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Captain William V. Pratt, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters




August 15, 1918.   

Dear Sims:

          It has been a very long time since I wrote to you and quite sometime since I heard from you. Along in the early part of June I was very much used up and about the twentieth I managed to get off for two weeks, a period which was extended by the Admiral1 to about four weeks. Most of that time I spent in bed in Maine, so that it wasn’t much of a vacation in the ordinary sense of the term, but it was a rest which I badly needed and it has helped me to continue to work since I got back. I have been intending almost daily to write, but there does not seem to be a day in which I am not chased out of the office by something more to do, so if I am not much of a correspondent I trust you will pardon me.

          It is a very fortunate thing that you started the liaison officer scheme, because if you had relied upon me to keep you posted it would be in a way almost impossible. I rely upon the various divisions to keep you posted in technical details, but, after all, there is a great deal that goes on in a generay way which I would from time to time like to talk over with you and, of course, which would interest you.

          There is going to be quite a shakeup in the Fleet. I think Mayo2 will still continue in command and I know he is most anxious to come abroad for a trip. You will probably see him turning up in the near future. He has been very anxiousto base the Fleet over there, but it does not seem to accord with the best interests of the entire Navy, nor do we here, any more than do you, quite see the necessity for his presence. I think – and this must be strictly between ourselves, that the CNO feels that he is influenced somewhat unduly by certain of his staff; namely: Pye and King.3 I am rather inclined to agree with him on this subject, although both of them, of course, are exceedingly able men.

          Daniels4 will be back with you before you get this letter. He did very good work over here and I was sorry to see him go. It is rather necessary at this time to have someone who could present the point of view of the man at the front and I was fearful of having outside influences creep in, so for that reason Daniels was the best man for the job. However, he is on his way back and very happy. The man that relieved him, Foote,5 I fear is not a heavyweight. However, he is certainly not hostile and that is a point in favor.

          The submarines on this side are causing a certain amount of annoyance, though they are not doing any special damage. I have about figured it out in studying their operations; that their main objective is to lay as many mines as they can on our coast before the winter season sets in. Next, if they ever waste a torpedo, it has so far been on a tank ship. In fact, they are making a rather set at our tank ships, although, of course, if they were seriously inclined in that direction, they would start operating in the Gulf. We may, perhaps, expect that in the near future, but are prepared to put a convoy program into operation as soon as it becomes necessary to do so.

          You have sent home one or two gunboats, but did not ask to have them replaced. I think it might be wise for you to suggest replacing these ships, if you really need them, in the same cable in which you announce their departure.6

     McKean is coming back to this Office again, to take over Material. He seems to be about the only man capable of handling it. Coffman goes out of the Fleet and to the Fifth District. I don’t know yet who is to get Battle Force Two, but I know that there will be some shakeups. There are some candidates, among them Wilson.7

     There is an officer in this Office – J. L. Saltonstall8 – whom, as you might see from his name, comes from Boston. He is a married man, about forty years old, who has a fine wife and several children, of excellent habits and in every way thoroughly representative. He was in London with Ambassador Choate,9 as Secretary of the Legation, for a short time. He has also served on the War Trades Board and knows Polk, Auchincloss, Vance McCormick10 and a great many other representative men personally. At present he is a junior lieutenant in the Navy and I have had him in charge of our Secret Files Room, which he has organized and which is now running automatically. He is a man of too much ability to spend on this sort of work and, as he is particularly anxious to get over on the other side and as he has a great many friends in England and might be a valuable man to you, I thought perhaps you might find use for him in your Intelligence Department. He is a man of considerable means and I feel, from what I have seen of him, that he might be able to do a class of work with you for which, perhaps, you have not any other available man. I can absolutely vouch for his character, presentability and absolute trustworthiness, for I know him and his family and he has been living with me for the past three months. If you want him, let me know and I will see about getting his orders over.

          I lunched with Lady Grant11 the other day. She is a great admirer of you and told me she was going to spend a week with your wife12 in Newport and was looking forward to it with a great deal of pleasure.

          There is one point which is very near my heart and which I wish to sound a warning about now, for I feel that if we of us who really wish for the betterment of the Anglo-Saxon race do not take heed, circumstances may arise later on which will tend to knock in the head the close relations which now exist between some of the Allies and ourselves. As you know, I am an American first and last, but I also feel that the best work of America lies in the very close relation now and in the future with England. There is, of course, in our Country, to a far greater extent than exists in England, an element, which, while perfectly willing to push this war to a finish, nevertheless has no love for England. This you know as well as I and past history of England, if read from their viewpoint, would tend to accentuate this – I shall not say dislike, but at least a certain prejudice. This prejudice, I believe, is more apt to grow on this side of the water than it is on the other, but grow it will and the war won’t kill it, unless those of us who really aim for the betterment of both countries strive to prevent such a riff from broadening. As you know, in this Country there are many biased peoples and when this war is over, it will be the strongest play of the Hun to try to bring about as great commercial rivalry and misunderstanding as he is capable of. For that reason I have sounded the warning on every possible occasion and I have talked most frankly with every Englishman that I think has a grain of sense along just those lines. I believe the way to counter any such move is by laying the cards on the table, cutting all secret diplomacy, meeting each other frankly and openly in the field of commercial endeavor, stating what our aims are and attempting to pool issues or divide business affairs or divide other matters on a fifty-fifty basis. I think, too, we have got to broaden out and do away with small prejudices which we have and, on the other hand, the Englishman has got to get rid of his damned way of paternalism. I feel that if we adopt the frank and square way always that there cannot be any misunderstanding between us. Nevertheless, I believe that danger to exist.13

          This letter would not be complete without a reference to my young son who was a year old at the end of July. On his birthday he had the great honor of shaking the hand of the only “Teddy” Roosevelt14 and it is an honor which we will tell him about later on in life. Naturally, we think he is pretty fine. He has a very smiling countenance, which he takes from his old man; in fact, all of his good qualities I take credit for. I suppose you will appreciate this, being quite a sizeable family man yourself.

Cheerfully yours,

W Pratt

|fn7: John L. Saltonstall.|

Source Note: TDS, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 78. Addressed below close: “Vice Admiral W. S. Sims,/London, England.” Document is on “NAVY DEPARTMENT/OFFICE OF NAVAL OPERATIONS,” stationary, with the instructions, “In reply refer to Initials/and No.,” in the top left corner.

Footnote 1: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 2: Adm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander, Atlantic Fleet.

Footnote 3: See: Mayo to Josephus Daniels, 10 August 1918. Cmdr. William S. Pye and probably Cmdr. Ernest J. King, who was then visiting Europe as a liaison officer.

Footnote 4: Cmdr. Joseph V. Daniels.

Footnote 5: Cmdr. Percy W. Foote.

Footnote 6: Handwritten interlineation by Sims: “What is there to replace them?”

Footnote 8: Former Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Joseph Hodges Choate.

Footnote 9: Assistant Secretary of State Frank L. Polk, Secretary of the War Trade Board George Auchincloss, and Chairman of the Democratic Party Vance C. McCormick.

Footnote 10: Mabel Emily Broderick Grant, wife of Adm. Sir William Lowther Grant, R.N., Commander-in-Chief, North America and West Indies Station.

Footnote 11: Anne Hitchcock Sims.

Footnote 12: Handwritten interlineation by Sims: “Better ad get as previous policy in the ship business.” Sims was referring to a disagreement between himself and the Navy Department concerning American and British problems with ship repair and usage. See: Sims to Benson, 15 August 1918.

Footnote 13: Former President Theodore Roosevelt.