Rear Admiral William S. Sims and The Naval War College

Feb 16, 2021

On this day, February 16, 1917, Rear Admiral William S. Sims became the fifteenth President of the U.S. Naval War College (PNWC). A graduate of the Naval War College’s two-year Long Course from 1911 to 1912, Sims went on to be an advocate of improved naval gunnery, Inspector of Naval Ordnance, and naval aide to President Theodore Roosevelt. Shortly after becoming the College’s president, Sims was ordered in late March 1917 to secretly sail for England under an assumed name to begin discussions with the Royal Navy on wartime cooperation. After the United States declared war, Sims was named Commander, U.S. Naval Forces, Europe. 

In 1919, Sims returned to the College as its sixteenth president, reverting to two-star rank. While he remained a vocal critic of the U.S. Navy’s decision making during WWI, Sims recognized the value of the Naval War College and focused his efforts on developing the institution as a forum for intellectual debate. As Dave Kohnen writes in Grippe Caught Us Quicker Than The U-Boats: The Lingering Sickness of War and the Pandemic of 1918-1920, “Sims recognized the task of studying the past for the practical purposes of informing strategic discussions about the future. (…) Having witnessed the carnage of the First World War, Sims and his associates drew from history to educate the future U.S. Navy and joint military services to focus upon the heroic failures of the past. ‘Victory is a feeble teacher,’ Sims thought, ‘enlightenment follows when all is left in ashes.'”

The Sims’ family legacy lives on at the Naval War College. Admiral Sims’ grandson, Dr. Nathaniel R. Sims remains a strong advocate of the College and served on the Board of Trustees of the Naval War College Foundation (NWCF). In 2017, the Sims family made a generous donation to the Naval War College Museum consisting of some of Sims’ naval artifacts and mementos from WWI, and the “To Win or Lose All: William S. Sims and the U.S. Navy in the first World War,” exhibit was officially opened to honor the extraordinary career of Rear Admiral William S. Sims.

To learn more about Sims’ experience in WWI and at the Naval War College during the influenza pandemic of 1918, read:


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