Skip to main content

Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Captain William V. Pratt, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations

April 4th. 1918.

My dear Pratt,

          Your personal letter of March 12th. was received in due time.1 Let me assure you that I believe I understand your position entirely, and I certainly appreciate the attitude that you have always taken towards the gang on this side. We are of course doing the best we can and trying to make the minimum number of mistakes.

          It would be of course a satisfaction if this question about the command over here could be settled one way or the other.2 You have seen my letters to Benson on this subject.3 It would be wholly impossible for me to remain here if a Senior should be sent over. It would not be good business for me to remain. If things can remain exactly as they are it will be satisfactory, although it always seemed to me that it would have been better to make this an independent command. It is only theoretically a part of the Atlantic Fleet and its being a separate command would not interfere with its operating with the Atlantic Fleet in case of necessity. Of course the probability of the Atlantic Fleet ever being used on this side is too remote to be considered.

          I enclose herewith a copy of my last letter to Admiral Benson.4 I will send you copies of these letters as they are written. I do not know that they are of any particular importance but I think the Admiral rather likes to have letters of this kind. I can easily understand that many things that are contained in official reports and so forth, must necessarily escape his attention, so these letters give me the means of inviting his attention to certain points whenever it may be necessary.

          Needless to say the results of Babcock’s visit5 have been of great benefit to us on this side, and I believe to you people on the other side. I have decided that it will be equally useful to send over in a little while, Daniels on another liaison trip.6 He is going within a few days to start on a tour of the various ports and stations to collect data of various kinds, and he will probably start for the United States some time in May. He will remain in Washington as long as you people think it necessary. If you think it would be of advantage for both of us to have him remain in Washington and see that our correspondence reaches promptly the proper persons, and this to include cables, and that he generally follows up matters to see that they are attended to, I would be perfectly willing for him to remain. If I were you I would not mention this particular feature of the matter but let it develop after Daniels gets there.7

          You will find him very well informed as to how things are going over here.

          It seems to me that the Department’s attitude toward the Allied Naval Council is a very curious one. I do not understand why they sent me such a cablegram as they did about disposition of the first chasers that were to come to this side.8 They seem to think that my idea was that the recommendation of the Allied Naval Council was final. Of course there is nothing at all in this. The controlling idea of a naval council is that it should be a real council to consider important questions as to the anti-submarine campaign and other naval matters. It seems to me that the Department should welcome a recommendation made by such a body of officers, and that recommendations of this kind would relieve the Department of the necessity of answering the more or less insistent demands of the diplomatic officials of the various nations.

          Concerning the particular case of the chasers, the Council examined the whole submarine situation, with particular reference to what action the enemy might take if he found things too hot for him in the North, and as a result decided that the next available addition of anti-submarine forces would better be employed in hunting submarines in the Mediterranean. Of course there never was any idea at any time that the authority was with the Council. It is now and always has been, and always was intended to be, a purely advisory power, as you will see by looking over the records of its Constitution.

          It would help me if you would from time to time, scratch me off a few lines and give me an idea of any changes of attitude there may be on the other side.

          I hope you can manage to get an organization in Operations which will sub-divide the work so that the people at the top will not be pretty nearly all in all the time. That sortof thing is not good business. Mistakes will be made by those to whom authority is delegated, but that is inconsiderable compared to over-burdening the people at the top. You know that I have always believed in assigning work to the gang and trusting them to carry it out, giving them a considerable field of initiative. For example, every day there comes into and goes out of this office a bunch of cablegrams that make a book, which is about the size of an ordinary telephone directory. In the year that I have been here I have never looked over one of these books until yesterday, when one was shown me as a matter of curiosity to see the volume of business passing through.

Not more than half-a-dozen of these cables are brought to my attention any one day by the Chief of Staff.9 If I attempted to burden my mind with the details of these hundreds of cables, much less try to make a decision on each one of them, I am quite sure I would soon be of no use as a head of the force. However, I suppose each man has his own way of doing things.

          I hope however, that you people will be able to fix it so as to decrease the strain. It is distressing to hear from you and from others that you are not well, and it was distressing to notice how harassed and apparently worn down Admiral Benson was when he was over here.10

          I hope you will be able to get off on a good leave and forget about it all. It would be well if Admiral Benson could do the same. It does a fellow good once in a while to see how well things go when he is not there. You may be sure that we thoroughly appreciate your position, and all that you have been doing for us over here.

          I can understand perfectly well the disposition there must always be at the Navy Dept. to make decisions, even when they concern local affairs over here. Of course you know this is something which should be resisted as much as possible. The responsibility for local dispositions, and for their success must necessarily be on this side; We would of course be blamed for any failure. Moreover, we have the benefit here of discussion of all these matters with all of these able men belonging to our Allies. Do not misunderstand the extreme importance of this matter of discussion. It is really something to keep always in mind. It is wholly impossible to transmit by mail or by cable all of the details of a discussion which has arrived at a certain decision as to the disposition of forces, and so forth. I believe that you do, and always have, understood this, and I know from your letter of the difficulties you have in putting your ideas into force. However, do the best you can in this line. Shove the responsibility on me, and take it out of me if it does not succeed.

Always very sincerely yours,

Source Note: Cy, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 78. Addressed below close: “Captain W.V.Pratt, U.S.Navy./Office of Naval Operations,/Navy Department./Washington. D.C.”

Footnote 2: Sims was concerned that VAdm. Henry T. Mayo or some other senior admiral might be sent to command in Europe. That did not happen. Ibid.

Footnote 5: Sims’ aide, Cmdr. John V. Babcock, had been on temporary assignment in Washington during January and February 1918.

Footnote 6: Lt. Cmdr. Joseph F. Daniels.

Footnote 7: Daniels did serve as Sims’ liaison with the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, but was not happy about remaining in Washington. See: Sims to Pratt, 10 July 1918.

Footnote 9: Capt. Nathan C. Twining.

Footnote 10: Benson had been in England as part of the House Mission in November and December 1917.