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 Rear Admiral Leigh C. Palmer, Chief of Bureau of Navigation

November 9th, 1917.

My dear Palmer,

          We are very much pleased indeed over here that you have apparently accepted our scheme of training officers and enlisted men for the destroyers.1 While we have received no official approval of our scheme, and though Admiral Benson2 was apparently not informed about it, or how it was brought about, still we understand that it is at least tentatively approved because we have a cable directing us to send home three captains with three nucleus bunches of twenty-five men each.3 Also that you are sending out three captains to be put in training to take their place.4 The three captains go home on the BRIDGE which is sailing within a few days.

          Admiral Benson arrived only yesterday, and is now in the throes of communicating with the Admiralty and preliminary conferences with various people who are going to take part in the big Conference in Paris about the middle of the month.5 It may interest you to know, what you probably already know very well, that the Admiral is filled with admiration for the way you have handled your very difficult and harassing job. I know it is difficult, but I hope that none of the harassment has come from this side.

          I have just received a letter from Puleston, who is on Admiral Knight’s staff, saying he believes Admiral Knight would spare his services if he were ordered to duty elsewhere.6 He wants very much to come over to this side and get command of a destroyer. If this meets with your approval I would be very glad to have him, as I can foresee that we are going to find it difficult to get good commanders for all of the numerous destroyers that are coming out.

     I was talking to Carter7 the other day about this business of destroyers being given to entirely new men on the other side, and I told him I thought that such officers who have been promised destroyers would very likely prefer to be sent out to me to be placed in command of a well trained and experienced ship whose captain has been sent home to bring out a brand new one. The experience of this peculiar kind of warfare is so important that I should think this scheme would appeal to any officers who wish a destroyer command. If so, I would be very glad indeed to have any such officers sent out to report to me and be assigned to the destroyers vacated by her captain being sent home. As we proposed to send home only the best captains who have been out the longest, such officers would be assured of the command of the best ships we have out here. Really, I should think this scheme would appeal strongly to any officer desiring a destroyer command.

          In connection with the above, I have received a letter from Lieutenant Settle8 who is now serving on the NEVADA who says that his highest ambition is to get a billet as Executive officer of a destroyer. Settle is one of the very best young officers whom I know, and if you can make it possible for him to be assigned to this duty I should be very glad to have him.

                    Believe me,

                             Always very sincerely yours,

Source Note: Cy, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 23. Following the close, the letter is addressed to “Rear Admiral L.C. Palmer,/Chief of Bureau of Navigation,/Navy Department,/Washington, D.C.”.

Footnote 2: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 3: This cable has not been located.

Footnote 4: On 5 November, Capt. Joel R. Poinsett Pringle, Senior Officer, Destroyer Flotilla Based at Queenstown met with Cmdr. Joseph K. Taussig, Cmdr. Alfred W. Johnson, and Lt. Cmdr. Walter N. Vernou where he informed the three officers that Sims had provided orders that three commanders from the destroyer flotilla should be sent home, one of whom was to be Vernou, and the other two from the first division to arrive in Queenstown in May 1917. Both Johnson and Taussig requested that they be allowed to return home, which Pringle agreed to recommend. Sims approved this recommendation on 7 November, and, on 12 November, the three commanders were officially relieved of their duties as the commanding officers on their respective vessels; see, Diary of Joseph K. Taussig, 5 November 1917 and 12 November 1917, RNW, Joseph Taussig Papers. Lt. Isaac F. Dortch replaced Taussig, Lt. Cmdr. Jesse B. Gay replaced Johnson, and Lt. Cmdr. Abram Claude replaced Vernou.

Footnote 5: Benson was in London as a part of what became known as the House Mission, a commission led by Edward M. House, a personal advisor and confidante to President Woodrow Wilson, 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 6: Lt. Cmdr. William D. Puleston and Austin M. Knight, Commander-in-Chief, Asiatic Fleet.

Footnote 7: Lt. Cmdr. Fidelio S. Carter.

Footnote 8: Lt. (j.g.) Henry T. Settle.

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