Skip to main content

Captain Volney O. Chase, Acting Chief of Naval Operations, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Destroyers Operating from British Bases


To:                                          May 26, 1917.

     Vice Admiral Sims,

          care Vice Admiral Commanding,


Best wishes cabled by Daniels on your appointment Vice Admiral made by President period2 Pratt not available3 Morton4 <writes> period quote  Major General John J. Pershing United States Army with Staff leaves on the S.S. BALTIC New York May twenty-eighth for Liverpool5 Period  Communicate with British Admiralty and take whatever steps necessary to provide protective escorts of United States Destroyers for <BALTIC> through danger zone6    V. O. Chase, Acting Unquote. Mac<D>ougall.

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517. Whoever decoded the message made several errors that were later corrected, presumably when this document was being prepared for publication in the 1920’s. The mistakes were crossed through and the corrections written above the cross-through. The cross-throughs are done in such a way that in most cases it is impossible to read the original text. Therefore the editors have used the corrected version and indicated them with angle brackets. At the top of the page is a signed notation that reads: “26 May 1917./Will Captain Phillpotts kindly send the following telegram/for me? With thanks MacDougall,/Captain, U.S.N.” The message is typed but MacDougall’s signature is handwritten. Capt. Edward M. Phillpotts was an assistant to First Sea Lord Adm. Sir John R. Jellicoe. Capt. William D. MacDougall was the United States Naval Attaché at London.

Footnote 1: VAdm. Sir Lewis Bayly, Commander, Coast of Ireland.

Footnote 2: On the same date, President Woodrow Wilson (not Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels), sent a telegram promoting Sims to the rank of Vice-Admiral, "Commanding United States Destroyers Operating from British Bases” in accordance with an act of Congress passed on 22 May. DNA, RG 45, Entry 517.

In a letter of 26 May, Sims wrote to his wife that he learned of the promotion through reports in London newspapers. He added:

I do not like it. It seems to me inappropriate at this particular time and under these peculiar circumstances. In this war British officers have been promoted only for really valuable service, and it does not seem fitting that while operating with them I should be promoted before anything to speak of has been accomplished.

Sims then went on to say that he was “disposed” to ask to have the promotion “withdrawn,” but was dissuaded from doing so by Adm. Lewis Bayly, who argued that refusing the promotion would be “impracticable” as it had been “made and published,” and that Sims’ position “demanded” that he be a vice admiral so he “would remain in control of all the forces, etc., over here, even if some rear admirals were sent out, etc.” So, Sims concluded, “I have decided to do nothing about it, and wait and see what comes of it.”  Sims to Anne Hitchcock Sims, 26 May 1917, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers.

Footnote 3: Concerning Sims’ repeated requests to have Capt. William V. Pratt join his staff and the refusal of Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, to approve the transfer, see: Pratt to Sims, 27 May 1917.

Footnote 4: Maj. Gen. Charles G. Morton.

Footnote 5: Maj. Gen. John J. Pershing was commander of the American Expeditionary Forces. On 25 May, Chase sent Sims a separate cable with the same information about Pershing’s voyage and with the same instructions to arrange protection. DNA, RG 45, Entry 517.

Footnote 6: The departure of Pershing and his party of 191 officers and enlisted men on board the S.S. Baltic was supposed to be secret but a number of errors, including a farewell salute fired by a battery at the entrance of New York harbor, seriously compromised this plan. Donald Smythe, Pershing, General of the Armies (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), 13. One of those aboard Baltic, Maj. Gen. James G. Harbord, kept a diary that was published. His entry for 5 June, included a report that the “wireless” aboard Baltic, “caught the message from the British Admiralty that the Rowan and Tucker” were to rendezvous with Baltic “about daylight to-morrow.” For his entry of 6 June, Harbord wrote that when he awoke that morning he shared the:

satisfaction of many others in seeing a good little American destroyer steaming along on either bow, half a mile or so away, the good old Stars and Stripes floating out from one mast while in the lookout at the other sat an American sailor scanning the seas for submarines. The strained look has disappeared from many faces.

On 7 June, Harbord reported that a third destroyer joined the escort and “the chances of Fritz doing anything to us grow beautifully less.” Baltic arrived at Liverpool “late Thursday night [7 June].” To this information Harbord added: “Rumors of S.O.S. signals the day before from vessels sunk by the submarines flew around, with statements that the number for the current week was about fifteen so far.” James G. Harbord, Leaves From a War Diary (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1925), 18-20.