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

CABLEGRAM SENT  May 16, 1918.   TOH

To.  Opnav, Washington.                Serial No. 7941

Prep. by.  CS                     NCT1


7941. Your 6002.2 While I fully understand Department’s desire to do everything possible to safe-guard transit of our troops across the Atlantic I must point out that it is impossible absolutely to insure safe landing of all troops no matter how many destroyers are assigned to escort duty. It is my earnest opinion that the public mind should be prepared for possible loss of a transport. As an initial step in this direction I would recommend that newspaper stories of the destruction of submarines by merchant vessels be suppressed if possible. Such stories frequently appear based on statements of passengers and officers of steamers and are almost without exception entirely incorrect and give the public a false impression as to the ease with which submarines may be destroyed.

          As I have been always fully alive to the necessity of giving a maximum of protection to troop convoys the escort of storeship convoys has already been reduced xxxx to a limit below which I do not deem it advisable to go. Convoys are now met by destroyers as far to the westward as submarines are known to be operating if within the fuel endurance of the destroyers,so that nothing further can be done in this direction.

          The Department is of course full alive to the fact that under present the safety of vessels carrying merchandise to xxxx Europe is hardly less essential to the successful prosecution of the war than is the safety of troop transports and we might conceivably lose the war through making excessive demands upon our escorting forces for the protection of troops.3  7941. 09016


Source Note: TCS, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 678. Identifiers in top right-hand corner: “11-2-12” and “1.,3.,C.,J.”

Footnote 1: Sims' Chief of Staff, Capt. Nathan C. Twining.

Footnote 2: See: Benson to Sims, 13 May 1918.

Footnote 3: In the Congressional Investigation conducted after the war, this cable became a point of controversy. In his testimony, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels said: “After Sims had informed us that submarines were operating far out in the Atlantic, and that one was on its way to America, we thought it wise to escort troop ships further out to sea” and sent the dispatch referenced above to Sims. “We did not say ‘may’” be assigned to protect ships carrying merchandise but “found we had to say ‘shall’ because he [Sims] was putting the emphasis all the time on merchandise, and we were putting it on men—lives.” Daniels, added that in his “reply, dated May 16, 1918,” Sims wrote that “it was impossible to give them escort. The impossible was made possible. He was wrong.” Daniels then noted that two weeks after Sims sent this cable, “the westbound transport President Lincoln was sunk” while unescorted. Naval Investigation, 2: 2138-39.

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