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

Office Admiral, Commanding

U.S. Destroyer Forces,  

European waters.   

LONDON,   June 8, 1917,

From: Vice Admiral Sims.

To: Secretary of the Navy.

Subject:  General Report concerning Destroyer Force, British Waters.

Enclosures:    Two (Confidential)

     1.   Concerning military operations of our Forces, there is little to add which has not been previously reported or included in cable dispatches.

          In view of the importance of the element of time and the delays encountered in correspondence, I am not hesitating to use the cable freely.

     2.   There is attached a confidential memorandum of the activities of the British and our own forces in the Queenstown area between the 7th May and 1st June; also a memorandum from the British Chief of Staff.1

          As the majority of the area in question is covered by destroyers, it should be borne in mind that submarines avoid destroyers as much as possible, and hence that the number actually sighted, or engaged at long range, by destroyers is not an accurate indication at all of the number of submarines which have seen destroyers, and hence whose operations have been thereby interfered with.

     3.   The Queenstown area is the avenue of approach for the most valuable shipping, both into the Irish Sea, and, as a rules, into the Channel, and hence the operations of our forces concentrated in that area are now, and will continue to be, of valuable assistance to the allied cause. The extent of this assistance will probably never be fully known until we are in possession of the enemy’s contribution to the history of the war.

     4.   There are many important considerations which lead me to recommend that, regardless of any general arrangements or combinations which may be made to relieve the general fuel oil situation in Europe, the importance of which is not to be depreciated, it is nevertheless considered advisable to replace the fuel used by our naval vessels in military operations as rapidly as possible.2

          I am particularly anxious, and feel sure that I am in accord with the Department’s policy thereon, that our forces should be entirely self-sustaining at all times.

     5.   It is assumed that the primary purpose of the U.S.Naval orga[n]isation here in London is to serve as the co-ordinating link on this side between the Department and the British and French Admiralties, - or in other words, between the U.S. and Allied Naval Services in prosecution of the war. It is therefore a duty to keep the Department informed of any difficulties which may be encountered and the best means of correcting them, as seen from the view point here.

     6.   The paramount difficulties so far involved have been due to the lack of an adequate experienced staff, as fully set forth in previous dispatches.

     7.   It is also essential to the efficiency of the organisation that the Department’s policy, plans, and intentions, should be known in a general way at all times. It is for this reason that I have previously request a weekly information dispatch for the sole purpose of information as to matters of policy and prospective plans, in order that the activities of this organisation may be thoroughly co-ordinated with those of the Department; and, what is more important, that our Service may be at all time prepared for any developments or emergencies, and that its activities may be directed to an end of the maximum service to the Allied Cause.

     8.   It is considered important, for example, that I should be kept informed of the Department’s policy concerning the Battleship Fleet, as well as the employment and movement of our other naval forces. While, up to the present, radical changes in the employment and movement of our other naval fo<r>ces have not been presented to us for consideration, nevertheless the uncertainties of the military situation may at any time bring such questions to the front. The possibility of Russia making a separate peace, of Norway coming into [t]he war, which would facilitate the blockade of the Skagerrack, or an attempt to control the baltic, and similar considerations, cannot be disregarded.3 The question of the disposition and employment of our forces and the minimum time in which, for example, a cruiser or battleship force could be started for other areas, might at any time prove of great assistance in meeting situations which may arise.

     9.   Another serious difficulty encountered in the duty here arises through indefinite knowledge of the kind and character of information needed by the Department.

     The element of time may be of such importance that the difficulties of communication should not be allowed to restrict or limit the flow of information by cable. It is requested that the cable be used freely and that new codes be placed in preparation immediately, in order that they may be frequently changed in the future.

     Until an adequate and reliable coding staff is available here, it will be necessary to continue using Embassy staff and codes.

     10.  While it is a matter of indifference as to the means by which information is transmitted (provided, of course, they are safe), measures should be taken to insure its being complete and in time to service its purpose.

          As an illustration of this point, it may bestated that at times I have been in ignorance, or in doubt, as to the proposed movements of our forces, and also as to their actual movements, until information was first obtained from the British Admiralty.

     I wish to make it quite clear that there is no possible objection to timely, accurate, and complete information being sent in this manner; but the point is that at times I have received my first knowledge of important information from a casual reference in a British cablegram upon another subject. The assumption of the official who sent the cablegram (usually Admiral De Chair or Captain Gaunt)4 has apparently been that I had full information and had communicated the same to the Admiralty. Such incidents are not only somewhat embarrassing, but necessarily create an unfavorable imppression which is not removed by subsequent information.

     Examples in point are as follows:-

     Department’s notification of sailing of CUSHING Division received three days after vessels has sailed from Halifax, information of their sailing from the United States having been learned in the Admiralty. Information was received from the Admiralty that sailing of the “Fourth Flotilla” had been postponed indefinitely, but have had no confirmation of this fact to date.

     On May 29th received Department’s cable that PATTERSON Division had sailed from St. Johns on May 26, having seen a previous Admiralty dispatch from British Commander of this sailing.

     Have been shown Admiralty dispatches which included information concerning our forces operating in South Atlantic, and was asked questions concerning them which I was unable to answer.

     I was sent for by French Chief of Staff5 to arrange for escort of NEPTUNE and JUPITER through danger zone. At that time I had no information of the movements of those ships. Informed later by Admiralty that destroyers were accompanying NEPTUNE and JUPITER, and were to join Queenstown forces later, but have no confirmation of this fact to date.

     I have received repeated inquiries concerning the number and character of patrol craft to be sent to France which I was unable to answer.6

     11.  The uncertain possibilities of the future and the military necessity of keeping the Department supplied with adequate information to insure maximum preparation for future emergencies lead me to urge the Department’s early action concerning the subjects set forth herein.

     12.  At the suggestion of Vice Admiral Bayly, R.N.,7 Commander-in-Chief, Irish Station, which includes the Queenstown area, I will assume command of that Station in the near future during the temporary absence of the British Vice-Admiral. This action meets with the full approval of the Admiralty, as the good effect it will have on the relations between our force is apparent.



Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.

Footnote 1: The enclosures referred to are no longer with this document.

Footnote 2: For more on the oil shortage, see: John V. Babcock to Reginald E. Gillmor, 21 May 1917.

Footnote 3: Russia eventually made a separate peace on 13 March 1918. Norway, while pro-Entente, never officially entered the war, even though their neutral shipping was under constant attack from German submarines. WWI Encyclopedia, Vol. 3: 858.

Footnote 4: Adm. Dudley R. S. De Chair, and Commo. Guy R. Gaunt, British Naval Attaché at Washington.

Footnote 5: Rear Admiral Michel Morin.

Footnote 6: The United States Navy intended to provide the French with manned patrol vessels, but the Department withheld them from the European Theater until a solid coastal defense force was established in the United States. See: Montague Browning to British Admiralty, 13 April 1917.

Footnote 7: VAdm. Lewis Bayly.