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 William V. Pratt, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations

6th July, 1917.

My dear Pratt,

          Here is a matter which I have not broached before, either officially or unofficially, and I am putting it in a separate letter by itself If there is nothing you can do about it, please toss it in the fire.

          You, of all people, know the necessity for definite military organization, a clearly defined chain of command. As you know, I am filling a probably unprecedented position here. I am the senior U.S.Naval Officer abroad, I am in command of forces afloat, I am attempting to serve as the co-ordinating link between our Service and the Service of our Allies, between the Navy Department and the Admiralty, and we now how forces in France also under my general direction.

          I would not for a moment have this condition changed, it is an ideal situation to have one directing head instead of numerous ones. However, there are many little troublesome difficulties which I have been unable so far to correct and as the organization increases, these difficulties are gradually being extended.

          To put the case briefly, I should be able to find establish a definite chain of command which would definitely establish the relationship between the forces afloat, the various Force Commanders in France, Jackson at the French Ministry of Marine,1 and the Naval Attaches and their staffs.

          The Naval Attaches have a rather peculiar position – established in the time of peace for peace conditions – and I therefore today have hesitated to absorbe them into my organization except so far as they were personally willing to co-operate with me. There have been so many much more important questions for my attention, broad questions of policy and co-ordination, entirely outside of the material field that I not seen fit to attempt to present this to the Department officially. I have hesitated to do it also on the score of creating an erroneous impression in the Department to the effect that I am trying to glorify my position and take over and grab everything in sight.

          With Force Commanders now at different ports in France, with the Naval Attaches’ Offices involved not only in expenditures of necessary funds, but also in material questions which so frequently cannot be separated from other questions, and with the advent of Jackson at the French Naval Department under me, and as the Department’s special representative, the time is fast approaching when I must put this matter before the Department if for no other reason than to simply clear the air of many inconsequential, but nevertheless troublesome, questions, which are constantly arising and will continue to arise.

          To set the case briefly, we ought to have one naval organization over here, and the routes through which information and orders should flow should be clearly defined. I personally refuse to give heed to all sorts of minor details but it is important that the whole naval forces ashore and afloat should be organized in accordance with military principles in order that all of its efforts may be properly co-ordinated and thereby ensure the most efficient service of the outfit as a whole and – a far-flung branch of the Navy Department.

          There is one stumbling block in accomplishing the above purpose and that is the personality of the Naval Attache here – MacDougal.2 Personally, he is as fine a chap as one can find. Officially he is entirely impossible. If his office should be consolidated with mine into one organization it would leave him as the senior man here during my many temporary absences. That cannot be done. Even if you send me a Chief of Staff who may be senior to him, it would nevertheless still be the case that the efficiency of the work which he must perform cannot be what it should be until he is replaced with by another man.

          I have no desire to injure his future career by making a report against him or recommending his removal. His troubles are simply due to the way he is constituted but he is too old to be changed. The Department and everyone concerned will be assured if he could be side-tracked to other duty in Europe or ordered Home and given a suitable command in some way which would not reflect upon his ability or injure his future career.

          I am sorry to trouble you with this but you are the only man that I can lay the matter before so frankly.

          Briefly stated, MacDougal ought to be personally removed in the manner I have described above and then a cable should be sent to me directing me to organize all Naval Forces <and personnel> ashore and afloat which are working in this part of the world.

          Don’t forget that this will involve much more assistance than I have now. We are now in a serious condition in this respect. Daniels3 I must use as my representative with the destroyers, and hence for all the other work – infinitely greater and more exactly than anything we had in the Flotilla; I have practically speaking Babcock4 alone to back me up.

          I have pressed Gillmor into service-as you know he is the European Managing Director of the Sperry Gyroscope Company who and also he resigned from our Service some years ago.5 He is an excellent man and is performing invaluable service for me, but it is absolutely essential that I should have as a minimum a Chief of Staff and two more assistants who are thoroughly in touch with present day service organization and methods immediately.

          There is also no question but <that> we are allowing golden opportunities to slip by in other ways. Here, is the experience of three years of actual warfare available to us if we take it. It cannot be obtained by sending men over here for short periods with the idea that they can go down to the Admiralty and take back a busy man up in the corner and cross-examine him. The British officers cannot guess what it is we want, they have not the time to volunteer it, and we must simply splice in with them and obtain the information by daily contact and observation.

          Thank Heaven we don’t have a war more than once in a generation but we can never tell when it is going to fall upon us and it therefore seems self-evident that we should take the full advantage of it when it does happen. In time of peace we can only theorise and have nothing but unsatisfactory sea manœuvers and a game board and similar means of testing our efficiency. Here, are some actual <war> tests which have been going on for three years and we should not let a moment slip by to wring from them all benefit which is obtainable.

          As I have reported by letter and dispatch, I should say that we should have representatives of all Bureaus, material and otherwise, constantly on duty in the Admiralty.

          We should have our best gunnery expert on duty with the Grand Fleet. A submarine man on duty with the Submarine Flotilla. A destroyer man with the destroyers and so on. and I should think that this is sufficiently important that if the officers can be obtained in no other way, an old line battleship or some other craft should be put out of commission in order to obtain them.

          Well this is quite a long harangue – I have just unburdened on you many things which run through our minds daily here, but which we do not insist upon in official reports or despatches simply because there are so many more important and broader questions to be handled.

          As I said above, if nothing can be done in connection with this letter without riling or aggravating various people in the Department, why just please tear it up and throw it aside.

          In spite of it all we are trying to remain cheerful and doing our best and will so continue as long as we are able to keep moving.

Very sincerely yours,

          W Sims

Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 78. At the top of the first page of this letter someone (most likely Sims) has written, “(Not Sent)”. Portions of the text that are crossed through, underlined, or appear in angle brackets are emendations made by Sims. At the bottom of the third page, Sims has added in pencil, “The Japs have, and are still, keeping a stream of officers circulating through the various branches of the British service.”

Footnote 1: Capt. Richard H. Jackson, United States Naval Attaché at Paris.

Footnote 2: Capt. William D. MacDougall, United States Naval Attaché at London.

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

Footnote 4: Cmdr. John V. Babcock.

Footnote 5: Reginald E. Gillmor.

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