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Rear Admiral William S. Sims to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels


FROM London,       

Dated April 18, 1917,

Rec’d 9:50 p. m.   

Secretary of State,


          6028, April 18, 6 p. m.

          Following is strictly confidential from Admiral Sims:

          “Your April 16, 4 p. m.1 It has been found wholly impracticable to completely blockade German and Belgian coasts against egress and ingress submarines. All practicable means have been attempted. Numerous mine fields and nets have been and continue to be laid and submarines destroyers and other craft used in attempting to prevent exit and to stop mines and nets being dragged out. The danger to vessels operating so near enemy bases is naturally considerable and has resulted in several being torpedoed and mined. It has been found impracticable even to maintain an effective patrol against submarines and raiders between Scotland and Norway. Too many vessels were torpedoed. Patrol is now maintained on lines between Scotland and Iceland and also between Scotland and Greenland ice floes. In order to maintain these lines and to prevent torpedoing it is necessary to shift them after each enemy contact as there are no vessels available to screen the cruisers against submarine attack. The destroyer has shown itself to be by far the most efficient enemy of submarines operating against commerce. The enemy uses every means to force their employment on other duty even to sinking hospital ships. All destroyers are now so employed except the minimum required by grand fleet and for convoying troops and their supplies. Destroyers being built as rapidly as possible but numbers wholly inadequate to meet present submarine issue, particularly against merchant shipping. Situation is so serious that I urgently repeat recommendations that we send immediately every destroyer capable of reaching Ireland and also all light draft vessels of whatever speed capable of performing any patrol duty.2 Impracticable our battleships take any part in war or need destroyer protection unless operating in this the critical war theater. British are willing to try any anti-submarine methods not already proved inefficient. Present developments reached are result of exhaustive trials of many methods often carried out at great expense.

     To best my knowledge and experience we should adopt present British methods and base further developments only upon actual experience in cooperation with them.”


Source Note: CS, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517. Sims used the State Department code for sending sensitive messages “because of the unreliability and danger of using the code of the Naval Attache.” See: Sims to Daniels, 14 April 1917. For this reason the cablegram bears the name of the American ambassador to England, Walter Hines Page, even though it came from Sims. The cablegram is three pages. At the top of pages two and three appears: “TELEGRAM RECEIVED./FROM/London,/#6028.”

Footnote 2: At the top of his diary entry for 17 April, Daniels wrote: “Pres said: ‘Let Destroyers go to other side[.’]” DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Diary, Roll 1. The “Pres” was Woodrow Wilson.