Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Captain Joel R. Poinsett Pringle, Chief of Staff, Destroyer Flotillas, to Vice Admiral William S. Sim, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters

UNITED STATES NAVAL FORCES

OPERATING IN EUROPEAN WATERS

U. S. S. MELVILLE, FLAGSHIP.

BASE SIX [Queenstown, Ireland]

16 May 1918.                 

My dear Admiral:

        Many thanks for your letters of May 12th and 13th.1

        It appears that having survived an epidemic of tonsillitis we are now about to experience an epidemic of matrimony. I try to remain cheerful under these circumstances, but I am very considerably of the opinion that brides and grooms will not produce what the Commander-in-Chief would designate as one hundred per cent.2 However, this is the Springtime, and we must always remember what the poet said about the young man’s fancy.3

       Newton and Cooke have gone to take over their jobs and I feel much better satisfied on that account.4 As far as diverting them from destroyer work is concerned, it does not seem to me that the Department could possibly object to their temporary employment, as you have ordered it. It, by no means, takes them out of the destroyer service, and we certainly must meet the conditions as we find them. I have told both Cooke and Newton that it was absolutely your intention that the employment would be temporary and that they would be relieved in due course by officers of the Flying corps.

       Personally, I am very glad to hear that it is your intention to place the troop transport business entirely in the hands of the Brest Forces, and the time should certainly now be near at hand when we can easily afford to detach from Queenstown a sufficient number of ships to provide for sufficient force at Brest to accomplish this very desirable result. I say the time must soon be near because I hope that it will not be much longer before we see some of our new destroyers coming over, and also because we should have some of our cripples back in service in the course of the next thirty days, and also because with the long daylight hours of this season I think we are not so likely to have collisions. The long daylight hours, however, did not seem to have interfered with the PARKER’S success in that direction.5

       With reference to the chasers, I wrote a note to Leigh6 several days ago in which I suggested the distribution in the Irish Sea which Admiral Bayly deems the most desirable. If you have not seen it, it is as follows:-

          Belfast        -    10

          Holyhead       -    12

Kingstown      -    12

Milford Haven  -    20

Queenstown     -    18

This makes a total of 72 boats in all.

          I shall be very glad to recommend to you any officers who may, from time to time, seem to be worthy of special commendation in connection with submarine attacks. Considering the amount of enthusiasm in this Force, it will be necessary to use some discretion in this matter, for while we may not run out of recommendations, we are in a fair way now to run out of depth charges, and I am now in process of taking stock to see how long we can last, before we have to borrow from the British. However, there is no question whatever about it but what the expenditure of depth charges during the past month has been very well done, and so far as I can judge, the results have amply justified the expenditure. It appears to be a very poor destroyer commander who does not come into my cabin at least once in two weeks and demonstrate to me beyond all fear of successful contradiction the fact that he has destroyed a submarine. In some cases, they even go so far as to produce evidence in the shape of boxes, pieces of wood, etc. etc.7

          I quote for your information order #449 – C.G.O. coast of Ireland, issued from the Commander-in-Chief’s office under date of 15 May. I am glad to say that I am the father of this idea, as it occurred to me that since we painted “E” on our smokestacks in peace-time we might put a star on there in war-time:-8

“449.- DISTINCTIVE MARK FOR SINKING SUBMARINE.

     Each vessel that has, without doubt, destroyed an enemy submarine may paint a star on each side of the foremost funnel; the star is to [be] of about 18 inches extreme diameter and of a colour suitable to the colour of the funnel so as not to be too conspicuous at a distance. Only submarines whose destruction is classified by the Admiralty as “KNOWN” will entitle to the star. The Commander-in-Chief will inform the Commanding Officer of the ship concerned when a star has been earned.”

          Davy’s trip will undoubtedly be very useful to us.9 He is as full of information as an egg of meat, and both surprised and delighted I think with his visit to this Base. He desires to go to France and to make the trip in a destroyer in order that he may have ocular demonstration of the way in which our work is conducted. I shall accordingly send him on board the WILKES (Berrien in command)10 when that vessel leaves about 18 May for duty in connection with the next troop convoy, which, by the way, consists of fourteen ships of various kinds and sorts.

          Berrien is now the senior officer remaining at the Base and the only man of any similar seniority<,> except Bryant of the Staff<,> who does remain. Hanrahan, Williams, and Miller have all gone.11 Berrien, as you know, is an officer of the very highest type and great ability. He and Hanrahan, I regard as the twon most valuable men we had here, and while there are other officers at this Base who will probably do extremely well when they have had sufficient experience, the time has not yet come when they can handle an escort composed of anywhere from four to twelve vessels in the manner in which such escorts are handled by Berrien and Hanrahan. It is, of course, you understand, a question of making individual commanding officers sit up and attend to business, and while I can undertake to do that in port, we must always remember that the sea operations are after all the things upon which we depend, and it is, therefore, imperatively necessary that we should have in command of our escorts the best men whom we can get. It will be a tremendous relief to me when Alfred Johnson, Taussig, and one or two others of the old lot return for duty,12 and I do hope that they will come soon. You understand, of course, that we will make this thing go alright, but we must face the fact that when we eliminate extremely good men from the head of the organization without replacing them, we are probably reducing to some extent the efficiency of our operations. I will, however, endeavor to arrange with the Commander-in-Chief that we shall put in command the best men that we have, and I will try to impress upon them the fact that they are in charge of the escort as well as of the individual ship. You will not misunderstand me – I am not fearing any impending disaster, but I know from experience down here that what I am telling you is founded on fact – we are very dependent upon our escort commanders.

          Berrien is ace-high with Admiral Bayly much to my satisfaction, and when Berrien returned from his last trip to Brest he informed Admiral Bayly that he had been at sea for seventeen out of twenty one days, and that in the intervening four days, he had succeeded in discovering the place in France from which his ancestors originally came. How he ever managed to put it over, I do not know, but the result of the interview was that the Commander-in-Chief told him he could remain in Brest for his five day boiler overhaul, after taking in the next troop transport, and go to see the old folks. As you can imagine, this has created some stir in the camp, and one enthusiastic youth remarked to me that he was seriously considering telling the Admiral that his people came from a place sixty miles from Boston and that he was due for a boiler overhaul very soon. I told him that if life at present was dull and grey I though he had an easy and simple solution for producing a change, and that all he had to do was to speak his Little piece to the Admiral, if he desired a change.

          I saw last night a copy of Old Man Price’s13 telegram to the Admiral. If Price is in town when you get this, you tell him that I say if he really wants to make character, he had better cut out any further allusion to the “Head Of The House” and send his love to Pat.14 Tell him we have forgotten all about him down here and that he can stay as long as he likes. He deserves all the leave he wants and a good time thrown in besides.

          Many thanks for the National Review which you sent me. I read the letters with much interest, and would have recognized the young man from certain statements made therein. I regard them as what might be called “camelflaged” letters written to his wife. If you do not understand the use of this word “Camelflaged”, I would suggest that you read some of Lardner’s “You know me Al” stories which appear from time to time in the Saturday Evening Post.15 They will amuse you, and if you want a sample,let me know and I will send you the latest issue. It is a corker.

          Many thanks for the leters. I believe everything is getting on down here in the way in which you would have it go, and I trust that you view the whole outlook with equanimity.

Very sincerely yours,        

JRPoinsett Pringle      

Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 79. Addressed below close: “Vice-Admiral Sims, U.S.N.,/London.” Handwritten note at the top of the first page: “Personal.” Document identifier in top right-hand corner: “(C-4).” The letter is written on printed stationery, which includes to the left of the heading “REFER TO/NO.”

Footnote 1: Neither of these letters have been found.

Footnote 2: The “Commander-in-Chief” was Adm. Lewis Bayly, R.N.

Footnote 3: The line is from the poem “Locksley Hall” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and reads: “In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”

Footnote 4: These officers, Lt. Cmdr. Henry D. Cooke and Lt. Cmdr. John H. Newton, had been sent to “take charge” of “outlying” American naval air stations. See: Sims to Pringle, 18 May 1918.

Footnote 5: On the collision involving U.S.S. PARKER, see: Sims to Pringle, 14 May 1918.

Footnote 6: Capt. Richard H. Leigh, a member of Sims’ staff and an expert on anti-submarine listening devices.

Footnote 7: A new policy calling for the liberal use of depth charges by American forces in European Waters had recently been announced. See: Sims Circular to All Forces, 19 April 1918. Despite the claims of the officers, American destroyers had not sunk any German U-boats in late April and early May. Kemp, U-Boats Destroyed: 46-49.

Footnote 8: The “E” denoted an excellence award.

Footnote 9: Lt. Cmdr. Charles G. Davy worked at the Bureau of Navigation. See: Leigh C. Palmer to Sims, 26 March 1918.

Footnote 10: Cmdr. Frank Berrien.

Footnote 11: Capt. David Hanrahan previously commanded U.S.S. Cushing; Cmdr. Roger Williams commanded U.S.S. Duncan; and Cmdr. William S. Miller commanded U.S.S. Balch when they served as part of the Queenstown patrol.

Footnote 12: Capt. Joseph K. Taussig and Cmdr. Alfred W. Johnson were bringing two new destroyers, U.S.S. Little and U.S.S. Kimberly, to serve in European waters.

Footnote 13: Cmdr. Henry B. Price, executive officer of the MELVILLE, who was on leave in London. See: Sims to Pringle, 16 May 1918.

Footnote 14: It is not clear who and what Pringle is referring to here.

Footnote 15: Writer’s Ring W. Lardner’s “You Know Me Al” stories were collected into a book with the same title. They are the fictional letters of a baseball player, Jack Keefe, to his hometown friend Al. Much of the humor in the book comes from Jack’s boastful, oblivious nature, and his utter inability to recognize when he is being manipulated or cheated.