Commander William R. Sayles, United States Naval Attaché at Paris, to Rear Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Destroyers Operating from British Bases
5 Rue de Chaillot.
May 23, 1917.
My dear Admiral:
I am enclosing copies of all telegrams sent which contain information useful to you.
From them you can see that things are not moving so smoothly as desired. The Department will not send any information as to the character and details of the forces to be sent to France Had another long interview on the subject with Admiral de Bon yesterday.1 He explained that he was “all in a fog” as to what preparations to make in advance to receive them. I had to admit I was too, that the Department would not answer my cables.2
Morton will deliver this letter and is in touch with the situation; he can explain to you all about the detachment of Captains Evans and Baker.3
Lunched with Bunau-Varilla, owner of “Le Matib” today.4 He stated that to send Captain Baker away from Paris would be a tremendous mistake, on account of his intimate knowledge of French political leaders and higher Government officials;- needless to say I agree. As a simple military proposition, all details in Europe should be made by the Commander-in-Chief on the spot.
I returned from Dunkerque Monday. Saturday night four French destroyers were engaged by Germans.5 The action at 1:00 a.m., dark night, lasted only four minutes. The Germans jumped the French, damaged boiler-rooms in two boats, decreasing their speed to 18 knots. Casualties: French, 2 officers killed, 2 wounded; 12 men killed, 5 wounded. Damage to Germans unknown. This leaves the French with but two destroyers at Dunkerque.
I received complete information about all the conditions up there and have formed my own opinion as to what we should do, if we can ever get the Navy Department moving. Admiral Exelmans received his orders, while I was there, to go to Brest as Major-General.6 They could not have made a better selection, from our point of view. He speaks English perfectly and is considered one of the most efficient men they have; moreover, his temperament is such that he will fit in with our people perfectly.
I have told Admiral de Bon that you will probably be here for the arrival of our Forces; hope I won’t have to disappoint him. Your presence here is absolutely necessary, for they are commencing to get uneasy again at the Rue Royale.7
With all greates respect and esteem.
Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG45, Entry 517. Adressed below close Rear-Admiral W.S. Sims, U.S.Navy/American Embassy/London.
Footnote 1: Sayles attached the telegram he received on 21 May from Daniels informing him that the department was sending ten or more armed yachts to France. Sims was not previously informed of the plans by the Navy Department. Besides sending the approximate number of yachts the department provided no further details on the overall number of ships they intended to send, or their role in French waters. Still, Crisis at Sea: 50-51.
Footnote 2: Adm. Ferdinand-Jean-Jacques de Bon, head of the French Naval Staff.
Footnote 3: Capt. Asher Carter Baker, a retired U.S. Navy Captain who was abroad when the United States entered the war and assisted Sayles' office after its outbreak. Capt. George R. Evans, was another retired Navy Captain who joined Sayles office after the United States entered the war.
Footnote 4: Maurice Bunau-Varilla, owner of “Le Matin” a popular Parisian daily newspaper, which, at its peak, was the second most popular newspaper in France. Maurice had numerous American connections along with his brother Philippe-Jean Bunau-Varilla who played a key role in the construction and American acquisition of the Panama Canal, an enterprise that made the Bunau-Varilla brothers very wealthy. In particular Philippe-Jean had long a standing personal relationship with Captain Asher Carter Baker. Gabriel J. Loizillon, The Bunau-Varilla Brothers and the Panama Canal (Self-published, 2013), 165, 180.
Footnote 5: The nature of this battle is unclear, as it is only briefly mentioned in sources.
Footnote 6: VAdm. Louis Rémy Amédée Antoine Exelmans.
Footnote 7: The French Naval Ministry was housed in the Hôtel de la Marine which is located adjacent to Rue Royale on Place de la Concord.