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 Anne Hitchcock Sims

[Extract]

30, Grosvenor Gardens,

London, S.W.

June 29th. 1918.

My dear Anne,

          . . . In the first place we are very much encouraged over conditions on the Western Front. There can be no doubt that it is still a dangerous one and that there are all sorts of possibilities, but there can also be no doubt that the Germans have been temporarily checked. Of course they are now massing their forces for another blow and there is no telling where it will come as they have the initiative and are operating on interior lines.1

          The encouraging features of the situation are the augmentation of the morale of all of the Allied armies through the failure of the Austrian offensive in Italy.2 The second is the quite remarkable work that has been done by our marines and soldiers. There is no doubt that the Germans made a deliberate effort with special troops to break through the Americans and discredit them as soldiers. In thisthey not only failed entirely, but they received a rude shock by reason of a certain quality which the American troops have and which they have not. This is the marksmanship of our men. For many years we have been training our soldiers and marines to shoot at individual targets at a long range. In one of the first engagements that took place between the Germans and our troops, the latter opened fire on the Germans at ranges above 600 yards, each man picking one of the enemy and firing at him and usually hitting him. This is not the practice to any extent in the European armies.3

          Our men are acquiring a fine reputation as soldiers and this is undoubtedly having a depressing effect upon the Germans.

          You know of course,how encouraging the submarine situation now is. Some time ago at a dinner here in London I made quite a casual remark about the condition of the submarine campaign and the building program and I note by the clippings that came back from America that this was received with great satisfaction all over the United States.

          In view of the success of this remark, we have concluded that it would be a useful thing for me to issue an interview in which this matter was gone into a little more fully, the interview to be an attempt to explain in the clearest possible manner the present condition of affairs, and to do this in such a way that the man on the street can understand it perfectly well. This interview will be published in the NEW YORK TIMES, probably tomorrow.4 The way the interview was gotten up is as follows: we talked the matter over with Grasty,5 and then I dictated a manuscript and Babby6 did the same. We then got together at dinner last night with Grasty and we compiled the two into an interview. We think we have succeeded in making it quite effective. You may or may not see this when it comes out so I will enclose with some clippings in this mail, a copy of the original manuscript.

          Please thank Sarah7 for the clipping she sent me from the ST.LOUIS paper. I am returning all of those you marked to be returned. I am also sending you a number of clippings of very considerable interest. One of these is from the BOSTON TRANSCRIPT, an editorial recommending that I be promoted to the rank of Admiral. The arguments he gives seem to be sound enough, except that he had the unwisdom and bad taste to minimise the services and positions of Admiral Mayo and Admiral Benson and so forth, in order to enforce his arguments. . . .8

          I am also sending you a copy of the correspondence which I had with the British Admiralty in reference to a certain Rear Admiral Lionel Halsey,9 who has been very good and very useful to us. Particular attention is invited to Admiral Halsey’s letter of acknowledgement to me in which he specifies the unfavorable attitude of British Naval officers towards us when we first came over here and how it has been overcome. A copy of this correspondence has been forwarded to Washington with the regular weekly report and I hope they will appreciate it. . . .10

          I am surprised and not a little disgusted to find the effect on the American people of the appearance of a submarine off our coast. Nothing could be more absurd than to suppose that a submarine could carry aeroplanes and that these could bombard our cities. It would be practically suicidal for one of these submarines to come as close in shore as would be necessary, this for the reason that a submarine is always in very grave danger when she is not in deep enough water to escape the vessels that carry depth charges. There is no human probability that a submarine would attempt to throw any shells into a city, but even if she did do so she has only two guns, with a couple of hundred projectiles each, and if they popped them all into New York the effect would be inconsiderable. . . .

          It is gratifying ot [i.e., to] hear what you have to say about the public trust in me. This I do not take to be a personal tribute but rather a tribute to the efficiency of our Navy. If anybody else had been in command he would be in the same position, assuming that he did not happen to be exactly the wrong kind of man. . . .

          There is also on the 4th July a baseball game between the Naval and Army headquarters. The King and Queen and some other members of the Royal family will attend, as well as nearly all of the Cabinet Ministers and a great many principal dignitaries of various kinds.11 The King will be receivedon the ground by General Biddle12 and myself and will throw the first ball. Pretty much all of London and his wife will be there, and it will be quite an occasion.13

          Before the middle of July, I will be off to France to make a tour of our stations on the west coast and elsewhere and wind up in Paris about July 24th. for the next meeting of the Inter-Allied Naval Council.

          <This is continued in a letter I wrote you last night—June 29.                                    Will

I inclose two copies in case you might care to use them. They are with the clippings.>

Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 10. The portion in angle brackets, including the signature, are handwritten. As seen in his second letter to his wife of this date, Sims dictated this letter to his secretary who then typed the final version.

Footnote 1: The Germans attempted one more offensive, the Marneshütz-Reims/Friedenssturm offensive, in early July but were repulsed and then went on the defensive thereafter until the armistice in November 1918.

Footnote 2: On the failure of the Austro-Hungarian Piave offensive, see: Richard H. Jackson to Sims, 24 June 1918.

Footnote 3: In an important book, historian Mark F. Grotelueschen argues that this “American advantage” was in fact a liability and retarded the progress of the AEF. Mark F. Grotelueschen, The AEF Way of War: The American Army and Combat in World War I (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

Footnote 4: The interview appears on the front page of the New York Times edition of 30 June 1918.

Footnote 5: Journalist Charles H. Grasty.

Footnote 6: Sims’ aide, Cmdr. John V. Babcock.

Footnote 7: Sara Hitchcock Shepley, Anne Sims’ older sister.

Footnote 8: Adm. Henry T. Mayo was commander-in-chief of the U.S. Atlantic fleet; Adm. William S. Benson was Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 9: RAdm. Lionel Halsey, R.N. was Third Sea Lord in the British Admiralty. He left to return to sea as commander of the Second Battlecruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet.

Footnote 11: King George V, Queen Mary and several of their daughters attended. London Times, 4 July 1818, p. 7.

Footnote 12: Gen. John Biddle, Acting U.S. Army Chief of Staff.

Footnote 13: Attendance estimates varied between 18,000 and 70,000. Mike McNally of the Red Sox, who was the Navy team captain, estimated 50,000. “King George V Watchign American Baseball,” MLB.com, Accessed on 18 June 1918, https://www.mlb.com/cut4/king-george-v-watched-american-baseball-in-1918/c-275791064.

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