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Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels


SENT: June 14, 1917.    TO: Secretary of the Navy.

THROUGH: Admiralty (Via Naval Attache, Washington.)1

     92. Following for United States Chief of Naval Operations2 from Vice Admiral Sims begin. General situation and prospects for immediate future very grave. All fuel, food, and other supply and army assistance which we can render is entirely dependent upon ability to insure safe passage through dangerous submarine areas this side. The prospect of the immediate future and available vessels for escort duty is cause for great concern. Whatever is done to mee[t] the situation must be done immediately. British are in process of changing from previous methods of handling shipping to the convoy system. The first convoy from Hampton Roads has arrived safely, two more are en route and convoys from Gibraltar and across North Sea have proved successful. Every indication points to the desirability of adopting the convoy system for all traffic and particularly from our North Atlantic ports, the latter dependent upon question of providing cruisers to keep convoy together while crossing Atlantic and protect the ships against raiders and also the question of escorts through submarine zones. Our help is very much needed for both purposes and particularly the latter. But the difficulties confronting the entire convoy situation are serious and primarily depend upon the question of escorts through submarine zones. There are not now sufficient vessels available for escort duty to ensure safety of all vital supplies and also prospective movements of our troops and their supplies. As our troops and their supplies will approach European coast out side of zones used by shipping and shipping convoys it is mandatory that information be given immediately as to the probable numbers and times of sailing of all army shipping in next three months as on this depends the programme of merchant ship convoys which must be arranged some time ahead. The approach of our first army convoys will seriously embarrass the shipping situation as it will require all destroyers based on Queenstown thus necessitating entire suspension of patrol and escort duty in the area. I cannot lay too mcuh [i.e. much] stress upon the urgent necessity of increasing the destroyer and other patrol forces here with utmost dispatch. Cannot other craft be sent also. Anything armed which can make above twelve knots and keep the sea will relieve the situation. Our shipping and our coast is better protected in the field of enemy activity than in any other place. It is doubtful if the enemy will send any submarines on our coast, but it is a certainty that even if they do it can only be a movement or diversion calculated to influence as in withholding our forces from critical area. Submarines cannot work efficiently or in numbers or for any length of time off our coast. In any case the submarine campaign can never be effective if not concentrated at the focus of all lines of communication. Urgently request answering next 24 hours if possible as to prospective movements of all army shipping in next two or three months.3 This information is of vital importance. Also request information as to probable additions to anti-submarine forces these waters.4 The Admiralty informs me that present prospect is that if oil supplies are protected food supplies cannot be. I again urgently recommend that all destroyers that can be brought to the Coast of Ireland be sent at once. Message ends.


Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Document is labeled with: “Copies: Confirmation, Chronological, - Subject.”

Footnote 1: Commo. Guy R. Gaunt, British Naval Attaché at Washington.

Footnote 2: Adm. William S. Benson.

Footnote 3: For Daniels’ response, see: Daniels to Sims, 17 and 20 June 1917.

Footnote 4: Benson was not particularly enthusiastic about the convoy system. See: Benson to Henry T. Mayo, 25 May 1917.