Memorandum by the Assistant Chief of the Division of European Affairs (Hickerson)
Sir Owen Chalkley, Commercial Counselor of the British Embassy, called at the Department of State today at my request and I informed him as follows:
Sir Owen would recall that on June 30, 1939, he had conferred with certain American officials at the United States Maritime Commission [Page 301] concerning the possibility of merchant shipbuilding being carried out for the British Government in American shipyards during the early stages of a major war. Sir Owen had also inquired concerning the extent to which existing facilities of United States yards are now in full use, and the extent to which United States yards are capable of expansion to meet exceptional demands. These questions are under consideration and it is expected that at a later date replies can be given.
During this conversation the question was also raised of the possibilities of there being made available for sale to the British Government vessels owned by the Maritime Commission in its Laid-up Fleet, and the periods of time and expenditures which would be required in getting the Laid-up Fleet ready to go to sea. As regards the availability of the present Laid-up Fleet of the Maritime Commission for the purpose above stated, no categorical statement could be given at this time in the absence of approval by the interested officials of the American Government, which would of course be a prerequisite to a definite commitment. The Maritime Commission has, however, assembled the figures in respect to the status of each vessel in the Laid-up Fleet; these figures give the type, size and speed of the various vessels in the Fleet, the amount of time and expenditures required to place each one in seaworthy condition, with the added information as to the amount of time and expenditures involved in meeting present American safety at sea and crews’ quarters laws. The amounts of expenditures for practicable increases in speed are also shown. I handed Sir Owen this table of figures prepared by the Maritime Commission.
It should be borne in mind that these estimates, particularly as to time and cost, are necessarily based on existing conditions and might be exceeded due to circumstances and conditions which might prevail in the United States during a major conflict in Europe.
It is hardly necessary to add that the ultimate disposition of these vessels in the event of an emergency would depend upon the circumstances surrounding the emergency and the military and commercial needs of the United States in the light of those circumstances.