Short URL for this page:
On the morning of 21 May 1929, Louise Pratt penned a tender letter to her husband:
At this moment I expect you are just opening your eyes and are not yet conscious that this is the dawn of the most important day of your entire life. The climax of years of work — good will towards others — and a gratitude towards God, who has given you the character and health, those fundamentals which have made possible these achievements.
I have just sent you a telegram — only a few words of congratulations, but my heart is overflowing with happiness for you. Adm. Bill I am so glad and so thankful this honor has come to you.
For Bill Pratt this was, indeed, the most important day of his life — thus far. He had made it all the way up the Fleet ladder and had not missed a rung: Commander Destroyer Force, Pacific Fleet (1920‑1921); Commander Battleship Division Four, Battle Fleet (1923‑1925); Commander Battleship Divisions, Battle Fleet (1927‑1928); Commander Battle Fleet (1928‑1929); Commander in Chief, United States Fleet.
The changes of commands were carried out with full ceremony in San Pedro harbor. On board California, the Battle Fleet flagship, at 1017, Admiral Pratt was relieved by Admiral Louis M. Nulton who was "fleeting up" from his vice admiral's billet as COMBATDIVS. This ceremony completed, Pratt, Nulton, and Vice Admiral Lucius A. Bostwick, Nulton's relief as COMBATDIVS, moved by barges to Texas. From all ships in the harbor, boats converged on the U. S. Fleet flagship to deliver flag officers and unit commanders, appropriately dressed for the ceremony in frock coats and cocked hats. Admiral Wiley's staff assembled forward on the starboard side of Texas' quarterdeck; Admiral Pratt's staff formed a similar group on the port side. Further aft, providing an audience for the principals, were the visiting officers. In keeping with tradition, at 1105 Admiral Wiley stepped forward to a small table draped with a Union Jack p282 and read his detachment orders. Admiral Pratt then stepped forward beside Wiley and read his orders from the President directing him to relieve Wiley and assume command of the United States Fleet. At the completion of the reading, Pratt turned to Wiley, saluted, and stated "I will relieve you, sir." Wiley then ordered his four-star flag hauled down. This was accomplished to "ruffles and flourishes," a seventeen‑gun salute, and a hand salute from all present. Pratt's flag lieutenant, the inimitable "Jimmy" Campbell, then ordered the new p283 CINCUS' flag broken; again "ruffles and flourishes," salutes, and seventeen guns. With the last gun, Texas' captain was ordered to "carry on" and the visitors began disappearing after a round of congratulations and handshakes. Pratt still disliked these formal arrangements and kept it all mercifully brief.1
Change of command ceremony, San Pedro Harbor, 21 May 1929. Left to right, Admiral Pratt, the new Commander in Chief, U. S. Fleet; Admiral Louis M. Nulton, new Commander Battle fleet; and Vice Admiral Lucius A. Bostwick, new Commander Battleship Division, Battle fleet.
After forty years afloat and ashore, it was natural that Pratt should find plenty of friends and acquaintances wherever his new duties carried him. His Battle Fleet staff moved with him from California to Texas. He added a few more junior officers and lost a few senior staff members, but he gained officially another old friend. Lieutenant Commander C. T. "Cal" Durgin was now his Aide and Fleet Air Officer. Hepburn, wearing his rear admiral's lace, continued as chief of staff. At the same time Pratt was commencing this last tour of sea duty, so were several of his classmates who were still on active duty. Two had flown the four stars of admiral: L. R. de Steiguer had "fleeted down" from COMBATFLT the year before and was now a naval district commandant; L. M. Nulton had just relieved him as Battle Fleet commander. Two others would hoist three stars. Vice Admiral W. C. Cole was then in the Atlantic as COMSCTGFLT and G. R. Marvell in two years would break a vice admiral's flag as the first Commander Cruiser Divisions, Scouting Force (COMCRUDIVSCOFOR). The Fleet Base Force was then commanded by Rear Admiral S. E. W. Kittelle, who would in a few months be relieved by classmate T. P. Magruder. Another classmate, Rear Admiral W. D. MacDougall, would take over the Base Force from Magruder in July 1930. Already ashore with de Steiguer were Rear Admirals W. W. Phelps and Chief Constructor G. H. Rock. Finally, Benjamin F. Hutchison and Nathan C. Twining had died in rank as rear admirals. The Class of 1889 had done well. Of the 35 who graduated on 7 June 1889, 12 had served in flag rank in the Navy and two more, Brigadier General C. G. Long and Major General B. H. Fuller, had earned their stars in the Marine Corps.
The admiral was beginning his last year at sea, and his tour as CINCUS, under most auspicious conditions. A new administration had been in office since March and the sea service expected good treatment from it. President Hoover had honored the Navy by riding p284 its battleships during his "good-will trip" to Latin America. He was an engineer by training and this was the type of individual a Navy man felt would understand the problems of an engineering-oriented service. Based on his World War activities abroad, Hoover had the reputation of an internationalist; again, the seagoing person could identify with him. Finally, as Secretary of Commerce, he had been deeply committed to the expansion of America's foreign trade; the Navy had an equally deep commitment here. Naval policy called for defense of the nation's sea lanes of commerce and was a major purpose for possessing a fleet. While the Navy Department regretted the resignation of Secretary Wilbur, it was pleased with its new chief, Charles Francis Adams III. As a yachtsman of considerable reputation, definitely one who loved the sea, the Navy expected that he would look to its needs with a maximum of sympathy.2 Assistant Secretary Ernest L. Jahncke was distinctly a political appointment, but it was recognized that the Navy would need his talents if it was to influence Congress and the public in future scrambles for appropriations. The Assistant Secretary for Air, David S. Ingalls, could not have been a better selection. This Ohio businessman had been a naval aviator during the wara and emerged as the Navy's only "ace" after his combat tour in France. His leadership could be decisive as the service grappled with the problem of integrating naval aviation more completely into the fleet. Writing in his diary on inauguration day (4 March 1929), Rear Admiral William D. Leahy, then Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, summed up the new Administration: "Judging by experience of the past it appears that the Navy is at present time very fortunate in its Secretaries. . . ."3
Had the new CINCUS been more prescient, or had he been closer to CNO Hughes and thus better informed on the new Administration's economic outlook, he might have perceived storm clouds to windward on the near horizon. Everyone in the higher command levels acknowledged that the Harding-Coolidge years had been a period of exasperatingly slow growth for the Navy. The "Naval Policy" of 1922 and 1928 had forthrightly declared that the Navy's "Building and Maintenance Policy" would be "To build and maintain an efficient, well-balanced fleet in all classes of fighting ships in accordance with the capital-ship ratios." Unfortunately, Congress and previous Presidents made no attempt to reach this standard. The p285 eight 10,000‑ton cruisers of the 1924 building act were under construction, but none had been commissioned. Many feared that the fifteen cruisers authorized on 13 February 1929 would be even slower coming down the ways. Few in Congress, or among civilian Administration officials, seemed to care that the gap between the treaty navies of Great Britain and the United States still remained quite wide or that America's 5‑3 naval superiority over Japan was yet unrealized. The Navy recognized that ships in commission, not ships authorized but unfunded, represented the measure of a nation's naval power. In his own annual report to CINCUS, Pratt, as COMBATFLT in March 1929, had opined that the Battle Fleet could probably fulfill its wartime function to defeat or contain a Pacific Ocean adversary; but he called attention to cruiser and aircraft carrier shortages in his command that might jeopardize this mission.4
At about the same time that Admiral Pratt was calling for cruisers and carriers, Director of the Budget H. M. Lord was introducing President Hoover to some fiscal facts of life concerning the Navy. Based on Navy Department studies, the following funds would be needed during the next twelve years to bring the fleet to treaty strength and keep it there:
|Needed to Round out the Fleet:||Cost|
Tenders, repair ships, etc.
New Authorizations Needed
Total New Authorizations Needed
Balance due on 15 cruisers and 1 carrier authorized 13 February 1929
Cost of contemplated 12‑year program
With these statistics before the President, General Lord spelled out their budgetary meaning:
Should the above program be adopted there would be required for the next ten fiscal years for ship construction appropriations in excess of $100,000,000 p286 per year; and for several of those years, due to the (mandatory?) replacement program of the Treaty, the amount required would approximate $150,000,000 per year.
Unless some drastic action be taken to reduce naval expenses, such as reducing the number of ships in commission, the closing of navy yards and the avoidance of an increase in personnel, the ordinary expenses of the Navy, exclusive of ship construction, will range for the next few years between $335,000,000 and $350,000,000 per year. If there be added to this only the amounts required to carry forward the existing authorized ship construction program there will be required approximately $414,000,000 for the fiscal year 1931; $434,000,000 for 1932; and $405,000,000 for 1933. The battleship program, as proposed, would alone increase the figure for 1932 and 1933 to $450,000,000 each. Should the other vessels mentioned above, for which the Department has not yet asked for legislation, be authorized, it would add $350,000,000 to the list and call for amounts of between $35,000,000 and $50,000,000 per year, commencing probably in the fiscal years 1933 or 1934.
Summed up, it appears that the program sponsored by the Navy Department, commencing with the fiscal year 1933 and continuing for at least ten years, would, if approved, involve an annual expenditure of between $450,000,000 and $500,000,000.5
These data could mean only one thing to a President who was determined to reduce the level of government spending in order to live within the resources abbreviate at the current level of taxation. The Navy could not be allowed to carry out its plans. Instead, there would be a drive to reduce the size of the Navy, in fact all navies, through new international agreements. While these were being negotiated, there would be a minimum of new construction laid down or authorized. In May 1929 the gravity of the economic problem facing President Hoover was not very apparent to the new CINCUS. His concerns were mostly operational, but within six months the whole question of naval limitation would descend upon him and affect his career in a manner he never could have foreseen.
In taking command of the U. S. Fleet, Admiral Pratt also stepped into the middle of an administrative quarrel that had only terminated when Admiral Wiley hauled down his four stars. In order that his successor might start with a clean slate, Wiley had filed CINCUS's annual report for fiscal year 1929 two months early.6 In so doing, he had the opportunity to make the final presentation of his views concerning p287 the need to reorganize the U. S. Fleet. As we have noted previously, Wiley wished to strengthen the command responsibilities of CINCUS. He was dissatisfied with the arrangement that permitted three commanders in chief to coexist in the U. S. Fleet. Only when the fleet was concentrated did CINCUS actively command. The rest of the year the commanders of the Battle Fleet and the Scouting Fleet managed their own affairs, though they did acknowledge that CINCUS was their immediate superior. In his 1928 annual report Wiley argued for a reorganization that would create "type commanders" (Commander Battleships; Commander Cruisers, etc.) to control training and "force commanders" (Battle Force, Scouting Force, Control Force, Base Force) to operate the units in each ocean under the command of CINCUS. He also wanted the U. S. Fleet commanders to remain at sea physically, have a longer tour rather than the ceremonial one of 12 to 18 months, and actually plan to command their fleet in the face of the enemy rather than leaving the job to COMBATFLT or COMSCTGFLT.7 While serving as COMBATFLT, Pratt had not supported Wiley's ideas completely. He agreed with the concept of having type commanders to assure standardized training, but it is evident that he enjoyed the responsibilities of a commander in chief. He also recognized the near impossibility of basing the whole U. S. Fleet in one ocean, another insistence of Wiley, since adequate shore facilities simply did not exist to permit this.8 Admiral Hughes, the CNO, disagreed so strongly with Wiley's views that he refused to have his report published, though the typescripts were circulated to CINCUS's subordinate commands.
Pratt knew that CINCUS's command role was another "hollow crown;" yet he seemed undecided what to do about it. His own ideas on reorganization were very close to Wiley's, except for the active command role of CINCUS, but he was reasonably sure that CNO Hughes would kill his plans as quickly as he had set aside his predecessor's. He therefore decided to communicate his views to Hughes in a secret letter that would have minimum circulation. This would be a way to get CNO's point of view without making his own ideas public or even known beyond his own staff and that of Hughes. In his letter of 31 July 1929, Pratt recommended the organization of the U. S. Fleet into type commands. The battleships commander would be p288 an admiral and second-in‑command of the U. S. Fleet; the rest of the type commanders would be vice admirals. For operations, fleet concentrations, or other missions, task forces would be organized by drawing on the units of the various type commanders. He summed up his proposal:
The Commander-in‑chief, United States Fleet, believes that the peace organization of the United States Fleet should be based on types which would facilitate passing into Basic War Organization. The necessity for maintaining forces on both the East and West Coasts of the United States and for providing for administration of these forces is recognized. It is believed that the organization of task forces within the United States Fleet would provide for such peace demands. . . .9
Admiral Hughes took no action on Pratt's recommendations and, lacking permission from CNO, Pratt could carry his ideas no further. He did make the obvious move necessary to implement his recommendations; on 30 October 1929 he wrote to CNO and asked that he be given consideration to succeed Hughes when he stepped down, "provided that I am considered qualified by service for the work, and my selection would not be subversive to naval interests. . . ."10 In his annual report for fiscal year 1930, dated 1 August 1930, Pratt stated baldly that "The present organization of the United States Fleet has outlived its usefulness and should be changed . . . it is complicated and inconsistent." He recommended another variant of previous proposals; he would create a "Commander Pacific Squadrons," who would have subordinate type commanders below him, and a parallel "Commander Atlantic Squadrons."11 Pratt was now CNO‑designate and expected little opposition to implementing these suggestions once he took office.
Because Wiley's plans had been unacceptable, and he could not immediately implement his own, Pratt proceeded to manage his new position in the manner that had become traditional since Admiral Hilary P. Jones had been named the first CINCUS in 1921. Though he disliked the thought, his role would be largely ceremonial. He was supposed to supervise Atlantic Fleet's training, draft a training schedule for fiscal year 1932, and decide whether modifications in the current schedule should be allowed. Plans were such that he would command p289 the fleet during its winter concentration in the Panama area, but this duty he would forego because of temporary assignment in London during the winter and early spring of 1930. During most of the summer of 1929 his movements were severely circumscribed because Texas was in the New York Navy Yard for its annual overhaul. So Pratt controlled the fleet by letter and wireless and occasionally junketed to Washington for selection boards, consultations on schedules, assignments, and budgets, and just to get away from the navy yard.
There was plenty of routine administration to keep him busy, but the admiral sincerely believed that "administration is the thief that steals time." He felt his energies should be devoted to long-range planning; his staff was selected to handle details. Pratt also continued to hold to his personal policy of interfering as little as possible in the operations of subordinate commanders. Through the years, as he surveyed those about him, Pratt had divided the Navy's leaders into two categories: there were those who meddled constantly with detail, delegated as little as possible, found fault incessantly with those below them, and were able always to pin the cause of failure on some errant subordinate — he felt Wiley and Hughes fell into this group; then there were those who picked the best leaders they could to serve them and gave these men the freedom to accomplish what they could. Pratt put Rodman, Sims, and S. S. Robison in this category. In his "Autobiography," written six years after retirement, he expanded a bit on this theme:
. . . I found that by a proper development of the initiative of subordinates much of the onus of administrative work could be accomplished in a minimum of time. The Navy Department itself places a higher value upon the signature of the Chief than it does upon the contents of the report. I do not believe this to be sound. In fact, I differ, and upon this difference in viewpoint, I have sometimes been at odds with others in the Naval Service. I think that upon analysis, if one will dig deep enough in beneath the surface, it will be found that the attempt to fasten everything upon the opinion of the Chief is a sort of pass-the‑buck system. Its roots lie in fear: fear that someone over you will find fault. Therefore, many men in top positions have spent so much time over trivial details that they have no spare moments for more important matters. They grow grey and look careworn, all caused by too much attention to trivial detail. Yes, and they go to their graves sooner also in the impression that they have sacrificed their lives in duty's cause. The Chief must assume the responsibility — this is his duty — but he can spare himself much worry and sleepless nights, if he chooses his subordinates carefully, and permits them all the initiative the law will allow, and furthermore, in every way possible, does his best to foster the growth of initiative in his selected subordinates. This has p290 been my method in the conduct of administrative matters, and I followed it even when I reached the office of CNO.12
Such viewpoints as these, of course, explain why Pratt put such stress on finding men for ship staffs whom he knew and could trust. At times it led him to over-value the work of an associate, and, therefore, into recommending him for positions beyond his true competence, but these occasions were rare. He could never be accused of encouraging sycophancy. He admired, and pushed forward, more men who deeply disagreed with him, like Joseph M. Reeves, Frank Schofield, or Charles B. McVay, than those who obviously followed his leadership on most matters. Bill Pratt was an independent man and he valued this trait in others.
Being CINCUS, Pratt considered it his duty to offer guidance to the Navy in a variety of areas. On 31 July 1929 he issued Fleet Letter No. 32‑29 and it must have raised a few eyebrows in the service. Without using the words "liquor" or "prohibition," he reminded all servicemen, officers and enlisted, that they had sworn to uphold and defend the laws of the land. He prophesied that no country could survive without a respect for its laws being a part of the national fiber. In a note to Louise he said that the fleet letter might help to explain to Mr. Wickersham why he did not drink, "even tho I am not a believer in prohibition and do believe in temperance."13 At the end of August he wrote a memorandum for Secretary Adams in which he advocated the further extension of the selection system. He wanted "selection out" used through the rank of lieutenant; then "selection up" for the rest of the grades. He thought rear admirals should be selected for advancement to the upper half of the grade rather than moving up by seniority when vacancies occurred. Those below rear admiral, failing selection for flag rank, should continue on the list until retirement and then received a "haul down promotion." He thought this practice would remove the sting of being passed over and should boost service morale.14
Admiral Pratt's most explicit guidance to the Navy's officer corps came in an address delivered to the War College's classes on 30 August 1929. The speech was printed as a pamphlet and given the p291 unusually high classification of "confidential." It was distributed to the service, but probably it was read by fewer officers than the admiral might have desired. In this talk Pratt stressed themes that he believed were vital to sound leadership. He argued for the Navy's highest leaders to operate from well-conceived and fully understood plans. Once a plan existed, with concrete goals to be achieved, then all training, tactical exercises, or materiel procurement should be tied to fulfilling the plans. At the very top, the role of leadership should be to select able subordinates and to develop initiative in them. Once these subordinates knew they were free to lead, and a viable plan to guide them, then a CINCUS or a CNO could rest comfortably in the knowledge that they could be planning ahead or inspecting for results. The admiral believed that as CINCUS he could be embarked in a major unit in the battle line and still leave the conduct of the engagement to COMBATFLT or COMSCTGFLT, provided that he had indoctrinated these men properly. He felt that the Navy had to stress the development of individual leadership because it did not, and should not, work through an all‑powerful general staff. To this extent he believed that the sea service was more liberal in its outlook and less bureaucratic than the Army. This address was a candid statement of principles; perhaps that accounts for its classified status. Pratt could have been seriously embarrassed had his views been trumpeted abroad in the land.15
In September 1929 the United States Naval Institute Proceedings carried an article by Admiral Pratt dealing with "Disarmament and the National Defense." The theme of his thesis was one that he had held for several years. Navies were necessary and disarmament by example was foolish, but there was no reason why naval limitation on a treaty basis could not go forward. "It is conducive to harmony and better world understanding. If lived up to it tends to preserve the balance of power necessary to equitable conduct of foreign affairs and trade relations with countries situated overseas."16
Because of his connection with the London Naval Conference, just three months later, many of the Navy's officers probably suspected that Admiral Pratt had written this article to call attention to himself or to support the administration's preliminary naval negotiations then taking place in London. Such suspicions were quite unfounded. p292 The article had been with the Naval Institute for several months before publication and undoubtedly the time seemed propitious, to the editor and the Board of Control, to put it into print. More importantly, in terms of clearing Pratt's motives, he had written the article in June 1928 while at sea for Hawaiian maneuvers. He had planned to read it to a conference on international relations at the University of Washington in July 1928, but his duties as COMBATFLT interfered. It was read for him, more than a year before publication.17
During this tour Pratt maintained his quarters and mess on board Texas. Since the ship was administrative headquarters for CINCUS, most of its time was spent tied to a pier in the navy yard at Brooklyn, Boston, or Newport, or moored in the Annapolis Roads. The admiral did a fair amount of entertaining on board ship and thus saved a few dollars he could ill afford for such activities. He did have a notable visitor in September 1929 when Vice Admiral Kichisaburo Nomura brought the Japanese Navy Training Squadron to American waters. Pratt had known Nomura since wartime years when the latter had been a naval attaché in Washington. Their friendship had been renewed at the Washington Conference, where Nomura had come as an aide to Admiral Baron Tomasaburo Kato, the Japanese Navy Minister. The State Department believed it important that the vice admiral be given red‑carpet treatment. He was reputed to be "pro‑American" and some in Japan predicted, because of his connections, that he would be Navy Minister in a few years.18 These considerations aside, Pratt was delighted to host his old friend and was proud that he could do it in Texas. The Japanese were given a luncheon and reception, and invited to attend a Presidential review of the midshipmen at the White House on 27 September. The next day they visited Annapolis and were similarly received by the Superintendent of Naval Academy. That evening, Pratt entertained Nomura and his staff on board Texas. Though we lack supporting evidence, there is little doubt that the admiral's notorious Japanese cook, "Togo," probably outdid himself to please the distinguished guests of the "Old Man" — the most common way in which Togo used to refer to Admiral Pratt. The admiral's friendly p293 relations with Nomura continued until 1941 and were renewed in the immediate postwar years.
The admiral fulfilled one dream that almost every boy entertains when he thinks about a naval career. To strut into town in uniform, with military decorations displayed, would be a normal expectation for those who came from Mid‑America; but to sail a battleship into the harbor of one's hometown was a fantasy that only those from the seaboard states could project. In late August Admiral Pratt decided it was time to let the denizens of Belfast know that their native son had made good. After the admiral cleared it with the Bureau of Navigation, young Billy Pratt went to Norfolk and climbed on board Texas for a glorious two weeks. The first stop was Newport where the admiral addressed the War College. After a look‑in on Boston, Pratt sailed to Penobscot Bay for a visit to Belfast. Texas then moved to Casco Bay where the Grand Army of the Republic was having an encampment in Portland. Governor Tudor Gardiner was in town to shake hands and steam clams; Pratt saw to it that he had a good luncheon in the flagship and all the honors, including side boys and seventeen guns, due the chief executive of the Commonwealth of Maine. In all, almost 5,000 natives of Maine visited Texas, including about 500 Civil War veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic.19 In writing to his wife, the admiral commented that Billy thoroughly enjoyed the two weeks with his father and had shown enormous interest in everything about him. Pratt thought it might have been some sort of a "turning point" in his son's life.
After returning to Hampton Roads from Texas's New England cruise, Admiral Pratt on 15 September 1929 was unexpectedly signalled from the shore for a telephone call. It was a rainy evening and he was enjoying a movie. His first response was to send word that he would call back in the morning. The next blinker informed him that it was the White House calling. Once ashore, the admiral spoke to the President's secretary who asked him to be at the White House for lunch and an appointment with the President for 3:00 on 17 September. The next day he went to the capital and visited Secretary Adams and former Assistant Secretary Theodore Roosevelt. They were not particularly informative concerning the subject of the meeting the next day. That evening the admiral wrote his customary letter to Louise and mentioned what he had been doing. The letter was filled p294 with optimism; but had he been more prescient, Bill Pratt would never have written:
I wish I had as much luck at making money as I have had thus far in my own profession, thanks to good fortune. It is a rather unique position to hold, to be an advocate of moderation and still hold the confidence of my brother officers. I am not trying to carry water on both shoulders, but I do believe that firm adherence to principles is much more important than extreme insistence upon exactness in detail in matters involving statecraft. This is my platform and I hope I have been consistent. The poor old much abused 5‑5‑3 is slowly coming into its own, and I did play a small part in the formulation of the policy. It was and is bigger in its ultimate conception than any measure in naval tonnage alone.20
While he was reasonably well informed about the Department's business, this letter to his wife suggests that Pratt was missing the major thrust of a very important dispute developing between President Hoover and the General Board. The issue was vital, would involve the admiral, and ultimately would almost destroy his career.
By September 1929 preliminary negotiations with the British, looking toward a new naval conference, were almost completed. Since June, Charles G. Dawes, former Vice President and now Ambassador to Great Britain, been holding naval discussions with Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and Foreign Secretary Arthur Henderson. The goal was to achieve agreement on what America and England would consider "parity," or equality of naval power, between their two fleets. The Washington Conference Five-Power Naval Treaty established parity in battleships and aircraft carriers, though the Navy was never completely satisfied that parity in capital ships had been achieved. In order to preclude any possible eruption of a naval-construction race in combatant auxiliaries, both powers now considered it necessary to establish similar control by ratio over cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and possibly other minor types. President Hoover hoped to achieve two goals through these talks and the conference that was expected to follow: he wanted to see the navies of the treaty powers actually reduced in size in order to achieve further savings on armed forces; and he was desperately trying to avoid the very expensive construction and replacement program that had come as a legacy from the Harding and Coolidge administrations. The British were somewhat sympathetic with Hoover's goals, but they had decided that there were irreducible minimums in numbers of cruisers p295 and other types below which they could not venture. Most importantly, they could not get along with less than 50 cruisers and the Admiralty believed that 70 was closer to the true number needed.21
Making agreement very difficult was the General Board's insistence that the Navy had all the 6‑inch-gun cruisers it wanted in the 10 Omahas and that all future construction should be of the 8‑inch-gun, 10,000‑ton class. The Board had absolutely no interest in any other major weapon but the 8‑inch gun for its cruisers, and the 10,000 tons displacement was considered vital for operating over the vast expanses of the Pacific where American naval bases were few and a large steaming radius would be necessary. When pressed for a total number of cruisers needed, the General Board preferred to state its needs in terms of the Royal Navy. If the British required so many tons of cruisers, America could do with no less. The difficulty came when total tonnages were translated into numbers of cruisers. For example, 350,000 tons of cruisers might yield 60 to 70 cruisers for Great Britain; the General Board translated the same total into ten 6‑inch-gun Omahas at 70,500 tons total and twenty-eight 10,000‑ton, 8‑inch-gun cruisers similar to the Pensacola or Northampton then building. The British could not match the number of 8‑inch-gun vessels the United States wanted and still have the fifty cruisers they needed. The larger caliber guns could not be put on the smaller cruisers, and the Admiralty would not accept just the eighteen large cruisers they had building or completed plus four Hawkins-class cruisers mounting 7.5‑inch rifles, and the balance in 6‑inch-gun ships.22
By September 1929 the General Board had agreed that the United States could get by with 23 of the large cruisers, and the 10 Omahas, and it would build additional 6‑inch-gun cruisers to match the tonnage difference between the American and British fleets. At a White House meeting on 11 September, the President and the General Board failed to agree on the size of the cruiser fleet the Navy would endorse. Despite the lack of agreement, the President then invited Prime Minister MacDonald to visit America for further discussions on the subject. By then Mr. Hoover was willing to accept a cruiser force of 21 large cruisers, 10 Omahas, and 4 new cruisers at 7,000 tons. The General Board did not agree with the number of small cruisers, but now the initiative was with the diplomats.23
p296 Admiral Pratt visited the White House six days after the rather stormy session between the President and the General Board. We have no record of the admiral's interview with President Hoover and Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson except what he wrote in his "Autobiography." According to the admiral, he was informed about the Dawes decisions, the General Board's position, and the President's views.
To be brief, I think it boiled down to this. The British were willing to take for their share, fifteen ships of ten‑thousand tons, carrying 8″ guns, and let us have eighteen of the same class, but they did not wish to agree to our having twenty‑one of this class, a superiority of six ships. However, what we lost in ships carrying 8″ guns, we could make up by an increase in tonnage of ships carrying 6″ guns. It seemed perfectly fair to me, since we never would go to war with England, with any hope that liberal government could survive the shock, and that an agreement with England was far more important than to haggle over what seemed rather unessential details. The President and Secretary Stimson questioned me at length as to my views, and when the interview was over I was informed that I would go with the delegation when it left the United States. I was told to pick my own staff assistants, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State.24
Though this description of his interview was written ten years after its occurrence, it appears to describe accurately enough the views that Admiral Pratt held in 1929. As we have seen, he was a confirmed Anglophile and believed that most of the world's problems could be held within manageable limits if America and Great Britain would cooperate to handle them. While he agreed with the 1928 "Naval Policy" with its stress on the 8‑inch-gun cruiser, he and no one else in the Navy had any experience in operating these ships. Salt Lake City would not be commissioned until 11 December 1929 and Pensacola would follow two months later. He did know, as did the General Board, that the 6‑inch-gun cruiser would have a rate of fire significantly higher than the larger gun vessel. Where the Board considered trade protection an important mission for the new cruisers, and thus should be able to match British or Japanese commerce raiders possibly armed with 8‑inch guns, Pratt figured the cruisers would do their most important work assisting the battle line. Here the smaller gun, fed by hand, could smother attacking destroyers and their cruiser escorts. This had been discussed thoroughly by Bureau of Ordnance people during the years 1921‑1923 when the admiral was on the General p297 Board. The subject had been worked over again while he was at the War College.
In agreeing to head the technical staff at the future naval conference, it was clear to all except Admiral Pratt that he was taking sides in the quarrel between the President and the General Board. Whereas the admiral on 16 September told his wife that he held the confidence of his brother officers, from the moment he accepted this new charge, that confidence began to be eroded. Most significantly, he was no longer accepting without qualification the advice of the General Board, which was the legal source for policy on construction programs and ship characteristics. As Chairman of the Board, Admiral Hughes was affronted personally. When public announcement was made that Pratt would go to London, his relations with the Chief of Naval Operations markedly deteriorated. In an obvious move to counter Pratt's influence, the General Board began a campaign to have Rear Admiral p298 Hilary P. Jones recalled from retirement, restored to his rank of admiral, and made a part of the advisory staff. Until the positions were filled, there was some political pressure to have him made a full delegate; but this was out of the question since the nations agreed to have only civilians serve as official delegates unless a naval officer were serving in a civilian capacity such as the naval minister of his country.25
Admiral Charles F. Hughes,
For the rest of 1929 Admiral Pratt spent his time close to the Washington area preparing for the mission to London. It was necessary for the naval delegation to be briefed by the State Department; but it was also necessary for the Navy to brief Stimson, his staff, and the other delegates about technical aspects of the Navy's position. Everyone seemed determined to avoid any possible later criticism that the American group had gone to the London Naval Conference unprepared. Compared with the Geneva Naval Conference delegation, or even that to the Washington Conference, the number of American representatives seemed unusually large. Secretary Stimson headed the official delegates which included Ambassador Charles G. Dawes, Secretary of the Navy Adams, Senator David A. Reed, an important Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Joseph T. Robinson, Senate minority leader and a Democratic member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Also included as delegates were Hugh S. Gibson, Ambassador to Belgium and leader of the American delegation to the League Preparatory Commission for the World Disarmament Conference, and Dwight W. Morrow, Ambassador to Mexico and confidant of President Hoover. The Advisory Staff was headed by Admiral Pratt and included Rear Admiral Jones, as well as a variety of senior State Department officials. Finally, there was the Naval Technical Staff, mostly selected by Pratt. Included in the body were Rear Admiral W. A. Moffett, Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, Rear Admiral J. R. P. Pringle, President of the Naval War College, Rear Admiral H. E. Yarnell, Chief of the Bureau of Engineering, Rear Admiral A. J. Hepburn, Chief of Staff to CINCUS, Captain A. H. Van Keuren from the Bureau of Construction and Repair, and Captain W. W. Smyth of the Bureau of Ordnance. There were other officers detailed to the Technical Staff, such as Commander H. C. Train, by then one of the most knowledgeable officers in the Navy about the subject of the conference, and finally there was Pratt's p299 personal Aide, the indispensable "Jimmy" Campbell.26 The senior officers that Pratt selected obviously were chosen to give representation to the principal bureaus in the Department and to bring needed technical expertise. With a few exceptions, they also tended to support Pratt's well known preference for 6‑inch-gun cruisers over the larger vessels. In fact, only Jones, Pringle, Smyth, and Train really dissented from Pratt's views.27
Change of command ceremony, San Pedro Harbor, 21 May 1929. Left to right, Admiral Pratt, the new Commander in Chief, U. S. Fleet; Admiral Louis M. Nulton, new Commander Battle fleet; and Vice Admiral Lucius A. Bostwick, new Commander Battleship Division, Battle fleet.
For the American mission to London, December was given over to final preparations for going abroad plus a formal round of entertainments. Admiral Pratt spent most of the month in the capital and Louise remained in Boston at the Copley Plaza Hotel. She was making her own plans to visit London with Billy and then to take a tour of the continent. It was necessary for her to visit Belfast a few times to arrange affairs at Primrose Hill before she left the country. She and Bill also agreed that it would be difficult for him to carry on his business were it necessary for him to worry about his family. So Louise missed a grand round of sparkling dinner parties given for the American delegation by Secretary Stimson, the President, and almost every important member of the group. One of the most pleasant, socially, though it was politically futile in the long run for the honored guests, was President Hoover's reception for the Japanese delegation which stopped in Washington en route to London. Seen in retrospect, the entertainments served a useful purpose; they provided a period of training for what turned out to be an unusually strenuous social life in London. If any of the delegates and advisors had begun to take his forthcoming role very seriously, he was deflated by the puncturing the delegation received when it attended a Washington Gridiron Club luncheon. The newsmen called upon the admirals to sing to the music of H. M. S. Pinafore's "I'm Called Little Buttercup":28
I'm off to the conference
That London Conference
Though I can scarcely tell why;
Sadder and wiser, of
Diplomats I'm very shy.
Our ships they are slighting,
They say, "No more fighting."
p300 We scarcely dare think what it means;
The Navy they're sinking,
The Army they're shrinking —
Thank God, we still have the Marines.
Admiral Pratt had one other bit of business to arrange before embarking for England. He was still CINCUS and arrangements had to be made for an interim commander in chief while he was out of the country. CNO Hughes issued the appropriate instruction on 3 January 1930. Admiral Nulton, COMBATFLT, would be Acting CINCUS and all correspondence requiring action would be directed to him. The George Washington was scheduled to leave New York on 9 January, so on that day the arrangements would take effect. In order that Admiral Pratt not be uninformed about actions taken during p301 his absence, copies of all correspondence acted on by Nulton would be in CINCUS's office in Texas. Admiral Hughes' actions had been anticipated by Pratt the week before when he issued his own instructions to all subordinate commands in the U. S. Fleet. In going to London the admiral was sacrificing one opportunity that would not return again. As CINCUS he would have commanded the combined fleets in the winter maneuvers in the Caribbean; now this would be Nulton's final major command. It was possible that he would have a second year as CINCUS, but already service gossip had him slated to become CNO with Hughes' retirement in October 1930.29 By this time he must have felt reasonably confident that he would be moving into the Main Navy building at the end of his last sea cruise.
The American delegation reached Plymouth on 17 January 1930 and was immediately introduced into a social whirl that did not relent till departure in April. The delegates, except for Secretary Stimson, stayed at the Ritz, and this was also headquarters for the group. The naval staff, including the Pratts, was quartered at the Mayfair, one block from Piccadilly. Secretary Stimson rented an estate outside London, complete with a nine-hole golf course, where he could entertain in the grand manner. While the figure is not exact, the average member of the American delegation probably spent four nights per week at receptions, dinners, and other forms of entertainment. A hint of the social pace can be found in Ambassador Dawes' "Journal" of these months:
Only two speeches and four social affairs last week. This social debauch, for it has almost reached that stage, although now giving signs of waning, is only the same treatment that we gave the visiting delegates at the Washington Naval Conference in 1921‑1922. I suppose it was inevitable here.30
While Admiral Pratt and Louise were not invited to every social function that included American delegates, he was important enough to attend most of them. If Louise regretted missing the final round of affairs in Washington, her social spirit must have been more than surfeited by pressures put upon them in London.
Almost from the moment of stepping ashore at Plymouth, the Americans directed their efforts toward the gap in their attempts to reach naval agreement with the British. After Prime Minister MacDonald's p302 visit to Washington there still remained the question of whether the United States would insist on twenty‑one 10,000‑ton cruisers with 8‑inch guns, as the General Board recommended, or whether a lower number would be acceptable as President Hoover and the British desired. Two or three months later, the civilian delegates might have thrown up their hands in frustration, since the problem seemed so technical. But weeks of study by Stimson and Senators Reed and Robinson, plus the presence of Dawes and Gibson who understood the issue thoroughly, now made it possible for them to approach an answer intelligently. To most it seemed ridiculous to hold up progress over the matter of three ships, or 30,000 tons, out of a fleet that exceeded a million tons' displacement. These men anticipated no war with Great Britain and they were deadly serious in their desire to bring home a treaty that would mean further limitation of navies if not actual reduction in total tonnages.
In order to arrive at a decision on the number of heavy cruisers the United States would seek, Senator Reed gave Pratt a "tentative proposal" to be reviewed with the Technical Staff. On January 25, 26, and 27 the naval officers discussed this proposal among themselves and before the civilian delegates. The senator, who was also the main negotiator with the Japanese, proposed that America accept 18 heavy cruisers and receive at least 5 cruisers armed with 6‑inch guns (light cruisers) in place of the 3 heavy cruisers that would be given up.31 The naval staff understood the issues; but they talked the matter through for four days. To Captain Van Keuren the issue was simple; the 10,000‑ton, 8‑inch-gun heavy cruiser was a bad risk in combat. It was too lightly armed to fight a 6‑inch-gun cruiser. While it might get in a hit or two at long range, once the vessels closed to where the 6‑inch guns could hit, the larger vessels would be inundated by shells and it lacked the protection to survive. Admirals Pratt, Yarnell, and Hepburn agreed. On the other hand, Admirals Jones and Pringle put their faith in the heavier gun, with its longer range and greater accuracy. In a more fundamental way Jones and Pratt disagreed about the potential use of the cruisers. Pratt predicted fleet actions in the Pacific, fought at close ranges, with cruisers having to beat back destroyer attacks against the battle line. He obviously wanted a maximum number of cruisers so that the battle line, carrier task groups, and convoys at sea would be supplied with a maximum p303 of firepower.32 It is also obvious that Pratt had warfare with Japan in mind. Admiral Jones, perhaps because he was a bit of an Anglophobe, predicated his views on warfare against the British. He spoke of protecting commerce from enemy cruisers or merchantmen armed with 6‑inch guns. Against the auxiliary cruiser there was little doubt that the 8‑inch-gun cruiser would emerge successful. For battle line actions he thought the existing Omahas would be enough.33
There was an even more fundamental conflict between Admirals Pratt and Jones that surfaced regularly. In Jones's view Pratt was selling out the General Board. The figure of twenty‑one heavy cruisers had been the minimum number acceptable to the Board; yet Pratt was willing to accept less. The older admiral saw the United States sacrificing ships that had been studied and designed for fleet use and were now under construction, in return for gaining the abstract right to build a larger number of vessels that were no more than ideas in the minds of the Bureau of Construction's naval architects. Even worse, the delegation seemed willing to take this action as a means of reaching agreement with the British. In short, England was controlling American cruiser characteristics — a clear duty of the General Board. Adding to Jones's ire was his sure knowledge that while the majority of the naval advisers in London agreed with Pratt, a preponderance of the Navy's admirals did not.
On 28 January the delegates heard more naval argument and then decided to accept Senator Reed's plan in preference to that of the General Board. On 3 February Stimson and a few delegates met with the Prime Minister and his Foreign Secretary, Arthur Henderson. Here it was agreed that America and Britain would press the other nations to accept the cruiser plan that would give the United States 18 heavy cruisers, 10 Omahas, and 10 more cruisers in the 6‑inch-gun category. Both nations would also reduce their battleship fleets to 15 units and the Japanese would cut theirs down to 9 by scrapping Kongo or Hiyei. The next day Stimson cabled the President the results of these talks:
While Admiral Jones approves the balance of the program, he is still convinced that 21 heavy cruisers are essential. The entire plan is cordially endorsed by Admiral Pratt, and all seven American delegates are now united in believing that the 21 cruiser program could be insisted on only with great danger to the Conference's success.34
p304 Admiral Jones and others, in London and Washington, continued a rearguard action against the cruiser plan, but the issue was settled. If there was to be any modification agreeable to the General Board, it would have to come later when the Senate considered the final treaty.
The Anglo-American agreement on 3 February did not mark the end of Admiral Pratt's labors, but it did mean that the point of maximum disagreement within the Technical Staff was past. Technical committees of the conference wrestled with battleship limitation, total tonnages for destroyer and submarine categories, and the creation of a new type vessel — a cruiser with a landing‑on and flying‑off deck added. In all of this work Pratt's staff continued to provide guidance for the delegates or to sit on the technical committees that took up each category of vessel. To get past the very difficult problem of convincing Japan that she should accept continuation of the 5‑5‑3 ratio in capital ships, aircraft carriers, and heavy cruisers, another compromise was necessary. The Japanese were offered equality in submarine tonnage, a 10‑10‑7 ratio in destroyer and light cruiser tonnage, and the treaty proviso that the United States would not lay down its last 3 heavy cruisers (nos. 16, 17, and 18) until 1933, 1934, and 1935. Finally, these last 3 cruisers were not to be completed until 1936, 1937, and 1938. During the life of the Five-Power Treaty of 1922, and the supplementary London Naval Treaty, Japan would actually have a 70 percent ratio with the United States in combatant auxiliaries. Pratt's answer to those who felt uneasy about the heavy cruiser arrangement was consistent with his pragmatic views. Getting Japanese adherence to the treaty was vital. He was quite sure that Congress would never appropriate the money for those last three cruisers before the limiting dates; therefore, nothing was lost and the Japanese would sign the treaty.35
By the 1st of April, most of the Technical Staff either had returned to the United States or were preparing to leave; only Pratt and Hepburn would remain with the delegates. There were anxious moments concerning the agreement with Japan, as word came to London of resistance by the Japanese admiralty. With most of the American technical staff gone, there was no real possibility of getting further concessions from the Navy. As in table-stakes poker, a game that Pratt knew well, everything was in the pot. The admiral knew that he could agree to nothing more without being completely repudiated p305 by the whole Department.36 Fortunately for all, the Japanese needed an agreement just as much as America and Great Britain. On 2 April the Japanese delegation informed the conference that Premier Hamaguchi and his cabinet accepted the proposed arrangements dealing with cruisers, submarines, and destroyers. The final signing of the London Naval Treaty took place on 22 April in an atmosphere that Ambassador Dawes described as "charged with peace, mingled with relief."37
Admiral Pratt returned to America without his family. During their stay in London, the Pratts obtained the services of a tutor who agreed to begin a personal education program for Billy. They arranged for the boy to continue living with Mr. Temple-West when the Pratt family left England. Louise departed for the continent with the close of the conference and she was to remain there into the summer of 1930. She was anxious to visit her old friend, Mrs. Mabel Stewart Tod, and again visit the shrines of international interest that had so captivated her on previous trips. Pratt also could have used a vacation, if for no other reason than to slow down from the social life of London, but there was work ahead for him. The treaty would need defending before the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee and the Naval Affairs Committee as well. The admiral knew his testimony would be crucial if four months of effort were not to be flushed out the scuppers. He was also anxious to assume his command of the United States Fleet, though it did appear to be in capable hands for the time being.
While the admiral was crossing the North Atlantic again, on board George Washington, the new command "slate" was released to the press. Pratt was to succeed Hughes as CNO in October when the latter reached age sixty-four; Admiral J. V. Chase would move up from the General Board and relieve Pratt as CINCUS; Pratt's old friend, Rear Admiral F. H. Schofield, would "fleet up" to COMBATFLT from command of Battleship Division Four; and Rear Admiral R. H. Leigh would move out of the Bureau of Navigation to become COMBATDIVS. Except for Schofield's jump to COMBATFLT, there were few surprises in the list. In early November 1929 the Army and Navy Journal had predicted Pratt's elevation to CNO:
The service generally considers it a foregone conclusion that Admiral William V. Pratt, now commander-in‑chief of the United States Fleet, will be appointed Chief of Naval Operations on retirement of the incumbent. . . . The high esteem in which the President holds Admiral Pratt is indicated by his p306 designation as head of the naval delegation to the naval armament conference at London in January.38
On 3 May the Journal again remarked that Pratt's selection had been a "foregone conclusion" because of his "outstanding ability and great record of service. . . ." In summarizing the new leadership, this influential service journal concluded: "As a matter of fact the entire 'slate' bids fair to be the most popular in the service of recent years. Outstanding officers, with records of accomplishment, have been chosen and there seems to be no weak spot in the whole organization."
Admiral Pratt barely had time to unpack his sea chest, and break his four stars in the refurbished Texas, before he was ordered to Washington to help defend the London Treaty. The Administration had been industrious in its efforts to secure Senate consent to the treaty, but its critics had also been busy setting an ambush for the delegation when it came to testify. President Hoover was reasonably sure that his position was secure; the nation obviously wanted further arms limitation, hoped to get a reduction in the national expense of maintaining the Armed Forces, and trusted that the President would not sacrifice national security in the process of attaining these goals. To prepare public opinion in support of the treaty, President Hoover called upon Secretaries Stimson and Adams, Ambassador Gibson, and Senators Reed and Robinson to make radio broadcasts which explained the treaty and pointed out its advantages to America and world peace.39 All over Washington Under Secretary of State Joseph Cotton and others twisted arms in an effort to drum up support. In one euphoric moment, Cotton suggested to Stimson that Secretary Adams might pressure the General Board into making a statement similar to the following:
The General Board, after examination of the terms of the Treaty agreed on at the London Conference, is of the opinion that it is the wise course for the United States to accept that treaty. The Treaty does not in all respects fulfill the desires of individual members of the Board but the Board is of the opinion that as a whole it has great advantages and that under it the United States will have the right to build and maintain during the treaty period a balanced and effective navy.40
It is evident from the naiveté of this suggestion that Secretary Cotton had no idea of the depth of feeling on the General Board about the p307 treaty; and, even worse, he had badly measured the integrity of the Board's senior member, Rear Admiral Mark L. Bristol.
It was not necessary for the General Board to plan its opposition to the London Treaty; it had been expressing itself since the previous September. In preparing studies for the delegation to London, the Western European Division of the State Department had interviewed most on the General Board and many other admirals in Washington. At the conference itself Admiral Jones had spoken regularly to the delegation and left memoranda for its consideration. And now, with the conference ended, the Army and Navy Journal, the Army and Navy Register, and the Navy League of the United States began a heavy anti-treaty campaign through press releases, speakers, and the issuance of pamphlets. Any single week of reading these materials in May or June 1930 would give the serviceman both the Navy's and the General Board's viewpoint.41
Hearings on the London Treaty began on 12 May 1930 in the chambers of Senator Borah's Committee on Foreign Relations, and two days later were opened before Senator Frederick Hale's Naval Affairs Committee. Some twenty-five senior officers testified before the two committees and many also were called upon to testify during the month of May before the House Naval Affairs Committee, chaired by Burton L. French. This latter committee was investigating naval base needs on the Pacific Coast and was most concerned with whether a lighter-than‑air base should be established in the San Diego or the San Francisco Bay area. Admiral Pratt's testimony before the two Senate committees was simple enough, if not a bit repetitive. He made these major points: the Navy would be better served with a mixture of 8‑inch and 6‑inch-gun cruisers; the 6‑inch cruiser was needed for "fleet work;" the United States had gained an advantage in that Japan and Great Britain would be standing still while the United States built a new cruiser fleet; the new replacement timetable reduced wastage in valuable ships; and the United States now had a definite plan for constructing its Navy. He spelled out his views about the future:
There is one additional feature which makes this treaty particularly acceptable from the naval point of view. Now for the first time in our history we can lay down a definite program extending over a period of time and visualize a Navy which is not a creature of great ups and downs in the matter of a naval building program. We should be able to iron out the humps caused by such excessive p308 buildings as happened in the 1916 battleship program and the 1917‑18 destroyer programs, and through its agency we should be able to forestall any great naval depression. . . .42
Pratt's views were supported by Admirals Yarnell, Hepburn, and Moffett and by Captains Van Keuren and Adolphus Andrews, Pratt's flagship captain.
Rear Admiral Frank H. Schofield, the prospective COMBATFLT, estimated that 70 to 80 percent of the Navy's officers disagreed with Pratt.43 Led by Rear Admiral Bristol, the General Board testified, to a man, against the treaty. They disagreed with Pratt's judgments on the value of the 6‑inch-gun cruiser; they disliked seeing Japan gain in ratio; they thought that protection of commerce had been underplayed. And while not stated in so many words, they clearly backed Bristol's position that Pratt's ideas were merely his own and that Bristol was speaking for the Board's best judgment based upon studies over the past eight years.44
Despite the barrage of naval testimony hostile to the treaty, the Foreign Relations Committee returned it to the Senate on 23 June and recommended acquiescence by that body. A disagreeing minority report was filed by Senators Hiram Johnson, George Moses, and Arthur Robinson, but it had no meaningful effect. Following full debate in the Senate, adjournment on 3 July, and call to special session on 7 July, the Senate gave its formal consent to ratification on 21 July 1930 by a vote of 58 to 9.
By this time Admiral Pratt was at sea and glad of it. He enjoyed being CINCUS; he loved his ships and the sea; and he was again beginning to detest the national capital. Now, in early June, he was headed south for Panama and a visit to the Battle Fleet in the Pacific. It was the last segment of a broken-backed cruise, but it was where he wanted to be. There was a note of poignancy in the letter he penned to Louise as Texas approached Cristobal:
The only thing I look forward to with any degree of happiness now is our home in Belfast. I am ready for it any time now. . . . Perhaps I can get up an interest in cutting trees on the Farm and working around the garden, but at present I have lost oh such a lot of the interest I once had in the Navy and in my work. I don't know why. It seems to have come lately. . . . I feel so many p309 of the older officers have turned against me. They don't dare show open hostility but I feel it.
It is here that the biographer wishes he could cross the span of time and arrest the career of this interesting gentleman on the 16th of June 1930. It is hard not to believe that Admiral Pratt must have begun to recognize the long-term personal consequences of the positions he had taken since the previous September. There is little doubt that he had confidence in the wisdom of his judgments concerning operational matters. He had studied warfare closely enough and had operated a variety of ships and units at sea under simulated battle conditions. From what we know of his character, he must have been convinced that his ideas about cruiser warfare and fleet battles in the future were soundly based. Had he drawn up an international relations "Estimate of the Situation," it is more than likely that he would have found nothing to disturb conclusions he had reached. He steadily reflected an ambivalence toward Japan that was typical of those who studied that island empire. He was favorably disposed toward the Japanese as people, and admired and enjoyed the friendship of leaders like Admiral Kichisaburo Nomura (and perhaps tended to cast most Japanese military people in Nomura's image). Yet he accepted war with Japan in the Pacific as a distinct possibility. His naval planning clearly was geared to meet the exigencies of combat with the Imperial Japanese Navy. At the same time, Pratt was enough of an optimist, and an Anglophile, that he could not foresee his country having to face Japan without British assistance. Great Britain and the United States simply could not be defeated at sea by the Japanese Navy. Thus the admiral had to conclude that the London Naval Treaty in no way diminished American security.
But there was another dimension of the story to which Admiral Pratt seemed peculiarly blind, perhaps because of his absence from Washington. Setting aside certain technical features of the London Treaty, the admiral basically defended the system and placed great confidence in the immutability of premises upon which the system was erected. He considered himself a rational person and definitely believed and trusted in the military planning process. He judged that the Navy had not been constructed to treaty strength in the past because no one knew how large it should be or how fast it should be built. The Washington Five-Power Treaty had set up ratios, but few could agree on what came within the ratios except for battleships and p310 aircraft carriers. Now, as a result of the London Treaty, the ratios had clear meanings and tonnage limits were set for each category of vessels. The admiral trusted that competent men, interested in the nation's security, would see that each category was built to the strength allowed. What Pratt lacked was knowledge of national economic planning, an appreciation of the cost of building to treaty limits, and any insight into the priority that President Hoover would assign to future naval construction. His political associates in London, Secretaries Stimson and Adams, both agreed completely with his feeling that the President must give naval construction a high priority. But these men were not typical of the membership of Hoover's cabinet. This became evident when the time for action against Japan came in January 1932. Even more devastating to any rational thinking or planning — and again Pratt seemed ignorant of this point — was the fact that Congress, in the end, would have the final say on the funding of national programs. Yet, Congress did not always react in a rational manner, especially when such a course did not serve political ends. And finally, Admiral Pratt could hardly be blamed for not appreciating the awful instability in international affairs that was just beginning to manifest itself. The stock market "crash" of 1929, the onset of the depression cycle in America, the failure of foreign banks and weakening strength of those in America, the shakiness of MacDonald's government in Great Britain, and the fall of Tardieu's in France, and the restiveness of Japan's "military-industrial complex" made no impact on Pratt's analyses. Had such uncertainties been present as variables in his thinking, he might have been less willing to trust that acceptance of the London Treaty would positively benefit the United States Navy by giving it a long-range plan.
One cannot, on the other hand, argue that Admirals Jones, Bristol, Chase, or Schofield had any clearer image in their crystal balls. But, their recent experience with the Coolidge administration and now Hoover's, and the presence of experienced bureau chiefs and Navy budget officers who had battled Budget Directors H. M. Lord and J. C. Roop, did give Admiral Hughes and the General Board a less roseate view of their civilian bosses. Pratt simply did not share in this common experience. Finally, Pratt was really in no position to become educated. His staff was loyal and close to him personally, but they lacked the experience and spirit to introduce him to the political facts of life. His most important superiors in 1929 were Admirals Hughes and Wiley and he had been in conflict with them over operational p311 matters. Thus he was no more willing to defer to their political judgments than they had been to accept his military recommendations. There were officers on the General Board in late 1929 such as Rear Admirals Schofield, Pringle, and Reeves whom he trusted and respected. But one suspects that "the system" got in the way. Pratt was CINCUS; these officers were coming up for fleet commands, and he might have considered it unfair to put them in an awkward position by soliciting their views. Naval literature is filled with allusions to the "loneliness of high command." Admiral Pratt's situation in late 1929 and 1930 amply pictures one aspect of this tragic isolation.
But, as we have noted before, the admiral in June 1930 was again at sea inspecting the United States Fleet. There was a touch of lightness in this final cruise in Texas that came from having Paul Dashiell on board as a guest. This gregarious Annapolitan and long-time friend of Pratt had just concluded a teaching career as a Professor of Mathematics at the Naval Academy, when Pratt invited him along to see what the world was like south of Norfolk — the limit of Dashiell's travel to date. With his golf bag, and skill at bridge, Pratt's friend became a popular addition to the staff of CINCUS.
This last cruise carried Pratt to the Canal Zone, San Pedro, Honolulu, and Seattle. While in the Northwest, the Admiral gave a public address urging a raise in pay for the Armed Forces. In the East, General Douglas MacArthur, the Army's Chief of Staff, made a similar plea.45 From Seattle, Pratt, Campbell, and Dashiell drove to San Francisco by way of The Dalles, Crater Lake, and Crescent City. "Jimmy" Campbell, as usual, handled the chauffeuring chores and kept up a running conversation with the Annapolitan — a very difficult man to best at small talk. By the end of the long drive, Pratt had to admit to Louise that he was exhausted with the chatter about Annapolis and "the yard." He loved Dashiell dearly as a friend, and they had visited regularly for thirty years, but Paul had lived a very closely circumscribed life and his conversation showed it.
In San Francisco they all found relief from the confining qualities of automobile travel. Money was becoming scarce throughout America and the San Franciscans were trying mightily to make the Battle Fleet feel that the City by the Golden Gate was its true home.46 An extra fillip was added to the August visit when a rodeo was held in Salinas in honor of the fleet. Pratt was the guest of honor and a highway patrol p312 escort was provided for him and some sixty officers who drove to that city. The admiral was distinctly touched, for most of the officials knew he was in the final months of his last sea cruise and made an effort to make the rodeo a memorable occasion. To Louise he reflected sadly: "How time flies. We leave for San Diego tomorrow, only a month more and then I leave the sea forever."
During the three months that Admiral Pratt was visiting the Battle Fleet, the Navy Department began to face calls for severe reduction in its spending. The nation was slipping rapidly into the slough of the Great Depression and President Hoover's first responses were to cut government costs so that national taxes could be reduced. Freed of the incubus of heavy taxation, perhaps the nation's industries could p313 continue in production and men would remain on payrolls. By the summer of 1930 the Navy could see a pattern for the future. Expenditures for battleship modernization and modest outlays for construction of the 1929 cruisers would be authorized in order to keep shipyards in operation. President Hoover in June 1930 backed a bill to modernize New Mexico, Idaho, and Mississippi at a total cost of $30,000,000.47 This appropriation was vital if the American battleship fleet, in the wake of the London treaty, was to be at parity with the British. The President also saw that keels were laid during 1930 for heavy cruisers Portland, Indianapolis and Astoria. On the other hand, pressure was put on the Navy to cut personnel, lay up ships, reduce fleet operations to save fuel and maintenance costs, and accept with equanimity a pay reduction to be levied on all Government employees.
As CNO, Admiral Hughes was forced to deal with the mounting pressure to cut Navy expenses. His health had been poor for almost a year and he was near the end of the mental and physical resources he could devote to the position. On 6 September he received a copy of a telegram from Secretary Adams to CINCUS asking for priorities in cuts to be levied against the operating forces to meet budget requirements. Pratt was not asked to meet a specific dollar savings, but rather to indicate the reduction in forces he would recommend. The answer came the next day carrying a classification of "Secret." First the Scouting Fleet's battleships would be decommissioned; then submarine divisions would go; then personnel reductions in the big carriers, Lexington and Saratoga; aircraft squadrons would come ashore and be decommissioned; mine squadrons would disappear; then Battle Fleet battleship complements would be cut; finally, laying up destroyer squadrons would begin.48 For Admiral Pratt and his staff, this was brutal work. There would still be battleships, carriers, cruisers, etc., but they would almost be inoperative if Pratt's whole list of cuts had to be implemented. At the same time the CINCUS was sending in his priorities, Hughes was receiving concrete figures to manage. The Director of the Budget, with the President firmly behind him, asked CNO to reduce the Navy's spending in the current year by $20,000,000. By early September the figure rose to $30,000,000.49
p314 On 9 September Admiral Pratt received telegraphic orders to report without delay for temporary duty in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations. The message ended with the admonition "Be prepared to remain in Washington." It took a few days to close up his office in Texas, but on 12 September Admiral Pratt and "Jimmy" left San Pedro by train for the transcontinental trip.
While Pratt and Campbell were en route to Washington, Admiral Hughes faced the issue of leadership squarely. On 15 September he wrote to the President that he found it necessary to resign, effective that Wednesday, 17 September.
This action on my part is taken because of the realization that during the next two months important surveys and plans must be made for the future development of the Navy. In order that authority may accompany responsibility it seems, in my opinion, that the officer who advises on these plans should ald be responsible for their execution. For this reason I consider it to be the best interests of the Navy and to the country that I submit my resignation at this time.50
Though his bitterness must have been intense at the time he sent this letter to the President, Admiral Hughes did not despair for the future. Everyone in "Main Navy" knew he did not care for Pratt, or want him to be CNO, but that was out of his hands. In a note to Admiral Charles McVay, then commanding the Asiatic Fleet, Hughes struck off a last spark, as would be expected of a real leader:
The Navy may be a little down now but it has been there before and it has always come up; I have perfect confidence for the future if all hands put their shoulder to the wheel and work.51
1 U. S. S. California, Log, 21 May 1929, RG24/NA; U. S. S. Texas, Log, 21 May 1929, RG24/NA. In his autobiography, An Admiral From Texas, pp274‑75, Admiral Henry A. Wiley described his relief of Admiral Hughes the year before. The routine was not changed for Admiral Pratt.
2 "An Old Salt," New York Times, 22 February 1929, p2c.
3 William D. Leahy, Diary, 4 March 1929, Leahy MSS/LCMD.
4 COMBATFLT, "Annual Report," FY 1929 (6/26/28–3/31/29), in CINCUS to CNO, San Pedro, 29 April 1929, Confidential, A9‑OF1(11)AC7, SC File, RG80/NA.
5 Director of the Budget (Lord) to President Hoover, Washington, April 1929, D/S File 811.34/391, RG59/NA.
6 CINCUS, "Annual Report," FY 1929 (7/1/28–5/21/29), in CINCUS to CNO, 21 May 1929, Confidential, A9‑OF1(22) (SC‑15), SC File, RG80/NA.
7 CINCUS, "Proposed Organization for the United States Fleet," 27 May 1928, Pratt MSS/NHD.
8 COMBATFLT to CINCUS, San Diego, 20 September 1928, Pratt MSS/NHD.
9 CINCUS to CNO, Navy Yard New York, 31 July 1929, Secret, A3‑1/FF1(7)(SC1), SC File, RG80/NA.
10 ADM W. V. Pratt to ADM C. F. Hughes, Annapolis, 30 October 1929, Pratt MSS/NHD.
11 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.
12 Pratt, "Autobiography," pp301‑02.
13 WVP to Louise Pratt, Navy Yard New York, 16 August 1929, Pratt MSS/NHD.
14 "Memorandum for the Secretary: Brief of Comments and Recommendations by Various Flag Officers in Reply to Secretary of the Navy's Recent Request for Their Views on the Report of the Selection Board," August 1929, Pratt MSS/NHD.
15 W. V. Pratt, Address: The Aspects of Higher Command, Pratt MSS/NWC.
16 W. V. Pratt, "Disarmament and the National Defense," United States Naval Institute Proceedings (September 1929), pp751‑64.
17 Charles E. Martin to WVP, Seattle, 7 April 1928, Pratt MSS/NHD; WVP to Charles E. Martin, San Francisco, 14 April 1928, Pratt MSS/NHD; WVP to Louise Pratt, at sea, 22 June 1928, Pratt MSS/NHD.
18 Division of Far Eastern Affairs (W. R. Peck), Memorandum, Washington, 24 July 1929; Secretary of State Stimson to President Hoover, Washington, 17 September 1929, D/S File 894.3311/121, RG59/NA.
19 Army and Navy Journal, 21 September 1929.
20 WVP to Louise Pratt, Washington, 16 September 1929, Pratt MSS/NHD.
23 Ibid., pp44‑45.
24 Pratt, "Autobiography,", pp312‑14.
25 Army and Navy Journal, 2 November, 23 November 1929.
26 U. S., Department of State, "Proceedings of the London Naval Conference of 1930 and Supplementary Documents," Conference Series, No. 6 (Washington: GPO, 1931), pp9‑10.
27 CDR Harold C. Train, Log I, memoranda, 29 January 1930, H. C. Train MSS, G. B. Records, NHD.
28 Army and Navy Journal, 21 December 1929.
29 Ibid., 28 December 1929.
30 Charles G. Dawes, Journal As Ambassador to Great Britain (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1939), p182.
31 CDR H. C. Train, Log I, Minutes for 25, 26 January 1930, Train MSS, G. B. Records, NHD.
33 Army and Navy Journal, 17 May 1930.
35 CDR H. C. Train, Log II, Memorandum, 24 March 1930, Train MSS, G. B. Records, NHD.
36 Ibid., 31 March 1930; Army and Navy Journal, 5 April 1930.
37 Dawes, op. cit., p193.
38 Army and Navy Journal, 2 November 1929.
41 Rappaport, The Navy League, pp129‑33.
42 U. S., Congress, Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Hearings on Treaty on the Limitation of Naval Armaments (71st Cong., 2nd sess., 14 May 1930) (Washington: GPO, 1930), p66.
43 Ibid., 22 May 1930, pp242‑43.
44 Ibid., 16 May 1930, p101.
45 Army and Navy Journal, 30 August 1930.
46 San Francisco Examiner, 16 August 1930, p3.
47 Director of the Budget (Roop) to Secretary of the Navy, Washington, 27 June 1930, Navy Department Alteration of Vessels File, box N‑11, RG51/NA.
48 CINCUS to Secretary of the Navy, San Pedro, 7 September 1930, Secret, L1‑2/A3‑1/USN(1)(SC‑1), SC File, RG80/NA.
49 Army and Navy Journal, 20 September 1930.
51 ADM C. F. Hughes to ADM C. B. McVay, Jr., Washington, 16 September 1930, Charles B. McVay MSS/LCMD.
a David Sinton Ingalls was a member of the elite naval pilots of the First Yale Unit, the volunteer group that can be considered the kernel from which American naval aviation grew. He is mentioned over a hundred times in Ralph D. Paine's The First Yale Unit: not only in his own chapter, "Dave Ingalls, the Naval Ace"; but often substantially in many other chapters, most of which are listed here: see especially Chapters 15, 27, and 38. The book also includes a photograph of him in an F Boat (p234).
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