Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters to President Woodrow Wilson
13 July 1918
My dear Mr. President,
I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter of 31 May, introducing Mr. Samuel G. Blythe.1
As you say, Mr. Blythe needs no introduction at all, as I know him for the delightful writer he is. I have read many of his articles on various subjects, and I am very glad indeed that a man of his prominence in this respect has consented to come over here and give the American people something of our atmosphere and activities.
We have until recently rather felt that the American people did not receive sufficient information as to the Navy’s various activities in Europe.
This was having its effect upon the personnel of the forces, as all letters were carefully censored and both officers and men were debarred from mentioning anything but purely personal matters. This left the impression that their strenuous work was not appreciated as it should be. The recent excellent accounts in the press have removed this impression.
The trouble was largely due to the reticence of the British naval authorities, whose practice has been not to allow anything to be published about what is popularly called over here “The Silent Service”. There was no logic behind it.
In fact it was, in my opinion, entirely mistaken psychology, and it was only after patient explanation of the difference in the conditions over here and at home that the British Censors were finally induced to allow a certain amount of information about our activities to be sent over to America and published in our press.
This has been successfully done by a number of capable writers. One of the most successful of these was Mr. Ralph Payne, who has written a number of articles for the “Saturday Evening Post” and other publications. He has recently published a book which is a summary of his recent articles,2 and this gives a very good picture, not so much as to what the Navy is actually doing, as of the spirit which actuates all of our naval forces.
We realize of course that there is no real naval war going on on this side. The enemy’s fleet remains “contained” and his activities are confined to the submarine, and to certain mining and counter-mining operations. The submarine is not making war on our military vessels, but on the contrary, avoids them and devotes his attention to the destruction of commerce. This places the Navy in the position of defenders of the lines of communication of the Army. This is completely understood between General Pershing3 and myself, and we are working together, not only in the most complete co-operation but in the most complete harmony and sympathy.
I have appointed a naval officer from my force as a member of General Pershing’s Staff so as to keep us intimately in touch with each other.4 By this and other means we have been able to establish the best possible relations between all branches of the Army and the Navy on this side. While it might naturally be supposed that this was a foregone conclusion, I can assure you that the experience is pretty nearly unique in combined warfare. It is really astonishing how much antagonism, not to say bitterness, has arisen from time to time between the naval and military forces of the same countries, during this distressing War.
As for the differences that have arisen between Allies, you doubtless know much more about that than I do. As an indication of this, one of the most distinguished of the Allied Generals made the facetious remark to me the other day, in answer to the usual enquiry as to when the war will end: “I don’t know when this particular war will end, but after it is finished, it is quite likely that the Allies will have to fight each other”. Though the remark was a facetious one, still it is an indication of the frictions that have arisen.
Insofar as our Navy is concerned, I am glad to be able to state that there has not at any time been the slightest difficulty of any kind in co-operating with the principal Allied navies. This is due to the fact that we recognized, and established as an inflexible policy from the first, that there should be in all of the various areas absolute unity of command, similar to that which was established on the Western Front when the necessity became imperative.
I am also glad to say that we now believe that we have the submarine campaign well in hand. It will doubtless be continued to the end, and we will doubtless suffer further more or less serious losses, but it is perfectly apparent that the means of offence are gradually being improved, and the number of anti-submarine vessels increased, while the submarines are decreasing in number and in efficiency, so that there would appear no possibility of the enemy ever succeeding in destroying enough commerce to bring the Allies to terms.
Within the last few weeks the morale of all of our forces over here and the morale of all the Allies has been tremendously “bucked up”. This happy result was brought about by the success of the Italians against the Austrians, and later by the demonstration on the Western Front that the American soldiers are just as good as those of any of the Allies.
This is not only true of the soldiers, but also of our splendid body of American marines. It would be impossible to exaggerate the enthusiasm of French military men over the fighting qualities of our marines. Major Bacon|5| confirms this opinion. They have always been some of the very best American troops; and, in fact, marines of all countries are usually the best troops a country has, on account of the peculiar advantages to the soldier of a certain amount of sailor’s training.
Another, and very important reason for the improvement in the morale of the people and armies of our Allies is the authoritative announcement you have made of the number of troops that has been sent each month during the past year. This has had an effect upon the French which could hardly be exaggerated. The importance of this was not only the fact that there are a million American troops now in France, but the equally, if not more, important fact that they are now coming over at the rate of about a quarter of a million a month.
So impressive has this been, that I have heard competent military men state already that they do not believe that Germany will persist in the drive on the Western Front, knowing that such a further drive would cost at least 200,000 men, and that success would be very doubtful, and that the enemy will “dig in” and attempt to arrange a peace. At all events, it would appear that the spirit of the forces engaged on our side is such that the enemy cannot win.
I am, Sir,
S/ W.S. Sims
Source Note: LTS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Container 24. Below the close, the letter is addressed: “To The Honourable Woodrow Wilson./President of the United States,/The White House, /WASHINGTON.D.C.”
Footnote 1: See, Wilson to Sims, 31 May 1918, DLC-MSS, Woodrow Wilson Papers.
Footnote 2: Ralph D. Paine, The Fighting Fleets: Five Months of Active Service with the American Destroyers and Their Allies in the War Zone (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1918).
Footnote 3: Maj. Gen. John J. Pershing, Commander-in-Chief, American Expeditionary Forces.
Footnote 4: Cmdr. Roger Williams.
Footnote 5: Robert Bacon, chief of the American Military Mission at British General Headquarters in France.