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Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Rear Admiral Leigh C. Palmer, Chief of the Bureau of Navigation



5th January, 1918.

My dear Palmer,

          I hope that you can find it possible in selecting officers to come over for destroyer duty to rake the Service for officers who have had previous destroyer experience. It is vitally important, now that we are in an actual war, that we should take full advantage of every bit of experience that our personnel has gained in time of peace. If this is not done our efforts in gaining experience in peace manoeuvres will go for naught.

          I know full well the demands that are made upon you, but I am writing in the hope that you will just pass out a little doctrine to your gang in the Detail Office, that, as far as possible you wish every man to be thrown into the destroyer work now where they will do the most good.

          The vital naval force that is being thrown against the enemy is now, and will probably remain, with the destroyers.

          Incidentally, as I requested before, I particularly wish that you could send all officers who served under me in the old Flotilla.1 This desire is not at all for sentimental reasons but is, I believe, in accordance with sound military principles.

          It is needless for me to explain to you the importance of all the personnel understanding and knowing the ways and methods of the “old man”,without the necessity of the “old man” flooding them with orders, instructions and so forth. The “old man” may be wrong in many cases, but the better he knows his personnel and they know him, the better results will be obtained.

          Amongst many others who were with me in the old days I would mention Abbot,2 in case a vacancy falls due in one of the repair ships over here Abbot’s work on the DIXIE in the old days was admirable, and it seems a shame not to make use of his abilities which are largely based on extensive experience on destroyer parent ships.

          I would also like to mention Cronan, Parker and C.S.Freeman. Lanning knows the old gang probably as well if not better than I do.3

          I am planning on bringing Taylor Evans4 up from Gibraltar as soon as I can find a relief for him in order to put him on duty with the Brest Destroyer Force either afloat or on Admiral Wilson’s staff.5 I am anxious to make use of his experience.

          Now as to this question of Reserve Officers on destroyers.6 I regret that we must come to it, but if the necessity exists, we must, of course, cheerfully meet it and do our best.

          I have talked with some of the most experienced of our destroyer officers and thoroughly agree with them that the best training for Reserve Officers is right on the destroyers themselves. We can jam them in one way or another. It won’t hurt them to sleep on cots or even to swing in hammocks.

          Destroyer officers, realising the necessity of working Reserve in, are perfectly willing to do everything they can to break them in, in order that they will be able to get away with the duty and be a credit to the Service. In spite of any training these officers get at home, I can’t too strongly urge that they be injected into the Flotilla for another period of training in this war business,and there given a test before we consider at all trusting them with important deck duties in the war zone.

          No schooling can possibly compare with that of actually standing watch on the bridge under the supervision of regular officers, learning by example and observation under the actual conditions of war – that is, on the assumption that a submarine is looking at you through his”finger periscope”.

          A Commanding Officer has a heavy responsibility indeed in the war zone and he is not justified at all in entrusting the safety of his ship, as well as its military efficiency, to a man who has not thoroughly proven himself.

          So shoot along your Reserves, selecting them as carefully as you can and remember that our success against the enemy is primarily dependent upon the efficiency of our destroyers.

          You can count upon us to do our best with the tools that are given us and in any circumstances we are bound and determined to keep the main paragraph of our doctrine – an injunction to remain cheerful.

Very sincerely yours,

(W S Sims)

Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Container 77. Address below close: “Rear Admiral Leigh C. Palmer,/Chief of Bureau of Navigation,/Navy Department,/Washington D.C.”

Footnote 1: Sims commanded the Torpedo Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet from July 1913 to October 1915.

Footnote 2: Possibly Lt. Cmdr. John S. Abbott, stationed at the Naval Academy, or Lt. (j.g.) Henry L. Abbott, second-in-command of submarine L-1. Both duty assignments date from 1 January 1917 and had possibly changed by this point.

Footnote 3: Lt. Cmdr. William P. Cronan, commander, U.S.S. Supply; Lt. Cmdr. Edward C.S. Parker, commander, U.S.S. Paducah; Lt. Cmdr. Charles S. Freeman, assignment unknown; and Capt. Harris Laning, Officer Personnel Division, Bureau of Navigation. Although Sims’ staff grew to over 900 personnel, it does not appear that these four officers were ever transferred to his command.

Footnote 4: Cmdr. Frank Taylor Evans, formerly commander of U.S.S. May.

Footnote 5: RAdm. Henry B. Wilson, Commander, Patrol Forces in France.

Footnote 6: Sims believed that reservists should not be in command of ships, nor should they outnumber the regular officers on any given vessel. The reservists’ lack of experience posed too much of a hazard. While the Navy Department sympathized with Sims’ concerns, the shortage of experienced officers meant he had to accept a fairly large number of reserve officers in the fleet. Still, Crisis at Sea: 193-194.