Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Rear Admiral Leigh C. Palmer, Chief of the Bureau of Navigation
18 April, 1918.
My dear Palmer,
Many thanks for your letter of March 26,1
I am glad your system for training laid down last Fall is beginning to show results, and knew that it would. We are very much in sympathy with your work over here and as you know will do our utmost to co-operate wherever we can.
Practically everybody that comes over from Washington takes their hat off to Navigation for the way you have met the situation. Had anybody told us that it could be done a year ago we would have said it was pretty nearly impossible. Stark,2 who digests your circular letters carefully, is more than enthusiastic over the results; and as he is in frequent touch with people who are working along these same lines, his statement about the praise which Navigation has received from different sources may be taken as a pretty accurate gauge of how we feel about your work over here.
Will be very glad to have Davy3 here for a few days, as I am heartily in sympathy with bringing the human element into the liaison work as much as possible. Will try and get in touch with all officers coming over, as frequently we are able to get the other fellow’s point of view and straighten out matters from a few minutes conversation, where a great deal of time and letter-writing wouldfail to give as good results.
Baldridge4 was recently in London and had a great many interesting things to tell us. We enjoyed very much seeing him.
I note what you say with regard to Davy being fearful of being assigned to Staff duty; and I will be glad to see that he goes to the duty which he wanted and which you intended he should have when he left.
With regard to the scheme for training engineer officers for the new destroyers at home : it does appear excellent and I know a very great deal will be accomplished by it. However, as our cables on this subject have shown, I believe these officers will not be as competent as those who have been trained afloat. You can, of course, send a man out on a destroyer two or three days at a time, and he will get a great deal of information regarding oil-burning, etc. etc; but he will also know – or perhaps it will never occur to him – that he has just left port with all his water tanks full of water, and that he can use as much as he likes and when he gets back a hose comes over the side and fills him up again. This, of course, is one of the vital things our destroyers have to learn afloat. It was brought out on the Mexican coast, when some of the supposedly best boats we had, after making a run to Galveston and back, and then getting further orders to move, could not do so until they had had their week in port in order to catch up in water, unless of course we gave it to them.
This also applies, of course, to oil and to supplies of all kinds. In other words, learning to be self-sustaining at sea for long periods of time, to come in and get out immediately, is something that can best be learned afloat.
These officers, of course, also afloat, stand watch, learn to keep their books, etc. etc. If we could not supply them from afloat, your scheme would be ideal, and of course I realise its excellent points; but inasmuch as we can supply them from afloat, why not develop your engineer officers, exactly the same as you are doing now, but instead of sending them to new destroyers send them over here to us and let us put them on the old destroyers where the organisation is running. I believe the general effect on morale would be better served in this way; and there is one other big point in this connection which I would like to impress most strongly on you, and that is, by sending the engineer officers home from here for new boats you give a very big stimulus to their morale; also the much-needed rest and change of surroundings.
The destroyers are kept, the biggest share of their time, actually at sea. As more demands are being made on them, and as the new ones coming over are very few in number; and moreover, as we have lately sustained some unavoidable accidents (and I wonder sometimes that we do not have more, in the congested areas at night) the wear and tear on the officers is very great. It is not as though they could go to sea for a week, and come in port for awweek; but it is spending the biggest share of their time at sea, ever on the look-out for emergency; and if with nothing to look forward to but to keep this up for an indefinite period for perhaps the next two or three years, or more, it seems to me this very fact will mean some deterioration, and result in our officers losing their initiative, or being what might be called “on their toes” all the time, and for which our officers have gained a reputation, and also particularly for their aggressiveness.
Of course, the British forces and the French forces, etc., continually get shore leave of absence in congenial surroundings, among their home folks, but the Colonies and our own forces may look forward to very, very little. Stark tells me that the first thing Commanding Officers ask him when they come in here is, to see the list of preference for officers going home for new boats; and they say in the Flotilla that this is one of the things to which they are always looking forward. If the engineer officers and the executive officers can look forward to the same thing, I am absolutely sure it will be a big help to them, and to the whole organization; and if for no other reason, even granting you (which I don’t) that your men at home will be as well trained as those who have been over here, there is still the big factor of giving the men over here a change and the opportunity of looking forward to getting home.
I would like to make this same thing apply to all the officers in destroyers. For example, when you first called for executive officers and engineer officers, the whole Flotilla simply let out a shout of joy and were talking about when their turn might come to get a new destroyer. I do not mean by this that they were anxious to get home and remain home. They all state that they would rather stick over here for ever than be shanghaied home and remain there; but to get home, get a new boat, and have a chance to see their people, and return, is the very best thing in the world for them. Of course, it was the poor Watch Officer who was neither one thing or the other, and who heard this going home proposition discussed and knew that he was hopelessly out of it, and who said nothing, but sawed wood, who has also come under my consideration in this matter. I would like to see these chaps after a year of the strain under which they are working get a few days’leave. Of course this is something that we can handle ourselves; but even in this case if we could send these men home for Watch Officers for the new boats, and break the new Watch Officers in over here, instead of ordering them to boats at home, it would immediately serve the double purpose of leave, and giving the new boats officers who are familiar with conditions here.
Of course, I realise that a new boat may come over here with a completely new bunch of officers and fall into the job fairly quickly. Essentially, it is merely a sea-going game, but at the same time there is no doubt but that if the above flow of officers could be arranged, the new details coming over here, and giving the people here the chance to go home, the general effect from every standpoint would be beneficial.5
Many thanks for your good wishes, which you know I heartily reciprocate.
I have furnished Tobey6 with that part of your letter referring to money for training camps, etc., and will be glad to take advantage of this wherever necessity calls for it.
I want also to thank you for your reference to Mrs Sims,7 and I certainly will avail myself of your thoughtfulness should occasion arise.
My very best personal wishes to you, as always.
Source Note: TL, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 77. Addressed below close: “Rear Admiral L.C.Palmer, U.S.N./Navy Department./WASHINGTON. D.C.” A later editor handwrote: “Interesting as regards keeping up morale in war time.”
Footnote 1: See: Palmer to Sims, 26 March 1918.
Footnote 2: Lt. Cmdr. Harold R. Stark, Sims’ Flag Secretary and head of the Personnel Section of his staff.
Footnote 3: Lt. Cmdr. Charles G. Davy, Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet. Davy did get sea duty. See, Sims to Palmer, 4 October 1918, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 77.
Footnote 4: Cmdr. Harry A. Baldridge, Commander, Stockton.
Footnote 5: The plan Sims’ proposed here was, in the main, put into effect. Still, Crisis at Sea: 196.
Footnote 6: Paymaster Eugene C. Tobey, head of the Materials Section on Sims' staff.
Footnote 7: Anne Hitchcock Sims.