Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations

January 26th. 1918.    

PERSONAL and CONFIDENTIAL.

My dear Admiral,

          When the LEVIATHAN arrived in Liverpool and we got the reports of the destroyers that were sent out to escort her in, it became at once apparent that something was very wrong about the handling of the ship.

          Six destroyers were sent out to meet her, and subsequently another one with orders to join. In addition the cruiser ACTIVE went out to join her as she passed before Queenstown, but did not succeed in doing so because the LEVIATHAN did not pass through the correct rendezvous. Little attention was paid to the ability of the destroyers to keep up with the vessel after she got into the zone, and she succeeded in losing all but one of them.

          I referred the report to the Commanding Officer1 and he claims that his position was accurate at all times, as shown by soundings and so forth. Of course the destroyers that had recently left the coast, and particularly the ACTIVE that only had a short distance to run to the rendezvous, could not have been out of their positions materially. Therefore I concluded that the LEVIATHAN was out. She passed with only one destroyer’s escort through a route of the Irish Sea where one or two submarines were known to be operating. It was for this reason that we sent a heavy escort. I consider the ship ran a very serious risk of being torpedoed and possibly losing a great many of the 7000 troops she carried.

          I don’t want to make any official report on this subject, but I know the Commanding Officer of the LEVIATHAN very well, and while he may be a valuable officer in certain respects for certain duties, I consider him a positive danger in his present position.

          I do not know how well you may be acquainted with this officer and his capabilities, but I am sure you could easily find out upon inquiry.

          I should feel very anxious for the safety of the vessel if he is left in command of the vessel.

Very sincerely yours,                

Source Note: LT, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 49. Following the close, the letter is addressed: “Admiral W.S.Benson, U.S.Navy,/Chief of Naval Operations,/Navy Department./Washington, D.C.” Despite the misgivings that Sims expressed here, Oman remained the Commanding Officer of LEVIATHAN. Over the course of the war, LEVIATHAN transported over 119,000 American troops to the Western Front without incident; Brent I. Holt, SS LEVIATHAN: America’s First Superliner (Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press, 2009).

Footnote 1: Capt. Joseph W. Oman.

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