The Minister in Switzerland (Wilson) to the Secretary of State

No. 128

Sir: I have the honor to report that Admiral Bellairs,11 who accompanied the British Delegation to the Assembly, called on me today to give me an account of the British conversations with the [Page 109] Continental Naval Powers in respect to aligning those Powers with the British naval strength, with the ultimate expectation of gaining general agreement to the London 1936 Naval Treaty.

I append hereto a memorandum of the conversation prepared by Mr. Reber.12

Respectfully yours,

Hugh R. Wilson

Memorandum by Mr. Samuel Reber of a Conversation Between the Minister in Switzerland (Wilson) and Admiral Bellairs, October 2, 1936

Admiral Bellairs called to explain recent developments in the British bi-lateral naval conversations with Russia, Germany and the Scandinavian Powers. He stated that the principal technical difficulty which had arisen in connection with the Russian agreement, a copy of which had been furnished Washington,13 related to the construction of cruisers carrying guns of more than 6 inches in calibre. The Russians had designs and material for the construction of ten 7.1-inch cruisers. Should they complete this number of heavily armed cruisers, the Germans would not be content to keep their total of large cruisers down to three, but would revert to their previous demand for five of these vessels. This in turn would cause the French to insist upon the construction of new cruisers above their present total of seven, thus destroying the efficacy of any holiday in the construction of these vessels. Following the Montreux conversations,14 the Russians, however seemed disposed to accept a limitation of seven large cruisers and the British have reason to believe that this will be acceptable to the Germans, who will not therefore demand more than three 8-inch cruisers. He hoped therefore that the French would be content with seven under these conditions.

Bellairs added that of course this information should be regarded as purely tentative and confidential, as no final agreement had been reached. He was, however, hopeful as to the possibilities of shortly concluding a definite accord on these terms.

The other remaining technical difficulty as regards the Russians was in connection with the construction of two capital ships of 15-inch guns, but he felt that this would not give rise to any serious complication.

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The conversations held with representatives of the Scandinavian Powers had been most satisfactory but no agreement had been concluded, as their representatives had returned to their respective countries for consultation with their governments. The only issue still remaining unsettled was the question of the construction of one or two coast defense vessels by Sweden which might fall within the “zone of non-construction.” Bellairs said that his Government was convinced however that this could be arranged, possibly by an exchange of notes between the Naval Powers.

Conversations have also been going on with the Poles who have indicated their general acceptance of the principles of the London Naval Treaty of 1936.

Thus the two principal naval questions still unsolved were those of Italy and Japan. Bellairs said that every effort would be made during the Locarno conversations to persuade the Italians to adhere to the London Naval Treaty of 1936. He reiterated the British understanding that the Italian objections were entirely political and not technical and might be met in these discussions.

In so far as the Japanese were concerned, Bellairs had no information regarding their attitude save what was generally made public during the summer. He wondered whether it would be possible to obtain any prior assurances from the Japanese as to their intentions concerning the calibre of guns to be placed on future capital ships.

Bellairs continued that the British were turning over in their minds how these various bi-lateral agreements could be co-ordinated into a whole, but stated that until the technical questions had all been solved they had no specific ideas on this subject.

Samuel Reber
  1. Rear Adm. R. M. Bellairs, British naval representative on the Permanent Advisory Committee of the League of Nations.
  2. Samuel Reber, Second Secretary of the American Embassy in Italy, temporarily at Geneva; Mr. Reber had been technical assistant for the Department of State at the Naval Conference.
  3. See passage numbered 5, of instruction No. 1442, September 29, to the Ambassador in the United Kingdom, p. 140.
  4. See vol. iii, pp. 503 ff.