Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Rear Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Destroyers Operating from British Bases, to Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations

16 May 1917.       

From:     Commander-in-Chief, United States Forces in Europe.

To:       Chief Naval Operations, Navy Dept. Washington, D.C.

Subject:  INFORMATION re NAVAL WAR EXPERIENCE – ESTABLISHMENT

LIA[I]SON SERVICE.

     1. Since taking up my present duties the importance of collecting and making immediately available the great store of experience, in all the manifold ramifications of naval warfare, has struck me with increasing force.

     2. The Admiralty has informed me plainly that everything they knew was at our disposal for the asking, in short, that they considered there was nothing confidential as between the two services.

     3. We have now the opportunity to obtain any1 apply directly the lessons of three years of warfare which these people have had to work out with blood and often bitter disappointment.

     4. It seems vital to me that we take ample and comprehensive measures to avail ourselves of this information both in order to increase our present effectiveness as one of the Allies and for our guidance and protection in the future should we be thrown on our own resources into conflict with a great power.

     5. The French and the British have established what is called a “Liason Service”. Briefly it is as follows:-

        A certain number of officers, both Army and Navy, of proven ability in their various fields are sent to the seat of operations. They associate and live with the men actually conducting the operations and using the material etc. They see how things actually work, they get suggestions and criticisms on the spot. Then they return and unload on the people at home. These officers circulate to and fro at frequent intervals. The results of this method have proved most happy and effective.

     6. I think a modification of this method would be of the greatest value as applied to our own case. I recommend that two officers each representing Operations, Ordnance[,] Steam Engineering[,] Construction and Repair, Supplies and Accounts, Medicine and Surgery and Aeronautics, be detailed for this duty. That before coming over they be instructed by their respective bureaus as to what information is of importance to be obtained immediately.

     7. These officers should report to me and I am quite confident I can arrange that they be placed to the very best advantage in the Admiralty, in the Grand Fleet or in the various great shipbuilding plants as the case may be,

      8. I am quite certain they could be performing no more important duty.

     9. At intervals as it became advisable they could be sent home to verbally elaborate their reports from personal experience.

     10. I consider it as first importance that great care be taken in the selection of these officers and that men of tact and address be chosen. More can be accomplished by happy personal relations in this country than perhaps in any other in the world. This is the universal experience of all officers on duty here prior to our entrance in the war, when of course obtaining exact information of value was very much more difficult than it is now.

     11. At present I consider destroyers of first importance. The Admiralty state a destroyer to be literally worth her weight in gold. I think our first efforts should be directed to obtaining all possible information on that subject, to guide us both in new construction and in fitting out as opportunity offers the boats now in service, should it be found that British boats are in any particular, superior to ours. For example:

(a) Drawings of Admiralty design propellers with controlling reasons.

(b) Ditto for fuel oil burners.

(c) Design of new 4-inch semi-automatic gun as mounted on late British destroyers and so on add  infinitum.

(a) and (b) are engineering Hole of Holies in the Admiralty.

     12. Other things that may be suggested are:

(a) Steam Submarines, which I know to be very successful.

(b) Effect of putting 50,000 H.P. on a single shaft.

(c) British methods of fire control as developed by the war and so on.

     13. In connection with destroyers, attention is invited to intelligence report of       May 1917, which deals with Engineering war experience of British Destroyers and contains valuable information in our boats in fitting out for service here.

     14. In conclusion, while I realize the heavy burden carried by the Department yet I must reiterate the vital importance of organizing and getting into prompt operation some such service as I have obtained above.2

W. S. Sims    

Source Note: DS, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517.

Footnote 1: It appears that someone later crossed through these two words.

Footnote 2: Sims considered the failure of the Navy Department to send him an adequate staff to be a case of criminal negligence. In a letter of 7 January 1920, Sims wrote: “The department’s representative with the allied admiralties [Sims] was not supported during the most critical months of the war, either by the adequate personnel, or by the adequate forces, that could have been supplied.” Naval Investigation: 203. Sims repeatedly asked for more administrative help and, as in this letter, for officers with technical backgrounds that could liaise with officers of the British Navy to collect information of a more technical nature. Despite receiving assurances in a cablegram of 5 June, signed by Josephus Daniels that “Technical officers from material bureaus have been ordered or will be ordere(ed),” it was not until Benson came to England for a visit in November 1917, reviewed the situation personally, and concluded that Sims’ staff needed to be expanded to, “obtain latest British and other Allied information.” The Navy Department immediately ordered officers to join Simsadus (Sims’ headquarters in London). In Sims’ words, “Thus, a recommendation which I had been making for six months was not carried into effect until Admiral Benson, during his short stay in London, convinced himself it was justified and recommended to the Secretary the establishment of such a planning section for my staff in London.” See, Naval Investigation: 203-36, the quotations above are on, 210, 227. In his testimony, Sims reproduces a number of letters and cables bearing on the expansion of his staff.

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