Memorandum Respecting Naval Conversations, October 7 to December 14, 1932 36


(1) London Conversations

Mr. Davis arrived in London from Geneva on October 7, 1932 with Admiral Hepburn and Mr. Dulles, and following conferences which Mr. Davis had with the Prime Minister, Sir John Simon and the First Lord of the Admiralty, it was arranged that Admiral Hepburn should get in touch with the appropriate officials of the Admiralty and that Mr. Craigie of the Foreign Office and Mr. Dulles should later join in the conversations. The details of these conversations as bearing upon an eventual Anglo-American agreement were reported fully by cable.—Hence this memorandum will deal chiefly with the bearing of the London conversations on the subsequent negotiations respecting a Franco-Italian accord. To complete the [Page 561]record, however, there is appended as Annex A,38 the Memorandum prepared as a result of conversations between Admiral Hepburn and Admiral Bellairs, of the British Admiralty, as a basis for the further exploration of Anglo-American naval questions but without commitment on either side. This Memorandum was also discussed at conferences attended by Mr. Craigie of the Foreign Office and Mr. Dulles, and was later considered informally at a meeting which Mr. Davis had with the Prime Minister, Mr. Baldwin and Sir John Simon.

In the course of our conversations with the British it became apparent that at this time, and in the absence of agreement with France and Italy, neither the members of the British Cabinet nor the Admiralty were prepared to commit themselves as to any further reductions in the number of cruisers and destroyers, and in this connection the paragraph in the above mentioned Memorandum regarding these classes had to be drafted as follows:39

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The British emphasized on several occasions that the figure for destroyers of 150,000 tons, accepted by them at the London Naval Conference as a final concession,40 was subject to their rights to “escalate” and should only bind them until 1936. They felt that in the light of existing French submarine and light cruiser strength they could not undertake to maintain their destroyer tonnage at this low level. They suggested that they might even find it necessary, prior to the end of 1936, to exercise their right to escalate by maintaining an excess amount of over-age tonnage in the destroyer class in order to hold their position vis-à-vis the French submarine tonnage. They therefore made it clear that at the present time and until the intentions of the French and Italians were known, they could not discuss reductions in either cruisers or destroyers. Their attitude in this regard became still more clear in the course of subsequent discussions which we had with them in Geneva during the consideration of a basis of agreement as between the French and Italians.

In these circumstances, and in the light of the Department’s instructions, it seemed futile to attempt to press the conversations with the British further. It was obvious that they were endeavoring to try to commit us with respect to the future size and gun caliber of capital ships while on their part they were unwilling to make any concessions as to their future policy regarding cruisers and destroyers. In [Page 562]order to protect our position, and following the instructions which we received from the Department, we made it quite clear to the British that we were not prepared to discuss the capital ship question alone and that any decisions with regard to this category must be reserved until we could see what could be done with regard to light cruisers and destroyers. They accepted this statement of our position with regret but agreed with us that in view of this situation, the best thing to do would be to try to find a basis which would permit the French and Italians to complete the London Treaty. Even at this stage of our discussions with the British it became apparent that they were contemplating the possibility of a long term agreement with the French and Italians as the only method of bringing the French down to a reasonable level, particularly in submarines.

During the course of the London discussions, Admiral Hepburn obtained useful technical information as to the views of the British Admiralty with regard to the type of battleship which they felt suited their needs and as to the tonnage required to mount adequately 12ʺ guns. This information was reported by cable and will be amplified by Admiral Hepburn to the Navy Department.

At least the London conversations served to allay what was a very real apprehension on the part of the British, namely, that we proposed at the present time to bring pressure to bear upon them to effect an immediate reduction in the number of battleships from 15 to 10. While maintaining the views in this regard which were set forth in the plan of President Hoover as presented to the Disarmament Conference, we pointed out that the naval section of this plan was a part of a general and all inclusive scheme for the reduction of armaments; that it had not been contemplated that the naval powers would alone be called upon, following the contributions made at the Washington and London Conferences, to reduce their naval strength, while the land powers did nothing along the lines of reduction.

On several occasions during our conversations with the British they emphasized that the radical reductions made by the Washington and London Treaties were not fully appreciated by the public. They felt that naval reduction had been pushed too far and too rapidly as a separate issue and that it was high time to turn attention to the limitation of other forms of armaments. The present naval levels were far below anything that could reasonably have been envisaged a few years ago, and, as regards Great Britain, inadequate to meet her present necessities. The inference was that they considered that the Hoover Proposal for further drastic and summary naval reduction was impractical, and, through its effect on the public mind, tended to exaggerate rather than diminish the difficulties of the situation.

[Page 563]

In this connection it should possibly be noted that we ran into a certain amount of bitterness on the part of certain British officials at the naval section of the President’s plan. They felt, and it was quite obvious that Mr. MacDonald shared this feeling, that after the reductions to which the British had consented at London, they should not be immediately called upon to make further drastic reductions. They stated in fact that they had received some assurances which gave them a basis for believing that the American Government would not press for further reductions prior to 1935. They urged with great earnestness that in the light of the situation in the Far East it would be folly for them to weaken their naval strength and that it was not in our interests that we should ask them to do this. They pointed out that if they were reduced from 15 to 10 battleships they would deprive themselves, for the future, of any possibility of maintaining an adequate force of capital ships in the Far East without reducing their European strength to a point which was to them unthinkable. They were obviously sincere in their statements and it was also clear that they were worried and apprehensive that the pressure of public opinion in England for disarmament might possibly force their hand to a point which would jeopardize mutual interests in the Far East. The conversations in London undoubtedly helped to relieve their anxiety on this point without at the same time weakening our position, namely that we desired to see further reductions of naval armaments.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

(5) Resumption of Geneva Conversations

Mr. Davis returned from Rome reaching Geneva on November 12th and in the week which followed there were a series of conversations with the French, Italian and the British with regard to naval matters. Mr. Craigie had meanwhile arrived from London and joined Admiral Bellairs in several conversations with Admiral Hepburn and Mr. Dulles. Admiral Hepburn also had conversations with the French and Italian representatives, some of which were attended by Mr. Dulles.

Our position in each instance was stated as follows: that completion of the London Treaty by the inclusion of France and Italy was a necessary preliminary to any further negotiation for a general agreement or a separate naval agreement of longer duration. With the new French Disarmament plan to be discussed, the conclusion of a general agreement was a matter of the indeterminate future. A naval conference in 1935 under present conditions as regards France and Italy presented obvious difficulties in the way of extension of that instrument and perhaps distinct threat of failure. Moreover, [Page 564]it would be impossible for us to consider possible changes of qualitative characteristics in any category except in connection with a general or long-term agreement. An early completion of the London Treaty accordingly would be not only the most important contribution to the cause of a general agreement but in the last analysis might be the only protection against complete failure of limitation as a whole. This view was apparently shared wholeheartedly by the French and Italians and provoked no opposition on the part of the British.

(6) Italian Position

It was early apparent that neither the Italians nor French were willing to resume conversations on the basis of the March 1931 accord. The Italian naval experts had formulated a proposal very similar to the tentative solution our analysis had suggested as simplest and most equitable. It was similar to that sketched to Mr. Davis in Rome, viz: First, capital ships and aircraft carriers being already covered by definite agreement need not be further considered at this time. (The Italians were quite frank about their desire not to have any reduction in the present size of capital ships. They would be willing to abolish capital ships, if submarines were also abolished, but the possibility of building 35,000 ton ships is their most powerful lever for securing a better ratio from France in other categories. France they feel is seriously but needlessly concerned about the menace of the German “pocket-battleship”.) Second, no further building in 8ʺ cruisers, in which category Franco-Italian parity exists. Third, an agreed building program in the combined category of 6ʺ cruisers and destroyers which should not be less for Italy than for France, maintaining for the short term of this agreement practically the present disparity. Fourth, old armored cruisers of each power to be classed as special ships not subject to replacement. Fifth, a reduction of French submarine tonnage beyond the figures contemplated in the March 1931 accord but not involving scrapping of under-age ships.

The Italian view was frankly and completely disclosed to us with detailed figures. It must be borne in mind that the present Italian attitude on parity centers on a proposal for equal building programs during a twenty-year period which would, of course, bring about parity. We emphasized our view that the parity dispute was a difficulty to be eliminated from a short-term agreement which contemplated that the building programs should be considered only on a basis of the present disparity, leaving the parity issue to disappear from the picture until the consideration of a general or long-term agreement can be undertaken.

[Page 565]

(7) French Position

The Italian proposal as above outlined was also presented to the British who asked time for consideration. While awaiting their reply, the French naval representatives asked for a conference which later developed into a general discussion of the principles which Admiral Hepburn proposed as a proper basis for the negotiations. On the broad aspects they showed themselves surprisingly accommodating, namely that new construction over the next few years should be kept to a minimum. With respect to the building program of light surface craft, we avoided mention of any specific figures but urged that it was of first importance to eliminate the parity issue for the time being and to avoid inclusion of any provision which could be interpreted as or twisted into recognition of an exact numerical ratio. We pointed out that the existing disparity between fleets was much greater than the French themselves would attempt to justify as vital to their naval security, that it would be physically and financially impossible for Italy to reduce this disparity within the short term agreement contemplated to a point where any military menace to France could be involved, and that no commitments beyond the term of the London Treaty were in question.

On the submarine issue it was pointed out to the French that this was not so much an element of Franco-Italian difficulty as an Anglo-French difficulty and consequently of very direct importance to the United States. It was suggested to the French experts that they study the question and make a proposal pointing out that it would of course be necessary to go further with reduction than was contemplated by the March 1931 Basis of Agreement. It was suggested that from the American point of view and without knowledge of what might prove satisfactory to other powers, the least measure that promised success would be substantial abandonment by France of their present building program and the scrapping of over-age vessels without replacement. They indicated that such a program would be difficult of acceptance by their ministry because of domestic political aspects and that some continuation of present building would be necessary because of dockyard considerations, but apparently concurred that for the short period in question the reduction in tonnage would not constitute a real naval menace. The French naval representatives shortly returned to Paris for consultation with their government.

Upon the return from Paris of Admiral Laborde and Captain Deleuze on Tuesday November 22nd Admiral Hepburn and Mr. Dulles had a long conference with them and they stated orally the principles which in the opinion of their Admiralty they could accept [Page 566]as a basis for the conclusion of any arrangement between themselves and the Italians. These oral statements were taken down at the time and reduced to headings for our own information as follows: (the French themselves did not see the memorandum nor did they then hand us any paper setting forth their views.)

Memorandum of Points Suggested by Admiral Laborde and Captain Deleuze in Conversation With Admiral Hepburn and Mr. Dulles

The following is a statement of the general principles which France might consider in connection with a short-term agreement to complete the London Naval Accord:

Continue construction under way and lay down construction covered by appropriations approved prior to September 22, 1932, as regards all categories of vessels.
No other construction beyond that contemplated in point 1 to be laid down prior to January 1, 1936.
In the calendar year 1936, the right to lay down either the construction to be provided for under a convention to be entered into in 1935 under the terms of the Washington and London Treaties or by general convention prior thereto; if no convention entered into, then authorization to lay down in 1936 the annual contingent on a pro-rata basis, taking the fleet strength communicated in the 1931 declaration to the League of Nations.
New construction should not permit the 1931 figure, i.e., 628, 000 tons, to be exceeded. That is to say, over-age tonnage should be scrapped upon new construction, to keep total tonnage down to this figure.
The question of the replacement of over-age ships retained in the fleet at the end of 1936 to be decided in 1935, or earlier, and no action at the present time should prejudice this question.

There should be a general safeguarding clause along the lines of the escalator clause of the London Treaty to cover possible constructions by Germany, Spain, or Russia, for example, but without citing any country. It is the situation of Germany which is particularly being considered as it is the French view that Germany should not exceed 108,000 tons and hence should not replace its reserve vessels, about which there is some dispute under the terms of the Versailles Treaty.

That evening the French naval representatives also saw Mr. Craigie and Admiral Bellairs and the next day on comparing notes we found that the statement of the French as made to the British substantially agreed with the memorandum which we ourselves had prepared.

It will be noted that the above memorandum of the French position fails to indicate what they would consider to be an equitable counterpart for Italy and in consultation with the British we decided that the next step would be to sound out the French as to what they felt [Page 567]the Italian building program should be in the light of their own statement as to the principles which should be applied to the French navy.

In consultation with Mr. Craigie and Admiral Bellairs, Admiral Hepburn and Mr. Dulles prepared a series of questions to be put to the French as follows:

France proposes to construct a capital ship of 26,500 tons. What is it proposed that Italy shall do?
France proposes to carry through the 1932 building program of approximately 34,000 tons. Italy has no corresponding program. Is it proposed that Italy have the same program?
What over-age tonnage is it proposed that France should retain on December 31, 1936?
How is it proposed to compute the pro rata building program for 1936? Is this to be pro-rated over the various categories?

It was also agreed with the British that we should join in bringing pressure to bear on the French to give up the building of the 11,000 tons of submarines which had only recently been laid down and on which very little construction had been done.

On November 23rd Admiral Hepburn and Mr. Dulles had a long conference with the French naval experts which was followed by a conference between the British and the French experts. The discussion started on the question of the respective building program for France and Italy. Admiral Laborde gave the following analysis of the situation:

First, as regards France;—starting from January 1, 1931 (which he took as a logical basis of departure for considering building programs) France had had for that year, namely, 1931, a program of 41, 700 tons which included the Dunkerque of 26,500 tons and two light cruisers of 7,600 tons. Then there was the 1932 program of 34,298 tons, which included four cruisers and two destroyers. The total of these two programs was 75,998 tons. Neither of these two programs included any submarines. They did include one capital ship, six Class B cruisers, one destroyer and one torpedo boat. Under the French proposal nothing further would be laid down until January 1, 1936.

Turning to the situation as regards Italy and starting from January 1, 1931, Admiral Laborde explained that as the Italian naval programs ran from July to July, it would be necessary, taking the same starting point of January 1, 1931, to include one-half of the 1930–1931 program. This program included 42,700 tons of new construction. One-half would therefore be 21,350 tons. Italy also had a, program for the year July 1931 to July 1932 of 14,714 tons, making a total Italian program of 36,064 tons, counting from January 1, 1931.

[Page 568]

A French building program of 75,000 tons, i.e., approximately what the French propose should be laid down for the period January 1, 1931 to January 1, 1936, would, on the basis of the present relative strength of the fleets, amount to approximately 50,000 tons for the Italian fleet. On this basis Italy should be allowed to build in addition to its existing programs, the difference between 36,000 tons and 50,000 tons, or about 14,000 tons. (In connection with the French complex about building programs, the rather fictitious character of their programs is worth noting. Their 1932 program is not yet started. It is largely a case of “paper ships” for trading purposes.)

It was obvious from the foregoing explanation that the French Admiralty desired that building programs should be on a ratio basis to maintain the existing disparity between the two fleets which, as a matter of principle, we appreciated was entirely unacceptable to the Italians, and it therefore seemed useless to press the discussion further along these lines, although we eventually induced them to admit the possibility that the Italians might have a building program for the future somewhat in excess of the 14,000 tons which their calculations had allotted them. It will be noted that the French were adhering tenaciously to their plan of enforcing a Franco-Italian ratio based upon the global tonnage of the two fleets, in which is included all the over-age ships. About 119,000 tons of French over-age tonnage is obsolete in design and within a few years will be of negligible military value unless extensive modernization is carried out. Italy, owing to extensive, and, as it turns out, premature scrapping after the Washington Treaty, finds herself with only about 33,000 tons of corresponding “trading material”.

We then asked the French what they proposed that Italy should do in view of the French construction of the Dunkerque, and they replied that if the Italians built a Dunkerque it should come out of the tonnage to be allotted to their building program and in that event, and assuming that the tonnage was applied to the construction of one battleship, they would be disposed to allow the Italians 26,500 tons, rather than the 14,000 tons suggested.

It will be noted from the foregoing that the French took the position that any short term agreement should run only to January 1, 1936, and not include the year 1936. It was obvious that they wished to retain their freedom of action for 1936 in case the conference held in 1935 or prior thereto failed to reach an agreement.

On the following day41 the French had a full conversation with the British and maintained substantially the position that they had taken in their conversations with us. In fact, so much time was spent and so little progress was made in debating the light cruiser construction [Page 569]programs, that it seemed futile to press the even more difficult issue of limiting their construction in submarines.

As a result of these conversations and following a full examination of the whole question with Mr. Craigie and Admiral Bellairs, the conclusion was reached that it was useless to hope for any voluntary concessions on the part of the French Admiralty and that if any agreement was to be obtained, it would have to be because the political authorities in France considered agreement desirable and were prepared to bring pressure upon the French Admiralty. We further concurred with the British that the only way of making progress was to agree among ourselves as to a basis which would be eminently fair to both the French and the Italians and acceptable to the British Admiralty and to ourselves and then to present it to both parties and at the same time to bring all possible pressure to bear upon the political branches of the two governments.

(8) British Position

During these days we had a series of conversations with the British which brought out several interesting facts. The British insisted that they could not view without apprehension an increase in French light cruiser and destroyer tonnage which would bring the tonnage of such ships built and building at the end of 1936 above 197,000 tons for the French and about 146,000 tons for the Italians. They said that they did not set those two figures as any fixed ratio between these two countries, nor did they base them upon a so-called “two power standard”. It was obvious that their interest in the amount of Italian light cruiser and destroyer building was entirely secondary to their interest in similar building on the part of France. On the basis of any program for light cruiser and destroyer building such as had been suggested by the Italians, namely 11,000 tons for the period 1933 through 1936, the dead lines suggested by the British would be exceeded by some 10,000 tons—that is to say, to keep within the figures which the British were willing to accept, light cruiser and destroyer building prior to December 31, 1936, could not exceed about 35,000 tons. The British stated that they were only interested in under-age tonnage and ships under construction. It will be noted however that in connection with the possibility of “escalating” they attach considerable value to over-age ships. We gathered the impression that the British view as to a permissible French building program in cruisers and destroyers underwent a subtle change during the course of the discussions. Whereas in the beginning they seemed very much concerned to keep new building to the lowest possible minimum,—and considerably less than 35,000 tons,—at the end they seemed to view this figure with an equanimity we could not understand. Possibly they would assent to an even higher figure.

[Page 570]

The British also showed great apprehension at the French submarine program and they said that they could not be a party to any agreement which maintained this tonnage at anything like its present figure and would have to reserve the right to “escalate” by retaining over-age destroyers unless the French submarine tonnage could be substantially reduced. These two points which were insisted upon by the British greatly complicated the negotiations with the French and Italians and during the last two weeks of our negotiations we found more difficulty in trying to find a solution satisfactory to the British than in finding something which might be satisfactory from the French and Italian angle. The British also were anxious to include the capital ship question in the Franco-Italian agreement. —Not that they desire to preclude either from building capital ships (it was quite obviously their tactics to get them to waste their money in this type of construction rather than in light ships or submarines) but probably because they were anxious to have France and Italy take the first step towards the reduction in the size of the battleship and caliber of guns. In this way the British felt that they would have an added argument when they came to negotiate with us. Realizing that this was their objective Admiral Hepburn was particularly careful in his conversations with the British, French and Italian naval men not to take any stand which could be construed as bringing pressure upon the French or Italians to construct any particular type of capital ship within the limitations allowed by the Washington and London Treaties.

In our conversations with the British, we also gave some consideration to the question as to the method of completing the London Treaty. It was obvious that the British desired to keep their hands on the situation and if possible to be a party to any arrangement between France and Italy. We raised no objection to this but pointed out that if France and Italy could reach an agreement between themselves which meant a substantial contraction of naval construction over what they had been indulging in during the past few years, it might be a good thing for them to conclude such an agreement even though the totals which they arrived at were not as low as we might hope. We emphasized that any such agreement would tend to help the negotiators at the 1935 conference. We further pointed out that it was difficult to secure drastic reduction over the short period involved but that such reductions would be a logical subject for consideration in connection with the long term agreement. The British argued that any acquiescence by them in an agreement which brought the French light cruiser and destroyer tonnage above the figure of 197,000 tons indicated above, or which maintained anything approaching their present submarine tonnage, would be impossible and [Page 571]they would reserve the right to escalate in either eventuality. We did not suggest in our conversations with the British that we proposed ourselves to be a party to any Franco-Italian agreement and rather implied that we felt it was unnecessary for us to be a party. This question, as well as the exact form which the Franco-Italian agreement might eventually take with a view to completing the London Treaty, was left open.

During the period of November 25th to December 2nd Mr. Davis and Mr. Dulles were in Paris and while conversations continued in Geneva between Admiral Hepburn and the other naval representatives there, further concrete steps were postponed pending their return. Mr. Dulles saw Admiral Laborde in Paris but the latter maintained views as to the Italian program over the next few years which were of a character to make any settlement out of the question and it seemed useless to carry forward the conversations in Paris with the French Admiralty officials.

(9) Preparation and Delivery of the Memorandum

Upon Mr. Davis’ return to Geneva on December 2nd and following a series of conversations with the British and the French a memorandum (Annex B)44 was prepared by Admiral Hepburn outlining the considerations, on the basis of principles rather than on the basis of specific tonnages, which should enter into any Franco-Italian settlement. Realizing that it was necessary to make a different approach and to lay more stress upon the political aspects of the question, Mr. Davis had a talk with M. Massigli and then handed him informally the memorandum prepared for Mr. Davis by Admiral Hepburn and asked him to give his views confidentially as to the prospects of agreement on the basis outlined. The following day M. Massigli handed to Mr. Davis a written statement of his views, the translation of which (Annex C)44 is appended hereto, but asked that Mr. Davis consider the memorandum as personal and confidential and not let it be known—particularly to the French Admiralty.

After a study of M. Massigli’s memorandum, which was conciliatory in tone, but not entirely consistent as between its statements of principle and the application thereof, there were several long conversations with the British and a memorandum was prepared which took account of certain of the obstacles which M. Massigli’s paper had suggested. This memorandum is included as Annex D44 and is the draft handed to M. Massigli and Signor Kosso by Mr. Hugh Wilson and Sir John Simon on December 14, 1932.

The memorandum proposed as a basis for settlement, for the period through 1936, that France and Italy complete the ratification of the [Page 572]“Parts” of the London Treaty which they had signed, that no further capital ships or aircraft carriers be laid down by France, Italy having the right under certain conditions to match the French Dunkerque now under construction; that no further 8” gun cruisers be laid down; that future building programs in light cruisers and destroyers be limited to approximately 34, 000 and 27, 000 tons for France and Italy, respectively; that no further submarine tonnage be laid down by either party, and that France cease construction on certain submarine units so as to limit her tonnage built and building to 70,000 tons. It will be noted that the British reserve judgment with respect to the paragraph in this memorandum relating to submarines on the theory that they could not accept, even for a short term agreement, the figure of 70,000 for the under-age submarine tonnage for France. The memorandum was submitted by the British representatives in Geneva to the Admiralty and was approved by them with the exception noted above, and it was discussed by telephone with the Department of State before being handed to the French and Italian representatives in Geneva.

In view of the fact that the Herriot Government had fallen on the morning of the 14th, it was decided that the handing of the memorandum should be informal so as to permit M. Massigli, the French representative in Geneva, to hold the memorandum, if he saw fit, until a new government had been formed and could give it consideration. It was necessary, however, to present the memorandum on the 14th if it was to be done before Mr. Davis’ departure for the United States and in view of his part in the negotiations it seemed wise that this be done. Another important reason for submitting the memorandum at that time was that Signor Rosso, the Italian representative in Geneva and the official most familiar with the matter, was leaving for Rome on December 15th, prior to his departure for the United States and his explanation of the negotiations and of the memorandum might have considerable influence on the Italian reaction to the proposal.

(10) Analysis of the Memorandum and of its Probable Reception

It may be appropriate, in conclusion, to refer briefly to the possible reaction of France and Italy to the memorandum. The effect of the proposal would be to reduce total French tonnage to approximately 628, 000 tons, built and building, by the end of 1936. This figure would probably not be unacceptable to France but it is likely that she will raise certain questions in case the negotiations are carried forward on the basis proposed. As far as one can judge by the course of our negotiations, France will insist that the agreement run only through 1935; that replacement, upon the completion of the [Page 573]present and prospective programs in light cruisers and destroyers, be permitted in either the over-age armored cruisers or in the overage light cruisers; that the figure for submarines built and building at the close of the period covered by the agreement be approximately 77, 000 rather than 70,000 tons in order to permit her to complete the submarines which are now under construction. With regard to Italy, the only substantial point of difficulty will probably lie in acceptance, even in the disguised form suggested, of a smaller building program in light cruisers and destroyers than France, that is to say, Italy would probably insist upon the right to lay down 34, 000 tons, rather than 27, 000 tons, during the period covered by the agreement. In the preparation of the memorandum it had seemed necessary to ask this concession of the Italians in light cruisers and destroyers in view of the cut which we were asking the French to take in the submarine class.

France will probably raise the point that a building program for light cruisers and destroyers of 34, 000 tons would be inadequate over a four-year period, and they would probably desire a program approximately 10,000 tons in excess of this figure if a four year period is involved. Our impression was that the Italians would welcome a very limited program, the smaller the better so long as it was equal to the French.

As will be noted from what we have said above, a building program on the part of France in excess of 35, 000 tons would bring the French tonnage in light cruisers and destroyers above the figure suggested to us as their limit by the British experts. As regards the French submarine tonnage the difficulty there lies more between the British and the French than between the French and the Italians, and the Italians might be willing to accept an undertaking on the part of France not to lay down any additional submarines during the period to be covered by the agreement. As stated above this would leave France in 1936 about 77,000 tons of submarines built and building, it being understood, of course, that they would be asked to scrap over-age tonnage. In case the Italians made this concession (which the British would certainly oppose) the Italians would probably assert the right to lay down additional submarines themselves so that their total under-age submarine tonnage built and building at the end of the period would be 52,700 tons. The foregoing are in the nature of surmises as to the probable French and Italian reactions on the technical side to the memorandum which we have presented to them.

The political difficulties in securing an agreement lie in the fact that France considers her large submarine tonnage and her over-age tonnage as valuable assets from the point of view of negotiating a [Page 574]long term agreement with the British, and it is difficult in an agreement as between the French and the Italians alone, to find any adequate quid pro quo in the eyes of the French for substantial concessions on their part. When it comes to negotiating a long term agreement, the French will undoubtedly desire, for reasons of prestige and even though they may not contemplate early construction, to have an adjustment in the capital ship and aircraft carrier ratio; and in return for this, and a satisfactory ratio as regards cruisers and destroyers, they would probably be prepared to make concessions in the submarine category, which they might be loath to make pending the consideration of the long term agreement. On several occasions the British suggested that it might be wise for them to start prompt negotiations with the French and Italians, with a view to working out a long term naval agreement between the three powers as a preliminary to the negotiations to be held in 1935, or earlier, with the Japanese and ourselves. They, of course, suggested that any agreement that they might work out with the French and the Italians should be conditional upon a satisfactory agreement with us and the Japanese. We opposed this idea, feeling that negotiations between England, France and Italy to which we would not be a party, might result in an agreement on figures for cruisers and destroyers which would be in excess of what we might desire and that this might only complicate our future efforts to secure reductions in these classes. Obviously, in the light of the Japanese naval proposals and the general situation in the Far East, it would be hopeless to attempt negotiations with the Japanese at the present time, and it seemed wise, therefore, despite the political and technical difficulties, to make every effort to secure an agreement between France and Italy, even though we recognized that there was some force in the British argument that until we could sit down and negotiate a long term agreement, it would be extremely difficult to secure concessions from the French as regards submarines and light cruisers.

The following additional annexes are appended to supplement this report:45

Confidential explanatory table handed us by the British showing the tonnage figures which would have resulted from the Basis of Agreement of March, 1931. (Annex E)
Letter from Admiral Bellairs to Admiral Hepburn communicating the British Admiralty figures for the British, French and Italian navies as of December 31, 1931. (Annex F)
Table of French naval tonnage which served as a basis for computations. (Annex G)
Similar table of Italian naval tonnages. (Annex H)

  1. Prepared by Norman H. Davis, Rear Admiral Arthur J. Hepburn, and Allen W. Dulles; copy transmitted to Mr. Stimson by Mr. Davis under covering letter of January 17, 1933. Copies of the memorandum were transmitted to Mr. Gibson at the General Disarmament Conference, to the American Embassies in France, Great Britain, and Italy, and to the Secretary of the Navy.
  2. The omitted portions of this memorandum relating to conversations in Paris, Geneva, and Rome are covered in preceding correspondence from Mr. Davis.
  3. Not printed; for contents, see telegram No. 301, October 19, 6 p.m., from the Ambassador in Great Britain, p. 531.
  4. Ante, p. 532.
  5. See article 16 of the treaty for the limitation and reduction of naval armament, Foreign Relations, 1930, vol. i, pp. 107, 121.
  6. November 24.
  7. Not printed.
  8. Not printed.
  9. Not printed.
  10. None printed.