Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

Communications Copy.

CABLEGRAM SENT 3 March, 1919.

To SIMSADUS LONDON                     Serial No. <Mission 319>

Prep. by M-5/I      Ap’vd. by           D. R.

Rec’d          Coded          Cypher         Disp’chd{Cable Mess.

MISSION NUMBER 319.      To: OPNAV; for SECRETARY NAVY.

          At suggestion of Commissioners the following extracts from memorandum submitted to our Commissioners along with proposed terms for preliminary peace is forwarded with request it be transmitted immediately to President.1

          I have made reservations or disagreed in each instance with those clauses which limit naval power of Germany after final treaty of peace.

          Comment on Article One. This article originally provided for permanent limitation of German Fleet, but was modified upon the British suggestion of a limitation during period when Germany had not fulfilled all her obligations under the final Treaty of Peace. In addition to fact that I believe principle to be unsound of limiting the sovereignty of a country after final Treaty of Peace, I regard this article and other articles dealing with future limitation German naval power as too detailed for insertion in a Treaty of Peace. Execution of article will require too close a supervision, a too intimate supervision of foreign Commissioners over affairs that are purely German.

          Comment on Article Two. This article is of same general nature as Article One and open to same objection.

          Comment on Article Three. I am in hearty accord with complete destruction of Germany’s power in submarines. This article is drawn so as to be inclusive of all arrangements which have heretofore been made as part of Armistice Terms.

          Comment on Article Four. I am in complete accord with the provisions of this article. Attention is invited to the fact that this article in its present form necessitates the destruction of or breaking up of all these vessels. This is a step that is essential, and no argument which may take place in the Supreme War Council or elsewhere should be allowed to prevail in omitting its provision. Repeated attempts were made on the part of French Representatives to omit from this article that part of it which states “for the purpose of being broken up or destroyed in the shortest possible time”. The same resistance will undoubtedly be encountered when this article is considered by the Supreme War Council and by the Peace Conference.

     Comment on Article Five. I am in accord with the provisions of this article. The vessels of war enumerated are still in German possession. When Germany gives them up, she will be left with practically no Navy. This fact in itself will be a strong inducement toward preventing the further expansion of naval armaments in Europe. Attention is invited to the provision that the vessels named shall be sunk. I consider it essential that this provision should remain unchanged despite the fact that strong pressure will be brought to bear to have it changed. The French Minister of Marine2is not in favor of the destruction of the vessels surrendered by Germany. His proposition cannot be entertained by American Delegates without serious injury.

              1. to the interests of the world;

              2. to American interests.

     Comment on Article Six. This paragraph extends the present Armistice provisions regarding submarine construction to all naval vessels.

     Comment on Article Seven. The Provisions of this article are necessary in order to prevent the vessels now being broken up, or to be broken up, from being re-assembled as soon as Peace is signed – thus defeating our objects.

     Comment on Article Eight. This article is designed to limit the future Naval power of Germany, and is supplementary to articles One and Two. It is open to the same objection as these articles.

     Comment on Article Nine. This article was inserted towards the end of the Committee’s work in order to make the Naval Terms similar to the Military Terms. I accepted the article insofar as it relates to the present reduction of German xxxxxx naval supplies, but I made a reservation regarding the future, and particularly regarding the last paragraph of this article, which would prohibit Germany from Manufacturing for foreign account, naval armaments ammunition, mines, torpedoes and so forth.

     Comment on Article xxxx Ten. This article as originally drawn included the two ex-German vessels now commissioned in the U.S. Navy, namely, the U.S.S. DE KALB and U.S.S. VON STEUBEN. I xxx maintain that the sovereignty over these vessels had vested in the United States absolutely, and that consequently no article of the Peace Terms should presume to question that sovereignty. My view accepted. Have since learned unofficially that question of our ownership of German merchant vessels seized in our ports will be raised in spite of fact that Congress has decided that title to them is vested entirely in the United States.

     Comment on Article eleven. This article assigns to Germany her proportionate share of the great task of clearing the sea of mines. This is the last of the purely naval articles.

     Comment on Article twelve. In my memorandum to the President I pointed out that Heligoland was in my opinion a defensive position and that its dismantlement would not materially alter the naval power of Germany, since Germany would have no Navy which could base on Heligoland. In my discussions with the Naval Representatives I made them acquainted with my ideas and stated to them that, as Heligoland was a purely European question, I would not be too insistent in my ideas. In the matter of harbors I withheld my consent to their destruction. As the question of Heligoland is not purely naval, I think that the political aspect of removing the principal defences of the principal commercial river of Germany should be considered by the Commissioners in its political and military aspects.

     Comment on Article thirteen. This clause is justified only on the basis of giving free access to vessels into Baltic at all times. Attention is invited to fact that channels which are freed of German fortifications by provisions of this clause are commanded by Danish fortifications. Attention is further invited to fact that demolition of fortifications proposed leaves German Naval Base at Kiel, eastern end of Kiel Canal, and all the north coast of Germany as far xx east as Longitude 16º, without any fixed defences whatever. This is a question which is not purely naval, and which must be decided by Commissioners from its political and military aspects as well as from its naval aspects. Is it desirable to leave Baltic frontier of Germany in a defenceless state?

     Comment on Article fourteen. I did not agree to this article. I consider it important that any action taken concerning the Kiel Canal should not be such as to permit its being quoted as a precedent at some later period for action concerning waterways which are wholly American. In a discussion regarding the proposed clause throwing open the Kiel Canal, it was recognized by all the Admirals that Germany, in a time of war in which she was one of the belligerents, would certainly not be bound to admit her enemy to the Kiel Canal, and that she would undoubtedly be able to control the Kiel Canal or to destroy it if necessary.

     Comment on Article fifteen. This article was inserted solely to indicate that from standpoint of naval warfare German Colonies should not be returned to Germany and thus be made available to her as future bases of submarine or cruiser warfare against commerce. Political questions involved in disposition of German Colonies were not considered by Naval Representatives.

     Comment on Article sixteen. This article was inserted by British in order to prevent distributing propaganda during reconstruction period.

     Comment on Article Seventeen. I disagree with this article entirely. Cablesmentioned have in several cases been interfered with by English and French, sections of them having been taken up and moved to other places. Was of the opinion that cables so taken up might be considered Prize of War, but that cables which had been left in place should, at the conclusion of Peace, be returned to former owners. I offered as a compromise proposal that question of all these cables should be submitted to the Prize Courts of belligerent countries concerned. This proposal was first accepted but later rejected on ground that the Prize Courts would probably not take cognizance of the cases. Attention is invited to the fact that seizure of these cables would still further perfect the monopoly of cable communication between America and Europe to disadvantage of America. To our interest that we should be able to communicate directly by cable with all these countries with which we expect to trade. A list of cables given under Article XVII includes only two cables, which previous to the war, connected New York directly to Germany without going through French or British offices. The growth of our merchant marine makes it a matter of considerable importance to us that our facilities for communication and our facilities for fuelling vessels in all parts of the world should be guarded and developed.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

     No comment on Article eighteen.

     Comment on Article nineteen. The original proposal was for a permanent Commission to sit in Berlin for the purpose of carrying out Peace Terms and for supervising measures connected with limitation of Germany’s naval power in future. I objected to such a Commission, believing it to be unsound in principle and likely to provoke trouble even in form in which Commission is provided for in Article nineteen. Commissions will undoubtedly be necessary to attend to execution of those parts of Peace Terms dealing with surrender of material and destruction of material. I made reservations in connection with all Commissions which might have to deal with limitations of Germany’s future naval power.

     No comment on Article twenty.

          <Benson>

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. The heading materials appears on each subsequent page. This copy begins with each article indented, but stops indenting beginning with article six. For ease of reading, the editor has indented all new articles.

Footnote 1: For the proposed terms in question, see: Benson to Daniels and Wilson, 3 March 1919.

Footnote 2: Georges Leygues.

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