Lieutenant Commander Charles K. Belknap, Jr., Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters
OFFICE OF NAVAL OPERATIONS
July 26, 1917.
My dear Admiral:
I am very much obliged to you for your letter which has just been received in the Embassy mail bag.
I have not given up the hope as yet of being able to get across into your force, and trust that I will be able to work it in some manner sooner or later. It is hard to sit here and arrange the going away of officers to the other side and have to sit behind yourself, but I think we should take it in the same manner that Captain Pratt does. He has absolutely made his own personal feelings secondary to the needs of the service, and goes wherever he is sent with a cheerful aye aye. Speaking of him I want to tell you that he is as usual delivering a full load of goods each day, and he has by his precise, exact, and efficient methods,won the full appreciation and confidence of the Admiral.
Captain Chase was one of the clearest thinkers that the Navy had, but he was naturally slow in reaching a decision, and consequently his desk was piled up with papers awaiting his action. This has been obliterated by Captain Pratt and at present there are no decisions lying on his desk which have not been acted upon <by> him. (Remember I do not mean to indicate that there are no<t> papers awaiting decisions on his desk, by others than Captain Pratt). He is at present very much worried about Mrs. Pratt, which is quite natural, and consequently does not seem to be his oldtime self. However, that condition of affairs I trust will be changed very shortly.
You ask what I mean by upheaval. In talking with a few Senators of my acquaintance and newspaper men of high standing and others here in Washington there is evidently distinct, well founded, and far reaching dissatisfaction in Congress over the conduct of affairs in both the War and Navy Departments. It does not seem to be located in any particular political faction, but does seem to be well grounded and generally distributed throughout almost the entire body.
Winston Churchill, who has been down here for quite sometime working on an article for the Navy Department has interested himself very greatly in the administration of affairs, especially in the Navy Department, and he has prepared with the aid of Captain
s Pratt, Earl<e>, Mr. Roosevelt, <Palmer,> Chief Constructor Taylor, and others an inferential article on the present administration and the system employed in the Navy Department. This I am told by him is to be read to the President very shortly. There is no doubt that there are <is a> great deal of things <influence> being brought to bear upon the present Secretary of the Navy, just how far it is going to reach I do not know. I believe that the officials of the country are beginning to realize that the present organization as it stands is not fit to withstand the strain and expansion of war placed upon it. The attitude seems to be a willingness to give everything it possibly can, but to expect efficiency at the other end. This is not to be had at the present time, and therefore it seems that eventually when enough rope has been given the present officials will hang themselves. Churchill, whom you know is politically strong, has told me that a strong attempt is to be made during the present session of Congress for a thorough investigation of all affairs with the chopping off of the heads of the officials. He tells me that if it is not done in this session of Congress it will surely occur in the next. From one on the inside looking out this looks to me to be a reasonable supposition, for I cannot believe that conditions will remain as they are at present.
I am enclosing you a Congressional Record relative to the Committee on Public Information. I think that you will be very much interested in this as it more or less affects you through the publicity end of what is going on under your direction. The history of this Committee is short. When diplomatic relations were broken the Secretary appointed me Censor for the Navy Department and directed me to prepare a bill to present to Congress. This I worked on with the aid of such men as Pratt and Schofield in the Navy, and the ablest of the newspaper and publishing officials of this country. The plan was to draw up a bill approved by the State, War, and Navy Departments, legally correct, publish it for discussion, call a meeting of the publishers of the United States, amend the bill in such a manner that the State, War, Navy, and Press would be behind it, present it to Congress for passage, upon passage the President to appoint the ablest, most efficient, and broadminded man of the publishing world, who had the confidence of the people of the United States, as Chief Censor, and appoint officials from the State, War, and Navy Departments as the committee on censorship, give them the job of forming the service and let them go to it. This paper was submitted to the Secretary, and the only thing which was approved was the latter part. For the broadminded civilian a Mr. George Creel was selected.
He has, as you may know, published many articles on the snobbishness and drunkenness of the Army and Navy officer, tried to run a city out in the West with policemen unarmed, and was hooted out of town, and finally married Blanche Bates, the actress, which seems to be his greatest claim to notoriety. He is a Jew with a sharp intellect and a vitriolic pen, can take the truth and twist it so that no lawyer can pin the lie to him. He was a member of the Administration Campaign Publicity Committee and a staunch backer of the Secretary of the Navy, and as a political reward was given the job of Chairman of the Committee of Public Information. This committee consists of the Secretary of State, the Secretary of War, and the Secretary of the Navy, with Mr. Creel as Chairman. He has collected in his department all the worst type of newspaper correspondents, and by it has lost the confidence of the press, and the officials of the three Departments housed in this building, and unless he changes his ways will rapidly hang himself. He has made several very serious mistakes and will not accept the aid or assistance of anybody who should know of the things that he writes. At the present time he is practically boycotted by the State and War Department and leans heavily on the Navy Department. You must remember that our Secretary is first a newspaper man, and second Secretary of the Navy. His main idea when a dispatch comes in is to get it to the press as soon as possible and just as much thereof as is possible, and in many cases he acts upon these dispatches without any advice of others. I tell you the above simply that you may be able to picture to yourself the press situation of the Department and be guided thereby.
There is as you probably
no <know> a certain amount of discontent in the Department itself. The Secretary and the Assistant Secretary do not agree, and the Assistant Secretary and the Chief of Naval Operations do not agree. The relations of the Secretary with the Chief of Naval Operations are at the present time good, due to the intense loyalty of the latter. In one of your dispatches you complained that certain portions of your dispatches were being given out word for word. I have checked this up and can locate only one instance where a paraphrase of your letter was given to the press and that was relative to the reception committee the Germans had for the arrival of your destroyers on the other side. Carter, the Admirals Aide, has taken particular pains to send a copy of your dispatch relative to the giving out of textual portions of your dispatches to either <every> official s in the Navy Department or <and> the Committee on Public Information.
The 110 foot submarine chasers are the particular pet<s> of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. They are not impeding the destroyer building in any way as they are built at the Navy yards and principally by wood workers, hence you will probably receive quite a number of them in the near future. Twenty-one new destroyers have been recently authorized, which makes a total of eighty-seven contracted for and in the process of building. The first of these will appear about January the first. The later destroyers are to have twenty-five knots smokeless speed and twenty-eight knots high speed. The reason for this I cannot see and have kicked vigorously against it with but little success.
I believe that the public opinion on this side at the present time seems to be succinctly as follows: Can the Army win the war on shore before the Navy looses [i.e., loses] it at sea, this remark you hear on all sides, it is in the minds of all people, and I hate to see such a state of affairs. The Navy has never lost a war before and it will not be the cause of the loss of this war I am sure. It does seem to me that the Navy ( and when I say Navy I mean the combined Navies) could and should take a more active part in this war. I believe that every class of vessel, built and building, inclusive of small sea sleds, patrol boats, 110 footers, destroyers, and so on up can be utilized in a concentrated movement against the submarine. If you live in a mosquito infested country you do not hire five thousand boy scouts to go out and swat mosquitoes for you, but you go where they are bred.
Everyone realizes that it is a tremendous undertaking, must be coordinated and under the direction of one man. It does seem that the petty jealousies between nations, departments, and officials, should at a time like this be laid aside. The war at present is causing the loss of many lives ashore, much money in ships and cargoes at sea, and does not seem to be getting anywhere. After this war is over the usefulness of all predreadnought classes of vessels will be at an end. They can at the present time render,it seems to me, invaluable service, and the assemblying of all predreadnoughts of the allied nations
and <To deliver a> concentrated attack s, preceded by aerial attacks, countermining by aeroplanes, and possibly countermining by small craft<, all> backed up by the main fleet should accomplish the desired end. This I think is the feeling of a great many on this side. It is readily recognized that tremendous losses will ensue form such an undertaking, but it is not believed that the loss will <not> be as great as if the war is allowed to continue as at present. Of course such a plan is a risky undertaking. It would probably reduce the individual allied nations’ naval strength below that of Germany, but it cannot possibly reduce the combined allied strength to such an extent. There seems to be a certain feeling among the officials in the Navy Department that under no circumstances should our fleet take part in operations abroad at the present time. I do not think that this feeling is borne out by public opinion, on the other hand there seems to be a small tendency by the people to inquire into why the Navy is not being utilized more than it is at present, and why they are kept in safety behind nets. I have heard the Secretary say that he believed that such an action as above indicated should take place, and should the time come ( which I believe firmly is bound to come, and the sooner the better), and I think as far as he is concerned it would meet with his approval. That at least would be one stumbling block out of the way. Naturally one hates to hear the service in which he is criticized and to be <see it> steering a course which seems at the present time to be headed for an increased and far greater amount of criticism on the part of this country. However the above is of little use and interest to you except possibly in that it may express to you a bit of the feeling on this side.
The appointment of Admiral Grant to Vice Admiral was under discussion for quite sometime. I think that there were three candidates for the job, Gleaves, Grant, and Knapp. I feared for a long time that the successful convoy of the troops to France would win the position for Gleaves, but it was evidently decided to give it to Grant and not to Knapp because the latter has a chance to obtain that position later on. Knapp has done excellent work in Santo Domingo and Haiti and he is looked upon by the President as a diplomat and his actions in his present job have been highly commended upon by all sides, both by the State Department and the President.
There does not seem to be any particular revolutionary changes to be made at the present. The country is not alive to the war as yet and is willing to slumber on peacefully. It is to be hoped that the Germans will so far forget themselves as to send some raiding vessels to this coast, this would be the best thing that could happen to the country at the present time.
Relative to your correspondent man, Pegler, I tried to get the Secretary to send you a cable approving your action in removing him. There was evidently some great pressure brought to bear on the Secretary relative to this incident, and he was adamant in his reply. There was absolutely nothing doing in that direction. I have tried quietly to get the United Press to remove Pegler
himself <themselves> without any further open discussion regarding the matter. This may and it may not prove successful, however, there is nothing like taking a chance.
With best wishes to you and the lucky members of your staff, believe me always ready to help in any way that I can,
Yours most sincerely,