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By Rear Admiral Wm. S. Sims, U. S. Navy, President, Naval War College

Those of you who may have read the addresses which Admiral Knight delivered to various classes that were received and graduated during his term as president of the college, must have been struck not only by his complete grasp of the subject of the higher education of officers, and by his profound philosophical reflections, but also by his remarkable eloquence and by his peculiar and, for a naval officer, unusual ability in expressing his thoughts in clear, forcible and elegant phrase.

I know of no officer who is his equal in this respect, and this necessarily places his successor at a disadvantage. I shall therefore make no attempt to charm your ears by polished periods or demand your attention to abstract reflection, but shall confine my remarks principally to a plain recital of certain experiences in peace and in war, designed to illustrate by concrete examples some of the practical advantages of the application of War College principles and methods in general service. Whether or not these experiences will interest you will depend upon the value you may place upon them.

But in the first place let me state that it is with sincere regret that I have to apologize to the members of the graduating class, and also to the members of the staff, because of my many unavoidable absences from the college and the time-consuming occupations which have prevented my enjoying the more intimate association with them which I earnestly desired, and fully anticipated when I resumed my duties as president one year ago.

But, though I have not been able to take as active a part in the work of the college as I desired, and as I hope to take hereafter. I beg to assure the class that my interest in their studies has been none the less earnest, and that I thoroughly appreciate the spirit with which they have entered into their work and the assistance they have thereby rendered the college in its primary mission, which is the development of principles, and training in the application of these principles to practical situations.

The class now about to be graduated is not only the largest but, in some respects, the most distinguished that has ever taken the course at the college, certainly so in respect of the average rank and experience of its members; and they therefore have it the more in their power to promote the welfare of this institution, and consequently the welfare of the navy as a whole, by the influence which it will be their privilege and their duty to exert when they return to general service.

This service will include many of the navy’s most important activities. Some of these will be in positions of command involving various degrees of responsibility for the success of the organizations and the personnel committed to your charge. It has been the object of the college not only to develop and define the principles of naval warfare, but to indicate the methods by which these principles may be applied with the maximum success. I have considered you, and would have you consider yourselves, hardheaded practical men who have been engaged for a year, not in purely academic speculations upon the theory of warfare, but in working out the best methods of increasing the fighting value of the navy as a whole. I am sure that you understand and believe that the teachings of the college are eminently practical, and that the service would be greatly benefited if all of our officers could take the course. As this is manifestly impracticable, it follows that if the whole commissioned personnel of the navy is ever to acquire a working knowledge of the principles and practice of naval warfare, it must be through the effort and influence of the college graduates exerted upon the personnel under their command.

It would, of course, be desirable if more or less systematic instruction and training could be given whenever circumstances permit, as is the case with the considerable personnel now immobilized in the Philadelphia navy yard. These conditions are, however, temporary and wholly exceptional, and it is recognized that such a War College extension would not be practicable in the active fleet to anything like the same degree.


It is hoped, however, that in future the fleet may be much more closely associated with the college than has been possible in the immediate past. The college needs the experience of the fleet and the fleet that of the college. As this association is manifestly essential to the educational mission of the college, and as this is a matter that has at times not been clearly understood, it may be well to consider the following brief analysis of this important subject, with special reference to the geographical location of the college, a matter which has often been a subject of discussion, and upon which you may at any time have occasion to express a professional opinion—wholly disassociated. I hope, from any personal opinion either in prose or in verse as to the desirability of Newport as a place of residence.

This analysis is based upon the mission of the college considered solely from the point of view of the war efficiency of the fleet.

The object of a naval establishment is the creation and maintenance of an efficient fleet and its auxiliary services.

A fleet of the most powerful vessels would be of little use in war without a personnel at least as efficient as that of our possible enemies.

The efficiency of a fleet depends chiefly upon the thoroughness with which its officers have been trained in strategy, tactics, and administration.

The principal object of a naval war college is to provide this higher training.

The college can train but few officers each year.

Therefore, the War College training must be gotten into the fleet as extensively and as thoroughly as possible.

The War College cannot be successful without the practical experience that is being continuously developed in the fleet, for without this experience it would gradually fall behind and tend to become theoretical, or “highbrow,” and might easily become dangerous.

Therefore, the fleet’s experience must be gotten into the War College as thoroughly as possible.

The association between the fleet and the college should therefore be as intimate as it is possible to make it.

This association cannot be intimate if it is carried on solely by correspondence courses; nor can it be made intimate by the occasional exchange of liaison officers. It can be made intimate only by actual personal intercourse and discussions, that is, by discussions of the teachings of the college by practical fleet men, and by discussions of the practice of the fleet by the college men.

It follows that the War College and the fleet should be in actual physical contact as much of the year as practicable.

From the above it necessarily follows that the War College should be at the very shore line of a harbor which is used extensively by the fleet as a training base during the period of general maneuvers.

To place the War College inland would be largely to defeat the object of getting its training into the fleet.

The distance that the college was placed inland would be immaterial, so long as physical contact was severed.

The severance of physical contact would be practically as complete with the college at Washington as it would with the college at Kansas City.

It is even important that the distance, in time, from the fleet anchorage to the college should be as small as possible, and also that the anchorages should be such that boating would be practicable in any weather except a gale of wind.

But considering now only the influence which each graduate of the college may exert in indoctrinating the personnel with which he may be associated, I beg to present for your consideration a few incidents from my own experience to show what I believe may be accomplished in this way by the application of War College principles and methods, and the danger involved in neglecting them. Some of these relate to pre-war experiences, and some to the influence that those experiences exerted upon the development of doctrine during the Great War.

In 1913 I was given command of the Atlantic Destroyer Flotilla. Captain J. K. Robison commanded the flagship Dixie, and Captains Pratt and Knox and Commanders Babcock and Daniels were members of the staff. During part of the summer of that year the flotilla was based on Newport, and the War College organized a short course of about three weeks for the captains and other officers of the destroyers. Subsequently we began the development of a flotilla doctrine of night search and attack. Previous to that time there was no doctrine, and such operations had been carried out by operation orders only. I have a copy in my files of such an order. It consists of about 1200 words and two blue prints, defining and illustrating what each division and each destroyer was to do throughout the maneuver. Manifestly, such a method would be of little use in actual war, and this for the simple reason that, in all but exceptional cases, such an order could not be written and issued to the force in time to be of use in making an attack. We conceived the requirement to be that we should be able, during a maneuver, to launch the flotilla against the “enemy” at any time, upon a few minutes notice, even though none of the destroyers were within sight of the flotilla flagship. This necessitated the development of a doctrine so complete and so well understood that every unit, every division and the whole force could successfully carry out the attack upon the receipt of a very brief wireless order. I will not take your time by a detailed description of how this doctrine was developed, but it is essential to note that this can be successfully done only by the process of trial and error carried out after full discussion by those who have the actual experience in maneuvers.

Let me accentuate these two points, namely, that success depends upon (1) utilizing the combined experiences of all persons actually engaged in the problem to be solved, and (2) coordinating these experiences by means of continuous conferences for the purpose of progressively modifying and amending the doctrine as additional practical experience is gained.

As I believe that the importance of this process cannot be overestimated, I will add the following examples to illustrate what can be achieved by it in preparation for war, and how great is the value of this experience in actual war, especially war of an unusual kind.

In this connection it is important to define the limit of the part that should be taken in the development of tactical doctrine of this kind by the officer in chief command. This part should be restricted to defining the mission, to stating what it is desired to accomplish, and then to affording the opportunity for conferences, discussions and practical experiments. In the case of the flotilla in 1913, the destroyer captains began by working out a doctrine by means of the game board. This was at once tried out by a maneuver at sea and found, as we expected, to be half wrong. This sea maneuver was discussed around the game board and the doctrine modified, and tried out again; and after each maneuver similar modifications were made until the doctrine was in such shape that the flotilla was able to inform the commander-in-chief of the battle fleet that it believed it could carry out a successful attack under any practicable conditions, and subsequent maneuvers against the fleet proved this estimate to be correct.

One such maneuver will illustrate what is perhaps an extreme case of a very brief operation order executed under well-understood general instructions prescribed in a doctrine. I will not attempt at this time a comprehensive definition of doctrine. The term is here used to indicate the prescribed actions of the force in carrying out various war operations.

The Atlantic battleship fleet left Guantanamo Bay early one morning and directed the flotilla to be off Guantanamo about sundown. At 6 p. m. the following order was received: “Enemy passed Navassa Island 3 p. m. heading to northward. Attack at once.” Within a few minutes the following wireless order was sent to the flotilla: “Deploy, Lat. so and so, Long, so and so, to Lat. so and so, Long. so and so, 9 p. m., course 105, speed 20 knots.” That order would mean nothing to anyone not in possession of the doctrine. To the flotilla it meant that each destroyer was to arrive at her designated position on the scouting line at 9 p.m.; thence steam at 20 knots on course 105; that the first vessel making contact would broadcast the position, speed, and course of the fleet; that the two vessels next to her in line would assist in tracking, all keeping out of gun range; that all other vessels would proceed to the rendezvous of their divisions at designated position ahead and astern of the enemy, and there await the order to drop surface mines, or torpedo the screen, or attack the main body. After the destroyers were on their way to the positions designated in the doctrine, an information signal was sent informing them that the enemy had passed Navassa Island at 3 p.m., heading to the northward. This night maneuver was performed a number of times, and its success was demonstrated upon one occasion by firing 18 actual torpedoes and making at least 11 hits.

The so-called doctrine provided for the various war activities of the flotilla besides night search and attack, here used as an illustration of the principle involved; and that this doctrine was a practical one was shown by the fact that destroyers that had taken no part in its development were successful in carrying it out.

The points to be specially noted are that a successful doctrine was developed by the commanding officers of the destroyers; that the first draft of the doctrine was half wrong, thus showing that it could not have been successfully formulated by the staff alone. The importance of these points cannot be too strongly accentuated, as I had occasion to learn by sad experience during the war; and in this connection I wish to invite special attention to the influence that this training in the formulation of doctrine during peace had upon the conduct of our naval forces during the war, and to point out the difference between the success attained by forces operating under a progressively developing doctrine and the relative failure of forces whenever controlled by operation orders alone.

The first forces to arrive in Europe were 35 destroyers based on Queenstown. These were retained under my personal command for reasons that need not be specified here. They were required to use the flotilla doctrine just described in so far as it applied, and the night search methods proved of great value in searching for, making contact with, and concentrating upon inbound convoys. Upon no occasion did these destroyer escorts fail to meet and assemble upon their designated convoys at the appointed rendezvous, though there were not a few instances of failure in other forces. But the principal benefit derived from their previous training was in the confidence it gave them in their ability to formulate a doctrine to govern operations under the novel conditions of the anti-submarine campaign; and not only formulate it but progressively develop it to correspond to the changing tactics of the enemy submarines. To this end it was enjoined upon them to hold conferences to develop doctrine, and to repeat these conferences as often as practicable in order to modify the doctrine as required by their accumulating experience. In this way they developed a doctrine covering patrol operations, and later one covering all the operations of convoy, in which we had had no experience, though our previous experience in screening was of considerable value.

In this way all doctrine was developed solely by the operating forces, whether destroyers, yachts, cruisers, sub-chasers or airplanes, and whether engaged in patrolling, escorting troop or merchant convoys, hunting submarines with hydrophone appliances, or any other operations. The general headquarters in London required doctrine to be developed and the results reported. These results were continuously sent out to all bases and stations, with occasional suggestions for consideration, but there was never any interference in the actual development.

This process was, of course, very gradual, and considerable experience with the peculiar conditions of warfare was required before definite instructions could be drawn up and the results circulated. During this interval different methods were employed at other bases, and in some instances the development of doctrine was delayed, and meanwhile the forces were handled under operation orders alone. Also, incredible as it may seem, there were instances of War College graduates who expressed the opinion that doctrine, principles of organization, etc., were only War College stuff, and of no use in war. The inevitable result was friction in the organizations, misunderstanding of the orders issued, relative inefficiency, and some very regrettable incidents.

At the expense of what, I am afraid, has been a somewhat tedious explanation, I have tried to bring out what I consider the great value of continuous conferences carried out by one’s subordinates for the purpose of getting up general instructions, or doctrine, covering any type of operations or any activities in which they may be engaged. The point is that this is not only, I believe, the best way to achieve the immediate results required, but it is excellent training for the subordinates. As the methods thus devised are the sum of their various experiences, combined with that of their seniors, they regard these methods as their own, and carry them out as theirs with a spirit that cannot be inspired by instructions imposed upon them. Moreover, the faults that develop in practice are recognized as theirs and not those of their commander. The War College is a continuous conference differing in extent only from the local conferences in question. Experience shows that officers always welcome the conference method. They recognize it as practical common sense. From this to considering the War College in the same category requires but a word of explanation on the part of their commander.

If this reasoning appeals to you, you will therefore recognize that you have it in your power to implant in the minds of your subordinates the conviction that doctrine is not a highbrow term, and that the college training is really of a practical kind. I could mention the names of officers who had not been to the War College, but who nevertheless responded so thoroughly to training of the kind just described that they became perfectly sound in the practice of War College principles and methods. This does not mean that they were educated officers in a military sense, but only that they thoroughly understood fundamental principles, and practiced them in carrying out their duties; and when all of our officers have achieved this degree of knowledge and training our service will be vastly more efficient—but not until then, because, no matter how sound and able the leaders may be, they cannot bring their forces to maximum efficiency unless the bulk of their officers understand and believe in the principles and methods they wish to apply.

I am aware that it may appear to some of you that I am a bit hipped upon this subject, and that the service opinion of, and confidence in, the college is more satisfactory than I believe it to be. But I can assure you that extended experience, especially in the late war, has shown me that continuous effort in convincing the service of the usefulness of the college is now, and will for some time continue to be, necessary, at least until such time as it is possible to assign War College graduates to all important commands, both ashore and afloat, and thus extend War College Principles through official practice. I could give you numerous instances in substantiation of this statement. Moreover, I am sorry to say, I could give you quite a number of instances of War College graduates who either did not believe in, or had not grasped, the primary principles of warfare, and who in consequence violated some, or even all, of them under war conditions. The almost inevitable result was instances of marked inefficiency, and in some cases serious losses.

One of the commonest faults exhibited by commanding officers during the war was due to a lack of understanding of, or appreciation of, the advantages of a sound organization, and a pronounced disposition to prescribe all possible details. This failure to entrust responsibility and commensurate authority to subordinates was in some cases such as materially to decrease efficiency. Some officers in responsible positions found themselves too much occupied properly to perform the functions of command, but still they insisted upon prescribing the details of operations and even of administration. They seemed unable to shake off the habits acquired while acting as executive officer. They were not only unwilling to trust their subordinates to make independent decisions in matters concerning their own departments, but even regarded such decisions as an infringement of their rights and a reflection upon their competence to handle their job.

It is, of course, admitted that where the commander must in war assume responsibility for the acts of his subordinates, it is not always an easy matter to refrain from assuming the personal direction of some of their activities, particularly when these activities involve matters of grave importance; but it must inevitably diminish the sense of responsibility of the subordinate and his confidence in his own decisions, and to some degree his confidence in the decisions of his commander; and it not infrequently results in misunderstandings and friction. This is particularly accentuated where the command is increasing at such a rate that the task of handling its details is getting beyond the capacity of any one man, no matter how able and energetic. This condition is one of such danger during war that it should not be permitted to arise under any circumstances. Moreover, and this is the essential point, it should not be allowed to arise in peace, because it would be false training for war, both for the commander and for his personnel—and our primary mission in time of peace is preparation for war, both as regards our material and the methods pursued by our personnel.

Though a failure to establish a sound organization, and particularly a failure to develop and apply doctrine in war, must necessarily result in a degree of inefficiency corresponding roughly to the importance of the command, there are other causes of inefficiency that are very sharply brought out when forces are operating under war conditions. They are of a more personal kind, as they concern defects in military character and misunderstanding of the related subject of the psychology of war.

These causes of inefficiency are apparent enough in time of peace, but not until their effect is observed under the strain of responsibility can we fully realize how easily they may result in serious loss of life and property, or even in military disaster.

I of course do not intend to comment at length upon these subjects. You all understand their importance. But I think it may be useful to illustrate by certain examples the friction that may be caused by unwise military behavior. You are all familiar with what is popularly called the “impossible” man—he who believes that you should never fail to punish all faults; that you should never consult a subordinate, but tell him he is not paid to think; that an executive officer should not be on speaking terms with any of the watch officers, etc. Fortunately this extreme type is now rare, but there are many varieties of a milder sort, and the aggregate of trouble they make in an organization is really serious. Generally speaking, the worst types are men of ability and experience who understand the details of their business, but who have no sympathy with those less well endowed, and who seem more concerned with advertising their superior knowledge at the expense of their subordinates than in using their brains and experience to establish cordial relations with the latter and to “get on with the war.” In several instances men of this type had to be transferred to other duty, for, though they perfectly well understood their defects, they did not respond to admonition because of lack of will power to overcome what had become an ingrained habit in time of peace. Others blamed their subordinates as a class, because they conscientiously believed that their own methods of command were correct. But they acknowledged that they had made no estimate of the situation involved in their relations with their personnel. They promptly did so, and thereby corrected their defects, and had no further trouble.

Let me state here, very specifically, that I am only pointing out a few sad cases and their effect upon efficiency in war, and that I am not criticizing the efficiency of the personnel of the navy. Barring a very few such cases, our navy personnel not only responded to all requirements, but exceeded our most sanguine expectations in the endurance, zeal and loyal initiative they displayed, and this applies not only to the forces in the war zone, but to the navy in general, and particularly to the very intelligent and skilful handling of the transport services in effective cooperation with the forces abroad. But I simply wish to point out the errors that were made, because in war the effect of a few such errors may lead to very regrettable results. I invite your earnest consideration of them in order that you may in turn bring them to the attention of the personnel that may be entrusted to your charge.


The above remarks have special reference to the influence upon war efficiency of correct military character, and to the opportunity of commanding officers to instruct their personnel in this respect. But, in addition to this, let me invite your attention to another opportunity, and that is to explain to your officers the great influence which it is in their power to exert, for good or for evil, upon the essential support which the military forces shall receive from the civil population. This is a matter which concerns the people’s confidence or lack of confidence in their military leaders. Much of this influence is exerted through the unofficial opinions expressed by officers to their civilian acquaintances, and by the reflection of these opinions in the press. That these opinions had a marked influence upon the conduct of the late war there can be no doubt, nor can there be any doubt that this influence was detrimental. As a matter of fact, it could hardly have been otherwise, because the great mass of such opinions must necessarily have been based upon incomplete information, and much even of this information was necessarily erroneous. It is, of course, perfectly natural that all officers should have opinions upon the conduct of a war. It is equally natural that some should not resist the temptation to express these opinions when questioned by anxious relatives or civilian friends; and the opinions thus expressed appeared in many grotesquely mistaken editorials criticizing the strategy and conduct of our military forces on land and on the sea, and these editorials were usually based upon the expressed authority of so-called “experts.” You have doubtless noticed that newspapers never quote any authority less than that of an expert.

I believe that few people know the extent to which public opinion was formed in this manner, or the extent to which such necessarily erroneous opinions actually influenced even many of the most important government officials, both in our country and in allied countries. I have in my possession many letters upon this subject. Some are from leading members of the government, some from naval officers of various grades engaged in different branches of the navy’s activities, and some from civilians in various walks of life. All were evidently written in entire good faith and with an earnest desire to correct what appeared to the writers to be fundamental errors of strategy or tactics, or both. Almost none approved of the military conduct of the war, or expressed any doubt as to the soundness of the recommendations they advanced. If it would be proper for me to quote these letters, I venture to say that there would remain in your minds no doubt as to the danger of such uninformed opinions. Without exception they showed an ignorance of the conditions governing the naval campaign, which was not excusable in some cases, though perfectly natural in others. Practically all of the criticisms and recommendations were those of naval officers, or were based upon the opinions of naval officers. This was not confined to our own country, but was equally true of allied officers. The general impression conveyed was that very few naval officers had refrained from expressing critical opinions when questioned by acquaintances or even strangers, and that many had even volunteered their opinions in mixed company. A few examples will suffice to illustrate the nature of these letters.

Perhaps the most numerous and insistent of the critics pointed out the crass stupidity of hunting and fighting enemy submarines in the open sea, rather than capturing and destroying their bases or blocking their egress therefrom. Others expressed similar opinions concerning the failure of the allied navies to bombard the enemy back from the Belgian coast—all this in apparently total ignorance of the history of naval warfare or of the fact that modern guns of heavy caliber, concealed in pits on shore, greatly outrange any guns afloat. You would be surprised, I am sure, if I were to mention the names, positions, and grades of the civilian and naval authors of these criticisms. These were, of course, easily refuted; but to me the most disquieting feature of the matter was the number of letters received from distressed civilians stating that such and such a naval officer had told them of the various fatal mistakes that were being made in the conduct of the war. These civilian letters referred for their authority to regular naval officers of all grades, from rear admiral to ensign, and of course also to officers long since retired, and to reserve officers just enrolled; for apparently all these classes of officers expressed opinions with equal confidence. As far as time would permit these anxious citizens were reassured; though not, however, with the hope of counteracting the evil, for these letters were but an indication of the many thousands of equally distressed citizens who did not write, but passed on to others these opinions which eventually appeared in the press to influence all those who were not accustomed to thinking for themselves, that is to say, the great majority. The result was almost wholly erroneous information upon this whole subject, and one regrettable result was the paying of many millions of insurance against losses at sea, bombardments of coast cities and even bombing of inland cities. One poor mother of a boy serving in the destroyer forces abroad wrote a tearful letter imploring me not to let her beloved son starve to death. She had been informed that the food supply was failing.

An attempt was made to reassure the public through interviews and letters in the press, but this had little effect in comparison with the great mass of information being circulated in the manner above indicated. The consequence was that the public was led to believe that the seas were swarming with submarines; that they were attacking our troop and merchant convoys in flotillas; that our coast cities would be bombarded; that submarine bases doubtless had been established on our side of the ocean; that fuel supplies had been planted on various parts of our coast; and even, as shown by the darkening of New York, that submarines might bring over airplanes to bomb our cities; and that these operations were being inflicted upon us because the leaders of the allied navies were too stupid to realize that they could be successfully counteracted by simply destroying the submarine bases, or establishing a patrol lane across the Atlantic Ocean, or suspending nets or steel plates from the sides of all vessels, or building unsinkable, compartmented ships, or shooting down the submarines before they could fire their torpedoes, or so painting all ships as to render them quite invisible, and literally hundreds of other similar methods. You can readily imagine the effect upon the spirit of those actually engaged in this peculiar warfare.

Considering the importance of a sound and confident public opinion supporting the military forces at the front, what is the lesson to be derived from all this? Manifestly, it is that all officers should be warned of the danger of such a condition; and should be informed that it could have been avoided, or greatly minimized, if at the outbreak of war it had been enjoined upon all officers to make, each for himself, an estimate of his own situation as regards his opinions, about as follows:

The Allies are fighting for their lives. They realize that they must prevent the enemy submarines cutting their wholly essential sea lines of communication. The responsible officials of the Allied navies are presumably able men. They at least have all of the information and experience available concerning the anti-submarine warfare, the conditions that govern it, and the military situation in general, little of which they can publish without giving valuable information to the enemy. Therefore, there must be good reason for what they have done, are now doing, or have left undone. I have practically none of this information and experience, and much of such as I have is probably in error. Therefore, as full and accurate information is essential to a correct military decision, my opinion is probably unsound.

Decision.—When asked for my opinion, I should have the courage to say: “I do not know. We should trust our leaders and their associates and do our best to help them to get on with the war.”

If we can convince the great body of our officers that that is the logical and necessary line of conduct to adopt under war conditions, I can assure you that it will greatly increase the morale of our personnel, not to mention greatly diminish the anxiety of those who are charged with the responsibility for the successful operation of our forces.

Now I hope that I have not conveyed the impression that I have intended to lecture officers of your standing and experience upon your duties in general. I have had no such intention. But as the requirements of my service have afforded me certain experiences in war that have not been available to all of you, especially the experience of responsible command in its relation to widely distributed groups of forces, it has seemed to me that some of these experiences might be useful to you in future. I am led to this conviction through having been forced by circumstances to note the enormous difference in the point of view of one who studies the relation between commanders and subordinates as an abstract proposition, and one who actually experiences the effect of various phases of this relation under the strain of responsibility in war.

Quite apart from all question of nautical knowledge and skill, I have tried to indicate the sense of security and confidence that was inspired by sound military principles, and by the display of initiative, loyalty, and military character. I doubt whether it is possible fully to appreciate the importance of these qualities without having had actual war experience of their inestimable value. Under the war conditions indicated one sees them, not as abstract ideas, but as vitally essential forces. They mean that the commander may rest assured that he may confidently rely upon his responsible subordinates to use the brains and experience of their entire commands in carrying out their missions; that thorough doctrines will be developed and progressively modified to correspond to the changing phases of the local campaigns; that there will be harmonious working of sound organizations, complete loyalty to their commanders and of the latter to the central organization.

If you gentlemen can succeed in implanting these fundamental principles firmly in the minds of your subordinates, you will have performed a service of great value to the future of the War College and to the fighting efficiency of our navy.

Once the principles comprised in doctrine, initiative, loyalty and military character are understood, accepted and applied, an officer has laid the sure foundation upon which to build a sound military education; and, with the guidance and assistance that you are qualified to give, all of your officers who realize their obligations to the navy and to the nation will acquire this education and thereby fit themselves for the very responsible duties of so preparing the navy in time of peace that it will at all times be ready for instant service in time of war.

And now, a word as to the scope of the studies and exercises carried out at the college. I am aware, of course, of the practically universal opinion that the course of one year is too short to permit the students to acquire a comprehensive knowledge of the various subjects undertaken. This is perfectly true, but it is a condition imposed by circumstances which we cannot now control. It is impracticable to lengthen the course, at least until such time as the Congress provides a surplus of officers to enable more extensive instruction to be carried out. It would be unwise to cut out any of the subjects which are interdependent, such as strategy, tactics, policy, command, and so forth. But even if all other subjects were eliminated, the field of those subjects that would remain is so vast that they cannot be covered, let alone digested, within any practicable length of course.

The truth of the matter is that the art of war is really a life study. A glance over the list of books that should be read will alone show this. Therefore, all that the college can hope to do is to establish in the minds of its students a clear conception of the principles involved, and to carry out such training in the application of these principles as time will permit. From this it follows that no student is at all justified in assuming that the college does, or possibly could, complete his military education. The course is, however, sufficiently comprehensive to show him how much he has yet to learn, and to indicate the direction and scope of the studies that should be pursued.

In conclusion I wish to thank the members of the class for the very cordial manner in which they have cooperated with the staff in the interests of the college. Their attitude in this respect has been that which the college desires. They have given it the benefit of their various experiences in the form of constructive criticism, both of our aims and of the methods by which we have sought to attain them. As this critical attitude is necessary on the part of each class in order to jar the college out of a routine into which it is liable to fall, you have very properly not allowed yourselves to be influenced too much by diffidence in expressing these criticisms. Had you done so, both you and the college would have been the losers, for the college is but a part of the service; the staff of to-day is recruited from the class of yesterday, and will in its turn take its new members from the class of to-morrow, and the friendly exchange of opinions and experience is a necessary element of their development. The college of to-day is what you and your predecessors have made it. Therefore the diplomas which it is my privilege to present to you really represent what you have done for yourselves.

We have not helped you any more than you have helped us; and both personally and upon the part of the staff, I thank you most sincerely for your cooperation; and if you will tell the officers of the service with whom you may come in contact what this institution has meant to you, I am sure that the staff will feel that their work has been amply rewarded.


May your future duty be such as to cause you to forget the more or less strenuous work of the past year, and also any inconveniences that you may have experienced during your isolation from the associations and normal activities of navy life. While we shall miss you sadly, we shall hope that we may be remembered as kindly as possible under the circumstances.

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  • mike

    Sims of course was the man who in 1902 revolutionized Naval gunnery, was responsible for better ship design at the dawn of the 20th century. He was a strong advocate for reforming the CNO’s office and also for rehabilitating the promotion system. And although a surface officer he supported efforts to get aircraft and air launched torpedoes into the Navy.

    Edward L. Beach, Captain USN (Ret) has a great piece on Sims in his book ”The United States Navy, 200 Years”. He says that when Sims was a young JO he was the ‘natural leader of the Navy’s Young Turks’. He became almost notorious in the Navy as he was idolized by some and hated by others. His ”Simian theories” sometimes antagonized the hidebound Navy brass and at other times fascinated them and converted them to reformers.

  • BJ Armstrong

    Mike, you may like these:


  • mike

    Thanks, good post!