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 Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

COPY.

AMERICAN EMBASSY,           

LONDON,   England      

June 1,    1917.  

FROM:     Vice-Admiral Wm.S.Sims, U.S.N.

TO:       The Secretary of the Navy.  (Operations)

SUBJECT:      General Report concerning Destroyer Force –

              British waters.

     1.  It is gratifying to be able to report that the operations of our forces in these waters is proving not only very satisfactory, but also of marked value to the Allies in over-coming the submarine menace. The equipment and construction of our ships has proved adequate and efficient and the personnel has shown an unusually high degree of enthusiasm and ability to cope with the situation presented. It is hoped that the destroyer force operating in these waters can be greatly increased in the near future, as this will unquestionably prove to be the most effective assistance which we can offer to the allied cause at the present time.

     2.  The “Melville1 and the destroyers arrived fully prepared for the duty for which they were to be used, and the only additions which have been made to their armament or equipment has been the installation of 300 <lbs.>2 depth-charges with hydraulic control from bridges, and two Carley life rafts3 for each destroyer.

     3.  The necessity for an ample reserve force of officers and men has already arisen, as reported by cable dispatch.4 The duty is very severe and extremely dangerous, and hence the physical and mental strain on the personnel is great. As the failure of one look-out may involve the safety of the ship, it is mandatory that all men who prove either inefficient or untrustworthy be removed immediately and replaced by other men.

          It has already been necessary to take a number of men off destroyers. It is also to be anticipated that in the near future it will become necessary at least to temporarily relieve a certain per cent of the officers and men upon whom the heaviest responsibility falls. This is in accord with British experience. It will therefore prove necessary to the efficiency of our operations as well as the safety of the ships to provide a reserve of experienced personnel as previously requested.

          It is considered of the greatest importance to select carefully the personnel for this duty. I therefore urgently recommend that as far as possible officers of previous destroyer experience be detailed regardless of what duty they may now be performing.

     4.  As reported by cable, the addition to our destroyer force of a force of sea-going tugs will be of vital assistance,5 and will actually result in an increase of the anti-submarine forces operating in the Queenstown area. The amount of damage with merchant ships can stand and still remain afloat for considerable periods has been truly astounding. As a result the number of torpedoed ships which have been towed into port or beached by the small number of craft available for this work has been very surprising to our forces. All of these ships would otherwise have been total losses. Any number of sea-going tugs will therefore prove of the greatest assistance. They should preferably be manned by their usual merchant personnel, experienced in high seas towing, merely providing for their belligerent status by placing a naval officer in command and equipping them with radio, guns, and gun crews.

     5.  As previously reported, it is considered of the utmost importance to the success of the operations of our forces that they remain concentrated.6 The material difficulties and resulting interference with efficient operation which would be involved if they were scattered beyond the reach of their own floating bases would seriously impair their military efficiency. During the three years of war the other Allies have gradually established advanced bases suited to their requirements, and hence they are in a better position to operate over widely dispersed areas.

          By keeping our forces concentrated, with a view of their being self-sustaining to the maximum degree, they will not only be able to render the greatest possible assistance to the allied cause, but also the future distinction accruing to our Service for such work as they may perform will be better assured.

     6.  Queenstown prior to the war was practically an abandoned naval station, and hence its repair and other facilities are greatly restricted. The “Melville” has already proved a valuable military asset to the combined British and American Forces based on Queenstown. By relieving the dockyard of a great deal of repair and supply work, she has greatly facilitated similar service to the British forces.

     (The following additional paragraph inserted by hand:- )

     This vessel has been the subject of much favourable comment regarding the completeness of her equipment, the amount and nature of her supplies, etc.

     The “Dixie” will be brought to Queenstown in order that her personnel may be made thoroughly familiar with the situation, the means of supply, methods of communication, radio and otherwise, etc.7 It is the present intention to station her at Berehaven, which will greatly facilitate small repairs and other services which now require a return to Queenstown. The primary aim is to keep the maximum number of vessels operating at sea the maximum possible time, and hence the value of Berehaven, owing to its location further to the westward.

     7.  It is urgently recommended that the services of experts be employed in the preparation of new secret codes. I am informed of codes in use by the Allies, and also by private companies, which are of an unusually secret nature, but which at the same time are very economical of code groups, and hence time in transmission of communications.

          In view of British experience, it is considered unwise in communications by cable to use codes designed and intended for use of forces afloat.

     8.  It would greatly facilitate my mission in England if the Department would from time to time send information despatches covering prospective plans, or plans under consideration, concerning the forces here or possible additions thereto.

     9.  In view of the uncertain possibilities of the future, and of the unusual opportunities open to our service in the present, it is considered of great importance that adequate steps should immediately be taken with a view of profiting to the maximum possible extent by the war experience of our Allies. This applies both to personnel and material, and to all branches of the Service. It is therefore urgently requested that at the earliest possible moment steps be taken to greatly enlarge the organization here with a view to ensuring that the Department, the Fleet, and the Forces here may fully benefit by all available war experience, ashore, afloat, material and otherwise in order that we may be better prepared for the possibilities of the future.

     10.  It is very gratifying to be able to report that our relations with the Allied services are excellent, and that they are proceeding without the slightest friction. This applies to the co-operation and relations here in London with the Admiralty and to those existing at the Queenstown base of our advance forces. In illustration of the latter, it may be of interest to state that the Vice-Admiral commanding all the anti-submarine forces based on Ireland has proposed to the Admiralty that when he goes on leave for a week during the latter part of June I be assigned to this command during his absence.8

Wm S. Sims.

Source Note: CyCS, DNA, RG45, Entry 517.

Footnote 1: On the arrival of the supply ship Melville, see: Sims to Daniels, 24 May 1917. By the date Sims wrote this letter, three divisions of American destroyers had arrived at Queenstown.

Footnote 2: This word was written in both as an interlineation and in the right margin.

Footnote 3: Created by American inventor Horace Carley in 1903, the Carley raft (or float), was widely used in warships during World War I. It was formed from a length of metal tubing bent into an oval ring, which was surrounded by buoyant kapok or cork and then covered with waterproof canvas. The raft was divided into compartments, was rigid, and floated equally well with either side up, even if the waterproof outer ring was punctured. Men could sit around the rim, or, if in the water, cling to rope loops strung around the raft’s edge. The largest model could accommodate up to fifty men, half inside the raft and half in the water.

Footnote 7: Dixie, which was, like Melville, a destroyer tender, arrived at Queenstown on 12 June. Sims to Daniels, 13 June 1917, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517. The arrival of Dixie came as something of a surprise to Sims as he never received the Nay Department’s dispatch about its movements. As a result of this failure in communications, Sims made arrangements with the Admiralty to use British naval codes for all important dispatches about ship movements. He also initiated the use of the word “acknowledge” at the end of all messages of this type as an additional check. Sims to Daniels, 11 June 1917, DNA, RG, 45, Entry 517B.

Footnote 8: In a letter to his wife of this date, Sims quoted the letter he had received from VAdm. Sir Lewis Bayly. It reads:

I have a suggestion. If I do on leave from June 18th to 23rd. would you like to run the show from here in my absence? I would like it (and you are the only man of whom I could truthfully say that), your fellows would like it, and it would have a good effect all around.

If you agree, go and see the First Sea Lord [Jellicoe] and we will arrange it between us without any frills; and if the Admiralty during my absence “regrets that you should have, etc.,” I will take the blame. If they give you a D.S.O. keep it. Sims to Anne Hitchcock Sims, 1 June 1917, DLC-MSS.

A D.S.O. was a Distinguished Service Order, a British decoration awarded to officers for meritorious or distinguished service. In a letter to his wife, Anne H. Sims on 7 June, Sims reported, “I have just been informed by the Admiralty that they agree to my commanding the Queenstown station during the British Vice Admiral’s absence on leave from the 18th to the 23rd. Admiral Jellicoe said he was delighted with the scheme (Sims to Anne Sims, 7 June 1917, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers container 9).” On 17 June Sims took command of all British and U.S. naval forces operating on the Irish coast. Queenstown Patrol, 196n.

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