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


SENT: April 14th, 1917.            TO: Secretary of the Navy.

THROUGH: State Department.1

The situation is as follows:-

The submarine issue is very much more serious than people realize in America. The recent success of <submarine> operations and the rapidity of construction constitutes the real crisis of the war. The morale of the enemy submarines is not broken only about fifty-four are known to have been captured or sunk and no voluntary surrenders have been recorded. The reports of our press are greatly in error. Reports recently circulated concerning surrenders are simply to depreciate enemy morale and results are very <un>satisfactory.

     Supplies and communications of forces <on> all fronts including the Russians are threatened and control of the sea actually imperiled.

     German submarines are constantly extending their operations further into the Atlantic increasing areas and the difficulty of patrolling. Russian situation critical. Baltic Fleet mutiny<;> eightyfive Admirals Captains and Commanders murdered and in some Armies there is insubordination.

The amount of British neutral and allied shipping lost in February was 536,000 tons, in March 571,000 tons and in the first ten days of April, 205,000 tons. With short nights and better weather these losses are increasing.

The British forces could not effectively prevent the escape of some raiders during the long nights but the chances are better now.

     The Allies were notified that hospital ships will continue to be sunk this in order to draw destroyers away from operations against submarines to convoy hospital ships in this way causing a demand for large convoy forces in all areas not before necessary and also partially immobilizing the main fleet.

On account of the immense theatre and length and number of lines of communication and the material deterioration resulting from three years’ continuous operation in distant fields with inadequate base facilities the strength of the naval forces is dangerously strained. This applies to all of the sea forces outside the Grand Fleet. The enemy has six large and sixty-four small submarine mine layers, the latter carry eighteen mines<;> the former thirty-four also torpedoes and guns. All classes submarines for actual commission completed at a rate approaching three per week. To accelerate and insure defeat of submarine campaign immediate active co-operation absolutely necessary.

The issue is and must inevitable be decided at the focus of all lines of communication in the Eastern Atlantic, therefore I very urgently recommend the following immediate naval co-operation.

Maximum number destroyers to be sent accompanied by small antisubmarine craft former to patrol designated high sea area westward of Ireland based on Queenstown with an advance base at Bantry Bay, lat<t>er to be an inshore patrol for<ce> destroyers<,> small craft<,> should be of light draft with as high speed as possible but low speed also useful. Also repair ships and staff for base. Oil and docks available but advise sending continuous supply of fuel. German mainfleet must be contained demanded maximum conservation of the British main fleet. South of Scotland no base is so far available for this force.

At present our battleships can serve no useful purpose in this area except that two divisions of dreadnoughts might be based on Brest for moral effect against anticipated raids by heavy enemy ships in the channel out of reach of British main fleet.

The chief other and urgent practical co-operation is merchant tonnage and a continuous augmentation of anti-submarine craft to reinforce our advanced forces. There is a serious shortage of the latter craft. For towing the present large amount of sailing tonnage through dangerous areas sea-going tugs would be of great use.2

The co-operation outline above should be expedited with the utmost dispatch in order to break enemy submarine morale and accelerate the accomplishment of the chief American objective.

     It is very likely the enemy will make submarine mine-laying raids on our coast or in the Caribbean to divert attention and keep our forces from the critical area in the Eastern atlantic through effect upon public opinion. The difficulty of maintaining submarine bases and the <fo>cusing of shipping on this side will restrict such operations to minor importance although they should be effectively opposed principally by keeping the Channel swept on soundings. Enemy submarine mine<s> have been anchored as deep as ninety fathoms but the majority at not over fifty fathoms. Mines do not rise from the bottom to set depth until from twenty-four to forty-eight hours after they have been laid.

So far all experience shows that submarines never lay mines out of sight of landmarks or lights on account of the danger to themselves if location is not known. Maximum augmentation merchant tonnage and anti-submarine work where most effective constitute the paramount immediate necessity.

Mr. Hoover3 informs me that there is only sufficient grain supply in this country for three weeks. This does not include the supply in retail stores. In a few days Hoover will sail for the United States.4


Source Note: C, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517. Pages 2 through 4 are numbered with the number appearing at the top center of the page. There is a note at the bottom of the last page that reads: “NO. OF COPIES. 2. REFERENCE NO.” The words in angle brackets were taken from a copy printed in Naval Investigation, 1: 29-30.

Footnote 1: In another cablegram of the same date, Sims explained that he was forwarding this dispatch “of the utmost importance and secrecy,” using the code of the State Department “because of the unreliability and danger of using the code of the Naval Attache.” Sims added that the dispatch gave “the exact truth of the situation and the information given is not even known to the majority of British officials.” Sims added that he insisted British leaders give him “a complete and accurate,” assessment and only after the Imperial War Council considered Sims’ request did the British agreed to share this information. The principle British fear was “the manifest advantage to enemy morale” should the information be released. Sims ended this cable by requesting that his “recommendations” be considered with “all possible urgency.” Sims to Daniels, 14 April 1917, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517.

Footnote 3: Herbert C. Hoover was head of the Committee for the Relief of Belgium, a non-government organization providing food and medicine to help the citizens of Belgium.

Footnote 4: In a letter to his wife, from 13 April, Sims wrote that he was sending a “very long” cable message “tomorrow,” which “describes the whole very grave situation” and recommends sending “the maximum number of raiders destroyers and other small craft- to this side to assist in putting down the submarine menace.” Sims added that his cable would create “a sensation at the Department” but he was confident it would “produce the desired effect, particularly as our department has already decided to use the whole force of the navy.” Sims to Anna Hitchcock Sims, 13 April 1917, DLC-MSS, Williams S. Sims Papers. In a letter to his wife of the next day, Sims boasted that he and his aide John V. Babcock collected the material for this memo and written it—a total of “four pages (foolscap) of writing”--in “practically three days.” Sims to Anna Hitchcock Sims, 14 April 1917, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers. Also, see: Sims to Daniels, 19 April 1917.