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 Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly, Commander, Southern Ireland

October 23rd. 1918

My dear Admiral:

          Your letter of October 20th. just received.1 You may be sure that we military men will do all we can to keep the politicians from letting us down. The great danger is that there will be disagreement among the Allies as to what the terms of Peace should be. As one of the members of the British Government remarked some time ago, “We can get along very well with each other as long as the war lasts, but may have considerable difficulties after Peace is made”. I have just come from a luncheon at the Washington Inn, in St.James’ Square, after which an address was delivered by Lord Northcliffe.2 This address was devoted particularly to a statement as to what, in his opinion, the war aims of the Allies should be. This was not at all a casual statement, but Lord Northcliffe specifically said that as there was always some danger of being misunderstood through misquotation, he had reduced his remarks to writing and would read them instead of trusting to his memory. I have no doubt that this statement was made with the consent of the Government. I asked Lord Northcliffe if it would be published and he said it would be, hence I conclude that it must have had the approval of the Government, or at least of the Chief Censor. You may see this in THE TIMES that will reach you as soon as this letter.3

          There is some regret expressed over the length of the correspondence between Germany and President Wilson. The Germans are likely to assume that everything that the President says has the entire approval of all the Allies. This may not be true. It seems to me that after the first request of Germany for an armistice, and after President Wilson’s note asking them to define certain features of their request, before laying it before the Allies, it would have been well if no further pronouncement had been made until after a full consultation, so that the will of all the Allies could have been expressed definitely. However, the letter cannot be long delayed, as within a few days representatives of all the Allies will probably meet in Paris and formulate their Peace terms. The unknown element of the problem is the moral and political condition in Germany. I have a sort of an idea that this latter element has had perhaps more influence in inducing the Germans to ask for an armistice than the actual military situation, though the latter has nothing in it to encourage the enemy.4

          I entirely agree with you as to what you say concerning the undesirability of having so many young and comparatively inexperienced officers in command of destroyers, but I cannot see how it will be practicable to avoid this in view of the necessity for experience in bringing out a new class of destroyer. However, it will not be long now before we have a considerable number on this side. While I remain always skeptical as to the predictions of the Department, still the last one seems to be worthy of some confidence. They tell us that we will get ten or twelve a month hereafter, and these will bring out with them our more experienced men.

          As to the delay that was caused to the CALDWELL, Captain Leigh5 informs me that the installation of the listening device on this vessel will not delay her at all; that the delay is being caused by the repair of the damage caused by her collision, which damage turned out to be more extensive than was at first supposed. Captain Leigh looked into the matter personally and was quite sure that the listening devices would not delay her at all. I understand from him that because of the accident she arrived at Plymouth eight or nine days before they had expected her. However, the listening devices were nearly ready for installation and there will be no delay on that account.

          I have taken up the matter of the disposition of battleships in case they have to go out to convoys again.6 They should constitute a part of the convoy so that they can enjoy the same protection as the convoy itself.

          I was surprised to learn that the Admiralty had not informed you as to the reason why the battleships were ordered out.7 I had assumed of course that they had done so. Perhaps it was only an oversight. At times there seems to be a little lack of regularity in the way some things are done at the Admiralty.

Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly, R.N.     Very sincerely yours,

     Admiralty House

          Queenstown

This morning there are indications of “something doing” in the North Sea[.] It is nearly certain that the submarines now out have orders to rendezvous in a certain area east of the Firth of Forth. Probably all destroyers that can be spared will be sent there, including some from Queenstown.8

Source Note: LT, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 47.

Footnote 2: The Washington Inn was a temporary war “hut” erected for the use of American officers. http://blog.maryevans.com/eagle-hut, consulted 10/15/18. Lord Northcliffe was the British Director of Propaganda.

Footnote 3: Northcliffe’s address, entitled “A Righteous Peace,” is printed in The Times (London), 23 October 1918.

Footnote 4: For a discussion of the exchange of notes between President Woodrow Wilson and the German government, the reaction of the Allies, and how the civilian government in Germany came to control the peace process, see Stevenson, With Our Backs to the Wall, 512-28.

Footnote 5: Capt. Richard H. Leigh, who was the expert on “listening devices” on Sims’ staff.

Footnote 6: Sims is referring to the detachment of U.S. battleships stationed at Berehaven, Ireland, intended to protect U.S. convoys from German surface raiders.

Footnote 7: The U.S. battleships sallied as a result of a report by a British submarine captain that he had seen what appeared to be German surface raiders off the coast of Scotland. The report, however, proved to be false. Sims to Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 16 October 1918, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.

Footnote 8: For more on what was “doing,” see: Sims to Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 26 October 1918.

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