United States Ambassador to Great Britain Walter H. Page to Secretary of State Robert Lansing
Secretary of State,
April 6, 3 p.m.
My 5941, April 5, 7 pm. Following my conversation with Mr. Balfour, I have just received from him a memorandum of the chief needs of the Allies which he sends to me informally for transmission to you. It is as follows:
“Without doubt the most pressing need of the Allies at this moment is shipping. This is not merely, nor even perhaps mainly, due to the fact that Great Britain being an island largely dependent for its foodstuffs on over-seas sources of supply, communications with these is not a luxury but a necessity. The difference between Great Britain on the one hand and France and Italy on the other is in this respect not so great as might be suppos
sed. Both France and Italy are largely dependent upon imported foodstuffs and in addition they require coal and iron from the United Kingdom.1
The truth is that tonnage is as much a military as any necessity. About half of the British mercantile marine is now devoted to war services and the assistance of our Allies.
Quite apart therefore from German piracy the tonnage question would be important and difficult and if the rate of loss by submarine attack is going to be maintained (and according to our calculation it is likely to increase rather than diminish) it becomes evident not merely from the point of view of Great Britain, but from that of the Allies generally, that the tonnage problem is the one most urgently in need of solution. If Your Excellency asks how the United States can contribute to lighten this particular difficulty, I venture to lay before you the following suggestions for consideration:
ONE. The seizure of enemy ships and their employment at the earliest moment on the important trade routes:
TWO. The charter of neutral shipping which might be transferred from the European trade to safer waters:
THREE. The release of shipping from coastal or lake trade to work on the main lines of communication: and most important of all:
FOUR. The rapid increase of shipbuilding to the extreme limits of possible productions not only during the present year but also during next year.
This work will no doubt have to be carried on chiefly in American yards, but I would press upon Your Excellency that even in British yards shipbuilding might be increased could an additional supply of steel be obtained from the United States of America, a matter which we greatly hope may be taken into favorable consideration by the American Government.
In this connection I would beg Your Excellency to consider whether it would not be desirable, as it would certainly be legitimate, to requisition ships now building for neutrals in the yards of the United States.
The second need of the Allies, in order of immediate importance, is financial, especially, for the purpose of facilitating the purchase in the United States by the Allied countries of munitions and other necessaries. As Your Excellency is aware the difficulty in this case is largely one of exchange. The imports of the Allies from the United States far exceed their exports to that country and the balance of indebtedness has to be met in someother fashion. . . .
I have said nothing so far on the question of naval and military assistance though, if the war last, the service that could be rendered by the United States to the cause of the Allies in this direction is incalculable.
As regards maritime affairs, indeed there seems so far as we can judge, to be no immediate sphere of employment for the American battle fleet,2 but the share which American cruisers could take in policing the Atlantic is of the greatest importance and all craft from destroyers downwards capable of dealing with submarines would be absolutely invaluable. . . .
In conclusion let me assure Your Excellency that any lessons which we may have succeeded in learning from two and a half years fighting are entirely at the disposal of your Government and that we shall be glad to place at your service experts familiar with the new problems of which the present war has produced so plentiful a supply”.
P A G E.
Source Note: TLS, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517. At the top center of the message is information concerning its being received in Washington. This information reads: “TELEGRAM RECEIVED/From London/Dated April 7, 1917/Recd 6 p.m.” “5949” is the message’s number designation. “My 5941” in the first line of text refers to an earlier message sent by Page. On the bottom right of each page of the message is the first word of the next page.
Footnote 1: British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour understates the devastating effect of German submarines on British and neutral shipping. See: William S. Sims to Josephus Daniels, 14 April 1917.
Footnote 2: That is, the U.S. Navy battleships.