Skip to main content

British Ambassador to the United States Sir Cecil A. Spring Rice to British Foreign Office



Decypher.  Mr. Barclay. (Washington). March 20th.1917.

           R. 3.0.a.m. March 21st.1917.

No. 741

-   - - - -


Your telegram No. 581.

     Naval Attaché1 had long conference with Assistant Secretary of Navy2 this morning and also with Director of Naval Intelligence Division.3 They are most anxious that some scheme of co-operation should be communicated to them at once. They feel public pressure will require presence of American (?ships) on the other side of Atlantic and ask whether it would be possible to give them a base for 30 destroyers on Coast of Ireland or some other suitable place.4

     Even if it is not thought advisable to submit any detailed proposals to Naval Department, Naval Attaché thinks it imperative that he should have some indication of ultimate wishes of Admiralty so that he can influence opinion of Naval Board now sitting to considerer this very question before they formulate any opinion of their own.5 Once Board have made up their minds there is a danger that it would be difficult to make them change their plans without exciting jealousy and anti-British sentiment which pervades United States Navy.

     A decision, it is understood, has already been given, that until America declares war all applications from America for naval co-operation must pass through diplomatic channels.6 The reason for this decision is believed to be that it is desirable that Great Britain should not appear anxious that America should enter the war. At the same time with war-fever rising in America and the American Admiralty Staff endeavouring to work out plans, I would suggest that it is extremely desirable not to damp their ardour but to communicate unofficially to our Naval Attache the general lines on which naval co-operation is desired, as it is impossible for the American Staff to officially request information under existing conditions.7

     As regards the substance of this telegram it is suggested that an immediate reply be made that British Admiralty would welcome 30 Destroyers to operate on the coast of Ireland, and are prepared to provide them with a pass base and all facilities. It may also be considered advisable to indicate that a Squadron of cruisers should be formed to search for Raiders, and kept concentrated at some post ready to move out. A further point would be to indicate a line of demarcation of the patrol areas run by Canada, so that there shall be no over-lapping.

     As regard co-operation with the American Director of Naval Intelligence Division I propose, if approved, to prepare a paper to send out by hand to the Naval Attache which he can pass on to the Director of the Naval Intelligence Division.8

Source Note: Cy, Uk-KeNA, Adm. 137/1426. Neither the author or recipient is given. However, the tone of the cable, the fact that the copy came from the files of the British Foreign Office, and that the coding of the cable was done by Colville Barclay, First Secretary of the British Embassy in Washington, lead the editors to believe it was authored by Ambassador Sir Cecil A. Spring Rice and was sent to the Foreign Office. Below the copy of the cable is a signature which appears to read “Will Hall” followed by “D.I.D./21.3.17.” Presumably this means that this copy of the cable was sent to Capt. William E. Hall, director of the Intelligence Division of the British Admiralty. Below this is a note penned by VAdm. Sir. Henry F. Oliver, Deputy Chief of Naval Staff, which reads: “It is proposed to inform NA that the Admiralty will afford all necessary facilities for basing U.S Destroyers on the Irish coast & would welcome their co-operation in operating against submarines & protecting trade. The question of further assistance has been dealt with on M. Branch papers & it is proposed to send the N.A a memo embodying what was approved. This should serve as a guide to him.” This note was signed “H.F. Oliver” and below the signature is the date “22-3-17.” The “NA” was the British naval commander-in-chief in North America, Adm. Montague E. Browning. “M Branch” was the secretariat to the Admiralty staff.

Footnote 1: Commo. Guy R.A. Gaunt, R.N.

Footnote 2: Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Footnote 3: VAdm. James H. Oliver.

Footnote 4: The proposal concerning U.S. Navy destroyers was accepted. See: Oliver to  David Beatty, 6 April 1917.

Footnote 5: The Admiralty sent guidance to Guy Gaunt on 24 March 1917. Uk-KeNA, Adm. 137/1426.. As seen in the letter of Adm. Charles Badger, President of the General Board of the Navy, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels of 20 March 1917, the board was already advising the Secretary of the Navy on issues relating to the U.S. Navy and the war.

Footnote 6: See, Admiralty to Gaunt and Foreign Office to Colville Barclay, both 22 March 1917, Ibid. In the cable to Barclay, presumably for Spring Rice, the Admiralty wrote that in view of the “hesitating attitude” of President Woodrow Wilson and the “jealousy and anti-British sentiment which pervades the United States Navy,” that Spring Rice reported, the Admiralty was unwilling to discuss cooperation unless “officially approached” through “proper channels.”

Footnote 7: On 22 March, Arthur Balfour, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, informed Naval Attaché Guy Gaunt that he had no objection if Gaunt communicated “privately” the “views of the British Admiralty to Authorities of Navy Department if and when your advice is sought.” UK-KeNA, Adm. 137/1426.

Footnote 8: As seen in the source note, this copy of the cable was sent to the Director of the Intelligence Division of the British Admiralty. It is not known, however, what action, if any, he took. The director of the Office of Naval Intelligence of the U.S. Navy (ONI) on 20 March was RAdm. James H. Oliver. However, on 28 March, Oliver left ONI to become governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands and was succeeded as director by RAdm. Roger Welles, Jr.

Related Content