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Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Major General John J. Pershing, Commander, American Expeditionary Forces


April 13th. 1918.


My dear General,

          This morning Colonel Logan1 presented your letter of April 10, 1918,2 and we have had a pow-wow over using additional ports for certain supply ships whose cargoes cannot in the near future be handled in the ports now available.

          In five minutes we reached a conclusion in principle, based upon the entire willingness of the Navy to do anything to help along the Army in every possible way.

          The case in point seems perfectly clear:

1.  The ports now used cannot handle all the supplies that will soon be coming in.

2.  The army needs the supplies, therefore they must be brought in somehow.

3.  Hence an additional port or ports must be used.

4.  It is only a question of which portscan be used to the greatest advantage.

5.  The question is being studied by your people and mine, and doubtless Marseilles will be recommended.3

6.  They will also recommend the kind of vessels to use and the kinds of supplies they will carry.

7.  That settled, it will be up to the Navy to do the best they can to protect them – the degree of protection depending upon the number of vessels available. Unfortunately, the supply of new destroyers is away behind the promised schedule.

8.  However, as you say, the supplies must be landed, even though there is some risk. This risk will not be great if the vessels are reasonably fast and well armed.

          This is not a definite reply to your questions. That will be communicated to you by Colonel Logan when he and my people have completed their study. I am writing only to assure you that I am, and at all times have been, in complete sympathy with you in your many complicated duties and heavy responsibilities, and that I am always more than anxious to help out in every possible way.

          We sailors recognise that the enemy’s Navy is not making war against the allied navies. On the contrary, they take pains to avoid our military ships in order the better to attack the lines of communication of the allied armies – the ships bringing our troops and supplies.

          So it is the sailors’ function (1) to protect these lines and (2) to attack the Hun pirates whenever we can find them. Unfortunately the former requires so many of our destroyers, etc., that there are not enough to be very effective against the latter.

          However, conditions are improving all the time. More destroyers are coming out, forty-eight submarine chasers (hunters of 110 ft. with hydrophones) are on the way and a hundred more to follow, and we are destroying a considerable number of submarines – about twentyfive since January 1st.4

          We will win out soon if the armies can hold the enemy on the Western Front. But even if they can’t hold him at present, we will win out all the same.

          I thoroughly recognise that our nautical stunt, both in administration and operation, is very simple compared to yours; that our primary mission is to aid the armies; and that our success is bound up with yours.

          There is not a day and hardly an hour of the day, that I do not think about what you soldiers are up against, and my heart is with you all the time.

          I am looking for ways to help out. Would it not be desirable for you to have a competent naval officer actually with your staff at all times? He could answer nautical questions or give information that your people would otherwise have to write about.

          For example, if you should telegraph me: “It has become apparent that the efficiency of cooperation between my forces and yours regarding the rapidity and safety of transporting troops and supplies would be augmented if a competent naval officer were permanently attached to my staff,” I would at once apply to Washington, and I believe that, with your support, I could get one.5

          There is another point that is none of my particular business, but concerning which I believe a mistake has been made.

          A few days ago the British proposed that some of our troops should be sent over on what are called Medium Speed transports. These are relatively small vessels carrying all the way from fifty to a few hundred troops. They would come in 9-knot convoys. Both the War and Navy Departments turned this down because of the speed.

          I did not butt in, but I believe this decision to be a mistake, because I believe that a small number of troops on a slow ship are in less danger than a large number on a fast one, because in case the vessel is torpedoed, the small number can probably all be saved – and this can seldom be the case with a large number. The TUSCANIA was a marked exception in that the ship did not sink for two or three hours, and the sea was smooth enough for destroyers to go alongside. One of them took away 900 troops.6

          If you should recommend that troops be sent on these vessels, I believe both the War and Navy Departments would change their decisions. I am informed that it is a question of getting over about 10,000 more troops per month.7

          If I make any recommendations that you do not approve of, don’t hesitate to turn me down hard. I don’t profess to know anything about fighting off the water.

          Don’t waste any of your own time answering my communications. I have time to burn compared to what you have, and you should not waste any of it writing me an autograph letter, or even signing your name. A letter signed “By Direction”, or a simple memorandum will receive just as prompt and earnest attention. We sailors will do anything we can to help out and get on with the war.

Always very sincerely yours,

Source Note: TL, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 23. Addressed below close: “General John J.Pershing, U.S.A./General Headquarters,/American Expeditionary Force./F r a n c e .”

Footnote 1: Col. James A. Logan, Jr., Assistant Chief of Staff, American Expeditionary Forces.

Footnote 3: In May, the Army decided to use Marseilles as a port for supplies and began to divert supply ships there in June. Gen. Henry P. McCain to Pershing, 9 May 1918, United States Army in the World War, 2: 323; Still, Crisis at Sea: 491. Despite his seeming support for the move here, Sims expressed strong reservations to the Navy Department about this diversion, citing the success of enemy U-boats in the Mediterranean, the lack of Allied escort vessels in the Mediterranean, and the fact that the voyage was 1,400 miles longer than to the French Atlantic ports as some of the major reasons why this was inadvisable. See: Sims to Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 23 May 1918. The Army supply vessels made it through without loss, however, and thereafter Sims was able to strengthen escort forces in the area. Still, Crisis at Sea: 491. The Army’s other solution to the problem was to shorten dramatically the number of days ships bringing supplies stayed in port. They planned to reduce that stay from twenty to fourteen days. McCain to Pershing, 14 April 1918, United States Army in the World War, 2: 323.

Footnote 4: According to the tally in Kemp, U-Boats Destroyed, eighteen U-boats had been sunk between 1 January and 13 April 1918. Kemp, U-Boats Destroyed: 42-46.

Footnote 6: On the sinking of the liner/troopship Tuscania, see: Nathan C. Twining to Josephus Daniels, 11 February 1918.

Footnote 7: On 23 April, Pershing sent an endorsement of this plan to Washington. Pershing to McCain, 23 April 1918, United States Army in the World War, 2: 323.

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