500.A15A4 Naval Armaments/143: Telegram

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

301. From Davis. I have had fairly satisfactory preliminary talks this week on disarmament matters with both MacDonald and Baldwin and MacDonald informed me yesterday that he now wants to arrange shortly for a meeting in which he, Baldwin, Simon and myself may talk over fully the question of a naval agreement and also what should be done to promote the success of general disarmament. Meanwhile I thought it would be well to explore the possibilities of agreement on technical questions and Hepburn and Dulles have been holding informal conversations with the Admiralty and Foreign Office. They pointed out that Hoover proposals involve no technical considerations not already thoroughly familiar to both governments whereas British proposals introduce some technical changes which have not been mutually explored in all their possible ramifications. With a view to bringing the British proposals into [Page 532] clearer focus it was decided to prepare a memorandum embodying in concrete terms such possibilities as it might seem useful to discuss in attempting to harmonize the two positions, with the definite understanding that no commitment by either party was involved in any point set forth. This memorandum is quoted below. I purposely refrained from having any direct part in these conversations as it seemed wise that I keep free from the technical discussions in order to be in a better position to take up questions of principle with MacDonald, Baldwin, Simon and others.

The memorandum, which relates only to new or replacement construction, follows:

Capital ships: maximum number 15–15–9. Maximum displacement 28, 000 tons. Aggregate tonnage not to exceed 390,000 tons. Maximum gun calibre 12-inch. To come into being as replacements of existing ships. Life 26 years. Special replacement table for the transition period.

Alternative suggestion: maximum number 15–15–9. Maximum displacement 30,000 tons. Aggregate tonnage not to exceed 412, 000 tons. Maximum gun calibre 12-inch. To come into being as replacements of existing ships. Life 26 years. Special replacement table for the transition period.

Air carriers: Maximum displacement 22, 000 tons. Maximum gun calibre 6.1-inch. No restriction on number. Total tonnage about 105, 000 tons. Adjustment to be made for existing ships.

Cruisers and destroyers: It was suggested that we defer for the moment detailed consideration of the proposals respecting cruisers and destroyers put forward by the two governments in June and July of this year. These categories are global in the case of France and Italy and the total tonnage which each may construct is not now limited by treaty. Hence further steps regarding these classes of vessels can hardly be taken until a more accurate estimate is obtained of what may be achieved in reconciling the views of Great Britain, France and Italy. Further, the destroyer category would be subject to reconsideration in the light of action taken regarding submarines.

Submarines: Agreement upon abolition but if this cannot be achieved then: Total tonnage to be brought to the lowest figure upon which agreement can be reached with other principal naval powers.

Submarines to be limited by number as well as by aggregate tonnage.”

Hepburn, Dulles comment on memorandum as follows:

If we can accept the 12-inch gun calibre there should be no serious obstacle to the working out of a replacement program as between the American and British capital ship strength which will represent a substantial tonnage reduction over that of the Washington and London treaties.13 The British would accept a total capital ship tonnage of 375, 000 tons, i. e. 15 ships of 25, 000 tons each but we held [Page 533] out for the possibility of a higher unit tonnage. Under the first plan if we constructed 15 capital ships the unit tonnage would be 26, 000 tons. If we desired a larger unit tonnage we could construct 14 ships of approximately 28, 000 tons. The alternative plan permits ships of approximately 27, 500 tons, or if we desired a uniform unit tonnage of about 19, 000 tons we could then construct 21 ships, British state that on 25, 000 tons displacement they contemplate mounting 8 guns in 4 double turrets.

The aircraft carrier suggestions require no comment except the reference to adjustment for existing ships. Under this provision it is understood that the Lexington and Saratoga would be rerated below their actual tonnage although no definite figure was named, the idea being to permit the construction within the allowed tonnage of at least two carriers additional to [Ranger?] and aggregating about 36, 000 tons.

Regarding cruisers the Admiralty and Foreign Office state that any present reduction of their numbers is impossible and in fact they estimate that in connection with any revision of the London Treaty they would wish to provide for about 40,000 additional tons. They are, of course, prepared to reduce size of replacement cruisers and gun calibre as suggested in their original proposal but we said it was useless to discuss this question which was academic at the moment because of the number of large 8-inch gun cruisers which would not be subject to replacement for many years to come. We took up in formally the suggestions discussed with you before our departure, namely, limiting 8-inch gun vessels to those already laid down with freedom to use balance of tonnage for 6-inch gun vessels up to unit size of 10,000 tons and certain additional tonnage to be allocated in the event that cruisers less than 7, 000 tons are constructed. This formula to be applied only in connection with a reduction of total cruiser tonnage. British found this suggestion interesting but were very apprehensive of complications that might result. Particularly if same privilege were extended to France and Italy they foresaw an outcome which they could not accept.

Regarding destroyers: They point out that prior to the London treaty we had agreed with them at the Rapidan14 on 200,000 tons in this class and that cut to 150,000 tons in London treaty goes far below what Admiralty wants. They feel that even a considerable reduction in submarine tonnage of others would not substantially change their patrolling needs but that the matter could be reconsidered if submarines totally abolished. In contrast with present Japanese position in destroyer class they would certainly be the first to reject any cut in their present allotment.

In working on the above memorandum we had constantly in mind the effect upon the Japanese, French and Italians. Craigie seems confident that reduction in capital ship gun calibre to 12-inch would facilitate agreement with French and Italians and would not be rejected by the Japanese although they might initially press for 14-inch calibre and 25, 000-ton maximum displacement. He stated the [Page 534] Japanese Ambassador had advised the Foreign Office and authorized the Foreign Office to tell us that Japanese were prepared to accept reduction in cruiser replacement tonnage to 8, 000 tons for 8-inch gun ships and to 6, 000 tons for 6-inch gun ships. This, of course, is not satisfactory from our point of view.

The possibility of our refraining from constructing the last three 8-inch cruisers was not discussed except as indicated above since we understood that this could only be considered in connection with real reduction of British cruiser strength which so far they have refused to envisage.

The British have not formally committed themselves to the memorandum and we did not ask this since we wished to assume no commitment ourselves. We believe, however, that agreement could be reached on the basis of the memorandum. While no immediate scrapping is involved the eventual tonnage and gun calibre reductions in the capital ship class are equivalent to the dropping off of three or four ships in the effect upon the cost of new construction and maintenance. The aircraft carrier and submarine suggestions go substantially as far as the President’s proposal.

With regard to cruisers and destroyers the way is left open to future consideration of substantial cuts and the formula suggested in the memorandum has been drafted with an eye to bringing discreet pressure to bear on France and Italy to come into the London treaty. End of comment by Hepburn and Dulles.

I am sending you a separate cable as to future procedure. [Davis.]

  1. Foreign Relations, 1922, vol. i, p. 247; ibid., 1930, vol. i, p. 107.
  2. In the memorandum by President Hoover dated October 6, 1929, 190,000 tons was agreed upon as the maximum tonnage for destroyers. ( Foreign Relations, 1929, vol. iii, p. 14.)