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 Rear Admiral Leigh C. Palmer, Chief, Bureau of Navigation

Office Vice-Admiral, Commanding

U.S.Destroyer Force,

European Waters.

LONDON, June 11, 1917.

My dear Palmer,

The necessity for our co-ordinating and keeping in touch with the British Secret Service has arisen, as perhaps you have seen by my dispatches on the subject.

The chief of the Secret Service here, a naval officer, has suggested that I have a representative in his office. Lieutenant Van der Veer is known to the principal Secret Service officials, and his assignment would be very agreeable to them. I should therefore appreciate it if he could be sent over for this work as soon as his duties in connection with other work are completed.1

In this connection, I am very anxious to get as many officers with previous destroyer experience over here as possible. In addition to strictly military war duties, all sorts of demands are being thrown on our destroyers – demands requiring peculiar destroyer seamanship, – picking up survivors, manoeuvring in assistance of wrecked vessels, and all sorts of other requirements with which you are, of course, fully familiar.

The moment our destroyers clear the boom defences of Queenstown they are playing with death every minute, and hence the mental strain is very severe, and both officers and men who are not equal to such tests soon exhibit themselves. We can hardly afford to tolerate such men a moment, as the safety of not only the lives of all on board, but also of the ship itself as a military unit is involved, and may be dependent upon an individual at the most unexpected time. The necessity has already arisen for taking a couple of officers and some men off the destroyers, and either leaving their positions vacant or, if possible, replacing them from the “MELVILLE”.2 A weeding-out process cannot be escaped in war, as it can in peace. You know how we all struggle along under difficulties of this nature in time of peace, and hesitate until the last moment to use severe measures, which generally have to be backed up with lengthy correspondence, if not a court martial. There is no time for such procedure now.

It is on account of these considerations that I have urgently appe<a>led for a reserve personnel of both officers and men, and my requests have been based on British Admiralty experience and practice.3 There is a young fellow by the name of Williams, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, who used to be on the BEALE, whom I would like very much to see over here, ready to step into other fellows’ shoes.4 I should also like to have Belknap, Evans, Ancrum, Parker, and any others of the old flotilla gang.5

In addition to the necessity of reserve officers and men on account of dangers involved, there is also the vital question of upkeep of machinery, and the unusual discipline required under war conditions. I will probably have to relieve the young engineer officer of the “TRIPP” in a short time. He is a well-intentioned young fellow, but is inexperienced, and I fear some of the engineering troubles the “TRIPP” is experiencing are due to this young man’s inexperience and immature methods.6

I know how busy you are in Navigation these days; but I sincerely hope, in the interests of the Service over here, that you can find it possible to go to a rather unusual length in the matter of selection of the personnel which you send us.7

I assume you are seeing all my reports and dispatches, and as they have been so somplete [i.e., complete] I will not attempt to add anything here, except to say that so far everything is very satisfactory; and this particularly applies to the relations existing between our forces and the British Service.

I hope it is fully appreciated in the Department that in all human probability the submarine issue will be decided between now and the coming of the long nights in the fall. If the enemy cannot gain their objective in that time they can hardly gain it at all. As in all other military questions the element of time is the most important, and hence I trust that preparations are under way at home to get over the very maximum number of destroyers and other anti-submarine craft that can reach this side with the least possible delay.

Sincerely yours,

Source Note: TL, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, container 77. Addressed below close: “Rear-Admiral L.C.Palmer,/Bureau of Navigation,/Navy Department,/WASHINGTON, D.C.” Note in upper left-hand corner of first page: “Admiral Sims’/Personal File.”

Footnote 1: Sims had requested Lt. Norman R. Van der Veer in earlier correspondence. See: Sims to Josephus Daniels, 1 June 1917. As noted there, the editors are unable to confirm if Van Der Veer was ever sent to serve in this post.

Footnote 2: In a letter dated 20 August 1917, in which he again asked Palmer to send replacement officers for the destroyers, Sims wrote that he had transferred “nearly” every officer except department heads from Melville and Dixie to the serve in the destroyer division. DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, container 77.

Footnote 4: Raleigh C. Williams served as an Ensign on Beale in 1915.

Footnote 5: Charles Belknap, Jr.Frank T. Evans, William Ancrum, and Edward C. S. Parker, all of whom formerly commanded destroyers.

Footnote 6: The engineering officer, Lt. Howard A. Flanigan, was replaced. See: Sims to Daniels, 16 June 1917

Footnote 7: The Navy department answered Sims request for officers to form a reserve for “active forces” in a cable of 23 June 1917. See: Daniels to Sims, 23 June 1917.