711.00111 Armament Control/Military Secrets/1067

Memoranda by the Chief of the Office of Arms and Munitions Control ( Green )

Mr. William Francis Gibbs, of Gibbs and Cox, Incorporated, naval architects of New York City, called at my office this afternoon. He spoke at some length of his negotiations with the Carp Export and Import Corporation, which has been attempting to purchase from him plans for a battleship to be constructed in this country for the U.S.S.R., and he described briefly the plans which he has prepared and which he showed some time ago to the President and to Mr. Edison, Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He explained that his reluctance to enter into a contract with Carp was due (1) to the fact that he did not feel that he had as yet been officially informed in sufficiently definite language that the proposed transaction was not contrary to the policy of the Government; (2) to the fact that some subordinate officers [Page 681] in the Navy Department had expressed themselves as opposed to the proposal of the transaction so that he feared that they might make difficulties for him and for the shipbuilders if an attempt were made to carry it out and (3) to the fact that he interpreted a remark made to him by the President to imply that this Government might wish to use the plans, which he had prepared, to construct a battleship for the United States Navy, in which case it would be obviously improper for him to consider selling them to agents of the U.S.S.R. He said that the plans, which he had prepared, were revolutionary—that they would revolutionize the construction of battleships and, consequently, of naval tactics. He explained that the battleship, which he had designed, would exceed by 15,000 tons or so any battleship now in existence.

Mr. Gibbs said that he had just come from Admiral Leahy’s office where he had discussed the proposed construction of a battleship for the U.S.S.R. at length with the Admiral. He did not inform me in any detail of his conversation with the Admiral but he did say that, although the Admiral had expressed no objection to the proposed transaction, he had not been able to elicit from him any positive statement that this Government considered that it would be of definite advantage to the United States to have such a battleship as was contemplated constructed in this country for the U.S.S.R. He, apparently, hoped to elicit such a statement from me, perhaps accompanied by a definite request that he proceed with the proposed contract with Carp.

I explained to Mr. Gibbs that I did not feel that any officer of the Government could properly urge any American citizen to enter into any particular commercial transaction. In order to clarify the attitude of the Government toward the proposed transaction, I read him paragraphs from several letters addressed within the last year to him and to shipbuilding companies in which that attitude was set forth. I suggested that, if he desired to proceed with the business, he follow the established procedure for dealing with such matters and that he send me his plans with an accompanying letter requesting me to ascertain whether or not they involved any military secrets of interest to the National Defense. I explained that the plans would then be transmitted to the Navy Department in order that experts of that Department might examine them and that the reply which he would eventually receive from this Department would be based upon the findings of the Navy Department. I added that, in order to clear up any possible misunderstandings, he might wish to ask in his covering letter (1) whether this Government had any objection whatever to the proposed transaction and (2) whether this Government desired to acquire the plans for its own use.

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Mr. Gibbs did not state definitely that he would follow my suggestion but he left me with the impression that he would do so.

I called Admiral Leahy by telephone this morning and told him of my conversation with Mr. Gibbs.

The Admiral said that Mr. Gibbs had shown him his plans yesterday afternoon and that he had been greatly impressed by them. He was surprised to find that Mr. Gibbs had done so much work on the project and that the plans were sufficiently complete to constitute what the Navy calls “contract plans”. He said that the battleship would be about 60,000 tons—nearly twice as big and half again as powerful as any war vessel afloat—and that it would contain many novel and extremely interesting features. He added that, if an emergency should arise during the construction of such a battleship in this country, the Navy might find it extremely advantageous to take the ship over for its own use.

The Admiral said that Mr. Gibbs had again attempted to get him to make some positive statement to the effect that the Navy Department desired him to submit his plans for inspection and, if they were found to be unobjectionable on the grounds of military secrecy, to sell them to Carp and to proceed with the construction of the ship. He had, however, explained to Mr. Gibbs that he could not request him to enter into the proposed transaction on the ground that it would be of positive benefit to this Government. He merely reiterated the statements as to the attitude of this Government toward the proposed transaction and the procedure which should be followed which have been so frequently made by both this Department and the Navy Department.

The Admiral said that he also had gained the definite impression that Mr. Gibbs now intended to submit his plans for examination. He said that, if they were submitted, they would be carefully examined by officers of his Department to ascertain whether any military secrets were involved. He said that he supposed that this Department, before giving a definite reply to Mr. Gibbs, would wish to consider the matter carefully in the light of pending negotiations relating to the maximum tonnage of battleships. He felt that there was no objection to permitting a 60,000-ton battleship to be constructed in this country but that that was a matter on which the final decision must rest entirely with the Department of State. He added that he was pleased that this matter, which had caused both Departments so much annoyance, now seemed to be entering upon a more satisfactory phase.

Joseph C. Green