Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Captain Joel R. Poinsett Pringle, Chief of Staff, Destroyer Flotillas, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters

REFER TO         UNITED STATES NAVAL FORCES

NO. <4254>      OPERATING IN EUROPEAN WATERS          (C-4)

U. S. S. MELVILLE, FLAGSHIP.

     BASE SIX.

           19 April 1918.

My dear Admiral:

          I have your letter of 16 April,and will attend to the matter of Ensign Newlin’s orders.1

          Many thanks for the limerick.

          Nothing of any special interest has taken place here recently, but I am very much afraid that our activities will be considerably hampered by the disturbed conditions resulting from the introduction of conscription into Ireland.2

          I went yesterday with Admiral Bayly3 and made an inspection of the Seaplane Station at Whiddy Island,4 and the Kite Balloon Station at Berehaven. At Whiddy Island, I find that our Aviation detail is not, at present, living on Whiddy Island itself but is quartered in the town of Bantry. This detail consists of about forty-six men and is in charge of a reserve ensign, Peterson, by name.5

          The work on the Station at Whiddy Island itself is being prosecuted by contractors engaged by the British Admiralty in accordance with the usual custom that has been adopted for the preparation of these stations, which are eventually to be turned over to us. The officer in charge of works (representative of the Admiralty) informed us that some of his men had already left and that he had been at considerable pains to induce the others to believe that they were not to be immediately rounded up and put in service, in order to prevent them from leaving. As an evidence of the state of mind of these workmen, I may mention that the Admiral had telephoned ahead for a mine-laying launch to meet him at Bantry and take him across to Whiddy Island, but, upon our arrival at Bantry, we were informed by the Lieutenant in command of the launch that the contractor requested the Admiral not to use the mine-laying launch for the trip to Whiddy Island but to go over in a tug. The reason for this is that the mine-laying launch mounts a gun and flies the White Ensign, and the state of mind of the workmen employed is such that they would at once believe that the launch had arrived for the purpose of rounding them up, and would accordingly stop work. I found the work progressing fairly well at Whiddy Island and from there we went on to Berehaven where we inspected the Kite Balloon Station. The six hangars for the kite balloons are complete but there is a considerable amount of work remaining to be done in connection with the full development of the Station. All workmen had left, and there was no work in progress at that Station.6 I am not informed accurately as to what effect on the workmen employed at Wexford the situation has had up to date, but, I presume some of them have stopped work, and I presume that others will stop before long. The working force at Aghada (the station <here>) has been reduced somewhat.7

          I mention these things to show you that we may expect to be considerably handicapped in the prosecution of any work at this Base, or elsewhere, which work depends for its accomplishment upon the employment of civilian labor. The two projects that I am most interested in here, at present, are the establishment of the Base Hospital and the construction of a storehouse on the railroad property, which we are about to take over for that purpose. I feel sure that these two projects will be delayed to some extent as a result of these conditions, and I will do my best to try and put them through in some fashion by the employment of labor from this Force, but, there are, of course, not enough men now for the prosecution of all the work with destroyers in as expeditious a manner as we would like, and as the up-keep of destroyers must, of necessity, take precedence over every other activity, it is very doubtful whether we shall be able, with the labor available within this Force, to put through the Base Hospital project or the storehouse project within anything like a reasonable time, if we can do it at all.

          The matter of the storehouse is one which is causing me very considerable concern as we have absolutely no facilities available beyond those which are now in use, and which are not completely adequate for the stowage of supplies that are already here and those that are expected to arrive.

          I have impressed upon McCrary8 the necessity for the exercise on the part of the officers in charge of the various Aviation detachments throughout Ireland of the utmost tact and discretion in their dealing with the civil population under the circumstances existing, and I trust that we may not have any cases of friction arise.

          Captain Leigh9 will, or course, give you full information as to the development of Beehler’s listening device and I presume that he will desire to employ Beehler’s services in that connection for sometime to come. I think Beehler will be of much more value to the Service and to the prosecution of the war if he is employed in that connection rather than on sea service with destroyers, as I do not believe that Beehler is sufficiently strong physically to stand the strain of destroyer duty. He has been employed as Executive of the DIXIE since his arrival at the Base; and if Leigh desires to employ Beehler in the connection with the development of his device, I can very readily arrange for Beehler to be detached from the DIXIE and replace him by an officer from the Force.10

          I dare say the various members of the London Force11 who have been here recently will give you all the news and gossip that there is extant at the Base, and I trust that they were all benefitted by their trip.

          We are somewhat cheered up over the recent news from the Front, and none of us here have any doubt but what we shall pull through in the long run.12

          With best wishes, believe me

            Very sincerely yours,

JRPoinsett Pringle      

Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 79. Following the close, the letter is addressed: “Vice-Admiral Wm. S. Sims, U.S. Navy,/30 Grosvenor Gardens,/London, England, S.W. 1.”

Footnote 2: Short of troops on the Western Front, the British government decided to extend conscription to Ireland. The act instituting conscription was attached to a bill rejecting home rule for Ireland. Therefore, Irish nationalist parties rejected the bill and returned to Ireland to organize resistance. The Catholic Church and the labor movement in Ireland also came out in opposition to conscription. The British tried to quash the opposition and to find ways of circumventing it, but none succeeded and when the German offensive stalled in June and July 1918, the British shelved their plans to implement conscription in Ireland. Alan J. Ward, “Lloyd George and the 1918 Irish Conscription Crisis,” The Historical Journal, vol. 17, no. 1 (1974), 107-29.

Footnote 3: Adm. Lewis Bayly, R.N., commander of all forces on the southern coast of Ireland.

Footnote 4: Whiddy Island is near the head of Bantry Bay, Ireland.

Footnote 5: Ens. William Peterson. Bantry village lay some two miles across the bay from the island. In the end, the Americans had to erect their own barracks and did not move in until the end of April. Issues with a water supply and continued labor unrest slowed completion of the base and it was not until October that aerial operations commenced. Rossano, Stalking the U-Boat: 222-23.

Footnote 6: According to historian Geoffrey Rossano, 130 Irish laborers quit at Whiddy and all of the laborers left Castletownbere (Berehaven). The work there had to be completed by American service personnel. Ibid., 212-13.

Footnote 7: Seventy-five Irish laborers quit at Queenstown. Ibid., 212.

Footnote 8: Cmdr. Francis B. McCrary, who commanded the U.S. airbases in Ireland.

Footnote 9: Capt. Richard H. Leigh, an expert on listening devices who was serving on Sims’ staff.

Footnote 10: Pringle was even more enthusiastic concerning the device developed by Lt. Weyman P. Beehler in his letter to Sims of 27 April 1918. See: Pringle to Sims, 27 April 1918. On 7 May, Sims wrote to Pringle indicating that Beehler should continue work on the device so presumably the plan laid out here by Pringle was implemented. See: Pringle to Sims, 7 May 1918.

Footnote 11: By “London Force” Pringle meant members of Sims’ staff who worked at Sims’ headquarters in London.

Footnote 12: Pringle was referring to the German offensive in France.