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Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels


Letter No. 18.                7th July, 1917.

FROM:- Vice-Admiral Sims.

TO:-   Secretary of the Navy, Washington.

SUBJECT:-  Weekly Report.

     1.  It is impossible this week to submit a full report of operations of our forces and all other developments of interest and value to the Department.

          This is on account of the unusual strain which has been placed upon the organization here and the total inadequacy of the staff available to handle it. <I have but one military aide in London.>

     2.   It has now become physically impossible to carry on the work with the personnel available. With all British Officials individually engaged in the actual conduct of the war, it is wholly impossible for them to furnish me or my staff voluntarily with all the information which I should have and it is necessarily incumbent upon me to join into British Official activities and ascertain the majority of the information which the Department needs by actual contact and observation. Such a course is manifestly entirely dependent upon the size of my staff and the demands made upon the time of myself and staff.

     3.   As previously reported by letter and cable despatch, the very minimum assistance which is necessary is a Chief of Staff and three subordinate Aides experienced in staff work.1

          As reported by despatch, it is physically impossible for the organization under my command to accomplish the mission for which it is assigned without an immediate increase of personnel.

     4.   Generally speaking, the destroyers are operating in the Queenstown area as previously reported. No unusual incidents have occurred with the exception of a troop convoy escort duty performed last week.

          I feel reasonably certain that if information reached the enemy as to the movements of the troop convoys which it appears to have done,2 it was due to the methods of communication in what is undoubtedly a wholly unreliable code. There is ample evidence here to support reports which I have made to the effect that all codes of invariable character are dangerous and that any code cannot be considered safe unless it is frequently changed.

          It is for the above reasons that I have so urgently recommended the exclusive use of British Admiralty codes until such time as other secret codes based on war experiences are available.3

          The Naval Signal Book should not be used, the cyphers are not a safe means of blinding them and in any case, codes which are intended for operations of forces afloat should not be for <t>rans-Atlantic cable communications. The vocabulary of the general signalling book is not properly designed to meet the demands of the lengthy despatches which must pass between London and Washington.

     5.   In reviews with officers recently arrived from the Department they indicate the possibility of a more or less fundamental misunderstanding between the Department and myself. The misunderstanding is probably due to various causes, principal among which are –

(a) Difference of point of view each more or less       unknown to each other.

(b) Lack of full information on my part of the difficulties under which the Department is working.

(c) The inadequacy of both written and cable communication, that is, the impossibility of fully explaining the phases of the situation or circumstances reported and the danger of misinterpretation of statements actually made.

          I will therefore urgently recommend that from time to time an officer be selected from the Department who is thoroughly in touch with the Department’s point of view and policies, and sent on temporary duty to confer with me with a view of returni<ng> immediately to the Department.

     6.   With reference to the despatches which the Department is now sending to the Naval Attache4 concerning the movements of American Merchantmen, I would suggest that this information be forwarded through the Shipping Offices in New York and other Ports which control the movements of merchant shipping. It is difficult for the Naval Attaches or myself to ensure the proper disposition of such information and it would be to the interest of safety and efficiency to let such information flow through the same channels and be combined with similar information concerning British and other Allied shipping.

          The only essential information required is the nature of the cargo and the time and place in which the vessel will reach the submarine zone together with the secret call letter with which the vessel may be addressed.

     7.   The necessary repairs to the ROWAN caused by the buckling of her structure in a sea way are requiring more time to repair than was anticipated.5 She is not in a private dockyard near Queenstown being repaired under the supervision of the British Naval Constructors at Queenstown. A full report will be submitted by the ship and MELVILLE as soon as possible. There is attached hereto a brief report from the Commanding Officer of the ROWAN submitted when the accident occurred.6

     8.   Arrangements are under way to send a detachment of men to Cork on July 11th to take part in a military review which will be held during the visit of General French7 to that City. Our delegation will consist of one Infantry Company and the MELVILLE which will be transported to Cork on a tug.

     9.   The destroyers which were sent to escort the troop convoys were very materially detained at St. Nazaire contrary to my orders.8 During this period the Queenstown area through which vital shipping was passing was reduced to wholly inadequate protection and as a consequence a large amount of shipping was lost which undoubtedly would have been saved if the delays mentioned had not occurred.

          Due to the difficulties of communication with St. Nazaire I am not yet fully informed as to the causes of these delays and as to just what occurred. As soon as the information is available it will be reported to the Department.

          I am also taking effective steps to ensure proper communications in the future. The French Navy had offered me six escorting vessels for the purpose of escorting out empty troop ships. They should have been escorted out independently and allowed to proceed independently as is necessarily the practice with the British troop and other ships.

          Such a procedure is wholly necessary due to the totally inadequate number of escorting forces and the lines of communication which must be protected i<f> success is to be assured.

     10.  I can add little to my cable despatches concerning the general military situation. Briefly stated, I consider that at the present moment we are losing the war. This is due to the success of the enemy submarine campaign, the demands which it places upon our available Allied Forces in the protection of essential lines of communication and the wholly inadequate number of forces of all description both to meet the submarine menace and at the same time to ensure readiness for any other unsuspected developments.

          I submit that if we are to fulfill our obligations to the Allied cause, we should sacrifice every other interest to placing in the critical areas, the maximum number of ships which can possibly be assembled.

     11.  I would also urge that all coal burning dreadnoughts be kept in a constant state of readiness for despatch to European waters, purely as a measure of preparedness. There are no definite plans in view involving such forces, but the uncertainties of the present situation are tremendous and hence my recommendation.

          The oil situation in Europe is now so critical that it would be impossible to send oil burning battleships even if sufficient oil carriers should be available to supply the necessary oil, it would be impossible to ensure adequate and safe destroyer escort through the submarine zones.

Wm. S. Sims.

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Identifying number in top right-hand corner of first page: “25-13-12.” Someone has corrected typographical errors by writing the correct letter in pencil over the error. These have been indicated by angle brackets. Also, at the end of the second full paragraph someone added a handwritten sentence; it too has been indicated by angle brackets.

Footnote 1: For example, see: Sims to Daniels, 20 June 1917.

Footnote 3: For example, see: Sims to Daniels, 13 June 1917. Sims discussed his objections to the use of these codes in further detail in Sims to Pratt, 3 July 1917.

Footnote 4: Capt. William D. MacDougall.

Footnote 5: On the damage and repair of Rowan, see: Joel R. Poinsett Pringle to Sims, 4 July 1917.

Footnote 6: The report has not been found.

Footnote 7: Gen. John French, First Earl of Ypres, British Field Marshall and first commander of the British Expeditionary Forces. In 1917 he was commander of the British Home Forces. George H. Cassar, The Tragedy of Sir John French (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1985).

Footnote 8: On the delay of the destroyers at Queenstown, see: Albert Gleaves to Daniels, 4 July 1917.