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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 28, 1917:    TO: Secretary of the Navy:

THROUGH: State Department: (Mr. Shoecraft’s code)1

          Number fiftythree: With reference to problem and solution by Commander Schofield dated April seventeen stop2 Submarine attack is now almost exclusively with torpedo without submarine being seen at all before firing stop Actual extended experience demonstrates beyond question that neither men of war nor merchantmen can detect approach of submarine ten per cent of attacks stop This liberal estimate stop This fact independent of skill of half hour lookout or caliber or amount of armament or skill of guns crews stop Tactical discussions of gun encounters are futile stop: Destroyers and all types of war craft are not immune to attack any more than merchantmen except that submarine cannot expend torpedoes on them and accomplish his mission of destroying shipping stop: Another fundamental error in reasoning is discussion of any measure which cannot be applied immediately to all Allied essential shipping not in American plans which cannot affect present situation stop Protection of all Allied shipping in time – I repeat in time – is present mission stop Whatever efforts we can exert must be put into operation at once if they are to be effective stop Reliable submarines would be of great use to strengthen British submarine patrols and also as scouts ahead of convoys stop All submarines we can send to Irish Coast in time will therefore be invaluable in insuring success of convoy system and hence success of war provided these submarines are supplied from America and based upon their own mother ships.3


Source Note: Cy, UK-KeNA, Adm. 136/656. Below “THROUGH:” someone has written “Admiralty.” At the bottom of the page is a columnar list of where copies of this cable should be filed.

Footnote 1: Eugene Shoecraft was the secretary to United States Ambassador to Great Britain Walter Hines Page.

Footnote 2: In the study to which Sims is referring, Capt. Frank L. Schofield argued that, barring the ability of the Allies to destroy German submarine bases, the next best solution for combatting submarines was the Armed Guard system if certain changes were instituted. These changes included: each merchant vessel having two guns with longer range and firing at a flatter trajectory than the guns used by German submarines; a better fire control system; ample and reliable ammunition; suitable and better situated spotters; an efficient spotlight and a generous supply of binoculars. He also proposed there be a greater number of look-outs, a full gun crews, and at least two officers on each ship. Finally he wanted merchant ships to serve as naval auxiliaries under Navy command with “full liberty to act offensively.” Schofield Report, 17 April 1917, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 22.

Footnote 3: By war’s end, the United States Navy had stationed seven submarines at Berehaven, Ireland, and five in the Azores. Office of Naval Intelligence, Information Concerning the U. S. Navy and Other Navies (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1919), 25.