Military Wiki
William Sowden Sims
Vice Admiral William Sowden Sims
Born (1858-10-15)October 15, 1858
Died September 25, 1936(1936-09-25) (aged 77)
Place of birth Port Hope, Ontario, Canada
Place of death Boston, Massachusetts
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1880 – 1922
Rank US-O10 insignia.svg Admiral
Commands held Naval War College
U.S. Naval Forces Operating in European Waters (WWI)
Battles/wars World War I
Awards Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Other work Pulitzer Prize

William Sowden Sims (October 15, 1858 – September 25, 1936) was an admiral in the United States Navy who sought 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.


Sims was born to American parents living in Port Hope, Ontario, Canada. 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.


As a young officer, Sims sought to reform naval gunnery by improving target practice. His superiors resisted his suggestions, failing to see the necessity. He was also hindered by his low rank. Never one to let obstacles stand in his way, Sims overcame the opposition by writing directly (in 1902) to President Theodore Roosevelt. The President, who had previously served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, was intrigued by Sims' ideas and made him the navy's Inspector of Target Practice.

On March 11, 1916, he became the first captain of the USS Nevada (BB-36).[1]

First World War

When the United States entered World War I, then-Rear Admiral Sims was serving as president of the Naval War College. Just before the U.S. entered the war, the Wilson Administration sent him to London as the senior naval representative. After the U.S. entry in April 1917, Sims was given command over U.S. naval forces operating from Britain.

The major threat he faced was a highly effective German submarine campaign against freighters bringing vital food and munitions to the Allies. The combined Anglo-American naval war against U-boats in the western approaches to the British Isles in 1917-18 was a success in part due to the tact and ability of Sims to work smoothly with his British counterpart, Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly, in a very close and friendly working relationship based on mutual respect.[2]

Sims believed the Navy Department in Washington, which was effectively headed by Assistant Secretary Franklin D. Roosevelt, was failing to provide him with sufficient authority, information, autonomy, manpower, and naval forces.

He ended the war as a vice admiral, in command of all U.S. naval forces operating in Europe.

Attack on Daniels

In 1919 after the war ended in Allied victory, Sims publicly attacked the deficiencies of American naval strategy, tactics, policy, and administration. He charged the failures had cost the Allies 2,500,000 tons of supplies, thereby prolonging the war by six months. He estimated the delay had raised the cost of the war to the Allies by $15 billion, and that it led to the unnecessary loss of 500,000 lives. Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels was more of a politician than a naval strategist, but he ably countered the accusations. He pointed to Sims' Anglophilism and said his vantage point in London was too narrow to assess accurately the overall war effort by the U.S. Navy. Daniels cited prewar naval preparations and strategy proposals made by other American leaders during the war to disprove Sims' charges. Much of Sims' criticism of naval administration was deemed valid by a Congressional panel, yet Sims failed in his attempt to discredit Daniels. Congress allowed the chief of naval operations to continue in a weakly subordinate role to the political civilian appointees—a disappointment to many naval professionals who believed an effective Navy had to be run by its ranking officer instead of by a politician with little naval or strategic knowledge. Despite the public acrimony, Sims emerged with his reputation unharmed and served a second tour as president of the Naval War College (1919–1922).[3]

He retired in October 1922. He died in Boston, Massachusetts, with the rank of full admiral.


His account of the U.S. naval effort during World War I, The Victory at Sea, won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for History. In 1929 Sims received an LL.D. from Bates College.

Columbia University conferred the honorary degree of doctor of laws upon Rear Admiral Sims on 2 June 1920.[4] Several weeks later, Williams College conferred on him the honorary degree of doctor of laws during its June 21, 1920, commencement exercises.[5]

Several U.S. Navy vessels have been named for Sims. Three ships have been named USS Sims, while a transport vessel was named USS Admiral W. S. Sims.

The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp panel on February 4, 2010, honoring 4 distinguished sailors. One of the stamps depicted Admiral Sims.[6]

In 1947, the Naval War College acquired an existing barracks building and converted it to a secondary war gaming facility, naming it Sims Hall after former War College President. In 1957 Sims Hall became the primary center for the Naval War College's wargaming department, serving as such until 1999.[7]


  2. Michael Simpson, "Admiral William S. Sims, U.S. Navy, and Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly, Royal Navy: An Unlikely Friendship and Anglo-American Cooperation, 1917-1919," Naval War College Review, Spring 1988, Vol. 41 Issue 2, pp 66-80.
  3. Coletta, 1991.
  4. The Washington Post. 02 June 1920. "Columbia to Honor Five". p 6, column 3.
  5. The Washington Post (Washington DC). Tuesday, 22 June 1920. "Williams Honors Pershing. Admiral Sims and Franklin K. Lane Also Given LL.D's." no. 16,079, p 6, column 6.
  6. "Distinguished Sailors Saluted On Stamps," USPS release no. 10-009
  7. Reference Wikipedia


  • Allard, Dean C., "Admiral William S. Sims and United States Naval Policy in World War I" in American Neptune 35 (April 1975): 97–110.
  • Coletta, Paolo E. "Naval Lessons of the Great War: The William Sims-Josephus Daniels Controversy," American Neptune, Sept 1991, Vol. 51 Issue 4, pp 241–251
  • Hagan, Kenneth J., “The Critic Within” in Naval History (December 1998): 20-25
  • Hagan, Kenneth J., “William S. Sims: Naval Insurgent and Coalition Warrior” in The Human Tradition in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era Ballard C. Campbell, ed. (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2000), 187-203
  • Hagan, Kennneth J., and Michael T. McMaster, “His Remarks Reverberated from Berlin to Washington,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings (December 2010): 66–71.
  • Little, Branden, and Kenneth J. Hagan, “Radical, But Right: William Sowden Sims (1858-1936)” in Nineteen Gun Salute: Case Studies of Operational, Strategic, and Diplomatic Naval Leadership during the 20th and early 21st Centuries, eds. John B. Hattendorf and Bruce Elleman (Newport, RI and Washington, D.C.: Naval War College Press & Government Printing Office, 2010), 1-10.
  • Morison, Elting E., Admiral Sims and the Modern American Navy (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1942), the standard scholarly biography
  • Simpson, Michael, “William S. Sims, U.S. Navy, and Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly, Royal Navy: An Unlikely Friendship, and Anglo-American Cooperation” in Naval War College Review, Vol. 41 (Spring 1988): 60-80
  • Steele, Chuck. "America's Greatest Great-War Flag Officer," Naval History Magazine (2013) 27#3 online

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Austin Melvin Knight
President of the Naval War College
1917, 1919-1922
Succeeded by
Clarence Stewart Williams

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