sea via a destroyer, from an oiler, which speaks well for mail organization.
9. The Americans are fully alive to the necessity for continual training and maximum opportunities are taken for carrying out practices. On leaving and entering harbour sleeve targets are invariably provided from shore. At Pearl Harbor, the target services were exceptional.
10. At sea, carrier, battleship, and even destroyer’s aircraft, tow sleeves, and all ships carry out close range firing. Aircraft drop smoke floats and ships carry out snap firing at them. Full scale torpedo and dive-bombing and strafing attacks by aircraft are carried out which enables fighter direction and, avoiding action by the fleet to be practiced.
11. What little I have seen of the Surface Gunnery, it appears to be very good. I have seen a great many AA practices and there is no doubt that their ships are equipped with very good AA material and their shooting is of a very high order. On one occasion I had to tell my destroyer screen to cease fire as they were consistently shooting down sleeves before I could get a run. The 2,100 ton destroyers of the Fletcher Class are fine AA ships armed with 5-5” (remote power controlled), 8-40 mm and 10-20 mm guns. Their blind firing is developed to a higher degree than ours. The large number of officers who are appointed solely for gunnery duties in ships, account to some extent for the high gunnery standard. Saratoga has no less than 19 such officers.
12. The American Navy has operated aircraft on a much larger scale than us and under better weather conditions. The operation of aircraft from carriers is much ahead of ours and their carriers are better suited for it. Their flying drill is excellent.
13. Their Torpedo Squadrons are not so highly trained as ours, nor is their torpedo so good. On the other hand, their dive-bombing is superb and they undoubtedly have a most potent weapon against enemy carriers. All pilots of Saratoga’s Fighter Squadrons operating from Victorious had a standard of flying ability as good as our best pilots.
14. Their Fighter Direction was definitely behind ours, but they are very quickly catching up.
15. Their standard of reconnaissance and reporting is not as high as ours as they do not have the highly trained observers that we do. However, with all the modern radio aids to navigation and fixing of aircraft from ships, combined with generally excellent visibility, the need of such training is not so great.
16. Their Air Groups are well trained and are formed 5 to 6 months before the carrier commissions. After a period of service (between 6 and 9 months) the whole air group is relieved by another which has been training ashore, so that it may be at rest. Their training bases are very numerous and not yet overcrowded. They have a good reserve of man power, so they are not faced with our difficulties. We have very much envied their Naval Air Stations at Pearl Harbor and San Diego, where you could step ashore from the carrier alongside, and walk a couple of hundred yards to your aircraft
in the hangar ashore; the aircraft being maintained by a service unit available for that purpose.
17. The United States Navy are anxious to keep the Naval Aviation very much part of the fleet. The Naval Aviators do their general service time as executive officers and navigators of carriers. This would seem a pity, as the senior officers are rather apt to become entirely counter-minded and do not have the knowledge of handling of cruisers and destroyer screens as our Flag Officers do. The promotion of aviators is now very rapid, and Captains get Flag Rank with two years in.
18. Owing to the great expansion taking place in the United States Navy, a very large number of Reserve Officers are being taken in. Their course amounts to cramming but they are keen and work hard and it is surprising how they attain efficiency quickly. In destroyers where there are about 19 officers, most of them are reserve, but it does not take them long to get good gunnery results. Several of our escorts on passage were newly commissioned, so I had a good opportunity of judging their progress. Their aviators are a little older than ours and seem more mature and on a whole, I would say their average physique is above ours.
19. As officers change from what we consider one specialist appointment to another they have wider experience. In order to be able to operate in this system they have to work hard and study, and on the whole I consider that the United States Navy Officer is more highly educated in the general naval subjects and technicalities than ours. For instance, I was surprised that the officer detailed as Secondary Gunnery Officer of “Saratoga” was able to comment very technically on our gunnery arrangements. Their sense of security is not at all well developed.
20. Ashore they have not got the same reserve and dignity that ours have and at a party will let themselves go, but I think that is common for the American people in general, that they are a little more free and easy than we are.
21. The Senior Officers are the first to admit that most of the traditions and general naval experience has been gained from us. I found them extremely easy to get on with. They were always most co-operative and I made many friends.
22. I was always given command according to my seniority. Twice I commanded a Task Group for passage with one of their latest Battleships. On completion of one trip my subordinate in “North Carolina” was promoted to Rear Admiral! In the Task Force in which we were operating I was given command of one Task Group in the event of air attack, consisting of “Victorious” and two Battleships and destroyers or A.A. cruisers.
23. All ratings are volunteers, so they have maintained a high standard. The discipline, although not on quite the same lines as ours, is definitely good.
24. The men were very dependent on their movies. An excellent service exists and a new picture is shown every night in all ships, including destroyers. Incidentally their new facilities were much enjoyed by our men. Their feeding done on the cafeteria system is excellent, but mess life is non-existent. Ice cream is always available in large quantities and is much appreciated and is looked upon as essential.
25. Ships are equipped with laundries and a special staff to run it and this undoubtedly helps to maintain their clean appearance. Their liberty men in white looks very smart.
26. I was very pleasantly surprised how extremely well our men got on with the Americans. This was especially the case at Pearl Harbor and Noumea, where the American Sailors were most hospitable to ours, but perhaps a little less so at Norfolk where the greater number of Americans there had not seen active service. American civilians were also most hospitable to our men and on writing to thank them for their hospitality a large number wrote back to me telling me what a pleasure it was to entertain them.
State of Ships
27. Some of my officers and I went over 3 battleships, 4 carriers, 3 cruisers and 2 destroyers, and found that the ships were consistently clean and shipshape. This is due to the large number of men they carry, labour saving devices, and good organization.
Another noticeable feature was the very rust free appearance of ships after a long time at sea. On arrival at Pearl Harbor after a trip of 4,600 miles “Indiana” in company with us looked as if she had just painted ship. This may be due to their ships being built in better weather conditions than ours, perhaps having better pickled plates and more attention to initial undercoating when ships are built and use of spray painting which is so much quicker, that advantage can be taken of fine weather to paint ship.
28. The Americans set great store on their radar and are anxious to exploit their great advantages over the Japanese in this respect. All carriers have two aircraft warning sets and all ships down to and including destroyers have surface warning sets with several remote plan indicators. Their use of radar for blind firing against surface and air targets appears to be well ahead of what was fitted in our ship when we left the United Kingdom in December 1942.
Engine Room Department
29. The types of main machinery and boilers and their arrangement appears to have been largely standardised in the newer ships. Engine-rooms and boiler-rooms in cruisers and destroyers being miniatures of those in aircraft carriers. This must be an advantage from the point of view of training enormous numbers of new engineering personnel.
A difference was seen in the battleships, where, in order to reduce the length of machinery space, two boilers of each unit are placed alongside the engines of that unit in the same space.
The short lengths of main steam pipes, none of which pierced any, and the absence of inter-space telegraph or telephone communications were attractive.
30. The Navy Yard officials are all naval officers. Their attitude was “What work I can we do” as opposed to “What work can we cut down”. All they asked was evidence of a approval from the Admiralty for any Alterations and Additions proposed. As one instance this enabled me to get equipped with 45 extra short range guns just for the asking, besides a great many other items, a large number of which were actually proposed by the United States Authorities.
Men and material seemed unlimited and, by ‘sheer force of numbers’, they can get ships repaired in a very short time, provided jobs are strait forward and need mainly semi or unskilled labour.
Owing to the enormous expansion of personnel however, there is a shortage of many types of skilled labour, resulting in many instances of inferior workmanship.
It was nothing to find that a Chinese Electric Welder in Pearl Harbor, had been a grocers assistant in Honolulu two months previously.
Their Navy Yards appeared to be extremely well organised. For instance, application was made to extend our Flight Deck at Norfolk: British Admiralty Maintenance Representative approved the next day and that evening a large amount of work was actually started on the job onboard, the planning work having already been done for the “Illustrious”.
The planning departments organised jobs beforehand in great detail and with great efficiency.
31. I cannot speak to highly on the friendliness and assistance that was shown to us. Everyone from the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific, downwards, was anxious to do all they could for us and I have never worked with any ship with such mutual cooperation as with Saratoga. For a 28 day sortie during the New Georgia operation, we were operating 24 of her fighters and she was operating all of our torpedo aircraft. There was never any difficulty at any time.
To sum up, I would say that the Americans are building up a very powerful and efficient fleet, and there are many features in their service, which, at times, give them an advantage over us.