Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Rear Admiral Henry B. Wilson, Commander, United States Naval Forced based in France

May 14th. 1918.    

My dear Wilson,

     Your personal note of May 9th. has just been received, in reference particularly to transferring Fremont from the WADSWORTH to your staff.1

     I would be very glad indeed to do anything I could to oblige you, but I want to adhere as closely as possible to the Department’s repeated admonitions to retain the present officers in the destroyer service.2 I agree that this is the proper thing to do except in cases of positive necessity.

     The object of sending Fremont to Brest was to give your forces the benefit of the extensive experience acquired at Queenstown in the important service of escorting troop ships. To this end we picked out what we considered one of the very best men. I have also almost exclusively adhered to the practice of not ordering an officer to a new duty without his consent. For example, I did not order you to Brest until I knew that you would be willing to transfer from Gibraltar. I wanted to send one of my best people to a certain duty the other day, but when he told me he preferred to remain where he was, I made other arrangements.3 My reason for doing this is that I am quite convinced from my experience, that, on the whole, it produces better results in the entire organization.

     You do not state in your letter whether Fremont would be willing to make the exchange. I am very much surprised to hear that you think he is in danger of a breakdown. I had always considered him a particularly robust man and the last time I saw him looked perfectly fit.

     Of course if Fremont were detached you could put another destroyer man in his place, but the effect would be the same, as some body else would have to take the job of the man who replaced Fremont.

     There is another reason why I would not like to do this at the present time, and that is that only a week or so ago the situation in Ireland because [i.e., became] so threatening at our outlying aeroplane stations, that were in charge of relatively inexperienced reserve officers, that I was absolutely obliged to send destroyer officers to take their places, and then cable the Navy Dept. for regular line officers to come out and relieve them, so as to let these officers return to the destroyers.

     It will not be longnow before there will be many destroyers coming out, and consequently many of the experienced captains going homg [i.e., home]. It is for this reason that the Department wants to retain all of the experienced destroyer officers possible, so that the service may not run down in efficiency. It will be bad enough in any case when we have to reduce the destroyers complements to three regular line officers.

     As to the question of the control of American shipping, I wrote to you the other day on this subject, and Twining did the same.4 These letters will show you how much we are embarrassed by the recent action of the Navy Dept. in sending out a bunch of shipping, rail-road, stevedore, and other experts, practically to advise us how to run the job. This is further complicated by another man – Mr. Raymond5 who was sent on a similar mission. This leaves us for the present all up in the air. We want to comply with the Department’s desires, but we do not know for sure what they are. For this reason we think it advisable to send this last bunch of men over, let them get in contact with Raymond and Atterbury, discuss the matter with you and then have Lieut.Comdr. Bacon come back to London and advise us.6

     When that is done we may or may not know where we are “at”, and will probably be in a position to make a final decision as to what ought to be done.

     I fear however, that the Department has gotten some wrong idea of the situation over here, and has imparted this to the new bunch of officers before they started. However, it is all in the day’s work, and we will do the best we can.

     You may be sure that we will support you in every way possible, but the above will show you that we also have our troubles.

     Please keep us informed of the developments of the oil situation with you, because we soon as we can complete certain pending arrangements about the docking and overhaul of our vessels both in England and on the French coast, it will be advisable to transfer to you a sufficient number of the big destroyers to convoy all our troopships arriving in France. Manifestly, this would be a much more efficient and economical use of these vessels, not only because it would require less steaming (and oil) tobring the troop ships in, but because on their outward trip they could be used to escort empty vessels off the coast. You will thus see that your work and responsibility are liable to be added to quite considerably.

     You will be glad to know that we expected to start in immediately, with the six chasers that recently passed through Brest, in developing the tactics of these boats by actual operations with the AYLWIN in the Channel.7

     We hope to thus acquire information which will be of value to all our forces. In connection with this, the question naturally arises as to whether, if we succeed in developing something really worth while, the French 110-foot chasers could not be used in the Channel and off the west coast in hunting down submarines in the same manner.

     Apropos of submarines, and quite confidentially, we know that we have gotten four in thelast forty eight hours, and five in the last three days.

     I hope you and the gang are able to remain fairly cheerful. I am, most of the time, though I must acknowledge that at times I feel a little bit depressed – not to mention very homesick.

Very sincerely yours,        

W S SIMS           

Source Note: Cy, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 23. Addressed below close: “Rear Admiral H.B.Wilson, U.S.N,/U.S.Naval Forces in France,/B R E S T .” Document is from: “Admiral Sims’/Personal File.” Document reference: “1/5/J.”

Footnote 1: See: Wilson to Sims, 9 May 1918. The officer referred to was Cmdr. John C. Fremont.

Footnote 3: Cmdr. David C. Hanrahan turned down the position of Naval Liaison to Maj. Gen. John J. Pershing, U.S.A., Commander, American Expeditionary Forces. see: Pringle to Sims 29 April 1918; and Sims to Pringle 4 May 1918, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 79.

Footnote 4: Capt. Nathan C. Twining, Sims’ Chief of Staff. The letters referred to have not been found.

Footnote 5: H.H. Raymond was a representative of the Shipping Board.

Footnote 6: Brig. Gen. William W. Atterbury, U.S.A., Director-General of Transportation. Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Bacon, U.S.N.R.F.

Footnote 7: For more on the anti-submarine tactics experiments with the AYLWIN, see: War Diary of the AYLWIN, 4 February and 5 February 1918.