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 Captain William V. Pratt, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations

May 18th.1918.

My dear Pratt,

          Your letter has just reached me and has been read with great interest.1

          It is refreshing to know that there is nothing in the rumours that we are constantly receiving on this side as to being superseded and having a certain Admiral2 sent and so forth, and so forth.

          It was a great comfort to receive Admiral Benson’s telegram of re-assurance and the Department’s expression of satisfaction in the way the destroyers and other forces were being administered.3

          I am glad to know that Eberle4 will probably go to the Fleet. His opinion of how things ought to be conducted corresponds with that of the critic who wrote the article that recently appeared in the Press.5 We do not want any of that sort of thing over here. The differences and jealousies between some of the Allies are almost unbelievable. We want to avoid everything of this kind, and up to the present time we have not only done so but <and> our relations are absolutely cordial.

          Things are going on about the same as usual at Brest. The commander there6 has never really grown up. He has some excellent men on the staff and they are running things. At times they have a hard road to hoe to keep things from being done wrong. In impulsiveness and temper and vanity the man at the head is not more than thirteen years old. However, I think we will be able to get along without any serious difficulty.

          Of course I would not stand for anything that made for inefficiency. There has been nothing of that so far though I would have wished a number of minor things done in a different manner.

          On his last Report of Fitness of Jackson,7 he put down as his first preference duty at sea. This might be taken as a hint.

          It would be fine to have a good man in Paris. I suppose he will have to be junior to Wilson. However, Jackson is not in a position to do any particular harm though a better man might be of considerable assistance.

          Old Man Strauss8 is doing a good stunt and playing the game properly. <Looking out for every detail about it however.>

          I believe you are unduly pessimistic as to your chances of selection at the hands of the people up at the top. You need not worry about this the least in the world. Not only all of our services but all of those concerned in the British service over here know how much they are beholden to you for the work that you have done since we came into the war. Therefore there is not a conceivable board of Admirals who would dare to turn you down.

          There cannot be the slightest doubt that you are exactly the right man in the right place at the present time. There is no use to enlarge upon this. You know it as well as I do.

          I am particularly pleased that you thoroughly believe that the responsibility for the handling of the forces on this side should be up to the man at the Front; that things should be done in accordance with his recommendation and that if it does not succeed he should be canned. This is of course perfectly correct in principle but seems to be a little hard to carry out in practice.

          A case in point is an order recently received giving me explicit orders as to how to protect troop convoys.9 Another case in point is the sending of destroyers to the Azores with orders as to how they are to be used.10 This is really deadly business. I have tried to explain the nature of the cruising submarine of the Deutschland class and it is embarrassing to me over here to see the apparent panic that is caused by one of these vessels going to the westward of the Azores.

          I will not enlarge upon this because I am enclosing herewith a copy of my letter to Admiral Benson, in which I have gone into this matter pretty thoroughly.11 There really is nothing more that I can say on the subject in addition to what I have been saying for many months. It is perfectly apparent that my views in this matter are not acceptable so I will have to make the best of the decisions that are arrived at on the other side. This is putting things up to the man at the front with a vengeance! – sending me telegrams fixing the responsibility and at the same time controlling his handling of the available forces. However, cheer up!

          I am glad to have your advice about writing cheery letters once in a while. I will do the best I can but when instances like the above take place in violation of the declared principles on which the Department is supposed to be acting, it is a little difficult. However, as I have said, cheer up!

          As for the recommendation that you made in the last few lines of your letter I hope that you will not do anything in this connection at all. The point cannot come up for a long time in any case, but you must in this case absolutely trust to my judgment as to whether it would be well for me to make a trip to the other side.

          I should exceedingly dislike to have a request made on me by the Secretary or by Admiral Benson that the Department would like to have me come home. The next senior man over here is the man at Brest. Even if he were the kind of man I would like to have it would not be “good ball” to have him take over the job in my absence, and this for the simple reason that I do not run the job personally. It is run by the organization, which looks out for the great mass of details and which assists me in making decisions on all kinds of subjects. To put a man in here whose ideas were different from mine might cause serious trouble. To decline to put him in here while I was gone would amount to an official insult. At all events that is how it would be regarded – as a reflection upon his competence.

          There is one feature of this subject which I believe has not occurred specifically to you. I can well understand that you and various people in the Navy Department would like to know all that my organization could tell them about various and sundry matters.

          The idea is that if I could run over to the United States and take all of the staff with me it would be a very useful liaison trip because when anybody in any of the Bureaus wanted any information that had been available to the staff over here, the staff could supply it. But the point is that as regards nine-tenths of the information that would be wanted, I personally, could not supply it. I think this is a point which you probably have not carefully considered.

          You will notice from the copy of my letter to Admiral Benson that Roys12 sort of slopped over on the other side in presenting my respects to the President13 and also in recommending to the Secretary that I should be increased in rank. I have mentioned this to Admiral Benson to make it clear to him that this was only a slop over on Roys’ part. Not only would I never have commissioned him to do this, but if I had been personally on a visit to Washington, I would not under the circumstances, have called on the President unless I was sure that he wanted to see me. However, I was glad to know that he seems favorably disposed towards the forces on this side.

          Remain as cheerful as you can.

Very sincerely yours,             

Source Note: TL, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 78. Following the close the letter is addressed, “Captain W.V.Pratt. U.S.Navy./Office of Naval Operations./Navy Dept./Washington. D.C.”

Footnote 1: This letter has not been located.

Footnote 2: Sims is referring the Adm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet. During the months of March and April 1918, he had requested that Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels allow him to bring the Atlantic Fleet to European waters, something that Sims vehemently opposed. Daniels, upon the advice of Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, denied Mayo’s request.

Footnote 3: See: Benson to Sims, 6 May 1918.

Footnote 4: Capt. Edward W. Eberle, Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy. He remained at that post for the duration of the war.

Footnote 5: Sims complained at great length about an article that appeared in the Army and Navy Register, as well as several other papers, claiming that American ships were under the command of Adm. Sir Lewis Bayly, R.N., Commander-in-Chief, Coast of Ireland. See: Army and Navy Register, 16 March 1918; and Sims to John E. Jenks, 8 April 1918. For Sims’ frustration with the article and attempts to prevent similar reports, see: Sims to Pratt, 16 April 1918; Sims to Pringle, 19 April 1918; and Sims to Benson, 30 April 1918.

Footnote 6: RAdm. Henry B. Wilson, Commander, United States Naval Forces Based in France.

Footnote 7: Capt. Richard H. Jackson, Staff Representative and Naval Attaché, Paris.

Footnote 8: RAdm. Joseph Strauss, Commander, Mine Force, Atlantic Fleet.

Footnote 11: This letter has not been located.

Footnote 12: Lt. Cmdr. John H. Roys, Sims’ liaison officer with British Naval Intelligence.

Footnote 13: President Woodrow Wilson.

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