Primrose Hill, Admiral Pratt's residence in Belfast, Maine.
For the naval officer who moved onto the retired list in 1933, the options open to him were determined most often by his age, his retirement pay, and the status of his health. Very obviously the retired years would be quite different for the lieutenant commander who failed of selection for commander and left active duty at half pay after twenty years service, as opposed to the situation for a captain who retired at thirty years and three-quarters pay after being passed over for rear admiral. The lieutenant commander suffered a major loss of income, but on the other hand he was in the 40 to 45‑year age bracket and possibilities for a second career were many. The captain, ten years older, had a more substantial income but employment opportunities for a 50 to 55‑year-old retiree were few. Unlike officers of the 1960s and 1907s, those of the pre‑World War II years did not tend to buy and sell homes as they moved from one duty station to another. Loans were more difficult to negotiate and liquid assets that could be devoted to real estate purchases seldom met required down-payment minimums. While there were some who were blessed with independent incomes, or married them, the average naval officer lived with his salary and allowances. While on active duty, if he were not imprudent, this officer's family could live comfortably once he became a lieutenant. To develop fiscal stability and prevent possible financial disaster too early in a service career, and also to encourage full concentration on his duties, the Navy Department forbade its ensigns to marry until three years after graduation from the Naval Academy. Bachelorhood was further encouraged by a first assignment of three years at sea. In contrast to the post-World War II naval officers, most officers were approaching 30 when they married. This situation made retirement after twenty or thirty years' service a bit more complicated because of family obligations. The prevalence of "Navy juniors" at the Naval Academy or West Point is traceable, in part, to the financial pressures on their fathers.
p378 When he retired on 1 July 1933 as a rear admiral, Pratt had completed active duty and was 64 years old. At 75 percent of his former pay, his retired annuity was $6,000, a sum that should have made a comfortable retirement possible in a Depression year. Because of their thrift, plus inheritances, the Pratts were not in debt and owned their magnificent home in Belfast plus other property. Young Bill was now 16 and attending a French secondary school near Geneva. While this education abroad was expensive, it was well within the Pratt budget. Except for continuing trouble with nose polyps, and a bit of arthritis in his back, the admiral was in good health. His family had been long-lived; there was no reason to expect anything but a good number of retired years. Throughout his life Bill Pratt had spoken nostalgically about his native state, "the farm," and later Primrose Hill, and about his desire to cultivate his rose garden, chop wood, and enjoy fully his sunset years with Louise and his son. For a person who lived a full and eventful life, filled with responsibilities and new challenges constantly ahead, the dream of retirement to the slow pace of the bucolic life is a common one. This was particularly p379 true of those who were products of the nineteenth century and who identified with America's small towns or rural environment. The present‑day (1972) officer still speaks of "chicken ranches" or a desert lot, but he most commonly retires to a city near a major military installation with its hospital, club, and commissary.
Despite their declarations of loyalty to small-town life in Maine, the Pratts found their first year of retirement a severe test. They had been busy people and Belfast was a radical change of pace for them. The admiral discovered in gardening, reading, and the writing of articles enough to fill his days. Louise kept occupied at first, but she missed the parties, the excitement of entertainment, the interesting people in Washington, the position of being "first lady" of the Navy. Both found the winter of 1933‑1934 an experience they were not ready to endure again — at least not for a few years.1 Not only is a Maine winter long and tedious to endure, but the interesting summer visitors flee with the migrant birds. Because they had not lived together in Belfast, except for periods of summer leave, Bill and Louise had few friends with whom they would desire to spend lengthy winter evenings. And family was scarce. Pratt's brother Harold was still on active duty in the Marine Corps as a lieutenant colonel, and Edgar was in Los Angeles, deeply involved in a good law practice. Louise's brother Alfred had died. Ralph had remarried and still lived in New York City. Louise was very close to "Ralphie" and his second wife, Ann Crosby Johnson, and the two of them provided a good reason for visits there. While casually interested in the affairs of their nephews and nieces, Bill and Louise exhibited that New England penchant for minding their own business and only learning family news through Christmas notes. Occasionally Harold's children or the daughter of Louise's brother Edward and her children would visit Belfast, but the Pratts seldom returned the visits.
As noted before, Admiral Pratt had been a lifelong Republican and regretted deeply Herbert Hoover's electoral defeat. While he thought well of Franklin Roosevelt personally, and believed that the Navy would fare well in his hands, he did not trust the Democrats to manage the nation's affairs. Because he was a prominent figure, Waldo County Republican leaders sought him out in February 1934 and persuaded the admiral to try his hand at Maine politics.2 He was nominated for the lower house of the legislature to occupy Belfast's p380 seat, and ran unopposed in the Republican primary election of 18 June 1934. In due time he was notified that 961 citizens had voted for him and that with his nomination he would stand for election on 10 September.3
Though a neophyte in politics, Pratt was careful in the promises he made or the views he expressed on the local issues. As might be expected, various organized interest groups asked him to take a stand on such questions as a state sales tax, the use of tax monies entailed for highway development, and the repeal of prohibition in Maine. When replying to pressure groups he had a stock answer designed to evade commitment:
I have an open mind on the matter and do not choose to commit myself until I have made a study of the subject from all points of view. I should be glad to receive any accurate data and facts you may have and give them my personal attention.
He was queried by the Christian Civic League of Maine, a department of the Anti-Saloon League, on how he stood on the "liquor question." His reply was certainly a good example of the indirect approach in political strategy. He referred the writer to Raymond B. Fosdick and Albert L. Scott's volume, Toward Liquor Control, and said he agreed with the last paragraph of the foreword, written by John D. Rockefeller. If his interrogator found a copy of this tome in the Waterville library, he discovered that admiral was a temperance man but not a prohibitionist.4
As the campaign moved into the summer months, Pratt spoke regularly to whatever groups would hear him and Louise presided over a series of "open house" occasions at their farm on the edge of the city. Maine Republicans were "running scared" in 1934 and every effort was made to gather in voters lost in 1932. In this new age of the automobile, candidates even were encouraged to get Republican bumper stickers on every car in their district. But it was to no avail. While the state had been Republican to the "marrow of its bones" before the 1932 election, times were changing. In this "off‑year" campaign, Democratic Governor Louis J. Brann won reelection — the first Democrat to do so since the Civil War. Two of the three p381 Congressional districts went Democratic. Unfortunately for Bill Pratt, the Democratic sweep in the Second Congressional District, which included Waldo County, carried his opponent into the legislature on Congressman-elect Edward C. Moran's coattails. It had been the admiral's bad luck to pick a year and a Congressional district in which the public decided to see if Democrats could solve the problems of Depression-ridden Maine. It was probably just a bit embarrassing to him when it turned out that Waldo County went Republican except for the Belfast seat. Though losing by a vote of 1,279 to 1,389 for George C. Thompson, Pratt could not help but be pleased that so many in Belfast had sought to give him the opportunity for further service.5 While he never again ran for public office, his enthusiasm for politics was whetted by this experience. The admiral may have lost an election, but the Republican Party of Maine gained an active worker in Louise. For many years after 1934 she associated herself with the state organization and actively sought a seat on the Republican National Committee as a committeewoman for the state. Louise Pratt never achieved the position she sought, but she served the state party faithfully.
In casting about for a way to occupy his time meaningfully, outside of politics, Admiral Pratt decided to continue his interest in speaking publicly and writing articles about naval affairs and international relations. He had published regularly since 1922; he enjoyed expressing himself in print; and he welcomed the extra income. Because naval limitation matters had been discussed at the General Disarmament Conference in Geneva, and the Five-Power Treaty required that another naval conference be called in 1935, the admiral found himself being invited to speak and publish about a subject to which he had devoted more than a dozen years. Both the Foreign Policy Association and the more prestigious Council on Foreign Relations sought his services regularly.
At the invitation of Hamilton Fish Armstrong, editor of the Council on Foreign Relations' quarterly journal, Foreign Affairs, Admiral Pratt prepared an article describing and analyzing "The Setting for the 1935 Naval Conference." In this lead article he showed the interrelationships of the Washington Conference treaties and the equity in the provisions of the Five-Power Naval Treaty. He could see no reason, either in terms of fairness or the need for security, for Japan's insistence upon equality in naval power with the United States and p382 Great Britain. He believed that the danger of a major international war in East Asia had been reduced because of the treaty system. His premise was that:
Though some may not agree, the writer does believe that the general effect has been good and that in a measure the Washington Conference has been the logical successor of the two Peace Conferences which met at The Hague in 1899 and in 1907. And aside from the concrete accomplishments of the naval treaty, the generous spirit developed at the Washington Conference provided the world with something which should not be lost to it now.6
A few days after publication, ex‑Under Secretary of State William R. Castle congratulated Pratt on the article and told him he agreed with almost everything he said. He noted that, "It evidently created somewhat of a stir in Japan but I am sure that the sensible Japanese like ex‑Prime Minister Shidehara agreed with you fully, whether they would have admitted it in public or not."7 Six months later the admiral's old friend, Admiral Nomura, published a rejoinder in the same magazine. In this brief article he argued that "fair play" and the national pride of the Japanese demanded that they have the right to build a navy equal to either America or Britain. He was sure such a fleet would never be built, but his nation could not be held in an inferior status any longer.8
Admiral Pratt made his last contribution to the Naval Institute's Proceedings in August 1934 with an article on "Leadership." It was no prize-winner, but it was a workmanlike product that spelled out ideas the admiral had talked about in many service addresses through the years. At the end of the year he sent the Naval Institute another article, dealing with naval limitation, but it was quickly returned by the Board of Control. The admiral was surprised, and stung, since he had never received a rejection on any article previously submitted. He undoubtedly was discovering that a retired rear admiral commanded less attention, by virtue of his name, than an active one. He did admit that the article might have been "worthless."9 The sting didn't last very long. A few weeks later he spoke to a dinner meeting of the Foreign Policy Association on "Japan's Demand for Parity." It was, of course, a reply to Nomura's Foreign Affairs article. The talk p383 was well-received and reported nationally through the New York Times. His principal theme again was quite simple: the Four-Power, Five-Power, and Nine-Power Treaties were tightly interwoven and the Five-Power Naval Treaty was really the "sanction" behind the others. He wondered why the United States should weaken its ability to uphold the other treaties, particularly the Nine-Power (Open Door) Treaty, which Japan had almost unilaterally abrogated. To allow the Japanese naval parity would mean that the one control that existed over affairs in the Pacific would be removed.10
The address to the Foreign Policy Association opened up a new and interesting world to Admiral Pratt. In quick succession he was invited to join Council on Foreign Relations "Round Tables" in Cambridge and in New York City. His old friend at Harvard, the noted international law specialist, Professor George Grafton Wilson, asked him to speak to a Council group made up of Harvard faculty and Boston people interested in international relations. The group was currently studying Japanese-American relations in the Pacific. A few days later, ex‑Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson urged Pratt to enter a New York discussion group then taking up the problems of "Philippine Independence and the Balance of Power in Asia." In each case the admiral wrote a similar reply: "It is rather inconvenient for me, situated as I am way down East, to drop up to Boston just to make a little talk, pleasant as it would be to renew the contacts." Professor Wilson took the hint; in his reply he mentioned that travelling expenses and overnight hotel accommodations would be provided. The admiral was then able to make the trip. After Stimson's invitation to Pratt was answered by an offer to read whatever documents were sent and to provide his views in writing, Walter H. Mallory, the Executive Director of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote back and assured the admiral that his expenses to New York would be reimbursed. Pratt then agreed that since the topic was so important, he would come. Louise, of course, wouldn't be left behind.
Both the Council on Foreign Relations and the Foreign Policy Association were important to the nation in the 1920s and 1930s. Each worked hard to counter the strong tendency toward isolationism that followed the World War and Versailles Treaty struggle. While their memberships were elitist in character, they also were influential. The Foreign Policy Association had many more members than the Council, p384 and it did press the cause of the League and the World Court. The Council on Foreign Relations avoided taking stands on issues and its groups in the various cities were tightly limited in membership; but those who did belong constituted a significant portion of the nation's "Foreign Policy Establishment." The New York Group had as members, at one time or another, Allen W. Dulles, John Foster Dulles, Thomas W. Lamont, Raymond Gram Swing, John Gunther, Hamilton Fish Armstrong, General Frank R. McCoy, Norman H. Davis, Frank L. Polk, Henry L. Stimson, Edward P. Warner, Stanley K. Hornbeck, and Admiral William H. Standley.11 Because of his association with the New York Group, it was natural that Admiral Pratt would be asked to write for publication in the Council's quarterly journal.
His most important article between 1933 and 1940 was published in Foreign Affairs in April 1935. The second London Naval Conference was to convene in December 1935 and Japan had already denounced the Five-Power Naval Treaty, effective 31 December 1936. Pratt addressed himself to some of the "Pending Naval Questions."12 In part he restated views expressed in January before participants of the New York Foreign Policy Association dinner. He answered Admiral Nomura more directly by arguing that equality of naval armaments was a good idea if all nations were devoted to peace and lived within the requirements of the treaties they signed. When this was not so, the world experienced international competition in armaments and the great possibility of war. He called Japan's attention to the course of German history before the World War. The rest of the article was a good exegesis on technical considerations concerning the various ship types then currently limited by the 1930 London Treaty. The subscriber to Foreign Affairs, if he read the Nomura and Pratt articles carefully, could easily predict the failure of the second London Naval Conference in March 1936. Pratt was demonstrating that very important talent he possessed. When he had a set of facts, he could lay out a simple line of argument that most laymen could grasp.
In the spring of 1936, Allen Dulles invited the admiral to attend the International Studies Conference to be held that June in London. The New York Group of the Council on Foreign Relations offered p385 to pay all of his expenses. Pratt agreed to go and in time was personally invited to address the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House.13 Throughout the spring the admiral changed his mind several times about the trip. Louise had already left in March for a visit in Monaco with her friend Mabel Tod, and it is evident that Bill planned to join her. In April he turned down Admiral Reeves' invitation for him to sail with the U. S. Fleet to Hawaii, and a week later he wired President Arthur Hauck, of the University of Maine, that he could not accept the school's offer to confer an honorary Doctor of Laws on him.14 After returning to Belfast from a six‑week visit with his brother Edgar in Los Angeles, Pratt wrote to the Executive Director of the Council that he could not attend the London meeting with the New York Group. His reasons were a bit obscurely stated, but they boiled down to two points: (1) As a retired naval officer he was still bound to support his government's position on foreign policy questions and he was afraid that his personal ideas on many issues taken up in London might be mistaken for those of the Administration; (2) Since he was not in sympathy with the views of Allen Dulles and others in the American Group, particularly when they supported American entrance into the League, he could be a source of annoyance to the delegation. Perhaps the admiral was remembering the problems he had in London, five years earlier, with Admiral Jones. He obviously was embarrassed to back out so late (the delegation would sail on 25 May), but he was firm in his withdrawal. It is interesting to note that twelve years earlier the admiral had refused to attend the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in 1923 because he was concerned that his presence "would throw the mantle of the General Board" over the society's activities. His objection then was that the society was "composed largely of men and women who are Pro League of Nations and that is distinctly against Administration Policy."15
The admiral's change of heart in 1935 did not impair his relations with the Council or its various groups, nor did it diminish his willingness p386 to participate in their activities. Every year, until he joined the staff of Newsweek magazine in January 1940, he sat in with groups in New York, Boston, or Los Angeles and discussed topics on naval affairs, the Far East, neutrality, and mobilization for war. He also continued to speak regularly at colleges, Foreign Policy Association dinners, and to special conferences, such as the one dealing with Anglo-American relations, held in New York in September 1936. At times he became impatient with meetings that seemed pointless or that met to discuss fairly abstract topics. In April 1936 he turned down an all‑expense-paid trip to a University of Chicago sponsored "Institute on Neutrality and Collective Security." He told Louise that this type of meeting "would lead nowhere." He felt his vacation time in Los Angeles worth more than the trip. Besides, "we can get more fun out of the political game." A year later, after Louise wrote rather cuttingly about attending a conference where Laura Puffer Morgan spoke on peaceful settlement of disputes, Pratt wondered if such activities were really worth the effort invested in them. He questioned whether the intelligent decisions reached by discussion groups, institutes, and conferences ever found their way into the offices of the nation's administrators. Looking around him, the admiral concluded that politicians catered only to the "unintelligent vote" and that there was little activity that didn't reflect evidence of "lack of character and crass political pandering."16 Bill and Louise, quite obviously, were still unhappy that the party of Franklin Roosevelt had not been turned out in 1936.
Pratt's interest in foreign relations caused him to remain in touch with a large number of people, in and out of government, who were in a position to influence public affairs. Probably the longest run of correspondence in his papers consists of letters to and from Herbert Hoover. The admiral had a deep and abiding admiration for his former Commander in Chief and displayed it regularly in adulatory letters. More often than not, he addressed Hoover as "Dear Chief;" the latter normally replied "My dear admiral." The publication of a book by the ex‑President, or the issuance of a speech in pamphlet form, regularly brought a one or two‑page paean from the admiral. He was disappointed that Hoover wasn't nominated in 1936 by the Republican Party and for many years looked forward to his return to leadership. When possible, he arranged for brief visits to Hoover during California trips and later he would see him in New York City. In the post-World p387 War II years, as his public outings became scarce, the admiral wrote even more regularly. Usually, he sent just a line or two, supporting some stand Hoover had taken. Pratt's blindness after 1949 prevented handwritten letters, so he dictated what he had to say. The former President's reply was always prompt and personal. Louise was as thrilled as her husband when Hoover would close a note with: "I send my love to Mrs. Pratt and my affection to so loyal a friend as yourself."17
The admiral visited or wrote regularly to many others with whom he had associated during Hoover's years in Washington. William R. Castle had remained in the capital and continued to monitor foreign affairs. He liked to write and included Pratt in his circle of correspondents. When visiting New York for Council on Foreign Relations meetings, the admiral had a chance to visit with Stimson and Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. When in Boston, he always tried to see ex‑Secretary of the Navy Adams. Ironically, his letters to service friends were few and he wrote more often to General Douglas MacArthur than he did to admirals who had served with him for many years.
Because of an early interest in Japan, and his early manifestations of sympathy toward that nation, the admiral was regularly sought out by important Japanese. His friendship with Admiral Nomura dated from World War I days and lasted till Pratt's death in 1957. They exchanged letters frequently and at Christmas and the New Year sent greetings. Pratt enjoyed writing "frank" letters to Nomura because he believed the latter, as a seaman like himself, appreciated direct and candid exposition of views. On several occasions the American government eased the value of this international friendship. As we have seen, the State Department encouraged the President and Admiral Pratt, then CINCUS, to lay out the "red carpet" for Vice Admiral Nomura when he brought the Japanese training squadron to America in September 1929. During the Shanghai Crisis, in February 1932, it was Pratt who suggested to the Japanese that Nomura be sent to straighten out matters.18 At the end of December 1937, following apologies and easing of tensions caused by the Japanese attack on the Navy's Yangtze River gunboat, Panay, Nomura wrote to the admiral:
I feel very happy that the Panay incident has been amicably settled. This mistake must have been committed during battle excitement. I am sure such p388 mistake will never be repeated. People here are very glad of happy solution. Please convey my best wishes to your family.19
With the slowness of trans-Pacific surface mail, Pratt was unable to answer Nomura before March, but when he did it was "a very frank letter." He described its contents to Louise:
It was strictly analytical in character. Told him what I saw of their good points and also their weaknesses and faults — It was merely the truth — I think that whatever influence I may have with them, and I try to tap this without any personal taint, is due to the fact that when I talk to them they knew I speak from an abstract point, with an eye to telling the truth and nothing but the truth. They accept this because, in their eyes, I come into the class of the so‑called elder statesmen, whose opinions are always given in the same detached way.20
It is unfortunate that these two retired admirals did not have more control over the destinies of their respective countries. Nomura was then President of the Japanese House of Peers, but its power was negligible with the country in the hands of the ultranationalists. Later, as Foreign Minister in the short-lived cabinet of General Nobuyuki Abe in late 1939‑1940, he might have steered the Japanese on a course that he and Pratt would have considered safe, but cabinets came and went too quickly. Admiral Nomura was never able to do more than keep ahead of the incoming cables. Admiral Pratt's letters undoubtedly helped to inform his friend that Japan was seriously antagonizing America, but they seem to have had no recognizable effect beyond that.
Pratt's articles in Foreign Affairs and his public speeches brought him to the attention of the Japanese press as well as the papers in America. During that busy year of 1935, the Asahi newspapers, one of Japan's greatest publication chains, informally approached the admiral about an all‑expenses-paid trip to Japan. The complications of his trip to London probably caused him to decide to refuse the offer.21 A year later, while visiting Los Angeles, two senior Japanese naval officers paid him a visit. It was a deliberate public relations effort by the Japanese, but the admiral was pleased to see them. He remarked to Louise, in a note, that it was ironic that Japanese naval officers would look him up, but not his brother officers in the Battle Force. During another visit p389 to Los Angeles, in February 1938, a Japanese writer and diplomat, Jiuji Kasai stopped by to see him at the Los Angeles Elks Club. Pratt had visited regularly with Dr. Kasai through the years and welcomed the chance to send his views to Tokyo by another channel. A few days earlier the admiral's remarks at a banquet had been broadcast by a local radio station. He stated quite bluntly that the American voter was jeopardizing national security by pressing for neutrality laws that would tie the President's hands. He wrote to Louise that the Hearst papers had interviewed him several times and he expected that the Japanese soon would show up.22 They did, and so did Kasai.
These visits to Los Angeles had become a regular part of Admiral Pratt's life by 1938. After the winter of 1933‑1934 in Belfast, Bill and Louise had decided not to stay there during the hardest part of the season. In March 1935 the admiral saw his wife off to Europe and then headed west to visit Edgar. He stayed just six weeks that time. In 1936, 1937, and 1938 he took the train to Los Angeles in early January and stayed until the end of April. He usually returned to Belfast by way of Washington and New York. This gave him the opportunity to visit "Jimmy" Campbell and other service friends in the capital. Louise never accompanied him; instead, she took a room at the Republican Women's Club in New York City. For her it was a chance to visit Ralph and Ann. There were also lectures, museums, the musical season, and even political activity at the national level. When staying at Edgar's house, Bill shared expenses and simply joined his brother's circle of friends. The routine each year was much the same. Edgar attended to his law practice during the day and Bill read or rested, sunned himself, or walked about the city; in the evening they visited friends and played bridge almost every night. On weekends, there would be some golf or they would motor around southern California, perhaps staying at a ranch that Edgar owned in the San Bernardino Mountains. After a trip over the Tehachapi Mountains to Bakersfield in April 1935, Pratt commented somewhat poetically on the difference between the California landscape and its inhabitants and those raised in the New England environment:
. . . our beauty has an intimate relationship to our New England lives, while this is detached and apart from the life of this country. . . . The land and nature is a part of our background and tradition. We fit our environment and grow with it, day by day. Each complements the other. Here it is the p390 reverse: the two, the community life and nature have nothing in common now. They jar each other and nature holds itself distinctly aloof.23
Because of his brother's declining health, Bill and Edgar took rooms at the Elks Club in 1938. At $40 a month for the room, and a dollar a day for the meals, the admiral was living more cheaply than he could have in New York or even Belfast and the climate was a lot more desirable. Between them, he and Louise budgeted for $350 a month, and this was plenty to meet their needs. If they were lonely for one another, their letters never showed it. Bill wrote almost daily and both stuffed their letters with clippings from the local papers. They were intensely interested in national politics and international affairs. From the lack of references to service people or events, or even Belfast, one might believe that Bill Pratt was a retired Washington bureaucrat or an ex‑professor of international relations.
The admiral's almost complete severance of ties with the Navy during the years 1933 till 1940 is difficult to explain. He was in Los Angeles regularly, yet he rarely saw anyone from the Battle Force based a few miles away in San Pedro. Part of the answer undoubtedly is traceable to the fact that Bill and Louise physically removed themselves from easy contact with the service. Belfast is not at the end of the earth, but it is not far from that point. People did not casually visit this city in the 1930s, unless they were travelling to Castine or Bar Harbor; and these resorts were not normally frequented by Navy types. When on the West Coast, the admiral stayed with Edgar and was in no position to entertain or junket over to San Pedro or San Diego. Neither was it particularly convenient for officers without automobiles to leave the port areas for trips into Los Angeles. These, of course, are obvious reasons. At the heart of the matter, it would appear, was the deep feeling of hurt, possibly disgust, that Admiral Pratt experienced when he retired. During his tenure as CNO his relations with the General Board, bureau chiefs, and fleet commanders grew progressively more strained as he tried to resolve his conflicting obligations to the President and to the service. To say he was "hounded" from office would be overstatement, but from the admiral's viewpoint it amounted to that. After his retirement, because he failed promotion to colonel, Harold Pratt told his brother, without bitterness, that the dislike of the Navy and Marine Corps for the admiral had blighted his own career. Knowing how those about him felt, it was natural that Pratt p391 would not seek out his former shipmates; yet there were occasional gatherings that warmed his spirits. In May 1938 he visited Campbell, then retired in Virginia, and enjoyed a staff reunion. Royal Ingersoll, who recently had been selected for rear admiral, came down from Washington and "Cal" Durgin flew Berkey up from Norfolk. But this was an exceptional occasion. "Jimmy," "Cal," and "Berk" kept in touch, as did Charley Belknap who had resigned in 1919 and was President of Monsanto Chemical Company in St. Louis; but the Pratt papers are almost bare of letters from Reeves, Chase, Hepburn, Yarnell, Schofield, McNamee, Leigh, and a dozen others he helped up the fleet ladder to high command. With Virgil,a though cynically, Pratt might have observed:
"Sic itur ad astra!" — (Such is the way to the stars)
As the war clouds lowered in Europe during 1939, Admiral Pratt's life again took on a pace similar to 1935. He wintered with Edgar in Los Angeles and devoted much of his time to writing his "Autobiography." He had lived an interesting and at times exciting life; perhaps others would enjoy sharing it. By working away from his home and the papers he had saved, the final draft was filled with inaccuracies and imprecision which he never corrected. Regretfully, the manuscript was ready when the market wasn't. Theodore Roosevelt. Jr., then with Doubleday-Doran Publishers, broke the news gently but candidly to his old friend: "All on the board of editors agreed with me as to its interest and value, but with the exception of myself, all maintained that we could not sell the book in sufficient quantities to make it a publishing possibility for our house."24 Pratt was disappointed, of course, but he probably understood the economics of the market. His interest, or his vanity, was not deep enough to support the publication himself, so the manuscript remained in his files. Had he been willing to seek a collaborator, and make his personal papers available to that person, a biography as accurate and interesting as that of Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King might have emerged. Unfortunately, for later generations of naval writers, the admiral was not sufficiently interested in publicity; so the manuscript lacks the depth and quality that persistent interviewing and discussion with him might have provided.
Upon returning to Belfast in the spring, Admiral Pratt began to receive a large number of requests to participate in conferences and seminars dealing with international affairs or the crises of the moment. He made preparations to attend a conference on Canadian-American p392 relations, sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment, but was forced to withdraw at the last moment. He had been pressed to participate by General Frank R. McCoy and President Seelye of St. Lawrence University, so he sent to the general a summary of his ideas about the possibilities of a new world war. He did not visualize such a conflict occurring, because he considered the war in Asia quite separate from the tensions of Europe. In a paragraph he catalogued the errors made in settling the World War which were now endangering world peace. He believed the Germans should have been given "a sound military drubbing on their own soil" before a peace treaty was written. Very much in step with the geopolitical thinking of the 1930s,b the admiral believed that the spirit of vengeance in the Versailles Treaty's clauses and the unsound economic settlements were mistakes of the greatest magnitude. He used this letter to General McCoy as an outline for several public speeches given in July and August, one of which was reported rather fully in the Portland Press Herald.25
With the opening of war in Europe on 1 September 1939, Americans began to debate the role the United States should play. Controversy was sparked between the "isolationists" who wished to remain clear of involvement and hoped the neutrality legislation of the 1930s would prevent a repetition of the years 1914‑1917, and "interventionists" who believed Germany had to be stopped as quickly as possible, with American material and armed forces if absolutely necessary. Admiral Pratt, because of his Anglophilism, never doubted that the British were fighting for America as well as themselves. He saw American military unpreparedness as being a major block to any effective assistance at the time. When pacifists desired to play down the importance of the prevent war, by changing Armistice Day (November 11) to "Peace Day," the admiral wrote in opposition to them. In an article published in United States News he posited that enduring peace would only come when all nations accepted two concepts — liberalism in government and good will toward all men. He believed Independence Day and Memorial Day each had its own significance and so did Armistice Day:
The soul of the Unknown Soldier is at peace, but it is not the peace of this world; it is the peace of the world beyond. Let him rest there, and bring him not back, in mockery, to struggle again with warring humanity.
As the restless world surges on to its fate, like the tides of the ocean, now p393 high now low, there is only one day in our calendar now to which the name Peace Day may properly apply; this day is Christmas.26
Admiral Pratt participating in a radio panel broadcast on American preparedness, August 1940. From left to right, William L. Chenery, Hugh Gibson, Fred Clark, Admiral Pratt, and Eve Garrette.
With the opening of the new year in January 1940, Admiral Pratt began another career which was to last for six years and would make his name a commonplace among those interested in naval affairs during World War II. Newsweek announced in its issue of 1 January 1940, that the admiral was joining its staff and would be writing a weekly column analyzing the war at sea.27 It could hardly be guessed at the time that he would meet deadlines, with very few weeks missed, until the issue of 1 April 1946. This new "duty" meant that the Pratts would modify their life style for the duration of the war. Louise would stay in Belfast and Bill would take an apartment in New York. She still would spend the winter months with her husband, but the rest of the p394 year he led a bachelor's existence in the big city. It wasn't the most desirable way to live — in fact Pratt somewhat despised the area — but for him it was interesting work. Driven as usual to save money, these thrifty New Englanders looked upon the income from Newsweek as an important supplement. It was needed since young Bill, after several years of education in private Swiss schools, had finished "prepping" at the Hun School in Princeton and was now a Harvard freshman.
When the admiral penned his first article, as editorial associate for naval affairs, Adolf Hitler's "Blitzkrieg" against Poland had given way to a "Sitzkrieg" at the borders of France and the Low Countries, and Josef Stalin's war machine was bogging down in the "Winter War" against Finland. As might be expected, Pratt devoted his first article, and others during 1940, to analyses of America's position as a neutral. Here he could use very effectively his experience and knowledge from the first World War; yet, because of German strategy at this point, he missed the importance of the low‑key war at sea. He concluded that, in several of these early articles, the submarine "is not the acute menace it was in the World War."28 It had seen its heyday "in the last war and is not keeping up its previous successes in this. One reason is that submarine detection devices have been perfected; another is that now the submarine may be spotted and destroyed from the air."29 The admiral obviously was not getting full data on merchantmen losses; but his writing became much more useful once he began to develop better sources and kept his own score.
Because of the slow pace of the war during its first six months, Pratt was able to skip over the plethora of minor operations and to use many issues for developing Allied and Axis naval strategies in the Baltic, Scandinavian, Mediterranean, and Balkans areas. He also dealt several times with Japanese and American interests in the Pacific and Asia. Here we can observe the admiral going beyond the role of a naval analyst. Many of his articles in 1940 and 1941 were obviously designed to influence Japanese behavior as well as inform his readers. It is hard not to conclude that Pratt hoped his friends in Japan would absorb his message and urge moderation on their leaders. In January 1940 he compared America and Japan:
Summed up in general terms, the strategic position is this; Japan's strength lies in her army and navy and in a united public mind; her weakness is strained internal domestic economy, lack of essential reserves, vulnerability p395 to the pressure of sea power. The aces on which our strength rests are: great reserve power, abundance of essential supplies, the ability to amass a sea or air power no nation can surpass — and a certain imponderable called freedom. Undoubtedly our position is stronger.30
As the Germans swept across Western Europe to the Channel in the spring of 1940, and Italy joined the fray, Admiral Pratt used his weekly column to awaken Americans. Very early he had accepted the concept that America must be the British supply base. Drawing an analogy with the first war, he noted how America had deferred construction of a battleship fleet in order to build destroyers for antisubmarine duty in British waters. Now the nation had to delay its own buildup of aircraft strength in order to send first-line fighters and bombers to the English.31 He concluded that the British were again fighting our battles. The stakes were high:
If Britain wins, we are safe. If the Nazis win, peace such as we know is impossible. The time which elapses between this and the next war is only the lull in the storm, and when it hits us alone, it means the bloodiest war ever fought on this continent, or the complete surrender of every moral, political, and economic concept dear to American hearts.32
After almost a year of writing for Newsweek, Admiral Pratt received a request from Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox asking him to visit "Main Navy" for a "conference on important matters." He saw the Secretary on the 30th of December and the next day he received telephone orders to report for active duty on 6 January 1941.33 Because of 1938 legislation, Pratt was now a full admiral on the retired list and would serve his active duty at full pay and allowances. His job was to organize a small staff to work with him at the New York Navy Yard, and to arrive at some recommendations concerning the strengthening of convoy defense in the Atlantic. German submarines had sunk an average of ninety merchant vessels per month during the last half of 1940 and an enormous quantity of American military equipment, designated for British use, had gone to the bottom with the ships.34 Very obviously the output of the "arsenal of the democracies" could serve no use if consigned to Davey Jones' Locker.
p396 For six months the admiral worked at his task and by the end of his tour two major programs designed to enhance antisubmarine warfare (ASW) were well established. One was the escort carrier (CVE) program; the other was expansion of airship (blimp) production and the organization of lighter-than‑air (LTA) patrol wings and squadrons for ASW operations. The evidence is not complete on the subject, but it appears that during 1940 Admiral Pratt had suggested directly to President Roosevelt that the Navy should consider converting some oilers (tankers) or cargo vessels to small aircraft carriers designed to escort convoys.35 He knew from the experience of the first World War that airplanes and airships had been quite successful in combating submarines around the British Isles. From the record of shipping losses in 1940, it could be seen that convoys needed protection against U‑boats in mid‑ocean, and against air attack as well with sailing near land areas where shore-based Axis aircraft could reach them. For Pratt the most important questions were: (1) Was it feasible to construct a small carrier on the hull of a tanker or cargo vessel? (2) Was it wise to divert such hulls when oilers and cargo vessels were so desperately needed for Atlantic shipping? (3) Would such "escort carriers" be effective in ASW work? (4) Could aircraft operate offensively from such carriers?
The Navy Department had already begun preliminary study on this project before Pratt met with Admiral H. R. Stark, then CNO, on 6 January 1941. While collaterally interested in the use of small carriers for convoy duty, or possibly supplying air cover for expeditionary forces, the pressing need from Operations' viewpoint was to find surface transport for assembled aircraft. The Army Air Corps had been pressing the Navy to use its large carriers to haul its newest fighter planes to Hawaii and the same capability was needed to take aircraft to the beleaguered British. In such critical times it was bad policy to tie up a part of the fleet's striking power with transport operations; therefore the search was made for alternatives.36
When Pratt began studying the problem, two hulls had been located that could be readily converted. These were Mormacmail and Mormacland, Maritime Commission C‑cargo vessels with diesel-drive systems. They could carry •350 × 70 foot flight decks, steam at 15 knots, and discharge their diesel exhausts through side-mounted funnels. p397 With one elevator and one catapult, the vessel could be designed to operate six fighters and ten scouting or attack planes carrying antisubmarine depth bombs. Within two weeks the admiral recommended that the conversions be started on what the Department had already been calling the "Pratt-Roosevelt-type aircraft carrier."37 The hulls were acquired on 6 March 1941 and Long Island (AVG‑1) broke her commission pennant on 2 June 1941, under the command of Commander Donald B. Duncan. President Roosevelt insisted upon a conversion within three months of acquiring Mormacmail and he got it. These small flat-tops were occasionally used as aircraft transports, as were the regular fleet carriers. Studies of the usefulness of converting a tanker or merchantman for such duty, by simply superimposing a deck over the topside spaces, was abandoned at the end of May 1941 at the direction of CNO.38
While determining the feasibility of an escort carrier program, Pratt also concerned himself with the possibilities of using airships against the U‑boats. From his own knowledge and information supplied by Captain Charles E. Rosendahl, the Navy's preeminent authority on airships, he knew that blimps could locate and destroy submarines. He proposed erecting small platforms and mooring masts on board merchant vessels so that blimps could accompany convoys across the Atlantic. With four •325‑pound depth bombs, a cruising range of •2,000 miles, and the capability of being serviced and rearmed at sea, these airships could provide protection in the dangerous mid‑ocean areas where shore-based aircraft could not operate. But this idea, like many others equally worthy, could not get beyond the most superficial level of investigation because the Navy did not have a fleet of airships and could not acquire a significant number before the end of 1941. Captain Rosendahl lamented to Pratt that in early September 1940 he had reported in a paper to the Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics ("Discussion of the Naval Uses of Nonrigid Airships by the United States," 5 September 1940) that everyone agreed that the United States should have airships, but nothing was done about it.39
p398 Pratt's prestige, plus the obvious merits of the program, led to the President's acceptance of a broad expansion of LTA activities in the Navy. In a memorandum to Secretary Knox, signed 22 April 1941, Roosevelt noted that he had believed since 1933 that the Navy should be experimenting with nonrigid airships, but the admirals had objected. Now they wanted them. The President ordered a program of expansion: "I am heartily in favor of what I have been heartily in favor of all this time."40 A few weeks later Captain Rosendahl wrote to Pratt that he was in charge of the new airship. Twenty-seven K‑type airships were on order, new blimp bases were under construction at South Weymouth, Massachusetts and Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and the base at Lakehurst, New Jersey was being expanded. While he had faith in the future of the blimps, he regretted that dirigibles like Akron and Macon had not been continued. He believed these aerial behemoths could have guarded convoys easily with their great endurance; and their brood of fighting planes could have extended the search for the U‑boats or swiftly pressed home attacks when located.41
Rosendahl stayed in touch with the admiral and in return Pratt used his position with Newsweek to give the aggressive captain a national audience. In March 1941 he wrote an analysis of the intensification of the U‑boat campaign against Great Britain. He suggested that blimps could be vital for convoy protection. Two months later, following an exchange of letters with Rosendahl, he described the potential value of the dirigible for airlifting fighter planes to Iceland for the short hop to the British Isles. Finally, in mid‑June, he described to Newsweek's readers the role in ASW operations of the escort carrier.42 While not admitting that Long Island was undergoing its shakedown, he must have caused a few security-conscious intelligence officers a bit of uneasiness.
The admiral had hoped to continue on active duty more than six months, but it was not to be. He had done a job well, and one that needed doing, but there were few problems that required a four-star admiral's attention. While antisubmarine operations were within his area of expertise, there was much in the Navy of 1941 that was p399 beyond his technical comprehension. It is also possible that his direct access to the President, a privilege he used sparingly, was annoying to Admiral Stark; and those in the Bureau of Aeronautics, who had less faith in LTA programs than Captain Rosendahl, must have been disconcerted when the President chided them for not adopting nonrigid airships earlier. Thus no one urged that Pratt be retained on active duty and the President, on 2 July, ordered his release on 15 July. Secretary Knox wrote the expected letter of appreciation:
I wish to take this opportunity to express to you, not only on my own behalf but on that of the Navy Department, the very sincere appreciation which we feel for the highly constructive assistance you have rendered the Service in producing the U. S. S. Long Island which I consider is one of the most promising experiments we have undertaken.43
1 Boston Sunday Post, 21 January 1934, Pratt MSS/NWC.
2 The Republican Journal (Belfast, Me.), 8 February 1934.
3 Robinson C. Tobey to WVP, Augusta, Me., 7 March and 9 July 1934, Pratt MSS/NHD.
4 Frederick W. Smith to WVP, Waterville, Me., 3 May 1934, Pratt MSS/NHD; WVP to Smith, Belfast, Me., 4 May 1934, Pratt MSS/NHD. The book was: Raymond B. Fosdick and Albert L. Scott, Toward Liquor Control (New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1933), pp. vii‑xi.
5 The Republican Journal, 13 September 1934; New York Times, 12 September 1934, p2.
6 William V. Pratt, "The Setting for the 1935 Naval Conference," Foreign Affairs (July 1934), pp541‑52.
7 William R. Castle to WVP, Hot Springs, Va., 3 July 1934, Pratt MSS/NHD.
8 Kichisaburo Nomura, "Japan's Demand for Naval Equality," Foreign Affairs (January 1935), pp196‑203.
9 WVP to Hamilton Fish Armstrong, Belfast, Me., 1 March 1935, Pratt MSS/NHD.
10 Frances J. Pratt to WVP, New York, 9 January 1935, Pratt MSS/NHD, typescript of speech enclosed with letter.
11 Robert A. Divine, Second Chance: The Triumph of Internationalism in America During World War II (New York: Athenaeum, 1967), pp19‑21; Francis Pickens Miller, ed., Some Regional Views on Our Foreign Policy (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1939), pp195‑96.
12 William V. Pratt, "Pending Naval Questions," Foreign Affairs (April 1935), pp409‑19.
13 Allen Dulles to WVP, New York, 16 February 1935, Pratt MSS/NHD; WVP to Dulles, Belfast, Me., 23 February 1935, Pratt MSS/NHD.
14 WVP to President Arthur Hauck, Los Angeles, 29 April 1935, Pratt MSS/NHD. The degree was awarded the next year on June 6, 1936. This was the admiral's second honorary degree. Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine, conferred a Doctor of Laws Degree on Pratt at its commencement of June 20, 1929. Clara D. Hayes to WVP, Brunswick, Me., 21 June 1929, Pratt MSS/NWC.
15 WVP to Walter H. Mallory, Belfast, Me., 12 May 1935, Pratt MSS/NHD; WVP to Louise Pratt, Washington, 19 April 1923, Pratt MSS/NHD.
16 WVP to Louise Pratt, Los Angeles, 7 February 1937, Pratt MSS/NHD.
17 Herbert Hoover to WVP, Stanford, Calif., 6 August 1952, Pratt MSS/NHD.
18 Pratt, "Autobiography," pp335‑36.
19 ADM K. Nomura to WVP, Tokyo, 30 December 1937, Pratt MSS/NHD; for accounts of the Panay attack see: Manny T. Koginos, The Panay Incident: Prelude to War (Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Studies, 1967); Hamilton Darby Perry, The Panay Incident: Prelude to Pearl Harbor (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1969).
20 WVP to Louise Pratt, Los Angeles, 5 March 1938, Pratt MSS/NHD.
21 WVP to Louise Pratt, Los Angeles, 16 April 1935, Pratt MSS/NHD.
22 WVP to Louise Pratt, Los Angeles, 29 January 1938, Pratt MSS/NHD.
23 WVP to Louise Pratt, Los Angeles, 11 April 1935, Pratt MSS/NHD.
24 Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. to WVP, New York, 8 June 1939, Pratt MSS/NHD.
25 WVP to General Frank R. McCoy, Belfast, Me., 17 June 1939, Pratt MSS/NHD; Portland Press Herald (Portland, Me.), 18 July 1939.
26 W. V. Pratt, "Should 'Peace Day' Supplant Armistice Day," United States News (20 November 1939), p10.
27 W. V. Pratt, "Admiral Pratt Joins Newsweek," Newsweek (1 January 1940), p8.
28 W. V. Pratt, "The Strategy Behind the War at Sea," Newsweek (15 January 1940), p23.
29 W. V. Pratt, "The Silent Convoy," Newsweek (12 February 1940), p24.
30 W. V. Pratt, "America's Aces in the Far Eastern Game," Newsweek (29 January 1940), p29.
31 W. V. Pratt, "Our Problem: How Best to Keep the War in Europe," Newsweek (17 June 1940), p25.
32 W. V. Pratt, "America's Problem in Sea Power," Newsweek (13 January 1941), p27.
33 Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox to ADM W. V. Pratt, Washington, 23 December 1940, Pratt Personal Orders File, 6 January 1941, Pratt MSS/NHD.
34 Winston S. Churchill, Their Finest Hour, Vol. II of The Second World War (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1949), pp713‑14.
35 President, memorandum for (from the Office of the Secretary of the Navy), 4 January 1941, Pratt MSS/NWC.
37 CNO, "Experimental conversion of Merchant Marine ships into aircraft carriers," conference, 31 December 1940-5 February 1941, in Vol. XXVIII, "Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Air), Carrier Warfare," of "United States Naval Administration in World War II," NHD, pp96‑103.
38 MacDonald, op. cit., p50; Secretary of the Navy to General Board, Washington, 27 May 1941, General Board No. 420‑7, G. B. Records, NHD.
39 ADM Pratt to CNO, memorandum, undated [7 January 1941], and unsigned paper, "Experimental Conversion of Merchant Marine Ships into Aircraft Carriers," undated [February 1941], File CV/L9‑3, SECNAV/CNO Records, NHD; Captain C. E. Rosendahl to Secretary of the Navy, memorandum, Washington, 13 January 1941, Pratt MSS/NHD.
40 President Roosevelt to Secretary of the Navy, Washington, 22 April 1941, General Board No. 449, G. B. Records, NHD.
41 CAPT C. E. Rosendahl to ADM Pratt, Washington, 6 May 1941, Pratt MSS/NHD.
42 W. V. Pratt, "Arena of the Coming Sea Blitz," Newsweek (17 March 1941); W. V. Pratt, "Airships Might Come in Handy These Days," Newsweek (19 May 1941); W. V. Pratt, "Protection Against the Submarine," Newsweek (16 June 1941).
43 Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox to ADM W. V. Pratt, Washington, 10 July 1941, Sec. Knox Correspondence Files, OO‑Pratt, Wm. V./P16‑3(410710), RG80/NA.
b That the Versailles Treaty was vengeful, and that this character of it was one of the causes of World War II, remains a majority opinion today. Among the first prominent voices to state it was that of Pietro Cardinal Gasparri, the Vatican's Secretary of State, who presciently warned at the time that the treaty would breed not one war, but ten.
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