500.A15A4 Naval Armaments/161: Telegram

The Chargé in Italy (Kirk) to the Secretary of State

104. From Davis. Referring to my 101, November 8, 3 p.m. There are several general and technical questions which I should like to clear up with you in connection with your cable 231, November 4, 6 p.m.

Based upon Hepburn’s analysis our understanding is as follows:

First. As regards reduction in gun caliber. American public interest centers on large displacement as necessary to adequate cruising radius. Our insistence upon 16-inch guns has become attached to this idea without an equally sound supporting reason. When it is known that 12-inch guns have maximum practical battle range as well as ample effectiveness against next inferior category mounting 8-inch guns, no reasonable objection can be raised to meeting British on this ground provided our interest in cruising radius is safeguarded. It is obvious that a reduction in gun caliber allows a reduction in displacement. Even with 14-inch and 16-inch guns and complete freedom of design we have no 35,000 tons ships, and no 12-inch gun ship as large as 28,000 tons was ever laid down. If we need more than 25,000 tons in order to construct ships United States equivalent armament and adequate radius and if British and others are willing to meet this requirement as is believed likely an equitable settlement of capital ship replacement problem is clearly indicated.

Moreover, we have in fact contended for two other principles as basic to any voluntary agreement for limitation which are manifestly satisfied by a solution of the problem as above suggested viz, first, that armament needs are primarily relative and, second, that individual needs for number or size can best be met by freedom [Page 557]of design within the qualitative restrictions of any category. Assuming an agreement of the nature indicated it can be said that British have met us on these contentions. Within the reduced capital ship tonnage each nation would build type and number of ships that suits its needs and neither would give up any basic military principles for which it has in the past contended as an individual necessity.

Second. As regards aircraft carriers and submarines, British proposals present no great difficulty. Main problem will be in reconciling views as to tonnage in cruiser and destroyer categories and here British assert, their figures are influenced by demands of France and Italy.

Third. As regards laying up ships without demilitarization instead of scrapping. While realizing the problems involved, I trust that further thought can be given to this possibility. It would accomplish comparable and perhaps even quicker results than scrapping in the line of budgetary saving as emphasized in the Hoover plan. Furthermore, if reduction in capital ship gun caliber is duly complied with laying up might furnish a bridge between British position and our own in this category as it would permit maintenance of numbers during the period of replacement and gradual reduction to lower total tonnage.

As London memorandum is a replacement proposition, no new ships would be laid down for three years or completed within about seven. If immediate scrapping of five capital ships were insisted upon, the British would claim that their need for numbers remains unsatisfied during these seven years and it is precisely during this period that any important military consideration has maximum weight rather than in the future when the beneficial effect of an agreement may be assumed to be more confidently accepted. The method would also maintain the present material equilibrium during the transition period.

The concern of the Navy Department about personnel in connection with laying up ships is fully appreciated. It seems to us that our particular problem in personnel arising from our extensive building program will exist in only slightly different degree whether ships are laid up or scrapped. The difficulty of suddenly recommissioning laid up ships would be common to all parties. It would be our effort to prevent any question about personnel becoming attached to or involved in a plan for laying up ships. [Davis.]

Kirk