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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


U.S.Naval Forces Operating in European Waters

U.S.S. MELVILLE, Flagship.

London, August 20th. 1917.


My dear Palmer,

     I am sending you herewith two letters, one dated August 14th. and one August 15th.1

     The former concerns the shortage of enlisted personnel in the Flotilla, and the prospective shortage when the times of certain men expire. The latter concerns the shortage of the commissioned personnel.

     This matter has been gone into very thoroughly, and I think you will recognise that it is a serious matter.

     Up to the present time we have been operating under summer conditions, and God has been good to us. That is to say, we have had no casualties and there has been very little sickness.

     In order to provide what I consider to be the minimum for both efficiency and safety, that is five officers to each destroyer, we have had to take nearly off officers2 from the MELVILLE and DIXIE except the heads of Departments.

     The only way we can judge the future is by the past. The only way we can predict what our requirements are likely to be when the bad weather of Fall and winter comes on, is to base this on the experience of the British. This has shown them the absolute necessity of having a reserve on hand of both officers and men.

     If we don’t do this, we must expect that some of our boats will have to be laid up for lack of personnel, or else sent to sea under conditions which would be extremely dangerous in the kind of warfare in which we are now engaged.

     Can you not therefore take this matter in hand and straighten it out.

Very sincerely yours,        

     P.S. Since dictating the above I have just received information of two casualties in the Flotilla. Lieutenant Hatch3 was condemned by a Board of Medical Survey and recommended for transfer to a U.S.Naval Hospital. He will be sent home by the first Government transportation. Lieut. Hatch will be replaced by transferring either a Naval Reserve officer from one of the destroyers or a Warrant Officer from the MELVILLE. There is no line officer available to fill the vacancy. You will recognize I am sure that this is not good business considering the strenuous duty the destroyers are engaged in.

     Lieut.Commander Nicholls4 has been transferred from the WINSLOW to the MELVILLE to undergo an operation. It is estimated that he will not recover from this for about six weeks. In the meantime the vessel is left in command of the Executive Officer.

     In all of the above my references are exclusively to trained naval officers regularly commissioned. It is manifestly bad business to employ comparatively untrained officers of the reserve on duty of this kind. We would be in a very bad position indeed if a disaster were due to such an experience.

Source Note: TL, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers. Identification number in upper-left corner: “170-17/WSS/LMT.” Addressee at bottom of first page: “Rear Admiral L.C.Palmer, U.S.N./Chief of Bureau of Navigation,/Navy Dept. Washington.D.C.”

Footnote 1: The letter from the 14th has not been found. For the letter from the 15th, see: Sims to Benson, 15 August 1917.

Footnote 2: In other words, the Navy was forced to take nearly all the experienced officers off of these two ships.

Footnote 3: Lt. William G. B. HatchDecatur.

Footnote 4: Lt. Neil E. Nichols, Commander, Winslow.