Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations

[Extract]

U.S. NAVAL FORCES OPERATING IN EUROPEAN WATERS

U.S.S. MELVILLE, FLAGSHIP.

TELEPHONE, VICTORIA 9110                30, GROSVENOR GARDENS,

CABLE ADDRESS, “SIMSADUS”                         LONDON, S.W.1

REFERENCE No.                          September 17th.1918.

My dear Admiral ,

          I have been very busy the last two or three weeks otherwise I should have written you. Beside the unusual amount of business , there have been,as you know , a procession of “principal dignitaries” passing through London and this always takes up a considerable amount of time.

          The Assistant Secretary1 has completed a trip which I am sure was a great satisfaction to him. I assume that some of his telegrams to you have been more or less irritating , so I want you to know that I did not have any part in any recommendations or criticisms he may have sent. He enquired particularly while here into the state of our Air Forces. This is an enquiry which is made by nearly every American who comes over here. He went into the details rather thoroughly , and sent his telegrams to the Department as a result thereof.2 I can assure you that there was no suggestion on the part of anyone over here that such telegrams should be sent. You may be sure that everything is being done over here by Cone and his able assistants to make the best of what we have sent us. I am of course not personally well acquainted with the details , but I should say as a general principle , that in an affair of this magnitude being put through necessarily with the utmost speed , that a certain amount of confusion in the first shipment would be inevitable. I have no doubt that these difficulties will be cleared away on both sides in the course of time. The Members of the Board sent over here to look into the matter will undoubtedly bring back information which will clear up the whole situation and which will avoid mistakes in the future.3

          I think I told you in a previous letter that I had nothing at all to do with the Secretary’s recommendation concerning Jackson. He seemed to have taken a personal dislike to Jackson,besides being dis-satisfied with the way in which he was carrying on his work.4

          I think we have everything now going favorably in reference to the Northern Barrage. There is no change suggested in the plan since I wrote you last. Both British and American mines , both surface and deep , are now being laid in area “B”. Of the number of submarines that have crossed this area within the last week or so two have not been heard from. We are in hopes that they were destroyed.5

          As a result of the conference in Paris a few days ago I believe we have reached valuable conclusions as to the mining in the Mediterranean, always provided we can develop a mine which can be planted in about 500 fathoms of water and supply the cable necessary for them.

          We have sent a cable explaining the tentative decisions arrived at by the Allied Naval Council and we hope that a decision will soon be reached so that we can go ahead and establish the assembly base.6

          I saw Admiral Plunkett in Paris the other day.7 It wouldbe hard to imagine any greater enthusiasm or display of energy than Plunkett is now exhibiting. All parties concerned are very much interested in these guns. As a result of the conference with him I have telegraphed recommending that five more railroad gun mounts be built as soon possible. Plunkett explained that the chances of a gun itself being disabled are very small compared with the chances of some essential part of the mount being disabled. He , and those concerned , therefore think it important that the extra mounts be provided so that a gun may be shifted from a damaged mount with the least possible delay.

          These heavy guns and similar guns are expected to play a very important part in the offensive operations projected by the armies.8 It is hardly necessary to say , I am sure , that the result of the conduct of our troops in France has excited the highest admiration and enthusiasm not only among all our troops not yet engaged, but among all of the Allies. The moral[e] atmosphere of Paris is vastly different from what it has ever been since I have been over here. The contrast between that atmosphere now and what it was last May is very striking.

          I am much impressed with Lieut.Comdr .Bacon Baker9 who was sent over here by Communications. He is a striking example of the great value of a pleasing personality in putting things across with foreigners. He has made an excellent impression with everybody. For the first week he was here he was engaged in under-running the whole business of communications and Press messages with all of the Departments of the British Governments concerned. When he had collected all of this information he came to me with the suggestion that the British Government appoint an official having sufficient authority to co-ordinate all the activities concerned so that the best possible service should be given for our war news. I took him with me today to see Lord Reading10 and the latter agreed to our suggestion at once and said he would try and see it accomplished.

          I regret to say that we found Lord Reading in bed recovering from an attack of rheumatism complicated by jaundice. He hopes to be able to sail within a week or ten days and will be accompanied by Sir Eric Geddes.11

          Admiral Mayo12 arrived here this morning a 7 o’clock and was met by a British Admiral and some other officers as well as by myself and some of the staff. He expresses himself as not only pleased but enthusiastic over the conditions he found at Queenstown. He was particularly complimentary of the work that Pringle has been doing there and he , after consultation with Admiral Bayly ,13 recommended that Pringle14 be sent to Washington on a rapid liaison trip, but both he and Admiral Bayly accentuated the importance of Pringle’s returning to his present duty. I am sure it will be very useful for many of the people in the Department to have a talk with Pringle , particularly those concerned with personnel and training. He will probably leave before the end of this month. . . .

     I was of course disappointed to find that my bucko first mate friend Rear Admiral Hughes15 is required for duty on the other side. I do not know any officer whom I think would have been better qualified to handle the situation that has been put up to us in Cardiff than this very efficient man.

          When Mr.Baker , the Secretary of War , arrived here the other day he had with him General Hines.16 This General had been criticizing the Navy rather severely saying that the Navy was certainly not on its job otherwise our transports would never be torpedoed. He came to see me yesterday , and was as pleasant as possible. I explained to him just how we did things and what were the limitations of the submarines and the anti-submarine vessels , and I think he went away completely satisfied that the Navy is on its job.

          We are hoping that the Department will be able to send us not only the remainder of the one-hundred-and-fortyfour chasers , but also the fifty additional ones we have been asking for. I think there can be little doubt that when the bad weather and long nights of this winter comes on the submarines will be forced to operate in interior waters , and that is the time that the chasers will be able to get in their work, at least on all days when there is not too much wind for them. They like the chasers so much at Queenstown , that they all say they would like to have thirtysix more of them there.

          Of course you know we are suffering damage every day for the lack of more destroyers. This is particularly the case at Gibraltar and we are anxious for the safety of the supply ships running to Marseilles.

          I have just received your telegram containing information of the unusual movements of the German Fleet and of the alleged intention to make an attack against the British. You may be sure that the British Navy is using all of its extraordinary means of obtaining information to keep a watch on all these operations , and up to the present time there is no indication whatever of any unusual activity. Of course one person’s guess or opinion is as good as another’s as to whether or not the Germans will come out for fleet action. Of course there is no military reason why they should do so. They certainly will not pit themselves against the British in an open sea fight, except in the improbable case of their having developed some new weapon or some new shell that would compensate for their inferiority in numbers and gun fire. They may attempt to draw the British into an action close down to their own minefields where they could lay an unsuspected field , but I can assure you that the British are thoroughly alive to this danger and will not be drawn into any such trap. I cannot for the life of me see how it would buck up the morale of the German people for the High Sea Fleet to come out and be defeated or even roughly handled. The German people certainly know by this time that the claim that the Battle of Jutland was a German victory, is untrue.

          I am sorry to say that for some months past I have been having the same trouble with the Gibraltar Force as I had with that at Brest. The almost inevitable result of a force being separated to a considerable extent from Headquarters is that their arises a feeling that their necessities are not receiving due consideration.

          I have sent you a number of private letters I found it necessary to write to Admiral Wilson17 in the effort to suppress criticisms of this nature. I have had to write similar letters to Niblack.18 I did not do this until evidence of the condition of affairs was entirely conclusive. Niblack and I are class mates and were for three years room mates so that I was able to write to him ina perfectly frank manner. I believe these letters will have the desired effect , and that there will be no more trouble there. I believe Niblack to be perfectly well disposed , but he has such a biting tongue , and such a keen wit that he does not always seem to be able to resist the use of them at the expense of anybody who happens to come under consideration. I have pointed out to him the danger of all this and I do not think there will be any more difficulty.

September 18th.

          In reference to a cable from Operations No.157019 received today , giving information derived from the State Department as to the intentions of the Germans to send out their Fleet for various operations , probably including a battle , I would like to point out that information of this kind is of no use and may be very dangerous unless it can be checked. The essential information necessary to check it is the name of the agent who sent it. These agents soon become known by the nature of their messages. Of course , as you know , I have had a rather extended experience with agents of this kind , and there is a type of agent which will send through any rumour they may happen to hear. This type of agent invariably states that the information is from a “reliable source”. They almost never state a fact , but usually state that the enemy is “planning” to do so-and-so. This is really playing safety first. If anything happens they can say “I told you so”. If nothing happens they can say the plans have miscarried or have been found impractical.

          I have taken this particular cable to the Intelligence Dept. of the Admiralty and they have no confirmation whatever of any of the statements contained therein. The Germans have practically acknowledged that they have lost at least one-hundred-and-fifty submarines , that is , they have ceased to deny the British statement in which the names of these officers were published. The telegram above referred to states that one-hundred-and-twentyeight submarines were lost. It also states that “the losses for July and up to August” is fourteen. This is much in error. I have found nobody in the Admiralty or outside of it that believes in the probability of the High Sea Fleet giving <real> battle. There is certainly no purely military reason why they should do so though there might be a dynastic one based upon the known peculiarities of German psychology. Of course the idea of German destroyer raids on the British coast is more or less absurd if this refers to anything but such “tip and run” little raids as have been made from time to time from Flanders ports.

Very sincerely yours ,            

Wm S Sims     

Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, William S. Benson Papers, Box 8-9. Addressed below close: “Admiral W.S.Benson. U.S.N./Chief of Naval Operations ,/Navy Department./Washington. D.C.”

Footnote 1: Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Footnote 2: For example, see: Roosevelt to Josephus Daniels, 18 August 1918.

Footnote 3: Capt. Hutchinson I. Cone. On the “Board” sent to investigate the aviation situation, see: Daniels to Sims, 22 August 1918.

Footnote 4: For more on Roosevelt’s dissatisfaction with Capt. Richard H. Jackson, United States Staff Representative, Paris, see: Sims to Benson, 30 August 1918. As noted there, Sims also tried to get Jackson removed, but Benson refused to do so.

Footnote 5: In the margin opposite this paragraph, someone, presumably Sims, wrote: “Information was received today that four German submarines have crossed area A, about the middle of its length[.]”

Footnote 6: See: Sims to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 16 September 1918.

Footnote 7: RAdm. Charles P. Plunkett, Commander, Naval Railway Battery.

Footnote 8: Also, see: Sims to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 17 September 1918. On the activities and contributions of the Naval Railway Battery, see, “U.S. Naval Railway Battery,” United States Navy History and Heritage Command, Accessed on 13 September 1918, https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/u/us-naval-railway-batteries-france.html.

Footnote 9: Presumably, Cmdr. Henry T. Baker.

Footnote 10: Rufus Isaacs, Earl of Reading, was the British ambassador to the United States.

Footnote 11: Geddes was First Lord of the Admiralty.

Footnote 12: Adm. Henry T. Mayo. For more on his arrival, see: Mayo to Benson, 18 September 1918.

Footnote 13: Adm. Sir Lewis Bayly, R.N., Commander, Southern Ireland.

Footnote 14: Capt. Joel R. Poinsett Pringle, Chief of Staff, Destroyer Flotillas.

Footnote 15: Charles F. Hughes, a newly-appointed rear admiral. For why Sims wanted him, see: Sims to William V. Pratt, 30 August 1918.

Footnote 16: Secretary of War Newton D. Baker and Maj. Gen. John L. Hines, Chief, Embarkation Service.

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