Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Rear Admiral Henry B. Wilson, Commander, United States Naval Forces Based in France

April 1st. 1918.  

My dear Wilson,

          Referring to your letter of March 16th.1 I had intended to answer this long ago but a succession of events have taken up my time to a very unusual degree. I tried to do two or three things, and found that I unexpectedly had to do other things with very little notice.

          I had intended to visit Queenstown a week ago with Admiral Wemyss2 - at his request – but was obliged to leave the same day to attend a combined Naval and Military Council at Versailles. This was just as the offensive on the Western Front was beginning.3 We arrived in Paris at 6 o’clock in the morning, and had to leave that night at 11 00 o’clock. In the meantime we were bombarded by the mystery gun, bombed at Amiens, and delayed about fifteen hours in getting through to London, where I found an accumulation of work and a good many important things to attend to based on telegrams received from Washington.

          While the situation is regarded here as distinctly hopeful, still we have all been in considerable anxiety as to results on the Western Front. There has been a great deal of criticism by the man-on-the-street, not by governmental oreducated people, as to why it is that American troops are not taking part in the great battle after we have been in the war for nearly a year. We are informed that the logical thing has been done by advancing the American troops on to the French line farther south and thus releasing four French divisions to reinforce the battle line. All the same, it is to be regretted that there are not more of our men actually fighting on the Front. This for the moral effect it would have.

          I was informed that there was a great demand for men to do the work that must be done behind the lines. It is for this reason that I telegraphed you to be ready to send all spare men incase you heard from me further,4 and in the meantime it is being taken up with the Ministry of Marine in Paris and the War Department of France and Great Britain. It may be that they will not want our people, but I have felt that if they did accept the offer it would have a very good moral effect when it became known that American sailors were helping out in this great battle.

          By request of the Department I am sending home, sometime in May, Commander Daniels5 on a liaison trip. He is going to visit the stations up this way first, and will be down in France later to visit the various stations there. So, if your fellows can make an accumulation of questions you would like to get answered in Washington, or here at headquarters, and that sort of thing, we will see them attended to as best we can. I think it likely that Daniels will remain in Washington for a considerable time, and perhaps permanently, and make it his special stunt to see that papers and cables from our forces reach the people they are intended for promptly, and then follow them up and see them acted upon. When Babby6 was over there he found that many papers, etc. had stuck in various places.

          We have no more information than you already have as to the arrival of the new destroyers, chasers, and so forth, but we will let you know just as soon as we have any. 26 chasers are leaving Bermuda.

          We are approaching the end, I hope, of long negotiations with the British Admiralty with a view of getting practically one whole repair yard in Great Britain assigned to us for the overhaul (docking, etc.) of our vessels operating in British and French waters. This may possibly fall through, but, personally I feel confident we will have it arranged within a short time. My best to all your gang.

Very sincerely yours,                 

W S SIMS                    

Source Note: LTS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 23. Following the close the letter is addressed, “Rear Admiral H.B.Wilson,/U.S.Naval Forces in France./B r e s t .”

Footnote 2: First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss.

Footnote 3: This was the beginning of the 1918 Spring Offensive (also known as Kaiserschlacht or the Ludendorff Offensive), a series of German attacks along the Western Front (21 March to 18 July 1918) that represented Germany’s last ditch effort to bring the war to a successful conclusion before the overwhelming manpower and matériel resources of the United States arrived in full force. Although marked by the deepest advances by either the Allies or Central Powers along this front since 1914, the Germans were unable to move supplies and reinforcements fast enough to sustain their advances. By late April, the danger of a German breakthrough had passed, and by August the Allies, bolstered by the arrival of 1-2 million American troops, were able to launch a counter-offensive that would ultimately lead to German surrender in November. Holger H. Herwig, The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914-1918 (New York: A&C Black, 2014), 394-423.

Footnote 4: See, Sims to Wilson, 26 March 1918, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.

Footnote 5: Joseph F. Daniels, a member of the Operations Section of Sims’ staff.

Footnote 6: Cmdr. John V. Babcock, another member of Sims’ staff, in charge of convoys and related matters as part of the Operations Section. Babcock had recently been on temporary duty in Washington, D.C. during February and March 1918.

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