Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Rear Admiral Albert P. Niblack, Commander, United States Patrol Squadron Based at Gibraltar
S-1. 10 April, 1918.
Yours of the 18 March received a few days ago.1 If troubles make life interesting, it would appear that you ought to be having a very good time; and as you know, if I could lighten your burdens for you in any way I would be most happy to do so.
I know the ships down there are old, and I only wish that I had a hundred destrouers I could give you – but at the present time it seems that all we can do is make the very best of what we have got, and keep cheerful about it, which I am sure you are doing it.
Of course you are familiar with what is going on [at] home, and it seems to me that conditions must gradually improve; except of course for officers Regular Navy, and the call for these comes in to us from every side. However the reserves in many cases have done remarkably good work, and we have simply got to lean on them more and more.
The only Regular Officers we have taken from you have been those whom the Bureau has ordered us to take (with the exception of the three Commanding Officers from your destroyers, and concerning whom the correspondence for the most part anti-dated your command at Gibraltar). When Wilson2 pointed out his shortage, and we asked the Department to send officers from home, they told us to direct you to supply them; and in Cone’s3 case they again directed us to take officers from you and supply them to him.
Stark4 pointed out to the Bureau the necessity for supplying you with Reserve Officers to take the place of these Regular Officers, and they have promised to send them; and as you have already been informed, some of them are en route.
When you recently asked us for 12 more, a cable requesting them was promptly sent home.5
We have had the same request from Rodman,6 about detaching his regulars; and also a request from Wilson about the need for more regulars with his forces. The only forces at present well-equipped in this respect are destroyers.
Nobody wishes more heartily than I do that I could leave your ships well supplied. This has been not only taken up officially, but also in personal correspondence by me. In addition to this, Stark has also taken up the same subject in personal correspondence along the same lines, showing me the letters he has written before sending them. Also Babcock, when he went to the Department, went into the situation;7 all of which has brought out the fact, both officially and personally, that for the activities the Navy is now engaged in, there are not nearly enough Regular officers to fill all the billets.
Palmer has written,8 and I know that he would do anything the he possibly could for us; but as he points out, it is simply a matter of arithmetic – you have got so many places to fill, and so many regulars to do it with; and that Navigation has simply done its best with the limited number of regulars it has, in distributing them to meet what Operations has ordained.
Regarding officers on destroyers, Babcock sent over a memorandum which the Department gave him (copy of which was sent you by Stark)9 showing the heavy demands which will be made for officers who have had destroyer experience, in the Fall; and we expect at that time every destroyers will be stripped down to its complement as specified by Bureau of Navigation letter #17-17,10 - 3 regular officers on the large destroyers, and 2 on the smaller ones. You know the new Ford boats will be about the size of the boats you now have, and they should afford opportunities for commands for a good many officers over here. While I do not hold this out as a promise, I assume that this Bureau will continue its present policy of asking us for officers for new boats at home.
When you get your reserves, and in order to make room for them on your new boats, you may if you so desire send some of the officers from the destroyers down there to the Queenstown forces, from which they can be sent home later on, and after they have acquired some familiarity with the oil-burning turbine type.
We have just sent Wilson 13 reserves for his destroyers, in order that later on he will be in a position also to send officers home from the destroyers at Brest.
As you know, the Department has specifically requested that we shall not send officers from destroyers to other duty; and in view of this fact, and of the willingness the Department has shown to help us out to the utmost in every way, I have felt that except in emergency, or where it cannot be avoided, we should in all cases keep our destroyer officers for the program which the Department has in view for supplying the new destroyers, and for which they are counting considerably on us to help.
Stark took up the question, and the Department has been informed that you are now practically down to bed-rock in the number of officers as specified by Bureau’s circular letter #17-17; and I sincerely hope we will not be compelled to call upon you for more personnel until your reserves are well broken in, and you have confidence in them.
In taking these regular officers from you, as before stated, it was done at the request of the Department, and as they sent word over by Babcock that it would be absolutely necessaryto take them from you to meet other needs.
All hands, I think, must look forward to coming down to what the Bureau has specified as the minimum; and of course while all hands will kick – as good sailor men have a right to do – I know that everybody appreciates what Navigation is up against, and we will do cheerfully what has simply got to be done to meet the situation.
Regarding destroyers being good only for the depth charges and the guns they carry : while I cannot say positively, to the best of my knowledge and belief there has been only one torpedo fired by a destroyer over here, and absolutely none for practice purposes.
The bases at Brest and Queenstown are endeavouring to keep their torpedoes in shape simply by overhaul and deck tests, this overhaul being accomplished on the parent ship or at the bases, which if done by competent personnel should ensure the torpedoes remaining in good condition.
Regarding the mail situation : we are doing our best to improve this in every way for all the forces. Of course the forces in France are the best off in this respect; but I have recently sent an officer to some of the different stations, and we are frequently in communication with your escort commanders; and if you can point out how we can improve the situation, we will be most glad to get your suggestions or criticisms on the way it is now being handled, with a view to its improvement.
My very best wishes to you, and good luck. I know you will do the very best you can with the tools you have got, and that is about all any of us can do.
Remember me to all hands; and rest assured if there is anything I can possibly do to increase the efficiency of the forces down there, or the contentment of your personnel, I shall certainly do so [to] thethe best of my ability.
Cheer Up !
Source Note: LTS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, box 76. Following the close, the letter is address, “Rear Admiral A.P.Niblack, U.S.N./ BASE 9.”
Footnote 1: See: Niblack to Sims, 18 March 1918.
Footnote 2: RAdm. Henry B. Wilson, Commander, United States Patrol Squadrons Operatring in European Waters.
Footnote 3: Capt. Hutchinson I. Cone, Commander, United States Naval Aviation Forces, Foreign Service.
Footnote 4: Cmdr. Harold R. Stark, Sims’ Flag Secretary.
Footnote 5: This cabled request has not been located.
Footnote 6: RAdm. Hugh M. Rodman, Commander, Battleship Division Nine.
Footnote 7: Cmdr. John V. Babcock, a member of Sims’ staff, in charge of convoys and related matters as part of the Operations Section. Babcock was on temporary assignment in Washington, D. C. in January and February 1918.
Footnote 8: RAdm. Leigh C. Palmer, Chief of the Bureau of Navigation. The letter Sims is referring to herein is likely Palmer to Sims, 26 March 1918.
Footnote 9: This memorandum has not been located.
Footnote 10: This letter has not been located.