Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Anne Hitchcock Sims
30, Grosvenor Gardens, London,
Sunday, January 20, 1918
My wonderful Sweetheart:
. . . In this connection, you must not imagine <me> as harassed with details or weighty decisions. I am not occupied with the former nor bothered by the latter. Each day there are over 300 documents pass through headquarters. Also a hundred or so cablegrams. The bulk of these I never see, as they are handled and answered by the staff. A certain number (orders, accounts, etc) have to have my signiture. Of these latter, nearly all are routine business. They are put in a basket marked “routine”, and I sign them without reading them.
Finally, when there are communications of importance that require my attention. I do not see them either until they have been studied by the branch of the staff concerned, and usually an answer prepared for my consideration. Often they concern very technical matters (aircraft, etc) about which I know little and have no opinion.
Even if a question of policy is to be decided, our “planning section” (Twining, Schofield, Knox & Yarnell), discuss it, study it and reach a decision before bringing it to me.1
In any case, when a final decision is reached, I almost never write it. A tentative draft is composed, typewritten and brought to me for approval.
In all the time I have been here, I have not written (composed) half a dozen letters or cables.
This will, I believe, make it clear how the organization works, and how small an amount of work it puts on me. And this will be true no matter how large it gets. We are now occupying three 25-room houses and are making arrangements to take over another one – all next to each other in the same block.
With able and sufficient assistants to do the work, there is no limit to the amount of business that can be handled. And it can be done without strain, provided one does not worry and borrow trouble.
Each morning at 10 I go to the Admiralty for a conference with the 1st Sea Lord, the Deputy 1st S.L., the Asst. Chief of Staff, the chief Intelligence officer, and various experts on specialties.2 We all meet around a big table, and discuss the events of the day before and problems and questions that come up.
This and certain conferences, and the administrative work described above, and a few interviews, constitute my ordinary day’s work. But the point is that there is no real work, such as composing a difficult paper, etc That is what a staff or organization is for. Each in his specialty can do this much better than I could (particularly when the responsibility is “put up to” them); and if I attempted it, I would not last long. It was because poor Fletcher could not understand this – or at least could not, or would not, do it, that he became submerged and had to be sent home.3 When they overhauled his papers after he left, they found many letters that had not been considered, and not a few that had not even been opened (!!).
I realize, of course, that a house cannot be run this way, except to a very limited extent. That is why I do not wish you to burden yourself by trying to write me too often. Nothing can be so valuable to me as your health and comfort – not to mention their value to our precious ones. So your principal “mission” is to keep well in body, nerves and peace of mind. If you can do this, I will be satisfied with postal cards telling me you are doing so. See? . . .
Perhaps I have never told you that since the very beginning of the war in 1914, it was my constant day dream to get over here and lend a hand at the Admiralty. I did not mention it because it seemed so wholly impossible. And here we are in the war and I have an active part! tho I was the last man on the list of rear admirals when I was appointed! I thank God that America is doing her part; but I will never cease to regret that we did not come in soon enough to save all the suffering and waste that is now going on and will continue in worse form before we can make ourselves really felt with our new destroyers, aeroplanes, new merchant ships, etc.
If we had only listened to Roosevelt4 and begun in 1914 to prepare our forces and resources, I believe the war would have been over long ago. Germany’s only hope was, and is, to win the submarine campaign, (or make a compromise peace) before we could make our force felt. I am afraid that at the best we will not occupy a very enviable position when the history of this war comes to be written in the light of all the facts. . . All Tuesday next I will be in conference with the naval representatives of the allies, and their strikers. Of course I would want to be spick and span. I owe this to the position as naval representative for the U.S., not to mention being the European representative of the family. . . . The other day I was having a chat with Admiral Wemyss. It was at one of the dinners given by the naval attachés in London. He said: “What are we going to do after the war”? – meaning, what duty would we perform. He added that he did not think he would care to return to the usual routine work after having held his present position, and he asked me what I thought about it— how I felt about it.
I told him I had often thought of it, and I felt that I would rather retire.
I might be offered Chief of Naval Operations, but I would not like that under my circumstances. I would rather have the fleet, but I feel that I would not care to take up again the routine of training. I feel that I have worked enough, and had better make room for the younger men. I would want to devote all my time to you and our precious babies and to any think you wanted me to do what do you think [i.e., thing] about it? . . .
Monday, Jany 21, 1918.
You doubtless remember the copy of a letter to Pratt5 I sent you recently — the one which recommended the manner in which I believe our [many?] power (army forces) should be applied to the Western Front.
Well, thank God, the P.Ds.6 are beginning to see the light, and I believe the scheme will go through. It will be taken up for discussion immediately by all parties concerned and I believe a definite decision will soon be reached. But, Oh! the waste of time and effort — due principally to national pride, personal influence and politics! . . .
Do not resist requests for photos of me or the family. We are public characters — at least I am — and curiosity as to the family is very natural. Moreover, the publication of these photos is of a certain importance, for, no matter what our personal ideas as to good taste, etc., it is nevertheless true that the better a man is known to the public, the more confidence the public has in him — and that is important.
At least it would be of great importance in steadying public opinion until possible misfortunes that were nobody’s fault could be explained. As soon as I was appointed to this position, biographical articles began to appear, and many photos. These made me known to the man on the street, and you have seen the result as the many expressions of confidence that have come to your notice. And the more articles and photos there are the more is the effect. This applies not only to mine (photos) but to those of the family.
You can imagine what the effect would have been if we had taken measure to prevent all photos and biographical <articles> being published.
The man on the street would have been saying: “Who is this man Sims, and why has the Navy Dept. taken the last man on the rear admirals’ list and put him in this position?” If that had been the case, you can imagine the result in case of misfortune. There can be no doubt that your photo and that of our dear chicks are doing good service for the cause.
The following from a letter just received (a few moments ago) from Benson7 will show the effect of being known both personally and by ones activities. The letter is dated Dec. 31st:
“at the close of the old year I want to congratulate you on your splendid success in the way
of having you have handled the situation of United States naval affairs abroad and to congratulate you on the splendid reputation you have made for yourself with the various allies. I wish you a happy and successful new year.
“If you will let me know our shortcomings and when we can be of more assistance to you in carrying out the plans for a successful prosecution of the war, we will promise to do all that we can to meet your requests”.
This last paragraph is significant. It was written after the receipt of the cable in which I did not supply the “strong positive statement” requested.8
The remainder of the letter is still more interesting, but cannot be quoted here, but I will see that you get it later. . . .
I will have to close now, as it is nearly 7 PM and tomorrow the mail closes and I cannot come to the office because the Allied Naval Council will be in cession all day.
So, au revoir, my darling. I am loving you and the precious ones all the time
Source Note: ALS, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 9.
Footnote 1: Capt. Nathan C. Twining, Sims’ Chief of Staff; Capt. Frank H. Schofield, Cmdr. Dudley W. Knox; Cmdr. Harry E. Yarnell.
Footnote 2: First Sea Lord Adm. Sir Rosslyn E. Wemyss; Deputy First Sea Lord RAdm. George G.W. Hope; Assistant Chief of Naval Staff RAdm. Sir Alexander L. Duff; Director of Naval Intelligence RAdm. Sir W. Reginald Hall.
Footnote 3: VAdm. William B. Fletcher who Sims relieved as commander of American naval forces on the coast of France. See: Sims to William S. Benson, 15 October 1917.
Footnote 4: Former President Theodore Roosevelt, who was a vocal advocate for preparedness.
Footnote 5: Capt. William V. Pratt, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations and a personal friend of Sims’.
Footnote 6: That is, persons of distinction.
Footnote 7: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations. Benson’s letter has not been found.
Footnote 8: See: Sims to Josephus Daniels, 23 December 1917.