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 Captain William V. Pratt, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations 

June 7th.1917.

My dear Pratt,

          Yours of the 15th. which came by the PATTERSON just received today, and I thank you very much for all the information.1

          You say you saw the last cable that I sent asking for you but you will know by this time that it was not the last one. I have sent up to date six cables on the subject, and I think the last one should pretty nearly convince those interested that I ought to have the man I ask for to help me in this difficult and delicate business.2

          I believe there is no case on record where Allies have operated together for any considerable length of time without more or less serious friction. I am out to make an exception in this matter. There has been to date material for any amount of friction, due to peculiar personalities, but I believe they have been successfully overcome. That other causes will arise is perfectly certain, and that in the immediate future. If we can get by these for a certain length of time, so as to really get into the game with these people, all danger of friction will disappear. That is why I want the assistance of a man upon whom I can depend.

          I therefore hope that there will be a change of heart on the other side in this respect and that they will let you come over as fast as you can get here.3

          It would also be a great advantage to have you come over with all of Admiral Benson’s policies in your mind. Of course, he told me all that he could before I left, but many changes have taken place since that time and I think it not unlikely that some of his policies may have changed with him.

          There is no doubt, as you say, that the Huns are playing a dangerous game in reference to Russia. However, their case is so desperate that they are justified in playing any game in which they have a chance to win.4

          I think your dope about Japan is about right.5 I do not think we will have anything to fear from them after this war is over for many years to come. Of course, the war itself is going to strengthen us immensely in a military sense and our battle fleet must soon hopelessly outstrip theirs.

          In your letter you refer to some new thing which you expect to be fitted on some unknown bunch of destroyers. The PATTERSON bunch has arrived but there is no news yet of this new thing. Perhaps you mean some destroyers that are coming later. Of these other destroyers we have no news yet.6 I may say, in this connection, that in many cases we are not well supplied with news as to the proposed movements of our vessels and sometimes even after they have moved. We get a good deal of information through the Admiralty or through the French Ministry of Marine, but sometimes it is not just the kind we want.

          As you know I am not the least bit thin-skinned about such matters, but I may mention that it is sometimes rather embarrassing to receive very important information through the Admiralty without my having had any previous intimation of it, especially when this information is merely mentioned in an Admiralty telegram quite incidentally.

          I need not of course tell you that I am necessarily excessively occupied with all the details I have to attend to. I try each week to send in as complete information as possible about all matters that have not been fully explained in cablegrams. The Board of the Admiralty have promised to supply me each week with information concerning the activities of their forces and this would be embodied in my weekly letter. I am sending this week a copy of the report, made by the Vice Admiral at Queenstown, which will give you a pretty good idea of what our destroyers are doing.7 This of course, only shows what actual contacts have been made so you should remember that for every time a destroyer sees a submarine and forces her to submerge, it is probable that many submarines have seen the destroyer and have submerged before they were observed. The submarine naturally dreads the destroyer’s speed and the great power of her 300 lb. depth charges, and they consequently take good pains to keep out of her way.

          I wrote you quite a long song and dance yesterday and you will receive it in this mail. Your letters are very welcome indeed as they contain practically all of the information about affairs at home that we get on this side, barring the notices we see in the British Press, which are very meagre.

          Please give my best love to Mrs.Pratt8 and ask her to remain as cheerful as she can under the circumstances. This last remark applies equally to you.

Always sincerely yours,

Source Note: TL, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, container 78. Following the first page at the top of each page is typed, “Captain Pratt, (Continued).” Following the closing is typed, “Captain W.V.Pratt, U.S.N./Navy Department/Washington, D.C./U.S.A.”

Footnote 1: See, Pratt to Sims, 15 May 1917, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, container 78.

Footnote 2: Sims had repeatedly requested Pratt be sent over to be his chief of staff. For example, see: Sims to Daniels, 24 May 1917. This was something that Pratt highly desired as well, and the lack of movement on this issue by his superiors frustrated him a great deal; see: Pratt to Sims, 27 May 1917.

Footnote 3: Despite the ardent wishes of both, Pratt never did make it overseas to assist Sims, remaining, instead, at the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, rising to become Assistant Chief of Naval Operations under Adm. William S. Benson. Wheeler, Pratt, 89-137.

Footnote 4: Sims is referring to the fact that, on 16 April, Vladimir Lenin had arrived back in Russia after twelve years in exile in Switzerland. Germany provided Lenin with special transportation via train to Russia in the hope that the anti-war Lenin and his Bolshevik party would disrupt the newly-formed Provisional Government (formed upon the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II on 15 March 1917) and perhaps even force Russia out of the war.

Footnote 5: See: Pratt to Sims, 27 May 1917.

Footnote 6: It is not clear to which “new thing” Pratt was referring.

Footnote 7: VAdm. Sir Lewis Bayly, Commander, Southern Ireland. His report has not been located.

Footnote 8: Pratt’s wife, Louise Johnson Pratt.

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