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 Rear Admiral Albert P. Niblack, Commander, Patrol Forces Based on Gibraltar

July 2nd.1918.

My dear Niblack,

     Your letter of June 21st. has just been received.1 Your description of Roper2 coincides with my idea of that gentleman, a combination of “enthusiasm, unworkable ideas, and mis-information.” I am glad indeed that he has gone home and I hope that he will stay there.

     I understand exactly what your difficulty is in having officers submit written reports after each trip recommending that the whole organization’s methods of attacks, be entirely altered. You can counteract all this most successfully if you will organize regular conferences and require the officer who proposes new things to make good before the conference. This is the best killer of the erratic mind of man that I know.

          I have had extensive experience in this line in command of the flotilla. You may imagine that there were many schemes put forward by enthusiastic, ambitious and more or less impractical men. I always told them I would not recommend their schemes until they could first make good before the conference; that it would be no use taking up their time to explain it to me but that I would put it in the Conference envelope and invite them to explain it before the next conference. The usual result was that in the discussion the Conference would turn it down and very often convince the inventor that his idea was not practicable.

     The point of this whole business is that if a thing is turned down by the fellow at the head of the organization, he doesn’t have to do this very often before he gets the reputation of being unprogressive, “old fogey”, and so forth, but no man can reasonably complain if his idea is turned down in a fair conference with his fellows. I recommend you to put this in operation.

     We will do what we can to buck up your force both in the way of repairs and in additional vessels. I realise just as well as you do just how hard you are up against it, and I want you to realise how hard we are up against it. You can imagine that the Navy Department is placing upon me the responsibility of absolutely ensuring the safe arrival of our troops. This really means that if anything happens it will be taken out of my hide. I had three destroyers all ready to send down into the Mediterranean, when the Department’s telegrams about the convoys arrived and I therefore put it up to them as to whether they should be sent, and did not gain their consent. I have however, notified them that I am going to increase the force at Gibraltar by newvessels that are coming out. The GREGORY is now on her way to join you and she will be followed by others.3

     As for newspapermen, you must regard this as one of the incidents of the war. We could not carry on the war if we disregarded the newspapers. Moreover, they would know nothing about us in America. These men come to me endorsed strongly by the Secretary of the Navy, or Mr.Creel, and in one case with a personal letter of introduction from the President himself.|4| If you think you have any hardship on this score at Gibraltar, you had better come and look into things up here. There have been no less than six pass through this office within the last ten days and the stream does not let up.

Very sincerely yours,

Source Note: LT, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Container 76. Addressed below close: “Rear Admiral A.P.Niblack, U.S.Navy./U.S.Patrol Squadron./Gibraltar.”

Footnote 2: Lt. Cmdr. Walter G. Roper, formerly commanding officer of the armed yacht Cythera. For more on Niblack’s assessment of Roper, see: Ibid.

Footnote 3: Dyer was the only other ship added to Niblack’s force.

Footnote 4: Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels; George Creel, Director of the Committee on Public Information, the U.S. government’s wartime propaganda arm; and President Woodrow Wilson.

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