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Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Rear Admiral Henry B. Wilson, Commander, Patrol Forces Based in France


January 12, 1918.


From:  Force Commander.

To:    Rear Admiral Henry B. Wilson, U.S.Navy.

Subject:  Organization of Naval Forces in France.

REFERENCE: (a) Department’s cablegram No. 1963 of January 3/ 1918.1


     I. In accordance with the second paragraph of Reference (a), a copy of which is herewith enclosed, you are hereby designated to command all United States Naval Forces in France and operating in French Waters; you will, immediately upon receipt of this order, report to me by letter for that duty.

     2.  Your official title will be (subject to approval by the Department), “Commander, U.S.Naval Forces in France”. This title seems more appropriate than the one prescribed by the Department in the first paragraph of its cable and has been referred to the Department for approval.

     3.  The nature and scope of your duties is set forth clearly and in detail in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth paragraphs of the Department’s cablegram; you will organise your forces with a view to meeting the wishes of the Department as therein set forth.

     4.  With respect to naval forces afloat: It is to be understood that all floating naval forces permanently assigned to duty on the Channel and Atlantic coasts of France will be under your command and may be subdivided as may appear to you to be necessary. In case you deem it advantageous to exercise direct command over any portion of them you are authorised to do so.

     5.  With regard to port organization and administration: You are authorized to establish District Headquarters at Brest, Lorient and Rochefort, instead of at Brest, St. Nazaire and Bordeaux, as directed in the sixth paragraph of the Department’s cable, this change being subject to the Department’s approval. The geographical limits of each District shall be clearly defined.

     6.  In as much as you have already established Captain T. P. Magruder, U.S.Navy, at Lorient; and as Captain N. A. McCully, U.S.Navy,2 is now in route to join your forces, it is understood that you will require the services of an additional officer of Captain’s rank to assume the command of the third of the three districts named; the Force Commander has cabled the Department to that effect. (copy of cable enclosed).3

     7.  With reference to the matter of control of shipping which is mentioned by the department in the sixth paragraph of its cable; There is enclose herewith a copy of cablegram No. 2834 sent to the Department embodying the views which have been agreed to by yourself and the Force Commander in conference.4

     8. With reference to Aviaiton: Captain H. I. Cone, U.S. Navy, has been designated as “Commander U.S.Naval Aviation Forces, Foreign Service”.5 and will continue to bear that designation and to exercise command over the aviation personnel in both France and England as heretofore. In so far as the Aviation Stations in France are concerned, however, Captain Cone will act under your orders. The Stations in the British Isles will be operated by Captain Cone under the direct orders of the Force Commander or in such other manner as may be later prescribed.

     9.  In accordance with the expressed wishes of the Department as contained in the seventh paragraph of its cablegram, it is desired that Captain Cone be given as free a hand as possible in the matter of developing, building up, and perfecting the details of the Aviation Service, as regards both material and personnel, without derogation to the military command residing in you as his immediate superior.

     10.  With reference to the Intelligence Service: Captain R. H. Jackson, U.S.Navy, heretofore the representative of the Force Commander at the French Ministry of Marine, is designated as Liaison Officer between yourself and the French authorities and as such will be regarded as an officer on your staff.6 He has been ordered to report to you for this duty by letter. The Force Commander reserves the right to deal directly with the French Ministry of Marine, or to deal with it through Captain Jackson, should occasion arise for such action. Ordinaryily, however, his dealings with the French Ministry of Marine will be through you.

     11.  It will be noted from paragraph nine of the Department’s cablegram that, as a part of the Intelligence Service a counter espionage service is to be organised, of which Commander W. R. Sayles, U.S.Navy is to be temporarily the head.7 Commander Sayles has been ordered to report to you by letter for this duty. You will organise the service and, at such time as the services of Commander Sayles can be spared, you will inform me to that effect in order that the Department’s plans regarding him may be put into execution. You will order Commander Sayles to report to you at Brest or elsewhere for consultation at your discretion.

     12.  Take particular note of the tenth paragraph of the Department’s cablegram and bend your efforts immediately to the establish ment of this organization on a firm working basis.

     13.  Take advantage of the earliest opportunity for a personal interview with Vice Admiral de Bon, Chief of the French Naval General Staff,8 and inform him of your changed status and, in general, of the plan and scope of the new organization.

          /s/ WM. S. SIMS.

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Address below close: “Copies to:/Operations./Captain R. H. Jackson, U.S.N./Captain H. I. Cone, U.S.N./Commander R. Sayles, U.S.N.”

Footnote 1: The original of this cablegram has not been found. It is reproduced in Henry P. Beers, “U.S. Naval Port Officers in the Bordeaux Region, 1917-1919,” Administrative Reference Service Report No.3, Office of Records Administration, Navy Department, September 1943, pp. 13-14. John B. Hattendorf, “Rear Admiral Henry B. Wilson and the United States Navy in France, 1917-1919,” paper presented at Colloque International a l’occasion du 100eme anniversaire de l’entrée en guerre des Etats-Unis en 1917, 23-25 November 2017, Paris, France summarizes the cablegram as follows:

Washington directed that Wilson was to organize his command into six principal fields of activity (1) naval forces afloat, (2) port organization and administration, (3) aviation, (4) intelligence, (5) communication, and (6) supply and pay. He was directed to deal with French authorities and the U.S. Army in all matters that did not require the attention of Admiral Sims and his staff in London or the Navy Department in Washington.

Footnote 2: Capt. Thomas P. Magruder, Wilson’s chief of staff, and Capt. Newton A. McCully, previously commander of U.S. yachts stationed at the Azores.

Footnote 3: This cable has not been found. Ultimately, Magruder commanded the Lorient District, and McCully the Rochefort District. Capt. Henry H. Hough commanded the Brest District, and Capt. David F. Boyd commanded the Cherborg District. See: Henry B. Wilson, An Account of the Operations of the American Navy in France during the War with Germany, 1919.

Footnote 4: This cable has not been found.

Footnote 5: Capt. Hutchison I. Cone.

Footnote 6: Capt. Richard H. Jackson.

Footnote 7: Cmdr. William R. Sayles, formerly the United States Naval Attaché in Paris.

Footnote 8: Adm. Ferdinand Jean Jacques de Bon.