Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters
In reply refer to Initials
and No. OFFICE OF NAVAL OPERATIONS
October 23, 1918.
My dear Sims:-
You will probably be quite as much surprised to find that I am on the same side of the ocean with you as I was to receive orders to come. On the morning of the 13th I received notice that I would, in all probability, be directed to proceed across with Colonel House at a very early date.1 On the following day I had a conference with the Colonel in which we settled the vessel upon which we were to sail2 and the details regarding the trip over, and we expect to reach Brest, if all goes well, Friday morning, the 25th. I am writing this letter while enroute.
The object of the mission, as far as I am able to gather, is to meet the representatives of the entente allies and decide on definite conditions of an armistice, the details of which will be settled by the forces in the field; the general principles having been laid down and decided upon by the political representatives of the various countries.
I am sending you a cable to forward to me care of the Naval Attache, Paris,3 the plan worked out by your Planning Division that should be adopted for the naval forces4 and I trust that you can send this to me at the earliest possible moment. There seems to be very little literature on this particular phase of the question and I have had no time to look it up even if it existed, so necessarily have to depend very largely upon the result of the study of our various Planning Divisions.
The news received on the passage over seems to indicate, more or less, a complete collapse of the German military forces so far as it effects the governmental affairs. This would indicate that peace conferences may be looked for in the near future. Of course, being where you are you will naturally be better informed on this phase of it than I possibly can be, therefore it is impossible for me at present to indicate how long I will be abroad, but we will first go to Paris and doubtless remain there until the preliminaries have been decided upon.
Before leaving, I requested that Captain Irwin, if he has not sailed, be detained until my arrival in France, and if he is still on this side I would like to have a conference with him before he returns.5 I may decide to retain him for sometime. I also requested to have the USS ROE delay her sailing until after our arrival. I frankly confess that my reason for this is largely personal, in which you can readily understand. I hope that you will feel at liberty to give her her orders as soon as you desire.6
You have probably seen that the trials of the EAGLE boats have proven satisfactory and all of the officers who witnessed the trials are most enthusiastic. Just before leaving the Secretary promised me that he would request authority to order two hundred additional of these boats.7
We have done everything possible to put the pressure on and keep it on the ship builders to hasten the completion of our destroyers. In fact we have done everything possible to hasten work and secure results in all of the various things that were needed in the prosecution of the war.8
The visit of the First Lord and his party, while very agreeable, was rather disturbing to my mind in some respects. One point in which they were unsatisfactory was the North Sea barrage. Another was the 110-foot submarine chasers.9
A long talk subsequently with Captain Marshall of the BALTIMORE10 was very encouraging and gave me a very decided impression that the barrage was even much more efficient and satisfactory than we had reason to believe. He unhesitatingly stated that although he had taken part in laying the greater part of it, that he did not believe it possible for a vessel to successfully pass through it.
I am writing rather freely in this letter as I expect it to be delivered by officer messenger.
There is nothing special of interest, as you doubtless are kept fully informed of what is going on, both at home and on your own side. No doubt it will interest you, however, to know that in a recent shake up of Flag Officers my recommendations to the Secretary was to have W. L. Rodgers relieve Admiral Knight without any increase in rank;11 to advance you to full Admiral and to make Gleaves a Vice Admiral and remain on his present duty.12 The Secretary approved this recommendation to take place when Knight hauls down his flag. This should take place sometime between the 20th of November and the 1st of December. Rodgers felt rather sorely, but back of it all I thought that he accepted the situation in a very excellent spirit and so different from the way a good many others have taken similar things that I have great hopes that he will do excellent work in the Far East, and, as that is the next field of great activity after the German situation is settled, he may have great opportunities. At any rate I believe that he will handle that situation in a very satisfactory manner.
I will doubtless have an opportunity of seeing you and discussing matters with you in the near future; hence will not write a longer letter at this time.
With warm personal regards, I am,
Very sincerely yours,
W. S. Benson
W. S. SIMS, U.S.N.
P.S. In view of Depts cable of Oct. 15th and my message of the 19th I was very much disappointed and considerably embarrassed not to meet any destroyers until about 8. am. of the 24th & would like to have an explanation as to why if six could meet us at that time we might not have had at least one or two on the day before.)13 WSB
Source Note: LTS, DLS-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 49. The postscript is handwritten. The letter is on stationary so the first part is printed.
Footnote 1: Col. Edward M. House.
Footnote 2: The House mission crossed the Atlantic on the troop transport Northern Pacific. Sims to Anne Hitchcock Sims, 15 October, 1918.
Footnote 3: Capt. Richard H. Jackson.
Footnote 4: The report of Sims’ Planning Section, entitled “Armistice Terms” and dated 24 October 1918, is printed in American Naval Planning Section London, 416-25. According to historian David Trask, this analysis and its proposals generally mirrored those of the British Admiralty with two notable distinctions. The American plan proposed internment rather than surrender of German surface vessels and submarines and allowed Germany to retain control of Heligoland. Trask, Captains and Cabinets, 329.
Footnote 5: Capt. Noble E. Irwin, Director of Naval Aviation, had been in Europe on a tour of inspection.
Footnote 6: Benson’s son, Cmdr. Howard H. Benson, commanded ROE.
Footnote 7: Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels. Daniels also promised First Lord of the Admiralty Eric Geddes that the U.S. would produce 200 more Eagle boats in order to compensate for the failure of the United States to meet its commitment to produce as many destroyers as it had projected by the end of 1918. Trask, Captains and Cabinets, 307.
Footnote 8: As noted above, the production of new destroyers was well behind American projections.
Footnote 9: For more on Geddes’ mission to the United States, see, Trask, Captains and Cabinets, 300-12. Presumably, the Navy Department was trying to argue that the North Sea mine barrage and the submarine chasers would be able to compensate for the shortfall in the number of promised U.S. destroyers and Geddes was pushing back by arguing that neither the barrage nor the submarine chasers were adequate anti-submarine weapons.
Footnote 10: Capt. Albert W. Marshall, Commander, BALTIMORE.
Footnote 11: As seen later in this letter, Adm. Austin M. Knight was commander of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet. William L. Rodgers was then a rear admiral; he was promoted to vice admiral in December 1918.
Footnote 12: Sims and Albert Gleaves were promoted to admiral and vice admiral respectively on 4 December. Daniels, Cabinet Dairies, 349n.
Footnote 13: On 15 October a cable was sent to Sims announcing that the House mission was en route aboard the Northern Pacific and asking that Sims “Arrange escort.” See, Opnav to Sims, 15 October 1918, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Benson’s letter of 19 October has not been found.