World War I -- Life Histories/Section 019/Yan Jin

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William Victor Tomb served in the US navy during the First World War. From 1917 to 1918, W. V. Tomb was the captain of U. S. S. Maumee and was on convoy duty in the Atlantic Sea. His war diary provides details of his everyday duty and records specific travel routes of the convoy group.


Convoy Duty[edit]

From July to August of 1917, William Victor Tomb’s ship U. S. S. Maumee mainly stationed in Navy Yard, New York. Maumee was in charge of oiling, ammunition delivery, supervising repair progress of the ships, and sending fire and rescue parties in answer to the alarms of New York Navy Yard. Maumee traveled back and forth 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 Maumee was “7009 tons of fuel oil and 408 tons of shipment comprising, lubricating oil, gasoline, and miscellaneous articles”[1].

On September 8, 1917, Maumee officially joined the Seventh Convoy Group in Ambrose Channel Lightship and headed toward the European coast. The convoy group contains fueling and ammunition ships such as Maumee and also included convoy vessels that have higher speed and mobility. These ships usually traveled in column formation and moved in a zigzagging way according to “plan J-1”[2]. Maumee’s main duty was to oil the fellow ships. The group communicated with radiogram; the usage of cipher codes is also mentioned in Tomb’s diary. Several detections of submarines are also recorded.

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, Maumee headed to Queenstown, Ireland through Channel du Nord along with other two destroyers Jarvis and Fanning. Maumee unloaded the ammunitions it brought from the United States to a warehouse at Passage, Cork Harbor, Ireland and prepared to head back to Virginia, US. Because of the absence of record from the end of October to the beginning of December, it is impossible to determine whether Maumee has gone back to the US or not. 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. From July 26, 1918, Maumee started patrolling with other ships along the Ireland coast in search of German submarines.

Life on the ship[edit]

Tomb recorded minimal amount of personal life in his war diary. According to Tomb, fresh provisions were in shortage and very expensive. Potatoes were cheap, but eggs were very expensive. The price of meat changed everyday.

Smoking, the usage of obscene language towards another person, and absence over liberty were commonly charged in the crew. The penalty included deprivation of liberty and loss of a certain amount of payment.

Social Issues[edit]

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

W. V. Tomb’s main mission during the First World War was fueling the British destroyer and convoying across the Atlantic Sea. Convoy system is defined as 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 by claiming that the system could not prevent the German submarines from destroying the ships crossing the Atlantic war zone completely. By the time when the United States joined the First World War in 1917, the British Admiralty just started to realize the urgent necessity of the convoy system in the Atlantic area, because it took greater risks for the munitions and merchantmen to travel across the Atlantic Sea from the United States to Europe. Henderson and 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. Admittedly, 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”—but these issues were later proven to be manageable compared to the loss of sinking by the German submarine attacks [4]. Correct statistic after the war shows 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]

The Allied antisubmarine campaign had three primary goals: to protect shipping, both military and mercantile from attack; to bar Central Powers submarines from access to their areas of operation; and to locate and destroy these submarines [6]. Convoy system was just one part of the Allies’ antisubmarine warfare during the First World War. The antisubmarine campaign of the Allied powers included minefield, net barrages, sound location equipment, antisubmarine vessels and convoy system. When the war first began, the Allies main goal was 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 these strategies the Allied navies deployed ultimately succeeded in defeating the Central Powers’ submarines. The antisubmarine warfare also accelerated the development of technology such as aircrafts and sound location equipment during and after the war. Interestingly, the German U-boats not only sink the merchant ships but also operated as sea pirates who ransacked the ships for supplies such as food in order to stay longer away from the home water. The survivors of the ransacked crew reported seeing “bread and biscuits floating in the water for several miles” when returning to the port [7] [2].


  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.
  7. "SUBMARINE SINKS CANADIAN SCHOONER." New York Times (1857-1922): 3. Aug 07 1918. ProQuest. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.