Commander Harris Laning, Senior Assistant to Capt. Josiah S. McKean, Chief of Bureau of Materials, to Rear Admiral William F. Fullam, Commander, Patrol Force, Pacific Fleet
OFFICE OF NAVAL OPERATIONS
My Dear Admiral May 25th. <1917>
Your letter of May 18th received and I fear I am not giving to you as much information as you would like in reply. Since the war started, talk in the Department has dropped to nothing and many of the things going on are not generally known. This is particularly true of personnel and I have been unable to glean anything in that subject. I have heard absolutely nothing of any change in the high commands and except for the announcement as to Sims1 can get no information as to the Admiral and Vice-Admiral situation since the new bill passed2. . . .
I can well realize how you feel to have worked so hard to get your ships ready only to have them leave you when any real chance to use them came.3 Though only the fragments remain I believe that being in command out there is important. As far as I can learn it is about as important work as any flag has except possibly Sims.4 I see no chance just now of the big fleet5 getting anything to do while there is always a chance on the Mexican coast. From the way things are going now it looks like only small craft and young officers would get much to do for a while at least.
Since I have come to this desk a number of letters in regard to the material of your force has crossed it and in every case I have done my best to have your recommendations carried out. It was not always the Departments fault that the work was not completed as you wished. Every yard has been pushed to the fullest extent and we gave them more than they could do. Until the war started no overtime in shift work was allowed and the result was that when it came the material situation was frightful. For that we admit the Department was partly to blame but there were others who always fought to get ships away from the yard whether the work was completed or not. . . . We certainly do need a system and need it now but we are not getting it. It seems almost impossible to get any real organization started, no matter how hard we try. We keep at it and each day make a little headway but it is discouraging. I wont write where the trouble is for you know it quite as well as I do.6 . . .
I am truly sorry I cant write you a letter containing more information. There is practically nothing that is not given in the papers and what there is I cant put in writing. . . .
Source Note: ALS, DLC-MSS, William F. Fullam Papers, Box 4. The letter is written on stationery so the portion before the date is printed.
Footnote 1: Laning is referring to the promotion of VAdm. William S. Sims, Commander, United States Destoryers Operating from British Bases, to Vice-Admiral. See: Volney O. Chase to Sims, 26 May 1917.
Footnote 2: This bill, House Resolution 3330, passed on 22 May 1917, increasing the number of admirals and vice-admirals by three each.
Footnote 3: From 1915, until the outbreak of the war, Fullam was in command of the Pacific Reserve Fleet. When the war broke out, the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, Adm. William B. Caperton, was recalled to the South Atlantic with four of the most effective ships of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific fleet whereupon Fullam became commander of the Navy’s forces remaining in that theater of operations. Naval Investigation, 1: 755; Braisted, The United States Navy in the Pacific, 1909-1922, 292. For more on the decision to keep only a small force in the Pacific, see: William V. Pratt to William S. Sims, 27 May 1917.
Footnote 4: According to one historian, “the brilliant but stormy Fullam recognized that he had a terribly unimportant role in the war and wanted action” and regularly reminded the Chief of Naval Operations and his staff “that he was fit for better work.” Wheeler, Pratt, 119.
Footnote 5: That is, the Atlantic Fleet, the main battle fleet of the United States Navy.
Footnote 6: After the war Laning was a harsh critic of the way Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels had managed the Navy before and during the war. Ibid., 375-440.