Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, and United States Naval Attaché in London, to Vice Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly, Commander, Naval Forces, Southern Ireland

November 20th. 1917.

My dear Admiral,

          I need not say, I am sure, how much we are all pleased over the exploit of the FANNING, and we are eagerly waiting for details of the action. We are wondering how it is that so many of the crew were captured.1

          In connection with this affair I have often thought that if the depth charge that was dropped on this occasion had been closer to the hull of the submarine she might have gone to the bottom, leaving no trace, and this ship would have received no credit.

          I have naturally also wondered how many times in the course of dropping depth charges has the latter occurred; that is, how many submarines have we really gotten in this way so effectively that we observed no trace of them.

          It goes without saying also that our people in Washington will be as much gratified as we here, but I can readily imagine that some of Mr. Daniels’2 Press Bureau will be profoundly disgusted at the request we have made that nothing definite be published about this affair. The Admiralty has requested me to cable pointing out the advisability of publishing nothing at all about this affair for at least a week, and then only to publish that “an American destroyer sunk a submarine”. They do not want it known for the present that the prisoners were captured or that it was done by the FANNING (a Queenstown boat) or where the incident occurred. The reason for this is because they have given out information through their underground channels that the vessel was destroyed trying to get through the barrage in the straits of Dover on the 14th. As a matter of fact, one of the other five submarines that were sunk about the same time, was blown up by mines that were specially placed for them to dive into after crossing the barrage on the surface. The latter sub. was lost with all hands.

          I am sorry that such a delay has occurred in turning over the AVONIAN to us. The trouble has been in getting through the legal papers, changing the status of the vessel <from> and chartered to purchase<d>. I am expecting that this transaction will be completed today and when it does I will at once telegraph and let you know that our crew can be sent. I am curious to know what name the Flotilla will suggest for the vessel.3

          Yesterday I went to hear the duel in the House between Mr. Asquith and Mr. Lloyd George.4 It was very interesting indeed. Mr. Asquith is not very effective as an orator, but Mr. George upon this occasion was very effective indeed. As a political orator I fancy he has not many equals. He apparently carried the House with him. We do not know yet what part the Navy will take in the Inter-Allied Council.

          Admiral Benson is still pursuing his investigations on his own account, and I am glad to say that he is recommending practically all of the measures that I have been recommending during the last six months.5 It is a great pity that we should not have sent all the necessary experts to this side immediately upon our entering the war. I earnestly recommended this in April. However, I believe that this Commission will go back to America thoroughly informed of the conditions here. Moreover, that all of the Allies are now sufficiently apprehensive to get down to business and “saw wood”. Let us hope so.

          I am very much distressed indeed that my friend Mrs. Zogbaum has seen best to come out and establish herself in Ireland. This will necessitate either Zogbaum’s departure or hers. Admiral Benson is equally displeased and says the incident cannot be allowed to pass without notice.6

          I am sending to Queenstown within a few days, Lieutenant Commander Conn who was the commander of the yacht that was torpedoed off the French Coast a little while ago. His report shows that his vessel was very well organized and very well drilled for just such an occurrence, and that he handled the whole situation admirably. He is one of the destroyer commanders who was with me when I had the Flotilla, and he is a fine man.7

          I am very glad indeed that Admiral Benson consented to let us keep the BALCH, DOWNES and DUNCAN. I agree with you that the flivvers are not up to the work which will have to be done off the Irish coast this winter, and I think we now have it arranged to employ most of them where they will be most useful.8

          The WALKE and PERKINS were probably on their last legs. There are, however, a number of boats of the same type on our coast which are in good condition. Admiral Benson has now practically decided that he will send these boats over here for the convoy duty of our troops across the Channel. I think I told you that the British transport system across the Channel will be very thoroughly occupied after December 1st. in transporting their own troops, particularly the increased number of men that will be going on leave during the winter. We are therefore going to establish our own ferry service across the Channel, probably between Portland and Cherbourg. Fast vessels of between two and three thousand tons will be sent over and the flivvers will act as their escort.

          A large number of the 110 ft. chasers are now being put in commission on our side and they will be used there to release our destroyers as fast as they come out. I believe Admiral Benson thoroughly understands that every available destroyer should be sent to this side at the earliest possible moment, and I feel sure that this will be done. <Provided they will finally decide to give up the idea of destroyer escort of troops all the way across.> By Spring we should have between twentyfive and thirty of the new destroyers at the Front. There is a more or less determined effort being made in America to adopt someone of the systems of camouflage as a standard for all our vessels. All of these systems are based on rendering the vessel as invisible as possible, that is, in effect, decreasing the distance at which she can just be made out. I believe that this is wrong in principle in so far as concerns the antisubmarine campaign – that the Dazzle system is more effective in saving a vessel from a torpedo.9 Incidentally, I know that in many of our reports the Dazzle system is referred to as camouflage. Not only is this likely to cause confusion, but it is also likely to be taken as an approval of the camouflage system. I think, therefore, some pains should be taken to eliminate the misleading name and use the one which refers to the system we are now using.

          I regret to say that we have just been informed by telegram that one of our small 450-ton destroyers based on Gibraltar was lost yesterday in a collision that occurred at night, and that twenty-one of her crew of ninety were lost. I do not know any of the circumstances yet.10

          The Commission is going to Paris on the 22nd. But the conference does not take place until the 29th. I will probably be leaving for Paris about the 27th. to be absent five or six days. I do not know yet how the commission is going back, but it will either be on one of our large transports, that was formerly a passenger steamer, or on one of the American or British vessels from Liverpool. In any case the vessel will be accompanied by one of our armored cruisers, the SANTIAGO, which has been ordered in to St. Nazaire to await orders. I hope this will not place any extra burden on the Queenstown destroyers, but I cannot tell as yet. Admiral Benson is naturally anxious that all practicable means of protection should be taken in this case. This not to risk the credit of the Navy through the possible loss of such a distinguished body of men, and not at all because there is any nervousness on their part.

          À propos of submarine nervousness, the Norwegian minister11 told me the other day that one of his countrymen in Paris went down into Spain, took a Spanish steamer to Cuba, then another steamer to New York and thence a third steamer to one of the Northern ports of Norway, in order to avoid crossing the North Sea.

          I am sorry not to have had an opportunity of running up for a few days this month. I am particularly sorry that Admiral Benson could not see Queenstown and our organization there. It is barely possible that he may be able to do so before he returns.

          I am very much interested in the photographs of the CASSIN in dock. I never cease to be astonished at the extraordinary force of these explosives. If there is a spare set of these photographs I would like very much to have one.12

          Please give my love to THE ONLY NIECE,13 and believe me,

Always sincerely yours,     

Source Note: TL, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 47. Following the close, the letter is addressed to “Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly,/Admiralty House,/Queenstown.”

Footnote 1: On 17 November 1917, while escorting a convoy through the submarine zone, the destroyer FANNING encountered and sank the German submarine U-58, capturing the majority of its crew. For more details on this encounter, see: Diary of Angus W. Wiggins, 17 November 1917 and Arthur S. Carpender to Sims, 18 November 1917.

Footnote 2: Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

Footnote 3: One of the recommendations of the Allied Naval Conference that took place in September 1917 was the use of more special service ships (mystery or Q ships); See: Henry T. Mayo to Daniels, 17 September 1917. The British Admiralty proposed loaning Avonian (also called Arvonian) as the first United States Q Ship, which was agreed to in late October. The ship’s transfer officially took place on 27 November 1917, with Cmdr. David C. Hanrahan in command. On 18 December, Avonian was renamed U.S.S. Santee; Still, Crisis at Sea, 475 and Sims to Opnav, 16 October 1917.

Footnote 4: H. H. Asquith, 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith, M.P. and Opposition Leader, and Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Asquith was the former Prime Minister, having been replaced by Lloyd George as the head of a coalition government in December 1916. The debate Sims mentioned would have taken place in the House of Commons.

Footnote 5: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, had been in London since the beginning of November as the Navy’s representative on the House Mission. This mission, was dispatched to London to help alleviate any lingering feelings following the September 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. 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 6: Lt. Cmdr. Rufus F. Zogbaum, Jr., was the commanding officer on Davis, one of the first destroyers to arrive at Queenstown in May 1917. In his memoirs Zogbaum writes that his wife had obtained a passport and come to Ireland even though “it was well known that the wives of men in the American forces could not get passports for the British Isles.” When Zogbaum informed Sims of his wife’s arrival Margaret Zogbaum received a telegram from Sims’ chief of staff “that she or I must leave the vicinity of Queenstown.” Margaret Zogbaum then relocated to London and shortly afterward Rufus Zogbaum was rotated home to take command of one of the destroyers then being built. Rufus F. Zogbaum, From Sail to Saratoga, A Naval Autobiography (Rome, N.p., 1961), 267-69.

Footnote 7: William T. Conn, Jr. was the commanding officer of the armed yacht Alcedo. On 4 November 1917, during a convoying mission from Quiberon Bay to Brest, Alecdo was attacked by U-71 and sunk. For an account of this sinking, see: Pringle to Sims, 8 November 1917.

Footnote 8: BALCH, DOWNES and DUNCAN were all 1000-ton four-stack destroyers. BALCH was an Alywin-class destroyer, and DOWNES and DUNCAN belonged to the CASSIN-class. “Flivver” was the nickname for the 700-750-ton destroyers of the Smith and Paulding classes, to which WALKE and PERKINS (mentioned in the following paragraph) belonged. The word was period slang for a small, inexpensive car and was a reference to the vessels diminutive stature compared to the newer 1,000-ton destroyers, beginning with CASSIN. Still, Crisis at Sea, 309.

Footnote 9: On “dazzle” painting for ships, see, W.S. Abell to Eugene C. Tobey, 13 August 1917, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520, Norman Wilkinson to Clement Greatorex, 16 July 1917, and Sims to Bayly, 14 August 1917. For an example of dazzle design, see: https://www.history.navy.mil/research/publications/documentary-histories/wwi/august-1917/illustrations/uss-zirkel.html.

Footnote 10: Chuancey was rammed by the British merchantman Rose as both ships steamed in war-imposed darkness. Among Chauncey’s twenty-one casualties were its captain, Lt. Cmdr. Walter E. Reno, and Lt. (j.g.) Charles F. Wedderbrun.

Footnote 11: Paul Benjamin Vogt, Envoy Extraordinary and Minter Plenipotentiary to the United Kingdom.

Footnote 12: CASSIN was torpedoed by U-61 on 15 October 1917. For an account of this attack, see: War Diary of U-61, 15 October 1917 and Report on the Torpedoing of U.S.S. CASSIN, 15 October 1917.

Footnote 13: Bayly's niece, Miss Violet Voysey.