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Rear Admiral Leigh C. Palmer, Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters


Bureau of Navigation


November 5, 1917.  

My dear Sims:-

          I have read with interest your letter of October 8th,1 on the general proposition in regard to training for destroyer service. Your letter coincides with my views very closely, and in fact the only differences are those that are caused by lack of personnel to carry out all we could wish. The Bureaus mission is of course, to distribute the personnel in the best way to further the general plan of the Department and with the numerous ships that have been sent out, calling for at least one or two officers of the Regular service, the supply has dwindled to almost nothing. There is no use saying “I told you so” because war is upon us and the shortage which we have anticipated for years is now being most seriously felt.

          The plans call for the utilization of about 156,000 men of the Regular service and approximately 65,000 Reservists and National Naval Volunteers. The prescribed number of Regular officers, corresponding to the enlisted force only, is 6240. Including the most recently graduated Ensigns, the total active list of the Navy today is 2400, so that we must obtain 3840 officers elsewhere.

          It is simply a matter of mathematics. The 55 large destroyers now in commission requiring 275 officers and the 266 destroyers building, bring the total requirements in regular commissioned officers to 1605, which is on a basis of five regular officers for each destroyer. Roughly, this leaves 800 regular officers of all ranks for all other duties in the Navy, not to mention thepeople required on your Staff and for other vessels connected with the Destroyer service. You can see that it is utterly impracticably to carry out the five regular officers per destroyer and I note at the end of your letter that you have stated that you are going to do the best in any event, with whatever is given to you, so I rather believe that you have looked over the situation and know that it would be impossible to continue with five regular officers on each destroyer. Of course, casualties would also add to the total number required.

          However, it is not left to me to decide as to the operations considered most important, and those who are responsible for the decision are determined to man other ships, also, including the battleships, cruisers, gunboats, yachts, mine ships, submarines, transports, sweepers, etc.

          I have sent out a circular stating about what we are required to do and generally it is necessary to feed in at the bottom the next best material we have, after the Naval Academy graduates, and have all hands help to train them. We have indoctrinated all ships on this side with the idea and even the submarines have taken it up and say they can carry it out. As far as I can see, the general plan will have to carry to the destroyer personnel and ultimately they will have to have three regulars and two temporaties.[i.e. temporaries] I suppose there will be a considerable number of temporaries made in the ranks of the destroyers from the enlisted men, but we will send you other temporary Ensigns for training.

          I like the idea of the Commanding Officers of the new boats having gone through the mill on the other side and I know this will work for good. Also the nucleus crew will be about the biggest thing that we have been able to do towards fitting out new boats so that they will be able to be of use to you when they arrive. I assume you realize that I expect you to shift the personnel for all ships over there to meet the needs. I tried to put more than the full quota of officers in each of the craft that has been sent over, and if that personnel can possibly be re-arranged so that you can take out some others than the present Commanding Officers, they could come back to go into the new destroyers.

          I received your letter about the Chaplain on the Melville and will send one highly recommended by Naval Officers. He happens to be an Episcopalian who speaks French fluently. I am also sending the copies of the Navy and Marine Corps List and Directory you requested.2

          I am at present waiting the arrival of your letter in regard to the material and supplies needed for barracks and will act on it as soon as it arrives.3 I had another five thousand cabled you on the barracks proposition, thinking you might need it before the department closes down on further appropriations.

          Best wishes to you and Twinning and all of the old “gas house gang.”4

Sincerely yours,             

S/  PALMER/        

Source Note: Cy, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 23. Addressed below close: “Vice Admiral William S. Sims, U.S.N.,/Commanding U.S.Naval Forces in European Waters,/C/O Postmaster, New York, City.Document is labeled: “Admiral Sims’/Personal File.” Upper right corner; “In reply refer to No./N/MA.”

Footnote 2: Letter has not been found.

Footnote 4: Capt. Nathan C. Twinning, Sims’ chief of staff.