Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Press Conference Held By Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

P R E S S.

Saturday A.M., - - - March 2, 1918.

Good morning, gentlemen. I haven’t a thing today, gentlemen.

Q.   Have you appointed a new head?

     A.   No, I have not.1

Q. Can you help us out on the Siberian matter,--as to what the Navy is going to do.

A. No, I cannot. I would rather you would not quote me about anything. We have no ships over there.

Q.   Have the Japanese any ships there?

A.   I don’t know. They may have.

Q.   Any advices about the situation at Vladivostok?

A.   No, I have not.

Q.   Do you think the stories being written are accurate?

A. Of course, Russia is a big country and conditions are very bad and you cannot tell what is going to happen next.

Q. Will our part be considered from the military point of view?

A. Well, it is not a proper thing for me to talk about. I think this. I think Japan feels that if the Germans take Petrograd and go on, and if they do not stop them, that they will take them. If the Germans get as far as Vladisvostok our sphere of influence is gone. It is a good long stretch, but if the Germans take Petrograd and Moscow they could get the whole country. It is a very difficult situation and I don’t want to be quoted. There is no use to go anywhere unless you can go well. If we go in the first thing Germany will say is, “You are going in to take a part of Russia, too!” We are not going over there at all except to hold a line. There are so many difficulties to the situation that it is pretty hard right now to say anything about it.

Q.   Will large forces be sent to Vladivostok?

A. I don’t think so. We are sending soldiers to France. The war is going to be won there. As to going in very far Japan probably would not. She would be charged with wanting to take part of the country. We have no interest in taking Vladivostok; moreover we haven’t the ships. Everything we have is on this side. The only ships we have there are for patrol duty and if we take them from over here we might need them on the other side.

Q. Would you change your views at all if the Germans captured the Russian fleet?

A. Well, I have no views to change. I think we had better keep on the line we are on now. If the Germans take the country they cannot hold it in the long run unless they get the west coast. In France is the place to fight and not on this coast or in Siberia. I have not talked with the State Department about it, however.2

Q.   Did we tell Japan that we would disapprove of her position?

A. I don’t know. It is too difficult a thing to tell anything about.3

- - - - - - -

Source Note: Cy, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Roll 68.

Footnote 1: Possibly, head of the War Industries Board. Daniels was one of a handful of government officials involved in the search for a new head. Two days later, President Woodrow Wilson announced the appointment of Bernard M. Baruch as chairman. Cuff, The War Industries Board: 143-46.

Footnote 2: For more on the Allies and the Russian fleet, see: William S. Sims to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 3 March 1918.

Footnote 3: There was significant disagreement between the uniformed leadership in the Navy and civilian officials in the Wilson administration about the position of the United States concerning Japan, Russia, and control over Siberia. Adm. William S. Benson and his assistant, Capt. William V. Pratt, were concerned about a German-Japanese rapprochement and favored an arrangement in which the United States would allow, if not encourage, a Japanese movement into Siberia, as well as permitting the Japanese to assume a dominant role in the Russian Far East. By contrast, President Wilson, his key advisor in foreign affairs, Col. Edward House, Secretary of State Frank Lansing, and Daniels, opposed allowing the Japanese to intervene unilaterally. As a result, on 5 March Washington cabled the government of Japan warning against intervention because it would generate “hot resentment” among Russians. There was also some lukewarm support for a joint allied expedition into Siberia. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk between Russia and Germany, signed 3 March, led to another round of debate within the Wilson Administration and the Navy as to how to proceed regarding Siberia. Braisted, The United States Navy in the Pacific, 1909-1922: 351-57.