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 Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations

June 29th.1918.

My dear Admiral.

          I returned the day before yesterday from a trip to Queenstown where I went to look into certain matters in connection with the barracks, air service, and so forth. I found everything in the usual very satisfactory condition. All we need now are a sufficient number of planes to have our air stations co-operate with the patrols and convoys off the coast of Ireland.

          The hospital is rapidly proceeding toward completion under the efficient direction of Dr.Carpenter.1 The barracks for the men will be proceeded with immediately. These barracks will enable us to get 40 or 50% more work out of the repair ships. In the meantime a night repair gang are quartered in a house we have fixed up on the recreation ground.

          I have been much impressed by a report on the personnel of the various bases over here made by Lieut.Commander Davy of the Bureau of Navigation.2 This young man is certainly  very thorough; he has the faculty and the patience to acquire all of the information that is going, and he has the brain to analyse what it all means. I read his report with a great deal of pleasure and some profit. There were points made which I had not considered. Doubtless Palmer3 will call your attention to the points that will interest you. Davy took home a copy of the report with him and left the original here. That is being forwarded by this mail.4

          While at Queenstown I went down to Bantry Bay to visit the air station on Wooddy Island and at Bantry Bay.5 These are in such a stage of completion that they can be operated as soon as the machines are received.

          I went on board and inspected the BUSHNELL and found her and the submarines based on her in excellent condition. The personnel of the submarines over here is very enthusiastic over their duty. They all freely acknowledge the amount of information they have been able to acquire of submarine operations under war conditions. It is astonishing what a difference there is in the attitude of men working under war conditions and working under peace conditions.

          In the weekly report that went while I was away, there was forwarded a correspondence that I had with the Admiralty and with the Third Sea Lord, Rear-Admiral L.Halsey.6 The latter being the material man was more in contact with us than perhaps any other officer, and he helped us so much that when he was detached for sea service I wrote the Admiralty a letter and sent him a copy. My letter to the Admiralty, the Admiralty’s reply, and a letter from Admiral Halsey to me were enclosed with the weekly report. If these have not been brought to your attention I would like to have you glance over them, particularly the letter from Admiral Halsey in which he speaks of the attitude that British Naval Officers had towards us when we came into the war and how successfully this attitude has been overcome. This will give an idea of the difficulties we had to encounter and the delicacy of the situation when we started in.

          All this is to accentuate the really vital necessity of permanence in positions over here for the duration of the war. One of my trials has been the changing of officers after they have established relations similar to those outlined in Admiral Halsey’s letter. It was proposed at one time to replaced McBride.7 They succeeded in replacing Dr.Pleadwell.8 They proposed to replace the gunnery man on my staff by a succession of officers to remain each a short length of time. This is not only a bad business, as shown by the correspondence in question, but it is bringing upon me an unnecessary strain and decreasing the efficiency of the work at least during the time necessary to make the change.

          I received recently from McGowan a letter indicating that he would like to have Tobey replaced. It would take me a long time to explain to you the extreme value that Tobey has been and now is to the whole business side of this concern. He is not only one of the ablest men of my acquaintance, but he has been able to establish with all of the Admiralty and with many of the business men of the city, relations which are essential and invaluable. I have attempted to explain this to Admiral McGowan in a telegram and I hope that he will see the point. We want to do the best we can to end this war as quickly as possible and we are not doing our best if we decrease efficiency by changing the duties of officers except when it is wholly essential to do so.9

          In my last letter to you I sent a copy of a letter of mine to Wilson.10 After talking the whole matter of the air service over with Cone11 he has gone to Brest to try and make a practicable arrangement that will remove all possible friction. Of course the whole operation of the air service in France will be under Wilson when the stations are ready for operation. Cone will be back here in a few days and shortly afterwards I intend to go and make a thorough inspection of all of the stations in France.

          I hope that everything can be arranged satisfactorily and permanently. There is no reason why it could not be except the personal reason which I have explained in former letters.12

          I think it quite likely that theFrench coast has been over-organized. The number of officers seems to me to be many more than would be necessary if the organization were more centralized instead of being on the district system, which has not been found necessary elsewhere.

          Before returning from France I will attend the Allied Naval Council that is to meet after the middle of July.13

          I find as the war goes on that a not inconsiderable part of my duty is in connection with the boom that has recently been given to the question of bringing together the Americans, Canadians and British. A number of organizations have been gotten up for this purpose. These are under official direction and at the openings and other functions it is necessary that I should attend and make the usual “few remarks”.

          On the 4th.July there will be a very large meeting of all the principal governmental dignitaries in celebration of that day, and both General Biddle14 and I will be obliged to make a “few remarks”. The same thing applies to a dinner given by the American Society in London, of which the Ambassador15 is a member. All this not to mention the baseball game which the King is going to attend and throw the first ball.16

          I recently received a very cordial letter from Admiral de Bon, the Chief of the French Naval Staff,17 in acknowledgement of a clipping that I sent him from a Newport paper, specifying that on Decoration Day Mrs.Sims and the children placed a wreath upon the grave of the French Admiral – de Ternay – in Trinity Churchyard.18 I had no hand in this at all, in fact I did not know that there was a French Admiral buried in Newport, but the children found it out through the activities of the small Club to which they belong, whose object is to study all historical points of interest. The incident was entirely personal and private and got into the papers quite accidentally. However, it gratified the French very much indeed and brought forth a very warm letter from Admiral de Bon.

          There is very considerable discussion at present as to the probable outcome of recent events in Russia. It is the general opinion that things cannot remain in the present condition for very long. It is of course essential that this problem be understood if possible. In this connection I have recently gotten a book written by the man who is supposed to know more about the mind and nature of the Russians than almost any other European. I should think that you would find it of absorbing interest at the present time. The title is THE ECLIPSE OF RUSSIA by Dr.E.J.Dillon.

          Therehas been some little anxiety recently for fear that the army would insist upon placing the air service of both army and navy under one head. A distinct proposition was made by the general who commands the army air service, who came directly from General Pershing to me.19 Cone was present in London at the time and we explained very carefully the function of the airplanes that belong to the Navy, particularly those of the bombing section at Dunkirk. Cone left London immediately and went directly to see General Pershing and he reports to me that his interview with the General was entirely satisfactory.

          Incidentally, this incident, and many others of similar kinds, show the great value of a man of Cone’s experience, personality and tact.

          I enclose herewith a letter just received from him which will show you how satisfactory the conditions are, at least for the present. You will note in this letter that General Pershing is very well disposed towards us. This is also the report made to me by Commander Roger Williams, who was recently attached to General Pershing’s staff. The remarks in question are not the least bit perfunctory, but our relations are really as satisfactory as you could imagine them to be. General Pershing is even reported to have said that if there was any friction at all between the Army and Navy officers he would at once remove the Army officer. Personally, I like Pershing very much indeed, and I believe he likes me. This is a fortunate circumstance, because we have seen by examples over here, how very detrimental friction between the two services can be.

Very sincerely yours,            

Source Note: TL, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 49. Addressed below close: Admiral W.S.Benson, U.S.Navy./Chief of Naval Operations ,/Navy Department./Washington.D.C.”

Footnote 1: Dr. Dudley N. Carpenter was in charge of the base hospital at Queenstown, Ireland.

Footnote 2: Lt. Cmdr. Charles G. Davy.

Footnote 3: RAdm. Leigh C. Palmer, Chief of the Bureau of Navigation.

Footnote 4: The report has not been found.

Footnote 5: This sentence is confusing as the airbase at Whiddy Island was called the Bantry Bay station. Rossano, Stalking the U-Boat, 222. Possibly Sims meant the airbase at Aghada, which was located at the southeastern end of Cork harbor. Ibid., 216.

Footnote 6: On the correspondence of RAdm. Sir Lionel Halsey, see: Sims to Daniels, 21 June 1918.

Footnote 7: Naval Constructor Comdr. Lewis B. McBride.

Footnote 8: Medical Inspector Capt. Frank L. Pleadwell. See: Pleadwell to Sims, 13 September 1917.

Footnote 9: A copy of Sims’ letter to Paymaster General Samuel McGowan, dated 29 June 1918, is in the William S. Sims Papers, DLC-MSS.

Footnote 11: Capt. Hutchison I. Cone, Commander, Naval Aviation Forces in Europe.

Footnote 12: See, for example: Sims to Benson, 14 June 1918.

Footnote 13: The Allied Naval Council met on 23 July 1918. Trask, Captains & Cabinets, 278.

Footnote 14: Gen. John Biddle, Acting U.S. Army Chief of Staff.

Footnote 15: United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom Walter Hines Page.

Footnote 16: For more on this baseball game, see: Sims to Anne Hitchcock Sims, 29 June 1918.

Footnote 17: Adm. Ferdinand-Jean-Jacques de Bon.

Footnote 18: Charles-Henri-Louis d’Arsac, Cheavlier de Ternay had commanded the fleet that brought the French army under Comte de Rochambeau to America. They landed in Newport, RI, and Ternay died there of typhus on 15 December 1780. Lee Kennett, The French Forces in America, 1780-83 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1977).

Footnote 19: Gen. Mason M. Patrick, Chief of Air Service, and Maj. Gen. John J. Pershing, Commander, American Expeditionary Forces. See: Sims to Pershing, 7 June 1918.

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