Captain William V. Pratt, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters
Office of Naval Operations
June 19th, 1918.
First of all, I want to thank you for the records you sent me.1 I am going to send them to Maine and the Madam2 will use them in some Red Cross work she is doing up there.
About Daniels.3 He has been made Aid to the Secretary4 and will fill that position, at least, temporarily. There has been another man, Captain Burrage5 slated for this job so that it may be possible in the future for Daniels to return to you. But during the time the position was vacant and for a certain length of time after Burrage takes on, I think it would be wise for Daniels to continue to hold the job. I don’t think it is necessary to explain to you the extreme importance of having a man like Daniels who is thoroughly indoctrinated and loyal to the core holding down that particular position.
About the submarines operating on this coast. After the first day it hardly made a ripple. Beyond retarding for a short time some of our distant service chasers, it has not caused any material delay or changed our plans in the least. It had the effect of causing us to strip Fullam and Caperton,6 made us arm some of the oil ships on our own coasts, strengthen the Gulf and Caribbean forces somewhat, put districts into shape, make us put in a definite coastwise routing system and work our submarines a little harder. The principle effect has been good and it has stiffened us up a little so that we will be in fine shape for more extensive operations if the Hun chooses to indulge in them. It is amusing to note in reports taken from the crews of the sunken ships, the deliberate attempt on the part of the German submarine commander7 to impress our people with the fact that he is very good fellow. And on our part, we are given the impression that very few of their crew really know what America is trying to do. It has been that he was trying to reciprocate for the good treatment given the German prisoners by the crew of the “Fanning”,8 but I gained the impression that his method of operating was merely a part of the general propaganda not to unduly arouse American ire on this side. Personally, he swatted me in the neck for I had just started on a short tour of leave which I very much needed. I got as far as Boston one day, was flagged and returned the next.
About your coming over here, I see your point and you are dead right.9 It was more or less my idea but I hardly breathed it to any one except to you and then first to sound you out to see how you would take it. You may rest assured I will not bring the subject up and will do all in my power to kill it if it should come up.
Poor old Fullam has gone “Bug-house”. I mean that he has so little to do that he floods me with a mass of correspondence on subjects which he considers of vital importance but which if he were only nearer the seat of war, he would soon see were most unessential. It is too bad. It is merely the case of a splendid man eating his heart out and God knows we have plenty of use for men of Fullam’s ability these days. When I look over the list and see the names of some of the men and think of the good work old Bill Fullam might be doing with all his energy right in the Fleet, it makes me feel sorry.
I want to ask you a question. Has the scheme ever been tried out of sending along a submarine as convoy escort, and if so, with what luck. Has it ever been tried in those areas where the larger type submarines operate. Up to date, although the Frederick reported that her convoy had been attacked by the U-151, this chap over here seems to take his pickings out of individual west bound and coast wise ships. If he were by chance to get a little bolder and attack some of our convoys due to the fact that they have only the scantest and lightest of escort for a short distance, we might land on him in the neck with one of our submarines. When our “S” boats come along in the fall we are going to have a 16 knot surface speed submarine of very large radius which might be very useful.10
Commander Leahy11 is relieving Plunkett12 as inspector of target practice and will probably be abroad as soon as this letter gets there. He is a very thorough chap as you know and is going abroad to study the job from the fighting end.
The uniform change is killed I think for the period of the war. Your remarks did it.13 I understand Congress increased permanently personnel to 131,000 and that will mean a lot more Admirals and etc. and etc. We undoubtedly need the increase but I hope the extra promotion will not make us as top-heavy with rank, as is the Army. I think I should prefer to see some of our Admiral’s billets won by real work and given as a sort of reward of merit for war service accomplished.
The troop movement overseas goes as strong as ever. Last month we totaled over 247,000 and the month of June will see that record beaten. In this office we work in close accord with the general staff and with the embarkation service.
If I can get a little rest I need to put me on my feet, the<n> some day I shall like very much to run across to the other side if there is some definite job or work I could take up during my stay there but I dont care to go as a sight-seer or with no definite task to perform because in some ways I cant help feeling that I am the most permanent link you have here which connects the policies abroad with the plans for executing them on this side. I mean by thatm that as I handle your work and as you keep me thoroughly posted, I am not so sure that another man would carry on the same work with the same degree of definite purpose.
With best regards to all, Believe me
Source Note: LTS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 78.
Footnote 1: These are records prepared by the American Graphaphone Company of prominent officials involved in the Allied war effort. For more on these recordings, see: Sims to Anne Hitchcock Sims, 20 May 1918.
Footnote 2: Pratt’s wife, Louise Johnson Pratt.
Footnote 3: Lt. Joseph F. Daniels had been a member of Sims’ staff until his recent recall to Washington, D. C.
Footnote 4: Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.
Footnote 5: Guy H. Burrage.
Footnote 6: RAdm.William F. Fullam, Commander, United States Pacific Fleet, Division Two, and William B. Caperton, Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet.
Footnote 7: Korvettenkapitän (Lt. Cmdr.) Heinrich von Nostitz und Jäckendorff, Commander, SM U-151.
Footnote 8: On 17 November 1918, the U. S. destroyer Fanning sighted the German submarine U-58, engaging it in battle and sinking the submarine, the first of two U-boats to be sunk by American destroyers. For more on this action, see: Diary of Angus W. Wiggins, 17 November 1917, and Lt. Arthur S. Carpender to Sims, 18 November 1917.
Footnote 9: For more on Sims’ reasoning for not wanting to return to the United States for a brief tour, see: Sims to Pratt, 18 May 1918.
Footnote 10: The United States S-class submarines, often simply called S-boats, were the first class of submarines with a significant number built according to Navy designs. The first of these S-boats, S-1, was launched on 26 September 1918 by Bethlehem at Fore River, but not commissioned until 5 June 1920. Although these submarines were completed too late to see service in World War I, they played an important role in World War II as reconnaissance and supply, as well as coastal defense; Paul H. Silverstone, U.S. Warships of World War I (New York: Ian Allan, 1970), 148 and 180-184.
Footnote 11: William D. Leahy. At the time of this letter, Leahy served as the commanding officer of Princess Matoika, a troop transport vessel.
Footnote 12: Capt. Charles Peshall Plunkett, Director of Target Practice and Engineering Competitions. Following his relief from this duty in July 1918, Plunkett assumed command of the Naval Railway Batteries in France.
Footnote 13: For more on Sims’ objections to changing the navy uniform during the war, see: Sims to Sims, 20 May 1918.