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Rear Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Destroyers Operating from British Bases, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels


Situation, Italian


SENT: May 16th, 1917.              TO: Secretary of the Navy.

THROUGH:- State Department.

     Referring 19012. A consultation with British Admiralty shipping controller1 and Italian naval officials shows situation to be as follows:-

     Monthly supply of coal to Italy by British ships neutral ships and other sources now four hundred thousand tons monthly (stop) Italians estimate minimum necessities eight hundred thousand tons (stop) It is wholly impossible for Great Britain to supply this amount and the coal required by France2 (stop) Italy should be aided in obtaining maximum possible supply though it is understood this cannot reach eight hundred thousand tons (stop), the opinion of the British Admiralty and Shipping Controller is that any assistance from America should be through ships sent with general cargo to England and thence to engage in carrying coal from England to Italy and returning with general cargo (stop) It would require about one hundred ships3 to deliver two hundred thousand tons of coal each month and return with cargo usually ore from Spain (stop)4 It is agreed by the officials mentioned above, including Italian Naval Attache5 that decisions in this matter as regards the ability of England to supply coal and the general question of the movements of tonnage should be made here in London where all the facts are at hand and whence the American and Italian Governments can be informed as to the actual tonnage situation.6


NO. OF COPIES-           2.             REFERENCE NO:

Source Note: C, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517.

Footnote 1: The Shipping Controller was a post created by the British in 1916, to regulate and organize merchant shipping in order to supply the United Kingdom with needed materials from abroad in the face of severe losses of merchant shipping. The post was held by Sir Joseph Maclay. Samuel J. Hurwitz, State Intervention in Great Britain: Study of Economic Control and Social Response, 1914-1919 (London: Routledge, 1968), 194.

Footnote 2: “France, whose best coalfields lay under German occupation, relied heavily on Britain for its supply of coal.” Holger E. Herwig, “Total Rhetoric, Limited War: Germany’s U-Boat Campaign, 1917-1918” in Chickering and Förster, Great War, Total War: 196.

Footnote 3: There is no evidence that the United States provided these ships. In fact, according to a report in a British Coal Trade Journal in 1919, British shipment of coal to Italy in 1917 declined from “normal. . . though the need for coal had increased.” The Coal Trade Journal, vol. 50, issue 1 (9 April 1919), 346.

Footnote 4: This plan, which benefitted Britain but hurt Italy by “considerably lengthening the transit time for colliers,” was controversial. Douglas J. Forsyth, The Crisis of Liberal Italy: Monetary and Financial Policy, 1914-1922 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 167.

Footnote 5: Count Carlo Rey di Villarey.

Footnote 6: In a diary entry for 17 May, Daniels noted that the Italian Ambassador to the United States, Count Macchi di Cellere, and its naval attaché in Washington, Capt. Lamberto Vannutelli, called on him to urge the United States to send coal directly to Italy. Daniels concluded it was “doubtful” that the United States would act, “for England is supplying them with some.” DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Diary, Roll 1.