500.A15A5/883a: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Bingham)22

223. As you are aware, the London Naval Treaty of 1936 provided for a reduction in the future caliber of guns on battleships from 16 inches to 14 inches, conditional upon acceptance by April 1, 1937, of this provision of the treaty by all of the powers parties to the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922. The Government of the United States has ratified the 1936 treaty, but the limitation to the 14-inch caliber of guns for battleships has not become effective, because the condition of a general agreement to that limitation before April 1, 1937, was not effected.

It now becomes necessary for this Government to decide what caliber of guns shall be mounted on the two new battleships for which appropriations have been made and on which construction has begun and also to determine what the caliber of guns shall be on additional battleships for the construction of which the President may soon ask Congress to appropriate the necessary funds.

The American Government, being sincerely committed to the principle of reduction of armament, has been and is quite willing to accept a limitation in caliber of guns to 14 inches, provided that the other principal Naval Powers are willing to agree to adopt and adhere to a similar limitation.

While the President would deplore the necessity of having to increase to 16 inches the caliber of guns to be mounted in this country’s new capital ships, he must soon make a decision, and may find it necessary to take such action, if the other principal Naval Powers are not willing to maintain a limitation of 14 inches.

The fact that one of the important points of agreement reached by the Powers who negotiated the London Naval Treaty of 1936, was [Page 631] to adopt the 14-inch gun caliber as a maximum, subject to adoption of that limitation by the other principal Naval Powers, gives rise to a sincere hope on the part of this Government that it may be possible to achieve at least this one phase of limitation for immediate and effective application and thus to remove an element of uncertainty and suspicion which is detrimental to the best interest of all of the powers concerned.

You therefore are requested to approach the British (French), (Italian), (Japanese) Government with a view to ascertaining whether they would be willing to maintain this one phase of naval limitation.

You may further state that this Government is at the same time making this enquiry and proposal to all of the Washington Treaty naval powers; and you should say that this Government would appreciate being given a reply before the 21st of this month.

  1. Sent also to the Ambassadors in France (No. 256), Italy (No. 95), and Japan (No. 75).