500.A15a3/135: Telegram

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


224. Reference your telegrams No. 242, August 24, 2 p.m., and No. 245, August 27, noon. A separate telegram is being sent you from which it seems possible an agreement might be reached; but it is, in our opinion, essential that the letter of the Prime Minister, [Page 204] which was included in your telegram No. 242, should be answered in detail. In our opinion in that letter he is in error and we think that some of the conclusions of his letter are a result of his errors, and that our separate telegram referred to above will not lead to results unless these errors are dispelled.

In his letter it is assumed that the four Hawkins type cruisers can fairly be placed in the 6-inch cruiser class. We have not concurred and do not now concur in that conclusion. This type was referred to by the Prime Minister as a group laid down in 1916 for war purposes (see your No. 204, July 25, 1 p.m.). They were completed in 1918, 1919, 1924, and 1925, respectively, according to our information. The 7.5-inch guns they carry are much nearer to 8-inch than they are to 6-inch guns. These guns can be worked by hand, according to the Prime Minister, which, it would seem, should give an advantage in being fired rapidly. The shell they fire, which weighs 200 pounds, is obviously nearer to a shell of 8 inches weighing 250 pounds than to a shell weighing 105 pounds of 6 inches. It is difficult to understand how the Hawkins type can be considered by the Prime Minister or his advisers as nearer to the modern cruiser carrying 6-inch guns than to the type carrying 8-inch guns; in the opinion of our advisers the four Hawkins type cruisers of about 40,000 tons are comparable substantially to 40,000 tons of four 8-inch type cruisers. If the four cruisers of Hawkins type are compared with 8-inch gun cruisers, some deductions would, of course, have to be allowed for age and some small discount for size of guns in favor of the Hawkins type, but in spite of this, in our opinion, the Hawkins class would still remain comparable with four cruisers of 8-inch type.

It is stated by the Prime Minister in his letter, transmitted in your No. 242, that there are no ships in the British fleet of the type of the Omaha. It is difficult to understand why the Emerald and the Enterprise, each of which is over 7,500 standard tons, are not at least of equivalent value with two Omaha type cruisers.

The Prime Minister will see that more large cruisers than he has stated are possessed by Great Britain, if he takes these facts into consideration. We believe that he should figure his large cruiser units more nearly at nineteen instead of fifteen which would make considerably less than asserted in his letter, the disparity in large cruisers considered alone. He will find if he goes through the cruiser fleets and matches off units which are substantially equivalent that even if the full program of twenty-three cruisers should be completed by the United States after fifteen 8-inch cruisers of 10,000 tons have been matched off in each fleet and the Hawkins class has been matched off against its equivalent in 8-inch cruisers of 10,000 tons as stated above and if, also, two of the Omaha as stated above are matched off against the Enterprise and the Emerald, there will remain of the United Stated [Page 205] fleet as of 1936 approximately four cruisers with 8-inch guns and eight cruisers of the Omaha type, which makes a total of approximately twelve units to be evaluated against twenty-nine British 6-inch units. The displacement of these twenty-nine British units is not known to us now but would seem to be about one and a third times as great as that of the twelve units in the United States fleet. This way of testing whether or not the result of a yardstick is fair appears reasonable. At the moment, the point we are stressing is that the disparity deplored by the Prime Minister does not exist and that our statement that in order to reach parity, we must build our full program was not unfair. As to whether or not it is correct is a question of fact on which there should not be a very material difference between reasonable men after discussion and conference. We do not understand why great difficulty in believing in a parity so arrived at should be found by either the public or the Admiralty.

The figures given above are based on the assumption that the replacements proposed by the Prime Minister are as stated in his letter of August 8 (your No. 228, August 9, 5 p.m.) and consist of cruisers of 4,000 tons of a type which is substantially equal to the older ships. In your No. 242, we have not been furnished by him with the details we specifically asked concerning the tonnage or armament of the replacements he wishes to make.

We quite agree that Japan must have full consideration as regards the Prime Minister’s paragraph 2 in your No. 242. Suggestions for a program are dependent upon the agreement of the Japanese. In our No. 217, August 15, 5 p.m., we were quite clear on that matter.

The Prime Minister’s paragraph 3. There is no objection on our part to Great Britain’s placing the point of parity in cruisers at fifty units if that is consistent with 330,000 tons total displacement.

We are in agreement with the Prime Minister’s paragraph 4.

We are not sure we have complete understanding of the Prime Minister’s paragraph 5. Should his suggestion mean that both his cruisers and ours which would reach an age of twenty years before 1936, should there be any, may be kept active and not be replaced? We are in agreement if it is understood that the amount of rebuilding for replacement purposes before 1936 should be reduced by the same extent, but we are not sure that this is his meaning. If his meaning is that cruisers becoming over-age before 1936 are to be kept active and that in spite of this vessels should be built to replace such over-age cruisers, obviously, we do not agree to this because it would mean that Great Britain would simply have so much additional tonnage.

We are in agreement with the Prime Minister’s paragraph 6.

In regard to his paragraph 7, it is hoped that he will reconsider his belief that the idea of minor vessels for police purposes should be kept to allow a margin within which his promises may be surpassed by his [Page 206] actions. Should the Prime Minister be able to agree to make even 20,000 tons of his replacements for 1936 in vessels of this type that would shorten to an equivalent amount our present building program and bring reduction from twenty-three to twenty-one 8-inch cruisers and lessen to a great extent the apparent inequality which he fears exists in the large cruiser class.

The Prime Minister’s paragraph 8. It is understood that the necessity of carrying the Dominions with him restricts him practically in his promises.

In regard to his paragraph 9. The statement in his last communication that he is cutting the unit needs of Great Britain to a minimum is acceptable because we realize that he knows how far he can go better than we do. However, it may be pointed out to him that in his last communication no attempt was made to limit the British replacement tonnage and all inquiries in this matter have not yet been answered.

The Prime Minister’s paragraph 10 is accepted.

We agree to the Prime Minister’s paragraph 11 as we understand it.

In regard to his paragraph 12, his disappointment is understood. We have made an attempt to express both our sympathy and our understanding of his viewpoint that the necessities for peace require a large number of cruisers for Great Britain and we comprehend entirely that many of these vessels will in 1936 be near the age for scrapping.

In regard to subsection (b) of his paragraph 13, we are not in agreement with his sentiments at the present time but we are willing to go to a consultation ready to be convinced that we are mistaken if the facts convince us. We offer the suggestion to the Prime Minister that an examination of the data concerning the two fleets does not lead, necessarily, to the pessimistic conclusions drawn by him.

We meant to answer fully in our No. 217, subsection (a) of his paragraph 14. Subsection (b) has already been answered above.

We have already replied to the Prime Minister’s paragraph 15.

In our opinion, the Prime Minister is mistaken in his paragraph 16. We believe that, as stated above, his view of the two cruiser fleets is based on misunderstanding of these fleets. In our opinion, we have no superiority of eight cruisers carrying 8-inch guns to be taken before his public under the guise of equality.

Gibson’s suggestion is treated in the fifth section of your No. 242.45

We entirely concur in what the Prime Minister says in his paragraph 19 concerning the importance of his visit here, and we insist strongly for that reason upon the importance that definite agreement [Page 207] with his Government should be reached in these conversations before his arrival. As this agreement is so certain to eliminate any real danger of failure at a later date, it will not only be the base upon which other beneficial consequences of his visit as he pictures them may be constructed but practically makes certain that no disappointment in the Naval Conference itself can take place which might as an anticlimax otherwise endanger the results of his visit. We can meet with equanimity the unavoidable difficulties which will arise in the Conference due to the participation of other nations if our two Governments have reached a clear agreement upon the questions under discussion. If an agreement of this nature has not been reached, it is conceivable that these outside complications might render the Conference futile and by so doing in that way practically nullify the benefits otherwise resulting from his conversation with the President and from his visit to this country.

The stress which we lay upon the importance of a clear agreement between us will not, we feel sure, be misunderstood by the Prime Minister. This point would seem to be proved by our experience in these conversations. If negotiators who have approached their work with the enthusiasm and purposes in common which have been found on both sides of these conversations can find the difficulty we have found in working out the details of only two nations in the problem of cruisers, the dangers of leaving to the uncertainties of a larger conference the problem of finding the solution of these questions is obvious.

In looking over the situation as it now stands, there remains only one point on which we need assurance; namely, the exact tonnage of the fifty British cruiser units on December 31, 1936, including replacements which you have suggested. If this information can be given us, and is not different from our expectations of 330,000 tons displacement (see our No. 217) we feel, as has already been stated above, that we could go into a Conference.

This telegram will be followed by two other messages, one with regard to the yardstick and the other (mentioned at the beginning of this telegram) summarizing the extent of agreement with the Prime Minister which we feel we have reached.

  1. The Prime Minister’s paragraphs 17 and 18.