Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Anne Hitchcock Sims
30, Grosvenor Gardens,
My dear Anne,
The mails have been very bad recently and until yesterday I did not receive a letter from you since July 9th. . . .1
Things continue to be quite too strenuous for me to be writing letters, as nearly every night I have had engagements which I could not avoid, and I cannot see my way clear to a peaceful evening for a week or ten days in advance, because there are thirteen members of the House Naval Committee in London2 not counting the Assistant Secretary of the Navy and his party.3 For the next week there is something doing for lunch every day and every evening, not to mention official calls and so forth, during the day. . . .
In my last letter4 I told you of the arrival at Southampton of the Assistant Secretary on the destroyer DYER. He also came across with a convoy as far as the Azores, stopped in there for oil and then came on to Portsmouth. He arrived here last Sunday the 21st. I took him to call on Sir Eric Geddes5 and Sir Eric apparently took a shine to him at once as he invited him to leave that evening with him on a visit to Queenstown. They have returned from there now and expressed themselves as very much pleased with everything they saw. I may add that the Assistant Secretary is also very much pleased with himself, but he was that before he came over here. Sir Eric also invited him to go to the Grand Fleet with him and then he will be off to France and Italy.
You will be glad to know that I went to a dinner the other night and did not make any speech. I was invited to respond to a toast but as I thought I had been heard quite enough within the last few weeks, I declined on that ground. I am sorry now that I did so because this was a dinner given to Mr.Melville Stone, the chief of the Associated Press by all of the prominent press people of London. As I have some rather settled ideas about the Press and the conduct of the Press during the war, I would have been glad to have had the opportunity of airing these views which I think I could have done without rubbing anybody up the wrong way.
Next week there will be a number of important functions. The Gray’s Inn Hall is giving a large dinner to all the War Ministers. I was invited to this, and I have procured an invitation for the Assistant Secretary. The American Luncheon Club is also giving a luncheon tomorrow for Sir Eric Geddes and Mr.Roosevelt. The Ambassador6 is also giving a lunch to Mr.Roosevelt and also one to the Naval Committee. I think Mr.Lloyd George7 will also give one to the latter. One evening I am giving a dinner to all of the Naval Committee so that they may meet the members of the Headquarters Staff, or a certain number of them. It will be a dinner in a private room at the American Officers Club, and there will be nobody present except the Congressmen and our own naval officers, with the possible exception of some of the British officers who have been detailed to accompany them. I proposed this to them so that they would have an opportunity on one evening at least, to talk shop to their heart’s content.
The Naval Committee will also be given a dinner in the House of Parliament. . . .
You doubtless know that McNamee is coming over here to join the Headquarters Staff and his place in Operations is to be taken by Captain Yarnell.8 This is the kind of change which I welcome. It will get intimate information from the Navy Department of our work at Headquarters and will give us the benefit of a man who knows exactly what has been going on in operations. McNamee is a fine man for the job. . . .
I am sorry to hear what Aunt Harriet has to say about Pratt.9 I have known this all along from people who have recently come from Washington. I do not see how it is to be helped unless he can get away from his present duty, because he must overburden himself with details because thoseabove him do the same and he is their advisor. I know he wants to get away and get to sea but they feel that they cannot spare him. It is up to him to take the bull by the horns and absolutely stand out for the creation of an organization which will sub-divide and place all branches under competent hands, so that people at the top need not be fussing with details and will have time to think about larger measures. It is utterly astonishing to me that people cannot see what the main line of an organization should be. There are any number of perfectly competent men to form an organization if these people at the top would only get busy and do so.10
I am glad you were pleased with the interview I gave to the NEW YORK TIMES.11 I did add something about submarine scares for the benefit of all of those persons who imagine that a submarine could go into the harbor and blow them out of the water and carry aeroplanes on her back and otherwise disport herself. The reason a submarine is not likely to bombard any place like Newport is that in order to do so he would have to go into comparative shallow water and a submarine is always in danger if there is a destroyer or other vessel near that carries depth charges. The only safety of a submarine when attacked by a vessel carrying these terrible depth charges is to go down into deep water and thus escape.
You know of course everything there is to know about the operations on the Western Front. I have compared some or our papers with the account given over here and I find the former give every detail that we have over here, and a good deal of information besides. The situation is not out of danger at all, because anything may happen in such a big battle but there can be no doubt that the strategy of the enemy has been defeated and that he will have to make some other use of the large forces that are still at his disposal. However, any delay that may be caused by the strategy of the Allies is to their advantage and to the great disadvantage of the enemy. The situation is, to say the least, very hopeful. . . .
Tuesday, July 30th.1918.
Yesterday evening I went to a dinner given at Gray’s Inn Hall for the War Ministers of the Government. I was invited at this dinner a couple of weeks ago, that is, before I knew that Mr. Roosevelt was coming here. You may remember that I was at dinner once before at this hall. I also know the Treasurer of the organization, and he is the man elected each year who runs the whole show. I knew him well enough to write and ask him for an invitation for Mr. Roosevelt.
You may remember that many months ago, I gave you some description of this hall and it was upon the occasion of the union of the Army and Navy Air Forces under a national air force.12 Mr.Lloyd George took advantage of the occasion to deliver a very energetic speech, intended for the consumption of the enemy. . . . The principal speech of the evening was made by Lord Curzon13 and it was one of the finest orations I have ever heard. This man has notonly a splendid command of English, but he has real brains. His speech was most instructive with regard to the part that England has played in this war in relation to her allies. One of the speakers referred particularly to the opinions of the old worthies of many years ago. He quoted from speeches that had been made by Lord Chancellors of the part in this old hall 550 years ago. Then he quoted from other speeches made later, four hundred, three hundred, two hundred and one hundred years ago. The interesting feature of those quotations was the fact that the sentiments expressed last night by Lord Curzon were practically identical in so far as ideas of government and liberty are concerned as those of these old worthies.
I was seated next to Sir Eric Geddes and Lord Sumner on the other side, as you will see by the seating program. Mr.Roosevelt was directly opposite. There were many references to the participation of the United States in the war, in fact, it would be impossible to make a war speech nowadays without such a reference, because it is now universally recognised that the hope of victory over the enemy will depend very largely upon the efforts of the American Army. Of course the operations of the American Navy came in for a quite sufficient amount of praise,including the Force Commander.
The luncheon today was at the Ambassador’s and it was to meet Mr.Roosevelt. Mr.Lloyd George, Mr.Balfour, Admiral Weymess14 and one of the other Lords of the Admiralty were the principal guests. Mr.Roosevelt leaves tomorrow morning for France and Italy and they will not be back here for about a month.
This morning the Congress Naval Committee of thirteen members left for a visit to Dover where they will spend the night, so that we are having a little bit of a let up today from all of the official functions. Tomorrow I am giving all of the members of the Committee a dinner at the Club to meet the members of the Headquarters staff. There will be at least one officer to each one of the Congressmen, but there will be no outside guests. This is to give them an opportunity to talk shop to their hearts’ content.
Many of these gentlemen are ambitious to acquire sufficient knowledge of conditions over here to enable them to make recommendations when they get back. They will of course not hesitate to make recommendations of a purely military character. They will doubtless want to support these recommendations by as hefty opinions as they can muster. I have therefore thought it wise to write to Admiral Benson15 and explain to him that I will make no recommendations at all concerning forces over here except through the regular channel of the Navy Department.
<Mail is closing. No time for more.>
Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Container 10.
Footnote 1: Anne Sims’ letters to her husband have not been preserved.
Footnote 2: For more on the House Naval Committee’s visit, see: Sims to Benson 28 July 1918.
Footnote 3: Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt. For more on Roosevelt’s visit, see: Daniels to Sims, 10 July; Sims to Sims, 22 July 1918; and Roosevelt to Daniels, 26 July 1918.
Footnote 4: See: Sims to Sims, 22 July 1918.
Footnote 5: The British First Lord of the Admiralty.
Footnote 6: Walter Hines Page, United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom.
Footnote 7: British Prime Minister.
Footnote 8: Capt. Luke McNamee and Capt. Harry E. Yarnell. For more on this exchange of officers, see: Benson to Sims, 16 July 1918.
Footnote 9: Capt. William V. Pratt, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations. Pratt suffered a nervous breakdown in June 1918 and spend almost a month recovering at his home in Maine. Wheeler, Pratt: 123.
Footnote 10: Sims felt that the Navy Department was under-staffed, and that it should be reorganized in such a way that Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels delegated more matters and thereby also increase the role of uniformed officers in decision-making and management. See, Morison, Admiral Sims and the Modern American Navy: 397-399.
Footnote 11: This interview has not been found.
Footnote 12: That is, the creation of the British Air Force, which occurred on 1 April 1918. The United States did not create a separate Air Force until 1947.
Footnote 13: George N. Curzon, 1st Marquess of Curzon of Kedleston, a member of the British War Cabinet.
Footnote 14: British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour and First Sea Lord Adm. Sir Rosslyn Wemyss.
Footnote 15: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations. Sims annoyed Benson and Secretary of the Navy Daniels by seeming to make policy for the Navy Department in London. See: Daniels to Sims, 24 July 1918.