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 Carl V. van Anda, Managing Editor, New York Times

March 5th, 1918.

To: The Editor of


          New York, U.S.A.

Dear Sir,

          If the enclosed clipping is from the NEW YORK TIMES, I would be pleased to have you submit the following remarks to your naval expert.

          You will note in the <marked> last paragraph it is stated that “it has lately been the practice of enemy submarines to sail as a flotilla or to assemble at at a rendezvous in the path of an oncoming convoy, and attack in force.” The follows a graphic descriptions of how vessels attack in this manner. I am sure it will be of interest to you to know that there is no case on record since this war began of more than one submarine attacking at a time with torpedoes any ship or any convoy. There is no case on record of enemy submarines operating in flotillas. They do not even operate in pairs. The reason for this is simplicity itself, and that is, that it would be too dangerous for them to do so in any waters where they may encounter submarines of the Allies. The latter operate each within a prescribed area which is of course unknown to the enemy. As long as each remains within its own prescribed area it will always be perfectly safe in attacking any submarine that it sights. But the enemy submarine cannot attack any submarine sighted without the assurance that it is not one of their own. As this assurance by means of recognition signals is very difficult to give and receive from submarines, and under some circumstances quite impossible, it follows that it would be nearly suicidal for the Germans to attempt to operate except singly. As a matter of fact they not only operate singly, but they keep at very considerable distances from each other so that they may be free to attack any submarine that they see.

          The editorial in question, and many similar editorials, convey the impression that a great many German submarines are operating against the Allies at a time. It may therefore be of interest to know that the average number of submarines that are operating to the westward of the British Isles is not more than ten. Very often it is less than this, and very seldom a bit more.1

          The above facts are given to you for your personal information and that of your naval expert, and although you are at liberty to use these facts in any way that you please, it must be with the understanding that my name is not to be mentioned or indicated in any way.

Very sincerely yours,       


Vice Admiral. U.S.Navy.

Source Note: LT, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 75.

Footnote 1: In February 1917 there were 49 U-boats operating in the North Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and off the African coast. By May 1918 this number had doubled. How many of these were operating to the west of the British Islands is unclear, but it seems probable that Sims’ estimate was low. Gray, U-Boat War, 269.

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