Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters to Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations
10 July 1918
My dear Admiral,
By the mail that went yesterday, I wrote you a hurried note in reference to the clipping that was brought to me by Commander Leahy in reference to my being promoted to the rank of Admiral.1 I assured you in that letter that I had had nothing whatever to do with any such articles, either directly or indirectly.
I have since seen an article in the Army and Navy Register which was copied from the BOSTON TRANSCRIPT, in which the same measure was advocated, and reinforced by entirely unsound arguments.
I not only had nothing whatever to do with any such articles, but as soon as I saw this article from the TRANSCRIPT, I wrote the Editor a letter, in which I deprecated that sort of thing. I enclose you a copy of this letter.2
I do not now remember whether I wrote you about it or not, but when Lieutenant Commander Roys3 went home on a liaison trip, he came back and informed me that he had recommended to the Secretary4 that I be promoted to the rank of Admiral. This was nothing but a slopping over by Roys, due to his enthusiasm for the organization over here. However, it obliged me to write at once to the Secretary and deprecate this sort of thing, and tell him explicitly that I had nothing whatever to do with suggesting this and that I did not think it at all necessary.
Not only have I had nothing to do with this matter, but I have not the slightest suspicion as to who started the thing, on the other side. It may have been some misguided friend of mine or it may have been an idea which originated in some editorial office.
As you doubtless know from having read the headlines of the Press for the last week, we have had a rather strenuous time over her with various official and semi-official functions in connection with the remarkable British celebration of the Fourth of July. This obliged me to undertake the very uncongenial task of preparing to reply to certain speeches and resolutions that were made by Government officials.5
I of course realize that it is undesirable that I should be making speeches upon any occasion, but I think you will see that as the Senior American Officer in London, I could not possibly avoid making a bit of speech at the great meeting with the British held at Central Hall, Westminster, where Mr. Winston Churchill made his remarkable speech.
I am, of course, entirely aware of my liability to say the wrong thing, and I took every precaution this time to avoid it. I asked each member of the Planning Section individually to prepare me a few suggestions and from these I compiled the remarks that I did make. After they were compiled, and in order to be sure that I should not emit any chance remark, I adhered strictly to the text, and gave the manuscript out to the Press. I hope that nothing that I said will be objected to by the Department.
I was also bound to respond to a toast at the dinner given by the American Society in London, which gives a dinner always on the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving Day. Upon that occasion I made no mention at all of official subjects, but tried to relieve the more or less tense patriotic atmosphere by cheering them up with a few Navy chestnuts.6
We have all been very much encouraged by the situation that has developed on the Western Front. We do not know at present just why the Germans delay in repeating their attack, but we believe they have quite sufficient reason for doing so. Just when and how they will attack, is not known. I have even heard officers of a high rank express the opinion that there will be no further attack, but I do not see what justification there is for this opinion.
One thing is, however, very certain, and that is that the morale of the British, French, Italian and American Armies has been tremendously bucked up by the record that has recently been made by our troops at the Front. Last night I had a chat with Major Robert Bacon (who used to be our Ambassador in Paris). For the last few months he has been liaison officer at Field Marshal Haig’s Headquarters.7 He told me that it was difficult to exaggerate the effect which the fighting of our soldiers has produced. Before this action took place, it was recognized in a more or less perfunctory manner that our troops were good material but nobody hesitated to express the opinion that they would not be very useful in battle until they had been there many months and had acquired experience in trench warfare and so forth. I have no doubt that this was the opinion of the German High Command also. Well, not only has this been entirely disproved, but the conduct of our men, and their success in actual battle has been such as to entirely disabuse the minds of all persons concerned as to the value of these troops in the future. You have doubtless read in the papers accounts written by Mr. Philip Gibbs, and others. These accounts of course are censored, but I believe they give a pretty good picture of what actually took place. Of course, they do not express things with the freedom of personal conversation. On the 6th., at the Memorial Service in St. Paul’s Cathedral, on the occasion of the 25th. anniversary of the King and Queen’s marriage, I met a French officer of high rank, and he was amusingly enthusiastic over the success of our men.
Major Bacon told me that when the Marines were brought into action, it was just in time to save what might have been a very serious disaster. The French in that part of the line had been fighting until they were practically all in from sheer exhaustion. They not only could not hold any longer, but were falling back rapidly when the Marines advanced. They even advised the latter not to advance – that the Germans were too strong in front of them. Notwithstanding this discouragement, the Marines did advance, checked the Germans completely, and then counter-attacked with complete success. They lost a greater proportion of their people in casualties than veteran troops will usually stand before giving way. As I said before, it is impossible to exaggerate the enthusiasm which this has caused in all the Armies.8
Of the same nature, but possibly not in the same degree, is the admiration that the Allied Armies have for the conduct of our soldiers.
I suppose you are aware that General Pershing9 is opposed to any of our Marines being organized as a division. The reason he gives is that he wants his Army to be homogenous. There have of course been differences in the British Army between the Regulars, Kitchner’s Army,10 the Australians, the Canadians, and so forth. There have been claims that this or that body of troops has not received its due share of credit in the reports, or that their officers have not received their due measure of promotion, and so forth,and so forth. That sort of thing,is, I suppose, more or less inevitable, and it is this, as I understand it, that General Pershing wants to avoid.
All the same, the competition for distinction between the British Army proper, the Australians, The Canadians, and so forth, has been very intense indeed and it is a question that is open to great discussion as to whether this competition between different organizations is not extremely beneficial to the Army. I believe it is General Pershing’s idea to amalgamate our different organizations by spreading both officers and men about so that no one can say that this or that division is of the National Army, the National Guard, and so forth.
However, it does seem a pity that the spirit and esprit de corps that has grown up after a great many years in our Marine Corps should not be utilized by putting them in battle under their own organization.
These are, of course, only the personal ideas of a sailor-man, but it seems to me, from the psychological point of view they ought to be considered very seriously.
All information from the other side indicates that our people have behaved rather unexpectedly well in the face of the submarine menace. Hardly anything that I have seen in the papers would indicate that there was anything approaching panicky apprehension. Of course, it was not pleasant to read that the lights were put out in New York for fear the submarines had brought over aeroplanes and might bomb the city. Of course a little knowledge of the limitations of submarines would have avoided even this feeling of apprehension. I have therefore been wondering if it would not be wise to issue certain authoritative statements, explaining these limitations. Why should the people not be explicitly informed that there is no danger of a submarine entering, say, the harbour of New York, or the harbour of Newport. That to do so would be virtually to commit suicide, because a submarine cannot afford to be found in shoal water by anti-submarine vessels carrying depth charges. The same consideration might be explained in connection with the bombardment of coast dities [i.e. cities], not to mention the fact that a submarine has but two guns, and that if all of their projectiles were safely landed in New York, the amount of damage would be very inconsiderable.
I should think that the public might also be informed that in all human probability there would not be more than one or possibly two submarines on our coast at a time.
Commander Church,11 who is Chief Engineer of the Destroyer Force at Queenstown, has just returned, and brings most encouraging reports as to the number of destroyers we may expect before the end of this year. He mentions something like 100. However, we have been so severely disappointed in this respect that I feel inclined to wait until the destroyers are actually sure of coming over. We have, however, begun in the Planning Section to discuss the most advantageous distribution of these destroyers so as to economize tonnage as much as possible in their supplies. This is now being worked on, and none of the details have been specifically determined. I may say, however, that in general terms it would seem as though when our new destroyers arrive they will naturally replace certain British destroyers in the North Sea, so that these may go to the middle of the Mediterranean so that they could base on Malta, with all its facilities, spare parts, and so forth. For example, we might replace with our boats the twenty British destroyers in the North of Ireland, and also those now based on Plymouth for escorting convoys. This would greatly facilitate the supplying of our vessels with their necessities, while on the other hand we would be greatly embarrassed if we had to send supplies all the way to Malta.
Very sincerely yours,
Source Note: Cy, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 49. Addressed below close: “Admiral W.S. Benson, U.S.N./Navy Department,/Washington, D.C.”
Footnote 1: Cmdr. William D. Leahy. For the article referenced see, Army Navy Register and Defense Times, 22 June 1918.
Footnote 2: The copy referred to was not attached and has not been found.
Footnote 3: Lt. Cmdr. John H. Roys, U.S.N.R.F.
Footnote 4: Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.
Footnote 5: See: Sims to Anne Hitchcock Sims, 6 July 1918.
Footnote 6: Ibid.
Footnote 7: Field Marshal Douglas Haig, Commander, British Expeditionary Force. American forces succeeded in halting a German advancae at Château-Thierry in early June 1918. Stevenson, With Our Backs to the Wall: 87.
Footnote 8: The United States Marine Corps distinguished themselves by pushing the Germans out of the Belleau Woods in June 1918. Ibid., 87.
Footnote 9: Maj. Gen. John J. Pershing, Commander, American Expeditionary Forces.
Footnote 10: Kitchner’s Army, is a reference to the volunteer forces enlisted during the war by Secretary of War Field Marshal Lord H. H. Kitchner. Peter Simkins, “Voluntary recruiting in Britain, 1914-1915,” British Library, Accessed on 2 July 2018, https://www.bl.uk/world-war-one/articles/voluntary-recruiting.
Footnote 11: Cmdr. Gaylord Church.