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 the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations


Cablegram Sent    8 November 1917

To Opnav Washington (for Bueng)1   Serial No. 1321

Via   N C B D 18    Prep. by PHB  Appvd. by NCT2

Sent  Initials   File No.

  Copies to: COS, JVB, PHB.3

1321. Your 891. At meeting inter-allied radio commission Paris October thirty first French representatives referring to New London radio conference October fourth stated that French Government favorable to our idea of establishing new high power radio station South Western France for transatlantic communication. Colonel Ferrie4 stated that French plans contemplated a station of five hundred killowatt power with duplicate arc radio sets complete each of three hundred fifty killowatt power, American Navy type. Also eight towers each two hundred fifty meters high and that to expedite construction there is urgent need from America of the duplicate arc radio sets each three hundred fifty killowatt and eight towers each two hundred fifty meters high. Method of furnishing power and power equipment necessary will be determined later as location of station is not determined. Question as to which government will pay for this station was not examined by the Paris Commission.  Opnav 891 and copy Department 11030 to Naval Attache Paris5 also copy proceedings New London conference October 4th seen in Ministry Foreign Affairs Paris first indication new high power station to be constructed. Information not received from Navy Department as to which government will pay for station also as to who will design, construct and operate station.6

Sims. 02208

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. The number after Sims’ signature is stamped. Someone has handwritten in corrections to multiple spelling errors in the document.

Footnote 1: Bureau of Engineering.

Footnote 2: “PHB” has not been identified as of yet. “NCT” is Capt. Nathan C. Twining, Sims’ chief of staff.

Footnote 3: “COS” is Chief of Staff Twining; Comdr. Cmdr. John V. Babcock was an aide on Sims’ staff.

Footnote 4: Col. Gustave Auguste Ferrie, head of Radiotelegraphie Militaire.

Footnote 5: Cmdr. William R. Sayles, United States Naval Attaché at Paris. The two documents referenced here have not been found.

Footnote 6: Prior to the war, the United States’ primary method of communication with Europe came through cables. The German submarine force posed a dire threat to Allied communications with its ability to cut cables and disrupt traffic. Just the existence of such a large, active U-boat fleet also hindered maintenance on transatlantic cables. Very soon after U.S. entry into the war, the Allies began considering a radio network to offer an alternate form of communication. Despite enthusiastic support from the French military, the construction of radio towers suffered constant delays from manpower and materiel shortages. The foremost authority on communication in World War I concludes that, had the Germans been as successful as they had hoped in disrupting Allied cable communication, the radio network would not have been adequate to compensate. Efforts at inter-Allied radio communication did, however, prepare the United States for a future in which its global presence demanded greater capacity to communicate with allies and forces around the world. Jonathan Reed Winkler, Nexus: Strategic Communications and American Security in World War I (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), 105-121.