Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to Secretary of State Robert Lansing

Confidential.                              Navy Department,

Washington, June 23, 1917.

  SIR: Referring to the cablegram from Ambassador Page in London, dated June 23, 1917 (copy attached).1 After careful consideration of the present naval situation, taken in connection with possible future situations which might arise, the Navy Department is prepared to announce as its policy in so far as it relates to the Allies.

  (1) The heartiest cooperation with the Allies to meet the present submarine situation in European or other waters, compatible with an adequate defense of our own home waters.

  (2) The heartiest cooperation with the Allies to meet any future situation arising during the present war.

  (3) A realization that, while a successful termination of the present war must always be the first allied aim and will probably result in diminished tension throughout the world, the future position of the United States must in no way be jeopardized by an disintegration of our main fighting fleets.

  (4) The conception that the present main military role of the United States naval forces lies in its safeguarding the lines of communication of the Allies. In pursuing this aim there will, generally speaking, be two classes of vessels engaged—minor craft and major craft—and two roles of action: First, offensive; second, defensive.

  (5) In pursuing the role set forth in paragraph (4), the Navy Department can not too strongly insist that in its opinion the offensive must always be the dominant note in any general plan of strategy prepared. But, as the primary role in all offensive operations must perforce belong to allied powers, the Navy Department announces as its policy that, in general, it is willing to accept any joint plan of action of the Allies, deemed necessary to meet immediate needs.2

  (6) Pursuant to the above general policy, the Navy Department announces as its general plan of action the following:

  (a) Its willingness to send its minor fighting forces, comprised of destroyers, cruisers, submarine chasers, auxiliaries, in any numbers not incompatible with home needs, and to any field of action deemed expedient by the joint allied admiralties, which would not involve a violation of our present State policy.

  (b) Its unwillingness, as a matter of policy, to separate any division from the main fleet for service abroad, although it is willing to send the entire battleship fleet abroad to act as a united but cooperating unit when, after joint consultations of all admiralties concerned, the emergency is deemed to warrant it and the entire tension imposed upon the lines of communication due to the increase in the number of fighting ships in European waters will stand the strain upon it.

  (c) Its willingness to discuss more fully plans for joint operations.

          Sincerely, yours,

Josephus Daniels.

The honorable the Secretary of State.

Source Note: Naval Investigation: 592-93.

Footnote 1: The letter from Ambassador Walter Hines Page is no longer attached, however, there is a letter from Page to Lansing of 23 June printed in Foreign Relations of the United States in which Page informed Lansing that Germany was subjecting Norway to “humiliating treatment” and although Britain was counselling Norway not to enter the war, there could well be an “early outbreak of hostilities.” If Norway did declare war, the United States would be asked to “send several large men-of-war to guard certain parts of Norway’s southern coast” and the British government wishes to know if “such naval help could be expected.” FRUS, 1917, Supplement 2: 108-9.

Footnote 2: How committed the United States was to operating in conjunction with the Allies remains debatable.  Certainly VAdm. William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, was decidedly pro-British and tirelessly advocated for convoying. Others were more skeptical. Historian Glenn Stackhouse writes that the U.S. Navy as a whole was “sluggish” in the spring and summer of 1917 on implementing convoy operations. He regards Daniels as extremely slow in following up on Sims’ advice when it came to convoying. Stackhouse is harsher on Chief of Naval Operations William S. Benson, accusing him of “playing a double game,” publicly touting America’s commitment to the alliance while working behind the scenes to stall British access to American resources. “Benson,” Stackhouse concludes, “was anti-convoy, anti-British, and decidedly an America-first advocate.” Whether he was even committed to an Allied victory “remains questionable.” Glenn Stackhouse, “The Anglo-American Atlantic convoy system in World War I, 1917-1918,” (PhD diss., University of South Carolina, 1993), 40-54.

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