File No. 763.72/4686½

Mr. Balfour, for the British Special Mission, to the Department of State


The following are some brief notes on certain subjects of great importance which have been discussed during the stay of the British mission at Washington, but on which no final decision appears to have been come to. Their enumeration may be convenient to the Departments of both Governments.

1. Purchase of war materials, etc.

(a) The entry of the United States into the war has been of incalculable benefit to the Allied cause, but has brought with it some disadvantages which are inevitable, but I hope temporary. When the United States of America were a great producing country but not a belligerent, the problem before the European Allies as buyers in the American market was to prevent undue competition among themselves and to arrange for the financing and transport of what they purchased. Very elaborate organisations were devised for these purposes which on the whole worked fairly well. The fact that most of the tonnage and most of the credit were in one hand probably made it easier to come to a working arrangement.

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A new state of things, however, immediately arose on the declaration of war by the United States. They became a fighting country as well as a producing one. In the former capacity they necessarily compete in their own markets with the Allies; and in the absence of specific arrangements they inevitably obtain a priority, both of manufacture and transport, undoubtedly injurious to the armies fighting in Europe and not necessarily of advantage to the army which is being created in America.

Evidently therefore some co-ordination is urgently required by which delays, whether in the execution of orders or in the transport of material may be avoided.

(b) There seems to be a general desire to obtain this co-ordination by making all war purchases through a single channel; and this appears, as far as I can judge, to be the best, if not the only method, of reaching the desired end. But if all purchases are to be made by one authority they must surely be also made at one price; and to such a uniformity of procedure some objection has, I understand, been raised by certain departments in the United States. I hope however that these objections will be got over. Evidently the question is not a departmental one. It must be treated as a whole. The United States of America are not merely great sellers of war material; they are also great purchasers of war material. All the wool, all the jute, and a very large part of the rubber, tin, and ferro-manganese which they require come, I believe, from the British Empire. Evidently we have here a case in which the policy to be adopted is one of reciprocal rationing—and reciprocal rationing between Allied Governments seems to carry with it as a practical, if not a logical, corollary, identity of price to all purchasers.

2. Military equipment

The subject of munitions has been much debated by the experts in the United States War Department and those attached to the mission. But points of the first importance seem still undecided; nor is there at present, so far as I am aware, any single authority in the Administration which has power to deal with them in their practical as well as their theoretical aspect. The discussions which have taken place have indeed been of great value; but evidently decisions are urgently needed. Delay in determining types necessarily involves delay in producing guns and ammunition; and this in turn must hamper the rapid equipment of a large American army. I need not say that I fully recognise that the equipment of United States troops is a matter for the United States Government alone; but so far as the problem is looked at merely from the point of view of the Allied armies in France, it seems fairly clear that the best and quickest results could be obtained by employing for the United States army the [Page 69] weapons on which the United States manufacturers have been engaged in producing for the British forces since the beginning of the war. It is believed that the immense quantity of material required for a new army could be more quickly produced in this way than in any other, and that when produced its management and transport at the front would be attended with fewer difficulties and complications than if a third type of equipment were introduced in addition to the two already in use. It is moreover evident that if the American army in France could on emergency draw upon British reserves, their position would be much more secure than if they depended solely on their line of communication across the Atlantic.

3. Merchant tonnage

The vital importance of this to the Allied cause is universally recognised, and admirable results seem likely to be produced as soon as Congress supplies the necessary funds.

Nevertheless I gather from Mr. Secretary Denman that in some quarters a misunderstanding has arisen on which perhaps it is desirable to say a word.

When the full scope of the danger arising from submarine warfare was realised by the Shipping Controller in London he set to work to contract for ships wherever ships could be built. Practically this meant the placing of orders in United States yards on a very large scale, since the yards of Great Britain and Canada were already utilised to their full capacity. The result has been that orders placed by the British Government, in addition to the large number that had been already placed by Norwegian shipowners, practically filled up all the private yards in the United States. So far no distinction could be drawn by the least friendly critic between the procedure of Great Britain in respect of ships and its procedure in the case of shells or guns. But after the United States had come into the war the Shipping Board and General Goethals set to work to devise methods by which the great capacity of the United States for the manufacture of constructional steel could be diverted by Government action to the rapid construction of cargo steamers; and I learn from Mr. Denman that certain critics, taking these two facts together, have argued that the industry of the United States is to be upset in order that Great Britain may at the end of the war find itself in possession of a mercantile marine built in United States yards by United States labour, with the assistance of the United States Government, and at the cost of the United States public.

It need hardly be said that for this suggestion there is no foundation whatever. The ships were ordered (at very unremunerative prices!) before the United States were themselves involved in the [Page 70] war and therefore without consultation with them. But the British Government had and have no other interest than that mercantile tonnage should be produced as quickly as possible and in as large quantity as possible and that when produced it should be used to carry on the trades necessary for the effective conduct of the war. The question of ownership is one of very secondary importance; and in no circumstances whatever would the British Government allow themselves to enter into any controversy on such a matter with the Government of the United States who have a right to dictate the policy which, in their somewhat unusual circumstances, should be pursued and on whose justice the British Government entirely rely.

4. Naval questions

As regards naval matters I have only two observations to make. The way in which the Navy Department have met and are meeting out of their existing resources the requests of the British Admiralty for destroyers and other anti-submarine craft has earned our profound gratitude; but the need for increasing the number of destroyers is one of the most urgent in the whole field of naval enterprise, and it would be a great misfortune if the naval yards in the United States could not give material aid in carrying out this policy. This view I understand to be fully shared by the Navy Department and their technical advisers; but unfortunately both the space and the labour of the dockyards are largely occupied with the construction of ships on which the Government is naturally reluctant to stop work since they may be required to meet possible contingencies at the end of the present war. The one way, it would seem, of meeting this difficulty is to give the United States some kind of call upon Allied capital ships should the need for them arise. I have spoken about this to Mr. Secretary Lansing; and it ought not, I think, to be impossible to devise some scheme for consideration by the Governments concerned.

The only other point which I need mention under this heading is the urgent necessity for finding tankers to carry oil for the British Navy. That Navy, so far as its newer type of fighting ships are concerned, is now much more dependent upon oil than upon coal; and it is absolutely necessary that oil in sufficient quantities should be supplied from overseas. For this additional tankers are urgently required. I add details in a note1 at the end of this paper.

5. There is one other subject which I approach with great diffidence, fully appreciating the fact that the problem is one very largely of internal military administration, and that the difficulties of carrying out the policy which, on purely military grounds, the military members of the British mission would desire to see adopted, might [Page 71] well seem insuperable to any Government which has to consider its army organisation as a whole.

The facts, as I understand them, are as follows: The United States are sending out a small but well trained body of troops to take an immediate share in the fighting on the French front, where their presence is most important morally and materially. At the same time they are making arrangements for training an important army in America which they hope to use with decisive effect at a later stage of the war.

Now I gather that, in the opinion of those competent to speak from experience, it will not be possible to train and get to the front this new army until next spring. But on the other hand they point out that if, altogether apart from this army, recruits could be sent out for training in France or in England, a really important addition could be made to the fighting man-power of the Allies in the course of the present year and before the winter season hampers military operations. The art of rapidly training recruits has, under the stern pressure of necessity, been brought to the highest pitch of perfection in the French and British Armies. I am assured that average recruits can, under the new system, be turned into good soldiers in nine or ten weeks. A whole body of training experts has been created, just as experts have been created in artillery or in aviation; while the atmosphere in which the training is carried on, in close proximity to the fighting line, makes it speedily effective. In these circumstances, and remembering that time is the essence of the problem, I venture to suggest that it may be worth while for the military authorities of the United States of America to consider whether the great and obvious difficulties in the way of sending over important numbers of American citizens to be trained abroad under conditions which make it difficult to see how they are, for the moment, to form part of an organised force under the Stars and Stripes, can in some way or another be surmounted.

  1. Not printed.