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11-08-2015, 17:52

William S. Sims ( 1 858- 1 936)

Admiral William S. Sims was the commander of American naval forces in Europe following the American entry into World War I. He eventually led a force of 75,000 officers and men and 370 ships, with forty-five bases scattered from Murmansk in northern Russia to Corfu in the eastern Mediterranean. Sims differed sharply from his army counterpart. General John Pershing, in his commitment to meet the needs of America's allies and his willingness to put American forces under British command. Deeply concerned by such immediate tasks as defeating the threat posed by German submarine warfare, he promoted the use of the convoy and the deployment of American destroyers in order to make this device work. His willingness to view British needs and leadership sympathetically exposed him to charges that he was excessively pro-British. Sims was bom in Canada on October 15, 1858. His father, an American engineer, had married a young Canadian woman from Ontario and then settled there for over a decade. The Sims family returned permanently to the United States when William was thirteen. The future admiral graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1880, completed a subsequent two-year cruise, and received his commission in 1882. Sims distinguished himself both as a gunnery expert and as an outspoken mid-level officer. His concern about the low standards of armament and marksmanship on U.S. naval vessels led him to write directly to President Theodore Roosevelt in 1901 to point out the failings of the American fleet. He followed this breach of naval etiquette with another in December 1910. In a speech in London, he pledged that the United States would support Britain against any serious external threat. Despite the elements of controversy in his record, Sims moved steadily upward. At the close of 1916, he was promoted to the rank of rear admiral. In March 1917, he was serving as president of the Naval War College when President Woodrow Wilson dispatched him to London to start planning a coordinated Anglo-American naval effort. The United States declared war on Germany while Sims was en route to Britain. The American naval leader soon learned the deadly peril in which the submarine had placed Great Britain. He became an enthusiastic advocate of protecting merchant shipping by the use of convoys. And he called upon the authorities in Washington to provide enough American destroyers for European waters to help the British make the convoy system effective. His single-minded devotion to meeting the immediate crisis of the German offensive in British waters brought him into conflict with other American naval leaders, notably Admiral William Benson. Benson, the chief of naval operations, wanted to protect the country against a future offensive by the German surface fleet in the event Britain was defeated. And in sharp contrast to Sims, Benson expected postwar clashes with the British navy should it be victorious. Thus, Benson sought to maintain the security of the United States by keeping much of the fleet in U.S. waters. Moreover, he was reluctant to shift America's resources from building battleships and battle cruisers to producing the smaller ships like destroyers that held center stage in the war against the submarine. Named American naval commander in Europe with the rank of vice admiral, Sims overcame most of Benson's objections, but he predictably found himself accused of being more concerned with British interests than with those of his own country. He expressed his exasperation in a letter to a colleague in the summer of 1917: "Do not assume . . . that I am owned by the British or any other Admiralty." Nonetheless, Sims's policies gave ammunition to his critics. For example, he arranged for a division of American battleships to serve under the command of Admiral David Beatty as part of the British Grand Fleet. Sims defended Britain's reluctance to attack submarine bases in 1917 even in the face of criticism from President Wilson. The American admiral accepted the British argument that the bases were too heavily fortified to be assaulted successfully. In an even more controversial matter, the British desire to amalgamate American land forces into the Allied armies, Sims privately supported the British position. Meanwhile, Pershing opposed the idea ferociously, calling successfully for the quick creation of an independent American field army. In the face of British opposition to the proposal, the admiral was at best lukewarm in arguing for the American project of placing a vast minefield in the waters between Scotland and Norway to bar the passage of German submarines. The determined and controversial American naval commander retained his command until the close of the war. His position was secured by his obvious competence and the success of the convoy system he had done so much to establish. He was promoted to four-star rank in 1919, and he won the Pulitzer prize in history in 1921 for his account of the war. The Victory at Sea. Sims retired in 1922, and he died in Boston on September 28, 1936.

 

 

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