Memorandum by Mr. Henry L. Stimson

I have been shown the British memorandum of September 14, 1933, and Mr. Norman Davis’s telegram of September 19, 1933,15 both relating to the subject of our building of 6–inch cruisers of 10,000 tonnage.

The British memorandum, while frankly admitting our entire legal right under the Treaty to construct such vessels, states that according to the British records “Mr. Stimson, at a meeting with the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the First Lord of the Admiralty, Mr. Adams and Mr. Reed, on February 11, 1930, while explaining that his Government could not agree to accept a lower maximum displacement than 10,000 tons, said that ‘he thought that in practice it was very unlikely that the United States would actually build a 6–inch gun 10,000 ton cruiser’ “.

Mr. Norman Davis in his telegram reports that at a conversation with the Prime Minister16 the latter, while similarly admitting that there was no agreement with Mr. Stimson that the United States would not construct any such cruiser, said that I informed him that it was not our intention at that time to do so and intimating that the “spirit of our understanding” was that before building any new type vessel we would at least communicate with the British Government and talk over the matter with them.

It will be noticed that while these two statements both purport to record a verbal conversation and probably the same conversation, there is a quite material difference between them. The first treats my recollected statement as an expression of my own personal opinion as to a future act; the second, while reporting the same expression of opinion, goes further and rather vaguely intimates that there was some kind of assurance, moral or official, pledging us in certain events to communicate with the British Government in the future.

On September 21st of this year, when I was in London, the Prime Minister spoke to me on the same subject using, as I recollect it, somewhat the same language as that reported by Mr. Davis. I at once told him that I had no recollection of ever having made any such statement and that from the circumstances of the negotiations, as I recollected them, I could not have possibly intended to give any such assurance. He told me that the records had been looked up and that some British aide-mémoire had been discovered corroborating his recollection. By this he must have referred to the paper quoted in the British memorandum [Page 390]although, as I have above pointed out, this contains no suggestion that any assurance whatever as to our future conduct was given by us.

Since these papers have been brought to my attention, I have carefully examined the records of the Naval Conference including the American aide-mémoires of all the negotiations with the British on the subject of cruisers, including the meeting on February 11, 1930, and including also my own personal diaries. I find nothing in any way to substantiate, either directly or by inference, either the statement made by the Prime Minister or that contained in the British memorandum. On the contrary, I find that these records, as well as the circumstances surrounding the entire negotiations, make a directly contrary inference practically unavoidable.

It will be remembered that for many years the historic policy of the American Navy had been to build the largest possible type of ships with a maximum cruising radius. This policy was predicated on the fact that the United States, unlike Great Britain, possesses few coaling stations in distant parts of the world and her fleet must operate largely without the assistance of such stations. When the question of regulating by treaty the cruiser fleets of the two nations came up, there arose a sharp controversy between their respective policies, the British favoring a larger number of small cruisers and the Americans a smaller number of the maximum size of 10,000 tons, the size fixed by the Washington Treaty of 1922.17 Prior to the London Conference in 1930, the General Board of the American Navy had taken the position that the American cruiser fleet must contain at least twenty-three 8–inch gun cruisers of 10,000 tons each. Later during the negotiations between the two governments which took place in the summer of 1929, the General Board reduced its maximum to twenty-one such cruisers, while the maximum number which the British were willing to consent to on our part was eighteen of such cruisers to their fifteen.

With the negotiations in this situation the American delegation went to Europe. It soon became evident during the conferences that the best compromise from the standpoint of our interests which we could obtain from the other nations would be a treaty in which we were allowed eighteen of these 8-inch cruisers, the loss of the remaining three being compensated by a considerably larger tonnage in 6-inch cruisers. The discussion between the American delegation and its advisers was thorough and careful and resulted in the delegation becoming convinced that the loss of the three 10,000 ton 8-inch cruisers, which was an untried type of ship very lightly protected, would probably be amply compensated by the ability to substitute a larger number of 10,000 ton 6–inch cruisers with the greater protection [Page 391]which was made possible by the lighter weight of guns. Each class had equal cruising radius. This argument, which was based upon careful studies by our technical staff, was the means by which our delegation and practically all of our advisers were brought into a substantial unanimity on the terms finally embodied in the Treaty. We went so far as to have plans and calculations for such a 10,000 ton 6-inch cruiser made to assist us in our deliberations during the Conference. The practical availability of such a cruiser became one of the key points upon which our case rested both within our own membership and subsequently in the discussions before the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate. It was thus a subject upon which our minds were constantly focused and to which our attention was constantly directed. It was not a side issue but one of the central points of our case. It became our view that such cruisers would probably become a distinct and important part of a balanced fleet for the American Navy, and the attainment of such a balanced fleet by the Treaty for which we were working was our main objective.

Consequently, when during the negotiations the British delegation made an effort to obtain our consent to a limitation of the tonnage of all 6-inch cruisers to about 7,000 tons, it struck at one of the main points of our case and was instantly rejected. The right to build such a ship and to build it immediately (because the American cruiser fleet through ten years’ delay had fallen behind the cruiser fleets of both Britain and Japan) was a point upon which we felt that our success in obtaining a final ratification of our Treaty by the Senate would be in large part predicated. Therefore to surrender or limit it in any way was one of the last thoughts which could naturally enter our minds.

The account of these attempts by the British and our rejection of them is contained in the following extracts from our records:

On January 29th the subject was first raised by Mr. Craigie18 at a meeting in the Prime Minister’s office in the House of Commons at which the Prime Minister, Mr. Craigie, Captain Bellairs, Mr. Malcolm MacDonald and Mr. Hoyer Millar were present on the part of Great Britain; and Senator Reed, Mr. Marriner19 and I were present on the part of the United States. We were discussing a suggestion of the French for the amalgamation of the categories of destroyer and light cruiser with respect to the continental powers. Mr. Marriner’s record of the meeting says:

“Mr. Craigie said that this would mean that all surface craft under 7000 tons would be in one category. The Secretary immediately said [Page 392]‘Why the 7000 tons since the limit on the cruiser category has always been 10,000 tons’? Craigie stated that it was an Admiralty suggestion to keep down the tonnage of the light cruiser in view of the fact that there seemed to be a fact (tendency) always to build to the fullest permitted size in any type. Mr. Stimson said that this was the first he had ever heard of any such proposal and Craigie said he thought it had been mentioned in Washington, but apparently did not remember any mention of it, and Mr. Marriner confirmed Mr. Stimson’s recollection that the question had not been brought up during conversations in Washington. The Secretary said that any such proposal further to restrict the freedom in building in the cruiser category would cause great difficulties in adjusting the differences still remaining between Great Britain and the United States in the cruiser category, and the Prime Minister said he realized it and did not think the matter need be pressed.”

In my personal diary I find a confirmatory entry of Mr. Marriner’s memorandum as follows:

“(For the meeting at the House of Commons, see Marriner’s memorandum of January 30th). This brings out another proposition which we had to meet and throttle namely the proposition to limit 6–inch cruisers to about 7000 tons. Practically all other four nations wished this limitation. We had to stand out against them all.”

As to the meeting on February 11, 1930, at which the British memorandum says that I made the statement in question, the American memorandum contains no record whatever of any such statement. It shows that such a meeting took place at which the Prime Minister, Messrs. Henderson, Alexander20 and Craigie represented Great Britain; and Messrs. Stimson, Adams, Reed and Marriner represented the United States. The subject of the total tonnage of the American cruiser fleet was brought up and the Prime Minister reported that the British Admiralty objected to raising the figures for the total tonnage of American cruisers from 315,000 to 327,000 on the ground that “they (the British Admiralty) had accepted the original calculation of 315,000 on the basis of eighteen 8–inch cruisers for the United States.”

“Mr. Stimson replied that on the contrary our Navy had accepted that same figure on the basis of twenty-one 8–inch cruisers for the United States. Mr. Alexander said that the American figures apparently gave an equivalent value of 1.4 between the 8 and 6-inch gun ships whereas the Admiralty had figured out that equivalent value as 2.36. After some discussion of the whole question of equivalent values and the various indeterminate and constantly changing factors that enter into any of them, the matter was dropped with the general understanding that the United States could not recede from its figures”.

The foregoing memorandum was made by Mr. Marriner. In my own briefer diary memorandum I simply say: [Page 393]

“This was the time when we stood pat on the cruiser proposition but indicated that Rodney option would not be so heavily insisted on”.

Nowhere do I find any record of anything being said on that day in regard to a limitation of the unit tonnage of light cruisers.

On February 20, 1930, the subject of the limitation of 6-inch gun cruisers came up again at a meeting in the Prime Minister’s office at the House of Commons at which the Prime Minister and Messrs. Alexander and Craigie were present for Great Britain; and Senator Reed, Marriner and I for the United States. Marriner’s record says:

“With respect to a limitation on the unit size of 6-inch gun cruisers, Mr. Stimson said that the United States could not yield as this had been the means of obtaining Navy support for alteration from twenty-one to eighteen 8-inch gun cruisers. Mr. MacDonald said he fully understood the United States point in this matter but that his Admiralty were much disturbed by the question of the precedent for this type of large cruiser bearing 6-inch guns as he felt sure that France, Germany and Italy well desire to use their tonnage in the same manner. He added likewise that if Japan should do so it would disturb Australia. He said that any arrangement which could permit the United States to do so and put some restrictions on the programs of the others would be satisfactory to Great Britain, and it was hoped that some solution of this kind might be thought out.”

My own memorandum of the discussion for that day simply adopts Mr. Marriner’s memorandum without change.

On February 27th the British and American delegations reached what was practically their final agreement on figures between their two navies. The Prime Minister, Messrs. Alexander and Craigie represented Great Britain; Senator Reed, Marriner and I represented the United States. Mr. Marriner’s memorandum recites that I opened the conversation by saying:

“that the sole remaining point between Great Britain and the United States was the question of cruiser tonnage (total cruiser tonnage); that the battleship question had been settled by the United States abandoning its request for a replacement to match the Rodney on the understanding that modernization could take place on three additional battleships. …21 Mr. Stimson then said it was of course understood by the United States that Great Britain would not push its point with reference to a limitation on the unit size of 6-inch gun cruisers with respect to the United States, and the Prime Minister and the First Lord agreed, although they said that they would find it essential to attempt to impose some such limitation on both France and Japan.”

We then proceeded to split the total tonnage at 323,500 for the United States as compared to 339,000 for Great Britain. The memorandum recites that Mr. Alexander then consulted Admiral Madden by telephone and reported to us that Admiral Madden had [Page 394]

“said that if this settlement were politically expedient and satisfactory to the First Lord, he would raise no objection and he thought there was no reason to suppose that the Admiralty Board would hold out on such a small tonnage variation. Therefore it was decided that this last difference between the two countries had disappeared.”

My own memorandum for that day says, after referring to Marriner’s memorandum:

“On this day we finally reached agreement with the British on figures.”

The public hearings before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, to which the Treaty had been submitted for consideration, began on May 12, 1930, soon after the return of the American delegation from London. In my own statement made publicly before the Committee, I said (Senate hearings, p. 24):

“One of the reasons why the 6-inch cruisers of the past have been criticized has been that they have as a matter of history been rather smaller than the 10,000 ton 8-inch cruiser. The United States policy has always been felt to require a large cruising radius. We opposed successfully any restriction of the tonnage of even the 6-inch cruiser, and at the present time I am talking about the Unit tonnage of each ship. Therefore we are perfectly free to build 10,000 ton 6–inch cruisers with the full cruising radius of the 10,000 ton 8-inch cruisers if we choose to do so.”

Again on page 38 of the same record, in answer to questions from Senator Johnson, I pointed out that in the proposed treaty the American delegation was seeking “to provide for a balanced navy” as distinguished from a navy which had grown up by haphazard in respect to the relation of its various categories of ships. I pointed out that “there had been no cruiser construction (by the United States) for nearly ten years and the fleet was unbalanced in regard to cruisers.” I thus clearly indicated that, if the United States Government proposed to reach the possession of a balanced navy, it was our view that they must build up to the Treaty limits without delay.

Finally, while the ratification of the Treaty was pending in the Senate, question was raised by certain senators opposing ratification as to whether the Senate had received full information as to all the incidents of the negotiation and on the 6th day of June, 1930, I sent through Senator Borah, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, a formal statement containing the following final sentences:

“The question whether this Treaty is or is not in the interest of the United States and should or should not be ratified by the Senate must in the last event be determined from the language of the document itself and not from extraneous matter. There have been no concealed understandings in this matter nor are there any commitments whatever except as appear in the Treaty itself and the interpretative exchange [Page 395]of notes recently suggested by your Committee, all of which are now in the hands of the Senate.”

I have gone into this matter at such length and in such detail because I feel very deeply the importance of the frank and friendly relations which were established between the British and American governments throughout the negotiation of this Treaty. I am confident that a perusal of the foregoing excerpts from the records, which I believe are all that in any way bear upon this matter, will convince you, as it has me, that there was nothing said or done by any member of the American delegation which could in any way justify the British suggestion for suspending the laying down of the 10,000 ton 6-inch gun cruisers.

Henry L. Stimson
  1. Telegram not printed.
  2. J. Ramsay MacDonald.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1922, vol. i, p. 247.
  4. Robert Craigie, Counselor, British Foreign Office.
  5. James Theodore Marriner, Adviser, American delegation to the London Naval Conference.
  6. Albert V. Alexander, First Lord of the British Admiralty.
  7. Omission indicated in the original.