Skip to main content

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


Office of Operations,


June, 11,1917,

Dear Sims,

          As there seems to be a chance to get you off a line by Gleaves, I will try to do it.1

     Of course there is a lot in the way of hot air that comes in to this office, in the way of devices and plans to combat the submarine menace. As I am the head of that particilar [i.e., particular] Board I see most of it.2 A great deal of it is about as valuable as the difference suggestions I have made in the past.Grady3 is just back from England and he brings most interesting reports, of what is going on there? His dope is that the submarine operating against the submarine is producing good results.4

     If that is the case, then why not make the North Sea, the intensive tactical field of operations for the submarine, combined with mines as many of them as it is possible to produce. He said the British officers told him, they would not consent to a mine field that shut them off in the Main Fleet from the North Sea. In other words, as I understood him, they had to have the Fleet capable of interposing themselves between Germanys Fleet and the intended objective of invasion, on the East coast of England, at any time. Naturally they know their business, but it seems a direct violation of every known principle for Germany to divide her forces in any such manner, and that it would be a good plan to invite her to make just such an effort. If however that is the reason why England doesnt use her mine fields to greater extent it doesnt look good. For instance suppose you lay out as many fields, in chosen places, in the North Sea, as there are mines available. Suppose then that you put into action in the North Sea all the Subs., that England and WE can get there, and then suppose you use all the fast destroyers in the ocean areas,(generally speaking) to convoy and act intensively in the local areas created by the merchant shippin[g] the mine layers drifters etc to repair the inroads in the mine fields—-what happens. Can Germanys sweepers and her cruisers punch so many holes in the English mine fields, if they have to pass through an intensive area of our own submarines? Can Germanys destroyers raid our trawlers, and shoot them up, if they are not there to be shot up, but sent out under support to repair damage done, and will Germanys destroyers raid such lines at any distance off their own coasts, if there are held in reserve and between them and their own ports sufficient small vessels to attemp[t] a counter on such a raid.—-In other words the main patrol of the North Sea turned over to submarines, and the offensive weapon there the mine and torpedo. If there is anything in such a strategy then you will want our submarines over very soon. Then why not ask for them. Such a strategy immensely relieves the friendly submarine from the danger of being sunk by friendly patrols. The areas are controlled by orders, everything one of our submarines sees in his area is an enemy. Lumping all the devices plans suggestions etc., that come into this office together with all the information available, it looks as though the future strategy in and around England and the North Sea, points somewhat in this direction. —-Submarine tactics, well in advance of the mine field, submerged by day.—-at night closer to the mine fields on the surface. Were it possible to have enough to make many lines for the enemy to pass, inside of the mine fields, it would be almost possible to make the enemy run submerged nearly all the time, with a much less certainty as to where our mine fields were actually.5

If you need our submarines over there to go ahead with the policy outlined above, think about it .I don’t know what the ultimate attitude will be here, but I can sound out and see. It would naturally be I suppose, what the consensus of opinion was in England.6

     I am busy, but do not like administrative work, for unfortunately you cannot separate the two, in this office. I have had several pow wows with Chase and the other authorities.7 My ground is that we here should strictly confine ourselves to the decision of the MISSION, and then in the order--look out for no 2. The principle trouble is that the moment gets mixed up too much with administration--par 3 is the one which receives the most attention –-and that is fatal.8 For it takes away the initiative from the place where it belongs-I have had many a discussion over that very point. And if I have any criticism to make of this office, that would be it. There is such a thing as being too damned efficient, and wanting to do it all yourself, or rather thinking nobody can do it quite as well., or what is as bad, thinging [i.e., thinking] it wont be well done ,unless you la y out the details of the scheme. I have tried to handle personally all the cable etc/,that come in from you. The only chap I ever rub up against is Schofield.9 We think alike in a general way, but sometimes he is so infernally particular about having everything just so, and I hate that sort of thing, I never want things just so. Everybody seems so d—-pessimistic, the Germans are going to win, etc. It is all tommy rot they cant so long as [we] do our best.

     One more small news item. I haven’t told a soul yet outside the immediate family. We expect an addition to the family in about a month or so. Nobody knows it here and we have kept it very quiet for fear it might influence my detail to sea, and both my wife and I think that id [i.e., is] the place for me. We have always wanted one, but never had any luck before.10Cheer up.



Best to the bunch.

Source Note: TLS. DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Container 78. The letter is typed on Navy Department stationery so the first line is printed.

Footnote 1: RAdm. Albert Gleaves was about to sail to Europe as Commander, Convoy Operations in the Atlantic, in order to arrange the escorts for the first transports carrying American troops to France.

Footnote 2: Pratt was chairman of a “Board on Devices and Plans Connected with Submarine Warfare.” As such he was responsible for sifting through the thousands of ideas and suggestions that poured into the Navy Department concerning submarine warfare and sort out those worthy of follow-up. Wheeler, Pratt, 100.

Footnote 3: Lt. Ronan C. Grady. For more on his mission see: Grady to Sims, 16 May 1917.

Footnote 4: For Grady’s report, see, Grady to William S. Benson, 6 June 1917.

Footnote 5: According to Pratt’s biographer:

In the case of mines, Sims somewhat agreed with the British that they hampered the Royal Navy as much as the enemy. Pratt, on the other hand, looked at mining as an offensive weapon and grew more sanguine once the electric impulse mine, developed by Cmdr. Simon P. Fullinwider and others, proved successful. Wheeler, Pratt, 117.

Footnote 6: Sims did not request that the USN’s submarines be sent to European waters.

Footnote 7: Capt. Volney O. Chase, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 8: Presumably, Pratt is referring to a Bureau of Operations guide to operations, which has not been located.

Footnote 9: Cmdr. Frank H. Schofield.

Footnote 10: During her pregnancy, Louise Johnson Pratt had gone to stay with her brother and his wife in New York City. The Pratts had been trying to have a child for fifteen years. A son, William, was born in June. Wheeler, Pratt, 95, 123.