711.00111 Armament Control/Military Secrets/1117

Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of European Affairs (Moffat)

The Soviet Ambassador came to see me today. He said that he had been talking with the Secretary about the construction of a Russian battleship in this country and that the Secretary had asked him to come and talk the matter over with me. I remarked that Mr. Green had been handling the matter; he said, “yes, in its technical phases,” but what he wanted to discuss with me was the relationship of the ship in size to our treaty obligations.

The Ambassador said that Mr. Gibbs had never yet shown the Soviet authorities the plans for the ship which he had drawn up, nor had he even told them the size. The Ambassador believed, however, that it was very much larger than any battleship now afloat, maybe about 55,000 or even 60,000 tons. Would the construction in this country of a ship of this size involve us in difficulties, either by conflicting with treaty obligations or by running counter to our policy? The Secretary had implied that we would not view with favor the creation of a new ship which might start off a new naval race.

As far as Russia’s treaty obligations were concerned there was no reason against her building a ship of this size. Obligations assumed vis-à-vis Great Britain only limited her in ships to be used in the [Page 688] Atlantic Ocean. Would it be counter to our treaty obligations to build such a ship for Russia, and if so what were our obligations?

I told the Ambassador that under the London Treaty of 1936, no vessel exceeding treaty limits should be constructed within the jurisdiction of any High Contracting Party. The limit of size, until recently, had been 35,000 tons. As a result of certain correspondence with Japan it had been necessary to escalate and the new upper limit for capital ships had not been conclusively set. Let us assume for the sake of argument that it would be set at or near 45,000 tons; if so we would not be in a position to build ships for any government of over that size.

In that case, the Ambassador asked, would there be objection to our selling the Soviet Government plans for a larger ship to be constructed elsewhere, either on its own or by putting together prefabricated parts. I told him that I could not answer that question off hand but my impression was that we hoped all the powers in the world would observe the maxima agreed to under the London treaty.

The Ambassador then asked whether there were any other difficulties standing in the way of construction for Russia of large modern ships. In particular, were there any political difficulties? I replied that as far as I knew there were none and that I thought the idea had been given approval in high quarters. The Ambassador said, “yes,” but nonetheless the Bethlehem Corporation seemed to want a still more active blessing from the Government than we had yet been willing to give. I told him that this phase of the question fell entirely within the province of Mr. Green, and not myself, but that my impression was that we had made it very clear that we saw no objection at all to the construction in this country of large modern ships for the Soviet Government.

The Ambassador said that they were really more interested in large modern ships than they were in building a new “colossus”. Some of the naval authorities in this country had seemed to favor building a colossus, presumably in the belief that in case of need they could seize the ship, against compensation, and use it in the American Navy. I said then that if I understood the Ambassador right, the Russians would be satisfied in building one or two ships of treaty maximum in this country which were up-to-date and modern. He replied, “probably yes,” but even so if there were a chance to build a still larger ship they would prefer it.

The Ambassador said that he would return in three or four days to discuss this matter further with the Secretary of State after we had had time to think it through a little more.

Pierrepont Moffat