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]

30, Grosvenor Gardens,

London. S.W.

August 31st.1918.

My dear Anne,

          I do not know whether I have even told you about the painting of the first arrival of our destroyers over on this side.1 There was one painted by a very distinguished artist2 and exhibited here at an Exhibition . We thought so much of this that we thought we would try and get the Navy Department to buy it as an historical picture. We found on consulting the artist that it had already been sold to an Englishmen and when he knew what we wanted it for he proposed to paint a larger and more technically correct picture. He has been at work on this for some weeks, and it is now finished. It is a painting 7 x 5 feet and is very well done indeed. I went to see it the other day. I finally decided that I would buy it with some money contributed by American business men of London and send it to the Navy Department and ask them to acquire it and pay for it, but in case they would not do so I would send it to the Naval Academy, or the War College. I paid £400 for it. I will send you soon a photograph of it. This will show its form but of course nothing of its fine colours.3 . . .

          While he [Adm. Lewis Bayly] was here he got in touch with certain wealthy Englishmen and they contributed between three and four thousand pounds to establish a Club in Queenstown for the three or four hundred junior officers, both British and American, who are based on that port. American business men of London gave me £2000 and promise me as much more as might be necessary. . . .

          We have just been informed that Admiral Mayo is bound over to this side on a tour of inspection, including all the air stations and thigs about which of course he knows very little.4 Is it not singular that the Department has maintained this fiction of this being a part of the Atlantic Fleet. However, I suppose they have their difficulties in this respect.

          My duties in London are now of such a nature as to preclude my going about to France and so forth, with visitors, so that this will not place any particular burden on me. The Admiral is quite welcome to all the information he can get about our forces. We invite inspection of anybody who is interested.

          The Assistant Secretary5 has returned from France and is now visiting the Grand Fleet. He is exceedingly busy entertaining himself and picking up information to carry back to America. It is really refreshing to see the very plain evidences of appreciation of himself. He is having a very excellent time. . . .

          Referring to the clipping you enclosed from Grasty,6 “the officer” referred to was your respected husband. I supply him with the necessary information for these articles. I am doing this from time to time, as I think it is necessary to get some correct information into the minds of the American people. . . .

          I was amused over your changes of opinion in reference to the decoration. You first approved my supposed refusal of this honor and finally changed your mind and believed I should accept it and that I was right. Of course you are now accurately informed of all the circumstances as I sent you the correspondence on this subject. It is easy to see now that the government made a mistake in not defining in the law they passed just what kind of a decoration they were willing for our people to receive. The mistake was made on the part of the people on the other side and none on this side.7

          Of course you are rejoicing over the excellent showing that the Allied troops have made on the Western Front. It looks now as if it would be wholly impossible for the Germans to win and that it is very probable they will be wholly defeated if they persist in holding out until next Spring, by which time we will probably have two more million men at the Front. We cannot however, accomplish this without accepting pretty drastic sacrifices in the way of rationing both of food and other supplies, as the tonnage will be needed to transport men and their own supplies. . . .

          Yesterday, Mr.Samuel Gompers, the President of the Labor Organizations of America8 came in to see me with half-a-dozen of the delegates who have come over here to attend certain labor conferences. I was very much interested in seeing the man and much impressed with his statesmanlike view of the situation and with his mental grasp of affairs in general. You know he was born in the poor districts of London and that he worked at his trade of a cigar maker for twentysix years. He left here when he was about thirteen. You doubtless know that the action that he and his organizations took was very likely a determining factor as to whether we entered the war when we did. I have no doubt that if he had thrown his influence the other way it would at least have delayed our coming into the war. He is over here to try and persuade the workmen of the Allies to stand firm until our enemy is completely beaten. He is very enthusiastic about the work of the Navy and he asked me if I would facilitate his visiting the Grand Fleet. I will of course do so.

          Another very interesting visitor was Senator J.Hamilton Lewis, commonly called Ham Lewis.9 Yesterday I attended a luncheon of the American Luncheon Club which was given in his honor and he made one of the ablest speeches that I have heard delivered here in London by anybody. He impressed me as being a very able man indeed, notwithstanding his eccentricities of dress and oratory. He stands very close to the President, and I think there is no doubt he has been sent over here on a special mission to gather material to answer certain criticisms of the way things have been handled in Army affairs. He told me of a very interesting incident that occurred before the Senate Naval Committee of which he is Vice Chairman. He said a certain senator, whose name he did not mention, criticized the way in which I was handling the naval forces on this side. The senator in question based his criticisms upon a letter which he presented written by a retired officer. I did not ask the name of this officer but the letter specified that I was nothing but a British Admiral; that I had devoted the services of the American Navy over here solely to the protection of the British to the total neglect of all the other Allies. Lewis asked this man whether or not the operations of the naval forces over on this side had not apparently been handled well. He had to acknowledge that they had. Lewis then said, assuming that our Admiral is as pro-British as you say, you must also assume that if he has handled the forces in a manner in which your correspondent describes, he must be a damn fool, because he has his own personal interest to protect and the reputation of the United States Navy. “Do you believe he is such a fool?” The man said that he did not, and he was thereupon requested to withdraw his accusation with its correspondence and that closed the incident.

          There is a yet stranger yarn which I give you for such interest as it may have. Sadler is leaving on a steamer today for America to bring back a new destroyer.10 He went to dinner with Babby11 the night before he left and he told me the following extraordinary yarn, namely, that the Editor (or one of the principal men) of the BOSTON TRANSCRIPT12 received the information that the principal dignitaries were apprehensive lest I should acquire too much popularity, and and that thereupon this TRANSCRIPT man upon his next weekly visit to Washington, went to see the President and told him that if any such effort should be made that the TRANSCRIPT would support me to the maximum possible extent.13 It appears that this man is a friend of Sadler’s and that the latter saw him off before he came over to this side.

          I do not believe myself that there is anything in this. I cannot image how the degree of my popularity would interest any of the higher principal dignitaries, though I know of course that some of the lower ones would not be too much displeased if I were displaced.

          I assume that you have seen in the papers the extraordinary account of the operations of Lieutenant Chamberlain of our Marine Corps on the Western Front.14 . . .

          I was invited to go to a prize fight that is being held his afternoon, in which the champion fly weight of Great Britain is defending his title. He is one of the most remarkable bozers [i.e., boxers] that has ever been known.15 I saw him at the Sporting Club, the nature of which I explained to you some time ago. I should have liked to have seen him in this fight which takes place at a great football field in an open ring, but I did not think that I could quite stand to see my photograph taken at the ringside and subsequently published in the NEW YORK TIMES, so I did not go.

No time to write any more.   

All my love, my precious sweetheart

Your devoted       

Will          

 

Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 10.

Footnote 1: The Return of the Mayflower, see: Illustrations for May 1917.

Footnote 2: Bernard F. Gribble.

Footnote 3: The painting is in the collection of the U.S. Naval Academy so presumably Sims donated it to that institution. Conversation with Pam Overmann, Art Curator, Naval History and Heritage Command, 8/21/18.

Footnote 4: Adm. Henry T. Mayo arrived in Europe on 10 September, to begin his inspection tour. Mayo to William S. Benson, 18 September 1918, DLC-MSS, Henry T. Mayo Papers, Box 10.

Footnote 5: Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Footnote 6: Charles H. Grasty was an American correspondent who reported for the New York Times. It is not known what “clipping” is being referred to by Sims.

Footnote 7: For more on the decorations, see: Benson to Sims, 29 August 1918.

Footnote 8: Gompers was founder and president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). In contrast with the more radical International Workers of the World, the AFL supported the war effort. For an in-depth consideration see Peter J. Albert and Grace Palladino, eds., The Samuel Gompers Papers, vol. 10, The American Federation of Labor and the Great War, 1917-18 (Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2007).

Footnote 9: Lewis was a Senator from Illinois and the first to hold the title of party “whip” in the Senate.

Footnote 10: Cmdr. Frank H. Sadler.

Footnote 11: Sims’ personal aide Cmdr. John V. Babcock.

Footnote 12: The newspaper was named the Boston Evening Transcript.

Footnote 13: Nothing more is known about this supposed meeting between the editor of the newspaper, Joseph Edgar Chamberlain, and President Woodrow Wilson. It seems Sims miswrote. From what else he wrote here, it appears that he meant to say that the Boston Transcript would oppose him.

Footnote 14: Chamberlain claimed that while on furlough, he visited a British sector, borrowed a British airplane and in a flight over the front lines took part in a battle with twelve German machines. He asserted he destroyed five German planes, damaged two and then, “sweeping earthward in his damaged machine, scattered a detachment of Germans, landing and took a German prisoner by pretending a compass was a bomb, and then carried a wounded French soldier to safety.” British officers challenged Chamberlain’s story, whereupon he was court martialed and dismissed from the service. His claimed exploits and his dismissal become the subject of a U.S. Senate investigation after the war. Sacramento Union, 22 June 1921.

Footnote 15: William James “Jimmy” Wilde.

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