Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Rear Admiral Leigh C. Palmer, Chief of the Bureau of Navigation
Queenstown, October 8th, 1917.
My dear Palmer,
I have been here for about a week looking into things in general, and find everything very satisfactory.
It would be hard to imagine more favorable relations than these which exist between our people and the British, both officers and men.
Vice Admiral Bayly1 (he will be promoted to Admiral immediately) is a wonder in handling personnel. Our chaps swear by him. They have not only the highest respect for his ability, but they regard him as their friend and have a strong personal affection for him.
On the other hand, he is really very fond of our fellows and highly approves of them and the way they maintain and handle their boats, and carry out their strenuous duties.
In maintaining these relations and in handling the details of administration, Captain Pringle2 is a real tower of strength, particularly as he possesses in a high degree the wholly indispensable tact to avoid even the possibility of the friction so common between Allies – not to mention his admirable energy and an initiative based upon sound judgement.
Concerning your scheme for training over here the crews for the new destroyers, it is cordially received by all hands.
Yesterday I attended a conference on the subject which lasted all day. A tentative report was drawn up by the Captains of the boats in port. In was considered by other when they returned from escort duty, and a copy is forwarded herewith.
The object of the Conference was to recommend a scheme for making the new destroyers efficient in the present special work in the shortest possible time.
Briefly, the scheme is about as follows:
1. We can receive and put in training five hundred men immediately.
2. The building that we have rented as a storehouse will, in addition to the stores, accommodate over one thousand men. They have been used as barracks for troops.
3. As soon as the five hundred men arrive, we can release from the Flotilla about one hundred and fifty specially selected and trained men of various ratings from which to form the skeletons of the new crews.
4. These proposed skeletons consist of twenty-five men of various ratings who are on to the whole game, each in his own specialty.
5. It is proposed to send these bunches of twenty-five over to your side on demand. That is, when we are notified of the approximated times the new boats will be ready to commission, we can ship you the skeleton crews and you can fill in the rest of the complement.
6. We all believe that by this method a new boat would arrive here in a condition of very considerable efficiency for carrying on this peculiar work.
7. With five hundred men under training in the Flotilla and one thousand in barracks, we can supply skeleton crews about twenty-five each with considerable rapidity – and the training system can be expanded as much as may be necessary.
Something like the above will have to be done before we can claim that we have done the “utmost” which the Articles of War require.
The point is that a new destroyer commissioned was manned by new men on the other side, no matter how thorough has been her home training, cannot be in an efficient condition for this work upon her arrival here, and this for the simple reason that she will lack the very essential experience that can be gained only while actually engaged in the kind of operations we are now carrying out.
We have had to learn by real experience all the numerous tricks of the submarine warfare, the best methods of offense and defence, the safest methods of escorting convoys of various classes and numbers of vessels, etc., etc.
To illustrate by a concrete case, suppose a new destroyer with officers and men who have no experience in this kind of warfare is part of an escort of troop transports, and, through her inexperience in this vitally important duty, we lose a couple of ships and several thousand soldiers, we would not have a leg to stand on. We could not claim that we had done our utmost to prepare our boats for this duty.
That is why we want to send over the skeleton crews to put the new men onto the game.
But in addition to this, and of very much greater importance, is the necessity of having the new boats commanded by a captain who has had this essential experience.
We can produce these trained captains if you approve the following scheme of training – and to propose this scheme is the object of this letter.
The object of the scheme is, briefly, to train officers as well as men, so that when skeleton crews are sent to commissioned new boats they will be in command of a destroyer captain and some other officers having extended experience in all branches of anti-submarine warfare as carried out by destroyers. I can make this clearer by describing the working of the scheme that we think would be more efficient than any other.
It is of course based upon having a number of regular officers here in reserve, (not reserve officers), ready to replace those sent home to bring out new boats.
This being assumed, suppose the Department notifies us that three destroyers will be ready for commissioning in two or three months from a given date.
We would send, say, Kanrahan, Taussig and Johnston,3 each with a skeleton crew of twentyfive trained men, and each with one or more trained officers taken from boats whose Commanding Officers remain here, and whose places would be filled by some of the regular officers kept here in reserve, but always under training.
We would telegraph the Department the details of the skeleton complement – the names of the Commanding officers, the names of the other officers, and various ratings, if the latter varied from the standard skeleton we suggest.
This information would enable you at once to complete the complement of each ship, and at once complete our reserve of officers by sending out a corresponding number of destroyer commanders and other officers to replace those sent home.
These officers would at once take up their duties on boats all of whose officers and men are already trained in this special type of warfare.
They should be ordered to report to me for assignment to duty in accordance with the requirements that exists when they arrive.
When you contrast the efficiency that this scheme would ensure for all new boats, with the necessarily inefficient condition (for this warfare) of a new boat arriving here with neither officers nor men having this experience, I am sure you will see that not to adopt some such plan for the rapid and efficient training of the new personnel would be very far from doing our “utmost to capture or destroy the enemy.”
You can imagine the difference in efficiency between the complement of a new boat brought onto the fighting front by a man having the experience of, say, Hanrahan, and a boat brought out by a new man and a personnel wholly inexperienced in this dangerous type of warfare.
The latter would be accepting the risk of a disaster for which there could be no possible defense – assuming that this risk could be avoided.
Of course I know that all sorts of pressure and influence must be brought to bear on you and the Department in favour of candidates for the command of destroyers, but it seems to me that neither these candidates nor their friends could have any reasonable causes for complaint if the former were out here for assignment to duty instead of being ordered to new boats with crews as inexperienced as themselves in the ways of submarines. Of course, I know the old arguments of candidates for sea service in war time, name<ly> that they should be given their chance at such service.
That is a purely personal consideration that should be given absolutely no weight. In fact, it seems to me that to detach one of the destroyer commanders who has had all this invaluable experience, in order to give some other officer “a chance”, would be really a crime against the common cause.
This is a very serious war and it will probably last a long time. At least we should make our place upon that assumption. Without a doubt, the manner in which we have conducted it will be the subject of a searching analysis. Can we afford to have such an analysys show that we have some inexperienced commanders, officers and crews on duty which not only involves great danger to themselves and their vessels, but the possibility of very grave disaster to the troop transports of our army in France?
These considerations apply with equal force to the question of the employment of Naval Reserve officers upon destroyers engaged upon this very important duty.
The safety of our destroyers and the success of their operations depend very largely upon the nautically educated minds, the sea experience, the trained judgement, and the ability to make prompt decisions, of our regular line officers. These qualities have been acquired through years of experience, careful instruction and study; and as it is quite impossible that these essential qualities could be acquired by the average reserve officer within a few weeks or months it is manifest that they should not be employed as watch officers on destroyers operating in the war zone if it can possibly be avoided.
Assuming that this war will last a good while, and incidental advantage of the plan of training suggested will be that it will give some officers (the best weHave) a chance for a bit of a let up from this strenuous duty, not to mention a glimpse of their families. Also, a chin with them will give you and the Principal Dignitaries a better idea of many things concerning conditions over here than I could convey in writing.
The Commander-in-Chief4 seemed so favorably inclined toward the proposition when he was here, that I believe he would approve this recommendation as applied to this force.
Of course you know that in all parts of the war zone there is urgent necessity for more destroyers. The ones here at Queenstown are more than fully occupied in escorting convoys of merchant ships and army transports. They have to be supplemented in this work by sloops and trawlers, and there are no destroyers to spare to make war on the submarines.
If we had a couple of bunches of five to get after every submarine located, we could very materially diminish their activities.
The convoy system is working very successfully so far, - that is, as far as it can be applied. Many vessels are not convoyed for lack of sufficient cruisers and destroyers for ocean and zone escorting. So, do what you can to help get the new ones in efficient condition for service as soon as possible.
One more point, (though I hardly think I really need to mention it), and that is to assure you that we are all of us prepared always to make the best conditions as they are presented to us.
I have stated what I believe should be done in respect of destroyers to hasten the end of this war; but, if this cannot be done, we will take what we get in the way of personnel andmake it as efficient as possible as fast as possible.
Do not forget, however:
1. That the war will be lost or won according to whether we or the Huns win the submarine campaign – whether we maintain the essential lines of communication or they cut them.
2. That the war will be won or lost by us on this side of the ocean where these lines converge.
3. That the most dreaded enemy of the submarine is the destroyer, whether operating alone or escorting convoys.
4. That, therefore, the most important considerations are now, and must remain;
(a) Increased numbers of destroyers, and
(b) The war efficiency of destroyer personnels.5
Always sincerely (and cheerfully) yours,
WM. S. SIMS
Source Note: Cy, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 23. Addressed below close: “Rear Admiral L.C.Palmer, U.S.N./Chief of Bureau of Navigation,/Navy Department,/Washington, D.C.” Document designated: “Admiral Sims’/Personal File.” Document reference: “1/3/J.”
Footnote 1: VAdm. Sir Lewis Bayly, R.N.
Footnote 2: Capt. Joel R. Poinsett Pringle.
Footnote 3: Lt. Cmdr. David C. Hanrahan, Cmdr. Joseph K. Taussig, and Cmdr. Rufus Z. Johnston.
Footnote 4: Adm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet.
Footnote 5: This plan was adopted by the Navy Department. Still, Crisis at Sea, 197.