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Rear Admiral William S. Sims to President Woodrow Wilson and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

File No. 25-9-2    


SENT: April 28th. 1917.

<To: Secretary of State. (For the President and Secretary the Navy.)>

          Owing to gravity submarine situation I am unaware as regards our forces available and the material condition, I cannot avoid urging importance time element and fact that pressing need of moment is numbers of vessels in danger area. We cannot send too soon or too many. Rate of loss given last week1 is continued and any further means of co-operation including increased shipping may be too late. Intensity of submarine campaign shows now and within next two months is critical time. Military information all points to breaking of enemy submarine morale as immediate mission.2 Since British are concentrating more forces in critical zones I cannot exaggerate the importance of our forces being immediately followed by adequate facilities for supply and repair especially for all needs peculiar to our ships and for all special repairs.3 At Queenstown and neighboring bases, because of the volume of work and lack of labor facilities will be greatly strained. With regard to submarines entering and leaving their bases and their approximate whereabouts while operating the Admiralty is able to maintain information that is fairly exact.

                              Of the thirty four mine U boats two for some days were not located and the Admiralty was on the point of informing us that probability of their being enroute to the United States when their whereabouts were discovered. It is the Admiralty’s belief now that at the present none are likely to be sent over and that the present effort of the submarines which is successful will be kept up off the Channel entrance. All the destroyers that can be freed from duty with the Fleet are being employed. It has been shown by experience that fifty per cent of the destroyers can be maintained on patrol. The area covered by destroyers is practically untenable by submarines but this area is ineffective as it is too small. Yesterday the War Council and Admiralty decided that co-operation of twenty odd American destroyers with base at Queenstown would no doubt put down the present submarine activity which is dangerous and keep it down. The crisis will be passed if the enemy can be forced to disperse his forces from th<i>s crucial zone.4

          I believe our Navy has an opportunity for glorious distinction and I seriously recommend that there be sent at once the maximum number possible destroyers. Depth charges and supplies necessary will be furnished the six destroyers en route and there will be assigned to the staff of our senior officer an expert destroyer patrol officer.5-Sims.


Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517. The recipients were taken from a pencil notation on the cablegram. There is also a notation that reads: “From: Embassy,.” These notations appear to have been added later in anticipation of this document being published as part of a documentary history of World War I. Sims had begun using the State Department code and transmission facilities because he believed them to be more secure. For this reason, the cable was sent under the signature of American ambassador Walter Hines Page and was directed to the Secretary of State, Frank Lansing, to be passed on to the President and Secretary of the Navy.

Footnote 2: The British Admiralty had assigned their anti-submarine forces to patrol trying to find and destroy German submarines. This strategy was seen as being “offensive-minded.” Some historians have been critical of it contending that it was a waste of resources, which might have been more effectively used convoying merchantmen, which at the time was seen as a less-desirable “defensive” strategy.

Footnote 3: The Melville, a U.S. destroyer tender that could provide facilities for “supply and repair,” arrived at Queenstown on 22 May.

Footnote 4: It was the first of June before the Americans had more than twenty destroyers at Queenstown (modern-day Cobh). Taussig, Queenstown Patrol: 46.

Footnote 5: For more on the assignment of “an expert destroyer patrol officer” to assist the Americans. Cmdr. E.R.G.R. Evans was given the assignment. see: Sims to Joseph K. Taussig, 29 April 1917.