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

[Extract]

London, November 15, 1917

My darling Sweetheart:

     . . . But first, let me tell you some of the general news.

     You will be glad to know that I have had a long yarn with Captain “Jake” Robison.1 He came up to London and spent the day. He was as fine as usual. He offered to give me anything in the ship. He landed 125,000 pounds of provisions, and sent me 14 desks, chairs, file cases, etc for our expansion.2 He also offered me 300 men. I took 200. He will go and see you if possible when he returns, and tell you how well I am.

     Niblack “blew in” here the other day like a fresh breeze. He was very amusing. He leaves for his station in a couple of days.3

. . . The article by Connelly is rather a curious one.4 Some day, after the war, I think I will write an article, compiled from the various biographical articles, and containing only those things that I have never said or done.

     Admiral B has cabled recommending that Captain Mac Dougall be detached and ordered home, and that I be made naval attaché in his place.5 This is one of the hard things that has to be done. He is a very agreeable man, but is wholly unsuited for this billet. I am very sorry for his wife and two daughters. I like them very much. I took lunch with them the other day. 

Admiral Benson is very fine. It is lucky we have such an honest man in his position.6 He is making an investigation without consulting me, and I am sure this is because he wants to be able to say that he formed his own opinion. He is recommending things which I have been recommending for months[.] Admiral Mayo went back with practically the same recommendations,7 but W.W.8 is reported to have said that the British and I soon got him to our way of thinking! Ad. B. discusses all sorts of things with Ad J.,9 and as I see the latter every day or so, I know what is going on and what conclusions are reached. When B goes back and makes his report and states that his conclusions were formed without discussion with me it should remove from W.W.’s mind the idea that I am hopelessly British—so much so that I can form no independent judgment.

     I am sure that B. will back up everything I have done. He told me that I am the logical man for the post, and he spoke of me in the highest terms to J. I can see no anti-British feeling in anything B. says or does. At all events, he is intensely anti-German. He will believe no good of them. He admits he is hopelessly prejudiced against them.10

     Col. H.11 has informed Ad. J. that he wants to go over the whole situation (naval and military) with him and form his own conclusions. At all events, the naval situation is so clear that he can form but one conclusion.12

     The other members of the commission are working hard on the shipping situation, and I have assigned two members of the staff to work with them—and they have arrived at the conclusions that I reach (necessarily, from the facts) many months ago. What a pity they did not send over at the beginning experts in the various lines — as I have been advising them to do ever since last April!

     However, I suppose an unmilitary nation is bound to make such mistakes upon going unprepared into a war.

     As you know, there has been, since the beginning, many disagreements between the allies and not a little distrust — and this has made much trouble and changed many plans; but now that all hands are really apprehensive, I believe they will get together in common agreement and take the necessary measures demanded by the situation.

     The documents I sent you (by express) by Captain Jackson13 will show you what I had to contend with as far as regards W.W. and his entire confidence in his opinions on military matters. The report of this commission will correct that, so that we can start all over again. . . .

     There is no use guessing when the war will end. Everything is in a muddle just now. It may end before long, and it [four pages missing; for explanation see source note]

     . . . Tomorrow evening Babby14 and I are going to a dinner given by Mr. Balfour in the House of Commons — or rather the Parlament Building. It is a dinner to all the members of the commission.15

     Now, my sweetheart, I must be off to bed (I am writing this at the Carlton)16 as it is getting late.

     I may have time to write a bit more before the mail goes, but I cannot be sure. These are strenuous times. I am continuously busy but not worried or fussed and am always in good health. With all my occupations I am frequently lonely and homesick for you and our darlings. I have a good look at your photos every day. When will we all be together again. What a happy day that will be!—with the nations of the world at peace!

     All my love, my darling, and kisses and hugs for all the small ones.

Your devoted

Will

Source Note: ALS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers. The letter is written on “U. S. NAVAL FORCES/OPERATING IN EUROPEAN WATERS” stationary with that phrase and an U.S. Navy emblem embossed in the paper at the top of the first page. There is also a handwritten note at the top of the first page: “Pages 9,10,11,12 personal _(Other people’s business) not included -.” There is a postscript that the editors have chosen not to include.

Footnote 1: Cmdr. John K. Robison, commander of armored cruiser Huntington.

Footnote 2: On the “expansion” of Sims’ headquarters, see: Sims to Sims, 6 November 1917.

Footnote 3: RAdm. Alfred P. Niblack. He was en route to become Commander, Patrol Squadron, Gibraltar. See: Sims to Niblack, 9 November 1917.

Footnote 4: The article by American journalist Christopher P. Connolly, who usually wrote for Collier’s, has not been found.

Footnote 6: Benson was the Chief of Naval Operations for the U.S. Navy. He had come as part of a delegation led by Col. Edward House sent to represent the United States at an inter-Allied conference to be held in France.

Footnote 7: VAdm. Henry T. Mayo, commander of the U.S. Atlantic fleet, had represented the United States at a conference in London in early September 1917. He had also spent time consulting with Sims and British naval leaders. See: Mayo to Josephus Daniels, 17 September 1917.

Footnote 8: President Woodrow Wilson.

Footnote 9: “Ad. B” is Benson; “Ad J” is British First Sea Lord Sir John R. Jellicoe, R.N.

Footnote 10: This statement is ironic given that Sims later wrote a public letter, which sparked a congressional hearing into the Navy’s preparedness entering World War I, which quoted Benson as saying: “Don’t let the British pull the wool over your eyes. It is none of our business pulling their chestnuts out of the fire. We would as soon fight the British as the Germans.” Sims’ letter, dated 7 January 1920 is reproduced in Naval Investigation, 1: 1.

Footnote 11: President Wilson’s close friend and trusted advisor Col. Edward House, the leader of the commission.

Footnote 12: House met with Jellicoe on 21 November. See: House Diary, 21 November 1917.

Footnote 13: Capt. Orton P. Jackson, See: Sims to Sims, 14 October 1917.

Footnote 14: Sims’ aide, Cmdr. John V. Babcock.

Footnote 15: There is some confusion about the date of this dinner. According to House’s diary, on 16 November he attended a dinner hosted by the Lord Chief Justice of England and his wife. Charles Seymour, The Intimate Papers of Colonel House: Into the World War. 4 vols. [Boston and NY: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1928], 3: 233. According to the biographers of Benson, the dinner hosted by Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour took place on 13 November. Klachko and Trask, Benson, 96.

Footnote 16: The hotel where Sims lived.