Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

President Woodrow Wilson to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters

I_N_C_O_M_I_N_G T_E_L_E_G_R_A_M.

Received:-  July 5th, 1917.

Amembassy

     London

          July 4th 7 p.m.

          Strictly confidential for Admiral Sims.1

          CONFIDENTIAL----------From the President.

     “From the beginning of the War, I have been greatly surprised at the failure of the British Admiralty to use Great Britain’s great Naval superiority in an effective way. In the presence of the present submarine emergency, they are helpless to the point of panic. Every plan we suggest they reject for some reason of prudence. In my view, this is not a time for prudence but for boldness even at the cost of great losses. In most of your despatches, you have quite properly advised us of the sort of aid and co-operation desired from us by the Admiralty. The trouble is that their plans and methods do not seem to us? efficacy <effective>. I would be very much obliged to you if you would report to me, confidentially of course, exactly what the Admiralty has been doing and what they have accomplished and added to the report, your own comments and suggestions based upon independent ?thought <study> of the whole situation without regard to the judgments of? <already> arrived at on that side of the water.2 The Admiralty was very slow to adopt the practice of convoy and is not now I judge ? singleness <supplying> convoys on <an> adequate scale within the danger zone, seeming to prefer to keep its small ? <craft with the> fleet. The absence of craft for convoy is even more apparent on the French coast than on the English coast and in the channel. I do not see how the necessary military supplies and supplies of food and fuel oil are to be delivered at British ports in any other way within the next few months than under adequate convoy. There will presently ? <not> be ships or tankers enough ? and our ship-building plans may not begin to yield important results in less than 18 months. I believe that you will keep these instructions absolutely and entirely to yourself and that you will give me such advice as you would give if you were handling <an independent> navy of your own.

Woodrow Wilson.

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. The person decoding this encountered problems with certain words that are indicated by question marks in the text. A “clean” copy of this cable can be found in DNA, RG 59. The missing words, which appear in the clean copy, have been added by the editors and designated by angle brackets.

Footnote 1: Before sending this cable to Sims, Wilson had sent a draft to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels who wrote Wilson on 3 July:

I think the telegram ought to go, but suggest probably that you have not been informed that the English have recently adopted the policy of convoying merchant ships with cruisers from their side. They have just inaugurated it and we are ready to cooperate with them. Therefore, would it not be best to omit those portions embraced in the parenthesis?

At present the inadequacy of convoy is within the danger zone and the Department is very much impressed with the fact that the British should make greater effort to supply a larger number either of destroyers or small craft for convoy through the danger zone. Apparently they are largely with the main fleet.

The absence of small craft for convoying is even more apparent on the French coast than on the English coast and in the channel. We are attempting to improve this condition on the French coast and by tomorrow will have eight American patrol vessels there for that duty. This will make 43 destroyers and small craft we have sent over for patrol duty. Orders have been given to make ready 27 more to go across.

Will you not please return the telegram with any changes you desire to make in view of the above? I will send at once. DLC-MSS, Woodrow Wilson Papers.

The portion of the cable put in parentheses was the sentence beginning, “In particular I am not at all satisfied” and ending, “in less than eighteen months.” When sending the cable to Daniels for transmission, Wilson asked, are the British convoying “groups of ships or are they trying the vain experiment of convoying individual craft?” He added that the answer to his query did not “affect the form of this message” and only asked so as to guide his own thinking. DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers. In his reply to Wilson, Daniels was being disingenuous when indicating that the U.S. Navy supported the British convoying effort. In fact, Sims had sent a series of letters practically begging the United States Navy to support Britain in this effort and to implement convoying. The response from Daniels and Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Navav Operations, was lukewarm at best. See, for example: Sims to Daniels, 20 June 1917, and  Daniels to Sims, 20 June 1917.

Footnote 2: See, Sims to Wilson, 11 July 1917, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517. Wilson continued to believe that Britain and the Allies were not being aggressive enough. See: Wilson’s Address to the Officers of the Atlantic Fleet, 11 August 1917.