Skip to main content

Captain William V. Pratt, Acting Chief of Naval Operations, to Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations


In pen:                                     12 November, 1918.

Dear Sims:

Copy of letter I

have just sent

Admiral Benson.

  Sd. Pratt.

Dear Admiral,

          I am sending you a copy of the fundamental plan of the proposed League of Nations Navy, with explanations.1 The cable of same, without explanations, was sent you yesterday. There is also attached a similar scheme for the Army.

          There has been a great deal of talk in the newspapers and elsewhere about the discussion that is liable to take place at the Peace table concerning a League of Nations. We had also heard that the French and British had prepared their plan. So it seemed necessary that we should have something of the sort ourselves.

          Professor Wilson2 has put in a great deal of thought on this matter and he it was who drafted the first tentative plans which we took up for discussion.3 As he theoretically outlined it, I found a great may faults with it, for it gave an opportunity for such nations as Japan and China, whose population is great, to practically dominate the League Navy and finally own it without paying for it. So the Plans Committee remodeled it and as you will see by looking in the explanations the percentage of representation is such that England and the United States practically [word crossed through and unreadable] control, and with France will have the controlling voice in the directorate.Our idea is based on the fact that there should be about seven states represented to begin with. While a theoretical League might naturally take in all of the countries of the world, we feel that the practical application of it does not permit of such a proposition, and that at the outside the number will be limited to seven. Furthermore, it would seem wise that those nations, meaning of course ou[r] selves and Great Britain, who have the means and ability to properly police the seas, should control. At least for the present, and so long as the present state of affairs exist, I was very strong in advocating equal representation for the United States and Great Britian. While we may not have the number of ships that Great Britain has at present, our future development is going to put us on a par with her, so far as ships are concerned. On the other hand she has the colonies while we have the money and a prospective future for expansion. From all I can learn I believe GreatBritain would be very glad to have some sort of an alliance with us, and I think come to an agreement in the matter of naval armament. I feel very strongly that this is a most wise thing to do for if we don’t, I believe that we will have other countries attempting to sow the seeds of discord between us and thus to profit by the results of such discord. If we each attempt singly to create Navies of our own, along the old established lines, it will immediately put us in competition with her. I think without the slightest doubt we can very readily surpass her in the matter of building, for we have the means and we have not been so hard hit by this war. However, were we to do this the same old causes for friction in the way of trade competitions, tariffs, etc. would remain, and there would be no ultimate Court of Appeals, with its corresponding international police force, to remedy matters. Again, if we compete openly for the supremacy of the seas it will surely cause this discord, because, without reasoning as to the justice in the latter, the British are bound to wince at their loss of prestige on the sea, and will compete with us to the best of their ability in the matter of building ships. This means practically that for many years to come the balance of power will be established between the United States and Great Britain, which will ebb and flow as our resources are greater then hers or less, and which may later turn against us as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and all of her colonies develop to the extent that we have developed and come to the assistance of the Mother country. Such competition extended over a number of years is bound to result in the same state of feeling which existed during our War of 1812, and up to an[d] including the War of the Rebellion [i.e., Civil War]. This would be a regrettable state of affairs, and it would be directly against the interests of humanity to have the two great Anglo-Saxon speaking nations, who should be closely tied together and who of all nations are the only ones capable of effecting the work of reconstruction which must go on, pitted against each other. For these reasons, I feel that there is a great deal to be said in favor of a League Navy and I feel that it is a way in which Great Britain may gracefully yield her prestige without causing too much dissention within her own boundaries, and, at the same time, unite with us in effectively policing the seas. We feel very strongly that such a scheme as outlined will probably tend to draw Great Britain and ourselves somewhat closer together and that it will remove the competitive feature between the only two great powers now able to compete with each other, and that it will tend in the course of time toward a general decrease of Naval armament.4

          I am doing my best to get Gherardi, Knapp5 and Professor Wilson over to you, but you, best of all men, must realize that I have a great many difficulties in accomplishing all that you wish and you must realize the inertia which I have to overcome, particularly now that the Armistice has been signed. So if things don’t move as you would like, I trust that you will be patient and remember that we, all of us here, aredoing the best that we can.

          I gave the message “BENSEC 5” to the Secretary and asked him to please take it up at the Cabinet meeting and let me know the result.6 I have not found out yet what that result is, but will make every effort to speed the plan along.

          An order has gone out from the Secretary cutting out overtime work, including Sundays. We have had to have this relaxed in the case of transports, cargo ships and Eagle boats in the Lakes, as I explained to the Secretary that while military operations might be over, the great work of bringing back our troops and of feeding Russia and the central powers had not yet begun, and that it would not be wise, no matter what money we save, to handicap in the least the ships that must be used for these purposes.

          With kindest regards,

                             Very sincerely yours,

W. V. PRATT            

Source Note: LTS, DLC-MSS. William S. Sims Papers, Box 49. This copy has a notation typed in the top left-hand corner of each page: “Admiral Sims personal file.” A document identifier in the top right-hand corner of each page reads: “1/3/J.” Notation below close: “ENCLOSURES:/Admiral W. S. Benson, U.S.Navy,/C/o [Capt. Richard H. Jackson] U.S.Naval Attache,/PARIS, FRANCE.”

Footnote 1: For the memorandum, “Proposed Plans for Establishment of League of Nations Army and Navy,” see, DNA, RG 80.

Footnote 2: Professor George Grafton Wilson of Harvard University and the Naval War College.

Footnote 3: The basic concept of the plan was that:

the League Navy would be made up of vessels and personnel from existing national navies and it would be twice the size of any single nation’s navy. Great Britain and the United States would commit their navies to the League and each navy would be equal be equal in size and strength. The other maritime nations would contribute the other half of the League Navy, with France, Japan, and a rehabilitated Germany each contributing ten percent and the rest of the world making up the balance. Costs would be shared in proportion to the size of the naval warship contribution to the League Navy. A League Admiralty Board would select the three highest ranking officers of the League Navy and each would come from a different country. Wheeler, Pratt, 129.

Footnote 4: Pratt’s efforts toward a League navy proved “completely abortive” and the plan for a League Navy “was given very little consideration at the Paris meetings.” Ibid., 131.

Footnote 5: Capt. Walter R. Gheradi and presumably RAdm. Henry S. Knapp.

Footnote 6: Benson’s letter to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels has not been found. There is no evidence that Daniels brought up a message from Benson in a cabinet meeting

Related Content