United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom Walter Hines Page to Secretary of State Robert Lansing
Dated September 21, 1917,
Rec’d Sept. 22, 6:55 A. M.
Secretary of State,
7221, September 21, 3 p. m.
Confidential for the Secretary and the President.1
Balfour, Geddes, the new head of Admiralty, and Jellicoe2 called me into a conference and explained that they are distressed about information which they receive from Washington to this effect: namely, that the American navy feels that the British Admiralty and Government have not been entirely frank with Mayo and Sims3 and do not wholly cooperate with us and they fear this feeling may have communicated itself to the Administration. They assure me that there could be no greater mistake and that they have given all information asked for and volunteered all that has occurred to Admiralty officials here as likely to be useful and that everything has been and is open to our Admirals and our Government. Mayo and Sims are now in France but both have several times volunteered to me a confirmation of the foregoing statement.
These British officials cited two items of complaint that have come to them from Washington. First, that our naval authorities regret that the British have withheld facts about three German raiders that are said to be out. In reply to this they say that no German raiders have come out since last December and that they have had no news of them for months past and think that they were destroyed before we entered war.
Second, they have heard a complaint that the British did not inform our naval authorities of the naval base established at the Azores. In reply to this they tell me that they have no naval base there. They are at a loss to know how such erroneous reports are set going.
Jellicoe again expressed wish that our navy detail officers to work in different divisions of Admiralty here so that they may be made aware of every move and every decision and every discussion when it takes place with full liberty to report everything. (See my 6728, July 13, 7 p. m.)4
Geddes is a most direct and energetic and candid man. He asked me if I could get specific information about the dissatisfaction which he hear exists at Washington. About what subjects do our navy think facts have been withheld. In what respect have British failed to cooperate. He will be grateful and gladly take up every specific instance. Nothing could be franker than his attitude. Balfour, Geddes and Jellicoe evidently think that some mischief maker is spreading false reports in Washington or that reach Washington. Gaunt has been ordered home and is on his way to try to clear up the misunderstanding and to remove itbut they are eager to have Admiral Benson himself come here.5 They will show him and his staff everything and tell him everything and gratefully and frankly discuss everything with him. My own conjecture is that misunderstanding has arisen because personal acquaintance and contact are lacking between naval authorities in Washington and London. It is, of course, impossible to believe that Balfour, Geddes and Jellicoe conceal the truth or hold back anything yet the information they receive from Washington implies that they are thought so to have done. I suggested that their information may be wrong. Their reply was that it continues to confront them and showsthat there must be a misunderstanding somewhere.|5|
I venture to suggest that an itemized statement of dissatisfaction, if it exists, be telegraphed to British Government and that a conference between the higher naval officers of both Governments be held here immediately. These men invite such a frank and specific course as I recommend.
Source Note: TD, DNA, RG 59, M367, Roll 141. Routing, code, index stamps, and handwritten notations appear on top and in the left margin of the first page.
Footnote 1: Woodrow Wilson.
Footnote 2: Foreign Secretary Arthur J. Balfour, First Lord of the Admiralty Sir Eric Geddes, and First Sea Lord Adm. Sir John R. Jellicoe.
Footnote 3: Adm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, and VAdm. William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters.
Footnote 4: See: Page to Lansing, 13 July 1917.
Footnote 5: Commo. Guy R. Gaunt, British Naval Attaché at Washington, and Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations.
Footnote 6: Despite harmonious interaction between British and American naval officers, there were strains at the highest levels of Anglo-American relations. In particular, the Navy Department felt that the British were simply absorbing American resources without treating the United States as a full partner in their alliance. In response, the department authorized Sims to establish a Planning Section in his staff, thereby countering a perceived lack of coherent strategy and withholding of information by the British Admiralty. Thanks to Mayo’s tour of Europe and another visit by Benson in November, the situation had improved considerably by the end of the year. The Navy Department even moved to counter stories in the press (that they had previously encouraged) of British unreliability. Anglo-American Naval Relations: 59-61; Still, Crisis at Sea: 73-75.