Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Anne Hitchcock Sims
Sunday, May 18, 1918
My precious Nani:
...One of my staff – a reserve officer who used to be in the Navy but resigned – went home on a liaison trip and came back on the last steamer.1 He is very enthusiastic about our organization here, and while in Washington he slopped over to the following extent.
He asked to see the President;2 was received by him in order to present my respects and those of the Ambassador!3 If I had gone to Washington myself I should not have asked to see the P. [i.e., President] or expected to see him unless he sent for me. However, the P. seemed pleased and said that he believed I was the right man in the right place, etc. He also said that if there was anything I wanted done that he could do, I was to let him know. I am glad to know that he approves of what we have been doing over here.
Then he went to see the Secretary4 and told him he thought I should be made an Admiral! I have written to Benson and Pratt and assured them that these actions were taken wholly without my knowledge.5 I have also written to the Secretary and told him the same, adding there is no military necessity of my being made an Admiral.6
The officer above referred to reports all hands at the Department [are] very favorably disposed toward us; that the Navy is in high popular favor, and J.D. [i.e., Josephus Daniels] on the top of the vane. The contrast with the Army is responsible for a good deal of this – tho the Navy has done well considering the handicap behind it – the delay in supplying things, etc.
The force is increasing. There are now 2,500 officers, 37,000 men and 175 vessels of various classes.
A very busy lady in this city wrote a rather sharp letter concerning some men in hospital, Babby referred this to our Surgeon for information.7 The Dr. wrote a memorandum giving the information,8 and added the following P.S.
“This war will be a fine illustration of the influence of She-Power upon History.”
One of Cone’s9 officers was here the other day and told us that Cone tried to learn to drive a motor – a big Packard – and ran into a tree and damaged the machine. So I sent him the following limerick
There was once an old shellback named Cone
Tried to drive a great Packard alone.
Though the route was quite free
He ran into a tree,
For he thought the durned thing should have flown.
...Danny10 is going home by this steamer and I am giving him a package to be sent to you by express. You will find some items of interest in it:
You advise me to keep a diary – even a brief one. I think that is good advice for those who are capable of doing it, but I am wholly incapable for usual reasons. Here are some of them.
1. I am altogether too busy. There are many things it would be very desirable for me to do in this position that I simply cannot do. They have to go in favor of the things I must do, and the more important things.
2. If I had the time, I wholly lack the necessary systematic habits. I am almost entirely with system in that respect. It amounts almost to a disease. Ever since I came over here in 1897 as attaché,11 I have needed to keep a note book. I have earnestly tried to do so, and have bought many books, but have never succeeded. I make a few entries for a little while, and then forget about it – tho I always carry the book in my pocket until it is worn out. This is hard to believe but it is true. I cannot keep the few papers straight that I handle. I would be nearly helpless without a secretary to keep all my papers in order and keep me from forgetting my engagements.
3. Perhaps because of 1. and 2. To a certain extent, the very idea of keeping a diary is repugnant. I cannot explain it, but I feel it very strongly.
Of course I realize the great importance of keeping all official records straight. They are so kept in our admirable filing system. In addition to this, I have as member of the staff a man who is an expert in that sort of work. He has compiled a full account of all that you know of the trouble I had here, especially at first, with copies of all of the necessary documents.
I have been looking up the case of young Leighton.12 It appears that he applied to be made an Ensign, but could not pass the examination on account of his eyes. So he came in as an enlisted man. Now you would hardly believe it, but tho I can take any man off the street who has but one eye and one leg, and if he would be useful to me in some specialty, I can make him an Ensign in the reserves, class H, but if he is an enlisted man he can not be made an Ensign unless he passes a regular professional examination and a good physical examination! It is the law, or a regulation. I am taking the matter up officially to see if I can get it corrected. Leighton is an educated boy and is doing as important work as many Ensigns I have here.
Yesterday was the first day of the Baseball season here. There is a league of 8 teams, Army, Navy, Canadians, etc.13 We have a team from our Navy headquarters and one from the Army headquarters, and these two teams played yesterday. Many of our officers went and practically all the office force. There were also a lot of British Naval and Army officers. I threw the first ball and General Biddle14 caught it. The game took place on a football field with a huge grandstand and “bleachers” on three sides of it. There were about 10 or 12,000 present. It was a very good and exciting game. It was a tie in the 8th, 9th and 10th. innings, and the Army beat us by one run in the 11th inning.
Don’t believe anything you hear about the “Sims touch”. There was nothing in it. The P.Ds. declined to allow me to accept a position on the Admiralty Board, where such operations are alone discussed. No U.S. forces are based within 30 miles of the places in question, so there was no necessity of consulting me. I know nothing about it. The P.Ds. have not asked any questions about it. If they do, I will remind them that the British government invited me to this council with the declared object (by Sir E.G.15) of more intimate cooperation, and it was declined.16
...The package that Danny sends to you will contain a recent letter from Pratt that will interest you.17 You will see that he suggests that I make a rapid trip home (Washington) after the crisis on the Western Front is settled. I assume he means in our favor. You will note in my reply18 the reasons I have given (against my heart, I can assure you) in opposition to this. I do not think it would be “good business” or would have a good effect. Benson’s (and most all the P.D’s) methods (and organization) are so different from mine that they could not understand how my organization could be run successfully without my knowing all about the details of what had been done. I have tried to make this clear to Pratt. Moreover, considering the popular idea of a naval commander’s activities, the public could not understand how the naval operations could go on with the commander 3000 miles away for a month. It would be a joy to spend a few days with my darling Nani and the precious ones, as you well know.
This idea of going home while still in command here had not occurred to me before and I have not given it much consideration. It may be that I will have to change my mind. Please do not speak of it.
The Columbia Graphophone man came a couple of days ago with a machine and my record, and a lot of the officers listened to it.19 They all think it a very good one. It is very clear and you can understand every word. The text goes to you by this mail. The records will follow later – Pershing’s, Joffre’s, Brant’s, Whitlock’s, and mine.20 They are making a set for me and boxing them. Tho my record is very clear, it is not my voice. All the officers said they would not have recognized it. However, it will interest you and the wee ones. The gang are pleased with the text of my record. Stark21 particularly so. It is hard to say very much in 3 minutes when you have to speak really slowly and distinctly.
...The other day the Olympic with 6000 troops on board cut a great hole in a submarine with her propeller. The boat went down and 35 of the crew of 44 were rescued by one of our destroyers. The captain of the latter sent me a whistle that came from this boat. I assume he got it from one of the prisoners.22
...Everybody seems optimistic about the Western Front, but it seems to me the situation is a very critical one. It is an astonishing thing that the Germans have not only allowed the Lichnowski pamphlet to be published but have allowed the German press to announce that they have been mistaken all the time about Great Britain causing the war.23 This looks very suspiciously like a preparation for a peace move.
Lady Jellicoe is still very ill, but is said to be improving.24 There is a movement on foot to give Ad. J. an important command in the Mediterranean – if he will accept it, which I think he will. . .25
Monday, May 20
. . .Last night. . .I was interrupted by an air raid, the first we have had since the beginning of the drive on the Western Front. Usually the evening whistles blow half an hour or so before the bombing planes reach the city, but last night we heard the whistles and defense guns at the same time, and as my desk is by a window, I stopped writing. The only precaution I take is to keep away from windows, because if a bomb drops in the street, even if half a block away the glass may be blown in. I usually sit in a passage way from my bedroom to the bathroom so as to have a wall between me and the front windows.
There is a good light there, and I read a chapter of “The Unwilling Vestal”26 and then got sleepy and went to bed. It was about midnight. It went to sleep at once and heard no more of the raid, but heard the bugles at 3 am. announcing the “all clear”. One gets used to that sort of thing, particularly if one is of an optimistic disposition as I am. I have faith that a bomb will not drop on the building I am in. That is about the general attitude of most people.
I won out on the uniform question. A cablegram has just been received stating that the uniform will not be changed during the war.27 This is the particular point I made. The second is that if it is ever changed, the new uniform should be distinctive of our navy. That is that it should not be so near a copy of another navy’s uniform (British) that the difference could not be recognized even at a very short distance. I will certainly win out on this also. See my letter to the Army and Navy Register.28
The mail is leaving soon, so I must close. Sorry I have not time to chat a bit more. I am as well as possible and when even a little bit tired or worried, I recognize, of course, that this is largely temperamental. If a man “crossed bridges”, “borrowed trouble”, and passed over details, he could not “hold down” this job any long. I do none of this, so don’t at any time imagine that I am suffering from strain. I do suffer from homesickness and yearning to be with you all – but this is, after all, little of a sacrifice compared to those parents here who have lost sons in the war. . .
Source Note: ALS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 10.
Footnote 1: Lt. Cmdr. John H. Roys, Sims’ liaison officer with British Naval Intelligence.
Footnote 2: President Woodrow Wilson.
Footnote 3: United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom Walter Hines Page.
Footnote 4: Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.
Footnote 5: See: Sims to William S. Benson, 17 May 1918, and Sims to William V. Pratt, 18 May 1918.
Footnote 6: Sims’ letter to Daniels on this matter has not been located.
Footnote 7: Cmdr. John V. Babcock, Sims’ personal aide and member of Sims’ Planning Section, and Medical Inspector Edgar Thompson, head of the Medical Section of Sims’ staff and also commander, United States Navy Hospital, London.
Footnote 8: This document has not been located.
Footnote 9: Capt. Hutchinson I. Cone, Commander, Naval Aviation Forces, Foreign Service.
Footnote 10: Cmdr. Joseph F. Daniels, a member of Sims’ staff in the Convoys Division of the Operations Section.
Footnote 11: Sims had served as Military Attaché to Paris and St. Petersburg from 1897 to 1902.
Footnote 12: George E. Leighton. By 1919, Leighton would acheive his goal and be made an Ensign in the Reserve Force.
Footnote 13: In 1918, 30 expatriate American businessmen in London founded the Anglo-American Baseball League. Its four Canadian and four American military teams played in and around London, often in British football stadia. The U.S. Army and Navy military commanders in England, supported the new league, agreeing to donate proceeds to British war charities. The league’s spokesman and chief umpire was Walter Arlington “Arlie” Latham, a former major league ballplayer and coach. For more on this league, see: https://artsandculture.google.com/partner/anglo-american-baseball-project-inc.
Footnote 14: Maj. Gen. John Biddle, Assistant Chief of Staff, United States Army, and Commander, United States Army Forces in Great Britain and Ireland.
Footnote 15: First Lord of the Admiralty Sir Eric Geddes.
Footnote 16: Sims is referring to the Zeebrugge Raid, which occurred on 23 April. Although a major naval operation, Sims was largely in the dark about the operation, given that, as he notes to his wife here, he was not a part of the Admiralty Board (something of a sore point for Sims throughout his time in London) that was responsible for the planning and execution of the raid. For additional details, see: Sims to Pratt, 29 April 1918.
Footnote 17: This letter from Capt. William V. Pratt, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations, has not been found.
Footnote 18: See: Sims to Pratt, 18 May 1918.
Footnote 19: For more on the Columbia Graphophone recording series (of which Sims was a part), see: Sims to Sims, 3 May 1918.
Footnote 20: Maj. Gen. John J. Pershing, Commander, American Expeditionary Forces, Joseph Joffre, Marshal of France and head of the Supreme War Council, Bishop Charles H. Brent, Chaplain General, American Expeditionary Forces, and Brand Whitlock, United States Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Belgium, 1913-1917, and Ambassador to Belgium, 1919-1921.
Footnote 21: Commander Harold R. Stark, Commander, Melville, Sims’ Flag Secretary, and head of Sims' Personnel Section.
Footnote 22: In the early hours of 12 May 1918, while en route for France with U. S. troops under the command of Capt. Bertram Fox Hayes, Olympic sighted a surfaced U-boat (later identified as U-103)500 meters in front of it. Olympic's gunners opened fire at once, and the ship turned to ram the submarine, which immediately crash dived to 30 meters and turned to a parallel course. Olympic almost immediately struck the submarine just aft of the its conning tower. Olympic’s port propeller sliced through U-103's pressure hull, forcing its crew to blow the sub’s ballast tanks, as it scuttled and abandoned the submarine. Olympic did not stop to pick up survivors, but continued on to Cherbourg. Meanwhile, Davis (the destroyer Sims mentions above), commanded by Lt. Cmdr. Rufus F. Zogbaum, Jr., had sighted a distress flare and picked up 31 survivors from U-103. Olympic returned to Southampton with at least two hull plates dented and its prow twisted to one side, but not breached. Mark Chirnside, The Olympic-Class Ships (Stroud, England: Tempus, 2004), 100-101.
Footnote 23: Prince Karl Marx Lichnowsky had served as the Imperial German Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1912 until the severance of diplomatic ties between the two states upon the declaration of war on 4 August 1914. His privately printed pamphlet, My Mission to London 1912-1914 circulated in German upper-class circles in 1916, accused his government of failing to support him in efforts to avert war with Great Britain and its allies; its 1917 publication in the United States led to his expulsion from the Prussian House of Lords. In 1918, the renamed "Lichnowsky Memorandum" was published in The Disclosures from Germany (New York: American Association for International Conciliation, 1918). It was also published in the Swedish journal Politiken in March 1918, from which a British copy was published by Cassell & Co., later in 1918. The pamphlet mainly covers the period 1912-14, and occasionally back to 1900. In it, Lichnowsky criticizes Germany’s handling of the crisis caused by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (the proximate cause of World War I), and deplores the German alliance with Austria-Hungary feeling that it inevitably pulled German diplomacy into Balkan crises and tensions with Russia and its allies without any compensating benefits to Germany with its new industries, trade and colonies. Whether his assertions were true or not, the pamphlet became a formative and primary source in the minds of the allied politicians who led the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Harry F. Young, Prince Lichnowsky and the Great War (London: Literary Licensing, 2009), 403-4.
Footnote 24: Florence Gwendoline Jellicoe, neé Cayzer, wife of Adm. Sir John R. Jellicoe, formerly the First Sea Lord. Lady Jellicoe had endured a difficult birth of the Jellicoes’ sixth child and first son, George Jellicoe. Despite the ordeal, Lady Jellicoe did survive, making a complete recovery. For more details on this incident, see: Sims to Sims, 3 May 1918.
Footnote 25: Amidst concerns that—following the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk—the Germans were about to take control of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George proposed Jellicoe be named Allied Supreme Naval Commander in the Mediterranean. The French were in favor of a combined Allied naval command under Jellicoe, but the Italians were not; consequently, nothing came of the suggestion.
Footnote 26: The Unwilling Vestal: A Tale of Rome Under the Caesars by Edward Lucas White, an American author of historical fiction and fantasy.
Footnote 27: This cablegram has not been located.
Footnote 28: Sims’ comments appeared in the 4 May 1918 edition of the Army and Navy Register.