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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




December 2nd, 1917.     

Dear Sims:-

          It is not often that I get a chance to write you for I really have been, strange to say very busy. I want to thank you for your letters which you have so regularly sent. They have been of great value in keeping me somewhat in touch with the situation. It has not stopped there for I have shown these letters wherever I thought they would do any good. We have all wondered how, with the stress of work upon you, [you] have found the time to write at all. While my letters to you have been few, I have tried in the cables to meet your needs, and to keep you posted about the way things are going over here.

          I feel that it was a very wise move on the part of the Admiral to go abroad.1 It was his intention, as you know, to make the fullest use of your staff rather than to bring one of his own. I feel and can see it expressed in the cables coming from the other side that the Admiral has been seriously impressed with the present situation and that his view point has materially broadened. That, of course, is the inevitable result of being intimately connected with affairs at the front.

          Your plan of troop convoy and escort has been adopted as you know by this time and will be put into effect.2 A new plan of convoy whereby added protection will be afforded the transports, by the use of battleships has been submitted for Admiral Benson’s approval.3 We are endeavoring, in this office, to get in closer touch with, the Shipping Board, and to place the entire trans-atlantic trade under Naval control. This as you will appreciate is a very delicate matter to be settled with the Shipping Board and the Labor Unions concerned. We held a conference the other day with the Shipping Board, the Army, and the Navy representative. I think the outcome will be very successful and that the Navy will have absolute control in time of all ships crossing the Atlantic. This is an important step towards to efficiency.

          Knox and Schofield are going to you.4 They are both good men. I shall miss them very much here and Schofield can hardly be replaced. He was in touch with the work and the one man I could count on to spell me a little, but his special talent will be more useful where he is going. Therefore, [I] felt it was wise that he should go to you, however, it has left me until a relief is broken in and there is nobody to take his place now, doing the Admiral’s work, his work, and my own work. I am not kicking because I have begun to realize that my job in this particular game is that of the dray horse and so long as I keep my health and strength, I am only to[o] glad to be of that slight service. Pinney5 was also suggested and though I thought from the cable the Admiral had failed to include him, Navigation apparently thinks differently.

          Dunn6 ought to leave for the Azores sometime before the middle of December, he is taking quite an establishment, including a net, with him but is having some difficulty in getting started due to lack of transportation.

          I send all of your papers bearing on the subject to the Shipping Board for their information [so] that they may realize how acute the Shipping Board situation is. I also keep the Army informed of your views that they may have the correct perspective with regard to the transportation difficulties.

              With best regards,

                   Cheerfully yours,

                        W. V. Pratt

Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 78.

Footnote 1: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, was in Europe as a member of the fact-finding House Mission (led by Edward M. House), serving as the chief representative of the Navy. One of the chief objectives of the House Mission was to clear up any misunderstandings or miscommunications about the role of the United States Navy in the naval plans and objectives of the British Admiralty in the wake of the October visit of Adm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, as well as to pursue closer coordination in the planning and undertaking of Allied naval activities. Arriving in London at the beginning of November, the House Mission spent nearly a month in the War Zone before returning to the United States.

Footnote 2: For a copy of Sims’ proposed extension of the convoy system, see: Sims to Josephus Daniels, 20 November 1917.

Footnote 4: Cmdr. Dudley M. Knox and Capt. Frank H. Schofield. On 23 October 1917, Sims wrote to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels asking that Schofield, Frank H. Clark, Henry E. Yarnell, William S. Pye, Rueben B. Coffey, and Walton R. Sexton be sent over to form his Planning Committee; see: Sims to Daniels, 23 October 1917. Schofield and Knox were the first officers dispatched to London to form the new American Planning Section and were later joined by Yarnell (who later exchanged places with McNamme in the Planning Section of the Navy Department) and Maj. Robert H. Dunlap, USMC (later replaced by Col. Louis McC. Little, USMC). Still, Crisis at Sea, 44 and Sims, Victory at Sea, 253.

Footnote 5: Lt. Cmdr. Frank L. Pinney, Commander, Division 6, Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet.

Footnote 6: RAdm. Herbert O. Dunn had been named Senior Officer Present, Azores, and was to take command of the new American naval base being established at Ponta Delgada.

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