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 Commander Lyman A. Cotten, Commander, United States Naval Base at Plymouth, England

September 7th, 1918,

My dear Cotten:

          I have had a talk with the Commander-in-Chief at Plymouth1 over the best way to carry on the anti submarine campaign from that locality. He explained to me the forces that he has under his command for this purpose and how he proposes to use them in accordance with the capabilities of each under various weather conditions – the destroyers, the trawlers, the drifters, the 80 foot motor boats and so forth. It has therefore dawned upon me that it would be inadvisable for our chasers to operate quite independently of the forces mentioned above. For example, if all of the forces mentioned above were American instead of British, it would be really absurd not to operate the chasers in conjunction with them against any particular submarine situation that might turn up.

          The only practicable way of doing this is, of course, to place all of the forces concerned under one military command in so far as their actual operation is concerned. It is this that I have decided to do. In a word, I should like the relation of our forces to the British forces to be exactly the same as though the latter were American forces and the Commander-in-Chief were an American Admiral.

          In talking with the Commander-in-Chief I of course explained to him what we hoped to do in the way of developing the tactics of our boats. He said that he would of course be very glad to have us proceed on our own lines as far as the actual tactics of contact is concerned. He would also like to have a perfectly free discussion of these tactics for the benefit of his own people, and possibly for the benefit of ours.

          The desirable thing, therefore, is for our officers to get in close touch with those British officers who are concerned in handling anti submarine forces so that they may all discuss the best means to down the submarine, in the same way as they would do if they were all American officers.

          You may be sure that I know enough about human nature and about the differences and difficulties between people of different nations to understand that this is not always very easy. It depends to a large extent on the forbearance and tact of the people on both sides. That it can be accomplished with perfect harmony and good feeling has been proven in the case of our association with the British notably at Queenstown and also at Gibraltar and with the French.

          I am quite sure that you will be able to pull this off with equal success.2

Very sincerely yours,             

Source Note: Cy, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 52. Addressed below close: “Captain L.A.Cotten, U.S.Navy,/C/o U.S.Naval Base No 27/Plymouth.”

Footnote 1: VAdm. Sir Cecil F. Thursby, R.N., Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth.

Footnote 2: According to historian William F. Still, Jr., Cotten had gotten along well with the British commander-in-chief at Plymouth before Thursby. However, when Thursby assumed command on 1 August 1918, Cotten found both Thursby and his chief of staff, Capt. Adrian Keys, difficult to work with and, probably as a result, asserted privately that his sub-chaser force was “an independent one co-operating with the British rather than being incorporated into the British force with me as an aid on the Admiral’s staff.” Sims did not wait to see if his admonition worked but arranged in early September that RAdm. Mark Bristol should take command at Plymouth. Cotten was not replaced, however, and remained with the sub-chasers, serving as Bristol’s chief of staff. Cotten worked well with Bristol, who also found Thursby difficult, later writing that Cotten had had “some hard persons to deal with.” Still, Crisis at Sea: 451-52.