Skip to main content

Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly, Commander, Southern Ireland

May 17th1918.                     

My dear Admiral,

          I am sorry to say that certain things have not been going as I would have liked them. I was in great hopes that we would be able soon to make some impression on the submarines in the Adriatic by the use of our thirty chasers with the three destroyers I proposed to send from Queenstown, if they could be spared. But yesterday this was nipped in the bud by the receipt of a panicky telegram from Washington.1 The later the result of information to the effect that a submarine may soon turn up on the other side. The Department sends me what has been described by one of the wages of the service as a paper alibi in which I am reminded that the that the responsibility for the safety of the troops is on my head. I have always known this and do not object to being reminded of it. But the Department goes further and gives me what amounts to a positive order to ensure the entire safety of these troops even at the expense of decreasing the protection of merchant shipping.

          I have assured them that the dispositions now taken are such as are considered the best that can be done to get along with the war. I have reminded them that no dispositions of the kind in question could ensure the absolute safety of troop ships.2

          However, in view of this condition of affairs, I do not think it would be prudent to send three destroyers down south, at least, not without specific authority. I have therefore telegraphed to Washington to that effect, at the same time expressing the opinion that the interests of the case would be best served by sending them down so as to decrease losses in the Mediterranean, andthat is where we stand at present.3

          But I am very much afraid that the condition of mind indicated by the above will have the effect of holding destroyers on the other side, although I have explained by cable and by letter in great detail the futility of sending one or a few destroyers way out into the wide ocean to chase away a submarine that can see them coming miles before then [i.e., they] can see him and can pop down under the water until the danger has gone by and then continue his operations.

          I am rather afraid that, out of fear of what the public will say, that is, out of fear of political consequences theywill begin to use destroyers to escort the troop ships across the Atlantic, or even at the best that they will hold destroyers on that side until convoys are ready to sail, and let them come over with them. If they will do the latter I will be satisfied, but I am afraid they will do worse.4

          As you doubtless know, every effort is now being made. By all of the Allies concerned, to get American troops over here as fast as possible. This has increased not only the number of troop convoys, but has increased the number of vessels sailing singly with troops. This of course brings a greater strain on the limited number of destroyers available.

     This is particularly the case off the coast of France where the number of troops ships and supply ships now arriving has decreased, and will increase, more in the future.

     In view of the above, I have been wondering whether it would not be a more efficient and more economical use of destroyers, to base on Brest the number of destroyers necessary to escort all of the troop convoys arriving in France.

     If this proves to be practicable, it seems to me that it would help out considerablybecause destroyers so based could be utilized to escort vessels off the coast each time they went out for a troop transport.5

     This would entirely relieve Queenstown of all this work in connection with the troop transports arriving in France, but I have naturally been wondering how much it would affect the rest of the work that you would have to do with the destroyers remaining.

     I have talked it over with Commander Long6 and he invites my attention to this fact that it would not place any burden on the remaining Queenstown force provided all troop transports were of the same size. He says that large convoys require as high as ten destroyers or more while the next convoy may not require more than five or six, and that in the latter case the unemployed destroyer could be used for hunting or individual escorting.

     This is a question of course which only you have sufficient experience in the matter to judge correctly. Will you therefore be kind enough to let me know what you think of the proposition of transferring to Brest the number of destroyers necessary to bring in our troop transports. Of course this could not be done until the oil situation at Brest is satisfactory, but this will be so within a comparatively short time.

     I am very glad indeed that you exercise your perfectly legitimate authority and made my friend Price7 come down here and have a look at the capital. He arrived in due time and seems to have been smilingly satisfied ever since. He has talked to me about the conditions at Queenstown, and I am sure that nearly all of you would be embarrassed if I should report what he has said. Really he could not possibly be more enthusiastic about all the conditions there. He told me that he thought that Pringle8 was the very best man in the United States Navy for the job he now has. Considering the disagreeable experiences that Price has been through, this attitude of mind shows what a fine gentleman he really is. He may not be as efficient in some respects as others, but he has the envaluable. quality of being a perfectly honest man. We are seeing that he is getting the amusement and the recreation that he want. He seems to be interested in the whole show down here. A large part of his interest seems to be professional. He got somebody to take him through the ramifications of the four buildings we occupy from garret to cellar in order that he might see what the installation is like. This evening he is coming to dinner with me and five or six others and then we are going to take him out to what we believe to be the most amusing show in town.

     I really hope to be able to get up to Queenstown before very long, but just now it would not be practicable. Things are turning up all the time that have to be attended to.

     We had a hurried call for a meeting of the Inter-Allied Naval Council yesterday.9 While the call was hurried enough the subject to be discussed was not of any capital importance, but had to be attended to quickly because the august Supreme War Council demanded our opinion.

     Please give my best love to the ONLY NIECE,10 and believe me,

Always sincerely yours, 

Source Note: TL, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 23. Addressed below close: “Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly,/Admiralty House,/Queenstown, Ireland.” Document is from: “Admiral Sims/Personal File.” Document reference at top of each page: “1/3/J.”

Footnote 2: See: Sims to Benson, 16 May 1918.

Footnote 4: The Navy Department did decide to temporarily attach the new destroyers to the base in the Azores. See: Benson to Sims, 15 May 1918.

Footnote 5: For the reaction from Queenstown to this proposal, see: Joel R. Poinsett Pringle to Sims, 16 May 1918.

Footnote 6: Cmdr. Byron A. Long, an aide on Sims' staff, in charge of the Convoys Section.

Footnote 7: Capt. Henry B. Price, Commander, Dixie.

Footnote 8: Capt. Joel R. Poinsett Pringle, Chief of Staff, Destroyer Flotillas.

Footnote 9: The meeting of the Allied Naval Council in London on 15 May concerned a recommendation from the Supreme War Council that the United States declare war on Turkey and Bulgaria but without shifting any troops to that theater of war. Sims did not embrace the proposal because he believed it a naval matter and therefore felt the Supreme War Council should not be involved. He also knew that the Wilson administration was reluctant to involve itself in political questions that did not directly interest the United States. Sims further discussed this meeting of the Allied Naval Council in a letter to William S. Benson; see: Sims to Benson, 17-19 May, 1918; and Trask, Captains & Cabinets, 258-59.

Footnote 10: Miss Violet Voysey, Bayly’s niece.