Memorandum by the Secretary to the British Empire Delegation of a Conversation Held at the Department of State, December 13, 1921, 4 p.m.79


  • Present:—
    • the united states of america
      • Mr. Hughes
    • the british empire
      • Mr. Balfour, accompanied by Sir Maurice Hankey
    • japan
      • Baron Kato
      • M. Ichihashi (Interpreter)

the “mutsu”.

Mr. Hughes began by remarking that he had not had time to say a word to Mr. Balfour on the subject which was to be discussed today, namely, the re-arrangement of the numbers of capital ships in the American programme in consequence of the addition to the Japanese list of the Mutsu. There were a number of possible permutations and combinations, and the matter had to be considered from two angles, the British and the American. He himself would deal with the latter. He started from the tonnage ratio of 10–10–6, allowing a reasonable balance as regards the age and armament of ships. Japan desired on that basis to retain the Mutsu and to scrap the Settsu, and he had been considering what could be done as regards the American ships to compensate this. The American Delegation would be willing to scrap the North Dakota and the Delaware and to keep the Colorado and the Washington. The result of these changes would be to make the American total 525,850 tons, and the Japanese total 313,300 tons. What he had aimed at [Page 100] was to reach a limit of 525,000 tons for the United States of America and 315,000 tons for Japan. This preserved the exact ratio and would give America 15 ships, and Japan 9, with a tonnage limit of 35,000 tons for capital ships. The exact difference between the figures realised by the re-arrangement he had proposed and the basis he was aiming at amounted only to a few hundred tons, the American capital ships being 850 tons above, and the Japanese ships 1,700 tons below the standard. His Naval Advisers informed him that that would provide a satisfactory navy. The United States navy would be increased by 24,350 tons as compared with the original programme, and the Japanese navy by 13,600 tons. Relatively, however, the ratio was preserved very closely. He understood that Japan had a few battle cruisers as well, but he did not object to that. If, therefore, Japan wished to retain the Mutsu and to scrap the Settsu, that was the American proposal.

Mr. Balfour then asked if Mr. Hughes would like to hear what he had to say, and, on Mr. Hughes replying in the affirmative, spoke to the following effect. The British difficulties throughout had arisen from the fact that Great Britain had already taken a holiday in the building of capital ships for five years, and had laid down no capital ships since the conclusion of the War. The result was that she had no complete post-Jutland capital ship. The Hood, which had been designed when he himself was First Lord of the Admiralty (and he had ceased to be First Lord shortly after the Battle of Jutland) was the nearest approach to a post-Jutland capital ship. The Hood, however, had actually been designed before the Battle of Jutland. Subsequently the design had been altered and the ship had been pulled about as far as possible to embody the lessons of the battle, but he was informed that she was not by any means the ship which would have been built if the design had been made after Jutland. That was the original difficulty that the British Delegation had felt in regard to the scheme. The American Delegation, he thought, had realised this fact, and in their scheme had for this reason accorded to Great Britain a numerical advantage in capital ships and an advantage also in tonnage. Mr. Hughes would realise that it went strongly against the grain, especially with the naval authorities, that, unit for unit, our fleet should not be in a position to meet any conceivable opponent. This state of affairs, which had been a difficulty before, had been made worse by the inclusion of the Mutsu. The result of this inclusion was that the American navy would possess 3 post-Jutland capital ships and the Japanese navy 2 post-Jutland capital ships. Great Britain now had to do something to reach the ratio of 10 to 10, that is to say, equality with the United States navy. The trouble was this, that the Hood, which was a completed ship, was not quite up to the post-Jutland standard. [Page 101] Two new ships embodying all the lessons of Jutland, had been designed as the result of experiments which had been carried out at considerable cost. A good deal of material had been collected, contracts had been placed, and the contractors had carried out the necessary changes in their plant to build the ships. Hence the proper way in which to meet the proposals as regards the United States and Japanese navies was for Great Britain to complete the two ships which had been begun but had not advanced far as regards actual construction, but for which the design was complete. In tonnage, however, these ships would considerably exceed that of the Marylands and Mutsu. He was prepared to admit that if the American and Japanese navies were allowed to include the post-Jutland ships alluded to by Mr. Hughes, and if Great Britain were consequently permitted to build the two ships to which he had referred, she must be prepared to scrap more ships than was provided for in the original programme. He understood that the American Government proposed to finish two Marylands and to scrap the North Dakota and the Delaware. If Great Britain completed her two ships he was prepared to scrap more than two old ships to compensate for them. He did not know exactly how far it was fair to deal on the basis of tonnage or on the numerical principle. Hence he would propose to build the two new ships already designed and to scrap more than two of the older British ships.

Baron Kato said that he considered the proposal made by Mr. Hughes on a tonnage basis was fair. As regards Great Britain he fully sympathised with her position. She had only been assigned old ships. Hence, if both proposals were to be accepted, while he had received no authority from his Government, he was willing personally to take the risk of giving his assent. In Japan the question had now become a political one, and public opinion was strongly moved. He had heard this since last night, and he had received a cable from his Government to that effect. It would, therefore, be a matter of great difficulty for him to give up the Mutsu, and he hoped that it would be possible to agree on the basis of Mr. Hughes’ and Mr. Balfour’s proposals, both of which he was willing to accept.

Mr. Hughes said he would like to sum up the matter in the form of a concrete statement. In the original programme the American Government had proposed the following:—

capital ships tonnage
The United States of America 18 500,650
Great Britain 22 604,450
Japan 10 299,700

In the Japanese total the Settsu had been included and the Mutsu was to be scrapped. Now it was proposed that the Mutsu should be included and the Settsu should be scrapped. The Colorado and [Page 102] the Washington were to be included in the American total, and the North Dakota and the Delaware were to be scrapped. The result was as follows:—

capital ships tonnage
The United States of America 18 525,850
Japan 10 313,300

As compared with the original standard of 500,000 tons for the United States of America and 300,000 for Japan, the figures worked out at 525,850 for America and 313,300 for Japan, and America was 850 tons in excess of the standard of 525,000 tons aimed at, and Japan was 1,370 [1,700] tons behind the standard of 315,000 tons aimed at.

Great Britain now proposed to add two new post-Jutland ships and to scrap a certain number of old ships in compensation. He asked whether Mr. Balfour proposed to complete two ships that exceeded the tonnage of 35,000 tons?

Mr. Balfour replied that this was his proposal. He would like to observe at this point, however, that he would like to keep the old ships until the new ships were completed.

Mr. Hughes pointed out that the Mutsu was finished, and the American ships were within a few months of completion. The difference in Great Britain’s case was that she would have to build almost from the start. The largest ship which America and Japan would possess would be of less than 35,000 tons, which was the limit which had been proposed in the American programme. The greater the tonnage that was put into the new ships at the top of the list, the larger the tonnage which would have to come off at the end.

Mr. Balfour pointed out that, owing to the fact that these were ships of an entirely novel type, they had required a great deal of effort in their design. If this design were sacrificed the whole of the labour would be lost. Much experiment had been carried out towards their design, and a good deal of this was adapted to the design of these big ships and would not be of value in the case of smaller ships. Moreover, the contracts in the case of the bigger ships were not suitable for the contracts in the case of the smaller ships. This was a very serious matter. Further, a year would be lost in making fresh designs and in other preliminary work which would have to be carried out. Consequently, a considerable time would elapse during which Japan would be in possession of two post-Jutland ships, and America of 3 post-Jutland ships. Whatever conclusion might eventually be reached, these were considerations of substance and force. Mr. Hughes’ counter-argument also had force, namely, that if Great Britain were to build the big ships they would have to sacrifice more than their numerical equivalent. That he fully admitted.

[Page 103]

Mr. Hughes pointed out that the new standard aimed at was 525,000 tons for the United States of America and Great Britain and 315,000 tons for Japan. In working out the original programme the figures for Great Britain had worked out at 600,000 tons, of which 100,000 tons had been allowed owing to the greater age of the British vessels. He himself fully recognised the difficulty of the British position and the justice of what Mr. Balfour proposed. If, however, Great Britain was now to have two ships of 43,000 tons (Mr. Balfour interjected that they would be in excess of 43,000 tons), when the time came for replacement the difficulties would be greater than if each was willing to be content now with ships of 35,000 tons, and no awkward situation would arise in regard to the tonnage limit. It was true that Great Britain possessed one Hood of 43,000 tons, but it was admitted that she was not a complete post-Jutland ship, and allowance had been made for the fact that this detracted somewhat from the full efficiency of the 43,000 tons. If, however, Great Britain were now to complete two post-Jutland ships of 43,000 tons, the situation would be changed. It would be a great advantage, therefore, if Mr. Balfour could see his way to reduce the tonnage and thereby eventually save the scrapping of one ship.

Mr. Balfour asked Mr. Hughes to consider what the British position would be during the next four years. She would not possess a single completely post-Jutland capital ship, whereas one of the other navies under consideration would possess three, and the other two post-Jutland capital ships.

Mr. Hughes pointed out that during the construction period of three or four years equalisation would be made up by means of old ships. At the end of four years Great Britain would be in the same position as the United States of America and Japan.

Mr. Balfour said he quite realised Mr. Hughes’ point, but unfortunately not less than a year would have to be added to the construction period for the designing of a new type of ship.

Mr. Hughes said he had not wished to make any difficulties, but he thought it would be helpful if Great Britain could keep within the maximum of 35,000 tons.

Mr. Balfour said he understood that during the construction period equality would be obtained by the retention by Great Britain of a certain number of old ships. At the end of that period we should have two ships more powerful than any which the United States of America or Japan possessed, but America would possess three post-Jutland ships which would in the aggregate be superior to the British three.

Mr. Hughes expressed doubts as to this, owing to the fact that the British ships would be of 43,000 tons.

[Page 104]

Mr. Balfour pointed out that the Hood, though she was of 43,000 tons, was not a very good design and did not embody all the lessons of the Battle of Jutland. If the situation would be tolerable in its early stages, did it not become intolerable to Great Britain in its later stages?

Mr. Hughes said the American proposal had been that there should be no ship larger than 35,000 tons, and nothing should be built until the end of the ten years, although planning could go on in the interval. It occurred to him that if Great Britain would retain a sufficient number of ships to equalise the difference and built three two new ships of a size of 35,000 tons, that is to say, equal to the largest American and Japanese ships, it would be a simpler proposition. He thought that Great Britain might derive advantage by having more ships, owing to the fact that she had would have to scrap fewer ships than she would have done, from in consequence of the excessive tonnage contemplated for the new ships. Both he and Baron Kato agreed that in the new situation Great Britain ought to have the right to build two capital ships. The only question that remained was as to what, for want of a better term, he would describe as the “calibre” of the new ships, and the amount of the tonnage to be scrapped in order to achieve equalisation.

Mr. Balfour asked how it would work out in tonnage if Great Britain scrapped four ships, that is to say, reduced her ultimate number by two.

Mr. Hughes, turning to a list of ships, said that if Great Britain were to scrap, for example, the Ajax, Centurion, King George and Erin, this would make a total tonnage of about 96,000 tons for the four. If the new ships were of approximately 45,000 tons, the aggregate of the two would amount to 90,000 tons. The original figure allotted to Great Britain in the proposal of the United States Delegation had been 604,000 tons. If 96,000 tons were deducted from this for the ships to be scrapped, and 90,000 tons were added for the new ships, the result would be to leave Great Britain with 598,000 tons. This would include the two new capital ships and the Hood. The figure of 598,000 tons would compare with 525,000 tons in the case of the United States of America. As the new British ships were of greater value, it would give Great Britain a considerable excess of tonnage.

Mr. Balfour said he understood Mr. Hughes’ argument to be that the excess of tonnage allowed in the original scheme had been due to the antiquity of some of the British ships.

Mr. Hughes agreed. In order to bring down this excess to the American level it would be necessary for Great Britain to pull out three more ships. If, however, she were to limit her new ships to 35,000 tons, the additional ships to be scrapped would be fewer.

[Page 105]

Mr. Balfour remarked, in parenthesis, that some confusion arose in regard to these questions of tonnage owing to the fact that the American system of measurement differed from the British. He was not sure which they were talking of.

Mr. Hughes said he was not quite sure, but the figures he gave had all been reduced to a common basis.

Mr. Balfour said he was very reluctant to cause delay, but now he felt he had obtained certain precise points which he must put to his experts. He understood the position to be as follows. The British Admiralty experts felt profound reluctance in sacrificing the new designs. This reluctance was partly due to the fact that they would like to see their new design brought to fruition, but partly also because if compelled to adopt a maximum of 35,000 tons they would have to make up for loss of tonnage by superior efficiency. The Americans and Japanese had always recognised that Great Britain had to make up for the deficiency in the quality of her ships by additional numbers. The British Naval Experts did not like this, and they wanted to shorten the period during which it held good. Instead of being shortened, however, the time would be lengthened by the necessity for new design, new experiment, and the placing of new contracts. His experts were most anxious, therefore, to keep their new design of capital ships.

Mr. Hughes said that he was anxious, if possible, to keep the maximum down to 35,000 tons; otherwise there would be an effort made between the various countries to outbuild each other by means of the size of their ships. There were two points to be settled: first, whether Great Britain was willing to adopt this proposal, which reacted upon the replacement period; and, second, how many ships Great Britain was to keep. His proposal was that if the Mutsu were retained and the Settsu were scrapped, and the corresponding changes were made in the American navy, the limits of tonnage would be altered but the ratio would be retained. The original figure of 500,000 tons for the American navy would become 525,000 tons, and the figure of 300,000 tons for the Japanese navy would become 313,000 tons. Great Britain, on the original basis, was to have 604,000 tons, that is to say, 79,000 tons more than the new limit for the American navy. That calculation had been based on the age of the British ships. This would hold good until such time as the new ships were built, but not thereafter. If Great Britain were to build two ships of 45,000 tons, that is to say, an aggregate of 90,000 tons, and this were added to the 75,000 tons previous excess (the difference between 600,000 tons and 525,000 tons) she would obtain a total excess of 165,000 tons for which no reason could be given, since she would by that time possess the new ships. If some of the older ships of from 23,000 to 24,000 tons were scrapped to compensate for this, the [Page 106] number would require to be 6 or 7 in order to scale Great Britain down to the American basis of 525,000 tons. During the building period, however, Great Britain would be allowed to retain her excess tonnage for the purposes of equalisation.

Mr. Balfour said he quite understood the situation, and would discuss it with his experts.

Mr. Hughes said that he would now wait for Great Britain to make a concrete proposal.

A short discussion took place as to the date and time of the next meeting, and Mr. Balfour undertook, if possible, to continue the discussion the same evening. If he found this practicable he would telephone to Mr. Hughes and Baron Kato, in which case a meeting might be held at Mr. Hughes’ house.

In the meantime it was agreed that no communication whatsoever should be made to the Press on the subject of the meeting.

M. P. A. Hankey
  1. No agreed official minutes of this conversation were made. The American delegation used the memorandum prepared by Sir Maurice Hankey.

    The file copy of this memorandum bears corrections by Secretary Hughes. Words which he crossed out are indicated by canceled type; words which he inserted are printed in italics.