Captain Lewis B. McBride to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters
UNITED STATES SHIPPING BOARD
WASHINGTON January 9, 1918.
Dear Admiral Sims,
As you know, when I first returned to Washington the ultimate utilization of my services was somewhat obscure, as my orders to return home had already been issued to take effect upon the arrival of Naval Constructor Smith in London.1
As he has probably told you, it was the Chief’s intention,2 if agreeable to you, that Smith’s services should be utilized chiefly in France while Du Bose3 was to come to London for duty there. However, after a talk with Admiral Benson and the receipt of a letter which I understand you wrote direct to the Chief, he has assented to my return to London, Du Bose remaining on duty here.4
I am still acting here under your orders to me of December 4th, which were endorsed by the Secretary as follows:
“4th endorsement, U.S.Navy Department, Washington,D.C.
December 17, 1917
2. You will continue on the special temporary duty
with the American Mission to the interallied
3. Upon the completion of this duty you will report to
the Department for further orders.
Sgd. Josephus Daniels,
Secretary of the Navy”.
It is a little difficult to predict the exact date of my return, as some of the matters which are a direct result of the American Mission’s trip to Europe are hanging fire.6 One of the chief matters is a final decision as to what form will be taken by the United States participation on the Interallied Shipping Committee, the establishment of which was recommended by the Paris conference. It seems to me desirable to remain here, if the interval is not too long, until a definite decision on this matter is reached, so that if practicable I can establish a definite contact with whatever man or body of men may be appointed to represent this country.
I believe this course will result in facilitating keeping a close touch with them after they come to London. In the meantime Mr.Day7 and myself have been engaged in two general lines of activity. First we have at Mr.Hurley’s8 directions been seeing a considerable number of heads of Departments and heads of divisions of various branches of the Government, and giving them a brief and accurate verbal statement in regard to the present and prospective situation as regards shipping. This seems very necessary, as up to the date of our return there did not appear to be any real knowledge on this subject any place in Washington. Mr. Colby9 was given a hearing before a secret session of the Senate Committee on Commerce, and he gave them a very frank statement of just where we stand now and probably will stand a year from now on shipping. The committee appeared to be very much impressed by his figures, and I believe the result will be a sympathetic attitude on the part of Congress towards additional large appropriations for increasing our shipping program, and towards other legislation which is necessary to permit the most vigorous prosecution of the whole shipbuilding program.10
Second, we have participated in alarge number of conferences both at the Shipping Board and the War Department, in regard to the measures necessary to permit the movement of American forces in accordance with the recommendations of the Supreme War Council as made during the first session in Paris at the beginning of December.
Mr.Day who is in the Shipping Board organization is assistant to Mr.Hurley, has also been appointed by the Secretary of War, on the urgent recommendation of General Bliss,11 to membership on the War Council which has recently been established as the chief advisory body to the Secretary of War. This council is made up of the Secretary of War, Assistant Secretary of War, Chief of Staff, General Crozier, General Sharpe, General Weaver, General Crowder, General Pierce, and Mr.Day.12 I believe his services there will be of the greatest value in maintaining a closer touch between the War Department and the Shipping Board.
I regret to say that the general situation here in Washington doesn’t appear at all good. There are so many independent bodies, all striving separately to the best of their ability to obtain results, but along entirely independent and frequently conflicting lines. There is no point short of the President himself of co-ordinating all these independent activities. Each body has its own ideas as to the “cure-all” for the situation and as to the general policy which should be pursued. The chief trouble, as I see it, is that no broad National policy with which all responsible heads are familiar has been adopted.13
Such a policy appears absolutely essential in order to reach an intelligent basis for priorities in every direction. The present situation seems to be largely the result of everything being given A-1 priority, and the consensus of opinion is that this has been largely responsible for the more or less complete tie-up of all railroads,which has resulted in disorganization of every line of industry. I am glad to say, however, that the above rather gloomy picture does not apply to the Navy Department, although I haven’t as yet spent much time around the Department myself, the little I have seen inclines me to agree with the general verdict one hears around Washington that as compared with other departments, the Navy knows pretty well what it wants to do, and is going ahead with its job. Even the shipbuilders who only a few months ago were outspoken in their criticisms of the Department, now say they can do more business there and obtain quicker and more efficient assistance from the Navy than from any other department of the Government.
There are of course, lots of wheels within wheels here in Washington, and judging from the underground rumors and from a limited knowledge of the trend of events, I feel that there is some hope of an improvement here before very long. There is no question that the last two weeks have brought about a very much keener realization of the seriousness of the situation that existed previously. This applies to all parts of the Government from the highest quarters on down, and is resulting in redoubled efforts to find the proper solution of the tangle.
The new destroyer programme is coming along well, and although the earliest and most optimistic estimates in regard to deliveries will probably not be met, the first of the new boats, will be delivered this month, which means thirteen months from the date of placing the contract. This delivery will be made by Fore River,14 which as you know is handling more contracts than any other builder. The other builders will make their first deliveries at varying dates between now and spring. My own estimate is that between now and the end of May we will get probably 12 or 15 new boats, and from then on to the end of the year they will come through ver[y] rapidly.
There is now a proposal before the Navy Department which may or may not amount to something. Mr. Henry Ford15 has come forward and offered to undertake with his own men and his own organization the construction of an indefinite number of destroyers. In order to bring the matter to a definite head the Department has prepared a very simple design to meet the proposed conditions of production. This design contemplated a steel vessel of 200 feet water line length, 25 feet beam, 7 feet draft, and about 500 tons displacement, 20 knots speed, one 4” gun, one 3” antiaircraft gun, one twin torpedo tube, provisions for carrying depth charges throwers, geared turbine machinery with auxiliaries specially arranged to permit the instantaneous and simultaneous stopping of all machinery in order to use listening devices with a maximum of efficiency.
It is of course proposed to use oil for fuel. From these brief characteristics you will see that the proposed boat is not very different from the British “P” boats.16 The chief production men of Mr.Fords organization have been on to Washington several times in this connection, and are now actively engaged in a detailed examination into their ability to produce these boats in large numbers by next fall. Mr.Ford himself talks of the production of 500, but everyone else is more conservative. Although the Department has not yet acted definitely on the matter, my own guess is that an order will probably be placed for not less 50 and not more than 200.
As soon as I finish my work here I will endeavor to arrange to spend a week or ten days around the Navy Department in order to get in touch with some of the details of present and prospective activities before I sail for London.
With my best regards, I am,
/s/ Lewis B. McBride.
P.S. I had the package, which you entrusted to my care, sent by express direct from the “Mount Vernon” and trust that Mrs.Sims received it safely.
Source Note: LTS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 23. At the top of the first page is written, “Admiral Sims’ Personal Files.” and “1/3/J”.
Footnote 1: Stuart F. Smith. McBride had previously served as maintenance officer on Sims’ staff.
Footnote 2: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations.
Footnote 3: Naval Constructor William G. Du Bose.
Footnote 4: This letter has not been located.
Footnote 5: Also known as the Allied Naval Council, the creation of this committee was one of the most important developments of the war at sea. On 8 January 1918, Sims was appointed to represent the United States. See: Daniels to Sims, 8 January 1918; Trask, Captains and Cabinets, 174-180.
Footnote 6: The House Mission, a group of American officials under the leadership of President Woodrow Wilson’s close friend and advisor Col. Edward House. For more on this mission, see: Sims to Bayly, 20 November 1917; Opnav to Benson, 28 November 1917; Sims to Sims, 6 December 1917; and Sims to Pringle 11 December 1917.
Footnote 7: Charles Day. A member of the Shipping Board, Day acted as a liaison between the board and the War Department before being dispatched to London with Dwight Morrow and L. H. Shearman (both themselves members of the Shipping Board) to gather information on the needs for Allied shipping, particularly in terms of transporting troops and supplies to the Western Front.
Footnote 8: Edward N. Hurley, Chairman, United States Shipping Board.
Footnote 9: Bainbridge Colby, Chairman, War Trade Board.
Footnote 10: For more on efforts to encourage America’s shipbuilding program, see: Colby to Geddes, 7 January 1918.
Footnote 11: Newton D. Baker, and Tasker H. Bliss, Chief of Staff, United States Army.
Footnote 12: Baker, Benedict Crowell, Bliss, William Crozier, Chief of Ordnance, Henry G. Sharpe, Erasmus M. Weaver, Enoch H. Crowder, Judge Advocate General, and Charles C. Pierce.
Footnote 14: This complaint, which was not limited to McBride, was part of the run-up to the creation of the War Industries Board. For more, see: Cuff, The War Industries Board.
Footnote 15: A ship-building company connected with the Bethlehem Steel Corporation.
Footnote 16: Founder of Ford Motor Company and a prominent industrialist.
Footnote 17: Patrol boats, also known as sloops.