Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Anne Hitchcock Sims
August 24, 1917
My sweetheart Nani:
This must be a wee note indeed, as I am very busy during this short visit. I arrived here on Wednesday afternoon and must leave tomorrow afternoon in order to reach Liverpool in time to meet Admiral Mayo1 when he arrives on the St. Louis.
Admiral DeChair2 will be there with a special train to take us all to London. Admiral Mayo has six of his staff with him and they will all be put up at the Carlton. I suppose for a while there will be all sorts of thing done to entertain him, and there will be lots of work besides—but it will clear the air.3
I am sorry to make such a wee visit to my good friends “Uncle Lewis” and “The Niece,”4 but I could not come before I was “standing by” for a certain shipping conference that was expected—until it was given up, and if I had not come now I would have had to put off the visit until sometime in October.
These fine people are just as dear as ever and seem to be very glad to have me here. Twining is with me at Admiralty House. He is very quiet and has very little small talk, but is a fine chap and a valuable assistant. Ancrum and Blakeslee are quartered on the Melville.5 The former remains behind for a while to make a trip on one the destroyers, He wants very much to be ordered to command one, and perhaps I can arrange it after a while. Berrien has already gone out with his boat and is much pleased with the job.6
Everything is going along splendidly with the flotilla. The Admiral is much pleased with them and they with him: They are often at the house for tea or dinner or for a call in the evening. He says they are a fine lot of fellows, and so they are. Our relations could not be better. The Admiral is as gay as possible. Once or twice a week, weather permitting, they play cricket- with a round bat and a tennis ball. Miss V. plays (and very well) and the Admiral is as spry as the next one We had a fine game yesterday. Unfortunately, it has rained a good deal every day we have been here.
I have forgotten all about my work since I have been here, and the rest has done me good — not that I needed “being done good”, for I am perfectly well. However, it has been very agreeable to be free from the details of work for a few days, particularly with such congenial people
You doubtless remember my telling you of the captain7 who sent the Admiral the good-bye signal when his ship was sinking, but who was rescued. Well, he was given a new ship and got a submarine. Then he fitted out another ship and had bad luck with her. he lost the ship and the sub got away, but he made one of the skillful fights I have ever read about. He is a bit shaken and much cast down and wants another ship. Twice he has won a D.S.O, and twice the Victoria Cross, and Uncle Lewis thinks he should be assigned to other duty. I quite agree with him and asked if he thought I might write this captain a letter. You may remember that I met him the last time I was here. The Admiral thought it a good idea, so I wrote him today, and the letter was approved by both him and Miss V.
It would take too long to tell you the story of the action, but the following copy of the letter will show you what I think of it and of the gallant captain:
“My dear Captain:
I have just read your reports of the action between the ...... and a submarine on Aug. 8th last.
“I have had the benefit of reading the reports of some of your former exploits, and the admiral has told me about them all but in my opinion this fight of the ...... is the finest of all as a military action, and the most deserving of complete success.
“It was purely incidental that the submarine escaped. That was due simply to an unfortunate piece of bad luck. The engagement, judged as a skillful fight; and not measured by its material results, seems to me to have been perfectly successful, because I do not think that even you, with all your experience in such affairs, could conceive of any feature of the action that you would order differently if you had it to do over again.
“According to my idea about such matters, the standard set by you and your crew is worth infinitely more than the destruction of a submarine. Long after we are dust and ashes, the story of this last fight will be invaluable inspiration to British (and American) naval officers and men—a demonstration of the extraordinary degree to which the patriotism, loyalty, personal devotion and training of a crew may be inspired. I know of nothing finer in naval history than the conduct of the after gun crew and, indeed of the entire crew of the ......
“It goes without saying that the credit for this admirable behavior is chiefly yours. Therefore the question must naturally arise as to how best to utilize the rare quality that can produce a result of such great value to your own navy and to our common cause.
“Manifestly, the only logical conclusion is that it should be devoted to inspiring a similar devotion of the personnel in the larger field of naval activity which the developments of this extraordinary war may bring forth.
So if I were in supreme command, I would not hesitate so to assign you.
“You see, we (Allies) cannot afford longer to run the risk of the loss of morale that would result from an unlucky shot that caused your death or capture by the enemy.
“You have made of yourself a national asset, and have therefore passed into the special class of those whose ability to inspire loyalty and devotion should be utilized in the way that will best promote the common interest, quite independently of your very natural personal inclinations.
“You will, I hope, pardon me for expressing my opinion upon a subject which concerns you so intimately; but I beg you to believe that I and the officers under my command are deeply sensible of the value of the demonstration that there is no limit to the sacrifices that the men of your navy are willing to make a great cause.
“With my best wishes for your future success, believe me, my dear Captain,
When the story of this war is told, it will show a finer record of heroism than in any period of history.
Now I must be off to bed. I will try and get this in the pouch at Liverpool, or perhaps mail it here, as I do not think there is anything in it to which the censor could object.
I may have a chance to write again before the mail closes, though it is doubtful.
I will have a hard day tomorrow, as I leave here at 3 pm. and do not reach Liverpool until 5 the next morning, and have to change cars once or twice after midnight.
Give my love and plenty of kisses to all the precious ones
My heart still aches from seeing a soldier saying good bye to his wife and wee daughter (about 6) at the train today. The wife was silently weeping while trying to quiet the child who was fairly screaming with grief and disappointment at seeing her father go away.
Source Note: ALS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 9. Document is on “Admiralty House,/Queenstown.” stationary.
Footnote 1: Adm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet.
Footnote 2: Adm. Dudley R. S. DeChair, Secretary, Royal Navy.
Footnote 3: For the members of Mayo’s staff that accompanied him to London, and their time in the United Kingdom, see: Mayo to Josephus Daniels, 30 August 1917.
Footnote 4: VAdm. Lewis Bayly, Commander, Southern Ireland, and his niece, Miss Violet Voysey, who is also referred to as "Miss V" in this letter.
Footnote 5: Capt. Nathan C. Twining, Sims’ chief of staff; Lt. Cmdr. William Ancrum and Lt. Edward G. Blakeslee, both aides on Sims’ staff.
Footnote 6: Lt. Cmdr. Frank D. Berrien, Commander, Nicholson.
Footnote 7: Capt. Gordon Campbell, Commander, Dunraven. For more on Campell’s heroics, see: Diary of Joseph K. Taussig, 8 August 1917.