Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly, Commander, Southern Ireland
November 25th. 1918.
My dear Admiral:
I find it difficult to believe that sixty or seventy German vessels steam quietly in between the two lines of the Grand Fleet and surrendered. There is every official evidence that this was accomplished, and I was present on the NEW YORK and witnessed the astonishing spectacle, but even now at times it is difficult to believe that it has really happened.
This is certainly as astonishing war. Some of our people have visited the submarines that are being surrendered to Admiral Tyrwhitt at Harwich. In most cases the Captains to the submarines did not come with them, but the rest of the people did not seem to be particularly depressed.
It was curious to hear the expressions of opinion in the Grand Fleet and on our vessels on the morning of the 21st before the German vessels came in sight. Many expressed the doubt as to whether we would find them at the rendezvous, saying that they would probably sink the vessels rather than surrender them. Some wondered whether the arrangement for the sending in of the vessels did not conceal a trick by which the power of the Grand Fleet might be seriously reduced. It was probably for this reason that the distance between the two lines of battleships was six miles, with the Germans three miles from either line. This would have enabled fire to be maintained from both lines without much danger of hitting the other. It was a dramatic moment when the British cruiser’s kite balloon was first seen, followed later by the outlines of the leading German ships. For a great wonder the weather was entirely clear overhead with bright sunshine and very little wind, so that all the vessels could be seen with great distinctness. I do not know yet much about any details of incidents that occurred on board the German vessels when they were inspected each by a distinguished British mate, but doubtless we will get this information later.
I recently received an order from Admiral Benson now in Paris to send home the battleships now with the Grand Fleet and to hold in readiness the battleships at Berehaven to meet the President when he arrives in the early part of December. <Since writing this, a message has come from Washington directing that all nine battleships meet the President.> we have really no official information as yet oj this side when the President is coming, or when he may be expected to arrive if he does come. There are, however, such circumstantial accounts in the papers that there can be no doubt that he will pay the proposed visit. There seems to be no difference of opinion among the officials in Great Britain, or in France as to the desirability of the President having a preliminary discussion with the principal dignitaries concerned as to the main principles upon which Peace should be established. You will have seen by the papers that the different nations are establishing themselves in commandeered hotels in Paris to accommodate all their personnel. I do not think anybody imagines that Peace terms can be arranged without a great deal of difficulty and much compromising. It will certainly be interesting to watch the developments.
We have received preliminary orders to demobilize all of our naval forces on this side that will not be required to assist our troops in getting home. I find that this requires much more work than was required to establish these bases and carry on the war. The trouble is that time is a very important element. There is the utmost impatience in America for the return of the troops. It consequently follows that there is very considerable nervousness on the part of the politicians that this should be accomplished without any ground for legitimate criticism. We have not shipping at present to take back more than one-hundred-and-fifty-thousand per month so that every vessel that can be chartered, or otherwise made available will probably be requisitioned. It is even proposed to use all our battleships and cruisers for this purpose, running them with a crew of about five-hundred men and carrying about twelve hundred troops. This can be done all right, but at a very great expense in efficiency of the navy. Of course we naval officers will advise strongly against this but I am afraid that particular question will be decided chiefly upon political considerations.
I would dearly love to be able to run up to Queenstown and have a talk with you and the only niece over all these interesting matters, but what with Admiral Benson running the Navy Department from Paris, and all of the new details that have to be attended to, I find it quite impossible to get away. Perhaps when the demobilization plan is well on the way I may be more at leisure. I am assuming that you will remain on duty at Queenstown until Peace is made.
At Captain Price’s request I am detaching him and ordering him home in order that he might have an opportunity of getting command of a battleship. His place will be taken by Buchannan, who is a very good man. I quite agree with Price that after his three years of faithful service he is due to go home and get into the battleship fleet. He seems to think that he would not receive proper consideration before the Selection Board because of his having commanded a repair ship only during the war. I have assured him that his report of Fitness will make this all right.
Please give my best love to the only niece, and believe me,
Always very sincerely yours,