Skip to main content

Captain William V. Pratt, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters


Office of Naval Operations


27th May, 1918.         

Dear Sims:

          Received letters from you of May 12th and 13th.1 First. About uniforms. Naturally you know by this time that any change is killed for the period of the war so we can drop that subject as a settled thing.2

          Second. As to the use and disposition of our destroyers. First as to the use. Before going into that subject at length it might be will to give you a brief insight into our method of handling war warnings because really that is the foundation stone upon which our plan of disposition and use of all naval craft is based. When I first took on I found that the Office of Naval Intelligence and that all the District Commandants had practically carte blanche to pass on all war warnings and that it was the rule when a warning was received to broad cast it irrespective of its truth or value as proper war information. A false rumor went out and just once, I saw the harm that would result if a submarine should really appear and got the Admiral3 to take drastic measure. Practically nothing can go out except with the sanction of this office, that is, the District Commandants have full latitude to take the initiative in any offensive or defensive measures with their own craft, and they have authority to send such messages and warnings as may be true, as may be necessary and which coincides with the general policy we laid down. All doubtful cases they must refer to you. O. N. I. must refer all cases this office before sending them out. Referring it to this office means passing it through me or Tompkins4 who is the anti-submarine man, in order that a consistent policy and line of action may be followed. It was for the future that this was laid down for on several occasions rumors were started which might have caused an uproar had they gotten loose.5

          Based on the above and also on continually following your letters and cables, I myself have arrived at a pretty fair conception of what I think you believe our plan of action on this side should be.

     It is not the intention to use destroyers for the purpose of going out and locating hostile submarines and the few that are on this side will not be used that way. When McNamee6 came to this office and when Admiral Grant, R.N.,7 arrived steps were taken which temporarily arrested the flow of a few destroyers namely, the very old ones and to the numbers of about nine, from crossing to the other side. The reasons were this:- Admiral Grant on arrival was very urgent in his statements that there should be some destroyers left on this side. A board of which McNamee was one of the members decided that our minimum requirements were nine destroyers, these were not to be used for patrol but to escort the convoys out of port at the three principal ports on our coasts. The Canadians asked for destroyers and we were not able to give them any. You do not have to convince me because I think I understand the situation but being where you are on the other side, you do not understand the practical difficulties which confront me in any attempt to strip our coasts of destroyers down to the last boat. I doubt very much whether you would have gotten the three boats now at the Azores as soon as you will get them if they had not been sent there first.

     As regards submarines we had longed believed that the real defense of our coast against cruiser submarines lay in this particular type with that end in view. The Pacific Coast and Honolulu were stripped nearly bare and all the forces there sent to this side where they were distributed at various points ready to operate offensively whenever it is definitely known that a hostile submarine is over here.

     As regards control and safe guard of shipping the following general principles were adopted. East Bound convoy <at> and escorted to a safe offing. West Bound to be diverted from their regular routes and sent to ports via other routes. This had to be so because if we adopted your system on this side it would be waste[d] effort and would mean you would not get all forces we are trying to send you. The Gulf and Caribbean is a separate proposition in itself. The system of varying the routes is invoked to both east and west bound shipping. Coast shipping is routed close along the shore inside the ten fathom mark as a general rule by day under protection of district craft.

     Cotton8 sails to join you in a day or two. An estimate of the building program largely based on your estimate has been drawn up and that I think is the general estimate Congress will work over.

     It is getting hot as the devil here. I expect to leave in about a week for a two weeks leave and when I get there I do notwant any one to talk NAVY for a single day of that time.

     I may be able them to write you a longer letter. The Admiral is making a point of leaving the office for trips of inspection from time to time which is a very wise thing for him to do.

     With kindest regards,

Cheerfully yours,  

     Wm Pratt


     Incidentally, you will be lucky if you get this letter straight because I have the crankest of writers taking this down and she is suffering from the heat.

Source Note: LTS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 78.

Footnote 1: For the former, see: Sims to Pratt, 12 May 1918. The latter letter has not been located.

Footnote 2: For more on the question of changing the naval uniform, see: Sims to Anne Hitchcock Sims, 18 May 1918.

Footnote 3: Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 4: Capt. John T. Tompkins.

Footnote 5: For the specifics of the policy discussed here, see: Benson to Sims, 29 May 1918.

Footnote 6: Capt. Luke McNamee, a member of the Planning Section of Sims’ staff.

Footnote 7: VAdm. Sir William Lowther Grant. Commander-in-Chief, North America and West Indies Station.

Footnote 8: Cmdr. Lyman A. Cotten had just recieved orders to sail to Europe to establish and command a new naval base of operations for a detachment of submarine chasers at Plymouth, England.