811.34544/15/12: Telegram

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

2490. Strictly secret and personal for the President from Former Naval Person:

“It is some time since I ventured to cable personally to you, and many things both good and bad have happened in between. It has now become most urgent for you to let us have the destroyers, motor boats and flying boats for which we have asked. The Germans have the whole French coastline from which to launch U–boats, dive bomber attacks upon our trade and food, and in addition we must be constantly prepared to repel by sea action threatened invasion in the narrow waters, and also to deal with breakouts from Norway towards Ireland, Iceland, Shetlands and Faroes. Besides this we have to keep control of the exit from the Mediterranean, and if possible the command of that inland sea itself, and thus to prevent the war spreading seriously into Africa.

Point 2. We have a large construction of destroyers and anti-U–boat craft coming forward, but the next 3 or 4 months open the gap of which I have previously told you. Latterly, the air attack on our shores has become injurious. In the last 10 days we have had the following destroyers sunk: Brazen, Codrington, Delight, Wren; and the following damaged: Beagle, Boreas, Brilliant, Griffin, Montrose, Walpole, Whitshed, total 11. All this in the advent of any attempt which may be made at invasion. Destroyers are frightfully vulnerable to air bombing, and yet they must be held in the air bombing area to prevent seaborne invasion. We could not keep up the present rate of casualties for long, and if we cannot get a substantial reinforcement, the whole fate of the war may be decided by this minor and easily remediable factor.

This is a frank account of our present situation and I am confident, now that you know exactly how we stand, that you will leave nothing undone to ensure that 50 or 60 of your oldest destroyers are sent to me at once. I can fit them very quickly with asdics and use them against U-boats on the western approaches and so keep the more modern and better gunned craft for the narrow seas against invasion.

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Mr. President, with great respect I must tell you that in the long history of the world, this is a thing to do now. Large construction is coming to me in 1941, but the crisis will be reached long before 1941. I know you will do all in your power but I feel entitled and bound to put the gravity and urgency of the position before you.

Point 3. If the destroyers were given, the motor boats and flying boats which would be invaluable, could surely come in behind them.

Point 4. I am beginning to feel very hopeful about this war if we can get ’round the next 3 or 4 months. The air is holding well. We are hitting that man hard, both in repelling attacks and in bombing Germany. But the loss of destroyers by air attacks may well be so serious as to break down our defense of the food and trade routes across the Atlantic.

Point 5. Tonight the latest convoys of rifles, cannon and ammunition are coming in. Special trains are waiting to take them to the troops and home guard, who will take a lot of killing before they give them up. I am sure that with your comprehension of the sea affair, you will not let this crux of the battle go wrong for the want of these destroyers. I cabled to Lothian some days ago, and now send this through Kennedy, who is a grand help to us and the common cause.”