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 Captain Mark L. Bristol




CABLE ADDRESS, “SIMSADUS”                    LONDON, S.W. 1.

REFERENCE No......                      January 24th. 1918.

My dear Bristol,

          Your letter of December 29th.1 reached me a couple of days ago and I have read it with much interest. I note that while your hand-writing is not much better than it usually is it was a bit easier to read this time than the last time. Therefore my observations on the subject have evidently done some good.

          All you have to say about our backwardness in aircraft and the opposition that you encounter<ed,> is very interesting indeed, but it is one of those things that are bound to come about that way in any organization.2 Improvements must almost necessarily come up from the bottom and must be resisted to a certain extent by the older chaps at the top. I am one of those older chaps now, but I have had such bitter experiences when I was a younger chap that I hope I will not fall into the conservative errors of my predecessors.

          You may be sure that we are doing everything that we can upon this side to push along the aeroplane service, and as far as I can see the principal dignitaries at home are absolutely alive to the necessity of giving us all practicable assistance, and I believe that they are doing this to the extreme extent of their power. That is a pretty strong statement, but I believe it to be true.

          They have given us the men we wanted on this side and they are supplying as rapidly as possible all of the material we ask for. It is quite true that we have not got very many men who have had extended experience in the building and management of airplanes, but that is not going to work against us to anything like the extent you seem to assume, and this for the very simple reason that we are now working actually with the British and the French in this respect. There is nothing at all that they know on this subject that has not been made available to us, and our people are in actual daily consultation with them. It is more than consultation – it is actually working with them. Whenever there is any doubt as to whether any of the dope we send over to the other side will be misunderstood, the British immediately give us a man who is expert in that particular line and we send him over. A number of their men are on the other side now helping us not only in the building of the machines but in the training of the people.

          You seem to assume that the British have not made very considerable progress in the question of Flying boats. They have some of the best sea-going airplanes that you can possible imagine. They tell me that these machines have actually ridden out a gale of wind. They weigh about 9 tons, they have three 360-h.p. Rolls Royce engines, they make a speed of nearly 70 miles an hour for seven or eight hours, have a maximum speed of 95 miles an hour, and carry a very considerable number of 230 lb. bombs, or a lesser number of 500 lb.bombs. Doubtless they will increase the capacity of future machines. These are being built as rapidly as possible by the British. They have been used with a very considerable success against submarines. A number of <about ten> submarines have been destroyed by them. The submarine seems to dread them particularly. They have also a very considerable number of dirigible balloons of the non-rigid character and these do excellent service in patrolling on the coast. They are building some rigid dirigibles, as many of these as they can supply sheds for. The only limit to the number of these now is the impossibility of getting enough steel for the huge sheds that are required. There are so many other activities that require the steel.

          The kite balloon that is being used on this side has pretty nearly twice the capacity of the one that was developed on our side. They found that the smaller size would not stand the work they wanted it to do. These are used extensively both with the Grand Fleet and with destroyers. Our destroyers are now being fitted with winches for handling these kite balloons and six sheds are now being built at their base. These will be used by us and they are now being used by the British in the way you describe.

          You seem to be under the impression that the command of the air is in the hands of the Germands. This is not true and has not been at any time. If it had been they would have been able to push to the westward on the Western Front. It is true that they have bombed London from time to time, and gotten away with the loss of few of their machines. If you will take a look at the map, and will study it for a few minutes, you will see the reason of this. You will see that even if the British had a preponderance of aircraft in the proportion of ten to one, they could not prevent an air raid on London, and this for the simple reason that they cannot possibly be informed that an air raid is coming, until after the aeroplanes coming across the North Sea strike the coast of England at only a few minutes run from London. If the North Sea were all solid land the English would be warned of the coming of an air raid in time to concentrate and meet it somewhere on its track. As it is now she must scatter her forces in order to put up any opposition at all.

          The bombing of German towns by English aeroplanes is a much more difficult operation for reasons that are just the contrary to those given above. However, it is being accomplished with very considerable success. The loss of German planes that have been bombing London recently, have been severe enough to cause something of the nature of a mutiny in their air service. Perhaps it had not got as far as mutiny but it was evidently a very strong disinclination to engage in these operations. It has long since passed beyond the stage of voluntary service<,> as is the case with submarines.

          I sincerely hope that our aeroplane program will be carried out successfully. I hear nothing but good accounts of the Liberty engine. They keep me informed officially of its progress. I have been informed of the characteristics of certain of the planes that are now being built. If the description is accurate, they will be real seagoing machines. Moreover, they will have four guns and will have entirely all round gun fire. They are not being built upon the experience of our own people, but upon the united experience of all these people over here.

          With regard to your suggestions about a code for meeting escorts, it looks good to me. However, as I do not handle the details of this escorting business I will turn it over to those who have charge of it in the organization, and they will see if there is any reason why it should not be adopted.

          I will always be glad to hear from you at any time in criticism or suggestion. We all feel over here so strongly the necessity of succeeding that we absolutely welcome any criticism or suggestion that has any chance of helping us.

Very sincerely yours,


We are fairly cheerful.

Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, Mark L. Bristol Papers, Box 30. Addressed below close: “Capt.Mark L.Bristol, U.S.N./U.S.S. NORTH CAROLINA./c/o Postmaster,New York.”

Footnote 2: For more on the ongoing Naval aviation developments, see: Hitchinson I. Cone to Sims, 22 January 1918.

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