Press Conference of Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels
P R E S S.
Friday A.M., - - - April 12, 1918.
Good morning, gentlemen.
Q. You gave a good story out in Cleveland.
A. Yes. I thought it would be better to give it in a speech than in a statement, as I thought it would carry better. As it was the first speech I made I thought I ought to talk about the Navy.1
Q. Isn’t the Associated Press carrying a story about the establishing of a naval base in the Azores? I was asked by the naval censor not to print the story and was told the Committee on Public Information had been asked to tell the Associated Press to kill the story. Late yesterday afternoon Mr. Rochester2 made a request that everybody carry a denial of the story. This morning the papers carry the story again, which would be evidence that there had been no killing of it. We get one set of facts from one place and a denial from another place, and the United Press has given out a statement that we do not carry it.
Do you feel that the Department would make an official statement in the way of a denial?
A. Of course, we are going in and out there but it is not a naval base and it has never been regarded as such.3
Q. The Associated Press statement says that guns are being installed there?
A. That ought never to have been printed as it is a mistake.4 We have no naval base there.
I would say this. The publication that the Navy had established a naval base grew out of the fact that our ships go in and come out of there and that we have some people there in and out, but it is not a naval base and we have no concessions from the Portuguese Government that would let us say it is a naval base in any sense.
Q. Isn’t the story in the main true?
A. No. It is true that as we go across we stop in there, but I would not call it a naval base. We go in and get coal and oil there. I would not call it any place more than we would on the French or English coast or any place where we xxxx dropped in often.
Q. Then it is not being armed?
A. No. I am very sorry anything at all was printed about it because we haven’t any right to call it a naval base. It is used wherever we can use it going and coming.
Q. There is another point that I would like to be set right on my facts and that is, that a story of that nature would not be carried unless authorized from some responsible source?
A. I talked with Admiral Benson and Mr. Roosevelt5 about it this morning and they were both surprised to see that it had been published. Of course, a man might know that ships stopped in there and had gotten coal and had a good deal of use of it and he might say that we would make a naval base of it because we do so many things there that we do at a naval base, and he might have arrived at that conclusion. Anything like the Azores might prove embarrassing.
Q. The United Press did as the Censor suggested in this case.
A. Yes. I am sorry anything was printed about it.
Q. Is your feeling that the publication of it might be in the way of military information?
Q. It has been published in Germany.
A. I understood some time ago that they said we were making a base of the Azores and they made a great deal of it, but that was not being done and they know that we have ships going in there.
On a number of occasions we have done a number of things there but it is information that ought not to be printed. I would like to have you say that anything about the Azores should not be printed. They would not print it to do any harm, but I would say that that statement was incorrect. We have had ships to go in there, get coal and other things, and the report undoubtedly grew out of some ships stopping in there. And yet you might get out of it by saying that in a storm ships would drop in to get coal, etc.
Q. I don’t know the source of the information because I did not write it.
A. Suppose it was a naval base; in every sense it ought not to be printed. It is military information and ought not to be printed. Even if it is supposed to be known to the enemy I would say that it is a piece of news that ought not to be printed unless it was given out. I think it wasa mistake to do it. Admiral Benson and Mr. Roosevelt were both surprised to see it published. It ought not to have been printed.
Q. Have marines been landed at Vladivostok?
A. I have no information about that.6
Q. Are there American warships in the harbor?
A. I don’t know. Admiral Knight has been there, but he has his flagship in those waters and he may be there now, but we have had no advice about it.
Q. Would Admiral Knight land marines without instructions from the Department?
A. Only to preserve American life and property. He could not land them to co-operate with some other people. Just say that we have no information about anything.
Source Note: Cy, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Roll 86.
Footnote 1: Daniels had been speaking in a number of Ohio cities at this time in order to drum up support for a Liberty Loan drive. According to his diary entry from 6 June, he “told what Navy had done in the war.” DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Diary; Daniels, Cabinet Diaries, 297n5.
Footnote 2: E. S. Rochester was the editor of the Official Bulletin of the Committee for Public Information, which was designed to control and “spin” war-related news. George Creel, How We Advertised America (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1920), 208.
Footnote 3: Daniels is being disingenuous here. The United States did establish a temporary naval base at the Azores to prevent Germany from seizing the islands or setting up a submarine base there. In late 1917, there was agreement between the Navy Department and VAdm. William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to base destroyers at the Azores, but it was later determined these were more urgently needed in Europe. The Navy did send gunboats, armed yachts, submarines, and naval aviation forces there, although all of them were older and of a lower quality than the material sent to European waters. There was also a contingent of Marines stationed at Ponta Delgada. Daniels’ insistence that there was no actual naval base in the Azores was largely due to the often tense relationship that existed between the United States and Portugal during the war. Many Azorians hoped the U.S. would annex the islands, while there was considerable pro-German sentiment within Portugal. The U.S. remained in the Azores throughout the war, and RAdm. Herbert O. Dunn, the senior American officer in the islands, established a favorable working relationship with Portuguese forces there. Still, Crisis at Sea, 134-38.
Footnote 4: On the guns being installed at Ponta Delgada in the Azores, see: Dunn to Sims, 6 April 1918.
Footnote 5: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Footnote 6: For more on the situation in Vladivostok, Russia, see: Daniels Diary, 29 March 1918. While Daniels was not truthful in saying that he had no information about the situation in Vladivostok-the American commander there, RAdm. Austin M. Knight, sent in regular reports-it is true that the Americans were not involved; only the Japanese and British had landed Marines in the city. In fact, Knight had clear orders not to use armed force. Braisted, The United States Navy in the Pacific, 1909-1922, 362-64.