Memorandum by Mr. Noel H. Field of the Division of Western European Affairs


The Honorable Norman H. Davis
Mr. James C. Dunn47 Admiral William H. Standley
Mr. Stanley K. Hornbeck Admiral J. W. Greenslade
Mr. Noel H. Field Lieut. Arthur D. Ayrault
Mr. Samuel Reber48

The meeting was convened at the request of Mr. Davis with a view to considering next steps in dealing with the problem of naval limitation, particularly in the light of recent reports from our Embassy at London indicating that the British Government was thinking of calling a naval conference some time this fall, probably in October.

Mr. Davis pointed out the importance of our clearing up with the British the principal existing differences between us, before entering a further naval conference. The two main points which will have to be considered in the light of Great Britain’s position are (1) the problem of qualitative limitation—shall the status quo be continued, or shall there be a change in qualitative limits; (2) increase in British cruiser tonnage—can this be achieved through retention of overage tonnage, and what compensation should the United States ask for?

Admiral Standley agreed that these were the two principal problems and stated that he had already ordered the making of a number of studies in the Navy Department with a view to determining potentialities and that he hoped to have the General Board’s approval thereof within the near future. Admiral Standley added that he personally was sympathetic to the British demand for more cruisers and he would be prepared to recommend that we increase our own cruiser tonnage in compensation, although we might also ask for an [Page 86] increase in aircraft carrier tonnage. Apparently it was Admiral Standley’s view that the United States should have the right to match British overage tonnage by the right to increase its underage tonnage. Mr. Davis thought that to increase our aircraft carrier tonnage might cause difficulties and that it would be better to confine the compensatory allowance to the cruiser tonnage. Admiral Standley indicated assent.

Mr. Davis and Admiral Standley agreed that there are no insuperable difficulties to our achieving agreement with Great Britain on the question of qualitative limitation and of increased cruiser tonnage. They also agreed as to the desirability of letting the British Government know as soon as possible that we feel the two Governments should informally thresh out these questions between themselves before a date for a future conference is fixed. Various possible ways of carrying on these interchanges without deleterious publicity were considered and Admiral Standley’s suggestion of communicating this Government’s detailed views to our Naval Attaché at London with a view to his entering into technical discussions with Captain Danckwerts of the Admiralty, was finally viewed as most likely to meet the ends desired. Admiral Standley said he would expedite the studies now being carried on in the Navy Department and that he might be able to prepare a letter embodying the Navy Department’s views within a week or ten days.

Some of the points brought out in the course of the discussion relating to concrete technical possibilities may be summarized briefly as follows:

On the question of capital ships, it was agreed that we would probably experience no great difficulty. None of the Powers concerned has any definite knowledge as to the type of capital ship best suited to its needs and it should therefore be possible to postpone the issue of unit tonnages and gun calibers until the actual construction of a new capital ship as a sample type had demonstrated concrete requirements and possibilities. Nevertheless, Admiral Standley was of the opinion that the United States, if the other Powers insisted, could not well avoid agreeing to the 14 inch gun, and that such a limitation might ultimately be acceptable to us.
On the question of 8 inch gun cruisers, Admiral Standley pointed out that this will not in any case be an urgent question in the near future, since this type is of recent construction and, as long as the total tonnage in this sub-category is not increased, there will in any case be no new construction therein for a number of years.
As regards overage tonnage, Admiral Standley said that, while some of our overage tonnage would not be worth retaining, a considerable proportion of our overage destroyer and submarine tonnage [Page 87] might well be kept if the requirements for scrapping were abandoned. From an examination of the Navy Department’s tables, it appeared that the British, in addition to the four Hawkins type cruisers, would have some 12 overage cruisers by 1942. Japan, on the other hand, would have very little overage tonnage, and the great problem would be to enable Japan to keep her ship yards in operation. Admiral Standley thought it might be possible to arrange for a temporary period, pending a new limitation conference, during which each Power would be permitted to build a certain amount for the primary purpose not of increasing its tonnage but of providing a minimum amount of work for the navy yards.

In Admiral Standley’s opinion, one of the principal reasons for Japan’s refusal to continue the Naval Treaties is her need for keeping her yards in operation, a need with which Admiral Standley could well sympathize.

  1. Chief of the Division of Western European Affairs.
  2. Second Secretary of Legation in Switzerland, and secretary of the American delegation at the preliminary naval conversations.