Captain William V. Pratt, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters
Office of Naval Operations
March 12, 1918.
I haven’t had the slightest opportunity to write to you, as I would like had I more leisure. Babcock1 has probably explained to you the entire situation as he got a pretty fair insight. There are two things I would like, however, which would help me out:
1. when can we expect Foley?2 For, if he is not coming back soon we have got to make arrangements to get a man to take his place. Nobody is doing his work now in our planning section.
2. I wish you would be sure to send me copies of the letters you write to the Admiral.3 I see many of them of course, but there are one or two, and very important ones at that, relating to the general political situation, etc., etc., which I have only come across inadvertently, particularly the one on the Italian situation.4 Now, those letters are extremely important to me as I handle all the cables dealing with plans, strategy and the political situation, and they are apt to give me an insight into affairs which I do not always get from a short cable. If you want these matters attended to with full knowledge, I think it best to let me have copies of these letters, because I probably keep more fully in touch with the general situation than anyone else here, as that is my particular job.
I am trying to remain cheerful, although the general situation is not one which leads me to be especially optimistic just at present. As far as I can see it, it is a plain case of putting your teeth in and hanging on, and the grim determination not to be shaken off is worth more than anything else. That is the one thing I hope our people have, and it won’t do any harm to have that idea brought home to them pretty strongly.
Belknap5 said you wanted to know whether I was mad or had a grouch because I did not write. There is nothing like that I know of. I am still with you, working as hard as I know how to push ahead this end of the game as I see it, but in so doing I do not get much chance for anything except to eat, sleep and work.
The kid is fine. He is getting to be a very handsome baby and looks more like me every day.
Admiral W. S. Sims.
P. S.:-Of course, about Foley, I realize that if he is
exceedingly valuable to you, as he probably is, I would make no kick, but I really would like to know because then I will try to make a drive to get some other man to fill his place, a thing which would be very difficult to do. Nevertheless, I would not think of trying to get Foley back so long as you think you ought to have him. This, however, you must consider as being strictly personal on my part, and not official, because I am not the ruler of the destinies of these people.
Dear Sims: - Entirely Personal and Confidential.6
I haven’t written really because I haven’t time, but also I can’t always express myself as definitely and directly as I frequently would like to. You can readily understand that the one thing I can’t afford to do is to lose my job here or in any way undermine the confidence I now enjoy. You know my real sentiments. You know I am heart and soul in it to win this war, and I suspect you have a clear idea of how I feel about the “who is who” in this case. I am with you to the finish. Now I have no d—- fool ideas about being the one man to push things along here. Any one with reasonable brains, absolutely devoted to the cause, thoroughly impersonal & who has followed the game can do it, but I have found very few with the faith to believe and to accept implicitly the rules of the game as laid down by the fighting man at the front. I worry constantly about the old man [Benson] and his desire to delve into details. He must be spared on account of his strict integrity. I fear Fletcher7 would get the job if anything happened and were that to occur goodbye to you and to me & the present policies we are trying to carry on. That is why I hang on. I hardly dare leave the office tho. right now I am not a well man and need a change. Just as soon as our organization stiffens up a little [I] shall cut it for a couple of weeks.
Mayo8 nor any other man will replace you so long as the present organization stands. I had a definite settlement with the Admiral on this point. If the point ever comes up for a throw down it will result in your being put in command of the European Forces as an Admiral. It ought to be thus now, but we have to go slow.
You have no conception of all the difficulties in the way of pursuing a steadfast course in the matter of a fixed policy. It takes so little to put some people on the defensive. They don’t see and keep in mind the 60% in your force that act offensively. I told Gaunt9 when Vice Admiral Grant10 arrived to go slow on [being] too much defensive. He promptly sent his cable to the Admiralty talked defensive to the Secty,11 and the fat was in the fire. We have trusted you to let us know when it was necessary to hold back anything. Sometimes I get home sick, but so long as I feel well [I] keep a plugging.
I got the copy of the Admiral’s letter after all so it is OK.12 I see you are sending them.
Don’t lay it to me altogether because you get some pretty tart messages. I do a tremendous lot of toning down you never know about. This must be Strictly Confidential & Personal. I wouldn’t have anything happen to Admiral Benson for worlds. He is the one strong man here, but we watch him like hawks to see that his health stands up under it. I have learned to have the greatest admiration and real personal affection for his sterling character, which a rounder and more or less worthless cuss like myself can never have. He knows I have no virtues, but the one of being absolutely loyal to the cause & trusts me. He never trusts a man who has ever fooled him & he has strong likes and dislikes. The Navy is safe in his hands, but God help us if it ever got out of them, for the strong men are not to be found; who are willing to stand public abuse and still pursue a steadfast course.
The very very bent of a solid & old man. I don’t have to write for you to know that. I don’t change and have no personal irons in any fire.
Source Note: ALS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 78. The letter is written on Navy Department stationery. In the upper left-hand corner is a printed note: “In reply refer to initials/and No.”
Footnote 1: Cmdr. John V. Babcock, one of Sims’ aides, was on temporary duty in Washington at this time.
Footnote 2: Cmdr. Paul Foley, an expert advisor on matters related to shipping and transport of material goods and supplies.
Footnote 3: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations.
Footnote 4: See: Sims to Benson, 15 February 1918.
Footnote 5: Cmdr Charles R. Belknap, Jr., one of Benson’s aides. See: Belknap to Sims, 11 March 1918.
Footnote 6: Whereas the preceding portion of this letter was typewritten, this, and the remainder of the letter, was handwritten by Pratt. The editors wish to thank Mai-Anh Tran for her assistance is the transcription of this portion of Pratt’s letter.
Footnote 7: Adm. Frank F. Fletcher, a member of the Navy's General Board.
Footnote 8: Adm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet.
Footnote 9: Commo. Guy R. Gaunt, British Naval Attaché at Washington.
Footnote 10: VAdm. William Lowther Grant, Commander-in-Chief, North America and West Indies Station. Grant had received this promotion on 7 January 1918.
Footnote 11: Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.
Footnote 12: It is not clear which letter Pratt is referring to here, but it may perhaps be Sims to Benson, 7 March 1918.