Memorandum by the Secretary of State of a Conversation with the British Ambassador (Geddes), March 5, 1923

The British Ambassador called to take up with the Secretary the subject which he had started to discuss at his last interview (March 1st, 1923), that is, with respect to the reports as to the alterations in the British ships. The Ambassador said, referring to the Secretary’s speech at New Haven on December 29, 1922,22 and to remarks subsequently made by Secretary Denby before the Committee of the House of Representatives that these statements had occasioned considerable discussion in Great Britain and very definite inquiry. The [Page 25] particular point was with respect to the statements as to increased elevation of turret guns and the modification of turret loading arrangements to conform to such increased elevation.

The Ambassador said that the facts were these: that no British ship had had its capacity for the elevation of its guns increased since its original construction, and that all reports to the contrary were absolutely false.

The Secretary said that he had just received a letter from Secretary Denby which he would read to the Ambassador. In this letter Secretary Denby said:

“As you know, it is the Navy Department’s policy at all times to abide by both the letter and spirit of the Limitation of Armament Treaty. The modernization proposed by us all comes within this category.

“In order to prepare our plans and guide our policy, we have been desirous of obtaining accurate information as to the gun elevation of the main batteries of the British capital ships covered by the Treaty. Such information as we have tends to be contradictory on this point. For example, Jane’s Fighting Ships, 1921, a British publication regarded as the leading authority on naval armaments, gives under the Queen Elizabeth class the following statement:

‘Range of fifteen inch only limited by maximum visibility. Elevation of these guns has been enlarged.’

“Furthermore, officers of ours who have served with the British, as well as our naval attaché in London, have informed us that the guns of the main batteries have had their elevations increased since originally installed, and that battle practice ranges are now thirty thousand yards. On the other hand, within the last few days Mr. Amery, of the British Admiralty, has stated that the elevation of the main batteries of the British capital ships has not been changed since their original fitting, and a statement from the British Admiralty transmitted to us by our naval attaché, says that no changes in elevation of main batteries has been made since the Battle of Jutland.

“Will you, therefore, request the British Admiralty, through the proper channels, to give us final information regarding gun elevation and gun ranges of main batteries on their capital ships to be retained under the Limitation of Armament Treaty? The present Congress has appropriated funds whereby we may alter the elevation of our guns. We would appreciate obtaining this information at the earliest possible date, and we would be glad to furnish the British Admiralty with similar information in return.”

The Secretary said he could not understand how any misunderstanding had arisen; that before making his New Haven speech on December 29, 1922 the Secretary had asked for a written statement from the Navy as to exactly what had taken place; that in his speech he had presented a portion in condensed form of what had been stated by the Navy and that he had sent his speech to Secretary Denby to be checked up before its delivery. The Secretary felt that [Page 26] there was no doubt as to the understanding of the Navy at that time that the statements made were correct. The Secretary wondered how such an impression could have been created if there had been no increase in the gun elevation of British ships. The Secretary said that he would like to have a specific statement in accordance with Secretary Denby’s request regarding the gun elevation and gun arrangements of the main batteries of their capital ships to be retained under the Treaty. The Secretary called attention to the fact that our Navy Department was willing to furnish similar information to the British Admiralty with respect to our ships.

The Ambassador said that he did not know what the attitude of the British Admiralty would be with respect to exchanging information as to actual elevation and ranges but he was authorized to say, and he repeated, that none of the ships retained by the British under the Treaty had had their capacity of gun elevation increased since the time of their construction. He said that there was a single qualification to be made to this in the case of the ships of the King George V class …

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

… The Ambassador called attention to the fact that these ships of the King George V class were those which were to be scrapped on the completion of the two new ships which they were allowed to build under the Treaty.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

… The Secretary said he would be only too glad to have any false impression removed from the public mind, but he would like to have the Ambassador give him in writing in the form of a memorandum the statement which he had made orally, so that the Secretary in communicating with the Navy Department would not be compelled to trust his recollection and run the risk of making any mistake in repetition. The Secretary again inquired carefully whether he understood clearly that with the exception of the alteration to which he had referred in ships of the King George V class the other capital ships of the British Navy had the same gun elevation and gun range that they had when they were first built. The Ambassador said that that was exactly the case.

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  1. At a meeting of the American Historical Association.