Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Captain William V. Pratt, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations

10 July 1918

My dear Pratt,

          Your letter just received, and very glad indeed I was to have a word from you.1 I am glad you were pleased with the records and hope Mrs. Pratt2 may find some use for them in her Red Cross work. My record in particular cost me a lot of trouble what with the writing of the text and blowing it into the horn three or four times before the operator was satisfied.

          Danny has written Babby3 some of the most discouraged letters imaginable, upon the assumption that he may be kept permanently on the other side. As I wrote you before, I had no idea he felt so strongly on the subject. On the contrary I thought he was a bit fed up with the work over here and would be glad to remain at home for a while. I think he would be glad to remain for a while if he had the assurance that he would come back here before very long. If Burrage4 takes on the job, please send Danny back again and I will send another liaison officer in his place. I consider it quite essential that we have a man over there who is as devoted to our interests as you are, and who has the recent dope from this side. Even with the good understanding we have now between the Department and the Forces, I am perfectly convinced that misunderstandings would arise if we did not keep up a constant flow of liaison officers.

          I am much encouraged by what you tell me about the little effect that U-151 had on the general public and the officials at home. I think it would be well if some carefully prepared articles were published so as to make people understand that at least those who are living on shore have nothing to fear from the visits of submarines. It is all very well for you people who have been thinking about this matter for many months, but unless the public is generally informed as to the elementary principles of the matter, they are liable to be stampeded. I was particularly struck by a letter that my sister-in-law wrote to Mrs. Sims,5 actually recommending both of them to pack up their children and go to a summer place about 200 miles inland. I am quite sure that millions of dollars are being expended for bombardment insurance.

          Why not publish a very simple article signed by Benson,6 or at least somebody well known to the public, explaining that it would be suicide for a submarine to attempt to enter a harbour such as Newport because he would thus expose himself in shallow water to almost sure destruction by anti-submarine craft carrying depth charges; also that to bombard any one of the town s, and thus be exposed to a similar danger.

          I don’t know whether you fellows really believed that a submarine was coming over there when I sent the warning about three weeks ahead of her arrival, and told you where she was going and what she was going to do. I hope that you will not make any enquiries whatever as to how such information is obtained, because I cannot reply to them under present circumstances. However, you may rely upon this, that in giving you information, I will always indicate to you just what its value is.7

          I am sorry the arrival of U-151 caused you to lose your leave.

          I feel much more comfortable that you now understand and agree with me as to my reasons for not being called over to Washington on a liaison trip. Really the reason is more psychological than anything else, but this business of the psychological war is not sufficiently considered. I try to see things in the light of how they must look from the other side. I actually sometimes shut my eyes and try to persuade myself that I am in America, and that one of our Admirals is over here on a job, and then I try to imagine what my feelings would be if I saw that he had left his job and arrived in the United States. Also what my impressions would be if I read in the papers that he was absent in Italy on a visit, or that he has spent the week-end with the Duchess of So-and-so, or that he was reported about twice every week as attending this or that banquet and making speeches.

          As for this matter of speeches, it has cost me considerable trouble. It is very difficult to avoid making the customary “few remarks” at certain functions, particularly those which are deliberately organized by our Allies for propaganda purposes. Still, I recognize that every time I make a speech it is likely to produce, in certain quarters, an undesirable effect in America, quite independent of anything I may be able to say. You may be sure that I thoroughly realize the danger of making statements of any kind that have to do with the War; that I understand how an apparently innocent remark can be twisted by the enemy to his own advantage, and so forth and so forth.

          I had to make a bit of a speech at the British meeting in celebration of the Fourth, and I took the precaution of calling on the Planning Section for suggestions and of submitting to the gang the text of what I proposed to say. Even then, it may turn out that I have said something that would better have remained unsaid.

          Leahy8 has turned up on this side, and I have had a long chat with him. He brought me a clipping from some paper advocating, for more or less unsound reasons, that I should be advanced to the rank of Admiral.9 He told me that Admiral Benson gave him this to give to me, and to inform me that he believed such articles were detrimental, both to me, and to all parties concerned. I was a bit distressed with this, because I could not quite understand why the article was sent to me with this message unless it implied at least a suspicion that I had something to do with the publication of the article in question. I therefore at once wrote Benson a special letter, and informed him very explicitly that I was in entire agreement with him on the subject, and that I had had nothing, either directly or indirectly to do with any of the articles.10

          The question of changing our uniform during the War was really a thoughtless – almost a fool stunt. As for changing it to a uniform that could not be told at 30 feet from the uniform of a British naval officer, that was more foolish still. I hope the whole business will be dropped.11

          The general military situation over here is amazingly more encouraging. I don’t pretend to know anything to speak of about the strategy of the situation, but I wish to note particularly the question of morale. This has been bucked up in the armies of all the Allies and in our own land forces to an extent that it is difficult to believe, and this by the simple fact that in the recent fighting on the Western Front the American soldires have been shown to be as good as any others in the field and the marines have shown themselves to be distinctly better. We hear of the moast extravagant praises of the latter. Of course, as a naval officer, I cannot help regretting that General Pershing12 should be opposed to any divisions of marines being organized. He insists upon breaking them up, and spreading them around among the rest of the Army. He claims that he wants this done in order that the Army may be homogenouss, that there may be no jealousies or rivalries between the Regular Army, the National Guard, the National Army, and the Marines. There are, of course, arguments on both sides, but everything that I know about war and all my impulses are in the direction of separate corps, and the utmost possible rivalry and competition between them when it comes to doing stunts against the enemy. However, I am only a sailor, and should not say anything about such things.

          Once in a while, call a stenographer and unload a few details on us over here. Give us your kicks and growls. Tell us what people are thinking about us, and so forth. We get very hungry for such news.

          Please give my best regards to the Admiral and the gang in Operations. I will write to the Admiral by this mail, and will send you a copy as usual.

          Always very sincerely yours,

Source Note: Cy, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 78. Addressed below closed: “Captain W.V.Pratt, U.S.N./Office of Operations,/Navy Department,/WASHINGTON.D.C.”

Footnote 1: See: Pratt to Sims, 19 June 1918.

Footnote 2: Pratt’s wife, Louise Johnson Pratt.

Footnote 3: Lt. Joseph F. Daniels, who had been a member of Sims’ staff until his recent recall to Washington, D. C., and Cmdr. John V. Babcock.

Footnote 4: Guy H. Burrage.

Footnote 5: Sims’ wife, Anne Hitchcock Sims.

Footnote 6: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 7: For more on Sims’ reasoning for not wanting to return to the United States for a brief tour, see: Sims to Pratt, 18 May 1918.

Footnote 8: William D. Leahy. At the time of this letter, Leahy served as the commanding officer of Princess Matoika, a troop transport vessel.

Footnote 9: See: Sims to Benson, 9 July 1918.

Footnote 10: Ibid.

Footnote 11: For more on Sims’ objections to changing the navy uniform during the war, see: Sims to Sims, 20 May 1918.

Footnote 12: Maj. Gen. John J. Pershing, Commander, American Expeditionary Forces.