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Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Rear Admiral William B. Fletcher, Commander, United States Patrol Squadrons Operating in European Waters


U. S. Melville, Flagship.

30 Grosvenor Gardens,        

  London, S.W.I.            

September 24, 1917.     

My dear Fletcher:-

     Your personal letter of September 13th was duly received, and now that I am back in London having visited Brest and other French ports, I will make reply to it.1

     An official letter was written just before my departure from London setting forth my views as to our responsibilities in regard to escorting our transports and supply ships.2 You will readily understand that if we should lose a vessel owing to its not being properly escorted, no amount of explanation or shifting the blame to French shoulders would save either your head or mine. The plain fact is that we must employ all our vessels to the very best advantage, giving precedence at all times to the demands of our army transports and supply ships.

     The Department has dispatched to European Waters nearly all vessels available that are suitable for anti-submarine work, and the Department has itself designated those that were to operate on the French Coast, so that there does not seem to be at present any probability of your forces being materially augmented.

     Steps will be taken immediately to furnish you with additional people, officers and others, for your communications office. The men that you now have who were enlisted for aviation, will soon have to go to the aviation stations.

     Regarding the Princeton graduate.3 I am not at present authorized to enroll any additional persons as reserve officers, but should such authority be granted me I shall bear this man in mind.

     From my observation of conditions at Brest I am of the opinion that except in the matter of communication you have a staff adequate in number for the performance of your duties, and I think if the officers you now have are used to advantage you will find that your own labors are greatly lightened, and that your work will progress satisfactorily. My impression gained from your own statements and from information received through other channels, is that you have been attempting to do entirely too much work yourself and not entrusting a sufficient amount to your subordinates.

     Until I am satisfied that your work has been transferred largely from your own shoulders to those of your staff and that you then find that you have not sufficient assistance, I shall not request additional officers for your staff, except as may be necessary for communication purposes.

     Regarding the organization of your station as stated in your letter and as observed by me, I have not comment to make, except that the duties of Commander Baldwin and Lieutenant Commander Dinger do not seem to have been clearly defined or differentiated,4 and that the Supply Officer does not seem to have been placed specifically under the Maintenance and Material Department as I think he should be in all that relates to furnishing supplies; his duties with respect to accounting and pay are of course quite independent of those relating to supplies.

     I agree with you that there is no need for a base organization at Brest independent of the squadron organization, and I am therefore issuing orders to-day detaching Commander Baldwin from duty as Base Commandant, and ordering him as Naval Port Officer at St. Nazaire. I am also issuing orders to you assigning you to duty as Base Commandant in addition to your other duties. I do not consider this entirely necessary, but it will make it impracticable for any other officer junior to you to regard himself as Base Commandant. You will note that Campaign Order No. 1 gives you complete command on the coast of France not only of the floating forces but of the bases.5

     I have also issued orders to Patton,6 assigning him as Naval Port Officer at Bordeaux and adjacent ports, in addition to his duties as Base Commandant. You will of course act as Naval Port Officer at Brest.

     In the matter of supply and storage of coal, I think it has been made clear to you that I have not at any time contemplated the landing and storage of coal at the Commercial Dock. The inquiries made were purely for the purpose of learning the facilities of the port.

     Whenever you feel it desirable that you should come to London, you may do so, but it would be best to cable me in advance so that you will not arrive here in my possible absence. I will issue necessary orders on your request.

     Regarding the matter of a port for assembling merchant convoys. If Quiberon Bay is at any time overcrowded Brest would probably be the next best place. The important thing is that vessels should not be allowed to straggle through the danger zone unescorted, and it will be impossible, as you well know, to furnish escorts unless vessels are assembled in groups.

     You have all the necessary authority to prevent army transports and chartered supply vessels from sailing except when you wish them to. This authority you should exercise direct as to the port of Brest, and through Baldwin and Patton in their respective districts. The French have nothing whatever to do with this matter, but you must of course cooperate with and assist the French Admiral7 in the matter of providing escorts.

     At the same time that Baldwin’s orders go forward I shall send you a letter of instructions regarding his duties, and authority upon which you may base your detailed orders to him and to Patte<o>n.

     With respect to Magruder’s Squadron.8 An official letter will be shortly sent to you via Paris, setting forth my desire as to the employment of this force. In general, I have the following points in mind:

     First:    Magruder to remain afloat.9

     Second:   If the WAKIVA is suitable for off shore work with the three large yachts, Magruder should transfer to one of the smaller yachts, which should be suitably fitted up for him.

     Third:    The mine sweepers to be used as though best after consultation with the French, it being borne in mind that St. Nazaire now, and that port and Bordeaux later, are the ones we are most interested in.

     Fourth:   A division of Magruder’s squadron may be found necessary, but it would be most desirable to avoid a mixture of French and American mine sweeping forces in any one particular locality.10

Very sincerely yours,

Wm S. Sims.

Source Note: TLS, DNA, RG 125, Entry 30, Box 246. Addressed below close: “To/Rear Admiral/W. B. Fletcher, U. S. N.,/Brest, France.”

Footnote 3: The unidentified Princeton graduate is discussed in Fletcher’s letter to Sims of 13 September 1917. He was working as a coder in Fletcher’s communication section.

Footnote 4: Cmdr. Frank P. Baldwin and Lt. Cmdr. Henry C. Dinger. Baldwin and Dinger were serving as material (supply) officers, as well as Paymaster Emmett C. Gudger.

Footnote 6: Cmdr. John P. Patton.

Footnote 7: Contré-amiral Zépherin Alexander Antoine Schwerer.

Footnote 8: That is, the 4th squadron commanded by Capt. Thomas P. Magruder, which he later described as “a squadron of small vessels.” He reported to Fletcher on 19 September, ibid.

Footnote 9: In his testimony at Fletcher’s court of inquiry in 1920, Magruder said that when he reported to Fletcher he was ordered “to come ashore and install yourselves.” When Magruder protested, Fletcher reportedly told him he had “authority from the Force Commander [Sims] to do that.” p. 1477. He later became Fletcher’s chief of staff. Fletcher testified that because of the “different characteristics” of the vessels in Magruder’s squadron, he was forced to break it up. See: Fletcher to Schwerer, 19 September 1917.

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