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Rear Admiral Albert P. Niblack, Commander, Patrol Squadrons Based on Gibraltar, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters

U. S. S. Nashville    

Squadron Two Patrol Force

Nov 27th 1917.

Dear Sims:-

          Ambassador Willard1 was in Paris on leave, and told me how to work the trip through Spain- They cancelled our passports gotten in London, and issued new ones for Paris, with rank, title, etc. We got our passes for the frontier from the French government – But unfortunately the day we left the French government opened the frontier for 48 hours, and we got caught in a crowd of about 400. The result was we had no privileges, were lucky to get an upper berth out of Paris, and were detained so long at the French frontier (three days) that the train for Madrid left [Aries?](Spanish Customs House) that when we got there it had gone, so we had to stay 24 hours at [same?].

     Our passports were issued by the Spanish Embassy in Paris, & the Spanish Foreign Office was notified that we were going through. Ambassador Willard said the Germans would make no opp[o]sitions because it would act on their own privileges the same way. In other words we went through in civilians clothes with the Knowledge of every Body. We got no sleeper & sat up until we got to Madrid, as we did from Boulongne to Paris.  Decker2 was in Barcelona but left a note saying he wished I would inspect his office & see what I thought of his methods & results. Cussacks3 was there & met us at the Station in Madrid. Decker is doing fine work. He has agents widely scattered over the coast of Spain, and was off then chasing two supposed German submarine bases on the East coast of Spain near Barcelona.

     His clerical force is inadequate but he is doing good work, & necessary work. Unfortunately Naval attaches are organized for peace time and not for war. His information goes to Washington & it is too late to utilize it by the time they have received it. Also the Embassy bothers him a whole lot telling him what to do, & what information to send on. However that is gossip. I don’t know it. My idea is that he should be required to furnish you or me instantly with any information we ought to know. For instance enemy submarine activities on the Spanish coast, reported to him by his agents, should come here to the British Admiralty & to London or to me & then to you - or to you direct. Then separately to end in Washington[.] As I said before the Naval Attache job is a peace organization, as it is now.

          It was fortunate we went the day before to Folkestone as Adml Bacon4 sent his car for us & had us to dinner at Dover. He also showed us the whole works.

     We got here Sunday morning the 25th, & I hoisted my flag on the “Nashville” — I will live at the Hotel Bristol until I can get a House – which is going to be a difficult proposition- Our force here is working now on a very short schedule in and plenty of cruising outside. The Court of Inquiry on the “Chauncey I have some things I am correcting.-5 It is amazing to find here British Vice Admls & Rear Admls (retired) in command of yachts (escorting) with the rank of R.N.R. Captain.

     The British here are very appreciative of the work of our ships, & are prompt to do any thing we ask, that they can do. – Some little drunken fighting ashore & very bad vener[e]al conditions which the Reporters attribute of the British towards licensing & examination of prostitutes makes inevitable [&] impossible to remedy except by “propaganda” & prophylactecs.

This goes by the ‘Birmingham’ – [Commd.?} Yarnell6 seems very keen to stay at sea in command of the Nashville, and even if you do not order him to London he does not want to serve as Chief of Staff here either. On Dec 15 after the Nashville is ready I will turn him loose.

     I had no radio or coding force except my flag lieut & flag secretary. Lieut King7 still imagines himself Flag Lieut to Wilson8 & only temporarily left behind, but he will get over that in time.

     Gibraltar is pretty [staid?] & rather expensive & those on shore are kicking hard on not having any allowances. After relieving Hood9 & finding only the print work, I find that Wilson could have taken much more than he did, but only because you blocked some of it.

     I am going ahead to get the sea plane shed ready for comfortable reception during the winter in the absence of any receiving ships, (barracks, galley, tables, work house, etc)

     The “Celtic” is not yet in, so I beat her to it.10

     My trip to London & Paris has put me in good touch with the whole situation. The rainy season is over and here now some five weeks & they are praying for rain. The fresh water question is getting serious, as all cisterns are low. The “Pensacola” is due here in a week or so with stores, two officers, & two automobiles (Fords)

Very Truly Yours


Source Note: ALS, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 76.

Footnote 1: U.S. Ambassador to Spain Joseph E. Willard.

Footnote 2: Capt. Benton C. Decker, U.S. naval attaché in Madrid.

Footnote 3: Carlos V. Cusachs was a professor of mathematics at the U.S. Naval Academy. At the time he was assisting Decker with a temporary rank of lieutenant commander.

Footnote 4: Adm. Sir Reginald H.S. Bacon, R.N., who commanded the Dover Patrol.

Footnote 5: On 19 November 1917, while on escort duty west of Gibraltar, U.S.S. Chauncey, a destroyer built in 1899, was rammed by a British merchantman and later sank with the loss of twenty-one men, including the ship’s commander Lt. Walter E. Reno. DANFS.

Footnote 6: Cmdr. Harry E. Yarnell.

Footnote 7: Lt. Rufus King.

Footnote 8: RAdm. Henry B. Wilson was transferred by Sims from commanding the patrol squadron at Gibraltar to commanding the patrol squadron off the coast of France. See: Sims to Wilson, 13 October 1917.

Footnote 9: Presumably, RAdm. John Hood.

Footnote 10: U.S. supply ship Celtic.