Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters
CABLEGRAM RECEIVED June <11, 1917.> 00413 RIM:
Origin: Opnav, Washington. Ser No.7117.
7117. Referring to letter of Commander Naval Forces France, May 9th subject “Control American Shipping France” and your endorsement.1 Department in accordance with policies as outlined, has been and is working towards that end. Situation this side most delicate requires careful handling and diplomacy as there are many interests concerned. Ship Control Committee2 was not in position to despatch representatives abroad therefore Bacon’s party was sent as entering wedge trusting his experience would be appreciated and that sufficient latitude would be granted him so that his organization could work to maximum efficiency establish itself useful to all ships through its service to vessels of the Naval Overseas and extend its sphere of operation as practicable.3 At present Department has no established organization in France whose efficiency is acknowledged which would justify bringing pressure to bear to effect change recommended.
It is suggested Lieutenant Commander Bacon be utilized in position for which Captain Halstead is desired on Admiral Wilson’s staff and every means and authority be afforded him to further his effort along policy outlined above thereby leading other interests to seek his assistance and control rather than force it officially.4
Magnitude difficulties and importance this work fully recognized and every effort will be made to obtain sufficient experienced personnel upon request and it is hoped the delicacy of the situation will be realized and handled accordingly. Department at present feels very apprehensive regarding success shipping situation abroad and possible failure on part of Navy to handle efficiently and believes that unless immediate steps are taken to remove all possible chances of friction between local authorities and hearty cooperation is not given the officers assigned this duty, a disgraceful and unnecessary situation will follow therefore it enjoins each and every person connected therewith to get together and deliver the goods feel<ing> assured that the Department is assisting and backing them in [e]very respect possible.
Authorization appointment Admiral Wilson as shipping representative of any other Department of Government than Navy cannot be given at present. Situation lies entirely in your hands. Department does not desire to enter into the detailed matter of handling it but desires to invite your attention to its apprehension at the same time assuring you of your full authority to utilize your discretion in handling this matter of anticipation of success and belief that more can be done over there to gain this desired control than over here.
Bacon has absolute confidence Ship Control Committee and this office. It is believed that by utilizing this fact and his experience and reputation in shipping world backing it with sufficient authority assist
ance<ed> by able diplomatic handling of Army authorities by Commander American Forces in France5 the desired control over all shipping may eventually be had.
Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517.
Footnote 1: See: Sims to Josephus Daniels, 8 May 1917.
Footnote 2: The Ship Control Committee was a joint committee composed of representatives of the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Army and the United States Shipping Board.
Footnote 3: Cmdr. David Bacon, a member of the Naval Reserve, had served as a member of the Division of Operation of the Shipping Control Board before being recalled to service by the Navy. Hurley, The Bridge to France, 95-6.
Footnote 4: Capt. Alexander S. Halstead. RAdm. Henry B. Wilson had been appointed the American commander at Gibraltar so Halstead would coordinate American merchant shipping passing through the Mediterranean.
Footnote 5: Capt. William B. Fletcher.