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

30, Grosvenor Gardens.      

London. S.W.           

November 9th. 1917.

My dear Anne,

          Before I went to meet Colonel House and Admiral Benson on Wednesday [7 November],1 I mailed you a letter giving you the news to date, and I even wrote you a brief letter upon my return.2 At least, I think I remember that I did, but things are popping so fast around these days that I cannot be sure that I remember all items.

          We are now in a continual succession of conferences, interviews, luncheons and so forth, and as the mail closes today I do not see the possibility of being able to write you a real letter with the pen, so am asking you again to excuse the typewriter for the sake of the items of news which she will have time to write for me. This is being done by my very competent assistant, Miss Thompson, who wrote the last letter of the kind I sent you.

          On Wednesday morning Admiral Jellicoe, Babby and I, with some officials of the British State Department, went down to Plymouth to meet Colonel House and Admiral Benson.3 The vessels got into the Navy Yard a little after dark an all the passengers stepped on the train which was <drawn> up on the wharf. We had dinner on the train and arrived in London about mid-night.

          Colonel House, Admiral Jellicoe, Admiral Benson and I talked all the way to London. I was very much impressed indeed by what they had to say concerning the entire willingness of our country to do everything possible to help along the great cause. I had never met Colonel House before and I was very much impressed by him in every way.

          You know of course how much I have always thought of Admiral Benson, particularly the extremely valuable quality of absolute honesty in all his dealings. In addition to this, I was very much impressed by his grasp of the situation. He really seems to have developed wonderfully in the two or three years he has been in the Navy Department or else, I never appreciated what he was before, because he is such a quiet and non-assertive man.

          Since arriving in London we have had consultations with Admiral Jellicoe of the most satisfactory kind and Admiral Benson has gone over all of the important papers, reports and telegrams that have been sent in since he sailed from the other side.

          We have of course discussed his affairs and my affairs very extensively, and I believe with great satisfaction to all concerned. He said last night that if his visit should terminate tomorrow he considered that what he had learned in the one day he had been here was quite worth the trouble of coming over here.

          Yesterday I had him to luncheon in the Restaurant in the basement of the Embassy, with the Ambassador4 and three members of the Commission. Yesterday evening I took him to dinner at the new American Officers’ Club with Babby, and Twining and his own Aide, Lieutenant Commander Carter.5 After dinner we had a long very frank talk over conditions here and on the other side. The distinguishing feature of the Admiral is, as I have said, the most absolute honesty you can imagine. Consequently, he discusses everything with entire frankness. This is in such startling contrast with that of the conduct of others I could mention, that you can imagine how satisfactory it is to meet him. He very highly approves of everything that we have done over here. He said that I was the logical man for the position and that he insisted on my appointment, but that in doing so he has made life long enemies of a number of officers who feel outraged that consideration was not given to their seniority. I am sure you will be glad to know just how he regards these matters.

          He is going to see Admiral Jellicoe again today and then we are both going to lunch with Colonel House and the other members of the commission in order to discuss the general lines of the attitude of the United States towards the other nations. Colonel House has been lodged by the British Government in Chesterfield House, which is a very fine residence indeed, and which enables him to entertain the people that he wants.

          This is all the news up to date, except that Winston Churchill is leaving for home within a few days.6 He telegraphed me from Paris asking permission to go home on one of our transports and I granted this permission in view of the fact that the Navy Department permitted him to come out on a transport. He said he expected to return within a few weeks, but I have no other information concerning his moments or intentions. He was coming back here in a week or ten days and expected to spend the winter in London.

          I will doubtless have time to write you at least a small note myself before the mail goes, but I wanted to be sure of getting off the general news by the mail which closes this afternoon.

Heaps of hugs and kisses to all of you         

Your devoted                

Will              

Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 9. The complimentary close and signature are handwritten.

Footnote 1: Edward M. House , personal aide and confidante to President Woodrow Wilson, and Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations. House and Benson were in London as a part of what became known as the House Mission, a commission that arrived in London in early November to help alleviate any lingering feelings following the visit of Admiral Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, on the part of the Navy that the British Admiralty still did not consider it a “full partner” in the war effort. The House Mission spent nearly a month in the war zone, the highlight of which was a second Allied Naval Conference, at which Benson, as a member of the Mission, represented the Navy. As a result of this conference, the Navy and Admiralty agreed to a deployment of United States battleships to European waters, the formation of an Allied Naval Council, with Sims as the American representative, the dispatch of additional subchasers, the creation of a planning section in London, the establishment of the North Sea Mine Barrage, and the creation of an American naval base at Ponta Delgada in the Azores. Still, Crisis at Sea, 75-76.

Footnote 2: For the former letter, See: Sims to Sims, 1 November 1917. The latter letter has not been located.

Footnote 3: First Sea Lord Adm. Sir John R. Jellicoe and Cmdr. John V. Babcock, Sims’ aide and intelligence officer.

Footnote 4: Walter H. Page, United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Footnote 5: Capt. Nathan C. Twining, Sims’ Chief of Staff, and Fidelio Carter.

Footnote 6: A close personal friend of Wilson, the American author had been sent on a fact-finding mission by the President in October. For a report of what he learned on his mission and his recommendations for reform and improvements for the Navy’s war effort, see: Churchill to Wilson, 22 October 1917.

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