Skip to main content

Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Anne Hitchcock Sims


30, Grosvenor Gardens,  

London, S.W.       

January 20th, 1918.

My dear Anne,

          . . . It may be interesting for you to know that the question of camouflage as applied to both merchant and military vessels has been definitely abandoned over here. It has been found that it is not successful in keeping vessels from being torpedoed by submarines. It has been abandoned in favor of what is now called the Dazzle system of painting, this being a system the object of which is not to try and render the vessel invisible but to so break up her outline that it is very difficult to tell how she is heading. The importance of this is due to the fact that a submarine cannot make a torpedo hit a vessel unless she can make a pretty close guess as to the speed of the ship and the direction in which she is going. A torpedo is fired at a point ahead of the ship as the result of a calculation which will make the torpedo and the ship meet each other. . . .

          I did not know that there were any relatives of the JACOB JONES crew in Newport, but I am very glad indeed that you did what you could for the mothers and widows of some of these men who were lost.1 The submarine that sunk the JACOB JONES did nothing that was contrary to international law, but it would have been a decent thing for him to have sent out an giving the latitude and longitude so that the men left afloat in the cold water on the rafts, might have been picked up.2 As you know, a considerable number of them perished from the cold. Some submarine captains are very much less brutally inclined that others. There was one operating off Queenstown who was known by the name of Kelly. Whenever he sunk a merchant ship and saw the people in their boats he would sometimes give them a tow towards the nearest land and sometimes send out an S.O.S. call. He used also to send impertinent messages by the survivors in the boats to be delivered to anyone of our destroyers if they got into the base. Such messages as “Tell the American destroyers that we will get them all as soon as we are ready”, and that sort of thing. . . .

          The last mail brought me the news of Ethan’s engagement and this reminds me that my remarks about war marriages have been misunderstood.3 I am not in favor of very young people getting married. All I meant was that when young people become engaged and they are going to be married anyway and the husband is going off to the Front, I think he should marry the girl before he goes. If I were a girl I would prefer to have my husband killed rather than my fiancé. However, this I suppose is a matter of personal taste and it is none of my particular business.

          I am very sorry to hear that the HUNTINGDON went ashore in New York harbor, for although the Captain was cleared of all responsibility it is an unpleasant thing to have happen to one.4 It is singular that after all the surveying and dredging in that harbor there should have been a pinnacle rock to bring a good ship to grief. . . .

Source Note: TL, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 9.

Footnote 1: On the sinking of the U.S. destroyer JACOB JONES and the casualties suffered, see: David Bagley’s Report on the Sinking of JACOB JONES, after 7 December 1917.

Footnote 2: There is a handwritten note at the bottom of the page: “After the armistice was signed, it was learned that he did send out a call of assistance. It was a lucky shot that hit the J.J.. fired from a distance of about 4000 yards WmS.S.” The German submarine captain was Hans Rose; in the war diary of his submarine, U-53, Rose reported that JACOB JONES was about 1,000 meters or about 2,000 yards away when he launched the torpedo. Ibid.

Footnote 3: Ethan Allen Hitchcock Shepley, Sims’ nephew. His fiancée was Sophie Stevens.

Footnote 4: Armored Cruiser U.S.S. Huntington, Capt. John K. Robinson, commanding, hit a submerged rock on 13 December 1917, soon after passing under the Manhattan Bridge en route to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The rock tore a hole in the bottom “from stem to stern” so Huntington was in dry-dock getting repaired until 2 February. H. W. Winn, Fighting the Hun on the U.S.S. Huntington (Privately printed, 1919), 50.