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Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Anne Hitchcock Sims


London, Nov.22, 1917

My darling Nani:

. . . The impatience at home because the rats are not dug out of their holes is the very natural result of lack of information as to actual conditions. This is called “mob strategy.” Everyone must have opinions, especially the editors of papers. These opinions are now in process of correction. When this commission1 confirms my information and that of Ad Mayo, there should be no further misapprehension in the minds of the P.Ds., including W.W.2

You need not fear my being removed for any such cause. W would be hard to imagine my position being any stronger. Admiral Benson says I am the logical selection for the job, and I have been informed by many people that practically all hands in the navy are pleased with my selection-barring two or three seniors who wanted the job. Besides this my evident popularity outside the navy would serve to counteract any purely personal disfavor. As for the P.Ds. not being satisfied with the way the naval campaign is being carried out on this side, surely it would require a lot of explaining to make me appear responsible, since, barring our relatively small forces, all the naval power belongs to the Allies. It would be too absurd. Of course an unavoidable disaster, say to our troops, would fall on me, and I might have to be sacrificed to public opinion, save against the judgement of the P.Ds. Also, the autocratic W.W. might want me recalled for the benefit of a second “Grayson”3-or for any other personal reason. Should any such thing happen, it will be up to me to accept it like a “soldier” and make the best of it. In that case, I should at once retire and spend the rest of my life with you and the children

     What you say as to Washington leaning to France is true, but they are rapidly coming to understand that there is no question of France or Italy or any other country, but of the common cause of the Allies, and our naval councils over here discuss the whole matter and decide as to the best employment of the forces available[.]

     The pressure for forces to be assigned to various countries comes from their Ambassadors at Wash. and their Naval Attachés and this pressure is largely personal.

     Of Course we must tie up to G.B.4 in order to win-but national pride for a separate American army will probably prevent us cooperating as efficiently as we otherwise could.

     Ad. B.5 is entirely satisfied that our relations with Japan are now entirely satisfactory.6 The “honeymoon stage” of the war implies a biting criticism- tho it is not very accurate except as regards the uninformed public. The Army knows that this stage is not at all a pleasant one.

     I agree that no pro-Germans should be employed afloat-at least none except those I know personally. Our friend Evans,7 for example. . . .

     A young British reserve officer has been assigned to me for work with the Admiralty. He is a Canadian who came here and joined the British Navy. He served at the Dardanells and lost an arm at Dunkirk. His name is H.P. Winslow.8 The family used to be american but moved to Canada at the time of the revolution. He says he is related to Admiral Winslow9. . .

     The Commission went to Paris yesterday, and Babby10 and I will go over next Tuesday, 27th and have a day there before the conference begins on the 29th. I dont know how long I will be away. Ad. B. may go to Italy, and he may want me to go with him. He cannot make any plans in advance because Col. H.11 is running the show and he makes no plans. I believe they want to leave for home about Dec 6th.

     I am afraid things are not going very well with the army. They are having all the troubles that are to be expected in handling such large forces and their equipment, and in building up all the “machinery” of a large army and its supply.

     Of course this is not the most effective way of aiding the Allies. The men and supplies are needed, but the “machinery” already exists for the great British Army and could be used to handle our men and make them efficient in the shortest possible time

If Great Britain had a million fine young men she would not organize them as a new Army, with their own c-in-c, their own lines of communication, etc, and put them on their own section of the Western Front. This would take a long time, and when they were “ready” to go to their place on the line (after 6 or 8 months) they could not be equal to the veteran British men who have been fighting 2 or 3 years, and consequently they could not be equal to the veteran Germans.

     Consequently, if G.B. had this million men, she would, after a bit of hardening training, put them in with her veteran troops, in the proportion of one or two recruits to from 3 to 5 veterans who would give them experience and moral support and teach them all the tricks of the peculiar game of trench warfare.

     Evidently we could support the Allies’ cause more effectively and with less delay if our men could be used in the same way-and also our officers-in just the same way that the Americans who have enlisted in Canada or England and have fought alongside the British, have helped the common cause.

     This would mean that there would be no separate American Army, little chance for personal distinction for our commanders and little political capital to be gained[.]

     But, all the same, it would end the war sooner, save thousands of lives and millions of treasure.

     Wouldn’t it be fine if we were big enough to do this? I have been told that it was proposed by Mr. Balfour’s12 Commission and declined, but I do not know this to be true. If it had been adopted, we could have had by this time several hundred thousand men actually fighting on the Western front. It is possible that we may come to this yet: but think of the time that will have been lost!

     Certainly, allies fight at a great disadvantage compared to an enemy controlled by a central staff. If you only knew the difficulties caused by jealousies and conflicting interests, political and economic. However, there is a better chance of complete harmony now than there has yet been, and I am in great hopes that all hands will now get together and “saw wood.”. . .

Your devoted       


Source Note: ALS, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 9. Document on: “U.S. NAVAL FORCES OPERATING IN EUROPEAN WATERS.”

Footnote 1: Sims was referring to the Commission headed by Col. Edward House and including Adm. William S. Benson, the Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 2: Adm. Henry T. Mayo, who had led a naval mission to England and France in late September and early October, 1917. “W.W.” was President Woodrow Wilson; “P.Ds” were Sims’ shorthand for people of distinction, or VIPs.

Footnote 3: Passed Assistant Surgeon Cary T. Grayson was the personal physician and friend of President Wilson. Wilson rewarded Grayson with a considerable promotion to Rear Admiral that many in the Navy resented. Deppisch, Ludwig M., The White House Physician: A History From Washington to George W. Bush (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2007).

Footnote 4: Great Britain.

Footnote 5: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 6: The Lansing-Ishii agreement, concluded in early November 1917, resolved tensions between the United States and Japan. At the same time, agreements between the U.S. Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy regarding defense of the Pacific. Braisted, The United States Navy in the Pacific, 1909-1922, 326-35.

Footnote 7: Lt. Cmdr. Franck T. Evans.

Footnote 8: Lt. H. A. Winslow, R.N.V.R.

Footnote 9: RAdm. Cameron McRae Winslow.

Footnote 10: Cmdr. John V. Babcock acted as Sims’ aide and de facto Intelligence Officer.

Footnote 11: Col. Edward M. House, advisor to President Wilson.

Footnote 12: British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour. He led a British mission to the United States in April, 1917. Integrating the American army piecemeal into the British army was strongly advocated by the British leadership, both civilian and military. It was equally strongly rejected by their American counterparts. See, for example, Donald Smythe, Pershing: General of the Armies (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1986), 68-72.