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 31st. 1918.

My dear Admiral,

          Referring to your letter of December 31st.1 I had forgotten to answer your question with regard to the pair of binoculars that I sent to you, the ones that were gotten from the submarine UC-44.2 They were intended for you personally, but I suggested that in case you did not care for them as a souvenir (and I never collect souvenirs) they might be interesting to the optical people, as I assume that they are about the most efficient that the Germans now produce for use on submarines.

          Concerning your action in regard to the letter I wrote you about Commander Berry and his activities on this side, of course I approve of the action you have taken.3 If I had not been prepared to do this , I should not have written to you on the subject at all. I turned the whole matter over to your judgment.

          I have not told Berry anything about this, and I do not think it would be necessary. I think that he probably has a quite different view of the situation now from what he had when he came over here. Moreover, I think he is very busily occupied in taking care of his boat and that he will not be liable to cause any trouble. However, I didn’t think it right to risk this.

          I sent you a telegram yesterday upon the subject which has been the cause of considerable embarrassment over here, and that is the extraordinary weekly statements that the Secretary of War has been getting out.4 It is something which the people on this side find it wholly impossible to understand, that is, why he issues these statements and what his object can be. He bases them of course upon such information as can be transmitted to him by the Government’s agents. This information must necessarily be incomplete as compared with that collected by the various agencies of the various allies. The consequence is that much of his information is known by them to be wrong, and much of it is known to have been inspired by the enemy. The inevitable result is that the Secretary’s statements are sarcastically ridiculed. It would therefore seem that unless they serve some useful purpose which is not now apparent, it would be better to all round if they were discontinued. Of course I am giving you this as a purely personal opinion for such interest as it may have. I quite realize it is none of my particular business.

          There is another subject which has caused me some embarrassment and that is the refusal of our government to accept the invitation of the British Government to make me an honorary member of the Board of the Admiralty. This is a remarkable complimentary invitation and it was issued only after the authorities had consulted the King on the subject.5

          Referring to the last cable I sent on this subject, at the request of Sir Eric Geddes6 I communicated the reply to him to the effect that our Government thought the appointment would have a desirable effect but that they feared it would be displeasing to the other Allies. He therefore suggested that the matter be allowed to rest until the other Allies could be communicated with. This he thought best to do when the various Chiefs of Staff came together for the recent Allied Naval Council on January 22nd. He discussed this matter with both the French and Italian Chiefs of Staff and they not only both declared it was perfectly agreeable to them but they both said they thought it would be a very good thing. In addition Admiral de Bon7 said that he thought something of the same kind might be done with respect to his Government and he said he would let me know about the details of this later.

          Yesterday the Ambassador8 sent for me and told me that Sir Eric Geddes had been to see him and explained to him that there was now no objection on the part of our Allies to this appointment being made, and he suggested to the Ambassador that this information be communicated to our Government. This I believe has been done.

          When I was appointed Naval Attache, the British State Dept. was notified by the Ambassador in a letter of the usual form.9 I did not see the letter before it went and it included the usual paragraph in reference to presentation of the Attache to the King. Of course it was a mistake to include this paragraph as I already had been presented to the King and the object of the presentation is only that he may be personally acquainted with people in that position. I tried to head the thing off, but it was not successful and I had to be presented again.10 At this interview the King showed a most surprising accuracy of information about naval affairs. He knew the details of the latest action between submarines and anti-submarine vessels. He even said that he was sorry to hear that our new destroyers would not be coming out as fast as had been originally thought. I assume that he is kept informed by conversations with the First Lord and the 1st.Sea Lord of the Admiralty.11 I know that Jellicoe12 used to go and see him two or three times a month. As for Admiral Wemyss, he and the King were kids together on board ship in their youth and he knows him very familiarly.13 At this interview the King asked again what news there was from our Government as to the invitation to make me a Member of the Board.

          You can therefore readily imagine that the refusal of our Government to accept this invitation is a continuous embarrassment to me.14

          There are a great many items of interest which I do notthink it worth while to mention because they are now included in our weekly letter. These weekly letters are intended as a running account of all the items of interest that have turned up through the week. The idea is is that they will give you and any other persons interested a sort of general review of what is going on, and this without the labor of going through a number of reports or having their contents detailed to you.15

          I thank you very much indeed for the cordial sentiments expressed in the first paragraph of your letter to which this is in answer. I certainly hope that you may have all possible success through the coming year, and that before this season comes round again we may all be enjoying the blessings of a permanent peace.

Very sincerely yours,   

Source Note: Cy, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 49. Addressed below close: “Admiral W.S.Benson, U.S.N./Chief of Naval Operations,/Navy Department,/Washington.D.C.”

Footnote 1: Benson’s letter has not been found.

Footnote 2: For more on the UC-44 and the binoculars, see: Sims to Benson, 22 October 1917.

Footnote 3: Cmdr. Robert L. Berry. Sims’ letter to Benson concerning Berry has not been found, however, for Berry’s actions, see: Joel R. Poinsett Pringle to Sims, 29 January 1918.

Footnote 4: Undoubtedly, Sims was referring to statements of Secretary of War Newton D. Baker concerning the push from the British and French to amalgamate American troops into their armies. Baker opposed such amalgamation and argued that the situation was not grave enough to warrant abandoning the plan to create a separate American army operating independently. See, for example, Baker to Woodrow Wilson, 3 January 1918 and enclosures, Wilson Papers, 45: 438-40. Not surprisingly, Sims believed that American troops should be amalgamated. See: Sims to Lewis Bayly, 24 January 1918.

Footnote 5: That is, King George V of Great Britain.

Footnote 6: Geddes was First Lord of the Admiralty.

Footnote 7: Ferdinand Jean Jacques de Bon, Chief of the General Staff of the French navy. See also: Walter H. Page to Robert Lansing, 29 January 1918.

Footnote 8: American Ambassador to Great Britain Walter Hines Page.

Footnote 9: On Sims’ appointment as attaché, see: Benson to Sims, 8 December 1917.

Footnote 10: Sims had first been presented to King George V on 2 May, see: Sims to Leigh C. Palmer, 1 May 1917. It is not known when he met with the king in January.

Footnote 11: First Lord of the Admiralty was Sir Eric Geddes; as of December, the First Sea Lord was Adm. Sir Rosslyn E. Wemyss. R.N.

Footnote 12: Adm. Sir John R. Jellicoe, R.N. was the former First Sea Lord.

Footnote 13: Wemyss and the future King George V served together on the training ship H.M.S. Britannia from 1877 to 1879 and then the corvette H.M.S. Bacchante from 1879 to 1882. Kenneth Rose, King George V (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983), 7-13; Tony Heathcote, The British Admirals of the Fleet, 1734-1995 (London: Pen and Sword, Ltd., 2002), 250.

Footnote 14: As seen in Josephus Daniels’ diary of this date, there was great opposition, including from Benson, to allowing Sims to accept this appointment. See: Diary of Josephus Daniels, 31 January 1918.

Footnote 15: For an example of one of these reports, see: Sims to Daniels, 14 January 1918.

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