Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters to Captain William B. Fletcher, Commander, Patrol Squadrons in French Waters
3rd August, 1917.
From:- Vice Admiral Sims, U.S.N.
To:- Captain Fletcher, Senior officer afloat
Commanding Patrol Squadrons, French Waters.
Subject: Base facilities and question
I am ordering paymaster Colby,1 who has been temporarily in London consulting with Paymaster Tobey2 on my staff, to proceed to Paris and Brest before returning to Bordeaux.
I ordered Paymaster Colby to come to London in order that he might become familiar with the general procedure pursued with our forces in British waters as regards questions of supplies, base facilities and allied subjects. I think it is important that he should acquaint you with the information he has obtained on the above subjects, as they indicate the policies I am pursuing here and should therefore be a general guide to the policies in such matters that you should pursue with your forces.
With reference to your dispatch of July 30th, concerning repair facilities at Bordeaux and the disposition of repair ships in case the Department sees fit to send them,3 I would say that these matters must necessarily be left to your decision as you are the man on the spot.
I hope I have made it perfectly clear, however, that in all decisions which you make I wish you to be governed by the general wishes of the French Ministry of Marine, with a view to the most perfect possible co-operation with the French Navy.
The question of the number of yachts which will base upon, or operate from, either Brest or Bordeaux, or any other Port at any particular time, I must leave to your discretion – based always, of course, upon the general wishes and policies of the French Ministry of Marine.
As I explained in Paris, Captain Jackson4 is permanently established in the Ministry of Marine as my staff representative and, therefore, also as your representative and your means of communicating with, and keeping in touch with, the Ministry. It is for this reason that I have laid so much stress upon the necessity of all communications between you and me passing through my staff office in the Ministry of Marine. This need not delay the messages to any serious extent, but will always ensure that whatever action you or I may take will be co-ordinated with the French plans and policies.
I trust that the chain of command is now perfectly clear. Stated briefly, it is that you are the senior officer in command of the U.S. Forces in French Waters. Under you you have certain personnel on duty in connection with the bases, the same as if you were Commander-in-Chief with your Fleet based in Guantanamo and the officers you have now in command at the bases were in the Guantanamo Naval Station. Captain Jackson’s position is merely as a member of my staff stationed in the Ministry of Marine to ensure co-ordination with the heads of the French service. The situation would be in no wise changed if I had a Lieutenant on duty in Jackson’s place.
We must not in any way attempt to run a separate show. We must, as far as possible, keep the point of view that we are virtually a part of the French service – an addition to it but nevertheless a part of it, and we must work together.
Ordinarily I intend to make no decisions regarding any matters connected with our Naval Forces in France, ashore or afloat, without your advice.
If there are any points which are not entirely clear I hope you will let me know at once.
I am sending a copy of this letter to Captain Jackson.
Wm. S. Sims,
Copy to Captain Jackson.
Source Note: LTS, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. This letter represents an attempt on Sims’ part to resolve a confusing and inefficient command structure in France. United States Naval Attaché at Paris William R. Sayles, Jackson, and Fletcher all were under orders to report directly to Sims, but their specific duties and responsibilities were never clearly laid out. This led to considerable friction amongst these officers, which was never truly resolved despite the efforts of Sims and his Chief of Staff, Capt. Nathan C. Twining. For additional information, see, Still, Crisis at Sea: 51-53.
Footnote 1: Frederick B. Colby was assigned to Capt. Fletcher’s staff based in Brest.
Footnote 2: Eugene C. Tobey.
Footnote 3: See, Fletcher to Sims, 30 July 1917, DNA, RG 125, Box 30.
Footnote 4: Capt. Richard H. Jackson, American Naval Representative to the Ministry of Marine.