Lieutenant Commander Joseph .F. Daniels to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters
Dear Admiral Sims-
Arrived in Paris O.K. Have met Captain Fletcher1 and go with him to Brest tonight. Have had conference with French Ministry, and plans for work to be done by one ship practically complete. Will take several days to complete details – but have to doubt that we will be at work this week.
It would be bad ball for Captain Fletcher to go to sea with his flag boat so it has been decided that he will remain ashore and direct operations from there (Brest).2
Repair facilities at Brest may be considered good, but there are few workmen there. There are none to be had. The yachts need some work done now – not important nor heavy work – but the usual tuning up and bearing work necessary after a long run.3
There are 8 yachts here now. Can you get Washington to tell us exact date next flotilla will arrive? It is important that we buck up the French. They are too polite to say what they think, or feel, but I can see a decided feeling exists to the effect that the assistance being given to English is real and working but the assistance given to French is more in the nature of promises than anything else. Here is the present estimation roughly.
2) )_ _ _ _ _ about 14 knots
5---------) _ about 10 to 11 in good weather.
7---------) _ about 9 to 9 1/2 in good weather.
How the first 4, can take transports out after unloading, but for the time being we will have to call upon Queenstown to escort troops in? No other solution is possible at this time.4
We must take up the question of depth charges for the slower boats. Vessels that can make 14 knots can be equipped with large (300 pound) depth charges. Others will have to have smaller ones, perhaps. Will you tell us what is the slowest speed used to safely use heavy depth charges?5
We will forward to you an outline plan of the organization here in a few days.
A repair ship is absolutely necessary. Please cable for one of the following:
In the order named. we would like to have a good repair ship. Failing in getting Vestal or Prometheus – the Panther would do for the time being. I am so impressed with the necessity of having a Base Repair ship that I am of the opinion we should send DIXIE here until we get a ship from the other side.6
I know that we can do best work by keeping our ships centralized. I know also that the French are not satisfied with present arrangement. I believe we will make a mistake if we do not make a serious effort to get everything here as quickly as possible.
The coal burners coming from Manilla7 should come here, (Brest). Also the coal burner from the United States should come here.8 We can send all sorts of ships here but some of them must be destroyers or the French will not be satisfied.
As to the Base at Brest – I will write you after I arrive there.
Owing to the delay in discharging transports – Seattle will not sail until 14th July. Please cable to U.S. and tell them to turn back escorting cruisers when transport is met by escorting destroyers. It only means another ship to take care of an they are a nuisance here. Officers from cruisers all on leave – or those that can go, and all bothering French authoritives to go front.9
Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, Williams Sims Papers, Box 22.
Footnote 1: Capt. William B. Fletcher, Commander, Special Patrol Squadrons.
Footnote 2: As senior officer in France, Fletcher would command from shore much like Sims in London. Fletcher made a small dilapidated building at Brest his headquarters. Still, Crisis at Sea: 52.
Footnote 3: French labor shortages were common and were tied to the need for manpower at the front. ibid. 140-141.
Footnote 4: Transports from the first American Expeditionary Forces convoy were then in port at Saint Nazaire and awaiting outbound escort, See: Albert Gleaves to William S. Sims, 5 July 1917.
Footnote 5: Navy vessels deployed depth charges off their stern. Larger depth charges were danger to smaller, slower vessels that could not clear the blast radius in time. These vessels were armed with lighter depth charges. For dangers of dropping depth charges at lower speeds, See: Sims to Josephus Daniels 20 June 1917.
Footnote 6: Dixie, a destroyer tender, was in Berehaven, Ireland, at the time Daniels wrote this letter. See: Sims to Daniels 3 July 1917.
Footnote 7: The “coal burners” mentioned here were the five antiquated Bainbridge-class destroyers serving as the Asiatic Fleet's Torpedo Flotilla. Still, Crisis At Sea: 311.
Footnote 8: These were the Smith-class coal-burning destroyers.
Footnote 9: There were six cruisers at Saint Nazaire following the convoy of troops from the American Expeditionary Forces to France: Seattle, De Kalb, Birmingham, St. Louis, Charleston, and Hancock. If all the ships were in port at the same time with a full complement of officers, the number of U.S. Navy cruiser officers at Saint Nazaire would have been 220. Ships Data November 1918.