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Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Naval Constructor Lewis B. McBride, Bureau of Construction and Repair


January 30th 1918.

My dear McBride,

     Your letter of January 9th1 just received today and I am very glad indeed for all the news it contains.

     Shortly before you left I wrote to Admiral Taylor2 and explained the circumstances of your coming over and you the importance of your eventually coming back to me, and he replied at once and said he would make the necessary arrangements, so I consider that to be settled. The only thing that is not settled is the time of your coming back.

     Needless to say we need your services very badly, particularly in connection with the questions that have arisen through discussions that took place before the Allied Naval Council. However, I thoroughly appreciate the importance of the duty that you are now performing and am willing to be as patient as possible about the necessary delay.3

     It is very interesting what you tell me about the general situation in Washington, and the more or less confusion due to the lack of a co-ordinating body for the various activities. It is encouraging to know that the Navy Department itself is doing better in this respect than the other departments. I have recently been reading the hearings before the Military Committees of the delays in supply in the Army and even with all that I Have known about this subject I was thoroughly surprised to find the character and extent of the red tape that still exists in that honored institution.

     I have no doubt that Mr.Colby4 convinced the Senate Committee that the situation over here is more serious than they had believed. I am glad to know that what he has had to tell the various principal dignitaries in Washington has conveyed the same impression, and that there is now a much more general realization of what we are up against.

     I hope that the United States will have a satisfactory representative on the Inter-Allied Shipping Commission. I quite understand your wanting to remain until this question is settled and until you can consequently get a thorough touch with it. The inclusion of Day on the War Council to give them the correct dope on the principal feature of the military situation, viz. tonnage, cannot but result in great good. I hope that your prediction that this will increase, or speed up, the shipping program will be justified by events.

     Of course it goes without saying that the trouble in Washington, and the difficulty of co-ordinating the activities of a number of independent bodies, is due primarily to the fundamental error of not starting with what you call a broad national policy. Without this, more or less confusion is entirely inevitable. In a way it is encouraging to know that the tie up in the railroads was not due to the inability of the railroads to handle a certain amount of freight, so much as to the priority given to the orders of a great many different bodies or people. There should be no particular difficulty in straightening this thing out.5

     I am of course disappointed that the program of new destroyers is going to fall so far short of what we were more or less officially informed would be the case. They talked very fluently about destroyers coming out at the rate of ten a month from January on, and now you tell me that we will not have more than twelve or fifteen new ones by the end of May. Fifty destroyers in operation bythat time would be much more useful to the Allies than one hundred and fifty, five or six months later. If anything can be done to speed up the destroyer program to any degree it should be done.

     Your account of Henry Ford’s proposition to build five hundred small destroyers is interesting.6 It would be very much more interesting if this proposition had been made last April and the destroyers were now in existence. I am afraid that they will be too late to get into the real game, that is, breaking the back of the submarine itself.

     I shall be very glad to have you drop me a line at any time and give me various items of news that you find about the Navy Department.

very sincerely yours,

Source Note: Cy, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Container 23. Notation “Admiral Sims’ personal files” appears in the upper-left corner. Addressed below close: “Naval Constructor Lewis McBride, U.S.N./Bureau of Construction and Repair,/Navy Dept. Washington D.C.”

Footnote 2: RAdm. David W. Taylor, Chief Constructor, Bureau of Construction and Repair. Sims’ letter to Taylor has not been found.

Footnote 3: Sims planned for McBride to represent the United States on the Allied Naval Council’s Salvage and International Technical Committees. See: Sims to Daniels, 27 January 1918. When Sims wrote this letter, he did not know that McBride was already on his way back to Europe to rejoin his staff. See: Benson to Sims, 31 January 1918.

Footnote 4: Bainbridge Colby, a member of the United States Shipping Board.

Footnote 5: American railroad capacity, already strained prior to the war, was overwhelmed by the nation’s military demands. Eventually, the federal government took control of the railroad industry as an emergency wartime measure. Kennedy, Over Here: 252-257.

Footnote 6: Founder of Ford Motor Company and a prominent industrialist.

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