Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Winston Churchill to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

Hotel La Fayette,       

Washington, D.C.

August 2, 1917.

Hon. Josephus Daniels,

Secretary of the Navy,

Navy Department,

Washington, D.C.

My dear Mr. Secretary:

               With all due modesty and reserve, and with the hesitation of a man who is not a naval expert, I venture to submit to you herewith a plan for a very simple reorganization in the Navy Department. As you know, I have not been in a position of an investigator; but I have conversed freely with many officers, young and old, and with some British officers and one of their civilian naval experts. This plan, therefore, does not represent the ideas of any one individual; but in drawing it up I venture, as it were, to synthesize the suggestions of what might be called the majority. These suggestions have invariably been constructive, and not critical.

     The slight reorganization here suggested has solely for its object the organization of the strategical imagination of the Service under one head, that of the Office of Operations. This war, as you especially are aware, is a war that demands imagination; and whatever inventions are made by civilians in regard to the destruction of the submarine, these inventions must necessarily be incorporated into naval tactics; considered by a board of strategists representing the voice of the entire Navy, and speaking to you or to the President through the Admiral who is the Chief of Operations.

     The trouble with the present system, which you have inherited, would seem to be that it is not organized strategically for war. During eras of peace, when there is ample time for discussion, the practice of checking the suggestions of one strategist or body of strategists by referring them to other strategists or other bodies, is not so detrimental to efficiency as in time of war, when every minute counts. Under the present system, it is quite a possibility that a plan of value may be developed by some officer in a bureau, submitted to Operations and never get any farther. I do not say that such things have happened, but I say that they can happen. For lack of general discussion by a group of strategists representing the entire Navy, some valuable plans or suggestions may be buried, or grave delay in putting them into execution may result.

     The Chief of Operations is charged by law “with the operations of the fleet and with the preparations and readiness of its plans for its use in war.” It is suggested, therefore, that he be the directing Admiral of the Navy; that he be given complete authority and responsibility under the Secretary for the naval policy of the United States. Under the present system, instead of an executor he is merely an advisor, and one of several possible advisors; and he has responsibility without authority. If his policy, which is that of the experts under him, be not successful, he may be removed and another admiral installed. In such a manner only, it seems to me, can divided counsel be prevented and a naval policy determined.

     In order to accomplish this, the two strategical experts on plans and policy now acting as Aides to the Chief of Operations1 should be expanded into a War Staff, whose number is to be determined, representing the best strategical and imaginative genius in the Navy. And secondly, it has been suggested that the Chief of Operations be relieved as far as possible from the administrative and bureaucratic duties now taking up much of his time. In regard to the second suggestion, and indeed to the first as well, I refer you to a paper published this year in the Naval Institute by Admiral Huse.2 I have talked with the Admiral, strictly on the subject of this paper. I am inclined to think that perhaps his suggestions in this paper may demand, at the present time at least, too radical a reorganization. But the principle he suggests of separating logistics -– which has to do with supplies –- from strategy, is unquestionably sound.

     I am aware that there has been called into existence under an officer in Operations what I have heard referred to as a Submarine Board,3 composed of experts. But my point is, that one Board only, and that Board under Operations, should consider and lay down an aggressive policy for the whole Navy. There should be no advisory Boards <with equal powers>.4 And while I have the highest regard for the officers of the present General Board and the work said to have been done by it, its function is toward paralleling the work that should be done by one board only for the whole Navy. If in the Secretary’s judgment the General Board could not be abolished or incorporated with the body of experts proposed under Operations –- on account of the rank of the officers composing it –- such advisory matters as are not of immediate importance might by submitted to it. But the consensus of opinion would seem to be that the principle of advisory boards is unsound.

     It has also been proposed, and I give you the proposal for what it is worth, that the Aero Board should be a Bureau.

     I am sure, Mr. Secretary, that you will take these suggestions in the spirit in which they are meant, and only as suggestions that may be worked out under your approval by such officers as you may call into your counsel.5

Sincerely yours,        

Winston Churchill

Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Subject File, Roll 54. Winston Churchill was an American novelist and self-styled naval expert. In an act that was disloyal and possibly insubordinate, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Churchill to conduct a number of interviews with various individuals in the Navy Department. Churchill then published several articles that were critical of the Navy and prepared a report of his findings, which he gave to President Woodrow Wilson, who then sent the report to Daniels. Klachko and Trask, Benson: 80.

Churchill's original report contains much of what is found here in addition to the suggestions he made related to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. Churchill wrote that the Chief of Naval Operations, William S. Benson, was “perhaps, a suitable head, but too prudent, too unimaginative, too early in training to do the necessary bold thinking and planning.” Churchill then recommended that a new department of operations be created, “associated in counsel and action with much younger men,—men of the new school and training, few of whom have passed and some of whom have not yet reached the rank of Commander.” Churchill Report on the Navy, 29 July 1917, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Diaries, Roll 1. At the same time, Wilson also asked Churchill to survey Anglo-American naval establishments in Britain. See Churchill to Wilson, 2 August, 1917, Wilson Papers, 43: 354, 354-55n. In his diary entry dated 30 July, Daniels noted that he had been interviewed by Churchill and wrote in his diary on 2 August, “Winston Churchill on naval organization. He wrote suggestion which rather looked to ending the General Board and putting power under operations in younger men. I had heard he was going to criticize me rather severely, but I think not. Jonathan [Daniels' son] who rode with us said I made a good impression.” DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Diaries, Roll 1; see also, Daniels, Cabinet Diaries: 184n.

Footnote 1: Capt. William V. Pratt and Lt. Cmdr. Charles K. Belknap, Jr.

Footnote 2: Harry M. P. Huse. Huse proposed dividing the Navy Department into two parts: one, labelled “Strategy,” would be headed by the Chief of Navy Operations and contain those parts of the Navy focused on war fighting; the other, termed “Logistics,” would be headed by the Assistant Secretary of the Navy and would be composed of bureaus concerned with creating and supporting the fleet. The Secretary of the Navy would exercise “control and supervision” over the “whole machine.” “Logistics—Its Influence upon the Conduct of War and its Bearing upon the Formulation of War Plans,” United States Naval Institute Proceedings, vol. 43, no. 2 (February, 1917), 252-53.

Footnote 3: On this board, of which Pratt was the head, see, Pratt to William S. Sims, 6 June 1917, DLC-MSS, WIllian Sims Papers, Box 23.

Footnote 4: These three words were handwritten in the margin and their placement in the text indicated by an arrow.

Footnote 5: On 4 August, Wilson thanked Churchill for his report and wrote that he had spoken with Daniels and believed that he had "things in course to carry out the essential purpose you had in mind.” Wilson Papers, 43: 358. However, the re-organization that Churchill advocated herein was not implemented.

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