Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Anne Hitchcock Sims
Dec. 29, 1917
My darling Nani
I have had a very unusual xmas. In some respects an unfortunate one, but in other respects a very fortunate one. I arrived here on xmas eve and at once went to bed with an attack of lumbago. That was Monday evening, and it is now Saturday, and I am about all right again. . . .
It was bad luck missing all the xmas doing here. Our xmas eve there was a dinner on the Melville and a special show at the men’s club.1 However it was good luck being here, if I had to go to bed. I am in “my” room (“The Admiral’s2 room”) which faces south and overlooks the town and the harbor. It is a corner room and has the sun all day – when there is any – and for a wonder there has been sunshine every day since I arrived. . . . I will probably go back to London, the middle of next week. I am going to take Danny with me – on my staff in London. He is very much pleased indeed, and I will be glad to have him with me again.
A day or so ago we received the list of the officers selected for promotion, and Danny was among them. He is now a Commander – in the “brass hat” class.3 It is a pleasure to see how happy it makes him. We are all pleased that old man Price was made a captain.4 You will doubtless have seen the list in the papers and were interested to note that Stearns and Crank were promoted.5 (They had both been passed over). Also, Watson, Cone, Johnston, Yarnell, and Knox.6 I am much pleased over the latter. He and Schofield are about arriving in London to be in my office, and Yarnell arrived from Gibraltar just before I left.7 Many who were passed over once or even twice have been promoted. We do not know upon what theory this is based. Of course the majority of the board is anti-selection,8 and will remain so until the upper end of the last retires – in 2 or 3 years. . . We cannot imagine why Plunkett was passed over. I consider him one of our ablest men. Perhaps he has broken down in health.9
However, selection has made the whole very more efficient.
The day I arrived here Admiral Jellicoe was replaced by V. Ad Wemyss.10 I am very sorry indeed. I assume the government considered it a political necessity – a response to public (and always ignorant) criticism because the guns are not always firing, the rats have not been dug out of their holes, etc.
I know Ad. Wemyss (pro[nounced]. Weems) very well and like him. I have written both Jellicoe and Wemyss letters and will send you copies when I get back. The change will make no difference in my position as far as the admiralty is concerned.
I will probably send this letter home by Bagley, who is leaving in a few days. He is a bit shaken since his experience in losing the Jacob Jones.11
We are all amused over Hanrahan’s experience.12 He is in command of the Mystery ship the Admiralty gave us. She left here yesterday for a shakedown cruise to Berehaven, was torpedoed shortly after he got outside, and was towed back here 22 hours later. This is the shortest cruise of the kind on record. Some of these ships cruise as much as 8 Months without even seeing a submarine – None of the crew were even hurt and the ship can be repaired in a month or so. . . .13
Source Note: ALS, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 9.
Footnote 1: U.S.S. Melville was the flagship of the destroyer flotilla based in Queenstown; the men’s club had been recently opened to provide entertainment for the American personnel stationed at Queenstown.
Footnote 2: Adm. Lewis Bayly, R.N., who commanded at Queenstown. Admiralty House was the name of his headquarters and where he lived.
Footnote 3: Newly-promoted Cmdr. Joseph F. Daniels had been serving as Sims’ liaison with the destroyer flotilla at Queenstown.
Footnote 4: Henry B. Price was commander of the destroyer tender Dixie.
Footnote 5: Clark D. Stearns, who was the naval governor of American Samoa, and Robert K. Crank, who was in charge of the Navy’s publicity bureau in New York, were both promoted to the rank of captain.
Footnote 6: Edward H. Watson, then commander of the U.S.S. Alabama; Hutchinson I. Cone, then commander of U.S. Naval air forces in Europe; Rufus Z. Johnston, then commander, U.S.S. Minneapolis; Harry E. Yarnell, and Dudley W. Knox. The latter two joined Sims’ staff.
Footnote 7: Frank H. Schofield. Before joining Sims’ staff, Schofield had served as an aide for the Chief of Naval Operations.
Footnote 8: Selection was a system whereby promotions were decided by a board charged with choosing the best and most fully qualified persons among all the candidates. Prior to selection, promotion had been by seniority.
Footnote 9: Capt. Charles P. Plunkett. Plunkett was promoted to rear admiral in July 1918, when he took command of the railway batteries in France.
Footnote 10: Adm. Sir John E. Jellicoe and Adm. Sir Rosslyn Wemyss. According to historian Paul G. Halpern, the immediate cause of Jellicoe’s resignation was the disappointing action of 17 November, in which the German fleet escaped a British trap unscathed and the loss of two convoys from Scandinavia to German surface raiders. However, Halpern writes that Jellicoe was the subject of relentless attacks in the press and much criticism within the government. King George V later told another naval officer that Prime Minister Lloyd George had, “his knife into him [Jellicoe] for some time & wished for a change.” Halpern, A Naval History of World War I: 403.
Footnote 11: Cmdr. David E. Bagley. On the loss of the United States destroyer Jacob Jones, which Bagley commanded, see: Bagley to Sims, 10 December 1917.
Footnote 12: Cmdr. David E. Hanrahan, commander of the Q/Mystery Ship U.S.S. Santee.
Footnote 13: For more on the loss of the Santee (formerly H.M.S. Arvonian), see: Sims to William Benson, after 30 December 1917. As seen there, Santee never returned to service and was instead returned to the British Navy.