Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Anne Hitchcock Sims
The Carleton, London, February 15, 1918
My darling Sweetheart:
. . . . I think I told you once that between 300 and 400 papers pass through the office each day, but it would make little difference to me if there were a thousand, as they are all attended to in the various departments and only a few come to me for signature.1 We now have an excellent organization and everything is working smoothly. I trust everybody completely, and thus all do their best work and all are thoroughly loyal, and I have time to give my attention to questions of general policy. What a pity the Department could not be organized in the same way! As it is, the chief2 is submerged with details of all sorts that he is necessarily less competent to handle than his subordinates. We have here in London a planning department (Schofield, Yarnell and Knox) which has nothing whatever to do except study and decide problems, under the general direction of Twining, who is a very able man.3
I have a letter from Babby4 in which he gives a gloomy picture of the really awful condition of the Department. It was written 3 days after he reached Washington, and everybody had been questioning him and pestering him, and perhaps he was a bit pessimistic. Doubtless he will give you his impressions when you see him in Newport. However, there can be no doubt that over here we now have an efficient and smooth working organization that gives us no trouble. And now that we have an Allied Naval Council we have all the machinery for doing the best that can be done. The decisions of this council must necessarily take precedence over any other decisions (opinions). This necessarily shifts decisions to this side – the active conduct of the war to this side. The importance of the position is consequently increased. Also the importance of the command is increasing with the continuous arrival of new vessels. By next fall there will be twice as many vessels here as there are now. This is having its influence at home. It is reported that the C-in-C5 has declared that his place is on this side; that if many more vessels are sent over he will insist upon being sent over; that if this is not done he will ask to be relieved of his command. I know this to be true, so I am writing to Ad. Benson by this mail to explain that if an officer senior to me is sent here, it will be necessary for me to request my detachment; that while I am of course willing to serve in any capacity that will help along the war, I think my presence here after being superceded would not be in the interests of efficiency. I should certainly resign the command at once. I really believe if Mayo pushes the matter to an issue, his resignation would be accepted, or else he would be obliged to remain where he is. I tell you this so that you may be prepared for anything that may turn up.6
There is another incident that is at least interesting. Our 5 battleships with the grand Fleet are commanded by Rodman,7 a rear admiral who is junior to all the other admirals in the fleet. The British admirals who have similar commands are all vice admirals-commanding squadrons of battleships. Their seconds in command are rear admirals. These latter are senior to all the rear admirals who command cruiser squadrons, so that when detachments of battleships and cruisers operate together, the battleship admirals will command the whole.
In consequence of this situation, Admiral Beatty8 has recommended that Rodman be given the temporary rank of vice admiral. This has been
recommended approved by the Admiralty and I have recommended that it be done.
It cannot be done under the present law, which allows only a certain number of acting admirals and vice admirals, and these billets are all filled. It would require an act of congress to create another vice admiral. Also, as it would not be proper to have a vice ad. serving under another vice admiral, I should be made an admiral. This could not be done without an act of congress.
Of course, one of the vice admirals (Coffman or Grant)9 could be sent over to take Rodman’s place. But admiral Beatty has specially requested that if Rodman cannot be made a vice admiral, he would rather have him as a rear admiral than have him replaced by an admiral not having the experience R. has recently acquired in the fleet.
Even if they sent a v.a. to take his place, they would probably consider it necessary to increase my rank, even if they sent Grant who is junior to me. Coffman was appointed before I was, and is consequently
The truth of the matter is that the naval force over here is really an admiral’s command – and the only thing that keeps it from being so is the present fiction that it is a part of the Atlantic Fleet. I have suggested to Ad. B. that it be made a separate command, as it is in reality.10
Don’t imagine for a moment that any of these situations worry me in the least. I simply cannot worry about anything...
Source Note: ALS, DLC, Williams S. Sims Papers, The letter is written on stationery. “U.S. NAVAL FORCES/OPERATING IN EUROPEAN WATERS” and a U.S. Navy insignia is embossed at the top of the first page.
Footnote 1: See: Sims to Sims, 20 and 21 January 1918.
Footnote 2: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations.
Footnote 3: Capt. Frank H. Schofield, Cmdr. Harry E. Yarnell, and Capt. Dudley W. Knox. They all reported to Capt. Nathan C. Twining, Sims’ chief of staff.
Footnote 4: Sims’ personal aide, Cmdr. John V. Babcock, who was then on a visit to the United States.
Footnote 5: Adm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander, U.S. Atlantic Fleet.
Footnote 6: Mayo did request a transfer of his flagship to Europe. Had this request been granted, he would have superseded Sims’ command. Capt. William V. Pratt, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations and a close friend and ally of Sims, immediately voiced strong objections to this proposal. Moreover, Mayo and Benson had a tense relationship by this point in the war, and Benson was in no mood to receive such a request favorably. Sims later wrote to Benson threatening to resign if Mayo ever came to Europe. Ultimately, Sims prevailed and Mayo remained in the United States. Deeply frustrated by the feeling that the Navy Department had let Sims usurp his command, Mayo retired within months of the war’s end. Still, Crisis at Sea, 28-30.
Footnote 7: RAdm. Hugh Rodman, Commander, Battleship Division Nine.
Footnote 8: Adm. Sir David Beatty, R.N., Commander-in-Chief, Grand Fleet.
Footnote 9: VAdm. De Witt Coffman, Second in Command, Atlantic Fleet; and Vadm. Albert W. Grant, Commander, Submarine Force, Atlantic Fleet.
Footnote 10: The last sentence in this paragraph was added later in pencil in the left margin.