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]

U.S. NAVAL HEADQUARTERS,    

30, Grosvenor Gardens,

London. S.W.

August 30th. 1917.

My dear Anne,

     For the first time since I have been over here I find the mail day coming on me without having been able to write you a letter, so I am going to dictate to my stenographer, Miss Thompson, a few more or less impersonal items that are referred to in your recent letters.

     These letters have been coming to me more or less higgledy-piggledy during the past week or ten days. For example, I received those of the 5th, 6th, 9th, 10th, 13th, and 14th, before I got those of the 2nd. 3rd. 4th. 11th, 12th. and the 16th – all with the children’s diaries.1

     Now, to answer a few of your questions. The Vice Admiral’s flag which I sent to you by Lieutenant Van der Veer2 was not made by the British, but was made on board the MELVILLE, as I told you in a previous letter, and it was sent to you as your personal property.

. . . .Regarding your suggestion that the small ones be turned over to Miss Curry3 some time next winter and that you come over and pay me a visit, nothing would possibly give me more pleasure than to have you here for a while. The only trouble is that I am quite sure that I would be quite dead of anxiety before you got across the ocean, and if this did not quite finish me I would probably be extinguished by anxiety over your return. I do not think it would be well at all or would be justified now that every inch of space is required on the Allied tonnage of the Fleet. Difficult and painful as it may be to remain separate until the end of the war, I think it is our duty to do so.

     Again let me enjoin upon you not to worry about the weight of my responsibility on this side. It is absolutely true that this does not worry me at all or affect my nerves in any way. I was just fortunately made that way. I know of course that while I may get credit for such success as the Navy over here achieves I will also receive the blame for any failures – the latter particularly in the transport of our troops. I will accept this all in the day’s work. Nothing could be accomplished by worrying about it, and I do not think I could succeed in worrying about it even if I were so disposed.

     The scope of my duties is extending all the time. There has now been placed under my direct authority all the Naval Attaches in Europe, so that all communications from them to America or vice versa pass through me.4 There is no difficulty about this so long as I have plenty of people to do the work. The Department evidently now realizes the magnitude of the job, and I do not think that they will decline to send me anybody I ask for.

     Just the other day I telegraphed for our old friend Cone, stating that I needed a man of proved administrative capacity for a certain very important service. They telegraphed at once that he is coming.5

. . . .You ask something about the possibility of getting home for Christmas. It is manifest now that there is no such possibility. There is published in the British Press today the President’s reply to the Pope’s peace proposals.6 This makes us in effect an Ally of all the great powers.7 It also makes it clear that there will be no compromise peace; that peace can only follow the practical complete defeat of the Central Powers. There can be no doubt that the other Allies will reply to the Pope much in the same way that the President has. All hands here are very much pleased with his message.

     Of course no one can predict with any certainty what will happen in the future. Russia is the uncertain feature, but even if Russia breaks down, and other disasters follow, America and Great Britain must carry this thing through to the end.8

     Although it is no use to prophecy,still I think we should all prepare our minds for a very considerable continuance of the war. I have heard competent people say that the desired object could not be attained in less than two years. If we should therefore fix out minds on such a delay, it will be easier to bear it than if we allow our hopes to be dragged out.

     I am glad to say that our friend “Rastus” Johnston9 did what I supposed he would do when ordered to send us the yeomen. He picked out probably the best he had, which is not usually the case. At all events they are very competent people. We have them all comfortably installed in London and are maintaining them on an allowance which is over twice as great as the Regulations allow in ordinary circumstances. I have no doubt that they will report home what their circumstances are.

     I may have time to write you something before the mail goes. This is not the mail day, which is tomorrow, but I am unable to do anything in the way of writing because I will have to go with Admiral Mayo10 tomorrow to visit one of the ports, and will not return until after the mail closes.

     I wish you would send me if you can a book entitled “America Entangled”.11 I have been told that this is well worth reading. . . .

Your devoted

Will

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

Footnote 1: None of Anne Sims’ letters to her husband have been located.

Footnote 2: Lt. Norman R. Van der Veer.

Footnote 3: A family friends of the Sims.

Footnote 5: Capt. Hutchinson I. Cone, Marine Superintendent of the Panama Canal. Cone was unhappy with this duty and appealed to Sims “For God’s sakes get me over there with you in some capacity as soon as possible.” Cone to Sims, 29 May 1917, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers. Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, agreed to transfer Cone to Sims’ staff, and Sims promptly put him in charge of his Aviation Section. See: Sims to Benson, 15 August 1917, Sims to Opnav, 21 August 1917, and Benson to Sims, 24 August 1917.

Footnote 6: Pope Benedict XV put forward a peace proposal in August 1917 advocating a ceasefire, restoration of pre-war borders (i. e. a status quo ante bellum), and plans for international agreements that would allow for disarmament and some form of international arbitration. While this largely coincided with Woodrow Wilson’s stated goal of “peace without victory,” Wilson's views had hardened somewhat since entering the war. He now recognized that “a mere cessation of arms,” would not insure “a stable and enduring peace.” “The object of this war,” he went on, “is to deliver the free peoples of the world from the vast military establishment controlled by an irresponsible government [Germany] which, having secretly planned to dominate the world, proceeded to carry the plan out regard either to the sacred obligations of treaty or the long established practices and long cherished principles of international action and honor;” in other words, the Vatican’s proposed international agreements would be worthless as long as the current government in Germany endured. Cooper, Woodrow Wilson: 418; Wilson Papers: 44, 57-59.

Footnote 7: The United States initially entered the war as an “Associated Power,” making them less-than-complete members of the Allied Powers. In theory, this left the door open for America to negotiate a separate peace if the Allies proved intractable. While this status remained officially unchanged, Sims saw rejection of the Vatican’s peace proposal as making the U.S. full members of the alliance.

Footnote 8: Wracked by internal strife, Russia was on the brink of collapse. In November, Sims’ fears were realized when Russia made a separate peace with Germany. Strachan, The First World War: 238-242, 260-265.

Footnote 9: Capt. Rufus Z. Johnston, Commander, Naval Training Station, Newport, Rhode Island.

Footnote 10: Adm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet. Mayo was in Europe at the time for a conference with the naval leaders of the Allied Powers. For a full report on this visit, see: Mayo to Daniels, 30 August 1917.

Footnote 11: John Price Jones, America Entangled: The Secret Plotting of German Spies in the United States and the Inside Story of the Sinking of the Lusitania. New York: A. C. Laut, 1917.

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