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Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Anne Hitchcock Sims



10 July, 1918.     

My dear Ann<e>,

              . . . In reference to the remarks made to you by Admiral Taussig,1 as to his opinion that I would get another star, I received yesterday a message from Admiral Benson, sent by an officer who has just reported here, and who brought from Admiral Benson a clipping on this subject – the message being that Admiral Benson wished me to know that he believed all such articles were detrimental to all parties concerned. While I quite agree with him in this opinion, still I could not avoid the suspicion that his sending the article and the message to me indicated that he believed it probable that I had had something to do in inspiring such articles. You may be sure that I wrote to him at once and told him that I deprecated such articles as much as he did; that I had nothing whatever to do with inspiring them, but that I assumed that some misguided friend had started them, but that I knew nothing whatever about the matter.2 Also that I had written to the Secretary of the Navy deprecating any such agitation. Moreover, that as soon as I saw an article from the BOSTON TRANSCRIPT I had written the Editor of that paper to the same effect.

              As for the letter from the sailor that you mention I have not seen it. However, all this business about criticizing the way the destroyers arebbeing run over here has quite disappeared. I think the interview I gave out finally settled the whole business, and in whatever pronouncement I have had to make since, I have referred to it. For example, in the speech here on the Fourth of July, I accentuated the “brigading” of our forces over here with those of the Allies. . . .

              In reference to your activities for the suppression or diminution of venereal diseases around Newport, I entirely approve of your doing anything you can in these lines, for as you say, your name and my name will probably add some weight to your recommendations. I believe in applying the law with all possible strictness to these cases and if the law is not sufficiently drastic, agitation should be carried on to make it so.

              I have a letter from Captain Pratt3 in which he now entirely agrees with me as to the inadvisability of my coming home on a liaison trip. Without going into details, I may say that I explained to him that he probably had in mind that I could give them any quantity of useful information about all the various activities on this side. I invited his attention to the fact that this was not an individually run affair, but was a real organization, and that the details reposed in the various branches of the organization, and were not considered at all by the Force Commander, and that therefore my visit at home would not respond to their requirements. Moreover, that the psychological business was entirely wrong. I told him that I frequently closed my eyes and tried to imagine myself over in America, looking back towards Europe, and considering the activities of any Admiral in command over here, so as to picture to myself what my impressions would be if I heard that the latter had arrived in America for a visit of a month or so. I particularly tried to picture what this would mean to the average civilian, in whose mind the commander of the naval forces over here spends nearly all of his time on the bridge of his ship with the wind whistling through his whiskers. I also try to imagine what would be the impression on this public mind if about twice a week all that they saw in the papers about the naval forces was that the commander was attending this or that banquet, or spending the week-end with the Duchess of So-and-so.

          Please do not think that I am particularly solicitous as to what the public thinks about these things insofar as I personally am concerned. I accentuate the word “personally”. You know, however, that I believe in doing everything that one legitimately can to push along the War, and the confidence of the public in the man in control is a very powerful element in the game. It is for this reason that I give it so much attention. . . .

              The expression “paper alibi” is not original with me. One of the members of the staff used this in connection with one of the official messages, which places the responsibility very squarely on your shoulders before there is any necessity for anything more than a slight apprehension. It is a document which is stated in such general terms that no matter what happens, you can place the blame on the other fellow. I have, of course, received a number of these, enjoining me to take such measures as will make the arrival of our troops entirely safe. You may be sure that I pass such responsibility as belongs on the other side, back again. Of course, there is no possibility of taking such measures as to render this operation entirely free from danger, and it is of course my duty so to inform the principal dignitaries. . . .

              Don’t believe too much in the yarns concerning the Commander-in-Chief of our <Army> forces on shore.4 I believe he is a very fine man, and is doing an excellent stunt. The record recently made by our troops on the Western Front has had a most beneficial effect. As may readily be imagined, the opinion was that, although our soldiers were fine individual specimens, they could not be expected to do very much for a good while, until they had learnt the game. They therefore surprised everybody, including ourselves, byt the way in which they held their part of the line and pushed back the Germans. This must have had a very marked effect on the German High Command. It has bucked up the morale, not only of our forces, but also of all the Allies. I hear many most enthusiastic expressions concerning it from both the British and the French.

              I note from the clippings how well received were my casual remarks about the condition of the submarine campaign. That is one reason why I gave out a deliberate and carefully prepared interview recently to the New York Times, in order to lessen to a certain extent the apprehension caused by the presence of submarines on our coast. I am in hopes that this will have a considerable effect as coming from a source in which the public now seems to have a certain amount of confidence. I do not think it will be necessary for me to make any more pronouncements now for a long time.

              Officers from this force who have recently returned from Washington bring us the most encouraging reports about the increased number of destroyers that will be here about the end of the year. They mention 100 or more. This will make the situation over here very much easier indeed. . . .

          Since writing the first P.S., I have been to the great dinner given by the National Liberal Club . . . The dinner was a very great one, probably about 300 people, and there were 25 officers of my Staff, and 25 officers of General Biddle’s Staff.5 I did not know when I went that General Biddle and I would be called upon to respond to a toast. However, I have now learnt by experience that at any function of that kind we will always probably be called upon. I made no preparation whatever for the speech, beyond a few notes that I made on the back of the menu, while the speaking was going on. I promptly forgot all about these, and mad<e> an entirely extemporaneous speech. It was on the lines that I have described to you somewhat heretofore, that is, on humourous lines, and it was quite successful. Stark6 and several of the other officers said that it was the best that they had heard me make. That sort of thing consumes time, and is of course more or less of a burden, and something of a strain. But there can be no doubt whatever that it is just as essential a part of war as the fighting at the front. As you will know from this letter and recent letters, there has been a lot of this sort of thing during the last week or so. We have not quite finished with it yet.

              To-night, I am having the French Naval Attache7 and his Staff to dinner with me and about eight or ten of my Staff. This dinner will be in one of the special dining rooms at the fine Officer’s Club. It will be in a measure a continuation of the general hands-across-the-sea celebration, as the French Liberty Day is on the 14th. of July. On the 12th. there will be a ceremony devoted to the French at Westminster Cathedral which I am, of course, attending. . . .

          I had about made arrangements to leave here on Sunday on a destroyer, for Brest. Twining8 and about three or four others were coming with me to visit all the Naval Bases on the western coast of France, and then go to Paris for a meeting of the Allied Naval Council. Just about the time we had this arranged, I received a cable saying that Assistant Secretary Roosevelt was on a destroyer that was accompanying a convoy across the ocean; that he would put in to the Azores, and thence proceed to England or France.9 This may upset my arrangements to a certain extent, but in any case I must be in Paris on the 24th. and 25th. for the meeting of the Council. I am glad that Mr. Roosevelt is coming over, for the more principal dignitaries carry back an impression of our work, and the spirit and atmosphere over here, the better it will be for us. Roosevelt is a pretty fine man, and will make a distinctly favourable impression.

July 15th. 1918         

              P.S. No. 3. I have previously explained that times have been so strenuous during the last week, not to mention the official functions connected therewith, that I have not been able to see my way ahead to write a real letter with the pen. Hence this letter and its post-scripts. . . .

          There is no further news about separating this organization from the fleet on the other side, and I do not care particularly about this, provided they let this organization alone.

Source Note: LT, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 10.

Footnote 1: Retired RAdm. Joseph Taussig, Sr. See: Sims to Sims, 29 June 1918.

Footnote 3: See: Pratt to Sims, 19 June 1918.

Footnote 4: Maj. Gen. John J. Pershing.

Footnote 5: Acting Chief of Staff Gen. John Biddle.

Footnote 6: Lt. Cmdr. Harold R. Stark, a member of the Secretarial and Personnel Section of Sims’ staff.

Footnote 7: RAdm. Maurice-Henri, Baron Mercier de Lostende.

Footnote 8: Sims’ chief of staff Capt. Nathan C. Twining.

Footnote 9: See: Josephus Daniels to Sims, 10 July 1918; Franklin D. Roosevelt arrived in the Azores on 15 July and in Portsmouth, England, on 21 July. He came to Europe aboard the newly-commissioned destroyer Dyer. Frank B. Freidel, Franklin D. Roosevelt: The Apprenticeship (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1952), 346-48.