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Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Lieutenant Commander Charles R. Train, United States Naval Attaché in Rome


January 25th, 1918.

My dear Train,

          Your letter of January 11th and your letter of introduction to Captain Larking have been duly received.1

          I like Larking very much, and believe he is thoroughly informed about Italian affairs. He is returning to Rome within a few days, and he will tell you all about the proceedings of the Conference. One of the decisions reached was that a commission representing the various powers should be sent to Italy to investigate conditions there on the spot. I think it more than likely that I will be one of the members of the commission, as I have no officer of suitable rank who can be sent. Moreover, we have been intending to send one of our officers down there for some time. Admiral Mayo2 wanted to do [i.e. go] down, but could not manage it. The same with Admiral Benson.3 He intended to go, but Colonel House4 would not excuse him from his duties with the Conference. We expect this commission to go to Italy in about two weeks. Of course there are all sorts of things which may turn up to prevent my going as there are multitudes of duties connected with my present job. However, as far as I can see there is nothing to prevent me getting away. Of course I will want to get back as soon as possible, so I hope things will be arranged so I will not be unnecessarily detained.

          I fancy there will have to be a certain number of social functions, presentations and so forth, but if you can do anything to minimise these I shall be very much obliged. Before the next meeting of the Allied Naval Council takes place, you may be sure that we will call upon you for such information they want. We will try to get the questions to you in plenty of time.

          I note what you say concerning the Italian proposals for transferring merchant ships so as to render them less sinkable.5 I have no personal opinion about the case and if I had been inclined to form any I would have to let it give way before the decision that was reached by a Committee that was appointed to examine the whole subject here in London. This comprised representatives from Italy and Great Britain, and they asked us to appoint a member in in an advisory capacity. This member was Naval Constructor McBride.6 The decision was that it would be better not to attempt at the present time to build this class of ship.

     The decision was of course not based solely upon military considerations but largely upon economic ones. The element of time is very vitally important just now and so is the element of tonnage. To build these ships would require more time, more tonnage and more steel plate, and off of these are very short. If we are to get on with this war we must make up our minds to settle questions quickly and let them go at that. Personal opinions should be given up at once after a decision has been reached by a properly constituted committee.

          The tugs promised to Italy are on the way, and we will do everything to get them there as soon as possible. I hope they will relieve the situation somewhat on the coast.

          I will take up the question of your having a paymaster and see if one can be provided.

          Many thanks for the paper fiving the disposition of the Italian Fleet. I find it very interesting indeed, and also your notes on Fleet organization. It will be interesting to look into the actual employment of the Italian Fleet and the object of this employment, that is, how much of it is anti-submarine and how much o of it is for political effect. We will talk it all over when I come down to Italy.

Bery [i.e., Very] sincerely yours,


Source Note: Cy, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Container 23. Identification numbers “1/5/6/J/Q” appear in the upper-right of each page in a ladder. “ADMIRAL SIMS PERSONAL FILE” appears in the upper-left corner of the first page.

Footnote 1: See: Train to Sims, 11 January 1918. In it, he called Sims’ attention to Capt. Dennis A. H. Larking, the British naval attaché in Rome.

Footnote 2: Adm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander, Atlantic Fleet.

Footnote 3: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 4: Col. Edward House, a close friend and adviser to President Woodrow Wilson. He led a party to Europe for an Allied conference in November 1917.

Footnote 5: The Italians experimented with underwater protection systems that involved using hollow steel drums or cement on the underside of ships to render them less vulnerable to torpedo attacks. See: Train to Sims, 11 January 1918.

Footnote 6: Naval Constructor Lawrence B. McBride, Sims’ maintenance officer.