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William Sowden Sims Edit Profile

military , admiral

William Sowden Sims was an admiral in the United States Navy who fought during the late 19th and early 20th centuries to modernize the navy. During World War I he commanded all United States naval forces operating in Europe. He also served twice as president of the Naval War College.


William Sims was born the son of an American civil engineer on October 15, 1858, in Port Hope, Ontario; this Canadian birthplace was later used to buttress charges of Anglophilia.


He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1880, the beginnings of an era of naval reform and greater professionalization. Commodore Stephen B. Luce founded the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island in 1884, to be the service's professional school. During the same era, Naval War College instructor Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan was writing influential books on naval strategy and sea power.


Sims early turned his attention to the deplorable state of gunnery and ship design in the American navy and, after official channels refused to hear his pleas for reform, appealed directly to President Theodore Roosevelt in November 1901; this highly unorthodox action brought him the post of inspector of target practice the following year. Within two years the American ships were second to none in terms of gunnery. This forceful pursuit of policies alienated many superiors, and when Captain Sims assured the British in a Guildhall speech in London in December 1910 that they could count on "every man, every ship, and every dollar from their kinsmen across the sea" if the need ever arose, he received a public reprimand from President William Howard Taft. In January 1917, Sims was appointed president of the Naval War College in the grade of rear admiral, and in April was ordered to London to coordinate Anglo-American naval efforts.

Sims regarded the German submarine menace as paramount: "The issue is and must inevitably be decided at the locus of all lines of communications in the Eastern Atlantic." He had no patience with the cautious chief of Naval Operations, who sought to counteract possible German thrusts against the east coast of the United States and the other Americas. Sims bombarded Admiral Benson with urgent requests to release antisubmarine forces for overseas, and finally persuaded the reluctant Benson to dispatch destroyers to Ireland, dreadnoughts to augment the Grand Fleet in Scapa Flow, and antisubmarine craft to render convoy effective; he opposed the projected North Sea mine barrage in the waters between Scotland and Norway as well as a close-in blockade of German ports as ineffective and detrimental to the major effort in the eastern Atlantic.

In June 1917, Sims was named commander, U.S. Naval Forces Operating in European Waters as well as naval attache to Britain; subsequently he was given a Naval Planning Section and appointed to the Allied Naval Council (November 1917). He attained the grade of vice admiral in June 1917, and full admiral in December 1918. Early in 1918 the energetic Sims demanded "radical steps" by the Allies in the Adriatic Sea against the Austro-Hungarian fleet, but Italian intransigence obfuscated all efforts in this theater of the war.

In contrast to Benson, Sims had abandoned the hallowed doctrine of Alfred Thayer Mahan in behalf of a "symmetrical" fleet in favor of immediate antisubmarine efforts, and unlike General Pershing in France, had from the start favored integrating American forces into the Royal Navy. His intense lobbying for naval succor to the hard-pressed Allies led to charges of Anglophilism, and an exasperated Sims finally exploded to his friend Captain Pratt in August 1917: "If you do not think a pro-ally is the right kind of man for this job, they should have sent a pro-Russian with a trunk full of bombs."

Sims returned to the Naval War College in the spring of 1919. He nurtured reservations about President Wilson's war leadership, and refused the Distinguished Service Medal to publicize his stance. Above all, Sims turned a congressional investigation of the awards matter into a postmortem on the conduct of the war at sea, specifically charging Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels and Admiral Benson with having dragged their feet in 1917. Daniels later termed Sims' actions during the war as being "in many respects un-American." Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King clearly recognized Sims' nature: "To him all matters were clear white or dead black."

Admiral Sims retired from the navy on October 15, 1922, after the acrimonious congressional investigation; he died on September 28, 1936, in Boston.


Married Anne, d.

Alfred William Sims

Adelaide (Sowden) Sims