The British Embassy to the Department of State
In a conversation with the Secretary of State on the 1st instant His Majesty’s Ambassador drew attention to statements made before [Page 27] the Committee on Naval Affairs of the House of Representatives by the Secretary of the Navy on January 22nd, 1923, which conveyed the impression that an increase in the elevation of the turret guns of British warships had recently been undertaken by His Majesty’s Government. The Secretary’s statements to which attention was drawn were as follows:—
On Monday, 22nd January, 1923, during a Hearing on the Bill H.R. 13997, To Increase the Efficiency of the United States Navy, and for other purposes (elevation and range of turret guns), before the Committee on Naval Affairs, House of Representatives, the Secretary of the Navy stated that an appropriation of $6,500,000 was urgently required this session for the purpose of modernising certain ships now somewhat obsolete “owing to the activities of other powers in modernising their ships.”
This work, he said, consisted of (1) elevation of guns to increase their range; (2) additional deck protection against airplane bombs; (3) additional protection in the shape of blisters.
Secretary Denby stated “most of these have been done in connection with the British ships …23 and perfectly proper, because they come within the purview of the provisions of the Treaty. We think our Navy should be on a parity with their Navies in the strength of the individual ships, and the only way to do that is to elevate the guns by such necessary structural changes as do not contravene the terms of the Treaty, by adding additional sheathing on the decks. …”23 Asked when the British and Japanese made these more or less extensive modernising repairs on their ships, Secretary Denby replied “They began them before the Conference was held.”
Attention was also drawn to a statement in the same sense made by Mr. Hicks in the House of Representatives on February 16th in the course of the debate on this question which conveyed the impression that Great Britain was still making alterations to the gun armament—”They have elevated their guns on most of their ships and they are doing work on some of the other ships.”
The matter again came before the House on Monday, 26th February. It was argued that increasing the range of the guns was equivalent to a change in the mounting. Mr. Hicks’ statement was again calculated to convey the impression (P. 4733  of Congressional Record of 26th February, 1923) that Great Britain was employed in altering the elevation of her guns:—”All that is proposed here is the reconstruction of these ships as Great Britain is doing now with her fleet, as she was doing at the time of the Conference, and as Japan is doing,—all within the purview of the agreements.”[Page 28]
His Majesty’s Ambassador pointed out that the House of Representatives presumably gained the impression that Great Britain was engaged at the present moment in effecting elevation alterations. In point of fact however no such work had been undertaken. At so recent a date as January 5th, 1923, (i. e. seventeen days before Mr. Denby’s statement to this Committee) this circumstance was made perfectly clear to the United States Naval Attaché in London, as will be seen from the following correspondence:—
“american embassy office of the naval attaché
London, 5th January, 1923.
“Dear Sir Oswyn,
Confirming my oral request of this date, the Naval Attaché will appreciate receiving from the Admiralty such details as may be immediately available, of the modernization of ships of the Royal Navy that has been undertaken, is under way, or completed since 6 February, 1922, giving the names of the ships affected, and particularly what increase in gun elevation, installation of additional deck armour, and under-water protection has been given them since that date.
Very sincerely yours,
(Sgd.) C. L. Hussey, Captain, U. S. Navy,
Sir Oswyn A. R. Murray, K. C.
Admiralty, S. W.”
“admiralty whitehall, s. w. 1.
5th January, 1923.
“Dear Captain Hussey,
In reply to your letter of today and confirming the information given verbally by the Controller of the Navy and myself this afternoon, I write to say:—
The only reconstruction work that has been undertaken, is under way, or has been completed since 6th February, 1922, relates to the ships shewn under the heading “Reconstruction” on page 238 of the Navy Estimates, viz:—
- Furious. In process of being converted into an Aircraft Carrier. (This reconstruction was in hand before the Washington Conference).
- Renown. About to be taken in hand for Bulging, and for Re-armouring similarly to the Repulse, as specifically provided for in Chapter II, Part 3, Section I (d) of the Draft Treaty.
- Royal Sovereign. Bulging has just been completed.
- Royal Oak. Has just been taken in hand for Bulging only.
No increase in gun elevation has been given to any of our Ships since the date mentioned, nor is it in contemplation to give any.
No additional deck armour has been given to any of our Ships since the date mentioned. The Board’s intention is to continue the programme of Bulging, but to leave the question of providing additional deck protection, as mentioned in the above-quoted Section of the Draft Treaty, for later consideration when the financial situation allows.
Yours very truly,
(Sgd.) O. A. R. Murray”
Captain C. L. Hussey,
CMG, U. S. N.”
Having regard to the foregoing, Sir Auckland Geddes felt convinced that the United States Government would wish to issue some [Page 29] statement in order to correct the misapprehension which had undoubtedly arisen in the public mind as a result of the statements made before the House of Representatives.
In his reply the Secretary of State declared that he also was clearly under the impression that work had recently been undertaken to increase the elevation of British guns. So much so that he had, on the authority of the Navy Department, made a public statement to this effect at New Haven on December 29th last. The passage to which Mr. Hughes referred ran as follows:—
“The result is that in a considerable number of British ships bulges have been fitted, elevation of turret guns increased and turret-loading arrangements modified to conform to increased elevation.”
In the circumstances the Secretary of State promised to make enquiry of the Navy Department and to continue the discussion with His Majesty’s Ambassador at a later date. On the 5th instant Sir Auckland Geddes again referred to the matter and was informed by Mr. Hughes that he was in receipt of a letter from Mr. Denby to the effect that the statements of the Navy Department were based on the fact that modifications in the elevation of British guns on vessels in commission had actually been seen by American Naval Officers and that the United States Naval Attaché in London had reported that firing had been carried out at 30,000 yards.
To this Sir Auckland Geddes replied that he could only imagine that the Naval Officers must be under a misapprehension. Minor modifications had been made to the sights to admit of the effective use of the maximum elevation for which the mountings were designed and constructed. This work, which was completed by the end of 1916, that is before the United States entered the war, is possibly that to which the Officers referred.
Referring again to Mr. Hughes’ statement of 29th December, Sir Auckland Geddes desired to declare categorically that no alteration had been made in the elevation of the turret guns of any British Capital ships since they were first placed in commission and further to point out that no additional deck protection had been provided. The position had been clearly set forth in the letter from Sir Oswyn Murray to the United States Naval Attaché of 5th January, 1923.
Having regard to the precise statement of fact which had been made in writing to the United States Naval Attaché in London on 5th January (also, it appears on enquiry, on three occasions since) and verbally to the Secretary of State by himself, Sir Auckland Geddes trusted that some corrective statement would be made. The Secretary of State promised to consider the matter further and suggested that the verbal statements made by His Majesty’s Ambassador should be recorded in the form of a memorandum and communicated [Page 30] to the State Department. This Sir Auckland Geddes undertook to do.
Since the conversations above recorded took place Sir Auckland Geddes has ascertained from His Majesty’s Government that no firing practice has taken place at 30,000 yards as stated in Mr. Denby’s letter to the Secretary of State.
In concluding the present memorandum His Majesty’s Ambassador desires to draw attention to the following quotation from the Army and Navy Journal of January 6th last:—
“(Extract from Weekly Washington Letter by E. B. Johns, Washington Correspondent).
… Great Britain was the first to see the importance of bringing existing battleships up to the highest state of efficiency. While she had been pleading poverty, she has been modernizing a number of her ships. United States Naval authorities now contend that by this policy she has disturbed the 5.5.3. ratio provided for in the arms treaty…”
This statement and others of the same character are calculated to arouse in the public mind suspicions in regard to the good-faith of a friendly Power signatory to the Washington Treaty for the limitation of Naval Armament. Such statements appear to owe their origin, at least in part, to the official pronouncements to which reference has been made above. Sir Auckland Geddes feels assured that there is nothing further from the minds of American Naval experts than to foster the growth of those sentiments of mistrust which it was one of the primary objects of the Washington Conference to dispel. He looks confidently to the issue of a statement which will place the facts correctly before the public.