Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Rear Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Destroyers Operating from British Bases, to Lieutenant Commander Joseph K. Taussig, Commander, Eighth Destroyer Division


CONFIDENTIAL.                 London, April 29, 1917.

My dear Taussig:

     I am delighted to know that you are in command of the advance guard of the destroyer force. Needless to say your command will receive a most hearty welcome by this co[u]ntryboth for sentimental and military reasons, for the submarines are becoming more and more successful with longer daylight and better weather, in spite of all the destroyers and patrol boats the British are able to send against them. In the week ending April 22 they destroyed 237000 tons of shipping. Manifestly if this is not checked the Allies cannot win.

     Besides the welcome which your force will receive you will find an equally warm personal welcome. When I informed the Admiralty of the name of the Commander of the 8th Division I was at once asked, “Is he the Taussig who was with Admiral Seymour in China?” You will probably receive a message from Admiral Jellicoe, the First Sea Lord, who of course remembers you well.1

As soon as I was informed that the Division was coming over, I asked the Admiralty to detail an experienced destroyer commander to meet you at Queenstown and give you and your gang all the points, tricks, and stunts, that the British have learned during nearly three years of actual warfare. You will be supplies with “depth charges” and other appliances now employed and will be informed as to the best known methods of using them.2 Also as to the various methods that have been tried and found less efficient.

     The Officer selected is Commander Evans,3 who was second in command of the Scott Antarctic Expedition, and was in command of the Torpedo Leader Broke, at present repairing the damage she received in the recent (April 20) destroyer fight off Dover. This was a very brilliant night action of two torpedo leaders (1800 tons) against six German destroyers. Evans’ boat torpedoes one and rammed and passed clear over the stern of another. Get the gang all together and make him tell you all about it., for the account contains a great deal of practical information as to the best methods of handling guns and torpedoes in case you encounter enemy destroyers., which however you are not likely to do in the immediate future.4 He can also give you some very useful points on keeping your men contented while doing work which is necessarily largely monotonous.

     I will not attempt to give you the details as he can better do that., but I cannot too strongly impress upon you the essential basis of success in such night attacks, which is that barring the handling of his boat, the Captain can do little in directing the details. It is bound to be an affair of minutes, or even seconds, that will depend for its success largely upon the completeness with which the plan is worked out and understood by the personnel. The boat that is organized on the principle that all details are to be directed by the Captain will not succeed. See that your Captains understand this important military requirement.

     While the above applies more particularly to actions against enemy destroyers, it applies also to actions against submarines. Evans will explain the use of the “depth charges,” the most effective weapon against the subs, and from his explanation and the nature and use of the weapon you will recognize the absolute necessity of practically instant action in carrying out a prearranged plan of attack.

     I have just been placed in command of all U.S.destroyers operating on this side in cluding twelve more destroyers with tenders and auxiliaries to be sent later.,5 but as the active command will of course be exercised by the senior officer on the spot,6 under orders of the Vice Admiral of the Port,7 I want to warn you as to certain difficulties that may arise.

     This relates to possible friction with the British Naval authorities. You will, I am sure, recognize the necessity of avoiding this as long as it is practically possible.

     I would not consider this warning so necessary were it not for two facts, namely (1) there has been more or less serious friction of this nature between the Allies, as has been more or less the case throughout the history of Allied warfare, and (2) I have been informed by the Admiralty that the Vice Admiral (Bailey) in command at Queenstown is a peculiarly difficult man to deal with. You will make no new discoveries as to his manner or character. We have heard it all and more. His outstanding good qualities are that he is capable and is as unsparing of himself as he is of his subordinates.8

     He was recently called to the Admiralty for consultation as to cooperation between our forces, and when I was introduced to him he was very rude, as he was also to some high Admiralty officials present. It was evidently one of Admiral Bailey’s bad days. Of course I treated it as an amusing incident and declined to make any trouble over it. However the Admiral was taken very severely to task, in the presence of the First Lord (our Secretary) and very distinctly informed that there should be no friction of any kind.

     In view of the above explanations of the peculiarities of Admiral Bailey, who is very able and valuable in other respects, I am sure you will be able to make things go smoothly.

     However if you find that friction does arise which interferes with the efficiency of your command, I want you to report the circumstances to me at once, and if it cannot be abated the cause will at once be removed.

     There is one other feature of such a condition which is of importance, and that is the necessity of keeping your own cou[n]sel. If anything disagreeable occurs in your own intercourse with the naval authorities do not mention it to any of your own people., not even your own executive, and do not permit the officers to discuss any differences which they may observe. Otherwise they will get about among the crews and be sent home in private letters that may cause serious trouble through leakage into the press.

     Require all officers not only to fre refrain from all criticism of British methods, manners, and customs, and ask them to refrain from mentioning them in their letters. Also give attention to bringing about friendly relations between our enlisted men and the British. This is very important.

     Criticism can do no good, it may do much harm. Let us set a record among the Allies for cooperation and show what can be done in a common cause.

     I have received an invitation to spend the night at Windsor Castle and meet the King Tuesday the 1st,9 and so may not be able to meet you at Queenstown on arrival, but I will be there in the course of the next few days, probably on the third.10 Report to the Vice Admiral, commanding, tell him that I have been placed in command of our forces in these waters, explain why I will be delayed, and tell him that you will report with me again as soon as I arrive.

     I hope you will be able to shake your gang down and get on the job with as little delay as possible, and thereby make a good first impression, which counts for a good deal. To that extent, and perhaps more, you have the reputation of the service in your hands, as far as the British go. Whatever you accomplish is liable to have pretty wide circulation in their service. Paymaster Tobey,11 who is thoroughly in touch with his end of the game over here, is going over with Evans and will assist you in arranging for supplies, repairs, etc.

     I am sure your people will be intensely interested in this work. Of course you and they will understand that it will be no picnic. It will not only be hard but may prove very monotonous. Its success will be largely in keeping the subs below the surface or chasing them away from a certain area.

     I may be able to assign you to more interesting work later, as a change if nothing else. In the meantime I am sure I need not warn you not to allow the monotony of the present duty to cause the least relaxation of extreme vigilance upon which success in such work alone depends.

     I am sending you an operation order specifying the manner in which the operations of your force are to be coordinated with those of the British.12

     I have no doubt that, no matter how arduous the duty may prove to be, you will not only remain cheerful, but will keep all hands the same.

Very sincerely yours,        

S/ Wm. S. SIMS

Source Note: TCy, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers. In the upper left hand corner of each page is typed: “Admiral Sims’/Personal File.” On the right top of each page is: “1 3 J” typed in a vertical column and several spaces from the “1” is “10.” Below the signature, the letter is addressed: “Lieutenant Commander J.K.Taussig, U.S.N.,/U.S.S. Wadsworth,/Queenstown, Ireland.” In a letter to his wife of the same day, Sims wrote that he had written Taussig a “letter of advice.” He added: “It is pleasant to know that these young fellows have confidence as what I tell them.” Sims to Anne Hitchcock Sims, 29 April 1917, DLC, Sims Papers.

Footnote 1: Taussig served in China during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. For conspicuous conduct in battle near Tientsin, he was highly commended and advanced four places in seniority. During the campaign he was seriously wounded and spent time in hospital recovering with wounded British Navy Capt. John R. Jellicoe. Queenstown Patrol: 2; Jellicoe, Crisis of the Naval War: 160.

Footnote 2: The American destroyers arrived without depth charges and for some months thereafter they operated with only two per ship. According to the memoirs of Charles Blackford, a seaman serving on McDougal, that destroyer still carried none after more than a month in the war zone. Torpedoboat Sailor: 85.

Footnote 3: Edward Ratcliffe Garth Russell “Teddy” Evans. As Sims indicates, Evans was a British naval hero for his role in the Battle of Dover Strait. After Broke rammed a German destroyer, German sailors from the sinking destroyer tried to board Broke, but were repelled by Evans’ crew yielding cutlasses, much to the delight of the British public. Taussig, Queenstown Patrol: 187n.

Footnote 4: According to his diary, Taussig did as Sims suggested and on 6 May, assembled the “Captains, Executives and Gunnery Officers” of his division to hear Evans tell “his experience while on patrol, gave us some suggestions and advice, and then told us the story of the engagement.” Taussig, Queenstown Patrol: 25, 27.

Footnote 5: Sims had just received the appointment as commander of the American destroyer force in European waters. See: Josephus Daniels to Sims, 28 April 1917.

Footnote 6: At the time of this letter, it was Taussig.

Footnote 7: VAdm. Lewis Bayly R.N.

Footnote 8: Bayly had a reputation for irascibility that Sims discusses in his memoir, Victory at Sea: 55-60.

Footnote 9: Sims discussed his evening at Windsor Castle in a letter to his wife, Anne Hitchcock Sims, on 2 May. He wrote that he had a “fine time” and a “long talk” with the King who he found a “real sailor and very well informed.” They discussed “all features of the submarine campaign just like two naval officers.” DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers.

Footnote 10: Sims got called to a meeting in Paris so he was unable to get to Queenstown as early as he planned. He sent his aide Cmdr. John V. Babcock to represent him. Sims to Anne Hitchcock Sims, 7 May 1917, Ibid.

Footnote 11: Paymaster Lt. Cmdr. Eugene C. Tobey who was an assistant to the American naval attaché in London.