Memorandum by the French Delegation58a

No. 8

Note on the Naval Situation of France

The number of capital ships of the French Navy is fixed by law.

The last law of the naval program provided for a force of 28 ships of the line without specifying their tonnage.

In 1914, this program was about to be brought into effect with 23 iron clad ships in commission, three almost completed and five being built to fulfill the provided number and replace antiquated ships.

The provisions for beginning construction up to 1919 are shown in the following statement:

1915 3
1917 2

By article 2 the law provided that every ship was to be automatically replaced after twenty years.

But for the war which brought to a complete stop the navy yard activities, the program would now be completed and the fleet of France would have twenty-eight “capital ships”.

Since the armistice the French Navy has reduced its power by:

(a) Eliminating 143,655 tons of predreadnoughts
(b) Giving up 126,000 tons of ships partly built but not completed
(c) Relinquishing the construction of 155,000 tons of capital ships provided by the law of 1912
120,000 tons of replacement ships
Altogether 544,655 tons of capital ships have already been withdrawn from the fleet.

At this time the French Navy only has seven ships of the line in the Mediterranean (164,500 tons) and three others in the north at Cherbourg (56,670 tons) aggregating 221,170 tons.

It reduced its power to such a proportion that its tonnage is only 29 per cent of what it would be if the program approved and progress [Page 63] at the time war was declared had been carried on.* The program called for twenty-eight capital ships to be kept and replaced after twenty years service.

For the present we only contemplate building light ships, cruisers, torpedo destroyers, torpedo boats and submarines.

The first installment of these light units referred to the Parliament and approved by the Chamber of Deputies includes three light cruisers, six torpedo destroyers, 12 torpedo boats, 12 submarines,—1 aircraft carrier.

For several years to come we must devote the action of our yards exclusively to the building of those light units but the situation of the yards and especially the condition of the financial resources of France will not permit of an accurate general program of construction being framed at this time. It may only be remarked that the ten capital ships which are now in commission will reach the end of their life on and after 1930 and that therefore the building of ships to take their place ought to be begun in 1927.

That limit of time agrees with that provided for the life of the ships in the propositions brought into the Conference.

But we were so brought down to a situation lower than that which is indispensable for the safety of the country.

It must indeed be borne in mind that France must provide for her safety on three sea fronts, the Atlantic Ocean and North Sea, the Mediterranean, and the colonies. The first is separated from the second by a distance of about 1700 miles, a little more than one half of the width of the Atlantic Ocean and one third of the distance from San Francisco to Key West. They are separated by straits, Gibraltar, which do not belong to France.

The second represents the connecting link between France and Algeria, which is an important part of the country, Tunis and Morocco and we cannot entertain the idea of being cut down on that side.

Our colonies have a population of fifty-nine million as against thirty-nine million in France proper. They are to us a granary, our communications with which cannot be stopped without threatening our food stock and supplies.

The uncertainty of the situation in Germany, Russia and the East demand that we should preserve our ability to exercise naval action.

For all those reasons the reorganization of her navy is a matter of urgent interest to France.

  1. French original of this memorandum not found in Department files.
  2. The proportions resulting from the American propositions are 37 per cent for the navy of the United States and 39 per cent for the Japanese navy. [Footnote in file copy.]