Hopkins Papers

President Roosevelt to Prime Minister Churchill 1

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:—When you were with us during the latter part of December, 1941, and the first few days of 1942, after we had become active participants in the war, plans for a division of responsibilities between your country and mine became generally fixed in certain understandings. In matters of production as well as in other matters, we agreed that mutual advantages were to be gained by concentrating, in so far as it was practical, our energies on doing those things which each of us was best qualified to do.

Here in this country in abundance were the natural resources of critical materials. Here there had been developed the welding technique which enables us to construct a standard merchant ship with a speed unequalled in the history of merchant shipping. Here there was waiting cargo to be moved in ships to your Island and to other theatres. If your country was to have carried out its contemplated ship construction program, it would have been necessary to move large tonnages of the raw materials that we have here across the Atlantic to your mills and yards, and then in the form of a finished ship to send them back to our ports for the cargo that was waiting to be carried.

Obviously, this would have entailed a waste of materials and time. It was only natural for us then to decide that this country was to be the predominant cargo shipbuilding area for us both, while your country [Page 319] was to devote its facilities and resources principally to the construction of combat vessels.

You, in your country, reduced your merchant shipbuilding program and directed your resources more particularly to other fields in which you were more favorably situated, while we became the merchant shipbuilder for the two of us and have built, and are continuing to build, a vast tonnage of cargo vessels.

Our merchant fleet has become larger and will continue to grow at a rapid rate. To man its ever increasing number of vessels will, we foresee, present difficulties of no mean proportion. On your side, the British Merchant fleet has been steadily dwindling. Depending upon the way in which the calculation is made, it has shrunk somewhere between six to nine million deadweight tons since the war began, and you have in your pool as a consequence about 10,000 trained seamen and licensed personnel. Clearly it would be extravagant were this body of experienced men of the sea not to be used as promptly as possible. To fail to use them would result in a wastage of manpower on your side, a wastage of manpower on our side, and what is of equal importance, a wastage of shipping facilities. We cannot afford this waste.

In order that the general understanding that we reached during the early days of our engagement together in this war may be more perfectly carried out and in order, as a practical matter, to avoid the prodigal use of manpower and shipping that would result from pursuing any other course, I am directing the WSA, under appropriate bareboat arrangements, to transfer to your flag for temporary wartime duty during each of the suggested next ten months a minimum of fifteen. I have furthermore suggested to them that this be increased to twenty.

We have, as you know, been allocating to the British services on a voyage-to-voyage basis large numbers of American controlled ships. What I am now suggesting to you and what I am directing the WSA to carry out will be in the nature of a substitution, to the extent of the tonnage transferred, for the American tonnage that has been usually employed in your war program. The details of the arrangements we can properly leave to the national shipping authorities for settlement through the Combined Shipping Adjustment Board whose function it is to concert the employment of all merchant vessels and will, in accordance with its usual practice, do so in connection with these particular ships.2

Always sincerely,

Franklin D. Roosevelt
  1. The source text is marked “copy”, bears no letterhead, and is signed “Pres. Roosevelt” in an unidentifiable handwriting. There appears to be no doubt, however, that this is a true copy of the signed original.

    Churchill’s message No. 301, June 6, 1943, to Roosevelt, read as follows:

    “Have just received your letter of May 28th about ships. Let me thank you from the bottom of my heart for this broadminded, just and comprehending treatment of this problem. Let me know whether you would care to have the letter published. If so, I would write a suitable acknowledgement and would also like to refer to the matter when I speak to the House of Commons on Tuesday. However, naturally, it is entirely for you to say and I do not press for publication unless you think it would be advantageous to our partnership.” (Roosevelt Papers)

    In his message No. 279 to Churchill, June 7, 1943, Roosevelt replied as follows:

    “I think it not advisable at this time to release my letter for publication and on the whole think it unwise to refer to the matter in your speech to the House on Tuesday.” (Roosevelt Papers)

  2. For a brief account of the implementation of the arrangement for the transfer of ships to the British, see Behrens, p. 375.