500.A4b/284a: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Great Britain (Kellogg)


443. In view of current statements in the press I may state my attitude as follows regarding change of gun elevation on the capital ships which are retained under the Washington Treaty.

To the best of my knowledge there was nothing said at the Conference on the Limitation of Armaments concerning gun elevation. [Page 14] Subdivision (d), section I, part 3, chapter II of the naval treaty is in substance as drafted by agreement among the naval experts. It appears from detailed information supplied by the Navy Department that comparatively slight changes are involved in the proposals to elevate the guns on our ships and that these changes could not be considered either as alteration in the general type of mounting for the main armament or as a reconstruction of the ships. Assuming, however, that the proposed changes would not violate the treaty, a practical question remains involving economic considerations. We retain 18 capital ships. The guns of 5 of these now outrange the British. The difference with respect to 5 more is negligible. The remaining 8 capital ships have a shorter range than the British ships. These 8 ships will be replaced, however, within ten or a dozen years. Ships built to replace these may have any gun elevation desired. It is then a practical question whether the money required should be spent on the old ships or could be used more advantageously for other purposes.

In my campaign speeches I replied to misleading statements by Davis12 by saying that the question was a practical one to be decided by Congress. I did not specifically state that in my opinion it would not violate the naval treaty to change the gun elevation. However, as I said it was a practical economic question it could readily be inferred that I did not believe that such changes would be in violation of the treaty. I have not replied to the British notes in opposition to a change in elevation as I thought that should Congress for economic reasons not think best to appropriate the funds for this purpose we might avoid joining an issue on this question under the treaty. I have explained the matter informally to the British Ambassador. It is probable that the question will be disposed of within a few weeks by the committees in Congress.13 This telegram is sent simply in order that you may be informed should Chamberlain take the question up with you.

  1. John W. Davis, Democratic candidate for President.
  2. In view of the failure of Congress to provide for gun elevation (see Congressional Record, vol. 66, pp. 2060–2061), no formal reply was made to the British notes.