Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Vice Admiral Montague E. Browning, Commander-in-Chief, North America and West Indies Station, to Secretary of the Admiralty Sir W. Graham Greene

SECRET

H.B.M. EMBASSY,

WASHINGTON D.C.

13 April 1917.

Sir,

     In confirmation of my telegrams of 10th and 12th April 19171 I have the honour to forward a report of my proceedings since my arrival in the United States in company with Contre Amiral M.F.A. Grasset.

     2. On nearing the mouth of the Chesapeake on the morning of the 10th April, a W/T2 message was received requesting that “LEVIATHAN” and “JEANNE D’ARC3 would call at Lynn Haven Roads for the Naval Attachés,4 and then proceed to Hampton Roads where Admiral Benson, Chief of Operations; Admiral Mayo, Commander-in-Chief of Atlantic Fleet; and other Naval Officers had proceeded to meet us, and to hold a preliminary conference before going to Washington.

     3. This conference took place, and the points mentioned in Their Lordships’ telegram no. 246 to me, and in that of 7 April to the British Naval Attaché were laid before the United States Naval Officers;5 also a telegram from the Ministry of Marine at Paris to Contre Amiral Grasset (enclosed).6

     I was careful to refrain from pressing any of the measures proposed, as the United States officers had only just been made acquainted with them, although they had been handed to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy7 some days previously by Commodore Gaunt.

     It was evident that they were really desirous to co-operate, but the provision of Destroyers seemed to be unacceptable, and also the institution of a South Atlantic Squadron was viewed with some doubt. All the U.S. officers however expressed a general wish to receive as much information as could be afforded them, and some points prepared by Admiral Grasset and by me were stated to be exactly those upon which they especially desire guidance.

     During the meeting, their attitude became more and more cordial, especially in the cases of Admirals Benson and Mayo.

     It was generally evident that the U.S.Navy had a deep respect for our experience gained during the War, and an anxious desire to be afforded advice. There was no trace of any feeling to the contrary.

     The meeting closed in time for all members of the Conference to proceed to Washington by the evening steamer, arriving there at 7 a.m. on the following morning, 11th April.

     4. After the official calls had been paid, the full formal meeting of the Conference was held in the Navy Department Office, Mr. Secretary Daniels presided, and there were also present Mr. Franklin Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary, Admiral Badger, President of the Board of Control; Admiral Fletcher, Board of Control; and many others.8

     It seemed impossible to reduce these numbers, although I had suggested this advisability to Admiral Benson with his entire concurrence.

     5. This meeting was markedly an advance upon that of the previous day. Mr. Daniels made a short speech expressing the entire readiness of the U.S.Navy to co-operate to the utmost of its power. The whole of the points mentioned in Their Lordships’ telegrams Nos. 246 and 265 were rediscussed and generally approved.

     6. Two Destroyers were stated as being in readiness to leave forthwith; Admiral Mayo expressed his desire to send six. As this proposal was not to any degree backed up, I expressed grateful thanks for the two (Mr. Franklin Roosevelt having whispered to me that more would most certainly be forthcoming).

     7. The provision of the South Atlantic squadron has been reconsidered, and it was now stated that it would be sent as soon as possible, but that it was not immediately ready like the North Atlantic squadron.

     I enquired whether it was desired that my own opinion as to the desired strength of these squadrons should be stated, and their reply being that that was what they wished I mentioned the number as four ships for each. Admiral Mayo immediately said that six ships should be detailed for each squadron in order that four should be constantly maintained, and this was implicitly accepted by the Conference as a necessary condition.

     It was stated that four North Atlantic ships will be distributed along the coast ports with their respective patrol squadrons, but that they would act in conjunction on a contingency arising. I suggested, and so did Admiral Grasset, that it would be best to concentrate them, but as soon as it appeared that this was not acceptable, it was not pressed. They will find out the disadvantages later. An attitude of acquiescence to their wishes was evidently the best to adopt.

     8. I expressed the opinion that Armed Merchant Cruisers are especially suitable for anti-raider operations, and why; but they said they must consider the debit balance of advantage in withdrawing them from freight duties, etc., and this point was set aside for consideration.

     9. They enquired whether Trinidad, etc., could be used by such a squadron if found desirable. This I said could certainly be done, but that I would suggest their providing their own colliers. This they agreed to do.

     10. At present there are political difficulties which stand in the way of U.S. ships of war visiting the ports of Columbia.9

     11. The present intention is not to send any United States men-of-war south to the west coast of South America, but meantime there are armed nitrate transports, working under both War and Navy Departments, which will be utilized, and ships of war could be sent south if the situation required it.

     We were informed that the feeling in Chile was excellent.10

     12. The U.S.China squadron will be maintained. This was at the first meeting stated to be permanently, but at the final conference on 12 April Admiral Benson stated that in consequence of certain information received that morning from Japan, the maintenance of the squadron might have to be modified, but that due notice would be given of withdrawal.11

     13. There seemed to be a readiness to send submarines to Halifax if and when required, but they did not care about sending them to the West Indies.

     They acknowledged that their submarine service is inefficient, but it was pointed out to them that the moral effect of the presence of such craft at Canadian ports would be useful, and they quite realise it.

     14. Admiral Grasset was very anxious to fix the exact limits of action of the allied squadrons, and pressed the point so much that Admiral Benson and I agreed, although at this stage it seemed undesirable, and, as Admiral Benson remarked, the U.S. ships would not cease to chase a raider if she left their areas. The areas were accordingly drafted for consideration at the final meeting.

     15. On 12th April, a final smaller naval meeting took place in Admiral Benson’s room to decide upon the exact terms in which the Admiralty and the Ministry of Marine should be informed of the result of the conference. These are embodied in my telegram 2010 of 12th April.12

     Matters were considerably delayed by Admiral Grasset who displayed a tendency to regard the report as a diplomatic document or convention, although Admiral Benson explained it was not that, but simply a naval reply to enquiries made by the Admiralty and Ministry of Marine, and a broad statement of the naval policy which the United States proposed to adopt. Admiral Grasset showed some discontent with the extent to which the French requests were met, and I think failed to realise that the points put forward by the British Admiralty were for the common benefit of the allied cause and not for that of Great Britain alone. This may have been partly due to his not understanding Admiral Benson, but his attitude was somewhat unfortunate, although he was most patiently listened to. He told me afterwards that I had got everything and that he had got nothing: He does not understand the American[s].

     16. I was agreeably surprised and impressed with the warm reception given to us by the Civil and Naval sides of the U.S.Navy Department, and especially by Mr. Daniels himself, with whom I became on completely friendly terms. I had been led to believe, even from hints dropped by their own officers that he might prove difficult, but, from first to last, he has not only made friendly speeches, but repeatedly impressed upon me the anxious desire of the Department for full co-operation, and their keenness to do all that is possible to injure the enemy.13

     I expected to find that advice might not be acceptable, but both he and the officers repeatedly asked me for advice on many points which I gave to the best of my ability.

     Admiral Benson also became completely friendly as soon as the first meeting at Hampton Roads was over, and he has talked to me confidentially upon many matters.14

     The attitude of Admiral Mayo, Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet,from first to last has been that of a brother officer. He is reserved, and a man of few words, but he has always intervened in the discussions with the most timely suggestions, and to him and to Mr. Franklin Roosevelt is chiefly due the change in attitude in the provision of destroyers on our side; the latter official is my authority for the statement that eighteen would eventually come over, and that soon. He also told me that Admiral Mayo had wished to do this at the meeting on 11th April, as he understood the urgency of the matter. Mr. Roosevelt told me privately that he was completely aware of the necessity for more of these craft in our home waters, but understood the advisability of my not pressing the matter at the meetings.

     The question of the French base for destroyers had to be inserted at once when Admiral Grasset suddenly asked for it, although the question had never been previously raised with me at Bermuda. It is hoped that Their Lordships will understand that this was imperative; and that the matter can subsequently be arranged with Paris.

     17. I have received the most constant help from H.E. the Ambassador,15 who took me to see the various Secretaries and Undersecretaries in the Department of State, and to the Allied Ambassadors and Ministers.

     Commodore Gaunt has been most invaluable, and it is to his able, careful and thorough work as Naval Attaché, and to the friendly relations he has established with the U.S. Navy and Department, that our reception was of so satisfactory a character, and the result of much above my own, and even his expectations.

I have the honour to be,

Sir,

Your obedient servant

M.E.Browning

VICE ADMIRAL

COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF

Source Note: CyS, UK-KeNA, Adm. 137/1436. Below the signature it is addressed: “To/The Secretary/of the ADMIRALTY.” Next to the signature is a written note: “[Appropo?]/negotiations/U S Authorities.”

Footnote 1: The referred to messages are in UK-KeNA, Adm. 137/1436, but are not included in this edition.

Footnote 2: That is, wireless telegram.

Footnote 3: Leviathan was Browning’s flagship; Jeanne d’Arc was the flagship of Contre-Amiral Maurice-Ferdinand-Albert Grasset, commander of the French West Indies Division.

Footnote 4: Commo. Guy R.A. Gaunt was the British naval attaché to the United States; Cmdr. Bernard A. de Blanpré was the French naval attaché to the United States.

Footnote 5: See, British Admiralty to Browning, 7 April 1917, UK-KeNA, Adm. 137/1426.

Footnote 7: Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt. Gaunt and Colville Barclay, the First Secretary at the British Embassy in Washington, had a series of meetings with Roosevelt at the end of March and into early April. See, for example, Barclay to Foreign Office, 21 and 25 March 1917, UK-KeNA, Adm. 137/1436.

Footnote 8: Adm. Charles J. Badger, head of the General Board of the Navy; Rear Adm. Frank F. Fletcher, member of the General Board.

Footnote 9: Colombia was still aggrieved by U.S. actions in fomenting a revolt in the Colombian province of Panama. The United States also recognized Panama an independent nation, signied a canal treaty with the newly-independent state on terms rejected by Columbia, and then defending Panama against Colombian efforts to re-capture its break-away province. Anglo-American Naval Relations: 35-36n.

Footnote 10: Chile was a vital source of nitrates used in the manufacture of explosives

Footnote 11: On developments in China, see: Diary entry of Josephus Daniels, 13 April 1917.

Footnote 12: See: Browning to Admiralty, 13 April 1917; Anglo-American Naval Relations, 33-34.

Footnote 13: Daniel had been opposed to America entry into war. Presumably that was why some thought he would be less than cordial.

Footnote 14: Browning and Benson became close friends. Klachko and Trask, Benson, 63-5, 192. Ambassador Sir Cecil A. Spring-Rice on 27 April, reported to the Foreign Office that Browning’s visit had been a “great success” and that he had succeeded through “unfailing tact and courtesy” in establishing “most cordial and satisfactory relations with United States Naval authorities, some of whom had previously reputation of being pronouncedly anti-British.” UK-KeNA, Adm. 137/1436.

Footnote 15: Sir Cecil A. Spring-Rice.

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