811.34544/22/9: Telegram

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

2892. From Former Naval Person to President, personal and secret.

“I fully understand the legal and constitutional difficulties which make you wish for a formal contract embodied in letters but I venture to put before you the difficulties and even dangers which I foresee in this procedure. For the sake of the precise list of instrumentalities mentioned which in our sore need we greatly desire we are asked to pay undefined concessions in all the islands and places mentioned from Newfoundland to British Guiana “as may be required in the judgment of the United States”. Suppose we could not agree to all your experts asked for should we not be exposed to a charge of breaking our contract for which we have already received value. Your commitment is definite, ours unlimited. Much though we need the destroyers we should not wish to have them at the risk of a misunderstanding with the United States or indeed any serious argument. If the matter is to be represented as a contract both sides must be defined with far more precision on our side than has hitherto been possible.

But this might easily take some time. As I have several times pointed out we need the destroyers chiefly to bridge the gap between now and the arrival of our new construction which I set on foot on the outbreak of war. This construction is very considerable. For instance we shall receive by the end of February new destroyers and new medium destroyers 20. Corvettes which are a handy type of submarine hunter adapted to ocean work 60. MTBs 37. MASBs 25. Fairmiles a wooden anti-submarine patrol boat 104. 72-foot motor launches 29. An even greater inflow will arrive in the following 6 months. It is just in the gap from September to February inclusive while this new crop is coming in and working up that your 50 destroyers would be invaluable. With them we could minimize shipping losses in the northwestern approaches and also take a stronger line against Mussolini in the Mediterranean. Therefore time is all important. We should not however be justified in the circumstances if we gave a blank cheque on the whole of our transatlantic possessions merely to bridge this gap through which anyhow we hope to make our way through with added risk and suffering.

This I am sure you will see sets forth our difficulties plainly.

Would not the following procedure be acceptable. I would offer at once certain fairly well defined facilities which will show you the kind of gift we have in mind and your experts could then discuss these [Page 71]or any variants of them with ours, we remaining the final judge of what we can give. All this we will do freely trusting entirely to the generosity and good will of the American people as to whether they on their part would like to do something for us. But anyhow it is the settled policy of H[is] M[ajesty’s] G[overnment] to offer you and make available to you when desired solid and effective means of protecting your Atlantic seaboard. I have already asked the Admiralty and the Air Ministry to draw up in outline what we are prepared to offer leaving your experts to suggest alternatives.

I propose to send you this outline in 2 or 3 days and to publish in due course. In this way there can be no possible dispute and the American people will feel more warmly towards us because they will see we are playing the game by the world’s cause and that their safety and interests are dear to us.

If your law or your Admiral87 requires that any help you may choose to give us must be presented as a quid pro quo I do not see why the British Government have to come into that at all. Could you not say that you did not feel able to accept this fine offer which we make unless the United States matched it in some way and that therefore the Admiral would be able to link the one with the other.

I am so very grateful to you for all the trouble you have been taking and I am so sorry to add to your burdens knowing what a good friend you have been to us.”

This telegram in four sections is the one referred to in my 2891.88

  1. Presumably Adm. Harold R. Stark, Chief of Naval Operations. On June 28, 1940, Congress approved a bill prohibiting transfer or sale of naval weapons, ships, etc., to which the United States had title, to anyone unless the Chief of Naval Operations should first certify it not essential to the defense of the United States (54 Stat. 676, 681).
  2. Telegram No. 2891, August 25, not printed.