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Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters





Hotel Maurice, Paris, France,     

21 November, 1918.           

My dear Sims:-

          One question in connection with demobilization of naval forces operating in Europe which has given me considerable worry is the matter of closing up our naval establishments on European shores settling claims for payments which interested persons may intend making against our Government.

          I have discussed this matter with different people, among them Captain Craven;1 Captain Edmund W. Bonnaffon, Pay Corps; Commander John F. Hatch, Pay Corps; Admiral Long,2 and others.

          While, of course, the fundamental principle underlying our method of settlement will be the same in all countries, it is a fact that we must be prepared to deal with the legal situations which may arise, and it seems to me that the best way to handle this matter is to put the proposition squarely up to the commanders of forces in the countries affected and let them adjust these matters subject, of course, to the approval of the Force Commander.

          It appears to me also that the most logical way in arriving at a plan of procedure would be for each Force Commander to designate a board to consider all such claims and to present a proposed solution in all cases. This board, it appears to me, should consist of a line officer, a supply officer, a legal officer, and perhaps in certain cases a civil engineer. The last named, however, is not essential. For example: in France the board to settle all questions in connection with Aviation matters should be headed by Captain Craven. It also appears to me to be advisable to designate a similar board for Ireland, for England, and for Italy. Of course, the board which is going to have the most work will be the board in France. Then it may be that it would be advisable to have this board with certain assistants adjust also the questions which arise regarding our occupation of certain land establishments in Italy should any claims be made for this. In any event a specific arrangement should be laid down without delay which will provide formally some agency which has the authority of the Force Commander to go into these matters and adjust them. I feel very keenly the necessity for expediting action on matters of this kind as much as the condition of our work will permit.

          I am sending a copy of this letter to Wilson3 who is familiar with the difficulties of the situation which our forces in France are facing. I have no desire to take an active part in the administration of details of this character, but I feel perfectly free in making suggestions to you or Wilson in any matters of this kind which occur to me knowing that you appreciate the spirit in which these suggestions are made and feeling too that you appreciate that it is not my desire or intention to assume any of your administrative functions, but merely to assist you in any way that I can. I shall appreciate an expression of your opinion on this subject, but, in the meantime, should you concur in the general principles outlined herein, I hope that you will take appropriate action.

          I have gone over your memorandum on demobilization plan with much interest and I am gratified to see the way in which the details have been cared for.4 I feel very strongly that we should not lose a moment in demobilizing the naval establishment as fast as conditions permit, and get clear. Doubtless when the Army does decide to demobilize they will need every ton of shipping, and will be unable to understand the problems of shipping which are naturally clear to those of us who are associated with them day by day. If we do not get our men and material clear before the landslide comes, there is danger of a certain amount of friction on account of the possible desire of priority for Army demobilization, and this I am anxious to avoid.

          My reason for cabling you in regard to Plunkett’s5 battery was that I desired to avoid repeating the error we made when he first came to France. I think we made a mistake when he first came over not directing him to report to the Army just as soon as he landed. I feel sure that we shall make no mistake by having him take his orders from the Army until he is actually embarked with all material on board ship and ready to sail for home. At that time, and not until that time, will we be justified in issuing him any orders.

          On the 20th instant I sent you a dispatch suggesting that three more destroyers be sent to Bullard.6 The conditions in the Adraitic [i.e., Adriatic] in my opinion will be such that the personnel of the vessels acting in these waters must be more or less self-sustaining. We can, of course, employ sub-chasers very readily but when it becomes necessary for our vessels to visit ports where they are not able to obtain supplies, and where, in view of the disturbed conditions it is necessary for the crews to live on board practically all the time, it seems to me that destroyers are preferable. Furthermore, as the question of national prestige in those disturbed areas is not the least consideration I think that the presence of these additional vessels may help considerably.

          Your plans for the vessels of this class are not known to me in detail and I do not wish to interfere with them, but as soon as these destroyers are available I think they should be sent and Bullard so informed.

Sincerely yours,   


Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 49. Identifier in the top-left corner: “In reply refer to initials/and No./2-L-H.” Addressed below close: “Vice Admiral W.S.Sims, U.S.Navy,/Commander U.S.Naval Forces in Europe,/30 Grosvenor Gardens,/London, England, S.W.I.”

Footnote 1: Capt. Thomas T. Craven, Aide for Aviation, United States Naval Forces in France.

Footnote 2: RAdm. Andrew T. Long, liaison, Supreme War Council.

Footnote 3: RAdm. Henry B. Wilson, Commander, United States Naval Forces in France.

Footnote 4: This probably refers to a memorandum prepared by Sims’ planning section which Sims endorsed. See: Planning Section Memo, 14 November 1918.

Footnote 5: RAdm. Charles P. Plunkett, commander, Naval Railway Batteries.

Footnote 6: RAdm. William H. H. Bullard, Commander, United States Naval Forces in the Eastern Mediterranean. The cable Benson refers to has not been found.

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