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HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
Washington, D. C., December ", 1920. To the Joint Senate and House Committee on Naval Bases and Yards on the Pacific
GENTLEMEN: Inclosed you will find supplemental statements by Capt. Edward L. Beach, U. S. Navy, commandant of the Mare Island Navy Yard, and by Capt. J. M. Ellicott, U. S. Navy, and a statement by Col. E. P. O'Hern, U. S. Army, commanding officer of the United States arsenal at Benicia, Calif , and a statement by Mr. William J. Mitchell on labor conditions at the Mare Island Navy Yard and on the Pacific coast, also a statement by Brig. Gen. William Mitchell, U. S. Army Air Service, which I hereby present for your consideration and to be included with and printed as a part of the hearings on the Mare Island Navy Yard and Carquinez Straits site.
These statements were made at my request in reply to certain arguments advanced in San Francisco after the committee had left Mare Island. Sincerely yours,
C. F. CURRY, Member Congress, Third California District.
Mare Island Navy Yard, November 22, 1920 Hon. CHARLES F. CURRY, M. C.,
House of Representatives, Washington, D. C. DEAR SIR: I have just received your telegram requesting my opinion on the latest objection which has been raised against the Carquinez Straits site, viz, that there is not sufficient deep-water area in front of the proposed base to maneuver with safety capital ships, and that therefore this site should be eliminated from consideration.
presume the idea has been advanced that a naval base must be situated in the immediate vicinity of a spacious maneuvering ground, where many of the greatest ships could be anchored; also that ships in fleet or squadron formation should be capable of being maneuvered in entering or leaving such anchorage ground; further, it has presumably been advanced that the above features constitute such an advantage to the fleet as to outweigh other advantages which have already been set forth for the proposed base at Carquinez Straits, where the anchorage ground is of less area. War conditions must govern. It appears that arguments have been advanced that these conditions imperatively demand the location of the proposed naval base in the lower San Francisco Bay rather than at Carquinez Straits.
It is my earnest belief that, considering the military features mentioned, these very conditions accentuate the advantages of the site for the naval base in Carquinez Straits; that these military considerations imperatively demand that the naval base should be in Carquinez Straits, and not in the lower bay.
Before touching upon these imperative demands, I would first wish to present you with undeniable and convincing and uncontrovertible farts, that there is no occasion either in peace or war, that the naval base should be in the immediate vicinity of an anchorage ground so spacious that a large number of ships may there be simultaneeously maneuvered. It is undeniable that there should be an anchorage ground, sufficiently spacious, to provide anchorage for all the ships that could ever be expected to be at the naval base, waiting to be docked or receive repairs or supplies. Such an anchorage ground should be sufficiently spacious, also, for ships to maneuver with ease and without danger of injury, in and out of dry docks, and of berths at wharves or piers. In this respect, Carquinez Straits provides a better, safer, more spacious anchorage ground than any other navy yard in the country. Further, the best evidence in the country, that of Admiral Rodman, stated that he would bring two divisions of dreadnaughts-eight ships--into Carquinez Straits.
As evidence that there is no reason that the naval base should be in the immediate vicinity of an anchorage ground so spacious that in it a large number of ships could be maneuvered, your attention is invited to be following:
"The United States Government has never yet, in a single instance, built a navy yard in the immediate vicinity of such a spacious anchorage ground.”
A navy yard must have a deep-water approach, and be provided with certain necessary features, such as water room for ships to maneuver in and out of dock, dry docks, berths, shops, security, and all the other requirements.
Further, in all the multitudinous discussions about what are the requisites for a first-class naval base, I have never in a single instance heard it proposed that to be immediately adjacent to a spacious anchorage where a large number of ships could be
simultaneously maneuvered was a requisite, let alone a prime requisite. I do not believe that such a policy or principle has ever been laid down by the Navy. Department, the General Board, or the War College. In my 36 years of naval service, with 20 years at sea, with service at seven navy yards, I have never heard such a policy ever discussed."
The Helm Board, in 1916, made an exhaustive study of Mare Island's advantages and disadvantages as a site for a great naval base. It cited some disadvantages of utter unimportance as far as any controlling or determining feature was concerned. It cited but one, and only one, disadvantage, approaching a controlling nature—that (at the time and since removal) of a lack of sufficient depth of water in the approach to Mare Island. It spoke of a muddy bottom, of currents, of navigational difficulties, of lack of anchorage, in Mare Island Straits (not in Carquinez Straits), etc., a full record of which was embodied in my statement to the congressional commission. But not in one single instance did it state, in any way whatsoever, that Mare Island, the extension of which by Commander Cox's design is the Carquinez Straits station, was not immediately adjacent to an anchorage so spacious that in it many ships could simultaneously maneuver. In fact, it is quite certain, that the Helm Board never had such an idea; it is absolutely certain that if such a disadvantage existed in the minds of the Helm Board, this would have been most clearly brought out. It is safe to assume that the Helm Board never had the faintest notion there was such a requisite.
Later, in 1919, the Parks-McKean Board recommended that Mare Island be not developed into the naval base, basing their reason on one thing only—the lack of sufficient depth of water in the approach leading to Mare Island.
The Parks-McKean Board gave no other reason. It is safe to assume that this board knew nothing about a requisite that the naval base should be located immediately adjacent to an anchorage so spacious that many ships could there be simultaneously maneuvered. If it had known of such a requisite it is absolutely certain that Mare Island's lack of this requisite would have been embodied in its report.
The disadvantages of Mare Island, according to the Helm board, boiled down to one--the lack of sufficient depth of water in the approach to Mare Ísland. This was the only disadvantage stated by the Parks-McKean board.
Admiral Rodman stated emphatically to the congressional commission and others present, on November 18, 1920, on the top of the hill at Mare Island overlooking Carquinez Straits, “Cut out reference to the channel leading to Mare Island; there is no trouble in bringing a dreadnaught through it, there is plenty of water." He immediately later said he would bring two divisions of dreadnaughts through the channel-eight ships. I take off my hat to Admiral Rodman. He is the best seaman I have known in 36 years of naval service. I know of no captain who can handle a ship so well. I have served under nine admirals, have commanded ships under three admirals. I have seen him personally, every step of the way, navigate a squadron of five dreadnaughts at 20 knots speed through the Irish Channel, in a furious sea, in a fog indescribably dense, with swift, uncertain currents, zigzagging to avoid rocks that abounded; the most magnificent piece of navigation I have seen or heard of. Admiral Rodman completely and absolutely and forever dispelled all doubts of sufficient depth of water leading into Carquinez Straits. He will at any time take two divisions of dreadnaughts-eight ships_into Carquinez Straits, which means he can maneuver eight dreadnaughts in Carquinez Straits.
With Admiral Rodman's emphatic evidence the last objection and disadvantage stated by either the Helm or Parks-McKean boards against Mare Island completely vanished.
But since then, indeed, as far as I know within the last few days, another disadvantage has been brought against Carquinez Straits station, an objection to the best of my belief never considered or known by the Navy Department, or General Board, or War College, or Helm board, or Parks-McKean board, or, as far as I know, until recently never considered by anybody—the fact that Carquinez Straits station is not immediately adjacent to an anchorage so spacious that there many ships may be simultaneously maneuvered.
How many is “many” in this case? We have the emphatic evidence from the finest seaman in the Navy, the most experienced, and, I believe with good reason, the greatest admiral in the Navy to-day, that eight dreadnaughts can maneuver in Carquinez Straits simultaneously.
I believe the foregoing is convincing that this last-named disadvantage to Carquinez Straits station is of absolutely recent discovery. If those who were against Mare Island's desirability had known of it, they would surely have reported upon it.
I believe it has been conclusively demonstrated in the above, as well as in the report of Commander Cox and of myself to the congressional commission, that there is ample deep-water approach to Carquinez Straits.
But I propose right here to prove conclusively that the reasoning that requires that a naval base should be immediately adjacent to an anchorage sufficiently spacioue to allow many ships to maneuver simultaneously is entirely fallacious.
The acid test of navál efficiency is war.
During the war the anchorage base of the British Grand Fleet was at Scapa Flow,, in the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland. An American battle squadron, commandedi by Admiral Rodman, formed part of that fleet.
I have read, within the last week, Admiral Lord Fisher's book. In it he states that Scapa Flow was selected by the British Admiralty to be the place where the British fleet would have its headquarters in war. Although Scapa Flow was so selected before the war, no docking or repair or storehouse station was built there. And though Scapa Flow remained the headquarters, the anchorage basin of the British Grand Fleet during the four and one-half years of the war, at no time was a docking or repair or provisioning or coaling station erected there.
The docking and repair station of the ships of the British grand fleet at Scapa Flow was at Rosyth, 20 miles up the Firth of Forth, 200 miles distant from Scapa Flow.
Instead of the naval repair and docking base being immediately adjacent to the spacious anchorage ground, during the war the anchorage ground of the British grand fleet was 200 miles away from its docking and repair base.
We have a great navy yard at Norfolk, Va. Its anchorage ground is 15 miles away, at Hampton Roads, a most spacious anchorage. During the war the American fleet was based chiefly upon the Norfolk Navy Yard. If the Navy docking and repair station should be as close to the anchorage ground as possible, one would have imagined that the American fleet would have been anchored at Hampton Roads. But, no; the anchorage ground selected was the York River, twenty-odd miles farther away from Hampton Roads.
Other instances may be cited showing that in the war it was the practice in both British and American navies that ships kept at times at anchor, ready for action, wern not anchored close to the docking and repair and supply station used by the ships
When necessary, ships would leave their anchorage and proceed to their navy yarıl..
The acid test of war proved it was not necessary that a docking and repair and supply station should be adjacent to a spacious anchorage where ships could maneuver simultaneously.
As a matter of fact, naval officers believe it is advantageous that ships be kept away from a navy yard. When near a yard, there is ever present the disposition to make all kinds of demands for repairs, which in many cases can be handled by the ships' force. Being near a navy yard sometimes develops a trait of dependence on outside help; being away from a yard, where the ship can get no outside help, tends to develop self-reliance.
Considering the desirability of Carquinez Straits as the site for the Pacific naval base, I believe it has been conclusively proved that there does not exist one single disadvantage. That it has well-defined and certain advantages and superiorities. It is certainly proved that it has a right to expect confidence in its capabilities and in its efficiency.
Should, in time of war, on this coast 400 to 600 naval ships be anchored in San Francisco Bay, a glance at the chart will show that all available anchorage must be used. The bay will be filled with ships from above Hunters Point to the upper limit of Carquinez Straits. The battleships will naturally be anchored in the Hunters Point locality, as this is the most spacious anchorage in San Francisco Bay. The San Francisco Bay naval base will be worked to the full limit of its capacity.
If the base be at Hunters Point, the capacity of the base will not be as great as if it were at Carquinez Straits, because if at Hunters Point the two or three great dry docks designed for Carquinez Straits will not be built. At Hunters Point could be found probably a suitable location for but one additional dock. If the base be located at Carquinez Straits, the Government in time of war will, of course, take over the Hunters Point Dock, and in addition will have the great two or three docks to be built at Carquinez Straits. Because of the treacherous foundation åt Alameda, the quicksands, the magnitude of the engineering difficulties involved, and the tremendous cost, I do not imagine a naval base there will ever be built. Should one be started, I believe the project would be abandoned before completion, and every dollar spent on it irretrievably and hopelessly lost. The proposition of building a great wall about part of San Francisco Bay, dumping mud and sand upon quicksand, then driving piles deep down, digging out for dry docks and buildings, does not appeal to me as good business.
Nor does the Hunters Point proposition appeal to my judgment. Mr. Howard Holmes and Commander Cox, as disinterested in this matter as I am, have given convincing evidence of the unsuitability, from an engineering standpoint, of Hunters Point. But outside of this, the idea of having to wall up part and fill it in, and to cart away a hill, is not a good proposition from a naval, military, or business stand point, when the Mare Island Navy Yard, but 28 miles from San Francisco, stands proved as the most capable and efficient navy yard the Government has; when, though but one of 12 navy yards, it does a quarter of all the work done on naval ships; when it already is equipped to take care of 90 per cent of all naval ships; when there is not one single objection or disadvantage to the yard's availability and capability; when, with the extra facilities required for the superdreadnaughts, she can fulfill every requirement.
No; under these conditions it seems mighty poor business to me to build a naval base at either Alameda or Hunters Point.
I believe the estimates of the cost of either Hunters Point or Alameda are about $60,000,000. My own belief is that, should either of these projects be undertaken and completed, the costs will be enormously in excess. As a taxpayer, aside from being a naval officer, I believe I have the right as well as the duty earnestly to protest to you, my Congressman, against such a frightful and absolutely uncalled-for waste of Government moneys.
I have two more points I wish to bring up.
I have heard it said that the next war we get into will be in the Pacific. If that happens, the entire American Navy will be in the Pacific and there will be overwhelming demands on the two Pacific coast navy yards. Should either Hunters Point or Alameda be chosen as the site for the great naval base, and should work be undertaken, it is impossible that either could be finished for many years. One of the Congressmen of the commission told me that Congress would most certainly not appropriate more than $5,000,000 for the purpose. Select one of these places as the site, pour in $30,000,000 in the next 10 years, and at the end of that time it is certain the naval base would be far from completion, and I doubt if even then a ship could be docked there. Indeed, it is my belief that while this work was progressing Mare Island would proceed in her old-time efficient, capable way, meeting every demand; and suddenly, after many millions had been poured into this work, Congress would wake up and say: “Look here, Mare Island is delivering the goods; we've sunk fifteen millions in the lower bay and have got nothing --let's not spend the fifty or seventy more millions required, but let's give Mare Island a new dock or so, and what else she needs. Let's not waste any more money in an unnecessary project for a naval base in lower San Francisco Bay."
Referring to the statement made me that Congress would certainly not appropriate more the first year than five millions to start the base, wherever it is built it is not conceivable that the base at Alameda or Hunters Point could be ready in 10 years. Extend Mare Island's facilities, and Carquinez Straits station will be docking and taking care of superdread naughts two years after the five million is allotted.
Suppose the war in the Pacific should start in two, or three, or five years from now, Carquinez Straits will be ready for business, delivering the goods. Is it conceivable that either Alameda or Hunters Point will be?
From every standpoint, national honor and defense, preparedness, business interests, military and naval interests, the naval base should be ready in the least possible time. Does not every interest of our country point inevitably to Mare Island?
My last point: Suppose the base be built at Alameda Hunters Point. Suppose the war is on and the American fleet, by unfortuitness and by an overwhelming fleet, should be destroyed and scattered. It is inevitable that the successful fleet would descend upon San Francisco. Long-range bombardment, from absolutely fixed ranges, would happen. A great naval base at Alameda or Hunters Point would inevitably be destroyed.
But suppose the naval base be at Carquinez Straits. No offshore gun could ever reach it, nor would any enemy ships ever dare to attempt the channel leading to Carquinez Straits. The mines in the channel, the submarines, the destroyers, the dreadnaughts in Carquinez Straits would effectually prevent that.
And the American Army, great in force, there gathered, would surely prevent an invading army landing from the ships from making much headway.
I had no intention of writing you so long a letter, but for four hours the thoughts of my mind have dropped into this letter. I am sure you will understand that I have no personal interests of any kind invloved and that in sending these thoughts to you 1 am animated and actuated solely by what I earnestly believe to be the needs and interests of the Navy and the country. Sincerely, yours,
EDWARD L. BEACH, Captain, U. S. Navy, Commandant Mare Island Navy Yard.
NOVEMBER 19, 1920. Hon. CHARLES F. CURRY.
My DEAR MR. CURRY: Understanding that you had in mind to call upon me for an expression of views upon the military features of a naval base at Mare Ísland as compared with the other sites under consideration by the congressional committee yesterday, when I was, through a misunderstanding, absent from the meeting, I am submitting the following for consideration by the committee if it is not too late and if you can place it before them. Before doing so, I think I should attempt to qualify as an expert by stating the experience I have had in connection with the study of localities for naval bases. I have been a member of two classes at the Naval War College and was subsequently among those retained after my second War College course as members of the War College staff, and I served on that staff for over two years. In consequence of my War College experience and training I have been assigned to special reconnoissance duty during four subsequent cruises for the purpose of examining harbors for naval bases. both major and minor, in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Under these assignments I have made special reconnoissance of practically every harbor on the Atlantic coast of North and South American as far south as Bahia, Brazil, and all of the islands of the Atlantic between America and Europe for the purpose of collecting data for both grand fleet bases and advance bases to be used in the event of European wars and of all harbors on the Pacific coast of America as far south as Panama and of many of the islands of the Pacific between North America and Asia to collect data in connection with home bases and advance bases in event of a war with an Asiatic power. I believe that in this work I have had as much, if not more, experience as any other officer in the Navy.
In his remarks concerning the military features of the naval base on San Francisco Bay, Capt. Potts invited attention to the fact that a hostile fleet, by approaching the coast south of Golden Gate out of range of the land defenses at the Gate, could take up a position somewhere near Half Moon Bay, from which it could effectively shell a naval base at Hunters Point. This was admitted to be a fact by Congressman Britten, but the latter asked if it was not feasible to have mobile batteries of heavy guns on a railway along the coast which could be advanced as far down the coast as might be necessary to drive a hostile fleet out of range of the Hunters Point site. Of course, as a military engineering proposition, this is possible, but it admits, from a military standpoint, that the Hunters Point site is a vulnerable one and would require such protection, whereas the Mare Island site, over 30 miles retired from the coast, would not. Furthermore, it being admitted that the Hunters Point site (and what I say of Hunters Point is almost equally true of the Alameda site) will need mobile coast defense guns, the cost of such military protection and its maintenance should be included in the consideration of the cost of a base at Hunters Point. This cost, I am sure, would be far in excess of the cost of such mobile batteries as we used them in France, which was enormous in proportion to fixed defenses, for the coast line from Golden Gate to Half Moon Bay is a succession of hills, canyons, and precipitous cliffs entirely without any existing railroad which might be utilized, and differing vastly from the fields of France.
It should also be borne in mind, in connection with Hunters Point, that it lies: upon a narrow peninsula between San Francisco Bay and the ocean, and'if the naval base were established there the enemy would be strongly tempted to attempt its destruction by a raid with a strong land force put ashore from the fleet somewhere down the coast of the peninsula; while Mare Island, located more than 30 miles away from the coast and on the farther side of the bay, would be almost immune from such an attack.
Remembering that in our recent war with Germany our fleet in the Atlantic did not take up its base at Hampton Roads during its period of inactivity, but retired to positions of greater security in the James and York Rivers, even though a prospect of a raid from the sea was extremely improbable, it seems a logical conclusion that in the event of a war in the Pacific the commander in chief of a fleet on the Pacific coast would not send his ships or his divisions, during a temporary period of inactivity, to anchorages in San Francisco Lower Bay, but would send them, as was done in the Atlantic, to the remotest deep-water anchorage accessible from the bay. In. other words, to Carquinez Straits. That being probable, and other things being equal, it is there that they should find the facilities for docking and repair. An examination of the charts will show that the deep water anchorage area in and around Carquinez Straits is practically as great as that in the vicinity of Hunters Point and Alameda. No area in and around San Francisco Bay would accommodate the whole grand fleet in time of war, and it would be contrary to all military ethics to assume th:t the whole fleet would ever have to be so accommodated during the actual op.erations of war.