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 American Ambassador to Great Britain Walter Hines Page

QUEENSTOWN, [Ireland]

25th June, 1917.

My dear Ambassador.

          I consider it my duty to send you herewith for your information, copies of a letter and certain messages which are typical of what I have been sending to the Navy Department.1

          You will see from the Department’s only reply, dated June 20th, that I am not having any success in getting more vessels sent over into the critical area here.2

          All of the material assistance being organized by our Government will be futile if we do not take immediate steps to insure safe passage of such essential supplies through the submarine zone, that is, through the enemy’s lines.

          It is useless for us to manufacture, grow, and build munitions, foods, and ships, and assemble and train soldiery, unless at the same time, and in time, we also take effective steps to insure that such measures will safely reach the points where it will help to defeat the enemy. If we attempt to furnish this help in a larger degree than the enemy can sink it, we might perhaps eventually accomplish our purpose, but the grave danger is that the Allies will be brought to terms before such a course could be carried out.

          It remains a fact that at present the enemy is succeeding and we are failing. Ships are being sunk faster than they can be replaced by the building facilities of the world. This simply means that the enemy is winning the war. There is no mystery about that. The submarines are rapidly cutting the Allied lines of communication. When they are out, or sufficiently interfered with, we must accept the enemy’s terms.

          It is a poor war plan indeed that does not involve attacking the enemy’s war craft or forcing them to attack ours. Stated briefly the unsuccessful plan we are not pursuing is about as follows:-

(a) Allowing the enemy to concentrate his efforts    exclusively against wholly inadequately protected shipping (our necessary lines of communication) in a zone through which our supplies now pass, and must continue to pass.

(b) Maintaining a relatively large number of our available anti-submarine forces on the great stretch of American coast lines which lie over three thousand miles away in areas in which the enemy not only is not operating, but cannot profitably operate.

          The enemy is perfectly content to have us
“protect” our great stretch of unattacked coast lines as long as he will never have to, and in fact could not afford to, approach those distant lines in order to defeat us.

          Mr. Lloyd George was perfectly right in saying that what we needed was Ships! Ships! Ships! And more Ships!3 But he didn’t explain that those ships needed are of two kinds, namely:-

            FIRST:- Ships to oppose the enemy’s war vessels:

            SECOND:-Ships to carry the supplies we must have.

          The necessity for both in adequate numbers is vital, but either onealone is unavailing.

          The fact must be thoroughly realised that the war is being, and must continue to be, fought exclusively on this side of the Atlantic, and that it will be won by us, or lost, with the next few months.

          It cannot be won by any accumulation of naval forces on our coast lines or in any other areas except those in which the war is being fought, and must continue to be fought.

          It must be lost, or very undsatisfactorily terminated, if there is not an immediate and sufficient accumulation of anti-submarine forces here in the critical areas. This for the simple reason that, if the shipping losses continue at the present rate – the Allies cannot win.4

          I feel that I would fail in my duty if I did not continue to keep you informed of the situation.

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517. Note at top of first page: “COPY OF LETTER WRITTEN BY ADMIRAL SIMS FROM QUEENSTOWN.” The identity of the “Ambassador” is not given, but it is clear from context that it was Walter Hines Page.

Footnote 1: It is not known which “letter” and “messages” Sims enclosed but, see: Sims to Daniels, 14 June 1917; and Sims to Daniels, 21 June 1917; as typical responses.

Footnote 3: David Lloyd George was Prime Minister of Great Britain. Sims was actually paraphrasing him. In a speech to a group of Americans shortly after America’s entry into the war, Lloyd George reportedly said that victory was “to be found in one word, ships, in a second word, ships and a third word, ships.” Kennedy, Over Here: 175.

Footnote 4: Despite Sims’ pessimism here, most historians agree that with the adoption of convoying, the war against the German U-boat had begun to swing in the Allies’ favor. See, for example, Halpern, A Naval History of World War I, 340-44; 359-70.

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