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 Captain Joel R. Poinsett Pringle, Chief of Staff, Destroyer Flotillas

 6th September, 1917.

My dear Pringle,

          The Department informes me that about 20th September the PANTHER and first division of five destroyers will be sent from the Azores to Brest via Queenstown.1

          I recommend that this Force stop at Queenstown en route to their Station at Brest in order that they could absorb the spirit of the destroyer force there and also that you might put them on to the game as much as possible.

          It has been necessary for me to assign these five coal burners with the parent ship to Brest – necessary for various reasons which I will not go into in this letter. However, I think they will be of great service to us as they will be able to relieve us of considerable work with the various supply ships that are coming over in convoy by assisting us in picking them up at the point of dispersion and escorting them to destination.

          I want these destroyers, however, as far as possible to be part and parcel of the Queenstown Force. I want them to pursue the same methods that experience has developed at Queenstown and whenever they encounter the Queenstown gang at sea, they should be in a position to act in full co-operation.

          I would like to have you fit depth charges on them and if I can assist in any way by making an application direct to the Admiralty here in this connection please let me know.

          Repair facilities for the yachts at Brest are entirely inadequate and hence the PANTHER is going to be of great use over there to the yachts as well as the first division of destroyers.

          I should like, if at any time necessary, to have any of these destroyers run over to Queenstown either for instructions or perhaps for work which is beyond the capacity of the PANTHER. In other words, I wish to view them as I stated above as a detached division of the destroyer force operating under Fletcher2 and based at Brest. I have not written in this vein to Fletcher yet and will await hearing from you as to any suggestions you have to offer in regard to my communication on the subject.

          Do you not think that they should have the same Signal Codes (that is, British Signal Codes) as our destroyers in order to facilitate communication at Sea. I can see complications in this as I understand that the British codes and methods of communication are constantly being changed and it will perhaps be difficult to get the changes over to them at Brest. It is also possible that the Admiralty may object to having all of their codes in the hands of forces based over there, that is, out of British Waters and more or less out of control.

          I wish you would keep a copy of this letter together with any other correspondence we may exchange on the subject to show Proctor3 when he arrives.

          As stated above, I have taken no steps with the Admiralty or with Fletcher on the subject of this letter and will not do so until I have received your recommendations.

          In connection with the Commander-in-Chief’s proposed visit to Queenstown,4 I hope you will make it perfectly clear in conversation that our Force is, in every sense, our own Force, that we handle all of our own administrative and disciplinary matters and that we are prepared for any eventuality even should it go so far as to fall back and make a juncture with our own Fleet.5 I consider that I am in every sense of the word in command of the destroyer force. The operations of the force are being directed and controlled by the Senior Allied Commander in accordance with all historic procedures. Due to your admirable handling of affairs for me during my temporary absence, it would be a mere matter of form if I should be present with the Force at all times. I am fully aware of everything beind gone [i.e., being done] by our destroyers and am in a position at any time to assert my authority as regards our own forces in case the necessity should present itself.

          Inconsider that the Queenstown destroyers are performing admirable work and in fact are getting away with the job which has fallen to their lot in a more satisfactory manner than one could have possibly hoped for. In other words, I consider the conditions practically ideal and I trust that nothing will develop to mar them in any way.

          In the above, I am merely indicating to you my views in order to keep the atmosphere entirely clear between us.

Very Sincerely yours,   

Source Note: TL, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 79. Addressed below close: “Captain J. R. P. Pringle, U.S.N.,/U.S.S. MELVILLE.” Identifying numbers in the top left-hand corner: “485-21/3/1” and in the right-hand corner in columnar fashion: “1/3/4/J/K.” There is also a note at the top of the first page: “4 copies.”

Footnote 1: These were the American destroyers Reid, Flusser, Preston, Lamson and Smith. They belonged to the 700-ton Flusser class, carried a battery of five 3.5 inch guns, were coal-burning and capable of steaming at 28 knots. Still, Crisis at Sea: 390. On their arrival at Queenstown, see: Sims to Henry C. Dinger, 6 September 1917.

Footnote 2: RAdm. William B. Fletcher, Commander, United States Patrol Squadrons Operating in European Waters.

Footnote 3: Cmdr. André M. Proctor, Commander, Flotilla One, Destroyer Force.

Footnote 4: Adm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet.

Footnote 5: Sims was criticized for abdicating all control of American forces to the British. Concern over Sims’ “subservience” to the British Admiralty was one reason why Mayo was sent to Europe. Still, Crisis at Sea, 72-73.

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