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 Rear Admiral Albert P. Niblack, United States Patrol Forces Based on Gibraltar

July 29th.1918.

My dear Nibs,

          Your letter of July 16th, enclosing a copy of the report of the Wireless Telegraph Conference at Corfu just received,1 and will be passed on to the gang that understand about such things.

          The whole subject of wireless telegraphy is more or less of a mystery to me, and I propose to let it remain so. Sweet2 has just arrived here in connection with the installation of the biggest wireless station whatever in France. They expect to have it in operation by October, but I have my doubts. He told me that they would be able to send through five messages at a time, and a hundred words per minute of each message. They say the capacity can easily be doubled after a bit of experience which would make a thousand words per minute. You can search me! This ought to be enough to provide for all of the activities of the Navy in European Waters. This makes a total of 144,000 words a day. How many will you want for your share?

          With reference to your remarks about the invitation of General Layuty3 to visit Morocco. It is more or less of a mystery to me why anybody should ever want to visit Morocco for any purpose whatever.

          It is still more of a mystery why our Consul General in Morocco4 expects me to send an agent to look into the situation. It never occurred to me at all that there was any situation in Morocco. Even if there was one I do not quite see why it would come within the scope of our naval activities. Doubtless this is ignorance on my part, but I cannot expect to have anything else except ignorance of Morocco when it has never been mentioned to me before. However, I am not allowing this to worry me in the slightest.

          With regard to the various opinions about kite balloons being carried by convoy escorts, I can assure you that the practice in this respect is not based in the least upon opinions. It is a little bit dangerous to reason about such things. It is safer to go by the results of experience.

          Not long ago a chap submitted an analysis to show that a kite balloon was absolutely of no use in escorting work. His tabulation showed that a certain number of submarines had been sunk by destroyers, patrol boats, motor boats, aeroplanes, and so forth and so forth, whereas kite balloons had been towed a certain number of thousands of miles and they never destroyed a submarine yet.

          His attention was invited to the fact that there is no case on record yet where a convoy escorted by a force carrying a kite balloon has ever been attacked by a submarine. It is quite true, as you say that the kite balloon advertises the presence of the convoy. It is also true that it advertises the presence of the kite balloon and experience has shown that submarines dislike the kite balloon exceedingly. There are records of observers in the balloon seeing a submarine a distance of 25 miles. There are also records of the observer seeing a submerged submarine at a considerable distance when the submarine is wholly invisible to the observers on vessels. Of course, if these are true you will see that the slowness of the convoy has is nothing to do with the case. Quite the contrary. The slower a convoy the more likely the convoy to be attacked and therefore greater the necessity for the kite balloon to keep the attack away.

          With reference to your personal letter of the same date,5 I have not heard anything at all about a “shake up” in the Mediterranean. Ther has been some discussion of establishing a strategic generalissimo in the Mediterranean to handle the forces of the various powers there in case this should become necessary, for example, in case the Germans fit up the Russian Black Sea ships and bring them out. It is not true that this was offered toanddeclined by Jellicoe. Negotiations have been carried out with a view to appointing Jellicoe Admiralissimo but so far these have not amounted to anything.6 It would not involve our forces in the slightest degree, as far as I can see at present.

Very sincerely yours,

          (W.S. Sims)

Source Note: LT, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, box 76. Following the close, the letter is addressed, “Rear Admiral A.P.Niblack, U.S.N./ U.S.Patrol Squadron./Gibraltar.”

Footnote 2: Cmdr. George C. Sweet.

Footnote 3: Louis Hubert Gonzalve Lyautey.

Footnote 4: Maxwell Blake.

Footnote 6: Adm. Sir John R. Jellicoe, former First Sea Lord. The Allies had attempted, more than once, to get Jellicoe appointed at “Generalissimo” of the Mediterranean forces, in hopes of creating greater cooperation among the various naval forces operating there. In the late summer of 1918, they made one final attempt, which was again unsuccessful. Halpern, Naval War in the Mediterranean: 522-534.