Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Commander Percy W. Foote, Assistant to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters

THE SECRETARY OF THE NAVY

WASHINGTON.

November 7, 1918.

Vice Admiral W.S.Sims, U.S.N.

     30 Grosvenor Gardens,

          London, S.W.

My dear Admiral :

          I am very glad indeed to have your letter of October 10th,1 and to know your ideas and wishes in the matters mentioned. Under the circumstances which exist, I do not feel that it would be to the best interests of the desired end to show your letter in its entirety to the Secretary. I will, however, be governed by the information which the letter contains and act accordingly whenever opportunity offers – for instance, I will try to make a strong effort to get the officer whom you desire assigned to duty as relief for Admiral Wilson, if he is to be taken from Brest for duty in the Fleet, and I would be very glad if you will tell me explicitly who you would like to have as relief for Admiral Wilson in case a change should be made.2 Although I do not know definitely what will be done in this matter, I am inclined to believe that it is not intended to take Admiral Wilson away from Brest – at least not for some time to come, for the Sectretary3 appears to be very fond of Admiral Wilson and feels that he has rendered efficient service at Brest. I think it is possible that some of the work done by Admiral Wilson in connection with social evils and moral conduct, etc., may have a good deal bearing on this subject.

          After considerable thought I decided that I could with propriety show your letter to Mr. Roosevelt.4 As I have only known Mr. Roosevelt for a very short time, (only since his return from France, as he was not here when I came to duty), I felt it necessary that I should explain to him the nature of the relations which exist between you and me, in order that he might properly understand the tenor of your letter to me. I made this explanation with very satisfactory results, because Mr. Roosevelt then opened up and told me something of his high personal regard for you, and as a matter of fact, he gave me some information in regard to the circumstances attending your original assignment to duty in London, which I am sure you will be most interested to know.

          It is a rather long story, and I will amplify the details whenever I next have the pleasure of seeing you. It almost makes me tremble when I relazie [i.e., realize] that except for this accident of circumstances, someone else other than yourself might have been chosen – I feel this way because I am so strongly of the opinion that you were more eminently fitted for the duty than anyother officer in the Navy.

          In general, the circumstances are as follows: Shortly before America declared war, the Ambassador in London5 notified the State Department that it would be highly desirable to send an officer of rank of the Navy to London to confer on various naval matters, even though America did not enter the War. This despatch reached the Secretary on a Monday about a week or ten days before the President6 read his War Message to Congress, and Mr. Roosevelt saw the despatch at about the same time it reached the Secretary, and urged him to take the matter up at once with the President, and recommended that you be assigned to the duty, stating that in his opinion there were only three other officers who were at all fitted for the task, namely Admiral Benson, Admiral Mayo, and Admiral Knight,7 but due to the circumstances existing, it would be impracticable to sned anyone of these three. The Secretary agreed to do this, but time passed, and the matter was not taken up until late on Saturday afternoon following the Monday above mentioned, when Mr. Roosevelt happened to meet the President and the Secretary in the latter’s office, when he, Mr. Roosevelt, brought the matter up and it was then discussed, and the President gave orders that you should be assigned to the duty.8

          Except for this accidental meeting, it is possible that the matter would have been discussed with other officers by the Secretary and someone else might have been chosen.

          Mr. Roosevelt feels, as he explained it, that this is one of the most important things that he has to do with during the war, and he said that he would have no objection to my telling you about it, although he had never felt like doing so himself.

          After having received the above information from Mr. Roosevelt, I felt quite free to show him your letter to me and he said at once that your wishes should be seriously considered in regard to the detail of officers for duty under your command, and I hope that he may be able to xxxx assist in bringing this about.

          The subject of foreign orders and decorations appears to be effected by several points of view.9 Personally, I doubt if the American public in general has given the subject very much consideration, although I think that Americans in general do not value medals and decorations so highly as people of European countries do – there is frequently a tendency to be amused at a person wearing a large number of medals frequently termed “trunk checks” etc. There are many good reasons, of course, why all medals and decorations from foreign governments should be accepted in the spirit in which they are offered, and it is quite likely that the best results would obtain if no if no distinctionwere made in the class of medals to be accepted, but as I found the Secretary to be strongly opposed to such a policy I thought it wise to make a compromise in the matter, and he has now expressed a willingness for officers to receive decorations which are given as a recognition for some particular act of courage or efficiency, and he has recently authorized the notations, in regard to such decorations, etc., to be placed on the records of the officers concerned.

          I have endeavored to pursuade the Secretary to feel that in such cases we should not only be willing to have officers accept such decorations, but should welcome such recognition by our Allies, and that we should encoursge [i.e., encourage] such action by showing some such recognition by our Government to officers to our allied governments, and it was in carrying out this idea that I obtaine[d] his permission to send you the despatch in regard to Lt. Craven’s work on the British Destroyer Munsey.10

          I am of the opinion that this would be acase where we could offer a Navy distinguished service medal to the British Government for Lt. Craven, as soon as this medal is adopted, and if you felt that circumstances should warrant such action, I think it would be a good thing if you would send a written report relating to the circumstances and recommending that such a medal should be awarded.

          You may know that there is a bill, which I understand has been passed by both the House and Senate Committees, and which will soon become a Law, authorizing for the Navy certain medals similar to those which have been authorized for the Army. There will be three of these medals, one a Medal Of Honor, one a Distinguished Service Medal, and another called the Navy Cross. The designs for the Distinguished Service Medal and the Navy Cross have been approved by the Secretary, and the design for the Medal of Honor is now under consideration.

          War Service Chevrons:

          It seems to me there is considerable difference in the circumstances which exist in the British Navy and in the American Navy which may be considered in connection with the wisdom of the policy governing the use of the chevron.|11| In the British Navy, the entire Navy Force has been operating in the War Zone and practically all units of the British Navy, I suppose, have been open to some form of att[a]ck from the enemy and at various times exposed to material dangers[.] In our Navy such has not been the case and it seems there is some reason why such a chevron might be used to indicate those who have been exposed to some of the dangers of the active war zone. While it is true that “luck” has somewhat decided who would be in the war zone and who would not be, yet it would not seem logical that all should be deprived of some such mark of service because a large number had not been fortunate enough in obtaining service in the war zone – if this were to be considered as a controlling argument, no medals or marks of recognition could ever be given to anyone, as others could always say “That they would have done the same thing” if they had been fortunate enough to be on the spot – such for instance as Admiral Dewey’s work at Manilla Bay.12

          Also as it is a well-known fact that only a part of our Na[v]y have been in the active war zone, it may produce something of a good impression on the public for them to see a large number of officers wearing stripes which indicate the war service.

          While I had something to do with obtaining favorable action on adopting the service stripe, I did not write the order which governs the use of the chevrons. This order was promulgated before I knew about it, and, in my opinion, it would have been wise to establish different rules.

          You certainly have had a large number of visitors to entertain in London, but everyone that I have seen coming back from trips abroad, speak of you and our naval activities with the greatest enthusiasm, and I am sure that your policies which you have carried out in regard to the visitors have had the most beneficial effect, because it will have a direct influence on the attitude of congress.

          We did our best to make the visit of Sir Eric Geddes13 and his party to America pleasant for him, and I believe the net result was very good. He seems to posess a strong sympathy for America and Americans and he speaks of you and the officers and men of the American Navy in the most glowing terms.

          The painting by Mr. Gribble of the arrival of the Destroyers in England,14 arrived a few days ago, and the Secretary is most enthusiastic about it, and he intends to purchase the painting for the Navy Department. The picture is certainly a wonder and correct inits many details. I have only noticed one mistake in details, which is that the box for the starboard running light of the leading destroyer is painted red – this I will have remedied by painting the box green before it is finally placed on general exhibition.

          I will not tire you further by writing longer but will hope to send you another chapter at an early date.

          Always with best wishes, I am,

Most sincerely yours,   

/s/ Percy Foote.   

P.S.

     Mr. Chas.W. Whitelair of the Y.M.C.A. has just returned and he is filled with enthusiasm for you and your staff and was delighted with the way Babcock15 took him about and showed him the shops, etc.

     We gave the story of the Navy Land Battery16 to the Press about a week ago. It is great work.

/s/ P.W.F.         

Source Note: LTS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 24. There is a notation at the top of the first page: “Admiral Sims Personal File.”

Footnote 1: This letter has not been found.

Footnote 2: RAdm. Henry B. Wilson, Commander, United States Naval Forces Based in France. Wilson was not removed from his command.

Footnote 3: Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

Footnote 4: Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Footnote 5: Walter Hines Page was the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom at the beginning of the war. By the time this letter was written, Page had been replaced by John W. Davis.

Footnote 6: Woodrow Wilson.

Footnote 7: Adms. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations; Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet; and Austin M. Knight, Commander-in-Chief, Asiatic Fleet.

Footnote 8: RAdm. Wilson was Daniels’ first choice, but Wilson chose to decline the position in order to retain a sea command. In addition to that of Roosevelt, Sims also had the backing of the General Board. See: Wilson to Daniels, 24 March 1917.

Footnote 9: For more on this issue, see: Bayly to Sims, 27 October 1918; and Sims to Bayly, 3 November 1918.

Footnote 10: Lt. Francis W. Craven, saved the lives of hundreds of Americans when his ship, Mounsey, came alongside the sinking Otranto and ferried survivors to safety. See: Sims to Murray, 22 October 1918.

Footnote 11: A “V” symbol, usually upside-down, and often used as a mark of distinction in the military.

Footnote 12: Admiral of the Fleet George M. Dewey destroyed the Spanish Fleet at the Battle of Manilla Bay on 27 April 1898.

Footnote 13: First Lord of the Admiralty.

Footnote 14: Bernard F. Gribble’s painting, “The Return of the Mayflower,” depicts the arrival of the first American destroyers to reach Europe. It is available in the November Illustrations page.

Footnote 15: Cmdr. John V. Babcock, Sims’ aide.

Footnote 16: Naval guns mounted on railway cars for use on the Western Front. See:https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/u/us-naval-railway-batteries-france.html, accessed 2 February 2019.

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