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Vice Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly, Commander, Southern Ireland, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters

Admiral Sims

Personal File

London, S.W.       

July 14th, 1917.   

My dear Admiral,

     I fully realize the awful muddle that has been made and is being made in despatching troops from the other side.

     There is a convoy sailing today, though I hope my recommendation that it joins the mercantile convoy from New York will be adopted.

     There is another regiment coming on an English Liner and I have received note that there are seven regiments of railroad engineers coming on six different British Liners.

     I hope that this will be the last of such business. I think it will be if the cable I sent yesterday got their without setting fire to the wires.1

     Under the circumstances, there is of course no further question at present of the four destroyers the Admiralty was thinking of send in the Channel.

     It would almost seem as though anybody who could collect a regiment on the other side, marched it down the New York and went and boarded a steamer as passenger and then called on me to see them safely convoyed.

     It is almost incredible but neither any of our military officers have nor the British War Department knew anything about the prospective sailing of these regiments on British Liners!

     I hope, though I cannot say I quite believe, that we will never have such another muddle.

     However, my reading of military history leads me to believe that no war will ever be fought without troubles of this kind. Also the business of the military man is to do the best he can with the tools he has in hand. McClellan would not move at all until he had everything <that> he had asked for. Such men as Grant and Stonewall Jackson marched with what they had. And, as we say on the other side, they got there.2

     I am informed by Daniels3 that my friends, the French, are not satisfied with what we have done for them and what we propose to do. Of course it has been pointed out that of the ships bound for France a less percentage are lost than of those bound for England, so that every consideration indicates that any addition<al> forces should be employed on the latter lines of communication. The reason these arguments do not seem to carry conviction is largely a question of the sensitiveness of the French. They seem to think that if we sent any type of ship to Great Britain we should send some of the similar type to France.

     I am not informed as to what will be the volume of the flow of troops and their supplies into France in the immediate future, but if these are to be considerable, it may be well to base in on Brest some of our coal burning destroyers. (in Pencil—They are but five) Five of these have been sent to <the> Azores by reason of the activity in that neighborhood of one or more submarines. I have asked that these be sent to Queenstown for the present. They were sent without my knowledge.

     A cable was received yesterday from Gibraltar (in Pencil-by the Admiralty) containing information given by some survivors of merchant ships that were captured by a large submarine of the Deutschland type. She captured a Norwegian steamer, obliged the steamer to tow her, and from time to time left the steamer to attack other vessels and then return. She fitted the steamer up with her own wireless and used her as a regular base.4

     The information about this submarine’s operations gives the known positions on the various days that she was in tow with the Norwegian. From a position about one hundred miles south of the first rendezvous of our troop convoy, she left the Norwegian and probably was the submarine that went to the position west of the rendezvous and there attacked the convoy.

     This submarine did not do very much damage because it appears that something is the matter with her torpedoes and, according to the Captain of the Norwegian, her guns seemed to be too heavy for her. At all events, she xxxx took a gun off an armed merchantman and put it down in her hold.

     This certainly is a curious war.

Very sincerely yours,        

P.S. I have received this morning your letter of the 11th returning my letter No. 17 in reference to procedure concerning protection of armed convoys in Translantic passage.5

     We are writing a second letter making certain modifications, or rather certain additions, on the advice of the Admiralty. When this second letter is completed I will send you a copy. I will also return the copy of the above mentioned, which contains your comments besides the paragraphs. I will copy these comments on my office copy. In the meantime I would like to explain the following paragraph, against which you have put a question mark:

agree ?   The escorting destroyers will receive orders to intercept the convoy group on this line, and well to the westward of the dangerous submarine zone. And they will also have orders as to any necessary diversion from the direct route on the way to their destination. They will also be kept informed of the latest news at all times direct from Queenstown as to enemy movements.”

     All the latter part of this paragraph means is that when you send escorting destroyers to meet a convoy you may want to give them orders to change the course of the convoy after they join it, or it may be necessary to signal to the destroyers to change the course to avoid the known position of submarines.

Vice Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly,

     Admiralty House,


Source Note: LTS DLC-MSS, WilliasSims Papers, Box 22.

Footnote 1: Bayly’s cable has not been found, but Sims sent a cable to Daniels complaining about these same issues on 12 July 1917. See: Sims to Daniels, 12 July 1917.

Footnote 2: Gen. George B. McClellan, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, and Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Bayly is recounting a popular critique about McClellan’s timid approach to offensive operations during the American Civil War (1861-1865), in contrast to the more aggressive approach of Jackson and Grant. For example, see; Edward H. Bonekemper, III, McClellan and Failure: A Study of Civil War Fear, Incompetence and Worse (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2007), 5.

Footnote 3: Lt. Cmdr. Joseph F. Daniels.

Footnote 4: Sims also reported this to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels the day before; see, Sims to Daniels, 13 July 1917, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.

Footnote 5: Bayly is probably referring to a letter Sims submitted to President Woodrow Wilson on the new tactic of convoying, see: Sims to Wilson 11, July 1917.