Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Admiral Sims on the Best Use of the U.S. Navy

1917, Admiral Sims (Center) Here with General Pershing 
and British Representatives  Led U.S. Naval Forces
in Europe During the War

I have previously written about how the U.S. Naval Representative to the Allies (Admiral William Sims) had a contrasting approach to working in a multi-nation coalition than his counterpart, General John J. Pershing, Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces. That article can be read HERE.  However, I learned some additional details about Admiral Sims in a  paper titled: "The United States Navy in the Mediterranean During the First World War and its Immediate Aftermath (1917-1923) by John Hattendorf, and I thought some of its details are worth sharing

Although he still hoped that the United States could be the neutral mediator, rather than a belligerent, a series of events forced President Wilson into taking sides in the war. In late February 1917, Britain provided the United States with the text of the telegram that British naval intelligence had intercepted and decoded from German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman to the German Ambassador in Mexico. Anticipating that Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare would force the United States into the war, Zimmerman directed the Ambassador to work secretly with the Mexicans to prepare for this contingency. In the event the United States declared war, Germany pro-posed that an alliance be formed between Germany, Mexico and Japan against the United States. As part of this, Germany would provide support for Mexico to reclaim its lost territories in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Germany’s intent in this was to create a strategic diversion that would hinder the United States from supporting Britain and France, allowing the victorious forces coming from the Eastern Front to over-whelm the allies. . . 

USN Destroyer USS Bulmer at Queenstown, Ireland

At this point before Congress had formally declared war, Secretary of the Navy Daniels summoned to Washing-ton the new President of the Naval War College, Rear Admiral William S. Sims, and directed him to proceed immediately to London, where he was to have discussions at the Admiralty to plan how the U.S. Navy could be employed in the war. Da-niels and Admiral Benson, who held the newly created post of Chief of Naval Operations, were suspicious of the British anddid not want to provide any substantial direct support. Sims ,however, had shown, years before, that his thinking paralleled Mahan’s long-held views that only a coalition of free nations could prevent Germany from achieving victory.

Meanwhile with the U-boats continuing their attacks on merchant ships carrying Americans, President Wilson asked for a declaration of war against Germany “to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power and to set up amongst the really free and self-governed peoples of the world such a concert of purpose and of action as will henceforth ensure the observance of those principles”

. . . With an overwhelming majority of votes, Congress passed the declaration on 6 April 1917. In the fol-lowing months, British and French military delegations came to Washington to discuss the potential contributions of American armed forces. In the course of these talks, they revealed a range of secret agreements that the allies had made for dividing among themselves the spoils of war. Wilson and members of his administration were deeply shocked. The United States had no such plans for achieving political goals of its own, only to achieve what they saw as the general good of mankind. Wil-son agreed that the United States would send a limited number of forces to Europe, with the U.S. army units serving under French overall command to achieve French strategic military objectives, and the U.S Navy, serving under British overall command to achieve British strategic maritime objectives.

U.S. Naval Air Station, Brest, France

In London, Admiral Sims’s role in personal liaison developed into a large command — U.S. Naval Forces, Europe —with Sims rising in rank, first to Vice Admiral in 1918, and then to full Admiral in 1919. Sims saw his command as being an advanced headquarters of the Navy Department in Washington, with Sims dealing only with the Navy Department and, in turn, directing and coordinating the work of all the varied commands under his general direction. Each separate command reported to Sims for direction, materiel needs, supplies, plans, and recommendations for improving operational effectiveness. In this, one of the most important and innovative parts of his headquarters with the planning section which employed a number of highly talented officers and Naval War College graduates, many of whom would become famous two decades later as senior officers in the Second World War. Sims’s headquarters was the first major staff organization in the U.S. Navy and became a prototype for a counterpart in Washington after the war

Sims discussed the American naval role with representatives of the Allied navies. From this, he concluded that the most effective method for the U.S. Navy to participate was to use its forces to strengthen the weak areas in already on-going Allied naval operations. He felt that any attempt to operate American forces in separate areas or as distinctly American units would be wasteful and inefficient. Sims made arrangements with the foreign governments for U.S. Navy supplies and repairs, allowing U.S. Navy ships to put into any of the bases of  Allied navies in order to obtain urgent supplies, as if they be-longed to that country’s navy. American commanding officers signed the receipts for what supplies they received and these were passed through the appropriate channel within the Allied navy to their own headquarters, which then passed them to Sims’s headquarters for auditing and reimbursement. At the height of activity in late 1918, there were U.S. naval forces based in Ireland, England, and Scotland, with the Grand Fleet in the North Sea, in the Azores, at Murmansk, Russia as well as at Gibraltar and in the Mediterranean.

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