Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Commander Roger Williams, United States Navy Liaison with the American Expeditionary Forces, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters

G.H.Q., A.E.F.     

15 O ctober 1918.

Dear Admiral:

              All goes well with the army in France. Since my return1 Ive made one trip to the advanced field headquarters where General Pershing2 is, One trip to the coast,and have spent two days with A dmiral Plunkett.3

              Our 1st army continues to hammer away in the Argonne-Verdune section, As it is a pivoting point for the whole line , the Germans are trying their best to hold on,and have counter-attacted severely. Our forces are particularly good in receiving counterattatcks. As an officer in the line(Ex. Yale football player) Expressed it “ We eat up counterattatcks”. The G ermans losses are reported to have been heavy. We too have had a good many casualties. It is very difficult country-wooded, with steep valleys and hills. The latest reports are encouraging and the opinion here seems to be that the defense will soon cave in.4

              The note combat between President Wilson and the enemy is the principal source of interest.5 There is great satisfaction over the President’s latest-just out today-Not more than one third of the American Army in F rance has been engaged and naturally they don’t take kindly to any immediate prospect of armistice. An air of great cheerfulness pervades everywhere. The French are “Top-hole morale” without being over excited. They are keen about the President’s reply and will fight to the finish. T here isn’t any evidence of slacking up- on the contrary they are making plans for offensive action,Engaging in development of artillery, work <as> far into the future.

              I had a very interesting visit with admiral Plunkett. His Chatean [i.e., chateau] is a freight car in the Railway Artillery Reserve at Haussemond near Mailly. This does’nt sound very luxurious but as a matter of fact,he’s got some important comfarts which chateans lack at the present moment such as coal and variety of food.

              You have no doubt received by this time the report of the recent operation of his two guns which have been firing in the Leon region. I saw the other three guns pull out of the”garage” for service near the present American Front. The A dmiral shoved them off personally, like running boats from the starboard gangway,ordering the “ coxswains” of each engine to blow four whistles and shove off. They moved out into the darkness, each train complete, no lights showing,muzzles pointed toward Germany,final destination to be given enroute,like a troop convoy sailing from Gravesend Bay. As for the muzzles pointing toward Germany-this is very important-because if they happened to be pointed wrong it is very complicated and would involve a long journey to find a proper and sufficiently strong turn-table. There are many places in the E st [i.e., East] railroad system which can’tbe traveled over by these guns-due,according to the French,to weak bridges. However,every time the guns move they eradicate one or more of the forbidden spots on the railroad map. The Admiral says that eventually he’ll be running around France ad tib.6

              There have been some discussions about Admiral Plunkett serving under an army officer junior to him. The fact is he is attached to the Railway Army Reserve-a headquarters or home port for all the railway batteries belonging to our Army. The French R.A.R. is also in the same district. The American R.A.R. is commanded by Brigadier General Chamberlain.7 According to an act of Congress approved Oct., 6,1917,a Brig.Gen.ranks with a Real [i.e., Rear] Admiral of the “second nine”. Chamberlain’s Commission antidates Admiral Plunkett’s. The War Department bulletin No.57,1917, page 20,gives the extract of the law. I did’nt know this until a few days ago.

              The relation between these two have not been cordial but this makes little or no difference in the work done by the guns. The fact that all of the Admiral’s guns are in actual operation where none of the armyes are speaks for itself.

              There are many marines in France who are physically class B and C, that is, unfit for service at the front,due to xx wounds,but fit for service at Headquarters or in the S.O.S. At my suggestion,a cable has been sent asking authority to arrange with you for transfere of able bodied merines from your command to the A.E.F. in exchange for B and C men. This matter is one which Stark spoke about the last time I was in London.8

              There are no kicks or complaints about the navy at these headquarters in connection with the service ofSupply. The conditions at the unloading ports are slowly improving. The theoretical supply is still behind but not so much. I have made arrangements for Admiral Mayo’s visit and shall pray for good weather. He is scheduled to call on General Pershing, in the field, to visit the Marine Brigade,and see the Naval guns. I’ve also got some entertainment for him on this side by way of a luncheon with General Gourand and a night at a very charming Chetean,but all three depend upon the weather and the motors. They’ve detailed me as “Commanding Officer ” for the expidition.9

              The “grippe” is putting nearly as many men in the hospitals as the fighting. Fortunately,however, the “grippe” casualties are mostly behind the lines.

          I am feeling grateful to you Admiral,for sending me back here in spite of my murmurings-otherwise I would have missed this most interesting phase of the war.

          With best wishes, I am

                             Very Sincerely

                         Roger Williams

Source Note: LTS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 49. Notation at the top of each page of this three-page letter: “Admiral Sim’s Personal File.” Document identifier in the top right-hand corner of each page: “1/3/J.”

Footnote 1: Williams had “been in Brest for some time assisting in taking over ships for the Army Coal Trade.” See: Sims to Josephus Daniels, 2 October 1918.

Footnote 2: Maj. Gen. John J. Pershing, Commander, American Expeditionary Forces.

Footnote 3: RAdm. Charles P. Plunkett, commander of the U.S. Navy Railway Batteries.

Footnote 4: For more on the American Meuse-Argonne offensive, see Edward G. Lengel, To Conquer Hell: The Meuse-Argonne, 1918 The Epic Battle that Ended the First World War (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2008).

Footnote 5: By “note combat” Williams meant the exchange of diplomatic notes between the United States and Germany concerning a possible armistice. For more on these notes, see: Lansing to Oederlin, 14 October 1918.

Footnote 6: Possibly Williams meant “ad lib.”

Footnote 7: Brig. Gen. William Chamberlaine.

Footnote 8: Cmdr. Harold R. Stark, flag secretary to the Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet, Henry T. Mayo.

Footnote 9: In a letter to his wife on 22 October, Mayo described his trip to the front and mentions visiting French Gen. Robert Nivelle but not Gen. Henri Gouraud, commander of the French Fourth Army. He did visit the U.S. Marines under Gen. John A. Lejeune and a Naval railway gun battery. He did not mention staying at a “very charming” chateau. Mayo to Caroline Wing Mayo, 22 October 1918, DLC-MSS, Henry T. Mayo Papers, Box 9.

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