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 Anne Hitchcock Sims

 

[Extract]

August 17, 1917

My darling Nani,

     The times are still a bit strenuous. The C-in-C leaves tomorrow and will arrive in about a week.1 On the 21st I am going to Queenstown but will be back here by the 27th. I will probably meet the C-in-C when he lands and return to London with him. He is bringing seven of his staff with him and will probably be here about a month. We are arranging quarters at the Carlton for him and his staff.

     Of course I will be all the basics for his being here. However, his coming will clear the air, and settle a good many troublesome questions. There will of course be a good many social functions for him to attend, as he will doubtless be entertained by the government – and the Admiralty – and the Ambassador,2 not to mention the various associations of Americans....

     I will leave this letter here in the pouch before I go to Queenstown on the 21st. I think it will go on a steamer that leaves the next day. I may not have time to write much while I am gone. I am taking Twining, Ancrum, and Blakeslee with me and will be pretty busy putting them onto the game.3

     Last night I went to a very interesting dinner with a Mr. and Mrs. Harris.4 Harris is a member of Parliament – and a prominent – man. He has been in the Admiralty and in the Foreign Office. I have dined with them once before and like them very much. They are great friends of the Chief Naval Censor,5 whom I see very often. It was through him that I was invited there.

     But the interest at the dinner was due to the fact that the other three guests were Lord Robert Cecil and Winston Churchill and his wife.6 Churchill is a good friend of Lloyd George and has recently been made a member of the government (Minister of Munitions). You doubtless remember that he was First Lord of the Admiralty when the war broke out and resigned on account of the Dardanelles failure.

     I think he is very unpopular with all members of the government except L.G. He is the enfant terrible of British public life, and many people consider him unbalanced.

     Lord Robert Cecil might be taken for anything except an Englishman. He would make a much better Uncle Sam. He is over 6 feet and would be nearly seven if he were no so very sloop shouldered. He is so very thin and long legged that he looks taller than he is. His complexion is very sallow and his hair black and thin. He has a hatchet face, an aquiline nose and small eyes. He is clean shaven – as are almost all Englishmen. As for clothes, he makes me look very well dressed. He wears any old clothes, usually much worn, never pressed and bagging at the knees. His shirts are cut very low and collars are like those worn by Negro minstrels on the stage.

     With all, he has an attractive and intellectual face – the face of a student and dreamer, and I believe him both.

     I have met him and talked with him after, and like him very much.

     Winston Churchill is an impulsive little man with a rather boyish face, very light hair an prematurely bald, and inclined to be stout – rather more than “rotund,” to be more accurate.

     He is of the most aggressive cocksure type. Probably the most conceited man in Great Britain. He has had a brilliant career for such a young man (in the early 40ies). It seems wholly impossible for him to believe himself wrong in anything. His hobby at present is that the allied armies and navies are without any intelligent direction – just bumbling along from day to day without any plan. His criticisms are not exclusively destructive. He has so much confidence in his own opinions that he does not hesitate to tell them what should be done, and denounces them because they do not get busy at once and do it.

     He is the original advocate of the plan of “Digging the Rats out of their holes”, that is, attacking (from the sea) the German fleet in their fortified bases.

     Last evening he attacked exclusively the army. He explained in detail in a most declamatory style, and with excited gestures, just what should have been done two years ago and what should be done now. We listened to him until he had entirely finished. Then I asked him which of the three following conditions accounted for the failure to carry out the plans that appeared to him so obvious

1. Was the allied war council too ignorant to understand what should be done?

2. Was the council too cowardly to carry out what they know should be done?

3. Was the failure to carry out obvious plans due to political considerations, international suspicions, jealousies, etc.

     W.C. floundered considerably, and there was a twinkle in Lord Cecil’s eyes.

     W.C. then said he had no confidence in any of the military authorities.

     I told him that I not only did not know much about military affairs, but less about the political forces that implemented them, and that therefore I could neither form an independent opinion I could have confidence in, nor could I place any confidence in any other non military opinion – that this appeared to be the only logical opinion that an outsider could form In the absence of the necessary military knowledge and experience and knowledge of the political and military conditions.

     All hands agreed with me. The he attacked the navy on similar lines, and was just as easily turned down. I told him that I neither believed the British and Allied navies too ignorant to know what to do, nor too cowardly to do it; that in military matters the only logical and safe way was to rely in military matters upon the decisions of military men, that it would be impossible to convince a country that a non military opinion was correct and all the military authorities wrong; that the chances were a million to one that the non military opinion would be the correct one; that any other assumptions would be extremely dangerous.

     The discussion lasted until after 11 PM. As a matter of fact, WC’s opinions simply reflect those of the “man on the street.” In this respect they are similar to many of those that come from our Navy Department (and the W.H.). There are the obvious conclusions of those who do not know either the art of war or the exceedingly complicated conditions that govern the military operations in this particular war.

     But I am afraid all this war business will bore you.

     You have doubtless see in the papers the names of those selected for promotion....

     Everybody was so surprised that so many were promoted this year who were passed over last time....

     W.B. Fletcher,7 who commands our forces in France, is made a Rear Admiral (temporary – for the war – but this will doubtless be made permanent when there is a vacancy)...

     A few days ago, about 6000 American troops marched through London. They were received with much enthusiasm. They were reviewed by the King.8 They also pass by the Embassy while the Ambassador and I stood out on the balcony....

     I began this letter yesterday, Friday [16 August]. I have no more time to write today, but will add something before the mail closes....

Monday Forenoon, Aug 20, 1917...

     Now I must close for this time. I am loving you and longing for you every day, and in spite of all the great interest of this duty, I cannot be the least bit contented or anything but unhappy. But, as you say, our sacrifices are small compared to those of the people over here.

     I rejoice that you are all so well and that our dear children are having such a happy childhood and have such a wise and loving mother to educate their hearts. May God bless you my darling precious sweetheart.

Your devoted

Will

 

Source Note: LTS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 9.

Footnote 1: Adm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet. Mayo had been sent to Europe as a result of concerns from President Woodrow Wilson, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, and Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, that Sims was providing inadequate information about naval matters to Washington and that Sims’ affinity for the British was causing him to subvert U.S. naval interests to those of the British. VAdm. Sir Montague E. Browning, Commander-in-Chief, North America and West Indies Station, persuaded Wilson, Daniels, and Benson to have Mayo's attend a conference of senior Allied naval officials as a part of his visit in order to clear up any misunderstandings or misconceptions. This conference took place 4-5 September in London. Though few concrete agreements or policy decisions resulted from this conference, First Sea Lord Adm. Sir John R. Jellicoe and First Lord of the Admiralty Sir Eric Geddes were pleased with the result; Mayo and the officials in Washington, however, still doubted Britain’s regard for American interests. For more on this conference, its origins, and its results, see, Still, Crisis at Sea, 73-76, and Klachko and Trask, Benson, 82. For additional information on some of the problems encountered between London and Washington, see: Sims to Sims, 9 August 1917.

Footnote 2: United States Ambassador to Great Britian Walter Hines Page.

Footnote 3: Capt. Nathan C. Twining (Sims’ Chief of Staff), Lt. William Ancrum (who served as one of Sims' personal aides), and Lt. Cmdr. Edward G. Blakeslee (the head of communications at Sims’ headquarters).

Footnote 4: Sir Percy Alfred Harris and Lady Marguerite Frieda Harris.

Footnote 5: RAdm. Sir Douglas Browning.

Footnote 6: At the time of this letter, Lord Robert Gascoyne-Cecil was Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and a member of Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s Privy Council. Winston S. Churchill, formerly First Lord of the Admiralty (1911-1915), had just been appointed Minister of Munitions the preceding July. Churchill’s wife was Clementine Hozier Churchill.

Footnote 7: William B. Fletcher, Commander, United States Patrol Squadrons Operating in French Waters.

Footnote 8: H .R. H. George V.

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