World War I -- Life Histories/Section 019/William Victor Tomb

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Overview[edit | edit source]

William Victor Tomb served in the US Navy during World War I from 1917 to 1918 as the captain of U. S. S. Maumee and was on convoy duty in the North Atlantic Region.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Tomb’s ancestor was originally from Britain and immigrated to America in the early eighteenth century. Tomb grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and entered the Naval Academy in 1900. He was rewarded in August 1911 for bravely searching under the ship for one of his sailors as a Lieutenant.

Convoy Duty[edit | edit source]

From July to August of 1917, Tomb’s ship U. S. S. Maumee was stationed in Navy Yard, New York. The Maumee was in charge of fueling and ammunition delivery. Tomb also supervised repair progress of the ships and send fire and rescue parties in answer to the alarms of New York Navy Yard. The Maumee traveled in July and August from the Navy Yard to Sun Oil Company, and then to Tompkinsville, Staten Island, NY for repair and fuel reloading. According to Tomb’s war diary, the loading capacity of the Maumee was “7009 tons of fuel oil and 408 tons of shipment comprising, lubricating oil, gasoline, and miscellaneous articles” [1].

On September 8, 1917, the Maumee officially joined the Seventh Convoy Group in Ambrose Channel and headed toward the European coast. The convoy group consisted of fueling and ammunition ships such as the Maumee and also included convoy vessels that had higher speed and mobility. These ships usually traveled in column formation and moved in a zigzagging way according to “plan J-1”[2]. The Maumee’s main duty was to deliver fuel and provide provisions for the fellow ships. The group communicated through radiogram; Tomb also mentioned the usage of cipher codes in his diary. The ships detected rival submarines often, but there was no record of direct confrontation with the enemy.

On October 5, 1917, Tomb and his convoy group arrived at St. Nazaire Harbor, France. They stayed in the harbor for two days, and on October 7, the Maumee headed to Queenstown, Ireland through Channel du Nord along with other two destroyers Jarvis and Fanning. After unloading the ammunitions it brought from the United States to a warehouse at Cork Harbor, Ireland, the Maumee prepared to head back to Virginia, US.

Because of the absence of records from the end of October to the beginning of December, it is impossible to determine whether the Maumee has returned to the US. From December 1917 to August 1918, Tomb and his ship mainly stayed around Queenstown, Ireland. The ship sometimes travelled to Liverpool for refit and again headed back to Queenstown. On July 26, 1918, the Maumee started patrolling with other ships along the Ireland coast in search of German U-boats.

After the War[edit | edit source]

In 1927, Tomb voluntarily retired from the Naval Academy. He lost his son James who was on a world cruise with his wife in the Red Sea area in August 1934. Tomb died in 1941.

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

The Convoy System of USA during the First World War[edit | edit source]

Tomb’s main mission during the First World War was fueling British destroyers and convoying across the Atlantic Sea. The convoy system was a “system for the protection of merchant shipping by sending the ships in groups escorted by warships” and was the most effective counter to the submarine campaign against trade [3]. The convoy system revived as several navies launched submarine campaigns against merchant shipping in 1915.

The British Admiralty was reluctant about the application of the convoy system in the beginning of the war. They claimed that the system could not prevent the German submarines from destroying the ships crossing the Atlantic war zone completely. When the United States joined the First World War in 1917, the British Admiralty started to realize the urgent necessity of the convoy system in the Atlantic area; it was riskier for the munitions and merchantmen to travel across the Atlantic Sea from the United States to Europe. Reginald Henderson and Kenneth G. B. DeWar from the British Admiralty held a large political campaign in order to attain the approval for the application of the convoy system. They proved that most of the statistics that the British Admiralty used to oppose the idea of convoy are miscalculated and exaggerated.

The convoy system did have its shortcomings such as the delay of shipping and the shortages of escort ships—“[o]n paper, and depending on the number of ships involved, a convoy was supposed to be accompanied by at least six destroyers. Instead many convoys had only one escort on much of their route” [4]. However, these issues were later proven to be manageable compared to the loss of sinking by the German submarine attacks. Correct statistic after the war showed that the convoy system was able to prevent 90% loss of merchant ships from being sunk by the German submarines [5][1].

Submarine and Antisubmarine Warfare during the First World War[edit | edit source]

The Allies antisubmarine campaign had three primary goals: to protect both military and mercantile shipping from attack; to bar the Central Powers submarines from access to their areas of operation; and to locate and destroy these submarines [6]. The convoy system was just one part of the Allies’ antisubmarine warfare during the First World War. The antisubmarine campaign of the Allied powers also included minefield, net barrages, sound location equipment, and antisubmarine vessels.

When the war first began, the Allies worked to prevent the German U-boat from approaching the European home front by using minefields and net barrages. Later when the German’s began the unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic Sea, the Allies changed their focus to protect the shipping by deploying the convoy system. The combination of the strategies the Allied navies deployed ultimately succeeded in defeating the Central Powers’ submarines. Antisubmarine warfare also accelerated the development of technology such as aircrafts and sound location equipment during and after the war.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Tomb, William V. William Victor Tomb War Diary, 1917-1918. Folder 11. James Hamilton Tomb papers, 1855-1936. Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Southern Historical Collection. 4 Mar. 2015.
  2. Tomb, William V. William Victor Tomb War Diary, 1917-1918. Folder 11. James Hamilton Tomb papers, 1855-1936. Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Southern Historical Collection. 4 Mar. 2015.
  3. Tucker, Spencer C. et al. Encyclopedia of World War I: a political, Social, and Military History. ABC-CLIO, 2005.
  4. Breemer, Jan S. “The Old Theories Have Been Tried and Found Wanting.” Defeating the U-Boat: Inventing Antisubmarine Warfare. Naval War College Newport Papers. 1 November. 2010.
  5. "THE CONVOY SYSTEM." New York Times (1857-1922): 22. Feb 10 1918. ProQuest. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.
  6. Tucker, Spencer C. et al. Encyclopedia of World War I: a political, Social, and Military History. ABC-CLIO, 2005.