740.0011 European War 1939/10232⅓: Telegram

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

1599. Department’s 1230, April 11, midnight. Personal for the President from Former Naval Person.

  • “(1) I now reply in detail to your message of April 11. The delay has been caused by waiting for Admiral Ghormley3 whose arrival was uncertain. The First Sea Lord3a has had long discussions with Ghormley, as the result of which I am advised as follows:
  • (2) In the battle of the Atlantic we have two main problems to deal with in addition to the menace of aircraft round our coast. These problems are those of U–boats and the raiders.
  • (3) As regards the U–boats, we have had considerable success in dealing with these pests when they were working somewhere in the longitude of 22 degrees west in northwestern approaches. Whether it was because of our success or for some other reason, they are now working in about 30 degrees west.
  • (4) We have, however, been able gradually to strengthen our escorting forces, thanks to the United States destroyers which were sent us, and by the use of Iceland as a refueling base for the escorts.
  • (5) It may be expected that the enemy’s reaction to this will be to send his U–boats still further west, and as most of them are based on either Lorient or Bordeaux they can do this without operating further from their bases than they are at the present time.
  • (6) It is quite likely therefore that the area to the westward of 35 degrees west and to the southward of Greenland will be the next [Page 838] danger area, and it is one which it is difficult for us to deal with. Aerial reconnaissance which could be carried out from Greenland to cover this area would therefore be of the greatest value, as if a U–boat were located we should be able to re-route our convoys by signal so as to pass clear of the danger.
  • (7) Another area in which we are having considerable trouble is that from Freetown up through the Cape Verdes to the Azores. We cannot route our convoys very far to the west owing to the endurance of the vessels on this run. In fact it is only by reducing their cargo and taking in extra fuel that they can make the passage. We are providing such escorts for these convoys as we are able, but it is quite inadequate, and it would be of the greatest help if air reconnaissance by one of the United States carriers would cover the water some distance in advance of the convoys.
  • (8) There will be no difficulty in giving the American naval authorities notification of the movements of convoys.
  • (9) As regards raiders, one great danger point is off Newfoundland, as we have a very large amount of shipping proceeding independently through this area. This was the area in which Scharnhorst and Gneisenau made such a bag. Any additional long-range air reconnaissance which could be carried out from Newfoundland or Nova Scotia would be of the greatest assistance.
  • (10) We hope to station a powerful capital ship in either Nova Scotia or Newfoundland which would be able to take advantage of any information which we receive regarding the activities of raiders.
  • (11) There are various areas on our trade routes in which the enemy is liable to operate, and which are west of the longitude 25 degrees west. There are also certain areas in the North and South Atlantic off the trade routes in which the enemy maintain their supply ships and where they go to refuel. Up to the present time we have been unable to search out these areas as we have not had the ships to do it with. If we knew that reconnaissance was going to take place over any given area, we would endeavor to have in the vicinity a force which would be capable of dealing with any raider which was located. Apart from any information which your ships were able to broadcast, the mere fact of air reconnaissance taking place over these areas would give the enemy a great feeling of uneasiness.
  • (12) It is understood that arrangements have already been made for secret intercommunication between British and United States warships.
  • (13) For yourself alone. There is another matter closely connected with the above which is causing me and the naval staff increasing anxiety. The capacity of Spain and Portugal to resist the increasing German pressure may at any time collapse, and the anchorage at Gibraltar be rendered unusable. To effect this the Germans would not [Page 839] need to move a large army through Spain, but merely to get hold of the batteries which molest the anchorage, for which a few thousand artillerists and technicians might be sufficient. They have already done some of their usual preliminary penetration into Tangier, and thus both sides of the straits might quickly pass into the hands of expert hostile gunners.
  • (14) Of course the moment Spain gives way or is attacked, we shall dispatch two expeditions which we have long been holding in readiness, one from Britain to one of the islands in the Azores, and subsequently to a second island, and the second expedition to do the same in the Cape de Verde. But these operations will take 8 days from the signal being given, and one can never tell that the Germans may not have forestalling plans on foot. With our other naval burdens we have not the forces to maintain a continuous watch. It would be a very great advantage if you could send an American squadron for a friendly cruise in these regions at the earliest moment. This would probably warn Nazi raiders off, and would keep the place warm for us as well as giving us invaluable information.
  • (15) I have had long talks with Mr. Forrestal,4 and am taking him and Harriman5 with me tomorrow night to study the position in the Mersey area, so important to the northwestern approaches.”
  1. Vice Adm. Robert Lee Ghormley, American Naval Observer in London.
  2. Adm. Sir Dudley Pound.
  3. James V. Forrestal, Under Secretary of the Navy.
  4. W. Averell Harriman, Special Representative of President Roosevelt at London with the rank of Minister.