The change-of‑command ceremonies on 17 September 1930 must have disappointed all participants. Yet they reflected with awful fidelity the spirit of the times. The country daily was sliding more deeply into the unfathomed depths of the greatest depression in national history. The Navy, almost by the hour, was suffering fiscal evisceration as the Budget Director and the President called for further cuts in spending. The U. S. Fleet was in mortal danger of broaching‑to in these giant seas of economic misery. Reduction in pay, suspension of annual selections for promotion, forced, long-term "furloughs" without pay, a month's leave without pay, cuts in complements — all were being discussed in wardrooms and crew's messes afloat and ashore. Yet, for those in the Battle Fleet or other operating forces, it was still possible to escape this pall of gloom by lighting off a few boilers and moving to sea. Cool spray, snapping breezes, and some well executed maneuvers will lift any sailorman's spirits. But in Washington, at the end of a long hot summer, there was little cheer. During his transcontinental trip Pratt could read the morale of his countrymen in the worried countenances about him. He saw even grimmer visages as he strode the passageways of "Main Navy." In contrast to Pratt's booming seventeen‑gun assumption of command on board Texas sixteen months before, Admiral J. V. Chase relieved him as CINCUS in an office ceremony and then departed immediately for San Pedro to take over the U. S. Fleet from Admiral Schofield who was Acting CINCUS.
In Admiral Hughes's office the relieving rites were equally simple, though much more tense. The bureau chiefs were present, as were Rear Admiral W. H. Standley, the outgoing Assistant CNO, and Rear Admiral John Halligan, his relief. Nine years later Pratt described the setting: "The ceremony of taking over office was not demonstrative nor was it particularly cordial. To the Bureau Chiefs assembled I was just another man, whom they hoped would let them attend to their p316 own business without undue interference and with whom they desired to work without friction."1 After Pratt read his orders, Admiral Hughes commented: "Gentlemen, I just want to say good‑bye and to thank you for your loyal and cordial assistance, and I trust it will continue." It was no time for a speech, or a "pep talk," and the new CNO simply replied: "I have nothing to say except that I am sorry to see Freddy go."2
In taking over as CNO, Admiral Pratt was forced to forego one important right he had enjoyed in the fleet; he did not select his principal subordinates — they came with the job. He did, of course, have a small special staff of his own choosing, but the Navy's bureaus were ruled by officers he had had little part in naming. There were old friends in the Bureau of Aeronautics, and the Bureaus of Engineering and Construction and Repair, where Rear Admirals Moffett, Yarnell and G. H. Rock (a classmate) held sway; but in Ordnance and Navigation resided crusty and independent-minded W. D. Leahy and F. B. Upham. He was to clash regularly with the latter two. On the other hand the various divisions of Operations were well salted with shipmates from his seagoing staffs. Lieutenant Commander R. S. Berkey and Lieutenant C. W. A. Campbell (soon to be Lieutenant Commander) came ashore as aides to CNO. For "Berk" this was the first time he had served ashore with the admiral, though he was to spend more than eight years on his staffs; for "Jimmy" this tour was simply the continuation of an ongoing assignment as an aide that began in 1923 and an association which dated from 1920. Other former staff members or close friends to be found in Operations were Captain E. S. Land (Central Division), Lieutenant Commander C. T. Durgin (Ship Movements), Commander H. M. Cooley (Material), Captain R. F. Ingersoll (Fleet Training), and Commander W. W. Wilson (Fleet Training). Lieutenant Commander W. I. Causey (Bureau of Navigation) and Lieutenant A. J. Spriggs (Bureau of Engineering) had been junior officers on earlier staffs and still were remembered by Pratt.
Senior Officials of the Navy Department, 1929‑1931. Left to right: First row, Major General Benjamin Fuller, Commandant of the Marine Corps; Assistant Secretary of the Navy Ernest L. Jahncke, Secretary of the Navy Charles F. Adams, and Admiral Pratt, the Chief of Naval Operations; Second row, Rear Admiral John B. Dennis, Rear Admiral J. R. , Rear Admiral Orin G. Murfin, Rear Admiral Frank B. Upham, Rear Admiral George Marvell, Rear Admiral Emory S. Land, and Rear Admiral E. B. Larimer; Third row, Rear Admiral A. L. Parsons, Rear Admiral R. R. Sexton, Rear Admiral William A. Moffett, Rear Admiral Ridley McLean, Captain Harold R. Stark, and Rear Admiral Harry L. Brinser.
The newest addition to Pratt's personal staff also occupied the most important billet. For Assistant CNO the admiral selected Rear Admiral John Halligan, Jr. "Honest John" was a naval aviator and a flag officer of great promise. Pratt had taught him as a midshipman (Class of 1898) and he graduated at the head of his class. Like many others on his staffs, Halligan again had come to the admiral's attention p318 when attending the War College with the Class of 1926. In his "Autobiography" Pratt described his Assistant CNO:
•Over six feet tall, a great football player in his day, rather slow and quiet in manner, he frequently fooled people into thinking he was lazy. But he had a mind as quick as a steel trap, was an excellent judge of men, and his judgment was superb. He too had the art of saying "No," and making one like it. Everyone was his friend. Everyone liked to work under him. They never felt harassed or under strain. I had picked him specially as I wanted him to get into line as a future C‑in‑C of the U. S. Fleet, and Chief of Naval Operations.
To my mind he was exactly the material required to fill those positions. All the details that had to come into the front office fell on his broad shoulders. Had he not died before his time, he would have risen to the top, for he was an outstanding man.3
Pratt must have been pleased with one aspect of Halligan's assignment: the billet of Assistant CNO had finally been given full legal status by Congress. One of Admiral Hughes' frustrations had been the unwillingness of the Bureau of the Budget to approve the creation and funding of an Assistant CNO position. It was only on 27 May 1930 that Congress acted and Rear Admiral Standley was able to take office formally. Previously, like Pratt from 1917 to 1919, Standley had served only under the authority of the Secretary of the Navy and thus was not eligible for the additional perquisite of receiving the pay of the upper half rear admirals.
As CNO, Pratt experienced no difficulties with Secretary Adams and Assistant Secretaries Jahncke and Ingalls. He admired "Charley" Adams, possibly because of his New England moorings and famous lineage, but more likely because the Secretary liked the Navy. Pratt described his feelings:
To begin with, although a banker by profession, he is a seaman at heart, and that means much to men that follow the sea. . . . He loved the Navy and the Navy loved him. The feeling was not like working for a Boss, it was serving a friend, and it was like this all the way down the line. . . . Sometimes coming into his office to discuss the work of the day, he would look up with a merry twinkle in his eye and ask, "How is the climate down in Maine, this morning?" It usually brought the retort, "It is better than that of Boston anyway." Who couldn't work for a man like that?4
Secretary of the Navy Charles F. Adams and Admiral Pratt
Ingalls and Jahncke similarly impressed Pratt as men who placed the service before their own interests. He had been doing this for p319 decades and naturally respected men who were equally devoted to their work.
An interesting perquisite that came with the position of CNO was the use of Admiral's House on the grounds of the Naval Observatory. When the admiral moved in, it brought to conclusion a longstanding interest of his in the residence. During the war, while assisting Admiral Benson, he had pressed Assistant Secretary Franklin Roosevelt to have legislation introduced that would make Quarters "A" at the Observatory the official residence of the CNO.5 Nothing came of this and it was not until September 1927 that Rear Admiral R. H. Leigh, then Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, urged Secretary Curtis Wilbur to make the Superintendent's house available to Admiral Hughes when he became CNO. But the legislative mills grind slowly p320 and the incumbent Superintendent had his friends also. A breakthrough came when the Secretary reminded Congress that $500 per year could be saved, on officers' quarters allowance, by having an admiral replace a captain in government housing. Admiral Hughes moved in during the first week of January 1929 and the CNO took over Quarters "A," and its adjoining hothouses, flower gardens, and small fruit orchard. Congress had allowed $1,500 to renovate the old brick Victorian structure and the Navy now had a decent place to house its highest ranking officer.6 Admiral Pratt lived in bachelor officer's quarters at the Observatory until November while the house was further decorated, and he was awaiting Louise's move from Belfast. But by mid‑November he was "at home" to the Navy and enjoying thoroughly the drive down Massachusetts Avenue, 23rd Street, and Constitution Avenue to "Main Navy." Normally he used p321 the family's elegant 1923 Peerless Brougham in preference to the official sedan — it was old, but it had style.
Admiral's House, residence of the Chief of Naval Operations,
The position of CNO was clearly the most powerful one in the Navy — that is the reason why Admiral Pratt had set his course to achieve it. Yet, like any top‑level executive billet, its power would result from the actions the incumbent took to exercise his authority in the face of the countervailing resistance of the total bureaucratic structure beneath him. Very fundamental to understanding Pratt's activities as CNO would be an analysis of what the admiral thought he could accomplish once in office. Not a single direct source, such as a contemporary article or lecture dealing with the office of CNO, is available on this subject; instead, such an analysis must be reconstructed out of actions taken before and after he entered office, or from other public expressions that he made, which might shed some light on his ideas.
Possibly the most interesting exposition of the admiral's views concerning the Navy, international relations, and limitation of armament was presented in a nineteen-page pamphlet he had published on board Texas while CINCUS. Titled Limitation of Armament: A Many Sided Problem,7 the booklet summarizes many ideas that Pratt had expressed through the years. Throughout this publication the admiral revealed himself as a man of peace determined to find a basis for agreement with other powers in preference to maintaining a spirit of isolationism or nationalism buttressed by overwhelming preponderance in armament. He argued that the Five-Power Treaty of 1922 was vital to the nation because an international agreement was reached; if there was any sacrifice of naval power, it was inconsequential compared to the larger gain of tightening the Anglo-American bonds of friendship:
It was the only method without war and without engendering lasting hatred whereby we could obtain parity in naval matters between the two great Anglo-Saxon speaking nations, by an agreement which is bound to help preserve peace in the years to come, an agreement which through its fairness will satisfy the peoples of both countries, . . . with Japan, through the terms of Article XIX, which was a distinct military concession on our part, we did do much to dissipate distrust, create a better understanding between the two nations, and remove the fear of aggressive tendencies on our part in the Far East. It was a statesman's victory gained over conservative elements of the Navy.8
p322 He believed that the 1928 Kellogg Pact, condemning "recourse to war . . . as an instrument of national policy," was the "interpreter" of the naval treaty. This pact, eventually signed by more than sixty nations, set aside international dependence on coercive power and further steered the United States toward a position where it could deepen consultative relations with peace-minded nations.
Because he considered the Five-Power Treaty and the Kellogg Pact as national gains, Admiral Pratt took an equally sanguine attitude toward the London Naval Treaty of 1930. The admiral dismissed the General Board's opposition to the London Treaty as being "perfectly honest and understandable from a naval point of view although it was reactionary . . . actuated too little by the spirit of agreement and too much by the spirit of naval power cloaked under the term 'national security.' " He concluded that, "In conducting the negotiations at London the aims and spirit of the Washington Treaties were present and over both was the cloak of the Kellogg Treaty. In such an atmosphere the matter of trivial technical detail must disappear before the importance of achieving success in greater matters."9 Again, to Admiral Pratt, an international agreement in itself was a goal worth achieving. It meant a little less dependence on the use of force to achieve national ends.
It is necessary to understand Admiral Pratt's views on the naval treaties in order to appreciate one aspect of his position as CNO. He believed that America, as well as many other nations, deeply desired to attain the millennial goal of international disarmament and an end to wars; but he knew the Millennium was not at hand. Instead, he thought an important step forward had been taken — but it was only a step:
To those whose first thought is reduction of armaments my advice would be that no efficient and proper reduction of armaments can be had until limitation of armaments in all categories has been accomplished, and this the London Treaty does. To attempt reduction along any other lines will not be systematic, continuous and sound process, nor without limitation first can we contemplate moderate reductions in the future to suit changing world conditions and still maintain our national security.10
With limitation in all categories spelled out in the London Treaty, Pratt's major job as CNO would be to prod the President and Congress to get on with the job of "rounding out the fleet" and building p323 to treaty strength. A man of integrity himself, and a strong admirer of Herbert Hoover, he expected the President to fulfill his part of an implied bargain. Since the admiral had helped powerfully to assure that the London Treaty had Navy support, he was sure President Hoover would see that a program of construction was launched. Pratt's credibility throughout the Navy would rest, in large part, on whether the President held up his end of the "bargain." This would be the crucial test of the CNO's naval stewardship.
It is fairly evident that the Admiral Pratt did not plan to direct the Navy in the autocratic spirit of Admirals Hughes or Eberle and that he expected to use what might be described as a collegial approach to management. He recognized the independence of the bureau chiefs, respected it, and when later given the opportunity to recommend the strengthening of CNO's power at the expense of the bureaus, he preferred to have him remain simply primus inter pares. He told a board studying reorganization in May 1933:
I'd rather sit around a table with a group of men, every one of whom is independent and king of his own domain, and to get a man to work with you rather than tell that man what to do. I have found that all I have to do is to make a suggestion to them and they will complete the job. If you can't get a man who will do that, get somebody else.11
Pratt took a similarly interesting approach to the General Board. Possibly anticipating frequent challenges to his leadership from such seniors as Rear Admiral M. L. Bristol or C. B. McVay, he preferred not to be a member of the General Board, although by naval law he was its president. He solved this problem by never calling a meeting of the whole Board and letting the Senior Member of the Executive Committee, Admiral Bristol, conduct the business of the Board until his retirement in April 1932. In March 1932 the General Board was formally reorganized by a rewriting of Navy Regulations, and the Chief of Naval Operations was removed from it.12 Pratt's personal view was that the General Board should be strictly advisory to the Secretary of the Navy and collaterally so to CNO. He expressed his opinion at length in 1939, when reorganization again was in the air and he was consulted as a former CNO: "It [the General Board] is the balance wheel of the Navy. It should be free to express an opinion, p324 not tied. For one thing, it should be free to express its opinion of the competency or the incompetency of the Chief of Naval Operations in the conduct of war. The Chief of Naval Operations likewise should be free. It cramps his style to be tied to the Board. The conference of three — the Secretary, the Chief of Naval Operations, and the Chairman of the General Board . . . ought to be able to iron out any matters likely to come up either in peace or in war."13
In one other way, by now almost traditional with him, Pratt created a cooperative atmosphere for managing the work of his office. He established a Planning Section, headed by Rear Admiral M. M. Taylor, "to handle routine and dispose of minor matters of operations." A senior officer was detailed from each bureau to serve as a liaison officer with the Planning Section.14 By this device the admiral hoped to keep decision making at the bureau level, and he let Admiral Taylor screen those matters that appeared to need CNO's authority for settlement. In all of these areas, Pratt again was stressing a rule of administration learned years ago from Sims. Pick good subordinates and let decisions be made as far down the administrative ladder as possible. Theoretically such organization should have left Admiral Pratt free for planning, inspection, and work with the President and Congress.
Throughout his term as CNO, Admiral Pratt was devilled by the juxtaposed questions of how to improve the operational and materiel readiness of the Navy and at the same time assist the President in his attempts to reduce the cost of government. The obvious approach was to shrink the Navy in size until what was left consisted of the most modern units manned by personnel at the peak of training. Making the solution difficult was a strong reluctance on the part of the service, and a portion of the nation, to engage in "disarmament by example" or in unilateral disarmament. A diminution of naval power would be acceptable if others would do the same, but there was no evidence that Great Britain, Japan, France, or Italy were reducing their naval forces. Because this was so, the most common view expressed in the Navy Department was that the Navy should be built up to the strength allowed in the London Naval Treaty. This required obtaining authorization to lay down more cruisers and aircraft carriers than were currently provided by law. Yet, because he was a realist, the admiral knew that it was most unlikely that the President would change his fiscal policy unless there was a significant improvement in the national p325 economic picture. Pratt's approach, at least during his first year in office, was to try this period of adversity to improve the Navy wherever possible.
As described previously, Admiral Pratt actively sought the position of CNO because Admiral Hughes had rejected his plan to reorganize the United States Fleet. As with Admiral Wiley before him, Pratt disliked having three commanders in chief sharing control of the fleet through its three main divisions; but he was less consistent in his ideas about the type of authority COMBATFLT or COMSCTGFLT should possess. Wiley clearly insisted that CINCUS command the U. S. Fleet and expected the other admirals to drop back a step when he was present. In his early flag-rank years, Pratt had warned against strong fleet commanders so tightly controlling their commands that unit commanders would lose all spirit of initiative, particularly when they should be developing higher-command sources. But when Wiley, as CINCUS, suggested that he should actively command, and that COMBATFLT (Pratt) should merely worry about the battle line, the latter could see his authority slipping away. Once he became CINCUS, Pratt tried to inaugurate a variant of the reorganization presented by Wiley. He wanted to emphasize the training mission of the Navy and create subordinate commands within the U. S. Fleet that would more easily develop unified doctrines and tactics for the whole fleet. He would concentrate the battleships, aircraft carriers, and most of the destroyers in the Pacific and call it the Battle Force; the cruisers and remaining destroyers and submarines would be in the Atlantic as the Scouting Force. With them would be a small division of the oldest battleships to be used as a training squadron for midshipmen and reservist cruises. The real innovation Pratt projected was establishing "type" commanders for training purposes who also would be operating commanders within the forces or when the U. S. Fleet was concentrated for annual exercises.15
On 15 November 1930 the CNO signed the administrative chart that reorganized the U. S. Fleet into the following four "forces."
(1) The Battle Force, commanded by an admiral, consisted of those vessels which had normally operated in the Pacific as units of the Battle Fleet. Included in this Force were the battleships, commanded by a vice admiral (Commander Battleships, Battle Force) who for training and administration p326 was also Commander Battleships, U. S. Fleet. Rear admirals commanded the destroyers, minecraft, and aircraft of the Battle Force and also served as the type commanders for the U. S. Fleet. The cruiser divisions assigned to the Battle Force were likewise commanded by a rear admiral.
(2) The Scouting Force was commanded by a vice admiral and subordinate to him was a new vice admiral's billet for Commander Cruisers, Scouting Force who also served as cruiser-type commander for the U. S. Fleet. Other rear admiral commands included the Commander Destroyers, Scouting Force; Commander Aircraft, Scouting Force; and the Commander Training Squadron.
(3) The Submarine Force commander was a rear admiral who also controlled the submarine bases in New London, Coco Solo, and Pearl Harbor.
(4) The Base Force rear admiral commanded Train Squadrons 1 and 2 which were associated with the Scouting Force and Battle Force respectively. Though published in November 1930, the reorganization did not go into effect until 1 April 1931.16
In time, Pratt hoped to raise the Commander Aircraft, Battle Force to a vice admiral's billet and to do the same for the destroyers' commander. Except for the periods when the U. S. Fleet was concentrated, the authority of the force commanders did not seem to be at all diminished from when they had been fleet commanders. But it is evident that the U. S. Fleet type commanders had a new measure of authority in the area of training and much work ahead of them.
At the same time that information about the reorganization of the forces afloat was beginning to appear in the service journals, Admiral Pratt issued orders decommissioning or disposing of forty-eight vessels and reducing naval personnel by 4,800. The action was taken for purposes of economy, but in all public statements the admiral stressed tightening up administration and improving efficiency. Because he issued the orders in his own name, and made no reference to the Secretary Adams or the President, the Army and Navy Journal found it difficult to criticize the actions. The editor believed CNO was making it too easy for the administration.17 These actions, particularly the transferring of submarines from New London as others were laid up, stirred up a tempest of protest from that New England city. Payrolls would be decreased and the region already was in trouble economically. In response to the flood of resolutions from civic organizations and chambers of commerce throughout Connecticut, Secretaries Adams and p327 Jahncke had a stock reply. Public interest required cuts; they were sorry that New London would suffer 900 transfers, but nothing could be done about it.18 Within the fleet there was concern when complements were reduced to 80 to 90 percent of authorized levels, but $11,000,000 had to be saved on personnel over two years and it meant reduced complements or laying up large units. The Training Squadron battleships staggered along with 40 percent crews until the midshipmen and reservists came on board in the summer to make the vessels somewhat operational.19 While these first economies and reorganization seemed fraught with danger to the Navy, there were more desperate days ahead for all.
Even more important for the Navy, and Admiral Pratt's personal reputation as CNO, was the fate of naval construction. One of the most compelling reasons for accepting the limitations of the London Naval Treaty, as Pratt and Secretaries Adams and Stimson explained it, was the fact that the Navy now would have a long-range building plan. Battleships needed modernization, at least three more carriers should be authorized, seven more 8‑inch-gun cruisers required appropriations, and a half-dozen or more 6‑inch-gun cruisers needed to be designed, authorized, and funded. And there was, of course, a continuing necessity to replace overage destroyers and submarines with newer tonnage. It seemed obvious to most who considered the question, that the Navy Department should develop a new master construction plan to bring the U. S. Fleet to treaty strength. The President gave some a feeling of confidence when he approved the introduction of legislation to modernize battleships New Mexico, Mississippi, and Idaho at a cost of $30,000,000. Senator Reed, recently returned as a delegate to the London conference, introduced Senate Bill 4750 on 24 June 1930 to accomplish this modernization. On the other hand, there was considerable opposition developing in Congress and the White House against building the Navy to full treaty strength. It would become Admiral Pratt's burden to meet this new to the well-being of the nation's "first line of defense."
From his first day in office as CNO, Pratt found himself driven by a General Board that was determined to state the Navy's case for new construction. Led by Rear Admiral Bristol, the Board developed a 15‑year shipbuilding program that would lay down by 1936 the vessels necessary to raise the fleet to treaty strength, and by 1946 would p328 have renewed the battleship fleet through scheduled replacements. The Administration did its part, in a modest sort of way, by introducing a construction bill for one aircraft carrier, two 6‑inch-gun cruisers, four submarines, and eleven destroyers. While this was a useful start, the Navy League and the Army and Navy Journal prodded the President to speak up in support of the long-term program. The Journal, particularly, was concerned that the Quaker chief executive would attempt to set an example for the other naval powers and hold back on construction. To the editor of this service journal such unilateral limitation by example was both naive and dangerous.20
With the Administration's construction bill in the legislative hopper, and its own fifteen-year program in Secretary Adams's office, the Board spent almost a year studying the various types of vessels to be built in the near future. Though unwilling to call a meeting of the full Board, or sit as a member of the Executive Committee, Admiral Pratt visited the Board hearings regularly, both to question and to state his own views. He also was called upon by several Congressional committees to testify about construction bills and the 1932 naval appropriation act. Through these appearances we are able to get a fair picture of the admiral's approach to the dilemma of how to improve the Navy's strength and, at the same time, meet the President's desire for economy.
Displaying a pragmatic approach that was becoming more pronounced as he served as CNO, Pratt tended to state the Navy's construction program in terms of the attainable rather than the ideal. While the London Treaty provided the nation with a description of what types of ships and categories of tonnages the Navy should consist of, it did not establish a building timetable. Faced with another naval conference, called for in the Washington and London treaties to be held in 1935, the General Board wanted to maneuver from a position of power. If all of the ships necessary to bring the fleet to treaty strength were under construction or operating in 1935, then the United States could "pipe the tune" as it had at Washington in 1921. On the other hand, were the new fleet merely to consist of authorizations and a few ships on the building ways, Britain and Japan would recognize that America had only a "paper navy," legislated for diplomatic purposes. The Board members suspected that the major naval powers would be unimpressed by such a posture. Unwilling to start a large naval construction program, President Hoover and certain Congressional leaders p329 tended to emphasize America's potential for building. Were the nation to desire a great fleet, it could outstrip all nations because of its industrial capacity and great wealth. Unfortunately, the national depression undercut both positions — it would take large sums of tax monies to act. Pratt's approach, then, was to reiterate the idea that the Navy now had a building plan, but that it would not try to round out the fleet before the next conference. In December 1930 he told the House Naval Affairs Committee:
I wish it distinctly understood that I am not giving a department policy because it has no administration approval, . . . but you ask me for my personal opinion and I am telling you what it is; that there is not the slightest intention of trying to build up to the treaty limits by 1936, because the cost of any one year would be too great, but that we do propose, if it will meet approval, to extend this building program over a number of years longer.
The response of the Army and Navy Journal, and probably a good many of the Navy's admirals, was "we are shocked."21
The CNO knew what he was doing and chose his strategy deliberately. Money was scarce and Congress was in no mood to expand the Navy. Three battleships needed modernizing and a few more cruisers were desperately needed. An aggressive drive for a large construction program could jeopardize everything. A month later the chairman of the House subcommittee that recommended on naval appropriations, Burton French of Idaho, told Assistant Secretary Ingalls:
I have in mind that the Congress, this committee, and the country have all hoped that in the several naval conferences we have had there would be reduction instead of expansion; and I question very much whether we ought to look forward to an expansion program up to the bounds of the treaty. For myself I rather hold to the thought that the bounds of the treaty are intended to be guides beyond which no nation may go, but not intended to be mandates upon the several nations to build their navies up to a certain required strength.
Representative French was rejecting out of hand the fundamental assumption of many General Board members that the London Treaty mandated a construction program.22 By adopting a less demanding approach, Pratt did help the Navy to get the battleship modernization funds in Senate Bill 4750. But the Administration bill for 1 carrier, 2 p330 cruisers, submarines, and destroyers died in committee. In the spring of 1931 it was surprising that $30,000,000 of modernization funds survived.
Despite the setback from Congress, and no assistance from the White House, the General Board did move ahead with a full review of ships under construction and newer types then in the fleet, with the goal of setting characteristics for the next generation of vessels to be designed and laid down. The steps were the same as in past years and involved hearings, studies, and the development of rough plans by the Bureau of Construction and Repair. Though Admiral Bristol was directing the work of the Board, the CNO kept himself fully informed of all matters under study and fed into the schedule of hearings a variety of subjects that interested him. He sat in, at least briefly, on almost all of the formal hearings that dealt with new ship types or modifications to older types. If there was any contribution that Pratt made at these hearings, it was to force consideration of the strategical use of certain vessels, rather than narrow concentration on armor, guns, speed, radius, or aircraft-handling facilities.
One of the first hearings that CNO attended was devoted to "characteristics of destroyers and destroyer leaders." From the responses to questions concerning torpedo tubes, guns, and depth charge rails, it is obvious that most of the invited destroyermen thought of their ships being used in fleet actions. The antisubmarine warfare (ASW) duties of these vessels were given very little consideration. Pratt turned the discussion around abruptly by directing attention to the convoy and ASW role these ships might assume. He argued, rather directly, that a future war would probably be with Japan and therefore a fleet engagement would involve a superior American fleet. To stress the torpedo-attack mission of the destroyer, a tactic designed to reduce the enemy main fleet, might be to overemphasize the unnecessary. On the other hand, escort of convoys and ASW work, as the fleet train moved across the Pacific, probably would be activities of high priority.23 In retrospect, it seems that his analysis and principles were reasonable; only the key assumption was unsound. After the Pearl Harbor attack of 1941 the American battle fleet was not the superior one.
As might be expected, Admiral Pratt attended almost all of the p331 hearings concerned with cruiser design. Because his name was so closely linked to the so‑called "London Treaty Cruiser," the 10,000‑ton vessel with a 6‑inch battery, he expressed himself at length when this ship type was discussed. He urged consideration for three classes of cruisers — the 10,000‑ton, 8‑inch-gun types, a 10,000‑tonner with 6‑inch guns, and a small 6‑inch-gun cruiser that would displace 6,000 to 7,000 tons. This latter class, similar to the Omahas except for the three‑gun turrets, would be designed for anti-destroyer work in fleet actions.24 At the heavy cruiser hearings in June 1931, Pratt again stressed fundamentals when it came to discussion of secondary batteries. After the new Commander Cruiser Divisions, Scouting Force, Vice Admiral Marvell, described the long-range battle practice of the newest "heavies", Pratt suggested that nothing should be done to weaken the protection or hitting power of these ships. To reduce the speed or lessen the armor, in order to increase the power of the secondary batteries, would be an error. The heavy cruisers were designed to fight other 8‑inch-gun vessels and the 5‑inch batteries were truly secondary in importance. The admiral also manifested strong interest in the aircraft-handling facilities and torpedo batteries on all classes of cruisers. He stood with most of the younger officers who wanted aircraft on the ships even though they would be a major worry once battle was joined. Along with most officers at the hearings, he was ready to sacrifice the torpedo batteries. The lack of battle experience with this weapon, and the pressure to find tonnage that could be devoted to armor and boilers led the Board down the road toward the fateful decision to eliminate cruiser torpedoes.25 The junior officers at these hearings, as captains a decade later, were to discover that the Imperial Japanese Navy had as much confidence in its 21‑inch "Long Lance" torpedoes, launched from cruisers and destroyers, as it had in 6‑inch and 8‑inch-gun batteries.26
The hearings of 1930 and 1931 devoted considerable time to future aircraft carrier characteristics and to plans for a new class of cruisers to be fitted with a "landing on platform or deck for aircraft." (London Naval Treaty, Article 16, paragraph 5). Before the London Treaty, p332 the General Board had followed the lead of the Bureau of Aeronautics and endorsed the construction of future carriers that would displace around 14,000 tons. By such an approach, the Navy would be able to get the maximum number of aircraft carrier flight decks out of the 135,000 total tonnage allowed by the Five-Power Treaty, and each ship would be reasonably effective for its mission. Ranger, authorized in the February 1929 construction act, was designed to displace 14,000 tons; but by 1931 aviators had had enough experience with 33,000‑ton Lexington and Saratoga to know that when commissioned Ranger would be a major disappointment, under the best conditions, due to her limited size. With the London Treaty provision that 25 percent of the cruiser-category tonnage could be devoted to vessels fitted with flying‑off or landing‑on decks, it was then possible to have eight of these new vessels in the fleet and the precious aircraft tonnage could be used for ships much larger than Ranger. The key, of course, was the so‑called "flight-deck cruiser," but no one outside the Bureau of Aeronautics had really decided that such a vessel was worth constructing.
At the hearings which dealt with the aircraft carriers or flight-deck cruisers, Admiral Pratt continued to display his innovative spirit. He was willing to see two flight-deck cruisers built, allowing the formation of a tactical division, but he did not commit himself beyond the two. He did press to keep at least nine 6‑inch guns (in three turrets) on each ship so that there would be no question that the ships were cruisers. Though the issue was raised by the CNO, the Board did not doubt the legality of such vessels being able to launch and recover aircraft — a function of aircraft carriers. Pratt, and all present, recognized the vulnerability of these ships to attack at long range by 8‑inch-gun cruisers, but he was confident that their high speed would allow them to close the range and allow their rapid-firing 6‑inch guns to destroy the heavy cruiser. Flight-deck liability to bombing damage caused many Board members to press for 5‑inch, dual-purpose secondary batteries. Due to the tonnage limitations, the cost of these guns would be a serious reduction in armor, compartmentation, and speed (because of fewer boilers). In the end the Board seemed agreed that the 6‑inch guns would engage surface opponents, and a large number of 50‑caliber machineguns could be used to beat off air attacks. p333 The aviators also insisted that the vessel's aircraft squadrons would be the best defense against bombing attacks.27
Once it seemed likely that flight-deck cruisers would be built, Admirals Yarnell and Moffett, Captain J. H. Towers, and Commander R. K. Turner of the Bureau of Aeronautics in May 1931 pressed to commit the remaining carrier tonnage to three 18,400‑ton vessels. These ships would approach Lexington and Saratoga in aircraft capacity and they would be reasonably well armed. Again the General Board worried its way through the question of defense. Because these ships would operate as part of task groups, in which the cruisers were expected to provide the defense against surface attack, the carriers could lack heavy guns. Somewhat to the horror of a few senior admirals, the aviators casually admitted that they wanted 32.5 knots speed so the ship could escape if it was in a bad situation. Again the aviators preferred to sacrifice 5‑inch secondary batteries in order to get speed, fuel, and aircraft capacity. Admiral Pratt muddied the waters a bit by proposing that the tonnage be allocated for two 20,000‑ton carriers and another Ranger-class small carrier. He seemed to like the tidiness of having two Lexington-class, two Rangers, and two 20,000‑tonners; and there was the division of flight-deck cruisers under consideration. At first the aviators believed that the difference between the 18,400‑ton and 20,000‑ton carrier was not worth adding another Ranger, but they eventually accepted this idea. The acquiescence might have come from a desire to keep Pratt's support, but it is more likely that the superior compartmentation possible in the 20,000‑ton carrier was seen to be critical if the ship was to be lightly armored. Pratt made a final suggestion that the Board consider two 25,000‑ton carriers which would mount nine 8‑inch guns. Practically no one liked this hybrid. Admiral Moffett pointed out that this was too much tonnage to waste on a cruiser and he was opposed to giving up the third carrier. In the end the Board agreed to the construction of Yorktown (CV‑5) and Enterprise (CV‑6) at 19,900 tons and Wasp (CV‑7) at 13,400 tons.28 Following this flurry of interest, the flight-deck cruiser was pushed into the background during 1932, as naval construction almost halted. When the new Administration of Franklin Roosevelt decided that naval shipbuilding was an excellent economic p334 accelerator, and included money for cruisers and two carriers in the National Recovery Act bill of 16 June 1933, the General Board dropped its interest in the hybrid cruiser. Regular carriers were being built and the need for standard cruisers was greater than the need for additional flight decks in the fleet.29
Though recognized as an innovator when it came to accepting new ship types or operational doctrines, Admiral Pratt remained a firm believer in the value of battleships. His service in New York, and later flag commands in the Battle Fleet, had developed in him a full acceptance of the premise that the battleship was the "backbone" of the Navy. While he recognized that the carrier task force was a powerful new offensive unit, to him the flat-tops were still just one more way to enhance the total fighting power of the battle line. He never accepted the predictions of his friend and mentor, Admiral Sims, that the day of the battleship had passed and that airpower had relegated those seagoing pachyderms to the elephants' graveyard. In March 1931 the General Board took up the subject of "Reduction in Displacement and Armament of Capital Ships." The admiral made it a point to be at the hearings because the General Disarmament Conference would be opening at Geneva the next year, and reduction of the battleship fleets would surely be on the agenda. After a full hearing the Board seemed agreed that it preferred to keep the battleships in existence and to modernize the last five ships so they would be as up‑to‑date as Britain's Nelson and Rodney. Were changes absolutely necessary, Pratt and the Board would accept re‑gunning the capital ships with 12‑inch rifles. Thus altered, they would be fully protected against 12‑inch projectiles and would still possess their great steaming radius. The CNO and the Board were fully agreed that the number of battleships should not be reduced below fifteen and were unalterably opposed to any proposal that all battleships should be eliminated. It was known that some British political leaders and a few admirals wanted to abolish these great ships. Pratt pointed out that Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond espoused this heresy, but that he was out of favor in the Royal Navy — in fact "they speak of him as a traitor. They have no more use for anybody with those ideas than we have."30 As we shall see, the CNO would alter his own views considerably in the months ahead.
p335 During his Depression-ridden term as CNO, Admiral Pratt worked to improve the quality of naval personnel and leadership. It was his firm belief that the forced attrition in the ranks of officers and enlisted men provided an opportunity to upgrade the service. With unemployment rising monthly to new record highs, the chance to enlist in the Navy was something highly attractive across the country. There was no reason to accept anyone with physical or educational handicaps or a police record. It was with good reason that the admiral could devote much of his public speaking on Navy Days to singing the praises of "Jackie;" the service had never had such fine enlisted men.
The same pressures existed to a lesser extent in upgrading the officer corps, but the admiral developed a few ideas of his own to achieve this end. From his days as a junior captain till he became CNO, Pratt was interested in the quality of officers who became admirals. He and Sims annually had lamented what they considered "disgraceful behavior" by the flag-rank selection boards. More often as not, this meant that officers they disliked, or considered incompetent, had been chosen to be rear admirals. Yet there were several themes that persisted in both of their views. They supported the concept of selection for higher rank, as opposed to having "plucking boards" choose captains for retirement while those not "plucked" moved up by seniority. Both also believed quite strongly that graduation from a war college should be prerequisite for selection to flag rank. Finally, both agreed that assignment to the higher fleet commands should be reserved to War College graduates. Unlike Sims, Pratt was always deeply concerned about the impact of non‑promotion on those about him. He was never quite sure whether his own advancement was due to chance or his abilities, but he did know that failure to be selected for flag rank was a crushing blow to most of those who suffered this experience. As mentioned previously, in August 1929 he recommended to Secretary Adams that "haul-down promotions" be given to captains when they retired. As CNO he broached this subject with the General Board and also suggested other modifications to the selection process.
In December 1931, and again a year later, Admiral Pratt addressed special hearings held on the subject of "selection." In both cases those officers who had just completed the flag selection chores were available to discuss their experiences with the Board and to add their opinions concerning the CNO's proposals. Before the hearings on 15 and 16 December 1931, the admiral circulated a "brown paper," prepared the previous July, which he described as being a thought- p336 provoker and not a formal proposal. Because he was CNO, this document did receive careful study. His most striking suggestion was that the flag-selection board draw up two lists from the rear admirals chosen: the first list would include those recommended for future sea duty and high command in the fleet; the second group would consist of rear admirals who normally would receive only shore-duty assignments. It was expected that most officers on the latter list would retire after one tour of shore duty. Basic to this system was the concept that all captains would become rear admirals by seniority, but only a portion would have sea commands. He proposed that a committee of three — CNO, CINCUS, and the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation — select those admirals from the sea‑duty list for assignments. Neither the General Board nor the selection board members liked Pratt's ideas. They granted that it might remove the sting of non‑promotion, but some felt it would cheapen the rank to have all captains move up. Most disliked having the committee of three formally authorized to choose those from the list who would be advanced; though they recognized that the current system actually worked that way. In short, most of these rear admirals had decided that the flag-selection system was working well and should continue unchanged. In the same paper Pratt proposed that captains and commanders, as well as flag officers, serve on the selection boards for commander and captain. While some at the hearing agreed that this might help inform the service about the selection process, and would be a bit more democratic, no one really wanted to adopt it.
Another major change advanced by the CNO received an equally unenthusiastic hearing. He advocated that rear admirals in the lower half be selected for advancement to the upper half. Because the Army used the rank of brigadier general, and the Navy did not have active-duty commodores, one half of the rear admirals received lower pay than the rest. Advancement into the upper half came by strict seniority as vacancies occurred. For several years Pratt had urged this type of selection in order to weed out the rear admirals who were not fulfilling the expectations of those who selected them. Rear Admiral William H. Standley, who would become CNO in eighteen months, expressed a consensus view in opposing this scheme. Becoming a rear admiral was difficult enough without imposing another selection hurdle. More significantly, Standley felt that another selection ahead might encourage timidity and lack of initiative in officers who should be displaying their full range of leadership qualities. All of these admirals p337 seemed agreed that one unfortunate byproduct of the selection system was the encouragement given to officers to risk nothing that might become a negative part of their service record.31
During his years as CNO, Pratt was able to make a few changes in the promotion system, but none of dramatic importance. In 1930 the selection board dates were moved from May 1931 back to December 1930. This permitted the annual command "slate," normally drafted in April and May, to include the new flag officers. Pratt also tried to improve selections, and get a more modern point of view, by appointing younger rear admirals to the boards. This first December flag board did upgrade its selections in one important respect which pleased Pratt. All selectees were War College graduates. Sims, always a regular "back-bencher," again groused that important billets, such as the Superintendent of the Naval Academy, were still being assigned to non‑War College types.32 Yet he could not fail to see a strong improvement in the quality of flag officers in the sea service.
As Admiral Pratt and the General Board prepared ship-construction programs, determined the characteristics for the new types, and sought to upgrade the Navy's personnel, they were working within the milieu of the "Great Depression;" but it was hard for them to recognize its dimensions or understand its long-term consequences. One of the characteristics of the service was its inability to comprehend fully the interests and drives of the American society it served. Most officers and elected families lived in seaboard cities, normally close to naval operating bases or shipyards, and spent their social lives within a fairly closed society. While their incomes were not large, they were secure for a twenty to thirty-year period if they were willing to accept the disadvantages of service life. A junior lieutenant, or a petty officer second class, might know that other Americans were on relief, unemployed, underemployed, or desperately worried that their source of employment might soon shut down, but this was a remote problem to them unless they were planning to leave the Navy. For a time, in the 1920s, the security of the service income had been offset by a lack of cost-of‑living pay increases as the national economy experienced a general inflation. In the early 1930s, with the general sag in prices, the serviceman's income went a long way, even after the salary cut of 1932. During this period the average officer's pay and allowances p338 were superior to the Government employee or almost any professional group in the nation.33 While they read about it in the newspapers, or were told about it by family and friends, the serviceman was more an observer of the Depression than a participant in it. The same was not true for President Hoover, his cabinet, or the Congress. Reports from Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W. Mellon about declining tax receipts, from Secretary of Labor William N. Doak on unemployment, or Budget Director Roop concerning the prospects of tax cuts or a balanced budget, all convinced the President that Government spending had to be curtailed severely. Lacking leadership within itself, and buried in a sea of mail calling for measures to halt the downward spirals in wages and employment opportunities, Congress had to depend on the White House for programs.
For the Navy's leaders the depression intruded into national defense planning and their work was considerably complicated by the fact that they were growing more sophisticated in their approaches. Pratt's insistence that only War College-trained captains should attain flag rank meant that these officers would share more completely a common outlook and approach to defense affairs. The newest rear admirals, picked by the selection board which had met in December 1930, had all attended either the Army or Navy War College. With its emphasis on international relations, and heavy use of war‑gaming as an instructional device, the staff at Newport prepared the prospective flag officer to pay close attention to ends and means as factors in security matters. Because there was no official document delineating the nation's policies the Navy was to support and defend, these potential naval statesmen had to decide for themselves what the policies were. The list varied a bit from year to year, but it usually included the Monroe Doctrine, the Open Door, no alliances, exclusion of Asiatics, limiting immigration by quota, and maintenance and strengthening of the merchant marine.34 For the War College-trained planner, the goals of naval operations could be placed under two general headings: (1) defend the nation and its dependencies; (2) assist in the enforcement of the national policies.35 When considering possible threats to the Navy's defense goals, the War College in the late 1920s and 1930s taught that both intentions and capabilities of potential enemies had to be p339 evaluated. By focussing more on intentions, than is the current practice in planning in the 1970s, the planner had a tendency to become quite conservative in his outlook.36 The Amount of naval power necessary to meet the threat from Japan and/or Great Britain, multiplied by an indeterminate number of "intentions," was infinite — but the funds available for naval construction were discouragingly finite.
As we have seen, Admiral Pratt and other senior officers considered it vitally important that the President present Congress with a long-term construction program designed to bring the Navy to full treaty strength by some specific date. While the CNO was reasonably flexible on how distant that date might be, others were not. In his annual report for fiscal year 1931, Admiral J. V. Chase (CINCUS) simply quoted Pratt's 1930 report that "it is manifestly impracticable in time of peace to provide the Fleet with numbers and types of combatant and non‑combatant vessels required to make it suitable or adequate for the accomplishment of its primary war mission as defined by the War Instructions." On the other hand CINCUS included the recommendations of Admiral F. H. Schofield, COMBATFOR, which called for immediately building the Navy to treaty strength. Admiral Moffett used his Navy Day speech in 1930, and every opportunity that came his way, to press Congress to authorize the immediate construction of the remaining aircraft carrier tonnage allowed by the London Treaty. He was afraid, and said so, that were the United States to enter a new conference with unbuilt carrier tonnage, a new treaty might eliminate it.37 Throughout the Navy's upper echelons and in the General Board there existed a fear similar to Moffett's. If the ships weren't authorized and begun, they might be bargained away at another conference. Of even greater concern was the realization that Japan was building ships and America was not. Except for battleships and destroyers, it was quite possible that the seventy-percent ratio for Japan was meaningless. As seen by defense planners, while Japan's intentions were not too clear in 1930 and early 1931, her capability for great mischief to the United States was enormous.
Though many naval officers feared that disaster might overtake the nation were the fleet not brought to treaty strength, President Hoover p340 could see another type of disaster if he tried to achieve that goal. Already, in the elections of November 1930, the public registered its dissatisfaction with the Republican President's attempts to master the Depression. Control of Congress had passed from the President's party to the Democrats; Hoover could see that further fumbling would cost his party the Presidency in two more years. To obviate this catastrophe, the President took three approaches toward avoiding heavy naval construction expenditures: (1) he again deferred laying down cruisers and carriers; (2) he pressed for further arms limitation and reduction at the General Disarmament Conference in Geneva; (3) he tried to modify the Navy's planning premises by de‑emphasizing any defense interests outside the Western Hemisphere. The President also expected to achieve other savings by reducing the size of the operating fleet and limiting its operations. In meeting the fiscal crisis, the President moved ahead on all three fronts and Admiral Pratt assisted him as much as he could without irreparably harming the Navy or destroying his ability to lead it.
While keels were laid in the Hoover Administration for 7 of the 15 cruisers authorized on 13 February 1929, only 2 were pushed to commissioning. The rest remained underfunded and almost in caretaker status on the building ways. Any pressure from Secretary Adams or the CNO to speed up construction usually received the simple reply from the Budget Director that further expenditures on naval vessels were not compatible with the President's budget plans. In the summer of 1931 and into the fall, President Hoover announced further cuts in naval construction expenditures for the current fiscal year and a suspension of construction in the fiscal year 1933.38 Though attacked vigorously by the Army and Navy Journal, the Hearst newspapers, and the Navy League, the President stuck to his guns. He could see no menace to America in the immediate future; thus there was no reason not to meet internal crisis conditions by slashing naval spending. Before he suggested a "naval construction holiday," the President conferred with his service chiefs. In mid‑August General Douglas MacArthur, the Army Chief of Staff, had told Secretary of War Hurley that, "While this country may conceivably become engaged in a war in the Pacific or with other countries of this hemisphere, such a war under present world conditions is not probable and in any event would not be of such a magnitude as to threaten our national p341 safety."39 A bit later both he and Pratt had assured the President that Japan could be defeated were war to eventuate; how long it would take depended on whether Great Britain were an active ally of the United States.40
The views of MacArthur, that war with Japan was "improbable," reflected a species of folk wisdom extant in the country at that time. There had been no crises in Japanese-American relations since the Immigration Act of 1924, and considerable cooperation had been manifested since 1927. Admiral Pratt had soothed any latent Congressional fears by arguing that the London Treaty:
. . . has been one of the most potent factors in eliminating friction between ourselves and Japan that it has been possible to devise. Instead of an atmosphere of distrust there has been substituted an atmosphere of confidence. . . . It may be said, with assurance, that in the course of a few years the mistrust, lack of confidence and suspicion which in the past has been such a potent source of trouble, will in the future be partially allayed through the medium of treaties for limitation of competitive armaments.41
With this testimony in the printed hearings, it was easy for Representative Burton French, chairman of the subcommittee for naval appropriations, to argue that cutting naval budgets was justified: "We are trying to find a place where we can dig our heels in and say, 'We really think that this great country of ours, with its immense wealth, with its isolation, is after all reasonably safe from Mexico, from Canada, from France, from the countries of South America, and from the rest of the world.' "42
At the same time that he was deferring construction expenditures and talking of a building "holiday," President Hoover called for further naval limitation and disarmament. Again, the CNO gave him almost all the assistance he could have desired. The President's reasons for moving into another round of arms limitation talks are clear enough. He hoped to avoid battleship replacements by eliminating the class, extending their service lives, or reducing their numbers severely enough that the least modern would be scrapped. By an overall reduction of navies, the United States might not have to build p342 any more cruisers or carriers. He was fortunate, in terms of timing, because the General Disarmament Conference was scheduled to open in Geneva in February 1932. While the Washington and London Treaties were viable until December 1936, there was nothing to prevent their being replaced by a more comprehensive arrangement.
In the late summer and fall of 1931 these various currents — fiscal, operational, and political — began to merge into a broad stream of naval discontent. A good portion of the unrest was traceable to Admiral Pratt's attempts to trim naval costs. In early August the CNO sent a plan to Secretary Adams, with a copy to the General Board, in which he proposed to reduce the operating forces afloat by placing a third of the vessels into a "rotating reserve." The objective, quite obviously, was to save money on personnel, fuel, and maintenance costs. This was an old scheme of Pratt's. During Torpedo Flotilla days, and again in 1921 when he commanded the Pacific Fleet Destroyer Force, the admiral had seen a portion of the destroyers held in reserve while the rest operated fully. He believed six months in reduced commission, with minimum crews, could lead to an improvement in the materiel condition of each vessel and the fleet as a whole. Major shipyard overhauls on the large ships could be a part of the out‑of-commission time. With the type commanders controlling training doctrine, there would be enough uniformity that crews could move from one vessel to another, or partial crews could be brought to operating strength by adding groups from ships going into reserve. In theory there would be no major loss of efficiency.43 On 8 September the General Board demurred from Pratt's proposal:
The General Board appreciates that some such plan as this may be necessary to reduce the expense of maintaining a Treaty Navy in full commission but at the same time the fact must be recognized that a Treaty Navy of which 33 per cent is in reduced or reserve commission is not in reality a "Treaty Navy," unless the navies of the other signatories to the limitation treaty are maintained on the same basis.44
On the same day the General Board objected to the rotating reserve idea, the Italian Foreign Minister, Dino Grandi, presented the League of Nations with a suggestion that all nations planning to attend the General Disarmament Conference, due to open on 2 February 1932, p343 observe an "arms truce" for at least a year, commencing the 1st of November 1931. President Hoover, Senator William E. Borah of Idaho, and others had been thinking along similar lines and reacted positively with a call for a "naval holiday."45 Good sailor that he was, Admiral Pratt wrote to Secretary Adams a few weeks later stating his views on the "holiday" idea. Again the admiral believed the Navy could cooperate with this approach, but he added a few strings. A construction holiday until 1935 would be fine in principle, but some ships, like heavy cruisers, should be laid down. Most importantly, he still believed that reductions in each ship category were possible, particularly since the United States was not keeping up in its naval construction. Unlike those who felt that allowed tonnages in each category represented a construction goal, he thought a program should exist to build up to whatever was allowed. The point he made was that the amount in each category was not particularly sacred. Further limitation, even reduction, was possible provided all the major naval powers would agree.46 In short, the CNO was not afraid to face another round of arms-limitation talks.
While President Hoover, Secretary Adams, and the CNO might agree that there was nothing particularly baneful about a construction holiday, the Navy League and the Army and Navy Journal dissented vigorously. In a series of pamphlets and press releases the Navy League demonstrated that a naval-construction holiday would change the naval ratios among the United States, Great Britain, and Japan from a treaty goal of 10‑10‑7 to an actual ratio of 10‑17.1‑13.4. On 28 October 1931 the organization published a pamphlet entitled "The President and the Navy." This release condemned the President's attempts to restrict construction and deplored his "abysmal ignorance of why navies are maintained and how they are used to accomplish their major mission. . . ." Stung into action, President Hoover appointed a special committee of inquiry to investigate the Navy League's charges. In less than ten days from the release of the pamphlet, the committee, which included Admiral Hugh Rodman, replied that the League publication had many inaccuracies and that the author's assumptions about the President's attitude toward the Navy was "wholly p344 unwarranted."47 There were many in the service who believed that Admiral Pratt had cooperated too closely with the special committee and even had written its final report. He stated to the press that all documents the committee wanted were public materials and he had provided them when requested to do so; but he had had nothing to do with the committee or the report beyond that. These charges, when coupled with dissatisfaction over his "rotating reserve" plan, cut deeply into the body of officers who supported Pratt's leadership.
The intensity of service opinion concerning the President was reflected by Rear Admiral William D. Leahy, Commander Destroyer Squadrons, Scouting Force. In a diary entry of 25 October 1931, he noted that he had visited "Main Navy" for temporary duty. "Officials in the Navy Department appear to be very much concerned about a necessity for reducing expenditures in an effort to balance the national budget and also about the President's apparent antagonism toward the Navy and his apparent willingness to reduce our Naval defense to a condition inferior to that of Great Britain." A month later he criticized William Howard Gardiner, the Navy League's President, for overstepping "the limits of respect and good taste" in calling Hoover abysmally ignorant. On the other hand, Leahy hoped that the nation would soon be rid of the President because he was more "international rather than American" and that the country would elect a chief executive who was "an American like Washington, Monroe, Cleveland or [Theodore] Roosevelt."48 This was the real criticism the Navy had had of Hoover since he took office. He was too willing to cooperate with other nations, even to the point of taking chances with America's first line of defense. He seemed more interested in foreign intentions rather than foreign capabilities to harm America. Because he was devoted to the President and Secretary Adams, the CNO must have suffered mightily. He was economy-minded, he had been a lifelong Republican, and he was himself an internationalist. It is not hard to imagine the bitter frustration the admiral had felt a few months earlier when he wrote to Louise:
It is pretty discouraging work I am in. Cut‑cut-cut — I do the best I can, but there doesn't seem to be much in it. The administration so far and up to date is just as hard and harder on the Navy than the last. All we have had is promises so far. We save some money, put our officers on furlough and it goes to some other project. . . .
1 Pratt, "Autobiography," p323.
2 Army and Navy Register, 20 September 1930.
3 Pratt, "Autobiography," p328. RADM Halligan died in 1934, in the Puget Sound area, while serving as Commander Aircraft Squadron, Battle Force.
4 Pratt, "Autobiography," p326.
5 WVP to Louise Pratt, Washington, 22 October 1917, Pratt MSS/NHD.
6 U. S., Department of the Navy, Naval History Division, The Chiefs of Naval Operations and Admiral's House (Washington: GPO, 1967), pp2‑9.
7 ADM W. V. Pratt, Limitation of Armament: A Many Sided Problem (U. S. S. Texas, 1930). Copy in Pratt MSS/NHD.
8 Ibid., p6.
9 Ibid., p10.
10 Ibid., p15.
11 Ernest J. King and Walter Muir Whitehill, Fleet Admiral King: A Naval Record (New York: W. W. Norton Co., 1952), pp262‑63.
12 General Board, Hearings 1931, "Recommendations of Changes in U. S. Navy Regulations 1920," 30 June 1931, G. B. Records, NHD: General Board, Minutes 1932, 8 March 1932, G. B. Records, NHD.
13 ADM W. V. Pratt to Representative Carl Vinson, Belfast, 30 June 1939, Pratt MSS/NHD.
14 Army and Navy Journal, 4 October 1930.
15 CINCUS to CNO, Navy Yard, New York, 31º June 1929, Secret, A3‑1/FF1(7)(SC1), SC File, RG80/NA; CINCUS, Annual Report," FY 1930 (7/1/29–6/30/30), in CINCUS to CNO, 1 August 1930, Confidential, A9‑1/OF1(14)(SC5), SC File, RG80/NA.
16 Army and Navy Journal, 29 November 1930, 4 April 1931. ADM Pratt signed the organization chart on 15 November 1930 and Secretary Adams approved the reorganization on 24 November 1930.
17 Army and Navy Journal, 11 October 1930.
18 Correspondence of Secretaries of the Navy, Adams and Jahncke, File FF1/A4‑3, RG80/NA.
19 Army and Navy Journal, 11 October 1930.
20 Rappaport, The Navy League, pp135‑36; Army and Navy Journal, 4 October 1930, 25 October 1930.
21 U. S., Congress, House, Committee on Naval Affairs, Hearings on Sundry Legislation Affecting the Naval Establishment, 1930‑1931 (71st Cong., 3rd sess., 1930) (Washington: GPO, 1931), p3506; Army and Navy Journal, 13 December 1930.
22 U. S., Congress, House, Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, Hearings on Navy Department Appropriation Bill for 1932 (71st Cong., 3rd sess., 1931) (Washington: GPO, 1931), p123; Army and Navy Journal, 17 January 1931.
23 General Board, Hearings 1930, "Characteristics of destroyers and destroyer leaders," 4 November 1930, G. B. Records, NHD.
24 General Board, Hearings 1930, "Characteristics of Six‑Inch Cruisers . . .," 25 November 1930, G. B. Records, NHD.
25 Ibid.; General Board, Hearings 1931, "10,000 ton 8‑inch cruisers," 9 June 1931, G. B. Records, NHD.
26 See also Samuel Eliot Morison, The Two‑Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown and Co., 1963), pp12‑13, 210‑11.
27 General Board, Hearings 1930, "Military Characteristics of Cruisers with landing‑on decks," 4 December, 5 December, 23 December 1930, G. B. Records, NHD.
28 General Board, Hearings 1931, 27 May, 10 June, 16 July, 24 July, 2 September, 13 November 1931, G. B. Records, NHD; Ernest Andrade, Jr., "The Ship That Never Was: The Flying-Deck Cruiser," Military Affairs (December 1968), pp132‑40.
29 Ibid., pp137‑39.
30 General Board, Hearings 1931, "Reduction in displacement and armament of capital ships," 31 March 1931, G. B. Records, NHD.
31 General Board, Hearings 1931 and 1932, "Selection," 15 December, 16 December 1931, 12 December 1932, G. B. Records, NHD.
32 Army and Navy Journal, 8 November, 6 December, 27 December 1930.
33 U. S., Bureau of the Census, The Statistical History of the United States From Colonial Times to the Present (Stamford, Conn.: Fairfield Publishers, Inc., 1965), pp91‑92, 97.
34 General Board No. 438, serial 1347‑1(a), 21 April 1927, G. B. Records, NHD.
35 Gerald E. Wheeler, "National Policy Planning Between the World Wars: Conflict Between Means and Ends," Naval War College Review (February 1969), pp57‑60.
36 Buell, op. cit., pp41‑43. The description of the Naval War College environment is Buell's; the conclusion on conservatism is mine.
37 Army and Navy Journal, 1 November 1930; U. S., Congress, House, Committee on Naval Affairs, Sundry Legislation . . . 1930‑1931, p3583.
38 Rappaport, The Navy League, pp141‑42.
39 Chief of Staff, U. S. Army to the Secretary of War, memorandum, Washington, 14 August 1931, Adjutant General File 580 (8‑11‑31), RG94/NA.
40 Herbert Hoover, The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover: The Cabinet and the Presidency, 1920‑1933 (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1952), pp367‑68.
41 U. S., Congress, House, Committee on Naval Affairs, Sundry Legislation . . . 1930‑1931, pp3542‑43.
42 U. S., Congress, House, Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, Appropriations Bill 1932, p464.
43 CNO to Secretary of the Navy, Washington, 6 August 1931, Confidential, (SC) P16‑1, SC File, RG80/NA.
44 General Board to Secretary of the Navy, Washington, 8 September 1931, General Board No. 420, Serial 1552, G. B. Records, NHD.
45 U. S., Department of State, Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States 1931 (Washington: GPO, 1946), Vol. I, pp440‑71 (hereafter cited as Foreign Relations with year). The W. E. Borah papers (box 325) contain dozens of letters congratulating him on the "naval holiday" idea. William E. Borah MSS/LCMD.
46 CNO to Secretary of the Navy, Washington, 12 October 1931, Pratt MSS/NHD.
47 Rappaport, The Navy League, pp142‑45.
48 William D. Leahy, Diary, 25 October, 30 November 1931, Leahy MSS/LCMD.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
William V. Pratt,
U. S. Navy
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: 27 Sep 14