Who's Who - William Benson

William Shepherd Benson William Shepherd Benson (1855-1932) served as the U.S. Navy's Chief of Naval Operations from 1915-19.

Born on 25 September 1855 in Bibb County, Georgia, Benson graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1877 (where he later extensively taught) and first saw duty in the USS Hartford in the South Atlantic Squadron.

Promoted to Captain in July 1909, he was Chief of Staff of the Pacific Fleet both that year and the next, meanwhile commanding the USS Albany.  Between 1911-13 Benson served as commander of the then largest warship in the world, the Great Utah.

From 1913-15 Benson was given command of the Philadelphia Navy Yard.  May 1915 brought Benson a major - and surprise - promotion to the newly created post of Chief of Naval Operations under the political head of the navy Josephus Daniels, with whom Benson ultimately established a close working relationship.  Despite the prospect of war with Germany, Benson was under strict instructions to make only limited naval preparations.

By the time of America's entry into the First World War, Benson had worked to centralise U.S. naval administration within his own office and had presided over a notable expansion of the fleet, having secured Congressional approval to that end.

Benson disagreed with William Sims - the determinedly anglophile naval liaison to Britain's Royal Navy - who argued that the U.S. Navy should immediately set about countering the German submarine threat to Allied (primarily British) shipping.  A logical extension of Sims' argument saw an emphasis upon the construction of anti-submarine vessels rather than large warships.

Benson however believed that the U.S. Navy could satisfactorily meet both aims: to increase the U.S. Navy's capital shipbuilding programme while working to undermine Germany's U-boat strategy.

Inclined to regard war with Germany in a decidedly defensive light, it took a visit to London with President Wilson to reverse Benson's thinking.  He promptly reversed his earlier opposition to the North Sea Barrage and sanctioned the use of U.S. battleships in co-operation with Royal Navy in North Sea operations.

After the armistice Benson attended the Versailles treaty negotiations in a naval capacity but came away disillusioned at the severe terms imposed upon Germany.

Benson retired from the navy in 1919 at the statutory age of 64 with the rank of Rear-Admiral.  From 1920-28 he acted as chairman of the U.S. Shipping Board and from 1921-25 was first president of the National Council of Catholic Men.

Advanced to Admiral on the retired list in June 1930, William Shepherd Benson died in 1932 and is buried at Arlington.

A "chit" was British slang for a piece of paper.

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