Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Raymond B. Stevens, Vice-Chairman, Shipping Board, to Edward N. Hurley, Chairman, Shipping Board, Philip A. S. Franklin, Chairman, Shipping Control Committee, and Assistant Secretary of War Benedict Crowell

<Cablegram>

<March 20, 1918>

From: Sims

To:   CNO

     5367 Ship Mission 37 for Hurley, Franklin and Acting Secretary of War. Referring my ship mission 25 and 26,1    We were informed that Supreme War Council last week after receipt of recommendation of allied maritime transport council as communicated by my number 25 arrived following pronouncement which was immediately cabled by Bliss2 to War Department quote The French Government accepting not to discontinue the transportation of three hundred fifty thousand tons French coal into Italy by April 15th, the Supreme War Council are of the opinion the Dutch shipping in American ports should be used in the first place for the indispensable requirements of the American military program. Unquote. This decision was difficult to understand and apparently failed to take due account of the urgency of the coal situation in France as well as in Italy and was due to Clemenceau’s3 inadequate comprehension of maritime transport council’s recommendations. Subsequently the following memorandum was agreed to by Clemenceau and Lloyd George4 and represents their final understanding of the necessary and indispensable action to be taken in carrying out the decision of the Supreme War Council on this matter. Following memorandum in spite of apparent inconsistency is therefore to be accepted as authoritative statement of action intended. Bliss would confirm this but for his departure for Italy before final understanding was reached. Quote.

     (1) It has been explained and conceded that in the present state of affairs France can furnish coal to Italy only on the condition that France be reimbursed with an d equal quantity of English coal; it being understood that the means of transportation would have to be other than those now employed in the coal transports of France.

     (2) The question has been temporarily settled for the period from March 15th to April 15th on the following conditions: (a) France is furnishing 350,000 tons of French coal to Italy from March 15th to April 15th. (b) 350,000 rona [i.e., tons] of English coal are being furnished to France from March 15th to April 30th as follows: 150,000 tons of English coasting tonnage; 200,000 tons of large merchant vessels which are to make one voyage for the transport of coal from England to France before being allowed to keep on with their previous employment.

     (3) France and England will for the present take the measure necessary for transporting the 200,000 tons last mentioned.

     (4) But in thus making use of the large merchant vessels above mentioned, there results a setback in the general program of imports for the allies amounting to about 70,000 tons.

     (5) To make up for this loss, which the allies are not in a position to sustain in view of the extreme urgency of their program, the request has been made to America to assign for one voyage a certain number of the ships from the requisitioned Dutch tonnage with a view to aiding the allies under difficult circumstances.

     (6) It is understood these Dutch ships would be placed immediately at our disposal in America and that they would carry the cargo intended for the temporarily diverted from trans-ATLANTIC service for carriage of coal to France from England.5 Unquote. In accordance with above memorandum, I recommend immediate allocation of 70,000 tons Dutch tonnage for one trans-ATLANTIC voyage as indicated by fifth and sixth paragraphs above.6 Coal situation in Italy and France is so critical that failure to take action above indicated would have most serious consequences. STEVENS. 10420 5367.

SIMS.    

 

 

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. The date is handwritten and confirmed by the time/date entry that follows immediately after the text.

 

Footnote 1: For Stevens’ report number “25” see: Stevens to Hurley, Crowell, and Vance McCormick, 14 March 1918. Number “26” has not been found, but for a discussion of it, see: Franklin to Sevens, 17 March 1918.

Footnote 2: Maj. Gen. Tasker H. Bliss, the United States’ military representative to the Allied Supreme War Council.

Footnote 3: French Premier Georges Clemenceau.

Footnote 4: British Prime Minister David Lloyd George.

Footnote 5: On the same day as this letter, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation to “take over” and “employ” vessels of Dutch registry “within territorial waters of the United States.” Wilson Proclamation no. 1436, 20 March 1918. DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.

Footnote 6: A number of the Dutch ships were taken over and used by the Naval Overseas Transportation Service.

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