Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly, Commander, Southern Ireland
May 5th, 1918.
My dear Admiral,
Your letter of the 2nd. has just arrived in which you ask me what has happened to me. The only thing that has happened to me is that I am very unusually busy with a number of matters that are being pushed from the United States. In addition to this there is a good deal going as a reflection of the crisis on the Western Front.
As long as the splendid British Tommies and the French poilus can hold the Huns in check our program is comparatively simple, but when you come to consider what new dispositions must be made if nothing worse happens than the abandonment of Calais and Boulogne, it is quite remarkable the number of complications we find, not only in respect to the great increase of tonnage that would bre required, a and the escorting vessels to take what care of them, but in the actual diminution of the supplies it would be possible to transport to the soldiers on the firing line – this due to the inadequacy of the railroads of western France which are now rather heavily burdened.
During my visit of two-and-a-half days to Paris about the 26th, I saw a good many of the principals of the French, British and American armies, also: some of the principal naval officers, and some of the Government officials,; and in no case did I find any feeling of pessimism as to the ultimate result on the Western Front. I had a talk with one of our most capable journalists who had just returned from a visit to the French Front. He reported that the condition of the French army was extremely satisfactory, particularly in comparison to what it was in April 1917, just after the failure of General Neville’s drive. It was explained to me that the taking of Mount Kemmel was of no particular advantage to the enemy because this elevation is flanked on three sides by elevations held by the Allies. Its only tactical advantage to the enemy was said to be that they could not advance beyond it without taking it – but the taking of it did not at all imply that they could advance beyond it.
Those army officials who claim to know something of the general plans explained, that the object of the Chief Command now is not particularly to prevent falling back here and there (provided no really strategic position is lost) but to make the advances of the German armies as costly as possible to them and to do this by the employment of the minimum possible number of troops. In other words, the game seems to be to keep from giving up any strategical position before the enemy’s troops have all been engaged and partially exhausted and while there yet remains to us a body of fresh troops sufficient, to make an effective counter stroke.
The soldiers explained that it is not necessary in this battle to defeat the Germans. That their actual defeat could be accomplished only by a very considerable preponderance of men on our side, but that if they are definitely arrested it will amount to a defeat for them, at least in the eyes of their own people, who are said to have consented to this offensive upon the assurance of the military men that it was certain to end the war in their favor.
I am of course in deep waters when I begin to talk about army affairs, so I am only telling you what some of the “principal dignitaries” of the armies told me in Paris.
I must say, however, that the situation seems to me to be dangerously critical.
As to our own side of the affair, I think that will be successfully handled if the enemy can be held on the Western Front. I saw while in Paris the figures compiled by the International Maritime Transport Council. These show that the curves of destruction and the curve of construction will cross each other before the middle of summer; that construction will thereafter remain ahead of destruction but not very much ahead until the month of December, when it will be 100, 000 tons ahead, but that after that the excess will increase with great rapidity.
Extraordinary dispositions have been made to get over the maximum number of troops. They expect to get over about 500,000 in the next three months, and I believe that they can do it.
I want very much to find the time to run up to Queenstown, and I shall certainly do so as; soon as I feel justified in leaving London.
In the meantime, however, I am in perfectly good health, Please give my best love to the ONLY NIECE, and believe me,
Always very sincerely yrs.