500.A15A4/1238: Telegram

The Acting Secretary of State to the Chairman of the American Delegation (Gibson)

168. Your 295 July 2, 10 a.m. and 296 July 2, 11 a.m. Our 166 July 2, 1 p.m. which was drafted and despatched before the receipt of your two telegrams under reference, shows that the Department views the problem in essentially the same terms as the Delegation. If you can obtain in advance British and French support for your resolution (we can, I suppose, assume Italian and German approval), you will have gone a long way toward avoiding the dangers to which we called your attention this morning. The resolution submitted in your 296 is well-conceived and in general accords with our views, but before making use of it in even a preliminary way, we must ask you to make two important modifications.

Section II, point B should be abbreviated so as merely to read “The abolition of all bombardment aviation.” The references to the limitation of maximum unladen weight and to numbers of airplanes should be omitted.

It has been found impossible thus far to reach a meeting of minds with the War and Navy Departments on these points, concerning which you also asked for instructions in your 297 July 2, 12 noon.23

As to the maximum limit of unladen weight of airplanes:

the Navy Department cannot recommend a limitation of size. If, however, (1) aerial bombing can be definitely prohibited and (2) if proper provision can be made for an adequate supply for naval purposes of planes of a large size, a general limitation in size might prove acceptable to the Navy Department. Such general limitation [Page 260]should be fixed at not lower than 6,000 pounds unladen weight. For transport and flying boat types, Navy Department opposes a limit of less than 20,000 pounds, the weight which it considers necessary for a flying boat capable of making aerial passages to the island possessions of the United States.
The War Department remains firmly opposed to fixing maximum limit of unladen weights for airplanes which it feels should receive no consideration as a compromise for universal abolition of bombardment aviation. It holds that rapid technical development unquestionably would negative in a short period any attempt to limit the offensive character of aircraft and that the needs of the several nations as to the characteristics even of peculiarly defensive aircraft, vary so widely that the fixing of unladen weight limits could only result in grossly unequal effects.

As to the numerical restriction of aircraft:

The Navy Department advocates the basis of limitation as the “full needs of naval armament agreed upon by treaty, including the essential auxiliary services under naval administration.” In no case, should the naval aircraft strength allotted to the United States be less than that allotted to the British Empire and in a ratio to that of Japan equivalent to the Washington ratio of 5 to 3. Navy Department continues “Under the present treaty navy allowed the United States, there are needed a total of 1847 airplanes under 6,000 pounds and 218 over 6,000 pounds. Abolition of bombing would not affect these totals as the bombers removed would be replaced by planes of other types. Reduction of the treaty navy would cause a proportionate reduction of the planes carried on board vessels under 6,000 pounds but would not affect the number required of heavier types. It is evident that the 250 planes of the transport and flying boat types suggested in the Delegation’s despatch are barely adequate to cover naval needs, irrespective of the needs of the Army for these types.”
The War Department feels that no decision on this point should be made until the question of the abolishing of bombardment aviation has been disposed of.

The differences of viewpoint quoted above graphically illustrate the difficulties that you will undoubtedly run into if you try to include in your resolution anything but the broadest generalities. This is the type of problem that can be handled far more effectively in a small committee.

Section II, point F. We fear it will be necessary to omit this reference to limitation of expenditures, which was not included in the President’s proposal, and which goes far beyond anything we have agreed to or authorised. In view of your numerous recommendations we have given special and sympathetic consideration to this question but still believe that an acceptance of the principle would be impossible.

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Before finally agreeing to an extension of the armaments truce it would be necessary for us to know and approve the period of extension.

We appreciate that the fate of the Conference will probably depend in large measure on the events of the next 2 or 3 days, and look forward to your handling of a most difficult situation with complete confidence.

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