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Raymond B. Stevens, Vice-Chairman, Shipping Board, and Representative, Allied Maritime Transport Council, to Edward N. Hurley, Chairman, Shipping Board, Philip A. S. Franklin, Chairman of the Shipping Control Committee in New York, and Assistant Secretary of War Benedict Crowell

Chronological Copy.                             File No.

               Cablegram Sent 26 March 1918 RES

To Opnav, Washington                       Serial No. 5603

Prep. by  C 3                Greene D.R.



5603. URGENT Ship Mission 50 for Hurley Franklin and acting Secretary of War only. Answering your No. 17 received today1 and following your suggestion that we develop further the situation which requires Dutch Tonnage2 in connection with the Italian coal requirements, we set out here the full position:

     FIRST:    Immediately upon my arrival here it was strongly impressed upon me that the Italian coal situation was most critical. Accordingly I suggested in my Cable No. 2 of February 22nd3 that certain vessels chartered by the United States under Swedish modus vivendi be assigned temporarily to carry coal to Italy. This was done.

     SECOND:   A week later, when I was in France, it was impressed upon me personally and with great urgency by the French Minister of Commerce and French Minister of Munitions4 that the Italian coal situation was of the utmost gravity and that some method of getting coal to Italy must be decided upon at once. The supplies were represented as so low that if something were not done immediately there was a possibility of not only Italian munition factories but Italian ra<i>lways stopping.

     THIRD:    The first meeting of the Allied Maritime Transport Council was held in London on Monday, March 11th. The first question taken up was the situation in Italy owing to lack of coal. This question was <referred> to a sub-committee whowere directed to report the following day. The French and English delegates agreed that the situation of Italy with reference to coal was one of extreme gravity and that was confirmed by General Nash who had made examination for the British government.5 The Allied Maritime Transport Council, after prolonged consideration, unanimously took the action reported to you in my cable No. 25 sent March 14th. I sent you my Ship Mission No. 26.6 This last message was sent in anticipation that we might not have to act quickly in diverting vessels here after action had been taken by the Supreme War Council. Inasmuch as said message No. 26 does not refer to Dutch ships, you may have been misled into thinking that a temporary diversion of vessels discharging in the United Kingdom and in France would solve the problem without replacement by Dutch tonnage. This is not the case. The 70,000 tons of Dutch shipping were to take care of the necessary program of imports for the Allies, which would be set back by the temporary diversion of 200,000 tons of trans-Atlantic steamers to be used for one trip between England and France in supplying coal to France.

     FOURTH:   My shipmission No. 28 sent March 15th asking that the PAWNEE and OCONEE be retained on this side for coal trade7 was sent on suggestion of Shearman8 who thought that these boats might be utilizable on this side so long as needed for coal transport. You gave permission to use these boats together with DORA for one voyage as per your Planning Division 6.9 The OCONEE sailed before such permission received. The aggregate cargo capacity of PAWNEE and DORA is about 13,500 tons. This will reduce by 13,500 the 200,000 required for one voyage from England to France. It will correspondingly reduce by about 5,000 tons the 70,000 Dutch Tonnage requested for one voyage from America across the Atlantic to take care of necessary imports held back by temporary diversion of trans-Atlantic steamers for one trip from England to France.

     FIFTH:    Owing to Clemenceau’s10 failure to appreciate the gravity of the coal situation, the Supreme War Council first took the ambiguous action reported direct by General Bliss to the War Department and reported to you by my Shipmission 37.11 This action of the Supreme War Council was immediately corrected by memorandum agreed to by Clemenceau and Lloyd George12 as set out in said Shipmission 37. It is the memorandum which states the final action of the Supreme War Council with reference to Italian coal.

     SIXTH:    It was agreed by all that the quickest way to get 350,000 tons of coal to Italy was from the French supplies but that if France sent coal to Italy it would dangerously reduce the supplies of France which were already at a point too low for safety. It was therefore agreed, that France should immediately supply Italy with 350,000 tons of coal provided England would replace the depleted supplies of France so soon as possible. England agreed to withdraw from her coasting vessels, which had already been largely drawn upon, tonnage for 150,000 tons of coal. For the tonnage required for the other 200,000 tons of coal it will be necessary to divert ships engaged in trans-Atlantic traffic for one voyage from England to France. This diversion of 200,000 tons of trans-Atlantic ships will interfere with requirements of England and France for indispensable imports from America which, it was agreed by all, would have to be taken care of by 70,000 Dutch tonnage as stated above in Paragraphs Third and Fourth.

     SEVENTH:  It is recognized by all parties here that this diversion of ships would interfere with other commitments. It was for that reason that the whole question was put up to the Supreme War Council, it being believed by representatives of all governments here that at the time action was taken this Italian coal need was a more pressing necessity than any other. While the action taken was before requisition of the Dutch boats it was taken in the expectation that the Dutch boats would be requisitioned.

     EIGHT:    From the report made by the Allied Maritime Transport Council to the Supreme War Council as set out in Shipmission 25 you will see that a careful reconsideration by the supreme authorities of the whole tonnage program will have to be made as soon as the facts can be accurately submitted. In the meantime and without waiting for a solution of the whole problem it was my own opinion and the opinion of the representatives of the other three governments including Cabinet Ministers from England, France and Italy, that the action agreed upon by Clemenceau and Lloyd George as set forth in Shipmission 37 was imperatively required, even though such action interferes with other requirements for tonnage which have been deemed absolutely essential.

     NINTH:    While the heavy German attack now going on in France may interfere with the ability of France to carry coal promptly to Italy, especially because of the shortage of cars, I am clearly of the opinion that the Italian coal situation cannot be safely delayed a single day. The difficulty of getting cars at this particular juncture will doubtless require coal to be sent immediately to Italy by some all-water route. This will require even a larger diversion of tonnage for Italian coal requirements than if the rail facilities could be used freely to help. I therefore strongly recommend that the 70,000 deadweight tons from the Dutch tonnage should be placed immediately at the disposal of France and England in order to carry the cargo intended for ships which will have to be temporarily diverted from trans-Atlantic service for coal service of Italy. I make these recommendations with knowledge that it may interfere with other commitments which may have seemed necessary before the urgency of the Italian coal situation was revealed. Unless your proposed uses for these ships have a direct and immediate bearing in relieving the present military pressure upon the western front, I cannot believe there is any other necessity as urgent as to use them to prevent an Italian collapse. Stevens. <16226> 5603.


Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.

Footnote 1: This document has not been located.

Footnote 2: For more on the Dutch Tonnage situation, see: William S. Benson to Sims, 16 March 1918, and Stevens to Hurley et al., 20 March 1918.

Footnote 3: This cable has not been subsequently located.

Footnote 4: Minister of Commerce, Industry, Posts and Telegraphs Étienne Clémentel and Minister of Armaments and War Production Louis Loucheur. Both men also served as France’s representatives on the Allied Maritime Transport Council.

Footnote 5: Gen. Sir P. A. M. Nash.

Footnote 6: For Ship Mission 25, see: Stevens to Hurley et al., 14 March 1918. Ship Mission 26 has not been located.

Footnote 7: This document has not been subsequently located.

Footnote 8: L. H. Shearman was a member of the staff Stevens assembled to assist him with his duties as the United States’ representative on the Allied Maritime Transport Council.

Footnote 10: Prime Minister of France Georges Clemenceau.

Footnote 11: Maj. Gen. Tasker H. Bliss, Chief of Staff, United States Army, and American Permanent Military Representative, Supreme War Council. Neither Bliss’ report nor Stevens’ Ship Mission 37 have been located.

Footnote 12: Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Lloyd George.

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