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 Captain Joel R. Poinsett Pringle, Senior Officer Present, Destroyer Flotilla

October 19th. 1917.

My dear Pringle,

          I am sorry to say that we have just lost the transport ANTILLES on her way from France home again. She is of about 8000 tons and carried a crew of about 237 of which 167 were saved.1

          While this vessel might have been lost if she had been properly convoyed, it is nevertheless true that she was not sufficiently convoyed. This must have been due to various causes, but it accentuates the necessity of coal burning destroyers being sent to Brest with the PANTHER as soon as possible.2

          Before this incident happened, I had already determined to order Wilson from Gibraltar to Brest and had given him preliminary orders.3

          As the convoy of the ANTILLES was not carried out in accordance with explicit orders, I have ordered Fletcher home to the United States.4 Macgruder will remain in command at Brest until Wilson arrives.

          I am going to Paris with Cone5 about next Wednesday but will be back in London in a few days.

          It is sad news about the loss of the convoy and two destroyers off the Shetland Isles, including our old friend the MARY ROSE, lost with all hands on board.

          According to the incomplete information at present available, this disaster took place at daylight about Long.0 Lat.60. The convoy was coming from Bergen to the Island without ocean escort as has been the practice and was met at daylight by the two destroyers and some lighter vessels. The MARY ROSE was sunk by the first or second salvo of the 6" guns from two German fast cruisers. The other destroyer had her bridge torn off and her engine disabled about the same time. Forty of her crew were saved.

          There are no details yet about the loss of life on the merchant ships. The Admiralty states that the convoy consisted of eight vessels, three of which were British and the other neutrals. All the neutrals were destroyed but I believe the three British escaped, also the lighter escorting vessels.

          At the time this incident took place there were no less than five British Light Cruiser Squadrons in the North Sea, not counting Commodore Tyrwhitt’s squadron which was operating down toward Heligoland.

          Any one of these five cruiser squadrons were strong enough to resist the two German Cruisers. Their approximate positions were as follows:

Longitude. Latitude.

5         58

7         57

0         58

3         57

3         56

          The above positions were pointed out to me on a chart but I do not know under what orders they were operating. Apparently it would be necessary to meet the Norway convoys with a Cruiser force at daylight where they arrive east of the Islands.6

          At the time of this raid there was not a single destroyer left with the Grand Fleet.

          I understand you have received 18 Yeomen. These ought to give you enough clerical assistance to help out very considerably. We have received six other yeomen from Newport. The Chief of these yeomen informs me that you now have a band of twentyone pieces and a leader though all of their equipment did not come with them. So you will have music and clerical assistance enough to do you for some time.

          You might remind Danny,7 incidentally, that Babby8 and I are still entirely without our supplementary sugar. We are getting along with one teaspoonful per meal.

          Will you please ask Danny to dig out the letter I gave you to read and forward it to me. I refer to the long letter signed “An Irish Woman”.9

Very sincerely yours,        

WM. S. SIMS        

Source Note: Cy, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 79. The signature is a stamp. Addressed below close: “Captain J.R.P.Pringle. U.S.N./U.S.S. MELVILLE./Queenstown. Ireland.”

Footnote 1: Sims’ numbers for the tonnage of Antilles and the number of those killed in the sinking were both high. Antilles was 6,879 tons and 67 of the 234 on board Antilles were killed when the vessel was torpedoed. The dead included: sixteen Army soldiers, four Navy armed guard, forty-five mariners, a stevedore, and a civilian ambulance driver. Benedict Crowell and Robert F. Wilson, The Road to France II - The Transportation of Troops and Military Supplies, 1917-1918 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1921), 429.

Footnote 2: Sims was referring to the division of four older, coal-burning destroyers that had arrived in Queenstown from the Azores. The destroyers Lamson, Reid, Preston and Smith along with the destroyer tender Panther left Queenstown on 19 October and arrived at Brest on 22 October. George M. Battey, Jr., 70,000 Miles on a Submarine Destroyer or, The Reid Boat in the World War (Atlanta: The Webb & Vary Company, 1919), 5.

Footnote 5: Cmdr. Hutchinson I. Cone, who was responsible for matters concerning aviation.

Footnote 6: On the morning of 17 October 1917 the German cruisers Brummer and Bremse intercepted a convoy heading west from Bergen, Norway, 65 miles east of Lerwick, consisting of twelve merchantmen (two British, one Belgian, nine neutral Scandinavians) escorted by destroyers Mary Rose and Strongbow and two armed trawlers. Strongbow was just astern of the convoy, while Mary Rose was six to eight miles ahead of it. The cruisers then turned to the merchantmen and quickly sank nine of them. Later official inquiries praised the courage of the two destroyers but criticized them for rashness in closing the enemy, contending that they should have stood off and transmitted warning signals. As Sims notes, the British, who had suspected that a German offensive operation was in the offing, had strong forces at sea. But they did not expect the Germans to attack that far north and because no word of the action was received until 3:50 P.M. on 17 October, those forces were not in a position to intercept Brummer and Bremse, who got home safely. The German objective in this raid was to terrorize neutrals trading with the British and to force the Royal Navy to divert ships from their antisubmarine campaign to protect the Scandinavian convoys. Newbolt, Naval Operations, Vol V, 149-59; Halpern, A Naval History of World War I, 376. A handful of men from Mary Rose did survive the engagement.

Footnote 7: Cmdr. Joseph F. Daniels, Sims’ liaison with the American destroyer force.

Footnote 8: Sims’ aide Cmdr. John V. Babcock.

Footnote 9: The letter referred to has not been found.