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Lieutenant Commander Charles Belknap Jr. to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters



2 February,I9I8.   

My dear Admiral,

          I have not yarned with you for along time.I confess I have not had the time to do much else but keep my nose to the grindstone and attempt to do my bit.”Things” have moved and they have not. It is all in the way you look at it.We are pressed here for two things lack of space and minor officials to attend to the details.Our system has been wrong for years and it will take years and disaster to shake us out of it.However since I last wrote you the improvement has been great even though your emissary does not believe it and sees no good about.1A person coming in from the outside who is not familiar with the workings of this place looks aghast at us and thinks why the hell don’t you do this or that.He is a regular Christopher Columbus and does not stop to think that perhaps there are at least a few here who have made the same discoveries quite some time ago and are silently working to over come them.It is hard for that person to realize the insides of our game and know the stumbling blocks which beset the paths.When an organization spending billions is held to a country grocery store tactics and the gang realizes that the game must go on even though it is not run in the proper style,what can you expect but the binding grinding attention to detail.We are not working for ourselves,we all realize perfectly that when this game is over we will not have anything to talk about but so long as we are in it we can strive to put across things for those who are in it.Ther is too damned much criticism going,we have persons and situations which cannot be eliminated but must be accepted as conditions therefore to waste time talking about them is futile and imbecilic.I can state that it is the desire of the gang here to further the gang over there heart and soul.We put across an awful lot that neither you nor any one under you know of and it is discouraging to hear only that we are PUNK and the organization is rotten.What do you suppose those people think we are,blind and stupid?At least they will credit us with having some good men here.Our prime xx fault and danger lies in the fact that the heads of the outfit do not agree and work together.I have told you of it before and more intimations of its extension come in from time to time.Before I go further I want to say here that what I write is not in the line of criticism and I write it to you and for you only and do not want it passed along. I write this way because I believe that I understand the situation over here and the human element pretty well and if I can make you see it in a non critical light it will help you to handle the job there in better knowing where and when to strike.Some of the sayings of my letters to you reached back here and were a bit distorted in traveling having lost the accompanying remarks and were not at all appreciated. We face one thing which at the start is a body blow and that is the abilities of the persons on the Admirals list.Glance at our Fleet and be cheerful if you can.Look the Navy Yards and Districts over and smile again.Sit down and figure out a perfect organization one which is well founded from truck to keelson the stop pick out your personnel for the job and what happens to your organization,dissemination of authority disappears and centralization appears.There can be no organization,deputization and supervision for times will not permit of the blunders of others.It is easy to say try them out and then fire them. It cannot be done.Place a man under criticism and the glue on the seat of his trousers is renewed by the Secretary2 just so long as that chap leaves liquor alone and is good to his wife.I got the stony stare because when I was told that so and so could not go to the job because his morals were not good,I said “If we had more men with guts and no morals in this game we would get some where”

I would give my bottom dollar to leave here tonight and go to you and get into the game and get away from all this.I am as tired out as the next fellow and when I broach the subject I get as much sympathy as a jew has for a poor Christian.Bill Pratt3 replies “So do I”.and the Admiral looks bored.4My time will come for I have the absolute promises of both the Secretary and the Admiral.So much for the ego. I am interested in watching the present C-in-C5 gradually fade from view.His trip abroad did not turn out to be a success6 and he has retired to his flagship and subsided.He lets his staff rule him and does not lead.The trend now is to place the big boss in England and you will not be superceded.I hope the day may come soon.

     It is nearly mid-night and it is up to me to turn in.This is my nights duty.Give my best to all the gang over there and especially to one B.STARK.7I overheard a remark the other day which surprised me and worried me for I could not at all understand it.I was asked why W Wilson did not like Cone.8When I expressed my surprise I was told that it was quite evident from a letter which has come in.Gosh are those two going to start squabbling?????????One more of the topsiders disagreeing.   Best wishes to you.I hope if you are down St Nazaire way you will look that brother of mine up.9He is building the docks for the Army there and also in the Gironde.

Yours most sincerely,and with a cheerful aye aye.

Charles Belknap.

P.S. Bill Cronan is in town and is trying to camouflage his approach overthere.10

Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 48. Document is on Secretary of the Navy stationery. Belknap was an aide in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 1: Written in the margins by another person: “Quite wrong; changed his mind later.”

Footnote 2: Belknap is referring to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels. Daniels did not drink alcohol and was a strong supporter of prohibition. Craig, Josephus Daniels: 245.

Footnote 3: Capt. William V. Pratt, Assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 4: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 5: Adm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander, Atlantic Fleet.

Footnote 6: Mayo had led a mission to England and France in August and September 1917.

Footnote 7: Presumably Sims’ flag secretary, Cmdr. Harold R. Stark.

Footnote 8: Belknap was undoubtedly referring to RAdm. Henry B. Wilson, commander of American patrol forces based in France, and Capt. Hutchinson I. Cone, United States Naval Aviation Forces, Foreign Service, who commanded naval air forces in France.

Footnote 9: Civil Engineer Francis W. Belknap.

Footnote 10: Cmdr. William P. Cronan. He served as commander of a transport ship that carried supplies to Europe.