Skip to main content

Rear Admiral Albert P. Niblack, Commander, Patrol Squadron Based on Gibraltar, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters






U.S.S. DECATUR, Flagship, Base Nine.

19 January, 1918. 

Dear Sims:

          Your letter of December 10th received.1 I am sorry to hear that you have been laid up with the plumbago. The climate of London at this season is depressing enough without being tortured. We are having the six weeks annual hard rains here on which the ROCK depends for its water supply but the oldest inhabitants says it is unusually bad.

          I hope the matter goes through about the repair ship as this Yard can not handle all the repair work now thrown on it. The five yachts which we now have,2 out of the fifteen said to be coming need an awful lot of work after their trip across, never having been properly fitted out before starting.

          I am very glad I am not to have a Chief of Staff. On the departure yesterday of Lieutenant-Commander Frederick,3 who has been acting, I reorganised my office and now feel comfortable, which is a dangerous way to feel because it always mean and unnatural condition which can not last long, It is strictly against the Navy regulations to be comfortable.

          I have cleared up the veneral situation here by taking the doctor off the PADUCAH temporarily. He is a specialist and has done superb work here. Admiral Grant4 borrowed him as the Medical Officer representing the ALLIED FORCES AFLOAT and in cooperation with the Civil and Military Authorities Doctor Weaver5 is now about the whole push. I cabled you today asking to let him stay, because I asked for only a few numbers above Doctor Weaver and has no special talent. I wanted a ranking officer for liaison work with the Hospital authorities but Doctor Weaver has succeeded in making himself thoroughly respected and looked up to without having very much rank. I thought the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery would pick somebody who was entitled to shore duty but this chap has been at sea over three years anyway (continuously).

          Decker6 came down here from Madrid and got in touch with the Allied Intelligence Officers and I am not had to bother much since then. Decker wrote a letter to Washington without consulting me (#I have no objection on that score) suggesting that they send an officer to be my assistant to talk to and instruct Merchant Captains. He seems to think all the Merchant Captains are sore at Naval Officers because they are ordered about and cussed out in convoys. Charlie Gove7 used to say that the Naval Academy was nice duty if it were not for the Midshipmen. The biggest problem here is handling the Merchant Captains. In the month of December, 1917, the following is the data for Gibraltar:

(a) Merchant vessels arrived-----751

(b) Merchant vessels coaled------252

(c) Number which discharged coal or cargoes at Gib------47

(d) Number which took on complete cargoes here----o-----9

(e) Number on which repairs or other work was effected by Dockyard-------------------107

          More tonnage comes in or out of here now than any other port in the world, by long odds.

          Craven8 showed up today. I want to talk aviation to him because Admiral Grant is keen to establish a number of stations at points other than Gib (which on account of the ROCK is full of air pockets) because the absence of destroyers and any form of new construction down here makes it necessary to hunt subs with air-craft and audions, to give the slow moving offensive vessels a chance to pinch them in these narrow and deep waters. I understand that all of our new destroyers are liable to be assigned any where else than here. That makes the importance of getting some of the sea-planes here all the more important. There are roundly here about two-thirds the number of ships really necessary to furnish escorts for convoys. Nevertheless it is astonishing what a strong offensive Admiral Grant is keeping going. He is an extremely able man and our relations could not be more satisfactory. If there should be a sudden lot of sinking around Gibraltar it would raise an interesting question as to who is responsible because every morning at 10 o’clock the British, Americans, Italian and French representatives gather around a table and plan for the day. It is the Allied Conference really working with all the material available at the moment. Angels could do no more. Possible devils could, but it is hard to be a devil with a back numbered type of ships we have here, most of which are on the<ir> last legs.

          When the YAMACRAW gets here and the NAMAH returns, I want to put the YAMACRAW on the Ocean Escort in her place. The NAMAH will do much better on the Genoa-Gibraltar route. The NAMAH will fit in better with the yachts now here which are to go on this route when they are repaired and she will be more effective than for Ocean Escort after the smashing she got recently.

          Personally it would be a great thing for us here if those nine ships now running between here and England, on Ocean Escort duty, were available here for escort work in the Mediterranean which is now crying aloud for more ships. The forecastle is now doing the after-guards duty.

          I have taken Engineer House which was the only unfurnished or furnished house, in Gibraltar available for me for quarters, I did it on the strength of your 248.9 The Secretary’s letter of November 30th, 1917,10 which only arrived today, is not at all what your 248 seemed to imply, because it does not allow for heat and light. It remains to be seen who is going to pay for the furniture in Engineer House which I am now occupying about five hundred dollars a month and I pay half out of my own pocket, this does not include the expenses for entertainments which I stand besides.

          I gave a handsome dinner to the Governor11 and the Colonial officials here on Thursday night. The Secretary’s authority which has been so many weeks in coming (for some unknown reason) has set me back on future plans, as it merely allows hire of quarters not to exceed the authorized allowance, and does not include heat and light which the Comptroller has already decided we are entitled to. All I ask is authority from the Department to use its blanket approval. The decision of the Comptroller already gives hire of quarters, heat and light. All the Secretary’s letter now does is to reverse the decision and we are worse off than where we started. However, blessed are those that expect little for they shall get it.

Very sincerely yours,       

/s/ Nibs.         

Source Note: LTS, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 76. Document reference No.: “1/5/C/H/J.”

Footnote 2: The so-called “dirty five”, these vessels were Chauncey, Barry, Bainbridge, Dale, and Decatur. This squadron of destroyers from the Asiatic Fleet was headed by Lt. Cmdr. Harold R. Stark. Initially planned to be used in the Adriatic if the United States declared war on Austria-Hungary (which it eventually did), these destroyers remained based at Gibraltar and provided excellent service as escort vessels in the Mediterranean; Sims, Victory at Sea, 161-162.

Footnote 3: Lt. Cmdr. George C. Frederick.

Footnote 4: Rear Admiral Heathcoat S. Grant, R.N., Senior Naval Officer at Gibraltar.

Footnote 5: Asst. Surgeon Chalmer H. Weaver.

Footnote 6: Capt. Benton C. Decker, United States Naval Attaché in Madrid.

Footnote 7: RAdm. Charles A. Gove.

Footnote 8: Cmdr. Thomas T. Craven, Director of Naval Aviation.

Footnote 9: The document referred to has not been found.

Footnote 10: This letter from Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels has not been found.

Footnote 11: The Governor of Gibraltar was Lt. Gen. Sir Herbert H.G. Miles.