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,

S.W.     

October 12th. 1918

My dear Anne:

          . . . You mention a doubt as to whether the MELVILLE has a band. Not only has the MELVILLE a band but the DIXIE in the same harbor also has a band, and there is one at the Training Barracks and one at the Club. Moreover, each one of our battleships has a band and each one of our important stations have bands. There must be more than a dozen over here. We regard military music as a military necessity. If the music you mention is suitable for a band and if the work can be done over here to adapt it, I would like to have you send it. You will probably be the best judge of this.1

          You ask if I know the new Ambassador.2 No, I never heard of him before, but I understand that he is an able man. It is a pity that he will have to spend all the months that will be necessary in acquiring the confidence over here. That is, it is a pity that some man should not have been appointed who is thoroughly well known to all of the people concerned on this side. . . .

          The large painting of the first arrival of our destroyers on this side has been shipped, and I have telegraphed the Secretary the name of the steamer and the markings of the box. It will be interesting to see whether he can consent to give up $2,000 for this painting.3 The European nations have a regular organization for accumulating not only paintings but photographs and records of this war. The British Navy has a large Corps of thoroughly competent historical writers at work all the time. I have continuously advocated this, but without success. . . .

          I will not say anything more concerning your coming over here, as I covered that point carefully and rather fully in my last letters. You will of course have seen in the paper the terrible catastrophes that have happened here during the last week or ten days. A Japanese passenger ship was torpedoed and nearly all the people were lost, including many women and children.4 The troopship OTRANTO was in collision with another ship and went ashore on a wild coast in a violent gale of wind, and about four hundred of our people were lost.5 The regular cross channel mail steamer from Ireland to England was deliberately torpedoed in daylight and about five hundred people were lost, including all but fifteen out of one-hundred-and-fifty women and children. Unfortunately our good friend Captain Cone was on board. The vessel was struck by two torpedoes.6

As soon as the first one struck the boat Cone went on the bridge and offered his services to the Captain.7 Directly afterwards the second torpedo struck underneath the bridge and apparently blew it into the air. Both the Captain of the steamer and Captain Cone had their legs broken. The Captain was put in a boat but was subsequently lost by the boat capsizing alongside of a destroyer. We do not know yet how Captain Cone got off, but I received a telegram from him saying that he was in the hospital at Dublin <with a> for the broken leg, and asking me to inform his wife. We at once sent him our best doctor from Queenstown and also sent from here Dr .Rhodes,8 whom you know, because he is Cone’s nephew. Cone also asked to have Dr.Lane9 sent, who used to be with him on the DIXIE. We have also employed the best orthopaedist in Great Britain who happens to be a doctor of the hospital where Cone now is. We understand he has a compound fracture of one leg below the knee and the other leg badly lacerated and perhaps broken.10 A compound fracture means that one or more of the bones have protruded through the skin. This involves a certain danger of infection but the doctor says this is much diminished by being in salt water. Last accounts say that Cone is doing very well. We have sent his Secretary to him and he will be given every possible assistance. I expect to go and see him in a few days, as soon as I can get away, and will take that opportunity of dropping in on Queenstown. In about a month, if all goes well, we expect to move Cone down to a splendid hospital we have here in London. This hospital is established in a house that is really a sort of a palace. It belongs to a Captain Guest of the British Army, who married a daughter of Mr.Phipps of Pittsburg, so they have plenty of money. They gave us the building for nothing11. . . .

          To a certain extent it is true that the Americans discovered Uncle Lewis.12 It is also true that he has very largely changed his attitude towards Juniors, both of our Service and of the British. I believe this is due to his observation of our methods.

          The Commander-in-Chief13 is making a very leisurely and prolonged visit to the Bases over here, under orders from the Navy Department. As I told you in a recent letter, both he and his staff are very decidedly friendly. Considering their attitude at the time of their last visit,14 I have regarded this friendliness with a certain amount of suspicion. I believe they would like to get my approval of the scheme to send the Atlantic Fleet over here, to be based at a European port until after the war. You can readily see that this would mean endless complications, and you may guess that it will not receive my support. <This would place a great additional burden on tonnage.>. . .

          Opinions differ, in accordance with the desires of individuals, as to whether or not the German High Sea Fleet will come out. I cannot persuade myself that they will.15 There is certainly no military reason why they should though there may possibly be a dynastic one. However, in view of recent events, and the evident conviction on the part of Germany that she is beaten, I can see even less reason why the Fleet should come out. . . .

          We are anxious over here about this subject of influenza. The doctors are a bit puzzled about it. It seems to have an element of paralysis in it which they do not understand. It is also often followed by pneumonia. There is no doubt that this is now a greater danger to people on ship-board than the submarine is, due to the fact that conditions on ship-board as regards ventilation are necessarily bad, especially in a crowded troop transport. We have recommended that the number of troops on ships be reduced by at least 50%. We have also recommended that some hospital ships be sent to this side so as to be ready in case of an emergency. . . .

          I quite <dis>agree with what Padre Gleason16 says concerning the attitude of Benson.17 I do not think there is anything in it. I sincerely believe that Benson is perfectly friendly towards me. I have a letter from our good friend Foote,18 who is now the assistant of the Secretary,19 the same position that Danny20 occupied when he was over there. He tells me that the Secretary is perfectly favorable torward me and torwards our force over here, and I believe this to be true. . . .

October 15th.

My darling Nani:

     . . . I have just had a letter from Dr .Rhodes telling the circumstances under which Cone was badly wounded when the LEINSTER was torpedoed. As we would have supposed, his conduct was everything that could be desired. He did a good deal towards saving many of the women and children, until the second torpedo struck the ship and his legs were broken. . . The President’s reply to the Germans has just been received,21 and we are all very much delighted with it, particularly because a good many people over here were rather fearful that he would not back up what they want, which is an absolutely unconditional surrender. We want to render the German nation entirely harmless in a military way. We want guarantees so that they can never harm us on land, and in addition we want the German High Sea Fleet. In other words we want to make an end of all this barbarous idea of controlling the world through military power. . . .

          <Everything seems to be going well on the western front. All hands are pleased with the President’s message. You will doubtless know by the time this reaches you that Col. House, Ad. Benson and a large party are starting for France to discuss the armistice with the Allies.22 That will of course take time but much more time will be required to arrange the terms of peace. These are interesting times to live (and serve) in! I am loving you more and more as the time is drawing nearer when we may be reunited. Of course it will be some time yet, but the end is coming. Kiss, hug and pet all the darlings for me.

Your devoted            

Will.>        

Source Note: LTS, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 10. Portions of the letter, which are enclosed in angle brackets, were handwritten by Sims, including the final paragraph, the complimentary close, and the signature. Sims started the letter on 12 October and finished it on 15 October 1918.

Footnote 1: It is not known what piece of music Anne Sims considered sending to England.

Footnote 2: The successor to Walter Hines Page as Ambassador to Great Britain was John W. Davis. He was officially appointed on 21 November and began acting as ambassador on 18 December 1918. He had served previously as Solicitor General in the administration of Woodrow Wilson. He later ran for President in 1924. William H. Harbaugh, Lawyer’s Lawyer: The Life of John W. Davis (Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1973).

Footnote 3: For more on this painting, see, Return of the Mayflower, by Bernard F. Gribble,  which includes a discussion of what happened to it when it arrived in the United States. See also: Sims to Sims, 31 August 1918. To see the painting go to the illustrations section for May 1917.

Footnote 4: The Japanese passenger liner Hirano Maru was sunk on 4 October off the southern coast of Ireland with a loss of 292 people. https://uboat.net/wwi/ships_hit/2866.html, consulted 10/9/18.

Footnote 5: On the loss of Otranto, see: Sims to William S. Benson, 11 October 1918.

Footnote 6: For more on the sinking of the Leinster and the actions of Capt. Hutchinson I. Cone, see: Sims to Josephus Daniels, 12 October 1918.

Footnote 7: Capt. William Birch.

Footnote 8: Dr. George C. Rhoades.

Footnote 9: Lt. Cmdr. And Surgeon Harry H. Lane.

Footnote 10: In the margin, Sims wrote: “Only one leg is broken, and todays report is that he is doing well.”

Footnote 11: Capt. Frederick Guest and his wife Amy Phipps Guest. The residence was located on Park Lane, Mayfair, overlooking Hyde Park. For a picture of the hospital see illustrations for October 1918. Amy Phipps Guest was the daughter of Henry Phipps, a partner with Andrew Carnegie in Carnegie Steel Company.

Footnote 12: Adm. Sir Lewis Bayly.

Footnote 13: Adm. Henry T. Mayo.

Footnote 14: Mayo had visited England in the fall of 1917.

Footnote 15: The German High Seas fleet did plan to sortie at the end of October, 1918, but German sailors serving in the fleet mutinied and refused to weigh anchor. Still, Crisis at Sea, 505.

Footnote 16: Capt. Matthew C. Gleason, fleet chaplain for the Atlantic Fleet.

Footnote 17: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 18: Cmdr. Percy W. Foote.

Footnote 19: Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

Footnote 20: Cmdr. Joseph F. Daniels, an aide on Sims’ staff.

Footnote 21: On President Woodrow Wilson’s message, see: Frank Lansing to Friedrich Oederlin, 14 October 1918. For a discussion of how it was received, see Stevenson, With Our Backs to the Wall, 514-17.

Footnote 22: On the mission of Wilson’s advisor Col. Edward M. House to Europe and Benson’s inclusion in the mission, see House diary entry of 15 October 1918, Wilson Papers, 51: 340-42. On the same day as this letter, Sims received a cable announcing that the House mission would sail from New York on 17 October for Brest aboard the troop transport Northern Pacific. DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.

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