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 Anne Hitchcock Sims

 

[Extract]

30, Grosvenor Gardens,  

London. S.W.       

May 10th. 1918.

My dear Anne,

          . . . . I have just read [your letters] over and will not have time to answer them myself as it is now late on Thursday afternoon and we have just been informed that a mail is leaving tomorrow. Unfortunately, tonight I am having the Arctic explorer Amundsen and some or our people to dinner.1 He is very much pleased with his trip to America and apparently much taken with our Navy, and we are going to get him to tell us about his proposed trip to the North Pole. He is provisioning his ship for seven years and expects to be gone at least five.

          . . . . I can readily understand that the result of the drive on the Western Front has been to intensify feeling in America. It is remarkable the extent to which it has done so here. There was a very considerable unrest in certain labor circles, but that has all practically disappeared, and there is now what you have so well called a rising tide of enthusiasm.

          . . . . Do not do what Napoleon2 complained that some of his generals used to do, and that is picture to yourself things that may happen. This in special reference to the question of naval action<s.> This is a possibility but in my opinion an extreme improbability.3

          I should like to be able to tell you something about Ireland, but the trouble is I do not know anything about it and I do not think that there is anybody on this side of the ocean who really does. The Irish are apparently in a state of mind, if you can call it mind, which renders them wholly incapacitated for any consecutive thought. They are perfectly willing to do anything they can to have the Germans win the war. This seems to be an astonishing statement, but there is very material evidence to show that it is true.4

          You have of course seen in the papers this morning the extraordinary letter written by General Maurice in criticism of Mr.Lloyd George and the Government.5 It seems to me that, considering the great crisis of democracy that now hangs in the balance, this officer richly deserves to be shot at once, quite independent of the question as to whether his accusations are true or not. I do not believe they are true. I do not know of course, but it seems to me extremely improbable that any responsible ministers should be so unwise as to make statements that they knew to be false.   

          . . . . Immediately after the last mail went I wrote you a very brief letter to send by an officer going home.6 Unfortunately, he had to leave without his orders and without the letter, so I dropped it in the outside mail. It may possibly reach you at the same time this does. It was only a note to tell you that I had received a very satisfactory telegram from Admiral Benson.7 I had written to him about the criticism in the paper<s>, and about the constant rumours that Eberle8 was to be sent over here to command the Queenstown force. I explained to the Admiral that I did not think I should be harassed by such rumours and asked him to be kind enough to reassure me, if he could, by cable. As a result I received the following telegram:-9

               “Nothing whatever in rumours referred to in your                personal letter 16th.10 April. Department perfectly               satisfied with your administration of destroyers as              well as of other forces.”

          You can readily understand how gratifying this was. I took it to mean that the Mayo incident was also closed. Since receiving the telegram, a letter has been received from Washington11 stating that Admiral Mayo’s request to be sent over here12 was referred to the White House and the result was “Nothing doing”. So I assume that incident is entirely closed. . . .

          Your devoted

               Will.

Source Note: ALS, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 10.

Footnote 1: Roald E.G. Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer who had been the first man to reach the South Pole. Although this expedition came up short, Amundsen later reached the North Pole in 1925.

Footnote 2: Napoleon Bonaparte, the legendary French general and emperor who conquered much of Europe before being defeated by a British coalition.

Footnote 3: There were no more significant naval engagements for the remainder of the war.

Footnote 4: Although Ireland contributed over 200,000 troops to the British war effort and had a strong Unionist Party dedicated to maintaining its place in the United Kingdom, Ireland was always a source of concern for Britain during the war. Nationalists had been agitating for independence long before the war started, and Germany worked to supply militant Nationalists with arms. The Easter Rising of 24-29 April 1916, although easily suppressed by British troops, heightened tensions when the British government imposed martial law throughout Ireland. Encyclopedia of World War I: Ireland, Role in War. Sims was especially concerned at this time because of plans to impose conscription on Ireland, which it was widely believed would spark another uprising. Conscription was never implemented on the island. See: Sims to Daniels 23 April 1918; and Bayly to Murray, 28 April 1918.

Footnote 5: Believing that the Western Front was undermanned, and that the British government was misleading the public about the state of forces on that front, Sir Frederick Maurice, formerly the Director of Military Operations, sent a letter to the British General Staff outlining his concerns. When this letter was ignored, he released it to the press. Lloyd George weathered the ensuing storm, and little came of Maurice’s public criticism except to end his own military career; he went on to become a professor of Military Studies at the University of London. John Gooch, “The Maurice Debate of 1918” Journal of Contemporary History Vol. 3, no. 4 (October 1968), 211-228.

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

Footnote 7: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 8: Capt. Edward W. Eberle was Superintendent of the Naval Academy, and Sims was distressed by rumors that he was to be sent to Queenstown to take command of the destroyers there, thus diminishing Sims’ authority. This never happened, and Eberle remained at the Academy the rest of the war.

Footnote 9: See: Benson to Sims, 6 May 1918.

Footnote 10: See: Sims to Benson, 16 April 1918. The cable quoted here has not been found.

Footnote 12: Adm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander, Atlantic Fleet. Mayo was Sims’ superior, and he hoped to leave Washington and command the fleet from the theater of operations, thereby greatly diminishing Sims’ authority. As seen in ibid., this never happened.