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]

30 Grosvenor Gardens,

LONDON, S.W.1.

5 November 1918.

My dear Ann,

              In my last letter I told you I was about to leave for Paris to attend a meeting of the Allied Naval Council.1 I got back the day before yesterday, having been there about a week. We went for the purpose of giving our advice as naval officers as to what the terms of the Armistice should be, both for Germany and Austria. Of course, it would not be proper for me to state the terms that we advised. You know the President2 said in his last Note that these terms should be such as to render it impossible for Germany to continue the war after she had accepted and carried out the terms of the Armistice. This is only another way of saying that she would have to accept practically an unconditional surrender, which is of course what it would mean if she were in such a position that she could not continue the war.

          Since I returned from Paris, Austria has entirely gone out of the war, and so has Turkey. This would seem to leave Germany in such a position that she could, under no conceivable circumstances, carry on the war.

          We went down from here with the officials of the British Admiralty, and with the Italians and Japanese. We were all put up by the Government at the Hotel Crillon and other hotels. I found Admiral Benson at the same hotel.3 I called on Colonel House, but found him closeted with Mr. Lloyd George,4 and did not see him. I will write you a separate note, giving you some special information about the trip.

          I wrote you one note from Paris,5 in which I quoted froma letter that Admiral Benson handed to me in Paris. He wrote the letter on the way over.6 The quotation was to the effect that when Admiral “Willie” Rodgers relieves Admiral Knight in China, he, Rodgers, will retain his present rank of Rear-Admiral, and I will be advanced to the rank of Admiral.7 I am also enclosing a letter from Palmer in which he tells me the same thing,8 so I suppose we may consider this as practically settled. It is expected that Admiral Knight will haul down his flag between 20 November and 1 December.

          We had several meetings of the Naval Council, and reached a unanimous conclusion without too much difficulty. . . .

          At the present writing, both Austria and Turkey have gone out of the war, and Austria is breaking up into a number of separate Governments. Our peace with Austria, and our armistice with her must necessarily leave us free to attack Germany across Austrian territory. Our terms with Turkey free the Dardanelles, and leave them clear for us to enter the Black Sea. You thus see that the military conditions enable us to attack Germany from various sides. Moreover, all of the Italian forces are now available to attack Germany through Austria, or to assist the Allies on the Western Front. This would seem to make it clear that Germany cannot resist any longer. There may be a certain amount of diplomatic wrangling over the terms of the armistice, but she must eventually give in absolutely to our terms. . . .

          I am pleased to see that you considered the Notes between the United States and Germany as disquieting. They were decidedly so. I do not positively know that W.W.9 did not consult the Allies, but I believe that he did not.10 Germany was perfectly right, of course, to appeal to the country which she believed to be the least incensed against her. The President was, of course, exactly right in asking her to define her first Note, so that there might be no mistake. It seems to me that that should have been the end of the correspondence; that, as the President was asked to lay the matter before the Allies, he should have done so without expressing any opinion on his part. There was very evident anxiety over here while the correspondence was going on. They felt, as you felt, that it is largely their war, and that no principles should be enunciated without full consultation between all the Allies. However, they are all much pleased with the final outcome of the correspondence, particularly the last Note from the President, so that in the end no harm has been done.

          I am taking the items just as they happen to come, without taking the time to re-arrange them in their order. Concerning what you say about Admiral Benson, I believe him to be entirely honest in all of his convictions. His methods are wholly different from mine, but I believe him to be perfectly honest as a man. His conception of the duties of his position are that he should loyally carry out anything that the Secretary wants done, no matter how much he may disapprove it personally. You know that my ideas are entirely different from that, that I would never give up an opinion to anybody if I believed that I was right and that the opinion was more or less fundamental. I believe that Benson would support me in every case except where the Secretary differed from him. He is undoubtedly the man who insisted upon my having this position. I do not know whether he advocated that my rank be increased or whether he is simply carrying out the wishes of the Secretary <I never ask him any questions about such matters.>11

          In this connection, I am enclosing a letter from Captain White,12 a man who was selected out a number of years ago. Attached to this letter is a clipping from the Boston Transcript which calls upon the Secretary to answer the question as to why the officer who has the most important command that has ever been exercised in the American Navy should not have the rank of Admiral. I must say that this small editorial is most skilfully written, and seems to be just. Of course, this is only a temporary rank, and without an Act of Congress it would not stand after the war. There is no doubt that this action should have been taken long ago. . . .

          I notice that the papers mention that Sir Eric Geddes flew the Admiralty flag when he came into New York on his recent visit. I don’t know whether you know it or not, but the position of the First Lord of the Admiralty is a rather peculiar one, in that he personally cannot issue any legal order. The Secretary of our Navy issues military orders. He can order the Fleet moved, or he can order officers to do what he thinks best. The First Lord of the British Admiralty has no such power. He can only give an order when this order is approved of by one or more of the Sea Lords of the Admiralty and the order itself is issued by the Secretary of the Admiralty. The First Sea Lord cannot fly the Admiralty flag unless there is present on board the ship one or more of the Sea Lords of the Admiralty. . . .

The Carlton [Hotel], Nov. 5.

     Today I attended another luncheon given by the English-Speaking Union to the 3rd bunch of American editors-mostly all of religious papers. . . . Lord Robert Cecil13 presided and I sat next on his left. You know, I like him very much. He was chairman and made a very fine speech, which was responded to by mr Mackenzie.14 I was called upon as usual and succeeded in amusing the company. Upon all these occasions there is every evidence of my popularity with both the British and Americans.

     Hussey15 came to see me this afternoon. He had been to the House of Commons and heard Lloyd George announce the terms of the Austrian Armistice, and state that the Allies had reached an agreement as to the terms they would give Germany, and had asked President Wilson to inform Germany that she must ask Marshall Foch for them “in the usual way”- that is, by sending a flag of truce through the lines. Of course, this was at once flashed to our press. There is little doubt that the enemy must accept our terms. What a happy ending of all our anxiety! What a great danger we have escaped! How fortunate we are to have been able to help! I am very glad to say that at this writing our army seems to be making good progress – but it is so sad to think of the cost in fine young lives. . . .

     I am very happy over the certainty of victory and the liberation of so many peoples from the yolk [i.e., yoke] of Germany. The humiliation and suffering of Germany will be great, but her people deserve it all. They approved the ambitions of her rulers – and the latter should receive their due punishment, and this should be death for those who have committed crimes against humanity – this as a warning for those who conduct all future wars. I hope there will never be another war, but if there is, we do not want another horror like this. . . .

Your devoted                

Will                   

Source Note: LTS, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 10. The last portion of the letter from the second place/date line is handwritten.

Footnote 2: President Woodrow Wilson.

Footnote 3: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, United States Navy. Benson had been sent as a naval advisor to Col. Edward M. House, who headed the mission.

Footnote 4: David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Footnote 7: RAdm. William L. Rodgers; Adm. Austin M. Knight.

Footnote 8: The letter from Adm. Leigh C. Palmer, chief of Bureau of Navigation, which handled personnel matters for the Navy, has not been printed.

Footnote 9: That is, Woodrow Wilson.

Footnote 10: Wilson had not consulted the Allies when he received the first German note concerning an armistice. For a discussion of Wilson’s handling of the German initiative, see Thomas Fleming, The Illusion of Victory: America in World War 1 (New York: Basic Books, 2003), 287-96.

Footnote 11: This last sentence is handwritten.

Footnote 12: Richard D. White.

Footnote 13: Sir Robert Cecil was the Assistant Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and had been the Minister of Blockades from February 1916 through July 1918.

Footnote 14: Donald Alexander MacKenzie, Editor-in-Chief, The Bulletin (Glasgow).

Footnote 15: Cmdr. Charles L. Hussey, commander, Birmingham.

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