Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters
OFFICE OF NAVAL OPERATIONS
At Sea, December 8, 1917.
My dear Sims:-
I was quite as much surprised as disappointed when I found you had left the ship yesterday without saying good-bye. There were several matters of importance which I wished to discuss with you before our final separation. I wished to outline to you in a general way the result of my observations since my arrival in London and also to indicate changes which these observations had convinced me would be necessary to be made.
The situation in London and the results of my visit there on the whole were very satisfactory, particularly after the change in the case of the naval attache.1
I regret to say, however, that conditions in France do not appear to be satisfactory to my mind. This condition, however, is not due to any particular individual, as apparently each one in his own sphere is doing his best, and the conditions existing are due to the general development of the situation.
As our activities or necessities have so materially increased on the French coast, due to the bringing in of the Army and the supplies and equipment incident thereto, the importance of the French coast and the attention to be paid to it is rapidly surpassing that of the English Channel or the waters of the United Kingdom. As a result of this visit and of the Interallied Conference there will undoubtedly be very great increased activity along the lines of transportation of troops, munitions, and stores. For these reasons a new organization is urgently necessary in France. The one I contemplate is as follows: First, to place a flag officer in command of the United States Naval Forces in France, of course, under your command. There will be an officer, probably with the rank of Captain, as liasion [i.e., liaison] between the flag officer and the French Government; this officer to habitually remain in Paris. The West coast of France to be divided into at least three districts with an officer, preferably of the rank of Captain, in charge of each district under the orders of the flag officer in command of the Naval Forces in France.
A more definite and more satisfactory arrangement will be worked out between the Army and Navy in the various French ports where we are handling the ships and the lines of demarcation between the two services will be clearly defined.
The question of aviation will have to be so organized that the officer in charge of aviation In France shall have control of all matters relating to aviation, but as soon as stations along the coast are in condition for active service the question of utilizing the men and machines will have to be controlled by the officer who is detailed in command of districts or ports where the air stations are located; the officer in general charge of aviation to use every effort to establish man and equipp the various stations at the earliest possible date.
I find that there is practically no information or secret service organization in existence along the coast or at the various ports. This question will have to receive immediate attention and such a service be well organized under some officer specially fitted for this purpose. I consider this duty most important. In addition I shall see that every effort is made to carefully investigate the personnel manning all of our ships going from the United States into French ports.
Every effort will be made to supply tugs for handling our vessels in French ports and every effort will be made to get as many of the 110 Ft. Submarine chasers over as rapidly as possibly. It is hoped that theselatter boats may be used in certain waters where destroyers are now being used, such as in the northern part of the Irish Sea and possibly in other places in order to relieve the destroyers for escort duty. They will also be used on the French coast whereever it is practicable to use them.
Under any circumstances a decided effort will have to be made to improve the conditions now existing on the French coast in regard to escorts, as I find that one of the principal causes of delay in the departure of U. S. Transports is due to lack of escorts.
I quite approve of your policy which, of course, is the only correct one, that we must not discriminate in favor of any one nation and, as all of the allied nations earnestly insist upon a rapid increase in our military forces in France, it necessarily follows that transports carrying our soldiers must be given first consideration.
I can assure you that every effort will be made at home to assist you in carrying out this very difficult and laborious undertaking. I wanted an opportunity to thank you for your kind attention to me while in the limits of your command and to wish you the best of luck, and to assure you that I shall be glad at all times to receive any suggestionsthat you may have to make and will give them most careful and earnest consideration, and I trust that if you feel, at any time, that matters could be improved on the Washington end of the line that you will not hesitate to bring them to my attention at once and in such detail as to assist in correcting them.
It is, of course, intended that the duties now being performed by the naval attache will be assigned to the liasion officer in Paris, whoever he may be.
Very sincerely yours,
Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Address below close: “Vice Admiral/William S. Sims, U. S. Navy,/30, Grosvenor Gardens,/London, S. W.”
Footnote 1: Capt. William D. MacDougall served as U.S. naval attaché in London, but was relieved at the recommendation of Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations. His duties as attaché were assigned to VAdm. William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, who was already stationed in London and enjoyed a good relationship with the British Admiralty. See: Benson to Opnav, 11 November 1917.