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Captain Mark L. Bristol to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters


Admiral Sims’ personal files


At Sea,       

29 December 1917.

My dear Sims:-

               Your short note1 was duly received and knowing full well how busy you must be I was very glad to hear from you at all.

               I am going to brave your sarcasim and write in long hand, I have no “beasted slave”to dictate to. . . .

     Do you remember our conversation in Newport? If you have, you will remember that everything I stated has come true, and just think we might be heading over Germany if I had not been turned down and theConstruction Bureau with Taylor2 as”ring Leader” been put in charge. Now they are going back to my plan of organization and have a separate aeronautic office with N.E. Irwin|3| in charge. I fought that gang and steadily won until my own people failed me. Those at the top, I had my youngsters with one exception with me too. Well this is no tale of woe. It is only for you who have gone through this same game on a much bigger scale, so you can understand.

               I saw the big aeroplane coming. I had one built only it was small to what I knew we needed. Big planes for sea work on account of extra weight of floats and the sea-going qualities required are absolutely essential. Look how the Germans with their big planes cruising in Squadrons defy the little fighting planes and bomb London and take command of the air on the Belgian Coast. It is simply the history of the evolution of fighting craft, but I could not make our people see it. I try now, but I find no sympathy or the statement is that “they are working out,” that plan now.” Yet as we know the Construction<or> now has the dominant hand and our progress must be through Corautlan <Courtland?>, However hammering against conservation and convincing the uninitiated to the seaman’s requirements. We lost the <upper hand> when we had it.  We will never get it back until dire necessity forces it. There is some satisfaction in seeing that everything I recommend three years ago was correct big airplanes, dirigibles for patrol, kite balloons, shore stations, and that airplanes were notpracticable on fighting ships and two years ago urged it beforeCongress to the end that I incurred the displeasure of my immediate superiors.

               Why am I giving you this treat? Because it is uppermost in my mind; also because I know you must be interested. You are fighting the submarine therefore you must be interested and must push aircraft. You should have dirigibles,kite balloons and airplanes to co-operate with your destroyers and submarines. The kite balloon must be developed so a destroyer can take one to sea in any ordinary weather. The strides that I made in its development convince me such further development is possible. Any way it is so important gray matter and energy should be expended ore [i.e. on] it.

               The dirigible and airplane can co-operate especially with the submarine because they can keep the sub in sight under the water and recognize foe from friend. The destroyer cannot do this.

               The kite balloon gives the destroyer the eyes it needs. With telephone communication by which the destroyer can be conned from aloft.

               The kite balloon was taken away from this ship on one report of a trial on the Huntington. I would condemn the trial not the balloon.

               The airplane you need has not been built, but with the successful type of motor that seems to have been developed it can be built.4 The airplane must be designed from a seaman’s knowledge of what going to sea is combined with what going in the air in all kinds of weather means. Added to the knowledge of what wood and steel can stand. That is the airplane must be designed not simply something that flies with floats that simply suppose<rt> the plane on the surface of the water. Airplane manufacturers are designing planes for us to go to sea in and they know nothing about the sea. Of the flyers we know <have> very few if any <who> know anything about going to sea. Now what can you expect? Stil further airplanes are designed to fly then, they are fitted out for fighting because they can fly Vocila.5 Build a ship thatwill go to sea then fit out as a cruiser.

               Well I could go on for hours, but I have blown off steam and I have given you the hint that I felt I should. A hint to the wise and so forth. This is my third trip as you know and I have learned lots about this business I did not know and I expect to learn more. I have one suggestion as result of experience. In regard to meeting your escort, I suggest a simple code to broad cast, by radio, the course and distance from some pre arranged point. That is instead of using a code and then asking for a position as your ships do they would broad cast their distance and bearing from a point. We would pick that up and instead of acknowledging we would broadcast our distance and bearing from the same point with one recognition sign to show we have gotten your call and at the same time give our position. Such a code could be arranged using our own cephers as you can readily see and where the air is so full of radio would pass without attracting the attention of any except the indicated. Whereas our system of calls and ciphers stands out in the air signals like a sore thumb. Further by this means both detachments know the location of the other and can be expecting the meeting. This time I could have guaranteed a better meeting if I had had such information . I think you will see this without further details. . . .

          Always with best regards and wishes.

Sincerely yours,        

          “Cheer up.”


Source Note: TCy, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 23. Document identification:32. . .1/3/G/J.”

Footnote 1: Document has not been found.

Footnote 2: RAdm. David W. Taylor, Chief of the Bureau of Construction and Repair.

Footnote 3: Cmdr. Noble E. Irwin.

Footnote 4: Bristol is referring to the American designed L-12, Liberty Engine for aircraft.

Footnote 5: “Voci la,” or “by word of mouth,” an indication that Bristol did not have confidence in the planes without evidence that they could operate at sea.