Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters
RECEIVED: 9th July 1917. From: Washington.
Through: Admiralty. No. 209. Sent 5:15 pm 8th
Recd. 3.5 am
209. Following from Commodore Gaunt for Admiral Sims.
Future ? cross water operations concerning safe transportation of our troops to France is one of the most important operations of future. For this purpose every guarantee has been given to War Department that every effort will be made by the Navy Department to safeguard lives of the soldiers in crossing. From the interned German ships 14 of fastest largest and best will be commissioned under complete ? naval control and used to take over the troops.1 It is of the utmost importance these ships should receive greatest protection on the passage in and owing to the valuable nature of ships and difficulty of obtaining others in their place if lost it is desirable to guard them on passage ? in ? Atlantic. Will you therefore submit an outline <of what> you consider the best method of carrying out such operations after you have consulted various authorities especially the French. About four tho<u>sand troops will be despatched in each ? ship. Do you think that they should sail in company or singly? During the voyage in<,> what protection can they expect from our destr<o>yers and what from the French? Also<,> on the voyage out<,> what protection can and will be (given? omitted) by French<,> or do you contemplate providing that from our Forces? In addition to sending you all t<h>e information in advance possible<,> should we request from you a rendezvous for each ship<,> or group of ships<<,> leaving here and a course in from there<,> or will you in advance set out a course<,> both of which will be understood to hold good until you change the same (note of interrogation) Should the army supply ships, large number of which will be of moderate speeds, sail together in groups<,> or singly<,> so that greatest security may be given them in that part of vo<y>age when it is the most essential (note of interrogation), Even if these points have been discussed by you<,> it is desirable to have them clearly indicated<,> so that greatest efficiency and co-operation may be obtained from our combined efforts.2
Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. The author is not given, however in their testimony to Congress both Sims and Daniels quoted this message and said it had come from Daniels and the Navy Deparment. Naval Investigation, 1: 155-56; 2: 2136. There are notes at the bottom of the last page: “1-L. (3)/Ans. By our No. 95 of July 11th, 1917. CHRONOLOGICAL FILE.”
Footnote 1: For a list of these ships, see: Daniels to Navy Bureaus and Commandants of Selected Navy Yards, 11 July 1917.
Footnote 2: In a short cable to Daniels of 11 July, Sims referred him to a “comprehensive letter” that he had sent the department via an armed guard officer. See: Sims to Daniels, 11 July 1917. For that letter, see: Sims to Daniels, 6 July, 1917. This cable became a point of controversy in the 1920 congressional hearings investigating the Navy’s performance in the war. Of it, Sims testified:
I do not think it would be possible for me to convey to you the discouragement or receiving at that date, after the miles of cables and letters I had sent in, there on the 9th of July exhibiting the crassest ignorance of the elements of the whole problem.
In view of the extensive communications which I had sent to the department concerning these convoys previous to this dispatch, I think it requires no explanation on my part to convince the committee of my feelings upon receiving such a message as this. Here was question after question asking about handling convoys which I had explained over and over again. Naval Investigation, 1: 156.
Later, in his testimony, Daniels also discussed this cable:
Gentlemen, I think it will require no explanation to convince the committee, which has heard several miles of the “miles of letters and cables” Sims sent, that what we wanted was not another mile or two of talk, but specific answers to plain questions. What enraged Sims was evidently that last sentence [of the above cable of 8 July] . . . . We wanted to work out for the operation of these vessels a well-defined plan which neither Sims not anyone else could misinterpret or misunderstand—a plan based on the best experience and advice of the allied authorities. We were taking no chances on picking out from the “miles” of Sims’s dispatches recommendation that might, or might not, apply. He was our representative in Europe, it was his special business to furnish us information and answer questions of this character, and there wasn’t any need of his wanting to “jump overboard” whenever he received a dispatch that requested specific answers on subjects he had before treated in a specific way.
Commenting particularly on the question, “Do you think that they should sail in company or singly?” Admirals Sims said:
I would not have believed that that question could be asked at that stage of the game, how we should put the convoy in, and when we had put it in.
As a matter of fact, though we had put the convoy system into effect with the first troop expedition and continued it all through the war; the Allies, as well as ourselves, found it preferable, in some cases, to sail singly ships of high speed. Ibid., 2: 2137.