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Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Wates, to Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations


September 1st, 1917.   

My dear Admiral,

     As you doubtless know I have had a pretty strenuous and, at times, pretty anxious time over here, and I am quite conscious that I have been negligent in not having written you before to express my appreciation of all that you have been doing to help me and to help along the common cause.

     There has of course been the inevitable misunderstandings as to what was required from the two sides, and I have from time to time inflicted my growls upon my good old friend Pratt.1 Since many years he has been used to me, and I knew he would not mind too much. It did not occur to me however, that I had been devoting my attention almost exclusively to the complaints which I had to make, both those that had been shown to be justified and those that have been shown not to be – this to the exclusion of expressions of appreciation upon my part for everything that had been done to help out.

     I can assure you that I have thoroughly appreciated the difficulties of your position. When we have been more or less worried and harassed over here we have always cheered ourselves up a bit by comparing our difficulties with those that you must have had to surmount.

     While I may at times have been impatient to get things done as quickly as possible, still, when I look back over what has been accomplished within the last few months I can realize that is “some achievement.” All this not to mention what is now going forward in the way of increased forces and increased facilities.

     While we had a pretty hard time over here for a while, I am glad to say that conditions are now much less strenuous. I was very anxious for a time about Babcock.2 He broke down very badly – quite completely for a while, but he is now pretty nearly normal again and I believe will be all right before long.

     Admiral Mayo’s visit3 will, I believe, prove of great benefit to the Department and to the Fleet. He is going into things very thoroughly and will be able to give you a much better idea of the situation when he returns.

     In my various letters and cablegrams I have tried to make clear the very satisfactory relations we now have with all of the Allied forces concerned. I enclosed some correspondence in a recent letter to Pratt showing the very satisfactory attitude of the French Ministry of Marine toward us.4 As for the forces at Queenstown, it would be a difficult to imagine anything that is more satisfactory than our relations there. Without having been formally assigned as the commander of this force I have always been acting as such. The vessels themselves are keeping a surprisingly good condition notwithstanding the great amount of steaming that they have done. The casualties have not been either numerous or serious considering the amount and nature of the work. You know of course that these relations were not established without having to overcome a very considerable amount of friction which already existed at the time of our arrival.5

     In view of the personalities concerned it was one of the most difficult problems of the kind that I have ever had to handle. The success of the present relations is being maintained largely through the personalities of those who have it in charge. It would be almost a calamity if anything should happen to disturb these relations. Relations between officers of different services are always a delicate matter. The injection into such relations of the ablest possible man of the wrong type of personality might upset the whole business.

     It is for this reason that I am very anxious that the present relations should not be imperiled by any change in the personnel or in the command.6 I hope that this matter will be very seriously considered if any propositions are made for such changes.

Very sincerely yours,

Admiral W. S. Benson, U.S.N.

     Navy Dept.

          Washington, D.C.

Source Note: TL, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 49.

Footnote 1: Capt. William V. Pratt, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations. In a letter to Pratt dated the same day, Sims expressed his sincere regret for having been too sharp with Pratt in his recent complaints, something for which Pratt had reprimanded his good friend in an earlier, undated, letter. For examples of the types of complaints Sims made and the high level of frustration that he conveyed to Pratt, see: Sims to Pratt, 30 August 1917. For Sims’ response to Pratt regarded this behavior see, Sims to Pratt, 1 September 1917, DN-HC, William Pratt Papers.

Footnote 2: Cmdr. John V. Babcock, Sims’ aide.

Footnote 3: Adm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, traveled to London at the end of August 1917 to conduct a review of the United States naval forces and gain first-hand perspective on the Allied naval war effort. During this time, he also attended an Allied Naval Conference on 4-5 September.

Footnote 6: Sims was concerned primarily with the possibility that Capt. Joel R. Poinsett Pringle might be replaced as commander of the U.S. Destroyer Force. Normally, such a command would have gone to an admiral. See: Sims to Pratt, 30 August 1917 and Sims to Pringle, 3 September 1917.

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