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Lieutenant Robert R. M. Emmet, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters



Washington, D.C.


My dear Admiral:-

     2.   I reported for temporary duty Bureau Navigation Tuesday morning 12 June.

     3.   I have had ten days with no specific duties but to wander round talk to people and size up the Navy Department.

     4.   I came to Washington with four things in mind: (1) Proper instruction armed guard and merchant officiers, (2) Needs of our Forces in Europe for reserve personnel, (3) Liason Officiers, (4) Obtaining as good an estimate of present workings of Department as possible for your information. With respect to #4 I gather from Captain Pratt1 he is keeping you informed, but as he is well taken up with his job and I am footloose, I decided what I have to write might be of interest.

     5.   I have kept a daily journal while here which tells my story so I include it.

     6. Tuesday, 6/12/17...

          i.   Talked at length with Lieut.Comdr. Rowan and Lieuts. Caskey and Pickering.2 All Bu.Ord. and live wives.3. Consensus of opinion “Mass of dough at top Dept.” Deadly inertia ham stringing whole department. Told me Mr. House4 had been induced to go to President5 re: elimination Secretary.6 At first broach of subject Mr. Wilson showed him the door.

          j.   Talked with Lt. Comdr. Van Auken Bu. Ord.7 live wire. On anti-submarine board. Captain Pratt is senior member. Talked anti-submarine measures. Van Auken told me Commander R.N. here. Gunnery Officer Neptune Battle of Jutland.8 He has discussed all aspects British Ordnance very freely. Has apparently shown ordnance most of weak and strong points British Gunnery. As result Van Auken seems to think Germans have a chance to come out preceded by cloud of submarines and whip English High Seas Fleet. Told me he dident think his fellow would dare to talk this way to our officers in London and if London knew they would hang him. Told me he doesnt believe British properly appreciate Italians. Says Italians Know more about German Army and Navy than any other Ally due to pre-war alliance. Seems to have a close friend in one of assistant Italian Naval Attaches. He told me department had definitely decided not to give admiralty Ford Range Keeper. Afraid Japanese would steal it. Said all British officers over here seem sick of Japs and think we ought to look out for them....

          k.   Saw Captain Pratt again for a moment. He said we were not pushing hard on heavy ship construction. Department striving to arrive at a considered building program (his own words) struck me this is pretty late in day to be still considering. I stressed to him British Anti-submarine views and the supreme need for destroyers....

     9. Friday, 6/15/1917.

          a. Talked Admiral Benson.9

          b. Asked me why it seemed essential I must return to London. I replied it was not essential I personally return but that there was a vital need reserve personnel destroyer force. He seemed to think Admiral Sims excessive in demands for officiers chilled me. Told me astonishing fact British Admiralty didn’t want any mines from us.10 I touched on frank exchange information between Dep’t. and Admiralty. Assured him I was certain in long run we would find British had more to give than ourselves due three years war experience. He seemed to think Admiral Sims and our officiers abroad in danger of becoming obsessed all things British to detriment of clear judgment. Mentioned Admiral Sims very anxious to obtain service of Captain Pratt.11 Replied, with a smile he needed him in operations. Wanted to know if British contemplated offensive warfare and what they were doing against submarines. Referred him to Admiral Sims dispatches for complete answer to this question. Touched briefly on substance dispatches. Stressed vital need destroyers and patrol craft. Touched on possible ease up heavy ship construction in favor destroyers. Said we were building all destroyers we could. Directed me after I had thought over our interview to submit memoranda on anything I saw fit. I’ll certainly do it. Felt pretty forlorn on emerging....

     10. Tuesday, 6/19/17....

          b. Talked to Paymaster General.12 The following interview seems pretty hard on operations. Our talk lasted over two hours. McGowan very frank. Told me he must not be quoted. I asked him point blank if I could quote him to you and he answered Yes you can repeat to Admiral Sims anything I have said.

He said in substance following things:-

          1. A man had to fight to do his work.

          2. The last thing that seemed to interest the Secretary was to fight a war.

          3. The damper was put on hard at the top.

          4. Operations can’t or won’t push.

          5. Chief of Operations allowed Secretary to boot him down on important vital things and staid down.

          6. Thant Operations needs a man with drive.

          7. That such a man, due to situation could compel the Secretary to come to time.

          8. That Admiral Benson has his job largely because he won’t cross the secretary.

          9. That Admiral Palmer13 is an unexpected and unpleasant surprise to Secretary.

          10. That Secretary considers Mr. Roosevelt,14 assist. Secretary and McGowan dangerous war mad lunatics. McGowan added if the question of his reappointment came up tomorrow [he] wouldn’t be considered for a moment.

          11. That he was perfectly certain Mr. Wilson had no adequate idea how bad the Navy Department was.

          12. That people running government didn’t have the faintest idea we were in the midst of great war.

          13. That Navy Department is certainly not being run as if anything momentous was going on.

          14. Operations supposed to coordinate all bureaus and don’t coordinate their own office. Was opinion this was entirely due to Chief.

          15. The invariable formula is “Lets wait awhile and think it over”. There needs to be a lot less talk and oceans more action.  

          16.  McGowan was careful to state what excellent men for the job most of the assistants in Operations seemed to be.

          17. Told me how much Admiral Sims’ letter 14 May re liason officiers had impressed him.15 Said S. & A. were to send two more paymasters in addition to Tobey and he was making especial effort to pick suitable men.16


     c.   Above interview not very cheerful. I put down the worst. It is a fact that the most serious condition, or if you like problem, to be overcome, is the lack of realization of the wicked serious fix we are in and the need for real efficient decisive action. I undoubtedly drew the impression from Admiral Benson, and the Secretary doubtless has it too, that Admiral Sims is all mugged up with British ideas and perspective and that therefore to a degree his judgment is warped and the weight of what he advocates lessened....

     14. Monday, 6/25/17.

          1. Had a talk with Admiral Benson.

          2. Asked me to tell him what a Liason Officier was.

          3. Told me British Navy had impressed him so badly during the war that he was doubtful we could gain anything of value.

          4. Said vacancies in flotilla would undoubtedly be looked after as they occurred.

          5. Asked me to give him particulars of demands on Admiral Sims, time, brains and energy.

          6. Expatiated on demands here for trained officers.

          7. I talked with as much force as I am capable of but left with an impression I had accomplished little.

          8. Saw Captain Pratt. Told me he had expanded his original memo to letter to Chief of Operations on our policy with respect to our overseas forces. He cheered me up and undoubtedly will carry many times more weight.

          9. Captain Chase17 died, heart disease, Sunday night. Absolutely sudden. Alright Sunday evening. Captain Pratt took his desk.

          10. Pratt told me smaller slower destroyers had been decided on.

     In conclusion:-

          I am off to Phil. and N.Y. with confidential matter for Commandants. I will give this letter to Armed Guard on one of mail boats. upon arriving New York. I find New York sails Saturday 30 June with Van der Veer.18

          I am quite confident: (1) That Admiral Benson has not an adequate idea of the magnitude of your task. (2) That he is gravely worried about the ability of the British Navy. (3) That he is doubtful of the value of detailing officers urgently needed elsewhere as liason officers. (4) That the Navy Department end of the game is so big to him he can’t see much further.

          The Department is accomplishing things but with groans and sweat. All the reins are still tight in the Secretary’s hands and he is a slow decider. For instance: He is personally handling the allotting of floor space to the different Bureaus as they expand out of the main building and he won’t decide how he will do it. Half the Bureau Chiefs are semi-paralyzed and on the fence on account of this little item alone. A straw showing how the wind blows.

          Captain Pratt has, of course, understanding. My impression is that he has, and especially in view of Captain Chase’s death, will wield a great influence in the conduct of Naval Affairs.

          I have told no one of this letter or its contents.

          I fear there is much that will prove tedious.

          I have endeavored to reproduce as faithfully as possible my impressions of the Department.

          The whole country has been ringing with your name.

          Mr. Arthur Pollen|19| has been at pains to inform the whole Navy Department of the great impression you have made on the British people.

          I have no idea how I am to be employed but think my chances of being attached to the forces under your command are slim....

          With warm regard to yourself, Babcock, Tobey and Gillmore, I am

Very respectfully,


Source Note: TDS, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517.

Footnote 1: Capt. William V. Pratt, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 2: Lt. Cmdr. Stephen C. Rowan, Lt. Gardner L. Caskey, and Lt. Nelson W. Pickering.

Footnote 3: “Bu.Ord.” stands for Bureau of Ordnance, which was responsible for the procurement, storage, and deployment of naval weapons.

Footnote 4: Col. Edward M. House, close personal friend, confidant, and adviser to President Woodrow Wilson.

Footnote 5: Woodrow Wilson.

Footnote 6: Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

Footnote 7: Lt. Comdr. William R. Van Auken.

Footnote 8: Comdr. William Gardner.

Footnote 9: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 10: This statement from Benson stands in direct contrast to Sims’ letter of 7 July to Daniels in which he informs the Secretary of the Navy, “Admiralty considers all assistance which Bureau of Ordnance can render in manufacture of efficient type of mines and depth charges will be invaluable.” See: Sims to Daniels, 7 July 1917.

Footnote 11: Sims had repeatedly asked that Pratt be sent over to join him to be his chief of staff, something that Pratt eagerly desired as well. For example, see: Sims to Daniels, 24 May 1917 and Pratt to Sims, 27 May 1917.

Footnote 12: RAdm. Samuel McGowan, Paymaster General and Chief of Bureau of Supplies and Accounts.

Footnote 13: RAdm. Leigh C. Palmer, Chief of Bureau of Navigation.

Footnote 14: Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Footnote 15: See: Sims to Daniels, 14 May 1917.

Footnote 16: Paymaster Eugene C. Tobey,  Assistant to the Naval Attaché at London.

Footnote 17: Capt. Volney O. Chase, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations. on 25 June, Pratt replaced Chase as Benson's assistant as a result of Chase's untimely death.

Footnote 18: Lt. Norman R. Van der Veer.

Footnote 19: Arthur J. H. Pollen was a British inventor and writer on naval affairs. While observing gunnery exercises near Malta in 1900, Pollen recognized the need for a computer-based fire-control system that would dramatically improve the accuracy and reliability of large ship guns. The system took twelve years to develop, but, upon its completion, included the world’s first electrically powered mechanical analogue computer. In June 1917, Pollen visited the United States to discuss possible sales of his fire-control system. Seeing this visit as an opportunity to bolster Anglo-American naval relations, the Director of Propaganda in the British Foreign Office, John Buchanan approached Pollen and asked him if could publicize the work of the British Navy and its successes in the war as well as encourage development of the American Navy in support of the Allied war effort. As a whole, his visit was widely successful. Anthony Pollen, The Great Gunnery Scandal – The Mystery of Jutland (New York: Harper & Collins, 1980), 215-224.