To Win or Lose All: William S. Sims and the U.S. Navy in the First World War

NEWPORT, RI— The Naval War College Museum presents a new exhibit, “To Win or Lose All: Williams S. Sims and the U.S. Navy in the First World War.”  The exhibit occupies the museum’s gallery on the second floor and will be on display beginning 14 December 2017.

In 1902, a young lieutenant in the United States Navy told a friend about his struggle to convince his superiors to adopt new gunnery methods: "I am playing this game to win or lose all. If I win (and success is assured), I will only claim as my reward the privilege of being left alone. I am not looking for anything; and I will not get in anybody’s way." The steady determination expressed in his letter would have come as no surprise to anyone who knew William S. Sims. Indeed, those who expected a junior officer to quietly obey orders often found themselves at odds with him. Beginning in 1900 when he exposed flaws in the design of America's newest battleships, Sims established himself as a reformer who worked patiently but tirelessly to fix shortcomings in the way the Navy conducted its business. That fighting spirit served him well throughout his career, but never more so than during the war years of 1917-1918 when he commanded all U.S. naval forces in Europe.

To Win or Lose All explores the Navy's role in securing victory for the Allies during the First World War. Under Admiral Sims's leadership, American warships escorted convoys to France, laid mines in the North Sea, and hunted German submarines. On land, naval aviators flew scouting and bombing missions while Marines fought in the trenches east of Paris. While the sweeping naval campaigns of 1942-1945 may attract more scholarly attention, the foundation for their success was established twenty-five years earlier when the Navy operated for the first time as part of a coalition. Indeed, many officers who rose to prominence in the Second World War - Ernest J. King, Chester W. Nimitz, and Harold R. Stark, to name a few - gained valuable experience with combined operations during the first global conflict of the twentieth century. Curator Rob Doane hopes, “that this exhibit will encourage visitors to understand Admiral Sims and the sailors who served under him as real people who worked under difficult circumstances to meet the enormous challenges of wartime service.”

You can find out what’s new at the Naval War College Museum on Facebook and by following their blog – Soundings in Narragansett Bay’s Naval History. One of nine official Department of the Navy Museums, the Naval War College Museum collects, preserves, and exhibits artifacts and documents dating from the 1500s to the present day to interpret the naval history of Narragansett Bay, the Naval War College, and the history of naval strategy. Located in the historic Founders Hall built in 1820, the museum is open to the public although advance reservations are required for those without base access. For more information, visit www.usnwc.edu/museum or call 401-841-4052.

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