Captain Charles R. Train, United States Naval Attaché in Rome, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters
“Alusna Rome,, AMERICAN EMBASSY
Rome, October 7th, 1918.
Before anything else, I wish to thank you for putting over the Navy Department my designation as your representative in Italy. I assure you that I will give you all I have towards doing my job.1
There is perpetual friction going on here between the French and the Italians – they both suspect each other of every trick, no matter how low it is. I have sent you a report today of the cause of the bombardment of Durazzo, which at least is authentic from the Italian point of view. In case you don’t see it, roughly, it was that the bombardment was due to a telegram from the French government to the Italians saying that unless they bombarded Durazzo, the French fleet would. They have always felt that the bombardment of Durazzo would not have much result
s and it would probably mean a reprisal bombardment on their coast which is so much more vulnerable to a bombardment than the enemy’s side. The French forces their end just before the inevitable occupation by the Italians in order that the Italians would find, at least, a damaged port instead of a good one.2
In Albania there is today a great race for Elbasan, the capital of Albania, between the French, Serbians, and Italians to see who occupies it first. This jealousy in the Balkans is of long standing, because the French commander-in-chief,3 as soon as Albania was occupied, divided the Italian army, putting a French corps in between them so that Albania would not have an entire Italian army.
Up to yesterday the Italians were preparing with the Allies for a possible naval demonstration against Turkey, and had three pre-dreadnaughts ready at Traanto [i.e., Taranto] for that purpose. The British Admiralty put up to the Italians a few days ago, the question of getting some of the Italian motor-boats of the “Rizzo” type to go up the Dardanelles, but I believe this too has failed as I have heard nothing more about it. Motor boats were offered by Italy a long time ago for this purpose.
The news of the peace proposals from the Central Powers4 has already done its desired work, at least in Naples, as the Ilva steel works, the biggest in Italy, and the Armstrong Gun Works, also the biggest in Italy, have gone on strike today when the news was published.- The Kaiser is certainly a wise one in my opinion- he will quiet his own people with these proposals and store up discontentment among ours.
There has been considerable effort on the part of the French to bring forth an offensive on the Italian front. The French, English, and I believe also General Treat,5 U.S.A., have all been in favor of this
other offensive, but the Italians state that it is impossible, to start an offensive on their front with such inferiority in numbers of troops, and I believe they are absolutely right. There is a difference of about 15 divisions in favor of the Austrians and certainly they have the benefit of the very difficult terrain. People often ask why the Italians have not more troops on this front, but they never stop to realize that in France, where a woman or at least one man can bring in certain supplies, it takes on the Italian front three good sturdy men, except possible along the Piave. This makes their supply organization about three times as big as in France, and in consequence reduces the men on the fighting line.
The food conditions in Rome are worse than we have ever seen them, and we have great difficulty in getting the smallest piece of meat and many other essentials.- There is no question but that Italy has got, and continues to get, the small end of the deal in every particular.
I hope when the question comes up of the mine barrage in the Adriatic in the next conference, you will accept the Brindis[i]-Sasseno Island route, as I am sure the slight increase of effort by which the Italian line of communication between their Balkan army and Brindisi will be assured of having protection, will not be a waste of effort. When one realizes that the mine barrage proposed covers a width, I believe, from 15 to 20 miles, a slight difference in this location should not make much difference. I believe Admiral De Bon opposed Revel on principle.6
We have had a grand old row here with the Representative of Public Information service, Captain Merriam, U.S.Army. Merriam is a political boss from Chicago, has been a Republican and Bull-Mooser,7 and now is strong fro [i.e., for] the Administration. The row was the result of his sending messages on political matters, military subjects, and naval, without consulting the different heads. He was undermining the Ambassador and Military Attache, but only once ran afoul of the Navy. However, they so landed on him in Washington that he got telegraphic orders to proceed homeward with utmost dispatch.
You will be glad to know that my youngster is safely over a dangerous attack of dysentery. We were fortunate in leaving Paris when we did, theyby [i.e., thereby] missing some of the alarming telegrams that were sent to Paris to bring us home. The boy was desperately ill for twentyfour hours, and started to mend as soon as we arrived. He was about three weeks in bed.- We have vowed to take no more sprees.
With kindest regards and with many thanks, I am
Yours very sincerely,
Source Note: LTS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 24. Notations “ADMIRAL SIMS’ PERSONAL FILE” and “1/5/6/J/Q” appear at the top of the first page. Addressed below close: “To Vice-Admiral Sims,/U.S.Naval Forces Operating/In European Waters,/30 Grosvenor Gardens,/London.”
Footnote 1: See: Sims to Benson, 30 September 1918.
Footnote 2: For more on this operation, see: Kelly to Nelson, 1 October 1918; Submarine Chaser Detachment 2 War Diary, 2 October 1918; Kelly to Sims, 4 October 1918; and Nelson to Sims, 7 October 1918. A report to the Office of Naval Intelligence seems to confirm that 1) the Italians undertook the operation reluctantly under pressure from the French, and 2) the French motivation for forcing the operation was primarily to insure that Italy would occupy a damaged port. See, Political Side to Italian Bombardment of Durazzo, 7 October 1918, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 416.
Footnote 3: Gen. Franchet d’Esperey, the Allied commander in the Balkans.
Footnote 4: Germany sought an armistice in early October, sending a “Peace Note” to President Woodrow Wilson recommending an end to the fighting unconditionally and beginning negotiations right away. Wilson rejected the suggestion and demanded German evacuation of all the territory it occupied in France, Belgium, and Serbia. Gilbert, The First World War: 474-475.
Footnote 5: Maj. Gen. Charles Treat, Chief of the U.S. Military Mission to the Italian Army.
Footnote 6: Adm. Ferdinand Jean Jacques de Bon, Chief of the French Naval Staff, and VAdm. Paolo Thaon di Revel, Commander-in-Chief of the Italian Fleet and Italian Naval Chief of Staff.
Footnote 7: Nickname for the short-lived Progressive Party, which nominated Theodore Roosevelt for president in 1912.