Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters to Anne Hitchcock Sims
EMBASSY OF THE
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
August 9, 1917
My darling Sweetheart:
I have your dear letters up to July 28th inclusive, telling me about the fine time you and the dear chicks are having at marion with Uncle John and Aunt Sarah.1 How I wish I could be with you! . . . But what would it be if our boys were men and were in the trenches? See the letter from Mrs Robbins <the English wife of the brother of Helen Sims>2 who lost her brother and whose husband she has been with but a few weeks in three years, and who is returning to Mesopotamia.
Pinky3 has been ordered home to report and then return here for more information. <He wrote advising that he be so ordered. They replied that they would order him home and send a Dr. to take his place. I at once cabled protesting against sending a new man thus losing Pinky’s European experience, and recommending that that if he could not return, he should remain here. He is a member of my staff. They gave in.> He will try and get up to Newport to inspect the camps there and give them the benefit of his experience. He will carry this letter with him and mail it to you, so I will tell you some interesting things about the situation.
I have been puzzled for a long time with the attitude and arguments contained in letters from fellows in the Department, especially Pratt’s.4 Certain remarks seemed to indicate that he had not seen all my cablegrams. He said once: “You tell us what you want, but you do not explain why”.5 Other remarks on important subjects showed that he could not have seen my cables and letters covering these subjects very completely. I will send you his last letter and my reply. Also a letter from Charlie Belknap and one from Kent.6
Well, I understand the situation now, and this is the way I found it out. In the first place, it appears that there is bad blood between the fleet and the Department. All sorts of things are done without consulting the C-in-C.7 Officers who were passed over by the selection board have been given command of divisions of battleships. One of these officers had never served on a battleship.8 <These men are Captains, and divisions should be commanded by rear admirals.> Grant9 was made Vice Admiral and put in the fleet without referral to the C-in-C.
Admiral Mayo has tried to keep in touch with the situation by keeping one of his staff at the department. Usually it was Pye.10 Pye made a elaborate Estimate of the Situation and the C-in-C sent it to the Department with a recommendation that it be sent to me for comments. It was not sent!
Pye got all his information from Pratt. Admiral Mayo, not being able to get the necessary informa[tion] to understand the situation, asked to be sent over. The President would not agree.11 Then he tried to have Pye sent over, and had to go to the Secy three times before he would consent. Finally he consented, and Pye arrived a few days ago[.] He brought a list of questions he wanted answered. You may imagine my astonishment to find that all of these questions had been fully answered in my cables and letters more than two months ago!
Pye has been going over all the cables (there are nearly 300 of them) and all the letters I have sent in, and is now preparing a statement for Admiral Mayo. He agrees entirely with my conclusions and would have agreed if he had been allowed to see this correspondence in Washington. Pratt told Pye all he knew about the situation, but the point is that Pratt had not seen it - or very little of it! Apparently the Secy has kept it to himself, or between him and Benson.12 The latter is, as you know, violently anti-British. He told a friend of mine, a Lieut, that I am so pro-British that I am practically owned by the Admiralty. I do not know the attitude of J.D.,13 but you will see from Belknap’s and Kent’s letters how things are going in the Department - or rather how they are not going. The P.Ds. seem afraid that the condition of affairs as set forth in my cables may get out, so gave the Chief of Operation’s staff - Pratt, Schofield, McKean, etc, who are there to make estimates of the situation based upon all available information, are not allowed to have the information!14
It is no wonder I could not understand their remarks and arguments.
Admiral Mayo is coming over here very soon for a conference with Admirals Jellicoe and Beatty.15 The French will also be invited to send representations. I will also try and persuade the C-in-C to run down to Paris.16
Our State Department called the Ambassador suggesting the conference.17 That was before Pye arrived - I did not know he was coming until he landed at Liverpool— but as I know the Department believed my reports to be very pro-British (to say the least), I strongly advised Mayo’s coming, and so cabled the Department. He is an honest man. He will understand the situation and represent it as it is and that will clear up the whole business
Just how much the President is behind the attitude of the Department, I do not really know, but I do know that he takes the popular attitude that the Allies should “dig the rats out of their holes”—“stop up the hole in the wasp’s nest (the submarine bases) instead of trying to catch the wasps (submarines) after they are out”.18 Of course this is an impossible military operation from the sea – it can be accomplished only by forcing the German armies back far enough to remove the submarine bases. But the President has absolute confidence in his own judgement upon this subject (as upon all others), as shown by his telegram to me in which he states this opinion and then asks my opinion!19
I learned this only the other day when Berrien arrived.20 The President told Berry (who commands the Mayflower)21 that I am hopelessly pro-British and that my reply to his telegram was nothing but a British opinion, etc. Berry asked him if he might tell Berrien and if Berrien might tell me, and he said “Yes, for all I care.” Berrien told Babby22 this, and the letter told me yesterday
So, you see, I have my troubles! But, don’t let that worry you in the least, for there is not the slightest doubt as to the correctness of my conclusions or the completeness of the information upon which they are based; and that is why I am glad Admiral Mayo is coming over, for the more this matter is looked into the clearer it will become. <For more than three months I have been urging the Dept. to send compe[te]nt officers to work in the Admiralty.23 Admiral Jellico urged the same, but they would not send them. Pye understands it already, and Twinning is in complete agreement with me.24
When you read Pratt’s letters and my reply, you will be at a loss to understand why the Department resisted all my appeals for more officers on the staff I think they must have been afraid I would build up a bit of a navy Department on this side.25
I did everything I could to persuade them to send me assistance. (See my letter to Pratt), because I could see that Babby was giving out from overwork and from worry. He has not the temperament to take responsibility easily. He is pessimistic by nature and crosses many bridges and imagines the worst. He apparently cannot avoid feeling the whole responsibility. He is so completely loyal that he feels it for me, and carries his worries outside the office. I have not bothered you with this because it would have done no good. However I believe the trouble is now over since I have Twining and five other officers, not counting Gillmore.26 I have also four stenographers (girls) five men to do the coding and ten men from Newport.
But no more was made until I cabled Pratt that Pinky stated that Babby was in danger of a complete nervous breakdown and asking for him to try and persuade the P.Ds. to send me assistance and to telegraph the result as to relieve the strain on Babby. They telegraphed that Twining and Ancrum27 had been ordered. Of course Babby knew nothing of the telegram. Later I telegraphed Pratt that Babby was “all in” and asked when assistance would arrive. They replied giving the date and said Berrien and Blakeslee28 and another officer and the yeomen were also coming. I protested because they were not sending me the type of men I wanted-men who had the necessary experience and education for this kind of work. Ancrum is just a good solid old plug but not at all the man for this kind of work, and Berrien has had no experience of this kind, being a man of action. But the protest did no good. So, I took Long out of his destroyer and ordered him on the staff. He used to be on the staff of the C-in-C and is a classmate of Babby’s. Berrien and Babby had a row-in the flotilla and they did not “speak” for a year or so, so he was impossible on the staff. I have ordered him in command of the destroyer Long had, and he appears much pleased to get into the “game.” I have no authority to transfer officers this way, but have done so in many cases.
Pinky took charge of Babby, put him to bed, gave him something to make him sleep, and now he is pretty well, and I think he will be all right.
The staff has now been organized and the work distributed and everything seems to be going along well. Of course you will not mention this to Mrs. Babby. I don’t know how much he has told her about it. I hope he holds out, for he is invaluable.
Now you must not imagine that all this trouble has worried me at all in the way of getting on my nerves. I dont seem to have any. Responsibility does not bother me in the least. I turn my important matters (like the handling of the troop convoys) over to a competent man (Long, in this case) and trust to him entirely. Of course I have the responsibility and will get the credit for success and the blame if things go wrong. Incidentally, we have had no casualties in my command or in the convoys. This is simply a wonder and we cannot expect it to continue indefinitely. This is war, and you must not be shocked if you hear of the loss of some of our vessels one of these days.
I am in my usual perfect health-as well as I have ever been Perhaps I have not been getting enough exercise, but I will get more now that we have a staff. I walk a good deal with Pinky. I will miss him while he is gone. I hope he can go to Newport as I am sure it would be a great satisfaction for you to have a good talk with him. He knows all about conditions here, so you can talk to him with perfect freedom. . . .
Did I tell you that two of our destroyer captains are going to be given D.S.Os. (The Distinguished Service Order), and medals for some of their officers and men.29 I am not saying anything about it until they get them, <Of course they cannot accept them without authority. But I will not ask for the authority until the British government officially designates them for this honor.>. . .
I have just been with Admiral Jellicoe and he showed me a cablegram from Admiral Browning saying that Admiral Mayo will sail for England about Aug. 18. He is coming in his flagship, the Pennsylvania, and she will join the Grand Fleet while she is here.30 He will of course spend most of his time in London and in visits to various ports[.] I am particularly pleased that his flagship is coming, as his staff and her officers will have a chance to learn a lot.
I am going to take advantage of Pinky going home to send you some of my correspondence with Pratt. I will make it up in a package with this letter and ask Pink to send it to you by express.
These letters will give you a pretty good idea of what I have been up against and also of what the Department has been up against – including, particularly Pratt. He has had a hard time. So have I, for that matter; but I believe our troubles are about over. They now realize the seriousness of the war and they will get busy when they get admiral Mayo’s report they will see that I have been giving them the “straight dope.”
The staff is now getting settled rapidly settled down and it is going to be fine. It is now really a small navy department. We have taken a house having about 14 rooms of which I have nine and the naval attaché the remainder. There are seven officers, not counting me, four girl stenographers, five civilian in the coding department, six yeomen and four sailors, several boy messengers and a couple of watchmen and a doorkeeper.
There will be no more overwork, and there should be no strain except for those who cant help worrying.
Some time ago, just after my last visit to Paris, I wrote a letter to the Minister of Marine, Rear Admiral Lacaze, stating that I wished him to consider the Forces under my command in France in all respects the same as tho they actually belonged to the French navy and that I wished to cooperate with him and carry out his wishes in all respects. He wrote a most appreciated reply. I am sending a translation to Pratt to show him what my relations with the French Admiralty are. . . .31
I found him [Lacaze] “tres sympathie.” He is a little scrap of a slender man with a thin sharp featured face of great refinement, a while complexion, a white-pointed beard and a careworn expression. He is a bachelor and must be about 60. He resigned because he would not agree to a certain investigation by the Chamber of Deputies.32 I am very sorry, as he is a man of great ability. I particularly admired the ease and grace and really literary quality of his presentation of all the subjects that he brought before the conference. But I think I liked him best for his manifest uprightness and fair-mindedness. In this he was in glaring contrast with the Italian Admiral.33 Lacaze treat the latter with marked gentleness while completely refuting his interested arguments. He made me angry and I was not so gentle, and Admiral Lacaze told me afterwards in his gentle way that he thought I had been a bit hard on him – tho he was manifestly pleased with my support. He is a really gentle and charming gentleman. The kind of man I would like to have you meet.34
Admiral de Bon,35 chief of staff, a handsome solid man with a square white beard, was nearly as effective in presenting a case or an argument. In this sort of thing the British (and most Americans) are very distinctly inferior. They speak haltingly and laboriously tho they usually “get there”. . . .
You will see by Pratt’s last letter to me that they are now on the defensive. Admiral Jellicoe is going to send a Vice Admiral to Washington so the P. Ds. will have somebody to discuss things with36
There is one thing I am very glad of and that is that I am not in the Navy Department. I could not possibly put up with the way things are going. Doubtless Benson means well, but he conceives it to be his duty to do just what the Secretary wants, no matter what his own conviction is. He has the authority to prepare the navy for war and to direct the operations, and nobody could withstand him if he was willing to offer his resignation in case the Sec’y declined to approve any recommendation he considered essential.
I am writing in the evening again, but now I must be off to bed
So good night my darling sweetheart, I am loving you all the time . . . .
Source Note: ALS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 9. Sims later revised this letter, adding material in the margins, which are indicated herein by angle brackets. On 13 August, Sims made further additions to this letter, which is not printed here. Most of this material concerns Medical Inspector Cmdr. Frank L. Pleadwell's anticipated visit to Newport.
Footnote 1: John F. Shepley and Sara Hitchcock Shepley. Sara was Anne Hitchcock Sims’ older sister.
Footnote 2: This letter has not been located.
Footnote 3: Medical Inspector Cmdr. Frank L. Pleadwell, M. D. Until July 1917, Pleadwell had been serving as the Assistant United States Naval Attaché at London. Following his brief recall to the United States (which Sims' discusses here), Pleadwell joined Sims' staff as the head of its Medical Section.
Footnote 4: Capt. William V. Pratt, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations.
Footnote 5: See: Pratt to Sims, 2 July 1917.
Footnote 6: Lt. Cmdr. Charles K. Belknap, Jr., Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. For his letter to Sims, see: Belknap to Sims, 26 July 1917.
Footnote 7: Adm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet.
Footnote 8: Mayo did, in fact, have some input in the naming of force and flotilla commanders. See: Mayo to Josephus Daniels, 23 July 1917.
Footnote 9: RAdm. Albert W. Grant, Commander, Battleship Force One, Atlantic Fleet. Grant officially became a Vice Admiral on 21 August 1917.
Footnote 10: Cmdr. William S. Pye.
Footnote 11: President Woodrow Wilson. Mayo believed that Sims was usurping his authority and Wilson may have been “protecting” Sims by keeping Mayo in the United States. See: Diary of Josephus Daniels, 30 April 1917, and Klachko and Trask, Benson, 67.
Footnote 12: There is no evidence that Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels or Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, were withholding documents or information from Benson's staff.
Footnote 13: The charge that he was a pawn of the British was one Sims would repeatedly confront throughout the duration of the war.
Footnote 14: Capt. Frank H. Schofield; Capt. Josiah S. McKean.
Footnote 15: See: Sims to Daniels, 31 July 1917. This conference between Mayo, First Sea Lord Adm. Sir John R. Jellicoe, and First Lord of the Admiralty Sir Eric Geddes took place in London on 4 and 5 September 1917. While both Jellicoe and Geddes were pleased with the results, Mayo continued to have reservations about how the British treated their American ally. Klachko and Trask, Benson, 82; Still, Crisis at Sea, 74.
Footnote 16: Mayo did go to France following his conference with the British.
Footnote 17: United States Ambassador to Great Britain Walter Hines Page.
Footnote 18: See: Wilson to the Officers of the Atlantic Fleet, 11 August 1917.
Footnote 19: See: Woodrow Wilson to Sims, 4 July 1917.
Footnote 20: Lt. Cmdr. Frank D. Berrien, Commander, Nicholson.
Footnote 21: Lt. Cmdr. Robert L. Berry.
Footnote 22: Sims’ aide, Lt. Cmdr. John V. Babcock.
Footnote 23: For example, see: Sims to Daniels, 16 July 1917.
Footnote 24: Capt. Nathan C. Twining arrived in London in early August to become Sims’ Chief of Staff.
Footnote 25: Indeed, Sims was subsequently accused of doing just that. Still, Crisis at Sea, 35.
Footnote 26: Reginald E. Gillmor, Sims’ Flag Secretary.
Footnote 27: Lt. Cmdr. William Ancrum, one of Sims' aides.
Footnote 28: Lt. Cmdr. Edward G. Blakeslee. ran the Communications Section at Sims’ headquarters. Sims, Victory at Sea, 250. Cmdr. Byron A. Long, was in charge of the Convoys Section on Sims' staff.
Footnote 29: These medals were not awarded, as it was not until July 1918 that Congress made it possible for Americans to accept foreign medals decorations. Morison, Admiral Sims, 434.
Footnote 30: Mayo did not travel to England aboard Pennsylvania but went on the passenger liner St. Louis instead. Pennsylvania never joined the British Grand Fleet as a result. Mayo to Caroline Wing Mayo, 18 August 1917, DLC-MSS, Henry Mayo Papers, Box 3.
Footnote 31: Sims included a copy of the letter, which is not printed her. In his letter, Adm. Marie Jean Lucien Lacaze’s letter was very complimentary toward Sims, expressing his delight and honor in being able to work with Sims.
Footnote 32: Lacaze came under increasing criticism from the Chamber of Deputies for the French Navy’s lack of progress in combatting the submarines of the Central Powers. When that body created a special directorate for anti-submarine warfare, Lacaze resigned as Minister of Marine, but remained active in the French Navy as commander at the port of Toulon. WWI Encyclopedia, Vol. 2: 665.
Footnote 33: Adm. Paolo Thaon di Revel.
Footnote 34: This confrontation took place at an Allied conference in Paris in late July 1917. See: Sims to Benson, 30 July 1917.
Footnote 35: Adm. Ferdinand Jean Jacques De Bon.
Footnote 36: Possibly because of the perceived success of Mayo’s mission, Jellicoe did not send a vice admiral to the United States.