American Ambassador to Great Britain Walter Hines Page to Secretary of State Robert Lansing
Dated March 23, 1917.
Recd 11 p. m.
Mr. Balfour1 has shown me the informal suggestion conveyed by the Navy Department through Gaunt2 regarding closer naval relations and his reply. The British Government will heartily fall in with any plan we propose as soon as cooperation can be formally established. It was intimated to me that a submarine base3 on the coast of Ireland would then be assented to.
The whole subject of active cooperation and the best methods to bring it about have been informally discussed by me with Mr. Balfour, Mr. Bonar Law,4 the Prime Minister,5 Admiral Jellicoe,6 and others at their invitation, and they will most gladly assent to any proposals that we are likely to make. They withhold proposals of their own until the way has formally been opened by us lest they should seem to <p>ush7 themselves upon us which they of course do not wish to do.
I know personally and informally that they hope for the establishment of full and frank naval interchange of information and cooperation. Knowing their spirit and their methods I cannot too strongly recommend that our government send here immediately an admiral of our navy who will bring our navy’s plans and inquiries. The coming of such an officer of high rank would be regarded as a compliment and he would have all doors opened to him and a sort of special staff appointed to give him the results and methods of the whole British naval work since the war began. Every important ally has an officer of such high rank here.8 In a private conversation with me today at luncheon Mr. Balfour expressed his enthusiastic hope that such a plan would be immediately carried out. Many things of the greatest value would be verbally made known to such an officer which would never be given in a routine way nor reduced to writing.
Admiral Jellicoe has privately expressed the hope to me that our navy may see its way to patrol our coast and possibly relieve the British cruisers now on our side of the Atlantic. He hopes too that in case more German raiders go out we may help capture them in waters where they prey on shipping from Mexico or South America.
If our Navy Department will send an admiral it would be advantageous for me to be informed as soon as possible. The confidential information that he will come by would be of immediate help. Such an officer could further definite plans for full cooperation.
Source Note: C, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Addressed below place date line: “Secretary of State,/Washington/5880, March 23, 7 p.m.” 5880 is the message’s identification number and “7 p.m.” is presumably the time it was sent.
Footnote 1: Arthur James Balfour, British Foreign Secretary.
Footnote 2: Capt. Guy R.A. Gaunt, British Naval Attaché in Washington. The offer is in a cable to Gaunt of 23 March. It informs Gaunt that while cooperation cannot be discussed “officially” until British counsel has been sought “formally through usual diplomatic channels,” Gaunt could communicate privately the Views of British Admiralty” to U.S. Navy officials and could tell them that the “Admiralty would afford all necessary facilities for basing United States Destroyers on Coast of Ireland for operating against submarines and protecting trade.” Admiralty to Gaunt, 23 March 1917, UK-KeNA, Adm. 137/1437. For more on the origin of this offer, see: Josephus Daniels to Woodrow Wilson, 9 March 1917.
Footnote 3: Page meant to write: “anti-submarine base.”
Footnote 4: Andrew Bonar Law, Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Footnote 5: David Lloyd George.
Footnote 6: Adm. Sir John R. Jellicoe, British First Sea Lord.
Footnote 7: Someone handwrote a “p” over whatever letter was typed at that point. It is impossible to read what was originally typed.
Footnote 8: This is a key document. In testimony to a congressional committee after the war, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels said that the decision to send RAdm. William S. Sims to Britain resulted directly from it. According to Daniels:
After the usual greetings, when Admiral Sims came into the office, I told him of the letter from Ambassador Page suggesting that an American Admiral be sent to London; or I showed him a copy of the letter. . . . But he was made acquainted with the contents of the letter and the fact that Ambassador Page had conveyed the offer of the British Admiralty to furnish the Admiral selected to go to London with “a sort of special staff” who would “give him the results of the whole naval work since the war began.”
I told Admiral Sims that the President had decided to send him on the confidential mission outlined in Ambassador Page’s cablegram and we wished him to use the cable freely and keep the department fully posted on conditions as he found them in London.” Naval Investigation: 1993.
For more on the dispatch of Sims to London, see: Woodrow Wilson to Daniels, 24 March 1917; and On Instructions Given Rear Admiral William S. Sims Concerning His Being the United States Navy’s Liaison with the British Admiralty, 28 March 1917.