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 Rear Admiral William B. Fletcher

Date                     Time                 Origin

10/21                    2.00 p.m.      SIMSADUS LONDON

Govt. AMPAT BREST.

      FOR OFFICER NUMBER FIVE. REQUEST CANNOT BE GRANTED.1 FOR YOUR INFORMATION FOLLOWING IS QUOTED FROM MY CABLE NUMBER NINE HUNDRED SIXTY FIVE TO NAVY DEPARTMENT2 QUOTE I HAVE BEEN FOR SOMETIME DISSATISFIED WITH OFFICER NUMBER FIVE’S CONDUCT OF THE AFFAIRS OF HIS FORCE AND HAD ALREADY DETERMINED TO REPLACE HIM BY OFFICER NUMBER FIFTYEIGHT3 SENDING OFFICER NUMBER FIVE TO GIBRALTAR. PRELIMINARY ORDERS HAD BEEN SENT TO OFFICER NUMBER FIFTYEIGHT AND ON OCTOBER EIGHTEENTH I ISSUED ORDERS BY CABLE FOR HIM AND HIS STAFF TO PROCEED TO BREST VIA PARIS FRANCE. ON THE SAME DATE BEFORE RECEIVING INFORMATION OF LOSS OF ANTILLES4 I RECEIVED CABLE FROM ADMIRAL FLETCHER STATING HE HAD DISPATCHED THREE TRANSPORTS UNDER ESCORT OF TWO YACHTS ON OCTOBER FIFTEENTH AND ON THE FOLLOWING DAY ONE TRANSPORT ESCORTED BY ONE YACHT. THIS WAS IN DIRECT CONTRAVENTION OF REPEATED INSTRUCTIONS ISSUED TO HIM BY ME TO THE EFFECT THAT THE TRANSPORTS AND SUPPLY SHIPS MUST NOT BE DISPATCHED SINGLY OR IN SMALL GROUPS WITH INSUFFICIENT ESCORT BUT SHOULD BE HELD UNTIL SUFFICIENT ESCORT COULD [BE] PROVIDED. EVEN WITH THE BEST POSSIBLE ESCORT THE ANTILLES MIGHT HAVE BEEN LOST BUT AS REAR ADMIRAL FLETCHER DID NOT APPARENTLY DO HIS UTMOST TO SAFEGUARD THESE VESSELS I HAVE DETACHED HIM FROM HIS COMMAND AND ORDERED HIM TO PROCEED TO THE UNITED STATES. THERE ARE NEITHER OFFICERS OR TIME AVAILABLE TO HOLD A COURT OF INQUIRYAT THIS TIME AND I BELIEVE THE SUMMARY AND DRASTIC ACTION I HAVE TAKEN IS THE ONLY COURSE POSSIBLE UNDER EXISTING CONDITIONS.5 UNQUOTE. 10321

SIMS.                       

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 125, Entry 30, Box 246.

Footnote 1: “OFFICER NUMBER FIVE” was Fletcher. Two days earlier Sims had relieved Fletcher of his command as Commander, United States Patrol Forces Operating in European Waters; Sims to Fletcher, 19 October 1917, ibid. According to a notation in this cable, Fletcher had requested that Sims reconsider his action.

Footnote 2: The cable has not been found, but Sims seems to have quoted it almost in its entirety.

Footnote 3: RAdm. Henry B. Wilson.

Footnote 4: On the sinking of the transport Antilles, see: Sims to Joel R. Poinsett Pringle, 19 October 1917.

Footnote 5: Fletcher’s Court of Inquiry was not held until March 1920. The court found fault with both Sims and Fletcher for actions they had taken but found that both men “endeavored to perform their duty under trying conditions,” recommending that “no further proceedings be taken.” Ibid., pp. 2207-8.

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