The most exasperating problem faced by the United States Navy in the years 1922 to 1931 was acquiring sufficient ships and personnel to meet fleet needs for an anticipated Pacific war against the Japanese Empire. Because of the vast distances between bases — and the dearth of them — the Navy would require twice the tonnage of the Japanese fleet. Every major unit must be constructed for extended operations in the area between Hawaii and the Philippines, using Pearl Harbor as the major naval operating base. But it was exceedingly difficult to convince the American taxpayer or his elected representatives of the Navy's needs. The man in the street was more interested in national than international affairs, in economies rather than military aggrandizement.1
p106 President Warren G. Harding set the tone for the next ten years when his first message to Congress, in April, 1921, dealt almost entirely with domestic affairs. "I know of no more pressing problem at home than to restrict our national expenditures within the limits of our national income, and at the same time measurably lift the burdens of war taxation from the shoulders of the American people." A year and a half later the President said he brought "no apprehension of war. The world is abhorrent of it, and our relations are not only free from every threatening cloud, but we have contributed our larger influence toward making armed conflict less likely." President Harding's death brought another confirmed nationalist to the White House, who assured the public in December, 1923,
For us peace reigns everywhere. We desire to perpetuate it always by granting full justice to others and requiring of others full justice to ourselves.
Our country has one cardinal principle to maintain in its foreign policy. It is an American principle. It must be an American policy. We attend to our own affairs, conserve our own strength, and protect the interests of our citizens. . . .
Two years later President Calvin Coolidge was gratified to report that the country was enjoying "a general condition of progress and prosperity," and that it did not "appear to require radical departures from the policies already adopted." He concluded, "We are by far the most likely to accomplish permanent good if we proceed with moderation." These years of leadership by platitude convinced the taxpayer that there was no danger of war — that an economically strong America could easily cope with any challenge of the future without adequate preparation.2 Unfortunately in the 1920's, when naval and military accretions were set aside in the name of tax reductions, the country was economically building itself toward the fateful "Black Friday" of October, 1929.
In its dealings with the Navy the Congress followed a bifurcated policy. There was a general eagerness to reassert Congressional leadership p107 in foreign affairs, a direct reaction to the heavy-handed guidance of President Wilson, and yet there was an obvious desire to fulfill the legislative programs of Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. There was constant pressure by the Senate and House upon the Presidents to call another naval conference to finish the work left undone by the Washington Conference of 1921‑22, and later the Geneva Conference of 1927. Further, naval authorization and appropriation acts were given the closest scrutiny to make sure that the country was getting the most for its tax dollar. Here Congress clashed as often as not with the Bureau of the Budget, which was an executive agency and therefore fair game for congressmen in both parties.
The creation of the bureau provided the President with a handy tool and Congress with a strong competitor, as time was to prove. The directors of the budget became presidential "no" men through the years, and served to restrain appropriation-hungry members of the official executive family. In the early 1920's the simple statement that an appropriation request was "in conflict with the President's financial program" usually ended the matter. By 1927, however, Congress began to realize that it had created a monster, at least in terms of Navy fiscal programs. Budget control could mean naval policy control, a prerogative jealously guarded by the House and Senate Naval Affairs committees. Committeemen began suggesting that the budget directors be summoned to defend their budgets and to explain why ships or personnel were eliminated by making funds unavailable. From the nature of the questions asked and the comments interjected into the hearings, it is quite obvious that Naval Committee members were not so interested in restoring funds to trimmed budgets as they were in returning responsibility for naval policy to Congress. In many ways these skirmishes, whether between Congress and Navy Department officials or Congress and Budget Bureau employees, were merely reflections of the traditional power struggle between the President and the legislative branch of the Government. Yet the total effect was to weaken naval effectiveness and obscure the relationship between foreign policy and its supporting agent. It became less and less clear whether the Department of the Navy, the Bureau of the Budget, or p108 the Naval Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee was charged with maintaining America's "first line of defense."3
The spring and fall of 1922 were hard for American naval officers. While the Washington Naval Conference was still in session, the Congress began its annual hearings on the naval appropriation bill for fiscal 1923. These hearings and those in the fall on the 1924 appropriation bill provided a gauge for measuring the attitude of Congress toward the postconference Navy. It was a year of worry for a Navy which left the conference table considerably less than satisfied. It entered the Washington Conference with the premise that Japan was a menace to American national interests, and it emerged with a few diplomatic guarantees for American Far Eastern interests and a naval establishment considered incapable of supporting them if challenged. The hearings of 1922 revealed that Congress was interested in reducing even further that Navy which the diplomats had not succeeded in scuttling.
First the House Naval Affairs Committee and the Naval Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee turned to an examination of naval personnel on the rolls in February and March, 1922. To the horror of the Navy, Secretary Edwin Denby's request for 96,000 enlisted men was brushed aside, and it was asked to base the distribution of personnel on 65,000 men — a reduction of approximately 54,000 seamen — yet to keep in service the ships allowed by the Five-Power Naval Treaty. In retaliation the Bureau of Navigation (later called the Bureau of Naval Personnel) sharply reported that p109 such a reduction would mean discontinuing our Caribbean squadron, Yangtze River and South China patrols, and the Naval Forces Europe, retention of which was obviously desired by the State Department and commerce-conscious congressmen. Under further pressure the Navy Department admitted that the foreign squadrons could be kept and the problem of operating them with fewer men solved by putting six battleships and many submarines and destroyers on standby status. Secretary of the Navy Denby warned the Appropriations Subcommittee that the figure submitted (65,000 men) was "wholly inadequate in the estimation of the department to properly man the United States Navy. It will necessitate leaving ships of vital importance out of the battle line. The ratio established in the naval treaty . . . under the personnel allowance of 65,000 . . . will be reduced to 2½‑5‑3. . . . I need not comment on the extra-ordinary spectacle thus presented."4
The protests of the Navy Department did not go unheeded, and within two months Representatives Thomas Butler of the Naval Affairs Committee and Patrick H. Kelley of the Appropriations Subcommittee were forced to compromise at a level of 86,000 enlisted men.5 Their aim in attempting heavy personnel reductions did not escape the Navy. In a letter to an old friend the president of the Naval War College, Rear Admiral William S. Sims, took stock of the situation:
I believe that the Congress understands exactly what they are doing. I believe they understand that cutting down the personnel will render the navy entirely insufficient as a fighting machine, in comparison with the other navies concerned, but I believe they think that in doing this they are carrying out the uninstructed will of the people . . . [who] do not understand the significance of the measures proposed. They do p110 understand the pressure of taxation and they are strongly inclined to favor any measures which they think will materially decrease it.6
Fortunately for the Navy the drastic measures attempted in Congress were not repeated, though naval enlisted strength did not rise above 90,000 men until 1936. Obviously legislators were trying to encourage further international naval reductions by example rather than by treaty, a gesture that gained very little support from the naval establishment.
While examining the personnel needs of the Navy, the committees did not consider enlisted men alone. Ship and shore base complements were scrutinized minutely to determine whether they were overloaded with officers. The personnel of staffs, bureaus, and offices were culled to see whether reductions could not be effected, and even members of the 1922 Naval Academy graduating class were threatened with a return to civil life instead of billets in the Navy. However, Congressional probing generally showed the Navy to be actually underofficered, and the subject was dropped.7 The ten years that followed saw the Navy constantly urging an increase in its regular line officer allowance, but no significant increase was permitted until the middle 1930's.
The 1922 investigations of naval penitential needs were symptomatic of Congressional committee sentiment toward other parts of the Navy. Every class of ship was examined to determine whether money should be appropriated for its operations, and a characteristic attitude was taken toward mine layers and mine sweepers. The Naval Affairs Committee wondered why such vessels were necessary in peacetime and showed general skepticism in regard to the value of training for their crews. The use of transport vessels as fleet flagships was attacked as an extravagance, though fleet commanders thought it desirable to remain free of the battle force itself when engaging in maneuvers, to permit thinking in terms of "forces" rather than individual units. The practical result of such Congressional pressure was to have the commanders and their staffs riding in obsolete coal-burning cruisers while p111 maneuvering with oil‑burning battleships. Eventually the fleet commanders returned to quarters aboard their battleships, but only after the old coal-burning cruisers were exhausted. Few admirals were sorry to see the Navy scrap such relics as Huron, Birmingham, and Rochester.8
The extensive hearings of 1922 were gale warnings for the Navy; it could expect very little in future appropriation bills under the subhead "Increase of the Navy." Yet, there was considerable work ahead if the Navy was to hold up its end of the 5‑5‑3 ratio system. Thirteen of the eighteen battleships needed considerable modernization. Except for the ten postwar Omaha class cruisers, the Navy had no modern vessels in this badly needed category. There was a superabundance of destroyers, but a slightly heavier type, the "destroyer leader," was considered imperative. Again, the Navy possessed a great many serviceable submarines, but it lacked high-speed, long-range vessels to cruise with the fleets. And, finally, there was a great deal of naval interest in acquiring modern aircraft carriers in order to test their value with the fleet. If all of these desires were satisfied, the naval establishment would be much larger, in view of the demand for crews to man the new construction and shore facilities to service them. Herein lay the roots of Congressional parsimony, and here one can find the answer, in part, for Congressional interest in naval limitation conferences.
From 1922 to 1931 both the Navy and Congress showed considerable interest in the American battleship fleet. To Congress the eighteen battleships allowed the United States by the Washington Five-Power Treaty were a drain on the taxpayer. To the Navy the battleships were the "backbone of the battle line" — the "heart of the fleet." It was these ships upon which the Navy depended to carry war to Japan's shores. Any tampering with the battleship fleet would make the successful prosecution of such a Pacific war infinitely more difficult, especially in view of inadequate bases in the Far East.
p112 In dollars and cents the eighteen battleships represented a heavy annual expense. To be properly manned they required approximately 20 per cent of the enlisted strength of the Navy or an annual payroll of approximately $16,000,000. Over the years each vessel was charged, on the average, with $100,000 per year of repair and alterations, or an expenditure of $1,800,000 for all battleships.9 Steaming an average of •20,000 miles per year required large supplies of oil, and annual gunnery practice was costly. Thirteen of the eighteen ships had undergone major modernization at approximately $6,000,000 per vessel, and by 1931 the most modern of the eighteen vessels, Colorado (1923), West Virginia (1923), Maryland (1921), California (1921), and Tennessee (1920), were requiring additional expenditures, averaging $1,000,000 per vessel, for new antiaircraft batteries.10 With battleship upkeep charges always before them, some congressmen sought a cheaper means of national protection.
Though put on the defensive from time to time by attacks from air power advocates, the Navy had a positive view which it consistently presented concerning the value and utility of battleships. Sea power, as any Naval War College graduate was quick to point out, consisted of three elements, all interrelated and none of which could be omitted, namely: the fleet, the merchant marine, and the naval bases.11 Compared with Great Britain the United States was woefully weak in merchant marine and naval bases; therefore, the fleet was of vital importance if the United States was to maintain a ratio of equality with Great Britain. Were the battleships eliminated, the British would possess an overwhelming superiority in modern cruiser strength, and even Japan would be more powerful. The theoretical ability of the p113 British to convert some of their merchantmen to fast, armed raiders made their merchant marine superiority a marked menace to the United States and further emphasized the critical importance of the battleship fleet.12
From both a strategical and tactical viewpoint the battleships were hierarchy valued in naval planning. The battleship was designed to carry the gun into fighting range, and to stay in battle, owing to defensive superiority, until the enemy was sunk or driven off. In the colorful phrases of Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., the battleship's role was thus portrayed in 1922:
The capital ship forms the body of the Navy in the same way that the Infantry forms the body of the Army. In order to function properly both capital ship and Infantry have to have vitally necessary auxiliary or complementary arms, but nevertheless, both remain the body of our respective services, and in final analysis, the old maxim about the Infantry that I think was put forward by Napoleon and other numerous gentlemen in the past, holds true of the capital ship . . . "The Infantry is the Army — when the Infantry is defeated the Army is defeated!" . . . That, in my opinion, holds good of the capital ship in the navy.13
The Navy was therefore convinced that the battleship with its large caliber gun was the most important class of vessel, and planned its future accordingly. Time after time naval representatives spoke of future sea battles as if Tsushima or Jutland were to be repeated. Secretary Wilbur in 1924 told a House committee, "It is believed that modern naval engagements between first class powers, except in sporadic instances, will be fleet engagements . . . in the ultimate struggle p114 for supremacy between great naval powers the issue will be determined by a battle between the fleets of the combatant nations."14
With the passage of time, there was increasing domestic and foreign pressure for further reduction in United States battleship strength. From the British, suggestions were generally for a reduction in ship size to about 25,000 tons maximum, and in gun caliber from the current 16‑inch maximums to 13.5 inches. In time Japan joined in such requests, though the Imperial Navy advocated delay pending careful study. In the United States legislators and statesmen toyed with the idea of reduction, which the Navy Department continually rebuffed.15
In its "Naval Policy" the General Board had decided that the "General Building and Maintenance Policy" of the Navy should be, in part,
To make superiority of armament in their class an end in view in the design of all fighting ships.
p115 To provide for greater radius of action in all classes of fighting ships.16
As a corollary to these principles the General Board had further counseled as a part of its "Peace Strategy of the Pacific" that "all vessels should be built to operate trans-Pacifically." Any such vessel armed with 16‑inch guns, able to stand in a battle line with sufficient armor, and having a speed of 21 knots, would require a displacement of at least 35,000 tons. Lower tonnage would require the sacrifice of some key feature.17 In view of pessimistic prophecies concerning Japan and the necessity of defending the Philippines from Hawaii, cruising radius could not be sacrificed. The lessons of Jutland, especially the loss of the three British battle cruisers, showed dramatically that protection was essential. Reduction of gun caliber would help very little because guns accounted for a mere 8 per cent of battleship tonnage. And, finally, speed could not be further reduced because the American battleship fleet was relatively slow, and speed was considered vital for the selection of fighting ranges or for escape, as the situation required.18
When battleship reduction was finally forced upon the Navy at the London Naval Conference of 1930, it accepted a reduction in numbers only and a holiday in the battleship replacements that were to have commenced in 1931.19 This approach had been urged by the British at the Geneva Conference in 1927 and was eagerly agreed to by the Japanese at London. For Great Britain, Japan, and the United p116 States, the holiday meant that money deferred from battleship replacements could be spent on auxiliary replacements for Japan and Britain, and for attaining auxiliary parity, particularly in cruisers, by the United States.20
The Navy Department eventually insisted on capital ship modernization in all respects, for Army-Navy bombing tests in 1921 proved that aircraft could sink naval vessels under certain conditions. The destruction of the old battleships Virginia and New Jersey in September, 1923, again by aircraft bombs, clearly pointed out that two direct hits, or even near misses with 2,000‑pound bombs, could put battleships out of commission. Destruction of Washington in November, 1924, by naval gunfire, mining, and bombs proved that modern post-Jutland battleships exhibiting new construction principles could absorb a great deal of punishment.21 With the results of these tests available to them, a board headed by Admiral E. W. Eberle investigated the future of sea power in the light of aviation developments and reported in January, 1925:
The battleship of to‑day, while not invulnerable to airplane attack, still possesses very efficient structural protection, as shown by the experiments on the Washington. The battleship of the future can be so designed as to distribution of her armor on decks and sides, and as to interior subdivision, that she will not be subject to fatal damage from the air. . . . It can not be said therefore that air attack has rendered the battleship obsolete.
The Eberle board recommended immediate modernization of the six coal-burning battleships, New York, Texas, Wyoming, Arkansas, Utah, and Florida. Another seven, New Mexico, Mississippi, Idaho, Pennsylvania, p117 Arizona, Oklahoma, and Nevada, should be modernized "as soon as possible."22
The work progressed steadily. The first authorization for modernizing was made in December, 1924, and the last in February, 1931. The principal undertaking during these years was the conversion of the six oldest battleships from coal to oil burners, the strengthening of docks to resist bombing, the installation of aircraft handling apparatus, the improvement of turret guns elevating mechanisms on seven ships, and the addition of "blisters" to all thirteen.23 After reconstruction — within the naval treaties — was completed, most of the Navy's admirals felt that the American battleship fleet was equal to or superior to Great Britain's. Ability to operate in the Pacific Ocean was assured by the change to oil‑burning equipment. This major improvement added several thousand miles to the steaming radius of the Battle Fleet, made maneuvering easier, and rendered virtually obsolete the flag-hoist signal of "coal burners to the rear."
Possibly the greatest naval worry of all to the Coolidge administration, and even more so to Hoover's, was that the battleship fleet would require replacements in the not very distant future. By only the most arduous effort had the Navy Department been able to get eight new cruisers to supplement the ten modern cruisers in commission — twenty-five short of the number considered necessary.24 In September, 1927, with the time for the first battleship replacement to be laid down less than four years away, Secretary of the Navy Wilbur asked the General Board to prepare a five-year building program for presentation p118 to Congress. With the goal in mind of getting its auxiliaries laid down before heavy appropriations were necessary for capital ships, the General Board suggested the following schedule:25
After considerable consultation between the Secretary of the Navy, the Director of the Budget, and President Coolidge, a bill was drafted which met the auxiliary problems but completely evaded the question of battleship replacements. This measure would be the heart of a five-year building program, though no time limit was set upon it:26
|Light Cruisers||25||$ 425,000,000|
Representative Thomas S. Butler introduced legislation (H. R. 7359) embodying this program, but the bill contained a clause allowing the President to suspend it in whole or part if a naval conference were called. Wilbur denied an allegation that the measure was designed to create a paper navy, and stated that it was the view of all concerned with the preparation that it was basically to be a five-year plan, although some units might not be constructed for as many as twenty p119 years. Wilbur's testimony was readily seconded by his assistant secretary, T. Douglas Robinson, who reiterated the five-year idea. The President, he said, desired the following to be laid down the first year: one carrier, five cruisers, four destroyer leaders, and seven submarines.27
Public reaction to the 71‑ship bill (H. R. 7539) was instantaneous and noisy. The cost of replacing the current navy outraged many newspapermen, and widespread comment favored considering another naval limitation conference. In view of these protests Chairman Butler of the House Naval Affairs Committee readily admitted,
In all my experience in Congress . . . I have never known such widespread protest to be registered against any measure under consideration or about to be considered. These letters and telegrams, all voicing opposition to the bill we now have before us, come from all over the United States. They represent all classes. They are not confined to professional pacifists.28
A direct result of this outburst was the introduction of H. R. 11526 on February 28, 1928, authorizing the construction of fifteen cruisers and one aircraft carrier.29 The voice of the people and the caution of the Director of the Budget had thus drastically modified the General Board's replacement program of September, 1927.
Once H. R. 11526, with its fifteen cruisers and one carrier, had passed the legislative hurdles, the Navy Department again reminded the President of the need for battleship replacements, due to begin in two years. A forecast in terms of authorizations and appropriations was sent to the Director of the Budget, and it was dutifully sent on to President Hoover. The figures showed in a rather shocking manner p120 what could happen when defense expenditures were deferred consistently as had been done in the years after 1922:30
|Needed to Round Out The Fleet||Cost|
|Aircraft Carriers||4||$ 80,000,000|
|Tenders, repair ships, drydocks, etc.||10,000,000|
|New authorizations needed||$ 353,600,000|
|Total new authorizations needed||$ 908,600,000|
|Balance due on 15 cruisers and 1 carrier authorized February 13, 1929||262,200,000|
|Cost of contemplated 12‑year program||$1,170,800,000|
To meet these requirements the Director of the Budget's annual appropriations estimate for "Increase of the Navy" called for between 100 and 150 millions of dollars yearly for ten years. Beginning in fiscal 1932 it was estimated that for ten years the Navy would require an annual appropriation of $450,000,000 to $500,000,000 — over $100,000,000 more than the average appropriations for the years 1922‑29.31
The solution to this economic and political problem was to be a diplomatic one. The London Naval Treaty of 1930 delayed battleship replacements until 1937 and reduced the cruiser strength of other nations to a point where the United States could build to meet them without a tremendous strain on the American taxpayer. The quid pro quo for this solution was to be a new treaty navy that did not at first suit the Navy Department, and what appeared to be the virtual abandonment of naval support for American Far Eastern interests.
p121 Throughout this period the navy never lost sight of the element indispensable to Pacific operations — large ships. Its battleships were modernized for increased capacity to absorb punishment under fire. Owing to structural changes which allowed higher elevation for turret guns, the American battleship fleet approached genuine parity with the British and a true superiority of 40 per cent over the Japanese. And the conversion of the six oldest battleships to oil burners almost doubled their cruising radii, thereby reducing the gap in naval bases between Honolulu and Manila. Hence, since it had become even more essential for those vessels operating in consort with the battleship fleet to be equally "long-legged," a demand arose within the Navy for the heavier 10,000‑ton cruiser.
While battleships were the heart of the fleet, there were many other naval vessels in it of great significance, particularly cruisers. To the public, however, those magnificent mastodons were the fleet, and to the average naval officer the high point in his career was to hold a "battle wagon" command in the Battle Fleet.32 Because of the new concentration of American naval power in the Pacific after 1919 the Navy Department became increasingly concerned with rounding out the fleet, that is, adding to the battleship divisions and squadrons the number of cruisers considered necessary to make the Battle Fleet effective. To the naval officer at sea the need for cruisers was immediately recognizable, but to the congressman and his constituency this need was not nearly so evident.
At the conclusion of the Washington Naval Conference the United States Navy had on its lists twenty-three cruisers built (all before 1912) and ten building. It also possessed some 302 destroyers and 113 submarines — with the allowed eighteen battleships, an impressive p122 array of naval power.33 But unfortunately the twenty-three cruisers constructed before 1912 were superannuated. None was capable of cruising in formation with the ten Omaha class cruisers under construction. They were more than ten knots slower on the average, had a smaller volume of firepower, and could not compare with their more modern counterparts in cruising radius. Because they were coal-burning vessels, they were unable to work effectively with oil‑burning battleships. By 1922 the Navy was using some of these older cruisers on foreign stations such as Manila, Constantinople, and London, and other cruisers were being used as flagships, but it was difficult to keep them in operating condition. They were constantly going into and out of commission as others of their class suffered casualties. Eventually, as in the case of Pueblo, the cost of reconditioning became so prohibitive that keeping them in commission was economically unfeasible.34
Congress, even with the repair bills before it, in the years after the Washington Conference was not sympathetic about the cruiser problem. In their desire to whittle naval appropriations, legislators looked suspiciously at the cruisers and even threatened to deprive the Navy of a few of its seagoing relics. They questioned the need for flagships or for more cruisers. The admirals, some said, ought to transfer their flags back to the battleships. Further complications arose as the Omaha cruisers neared completion in 1922, and the Navy Department found it needed more appropriations to finish the job, for labor and materials costs had risen considerably since the vessels were begun, and delay in itself was expensive. These requests did nothing to endear the p123 Navy to the legislative branch and the watchdog Bureau of the Budget.35
Behind such Congressional opposition to the creation of a modern and balanced navy undoubtedly lay the Navy's failure to convince either Congress or the public that such a fleet was necessary. Blinded somewhat by the success of the Washington Conference, foreseeing no war in the near future (in fact the abolition of war "as an instrument of national policy" was just around the corner), and receiving few requests for more money from the executive branch outside of the Navy Department, Congress and its constituency rather justifiably dealt with the Navy in a most parsimonious manner. When there were threats to the international equilibrium, as existed in 1924, the reaction in Congress was not for more ships but for another naval conference.
In the post-World War period the Navy mission, in the event of war, was to secure command of the sea and then to exercise it — a traditional Mahan concept. If the expected war with Japan were to occur, a concentrated United States Fleet would bring the Japanese battle fleet to action or drive it into hiding. Once Japan's main fleet had been destroyed or neutralized, then its commerce would be driven from the sea. The key to accomplishing this feat was to assemble a more powerful force at a point where the enemy navy must engage or seek refuge. Until 1931, the heart of this striking force was conceded to be the battleship, but critical to the line of battleships were the combatant auxiliaries: cruisers and destroyers.36
How to use cruisers with fleet formations was the subject of constant development through the years after the Washington Conference. There had been enough battle action in the period since modern armored cruisers had taken to the sea that evaluation and careful consideration of a cruiser doctrine was possible. As a result of this constant p124 study, practice, and "game-board" work at the Naval War College, it was concluded that cruisers, when operating with the fleet, played their most significant role as scouts and in working with the fleet destroyer flotillas.37
As a fleet scout the commanding officer of a cruiser sought out the enemy fleet, fought through the outer defense screen, ascertained the composition of the main body, and conveyed the information to his own fleet commander. During the 1920's this mission was made easier by scouting aircraft, and information was more easily relayed as radio communication equipment was improved. This work was best handled by cruisers because of their high speed in heavy seas and their fighting ability. Destroyers, however, were forced to share this burden in the American Navy because of the shortage of cruisers. Yet the cruisers were compelled to play another important role by defending the fleet against reconnoitering enemy cruisers. In this defensive function the destroyer was distinctly limited, for its primary weapon was the torpedo, not the gun.38
Of equal importance to the fleet was the work done by cruisers when working with destroyers. Because of their superior armament cruisers were used to protect destroyers when attacks were made against enemy capital ships. In this supporting role cruiser fire was directed against defensive cruisers, or if by chance these were engaged, then the cruisers maintained a harassing fire against the battleships' secondary batteries. Again, the cruiser had the opposite function of defending the battleships against destroyer attacks through gunfire against the attacking destroyers and their cruiser escorts. Here rapidity and volume of fire were all important if the destroyer attacks were to be broken up. Nevertheless battleships and their heavy-caliber rifles were p125 to be the ultimate determinants of success. The cruiser's mission was to contribute to victory in establishing the much-sought‑after "command of the sea"; once this was attained the cruiser then assumed a role of primary importance, but not before.39
In "exercising command of the sea" the Navy visualized a dual role for its cruisers: attack upon enemy merchant shipping and defense of our own merchant marine. According to Navy Department representatives the United States needed cruisers of the maximum size allowable under the treaties in order to fulfill their mission of commerce protection. Admirals liked the 10,000‑ton cruiser armed with 8‑inch guns, and after 1922 the Navy Department and General Board gave very little consideration to any other type.40 The 7,500‑ton Omaha cruisers would be used for operation with the fleets when cruising in formation and to a limited extent for advanced scouting, but the bulk of the advanced scouting and all commerce work would fall to the heavier cruiser. The American public and Congress were told that British and Japanese merchantmen could be armed with 6‑inch guns and become corsairs capable of challenging American convoys guarded only by the lighter cruisers,41 and that since American foreign trade by p126 1929 was approximately equal to that of Great Britain, the United States deserved cruiser parity with Britain and 40 per cent superiority over Japan.42
When discussing cruiser needs, the representatives of the Navy placed heavy emphasis upon the desirability of having ships capable of cruising long distances because of the lack of adequate base facilities in the Pacific Ocean and other parts of the world. It was in view of this requirement that the long-ranging 10,000‑ton cruiser was justified, yet the more important, though seldom emphasized, reason for the large cruiser was the desire for a ship capable of mounting the 8‑inch gun.43 When faced with the suggestion of building cruisers of 10,000 tons armed with 6‑inch rifles, the Navy would have none of it. When naval constructors showed conclusively that the 8‑inch-gun vessel was a poor fighting machine due to the lack of "corresponding protection," the Navy Department still stood by its 8‑inch guns.44 The argument of trade defense against heavier cruisers and armed p127 merchantmen mounting 6‑inch guns was used over and over again to justify what became derisively known as the "tin clad." Yet even the analyses based on trade defense were fairly hollow to the naval strategist of the day.
In his earliest writings Captain Mahan had theorized that a nation with a large merchant marine invariably possessed a strong navy establishment; yet he also knew that a nation which possessed a navy without merchantmen was "like a growth which having no root soon withers away." In the 1920's, when the American merchant marine was one‑half that of Great Britain, and when the United States carried only one‑third of its own foreign trade,45 the Navy position seemed to contradict Mahan's; it was requesting a large number of cruisers to protect a somewhat insignificant merchant marine. Furthermore, even in American circles, commerce raiding was admitted to be more a nuisance than a positive threat to a nation which had gained control of the sea. And by the 1920's British experts were enunciating a related strategic principle: The threat of commerce raiding was in inverse ratio to the volume of trade — the heavier the volume, the less threatening the raider.46 This maxim of Sir Julian Corbett was vividly substantiated when German surface raiders were eliminated during the first year of the World War and submarine raiders later neutralized, not by cruisers but by destroyers. Such lessons could not have been lost upon the American Navy. Why, then, did the Navy choose to dissemble in presenting its case for the 10,000‑ton 8‑inch cruiser?
One striking fact was evident to the Navy during the 1920's: The United States was falling behind the other major naval Powers in the p128 construction of cruisers, particularly the heavier 8‑inch-gun type vessel. But publicity in this regard generally led to cries of concern over renewed "competitive" naval building; the Washington Conference theoretically had laid the specter of competitive armaments to rest.47 The Navy, therefore, had to base its desire for more cruisers on some other form of need that would prove inoffensive both at home and abroad. Unfortunately the concomitant web of contradictions to some extent weakened its case.
At the very heart of the Navy's problem was its seldom voiced — and publicly unacceptable — premise that the next war would be fought on the Pacific between the United States and Japan. Instead of warmongering, the Navy chose to speak of its duty to defend the Philippines — even though it considered them indefensible — and to oppose Filipino independence. The department felt the Philippines were most important as a naval base for the defense of American Far Eastern trade and interests — somewhat evanescent future possibilities in Oriental markets. Fortunately for the Navy few congressmen questioned the real need for commerce defense against enemy raiders, although a few like Senator Hugo Black of Alabama did wonder whether the Philippines and American Far Eastern trade were really worth the cost of a Navy.48 Finally, the Navy was never able to state its strongest case: American Far Eastern policy was evolved by the executive branch of the Government, to which the Navy also belonged. What became the less direct approach — but infinitely simpler in application — was to put all comparisons in terms of Great Britain and to base all needs for cruisers on grounds of trade defense.49 To most Americans war with Great Britain was unthinkable, and thus Britain could be used as a p129 handy whipping boy by the Navy. The immigration problems with Japan were too explosive to offer a similar arrangement. Furthermore, in returning to the concept of trade defense, the Navy could speak in terms of a tried and true raison d'être hallowed by Mahan: The merchant marine was a basic element of sea power, and the nation must have a navy to defend it.
But neither the nation nor its congress was dedicated to the proposition that navies were really necessary. During the years 1921‑31 the American public looked hopefully to three naval conferences which it expected would reduce the world's navies — perhaps eventually to the millennial point of extinction. While America was by no stretch of imagination a nation of pacifists, there were plenty of taxpayers. Each could anticipate that naval reductions would mean tax decreases; each could also hope that every vessel scrapped or blueprint shelved would lessen the possibility of future wars. In many ways the Navy worried more about such a national outlook than it did about Congressional miserliness.
1 Frank H. Simonds, American Foreign Policy in the Post‑War Years (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1935), pp49‑55; George A. Grassmuck, Sectional Biases in Congress on Foreign Policy, The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, Series LXVIII, No. 3 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1951), pp30‑55; Thomas A. Bailey, The Man in the Street: The Impact of American Public Opinion on Foreign Policy (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1948), pp238‑55; Dexter Perkins, "The Department of State and American Public Opinion," in Gordon A. Craig and Felix Gilbert, The Diplomats, 1919‑1939 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953), pp284‑85; John D. Hicks, Republican Ascendancy, 1921‑1933 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960), p49; John Chalmers Vinson, The Parchment Peace: The United States Senate and the Washington Conference, 1921‑1922 (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1955), pp4‑5, 216‑17.
2 For a few generalizations on this viewpoint see Bailey, The Man in the Street, pp61‑71, and Samuel Flagg Bemis, "The Shifting Strategy of American Defense and Diplomacy," in Dwight E. Lee and George E. McReynolds, Essays in History and International Relations in Honor of George Hubbard Blakeslee (Worcester, Mass.: Commonwealth Press, 1949), pp9‑10.
3 In November, 1922, after just a year of operation, the Bureau of the Budget was submitted to heavy criticism in Congress. Generally on a partisan basis, the Democratic congressmen attacked the bureau's cuts of naval appropriations, and Republicans generally defended them. When the Secretary of the Navy was questioned about reductions he was usually torn between two loyalties: as a cabinet member he had to defend the President's budget, but as the Navy's head he found it difficult to refrain from urging that the cuts be restored. Democratic members of the House Appropriations Committee were able to use this confusion of loyalties to some advantage in their sniping at the Harding Administration, U. S., Congress, House, Naval Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, Hearings on Navy Department Appropriation Bill for 1924, 67th Cong., 4th Sess., 1922, November 14, 1922, H. R. 13374.
4 U. S., Congress, House, Naval Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, Hearings on Navy Department Appropriation Bill for 1923, 67th Cong., 2d Sess., March 10, 13, 1922, H. R. 11228, pp347‑54; Secretary of the Navy (Denby) to the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee (M. B. Madden), Washington, March 18, 1922, ibid., pp363‑64.
5 For reaction throughout the country against the heavy personnel cuts see "To Put Our Navy Into Third Place," The Literary Digest, April 8, 1922, pp17‑18. The National Security League on April 12, and the United States Chamber of Commerce on April 14, 1922, both resolved against heavy naval personnel cuts. See letters in U. S., Department of State, Files 811.30/121, 122, Archives.
6 William S. Sims to Fullam, Newport, March 23, 1922, William F. Fullam Papers, Box 262, LCMD.
7 U. S., Congress, House, Naval Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, Hearings on Navy Department Appropriation Bill for 1924, November 15, 1922, H. R. 13374, pp52‑92.
8 U. S., Congress, House, Committee on Naval Affairs, Hearings on Sundry Legislation, 1922‑23, February 17, 1922, pp322‑27. In February, 1922, the transport Columbia was the flagship of the Commander-in‑Chief United States Fleet, Huron was flagship of the Asiatic Fleet, Birmingham was the flagship of the Pacific destroyer squadron, and Rochester was the flagship of the destroyer squadrons in the Atlantic. Ibid., February 14, 1922, pp256‑69.
9 These figures represent a digest of information obtained from the published Hearings on each annual naval appropriations bill for the years 1922‑31. An average of 86,000 enlisted men per year was used with an average pay of $890 per year.
10 U. S., Congress, House, Naval Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, Hearings on Navy Department Appropriation Bill for 1928, 69th Cong., 1st Sess., November 22, 1926, H. R. 15641, pp366‑67.
11 A full exposition on this can be found in a letter to Secretary of State Stimson from the president of the War College. Rear Admiral J. R. P. Pringle to Henry L. Stimson, Newport, November 29, 1929, D/S, File 500.A15A3/472, Archives.
12 Elaborations of this theme were presented by the General Board in preparation for the 1927 Geneva Naval Conference and by Rear Admiral Joseph Mason Reeves when consulted before the London Naval Conference of 1930. U. S., Navy Department, General Board No. 438, Serial 1347‑12(b), May 13, 1927, OCNH; Memorandum — Reduction and Limitation of Battleships, January 22, 1930, Mark L. Bristol Papers, Box 99, LCMD.
13 [Rear Admiral] Thomas P. Magruder, United States Navy (Philadelphia: Dorrance and Company, 1928), chap. I, passim; U. S., Congress, House, Committee on Naval Affairs, Hearings on Sundry Legislation, 1922‑23, February 20, 1922, p329.
14 U. S., Congress, House, Naval Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, Hearings on Navy Department Appropriation Bill for 1926, 68th Cong., 2d Sess., December 8, 1924, H. R. 10724, p611. See also the testimony of Rear Admiral Thomas P. Magruder in U. S., Congress, House, Naval Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, Hearings on Navy Department Appropriation Bill for 1929, 70th Cong., 1st Sess., February 13, 1928, H. R. 12286, pp1184‑1201.
15 An explanation of the British views on battleships can be found in the opening statements of their delegation at the Geneva Naval Conference, in League of Nations, Records of the Conference for the Limitation of Naval Armament (Genève, 1927), pp19‑23. The American Embassy in Tokyo was quite aware of Japan's problem in meeting the financial demands of its naval program. The ambassador noted a trend, over a period of time, of public encouragement for further capital ship expense relief. D/S, Files 500.A4b/346, Tokyo, July 8, 1926; 500.A15A1/683, Tokyo, April 10, 1928; 500.A15A3/376, Tokyo, October 22, 1929; LNC 250 Japan/47, Washington, January 11, 1930, Archives. The United States Navy's case can be found in U. S., Congress, House, Committee on Naval Affairs, Hearings on Sundry Legislation, 1922‑23, February 16, 1922, pp301‑2; House, Naval Appropriation Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, Hearings on Navy Department Appropriation Bill for 1925, 68th Cong., 1st Sess., November 18, 1924, pp80‑82.
16 "U. S. Naval Policy," in U. S., Congress, House, Naval Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, Hearings on Navy Department Appropriations Bill for 1930, 70th Cong., 2d Sess., 1929, H. R. 16714, p40.
17 Navy Department, General Board, Report No. 425, Serial 1136, April 26, 1923; Report No. 438, Serial 1385, August 11, 1928, OCNH.
18 This information was drawn from a series of memoranda of conversations between State Department officials and General Board officers preparatory to the London Naval Conference of 1930. D/S, Files 500.A15A3/333, 334, 336, October 22‑25, 1929, Archives.
19 LNC 252.21/31; memorandum by Admiral W. V. Pratt, ; see also File 500.15A3/582a, Washington, January 3, 1930, Archives. The very influential Rear Admiral (Ret.) H. P. Jones agreed with Pratt's view completely. See memorandum for the Secretary of the Navy, February 13, 1930, Harold C. Train Log, Volume I. In possession of Rear Admiral (Ret.) Harold C. Train, Annapolis, Maryland.
20 The chargé in Japan noted that the Japanese were quite enthusiastic for a capital ship building holiday. The Japanese were planning on spending 88 millions Yen per year for auxiliary replacements during the five years after 1932, and were anxious to avoid having to spend an additional 80 millions Yen per year for capital ship replacements. D/S, File 500.A15A3/376, Tokyo, October 22, 1929, Archives.
21 Archibald D. Turnbull and Clifford L. Lord, History of United States Naval Aviation (New Haven Yale University Press, 1949), pp200‑203.
22 "Report of Special Board (on) Results of Development of Aviation on the Development of the Navy, January 17, 1925," in Navy Department, Information concerning the U. S. Navy and Other Navies (Washington, 1925), pp153‑54.
23 "Blisters" or "bulges" were watertight compartments added below the waterline to the exterior of older vessels to provide additional protection against torpedo attack or near misses from aircraft bombs.
24 Robert K. Heller, "Factors Influencing Naval Construction in the United States, 1922‑1929" (unpublished Master's thesis, University of California, 1952), pp66‑71. The estimated needs of the Navy in cruisers was a fairly fluid figure, but by December, 1929, Rear Admiral M. M. Taylor was asking for 43 cruisers in all. Director of War Plans Division to the Secretary of the Navy (Adams), December 21, 1931, Mark L. Bristol Papers, Box 116, LCMD.
25 Navy Department, General Board, No. 420, Serial 1358, the Secretary of the Navy (Wilbur) to the General Board, September 20, 1927; General Board, Report No. 420‑2, Serial 1358, September 27, 1927, OCNH.
26 U. S., Bureau of the Budget, File "Navy Department. Increase in Navy #1," Box 7; the Secretary of the Navy to the Director of the Budget, November 17, December 13, 1927; the Director of the Budget to the Secretary of the Navy, December 14, 1927, Archives.
27 U. S., Congress, House, Committee on Naval Affairs, Hearings on H. R. 7359, 70th Cong., 1st Sess., January 12, 13, 1928, pp579‑82, 677. The secretaries were supported by the Admiral C. F. Hughes, Chief of Naval Operations, who was most interested in getting the ships in the water as soon as practicable. Ibid., pp671‑95.
28 Quoted in "The 'Big‑Navy' Congressman Hears from Home," The Literary Digest, March 3, 1928, pp10‑11; see also "Billions Now Asked For A Huge Naval Program," ibid., January 28, 1928, pp12‑13; "Admiral Plunkett's War With England," ibid., February 11, 1928; "Parlous State of Navy Increase" (editorial), Army and Navy Register, February 18, 1928.
29 U. S., Congress, Senate, Committee on Naval Affairs, Hearings on H. R. 11526, 70th Cong., 1st Sess., p1.
30 This memorandum was found in D/S, File 811.34/391; memorandum from the Director of the Budget (Lord) to President Hoover, April, 1929, Archives.
31 Memorandum from the Director of the Budget (Lord) to President Hoover, April, 1929, D/S, File 811.34/391, Archives. A listing of naval appropriations for the years 1921‑31 may be found in U. S., Congress, House, Naval Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, Hearings on Navy Department Appropriation Bill for 1932, 71st Cong., 3d Sess., January 14, 1931, H. R. 16969, p1.
32 The service viewpoint on the importance of battleships was adequately stated by the Commander-in‑Chief of the United States Fleet when he noted: "The battleship, or ship of the line, is the backbone of the fighting fleet. The fleet is built around this type." Admiral J. V. Chase, "Fleets: Their Composition and Uses," in U. S. Naval Institute, The Navy and Its Relation to the Nation (Annapolis, 1930), p13; see also Yates Stirling, Sea Duty (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1939), p196; Henry A. Wiley, An Admiral from Texas (Garden City: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1934), pp194‑95; Elting E. Morison, Admiral Sims and the Modern American Navy (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1942), p292.
33 Navy Department, Ships' Data U. S. Naval Vessels: July 1, 1922 (Washington, 1922), 425pp.
34 U. S., Congress, House, Naval Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, Hearings on Navy Department Appropriations Bill for 1926, 68th Cong., 2d Sess., November 17, 1924, p68; U. S., Congress, House, Naval Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, Hearings on Navy Department Appropriation Bill for 1927, 69th Cong., 1st Sess., December 9, 1925, H. R. 7554, pp53‑54; Hector C. Bywater, Sea Power in the Pacific (2d ed.; Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1934), pp121‑25; Navy Department, Annual Reports of the Navy Department for the Fiscal Year 1923 (Washington, 1924), p77.
35 U. S., Congress, House, Committee on Naval Affairs, Hearings on Sundry Legislation, 1922‑23, 67th Cong., 2d, 3d, 4th Sess., 1923, pp73‑74, 759, 1619‑20; U. S., Congress, Senate, Committee on Naval Affairs, Hearings on S. 1808, 68th Cong., 1st Sess., January 16, 1924, pp48‑50.
36 In an essay that the Naval Institute's Board of Control considered significant and important for the times, these concepts were clearly presented; see Lt.(jg) William Webster, "The Cruiser," United States Naval Institute Proceedings (April, 1926), pp607‑20; see also Samuel P. Huntington, "National Policy and the Transoceanic Navy," ibid. (May, 1954), p487.
38 Webster, op. cit., pp607‑20; Howard, op. cit., pp1735‑45. Fairly clear statements of the uses of cruisers were made by Secretaries T. Roosevelt, Jr., in May, and Curtis Wilbur in December, 1924. U. S., Congress, Senate, Committee on Naval Affairs, Hearings on H. R. 8687, 68th Cong, 1st Sess., May 31, 1924, pp14‑17; House, Naval Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, Hearings on Navy Department Appropriation Bill for 1926, 68th Cong., 2d Sess., December 8, 1924, pp615‑16.
39 Lieutenant H. J. Wright, "Discussion on 'The Cruiser,' " United States Naval Institute Proceedings (June, 1926), pp1175‑76. An important study on cruisers and destroyers in action can be found in Holloway H. Frost, The Battle of Jutland (Annapolis: U. S. Naval Institute, 1936), pp208‑45 and 367‑77. A thorough discussion of using cruisers with the Battle Fleet to obtain command of the sea was made by the president of the Naval War College for the benefit of his associates at the London Naval Conference in January, 1930. Memorandum by Rear Admiral J. R. P. Pringle, January 28, 1930, [Commander] H. C. Train Log, Vol. I.
40 In March, 1922, the Navy policy toward cruisers was: "To complete 10 light cruisers of the Omaha class now building. To replace all old cruisers by building 16 modern cruisers of 10,000 tons displacement carrying 8‑inch guns. . . ." Navy Department, General Board, Report No. 420‑2, Serial 1108, March 29, 1922, OCNH. In October, 1928, the policy was rewritten and stated re cruisers: "Cruisers — To support the Fleet and protect our commerce, replace all old cruisers with modern cruisers of 10,000 tons displacement carrying 8‑inch guns. . . ." "U. S. Navy Policy, October 6, 1928," in U. S., Congress, House, Naval Subcommittee of Committee on Appropriations, Hearings on Navy Department Appropriation Bill for 1930, 70th Cong., 2d Sess., 1929, p40.
41 Navy Department, General Board, Report No. 438, Serial 1347‑7(c), April 25, 1927, OCNH; see also memorandum of a conversation with Rear Admiral Andrew T. Long, October 22, 1929, D/S, File 500.A14A3/333, Archives. Admiral Long was a member of the General Board at the time, and a specialist in naval limitation problems.
42 Navy Department, General Board, Report No. 438, Serial 1347‑1(a), April 21, 1927, OCNH; "For a Huge Fleet — Steel or Paper?" The Literary Digest, January 7, 1928, pp12‑14; see particularly Henry Cabot Lodge, "The Power of the U. S. Fleet," in U. S. Naval Institute, The Navy and Its Relation to the Nation (Annapolis, 1930) pp43‑49.
43 D/S, File 500.A15A3/333, memorandum of a conversation with Rear Admiral Andrew T. Long, October 22, 1929, Archives. Particularly illuminating is the reprint of a talk made by Captain Frank H. Schofield, a General Board member, given at the Naval Academy Post-Graduate School in October, 1922. Captain Schofield paid particular attention to the importance of having cruisers armed with 8‑inch guns and capable of cruising in the far reaches of the Pacific. He noted that the decision to insist on the heavier cruiser was arrived at prior to the Washington Conference. Frank H. Schofield, "Lecture, The General Board and the Building Programs," October 14, 1922, Navy Department, Record Group 45, Box 580 UP, Archives.
44 See the testimony of Rear Admiral Hilary P. Jones before the House Naval Affairs Committee, Hearings on H. R. 7359, 70th Cong., 1st Sess., February 2, 1928, pp1207‑8. Full arguments against the 8‑inch gun cruiser were presented in 1930 by Captain H. A. Van Keuren; see memorandum by Captain H. A. Van Keuren, February 26, 1930, D/S, LNC 252/27; LNC 110.022/5, January 28, 1930, Archives.
45 Captain A. T. Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History 1660‑1783 (25th ed.; Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1918), pp87‑88; Lodge, "The Power of the U. S. Fleet," in U. S. Naval Institute, The Navy and Its Relation to the Nation, p47.
46 Mahan never felt that commerce raiding was an important determinant in an international struggle. He noted that "The evidence seems to show that even for its own special ends such a mode of war is inconclusive, worrying but not deadly; it might almost be said that it causes needless suffering." Mahan, Influence of Sea Power on History 1660‑1783, p136. Julian S. Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy (2d ed.; London: Longmans, Green & Company, 1919), pp249‑55.
47 "The Peril of Renewed Naval Rivalry," The Literary Digest, December 27, 1924, pp5‑7; "The President's Naval Victory in Congress," ibid., January 22, 1927, pp8‑9; "For A Huge Fleet — Steel or Paper?" ibid., January 7, 1928, pp12‑14.
48 U. S., Congress, Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Hearings on Treaty on the Limitation of Naval Armaments, 71st Cong., 2d Sess., May 16, 1930, pp115‑17.
49 This approach was advocated by Captain (Ret.) Dudley W. Knox in his 1929 "Honorable Mention" Naval Institute Prize Essay; see Captain Dudley W. Knox, "The Navy and Public Indoctrination," United States Naval Institute Proceedings (June, 1929), pp479‑90.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 15 Oct 14