Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Navala Forces Operating in European Waters, to Lindon W. Bates, Submarine Defense Association
May 25th. 1918.
My dear Bates,
Your letter of April 2nd. Was received in due time, and I have gone over carefully the memorandum on “MANOEUVERING AS A DEFENSE AGAINST ATTACK BY A SUBMARINE.” I have also read with quite as much pleasure your pamphlet on a “NATIONAL HARBOR FOR PEACE AND WAR FOR FLEETS OF SEA AND AIR.” This latter is a most inspiring publication. In ordinary times of peace it would probably not have received immediate attention.
However, the necessity for improvement in the docking facilities of our ports, and especially for New York, has been brought out very strongly by the war. Of course, we never expected, and therefore naturally had made no provision for sending such enormous quantities of material to European Waters, but it would seem that there will be little diminution even after the war in the great volume of commerce from our east coast, because our country, at least for a number of years to come, will export tremendous quantities of raw material, not to mention greatly increased exports of finished products. I fully agree with you that this subject has never been adequately studied in a broad way, but rather, as you say, “we have been nibbling at the water front”, that is, we have gone on from year to year gradually, but inadequately increasing the facilities.
We are all greatly indebted to the scientists and engineers who have so freely given their time and services toward overc[o]mming the submarine menace, and I am very glad to say that the results of these efforts are most encouraging, for everything now points to the elimination of the submarine. Once this is accomplished the great man-power and resource of America can be brought into action and the triumph of the Allies assured.
The most promising possibilities to date for eliminating the submarine, are, as you know, to be found in the development of efficient detection devices – the so called hydrophones of various kinds. Some of these have shown very decided efficiency, and we hope that recent appliances that have arrived from America will show still greater efficiency.
There will shortly arrive in Europe about one hundred and forty excellent submarine chasers all fitted with out latest listening devices. Thirty-six have already arrived and as many more are on the way. Within a couple of months they will all be here. These are to be used not in patrolling or escorting, but they will be organized into hunting squadrons to get after the submarine in the only waters wherein he now finds it at all profitable to operate, that is, within the enclosed waters around the British Channel. Experience to date has shown that the submarine cannot attack convoys with sufficient success to give him the slightest hope of winning the submarine campaign. Unfortunately, there are not enough destroyers in all the allied forces to escort all vessels as thoroughly as we would wish. We do so with very good success in the open sea, but conditions of commerce are such that it is wholly impossible to form convoys that are bound for the same ports, or, if this were possible, to discharge them expeditiously in particular ports. The consequence is that a convoy of say thirty odd vessels that arrives off the Channel, though adequately escorted from the western edge of the danger zone to the entrance of the Channel, must then be split into detachments going up the Channel, going to Brest and going into the Irish Sea – and each time the convoy is sub-divided we thereby decrease the efficiency of the escort. Moreover, vessels proceeding to a rendezvous to form an outward bound convoy must necessarily perform at least a part of their voyage unescorted.
While by these means we will undoubtedly be able to keep the destruction of commerce well below the amount that would be built by Great Britain and America, still this is a very expensive operation, and we would not like to look forward to carrying it on for some years. It is therefore our primary object to put the submarine out of business. I am sure I do not need to explain to you the practical impossibility of preventing the submarine from getting to sea. This is due to the peculiar nautical conditions and military defences that surround the German submarine bases and to the practical impossibility of maintaining mine barrages by patrol forces. They have been trying to do it for three years and have suffered great losses in the process. A hole can always be dug out by the expenditure of a certain force and this is continually being done.
What we therefore want to do is to reach a point of destruction of submarines that will render their employment unprofitable; or that will undermine their morale to such an effect that they will no longer be sent to sea. This I believe we can accomplish by the detection devices installed upon a sufficient number of vessels to hunt the submarine successfully wherever he may show himself.
I am quite sure that even now, and probably some time ago the Germans have understood that they could not eventually win the submarine campaign. I think they also understand that without winning the submarine campaign they cannot defeat the Allies. At least they cannot defeat England and America. I believe therefore that the great drive on the Western Front is a preliminary to peace negotiations. If the drive should be successful they can make it perfectly apparent that the war can be continued for a couple of years in order for the Allies to win. They are probably banking on the fact that the Allies would not be willing to pay the price. I believe they are mistaken.
Very sincerely yours,