Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Anne Hitchcock Sims
London, October 21,1917
My precious sweetheart:
. . . . It is a delight; and a great satisfaction to have Cone here.1 He is like a fresh breeze. He is much pleased with his job. He will have charge of establishing all the aviation stations in Great Britain and France. I am going with him to Paris on the 24th to start him in there. . . .
I am distressed, and depressed, over having to send Admiral Fletcher home.2 His work was so unsatisfactory that I was very anxious about our troop transports, so I decided to order Admiral Wilson3 from Gibraltar to take his place, and had already given preliminary orders to the latter, when news came that one of our supply transports going home was torpedoed and about 70 of her crew of 207 were lost.
I am sorry for him, but there was nothing else to do. It is the hard part of my duty. I am particularly sorry for his wife.
I am sorry “Rufus” Johnston4 has to go to sea, as he has been so successful on the station. . . .
I think there will be no question of Mrs T. or any other wives coming over here.5 I have no authority to stop them – but I have issued a notice expressing my views, and if any officer goes against them, I can send him home – or elsewhere.
I have not yet been given any authority to change the duties of officers assigned to ships or stations by the department, but have assumed it. I am shifting Wilson to Brest and have ordered Fletcher home without consulting the department, but have cabled what I have done and given my reasons. There is no time for investigations courts-of-inquiry, etc. I assume that the department must approve this. If they do not they must accept the responsibility for the safety of our troops – and they will hardly do that. I have no word from Washington about my actions.6
The world will certainly be upset for some time after this war, but I think it will settle down rapidly. Peace and peaceful commerce will be strange for a while. Pratt7 asks how we in the navy will find the “tame conditions of peace” after the war. I long for those conditions so that I can be with you all again. I do not want any more war.
You will have seen by the papers about the torpedoing of Vernou’s destroyer, the Cassin.8 Very fortunately, only one man was killed and five not seriously wounded. The torpedo struck the stern and wrecked things generally in that part – but the vessel did not sink. Vernou handled her very well and she was towed into port. As soon as I got the telegram I wrote Vernou a letter and told him to cheer up; that I was sure he was not to blame and that he had done a fine thing in saving his vessel – and his report confirmed this.9 The Cassin will be repaired and put in service again.
If this war lasts a year longer, as now seems probable, we will be a real nation, will knit together, understanding something of international politics, and with a military power that will make us respected. All the La Follette types will at last be out of politics and controversy will be dead for all time.10 This British Empire will also be made over. . . .
The Huns have been rather active in the matter of raids lately. A few nights ago a number of zeppelins came over the city and dropped a few large bombs. One fell in Piccadilly Circus and made a great hole and shattered windows for a block away. I am glad to say that four, and perhaps five, of the Zeps were brought down before they got back home. . . .
The other day the American [Luncheon?] Club had Winston as their guest.11 He made a very good address on the relations between GB and the U.S. and accentuated the necessity for reforms in education.
He is working hard, but having a good time. He has been received by all of the P.Ds. and has met all the interesting people – including H.G.Wells, Golsworthy, Barrie, etc.12 He is going to invite the above to dinner when he returns from France and include me in the invitation. He leaves for France next week and is going to the Western Front as a guest of the government. He says he expects to be here all winter and perhaps go to France in the spring and start writing a book – but I have an idea he has no definite plans.13
Cone, Babby and I had him to dinner to go over his first rough draft of his letter to W.W.14 We will see the final draft before it goes. I believe it will do a lot of good. We already see evidences of the C-in-C’s15 visit . . . .
There is one other incident I want to tell you about. The secretary of the Liberty Loan propaganda telegraphed me and asked me to telegraph a message that would keep along the loan.
I cabled the circumstances to the Dept and gave the text of a suggested “message” for the department’s approval in the form I sent it, or the department’s modification of it – or for their disapproval of the whole business if they wished.16
So, if you see it in the papers, you will know how it got there. I cannot remember the text just now, but may send it to you later. If it comes out, pleased send me a clipping so that I can compare it with the original. . . .
Source Note: ALS, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 9.
Footnote 1: Capt. Hutchison I. Cone, who later supervised all U.S. naval aviation in France and Britain.
Footnote 2: RAdm. William B. Fletcher was recalled as commander of patrol forces in France after a German submarine sank the transport ship Antilles. Sims blamed Fletcher for mismanaging forces in France and leaving the ship unprotected, but he had been growing increasingly frustrated with Fletcher’s inefficiency for several weeks.
Footnote 3: RAdm. Henry B. Wilson, Commander, Gibraltar Patrol Squadron. Sims had been considering switching out Wilson and Fletcher, but after the sinking of Antilles he judged it impossible to send Fletcher to any other Allied port. Still, Crisis at Sea: 55.
Footnote 4: Cmdr. Rufus Z. Johnston. Johnston was previously the commander of the Naval Training Station, Newport, RI.
Footnote 5: Lulie J. Taussig, wife of Cmdr. Joseph K. Taussig. Sims had previously told Anne he did not think it would be appropriate for her to visit him in Europe, both because he feared for her safety making the crossing and because she would take up space that would otherwise be used to transport troops or supplies. See: Sims to Sims, 30 August 1917.
Footnote 6: Fletcher did receive a court-or-inquiry after the war. Although it partially vindicated him, the court ruled that Sims had acted properly. Still, Crisis at Sea: 55.
Footnote 7: Capt. William V. Pratt, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations.
Footnote 8: Lt. Cmdr. Walter N. Vernou. On the Cassin being torpedoed, see: Report of attack on Cassin, 15 October 1917.
Footnote 9: See: Report of attack on Cassin, 15 October 1917.
Footnote 10: Robert M. La Follette Sr., Senator from Wisconsin. A prominent Republican – though he later ran for president as a member of the Progressive Party – La Follette opposed U.S. entry into World War I.
Footnote 11: American journalist Winston Churchill. Churchill had the ear of Woodrow Wilson, and pushed for major naval reforms. See: Churchill to Daniels, 2 August 1917.
Footnote 12: Novelist H.G. Wells; essayist, novelist, and playwright Arnold Golsworthy; and Sir James M. Barrie, a novelist and playwright best known for the creation of the character Peter Pan.
Footnote 13: Churchill did write a book about his experiences in Europe, entitled A Traveller In War-Time with an Essay on the American Contribution and the Democratic Idea.
Footnote 14: Hutch Cone and Sims’ aide Cmdr. John V. Babcock. W.W. is President Woodrow Wilson. For Churchill’s letter to Wilson, see, Wilson Papers, 45: 19-24.
Footnote 15: VAdm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander, Atlantic Fleet. Mayo made an extensive visit to Europe and met with Allied leaders in France and Britain. For his visit, see: Mayo to Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 6 September 1917; Report of Mayo's Conference, 17 September 1917; Mayo to Mayo, 27 September 1917; and Report from Mayo's Conference, 20 September 1917.
Footnote 16: The text of Sims’ message has not been found. It is unknown if the department approved it to appear in the papers.