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 Anne Hitchcock Sims

[Extract]

30, Grosvenor Gardens,

London, S.W.  

October 26th .1918,

My dear Anne,

          . . . It is a great satisfaction to know that you have been able to keep the children at Marion1 and away from Newport during the influenza epidemic. I hope it has worked itself out by this time on your side. It has been pretty severe over here, but, generally speaking, most of the deaths that have occurred over here have been the result of exposure and necessar<il>y inadequate treatment. We have comparatively little of it in the city itself and very little at headquarters. We had an epidemic some few months ago but it is was of a light type.

          This letter must be finished and signed today as I leave early tomorrow morning for Paris2. . . .

          I went last night to a dinner given by the British government to the Inter-Allied Parliamentary Committee that has been sitting in London. I enclose the seating program which will show you who were there, also who the speakers were.3 It was an interesting occasion but not particularly entertaining. It becomes wearisome after a while to hear all these different nationalities orating in more or less bad French on the extraordinary bravery and devotion of each other. It gets on my funny bone before the end of the function.

          Yesterday I had a very interesting luncheon. Lord Reading, whom I saw recently at a luncheon, invited me to come and take lunch with him and talk over certain affairs.4 The lunch was with him alone. A small table was placed in his library before the fire in front of a big davenport. He sat on the davenport and I at the side of the table and we discussed the affairs of nations generally, principally the question of the armistice and peace with which we naval and military men have a good deal to do and also the question of the relations between Great Britain and the United States not only while the war continues, but afterwards. He is very much interested in keeping up a unity of feeling between the two countries so as to facilitate our intercourse after the war and he recognizes me as an element in this.5 In a little speech he made the other day at a dinner given by the American Red Cross he referred to “the Admiral who would not allow anybody to forgot what Great Britain had done in this war.”6 You can imagine what an interesting luncheon this was. . . .

          You know the British Government has long since announced that the Canadian wives who, unfortunately, were permitted to come over here in the early stages of the war, must return to their own countries before the termination of the war, otherwise they will not be allowed to return within eighteen months. While it is true that atthe present time there is congestion on steamers due to the necessity of transporting this way, and sick and wounded the other way, this congestion will be considerably augmented after the war is over on account of the millions of men over here that will have to be sent home. It should be realised that our army cannot all be sent back to the United States within two years.7 It was proved <is true> that we have been bringing over three hundred thousand men a month but this has been with the aid of more than 150 British steamers and we will not have the use of these after the war as they will have to be used to return the Australians, Indians, Canadians and other colonials to their own countries and also bring in food and raw material this country will need if they are not to keep up their rationing for two or three years after the war.

          There is no telling of course whether Germany is going to accept the only terms we can offer her and she may conclude to fight on during the next year.8 If she does not do so and if an armistice is finally signed I think it is quite probable I may be able to run home for a bit of a visit but that of course is not at all sure. While it might be possible for me to return to the United States definitely upon the conclusion of an armistice which would amount to a peace, still it is to be remembered that it would not look very well for the Commander-in-Chief over here to go home and leave behind him so many thousands of people that will have to remain here for quite a long while. Moreover, there will be a great deal of work to do to clear up the mess over here and settle up our forces preparatory to getting our people back. . . .

          I am sorry to say that affairs do not seem to be going as well as we could wish with the American Army. You have doubtless been following the operations of the army sufficiently well to know that the general strategy of the situation was to force the Germans back on the north away from the Channel and then force them back north of Verdun so as to cut the lines of railways leading into Germany through Meziers. If this could have been accomplished by our Army there could be nothing in the world that could save the German Army from disaster and there would have been no question of her having to immediately accept unconditional surrender. As it is now she may be able to fight on for a considerable time and she may be able to withdraw her armies to a shorter line without very serious loss. You know that when the crisis came in March that authority was given to brigade our men with the armies of the Allies. This was done to a certain extent and was done with very conspicuous success as you saw by the actions of Chateau Theirry and elsewhere. Unfortunately this system has been to a certain extent abandoned. Our men were withdrawn from their association with the line in order to form the first and second American armies – the two to be under the command of General Pershing. He also dismissed at the same time the experienced allied staff officers that had been working with and instructing his own staff. Of course I do not know anything about this of my own personal knowledge but from various sources of information it is said that our staff system has broken down to such an extent that our communications are in confusion and that the army has been brought to a standstill by the opposition of the Germans. I hope they will be able to recover from this condition but I must say that it does not seem likely. There is nothing more dangerous in warfare than personal ambitions9. . . .

          With regard to Fullam, I have informed myself particularly about him, and the Secretary is so thoroughly prejudiced against him that there is no possibility of his being sent to any place except where he is on the east coast.10 I wrote Fullam fully on this subject and he entirely understands it. I have not applied for Winslow11 because there is nothing over here which an officer of his rank on the retired list could do. You know that a recent action of Congress has provided us with a great number of rear admirals. A very few retired officers are being employed over here in special billets but they are all officers of low rank – not above commanders. It is entirely beside the question that Winslow is physically competent to handle any of the jobs over here. He would like of course an opportunity to command at sea. He wrote me and said that he would like to have an opportunity to get killed in order to leave a name for his children. It has never been the practice of our Navy, and as far as I know in any other Navy, to employ retired officers in active service.

          The vessel ADMIRAL SIMS is an ordinary freighter built on the Pacific coast. . . .

Your devoted            

Will.             

Source Note: LTS, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 10. The complimentary close and signature are handwritten.

Footnote 1: Anne Sims’ older sister, Sara Hitchcock Shepley, and her husband had a house at Marion, Massachusetts, located on Buzzard’s Bay.

Footnote 2: On the reason for Sims’ trip to Paris, see: Sims to Herbert O. Dunn, 26 October 1918.

Footnote 3: The enclosure has not been found.

Footnote 4: Rufus Isaacs, Earl of Reading, served simultaneously as Chief Justice of England and ambassador to the United States.

Footnote 5: Sims’ Anglophilia is often noted. For a discussion, see, Still, Crisis at Sea, 25.

Footnote 7: Sims was too pessimistic, by September 1919, less than a year after the armistice, the AEF had been transported back to the United States. Gleaves, History of the Transport Service, 245.

Footnote 8: An armistice was concluded on 11 November 1918.

Footnote 9: Sims’ harsh judgement of the performance of the American Expeditionary Forces and its commander, Gen. John J. Pershing, reflects a British point of view. English military leaders were most disappointed when the Americans refused to integrate their forces into those of the Allies and this harsh assessment undoubtedly reflects that fact. While the AEF supply services did not perform well in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, in the words of historian David Stevenson: “Even so, the supply services eventually got a grip, and by the armistice the AEF overlooked the Germans’ lateral railway, thus rendering the Antwerp-Meuse line untenable and finally threatening its opponents with the disaster that the Allied commanders had planned.” Stevenson, With Our Backs to the Wall, 243.

Footnote 10: RAdm. William F. Fullam commanded United States forces on the Pacific coast of North and South America. Naval Investigation, 1: 755. Therefore, Sims was incorrect in writing that Fullam was on the “east coast.” It is not known why Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels was thought to be prejudiced against Fullam as he had served as one of Daniels’ aides in 1914. Ibid.

Footnote 11: Sims is referring to Cameron M. Winslow who had retired with the rank of rear admiral in 1916 because he had reached the statutory age limit of sixty-two. Winslow was recalled to active duty in World War I as inspector of Naval districts along the Atlantic coast of the United States. https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/research-guides/z-files/zb-files/zb-files-w/winslow-cameron-m.html, consulted 10/15/18.