William Sowden Sims

William Sowden Sims (1858-1936), American admiral, commanded United States naval forces in European waters during World War I.

William Sims was born in Port Hope, Ontario, on Oct. 15, 1858. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1880, he served in the Atlantic (1880-1888) and the Pacific (1889-1897). He was American naval attaché in Paris during the Spanish-American War. After additional service as attaché in St. Petersburg, Russia, and further duty at sea, he became inspector of target practice for the U.S. Asiatic fleet. He first came to public notice when he argued vigorously that gunnery was ineffective and in need of modernization. President Theodore Roosevelt made him his naval aide (1907-1909).

In 1909 Sims assumed command of the battleship Minnesota. His next assignment was as a student at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. (1911-1913), to which he returned as president in 1917, after commanding the destroyer flotilla in the Atlantic.

In 1917, after Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare against noncombatant vessels, Rear Adm. Sims was dispatched to Europe to establish contact with the naval staffs of the Allies. On April 28 he assumed command of American naval forces in European waters, rising to vice admiral a month later. Sims urged the Navy Department to send all available antisubmarine craft to European waters to participate in convoys and offensive operations against German submarines. At the same time he struggled to build his organization in London. Rapidly gaining the confidence of the British Admiralty, he just as quickly created suspicion in Washington that he was unduly pro-British.

Various controversies with the Navy Department deeply angered Sims, but he remained at his post. Throughout 1917-1918 Sims tried to make the American fleet an effective adjunct of the British fleet, especially in the submarine war, and to provide naval support for the American Army in France. An advocate of close inter-Allied cooperation, he became a leading spirit in the Allied Naval Council, set up in 1917 to coordinate the naval operations of the Western coalition. His contribution to the victory at sea earned him the lasting praise and admiration of his European associates and promotion to full admiral.

After the war Sims resumed the presidency of the Naval War College (1919-1922). In 1920 he presented an angry report to Congress criticizing the wartime conduct of the Navy Department for its failure to react promptly against Germany's submarine warfare. He received a Pulitzer Prize for an account of his wartime service, The Victory at Sea (1920). He died in Boston on Sept. 28, 1936.


Further Reading on William Sowden Sims

An excellent biography of Sims is Elting E. Morison, Admiral Sims and the Modern American Navy (1942).