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500.A15 a 1/394 : Telegram
The Secretary of State to the Chairman of the American Delegation
WASHINGTON, July 9, 1927—3 p. m. 33. Your 68 and 69, together with my reply No. 30, were telegraphed to the President yesterday. This morning the following telegram was received from him :
“Tell Gibson what is needed is not excuse or soft words but clear strong statement of American position. Let blame fall where it may. Your plan approved.”
Do not construe this to mean that you should not give expression to sentiments of friendly attitude and good feeling but our position should be made perfectly plain when necessity arises. You are at liberty to use your discretion in using any suggestions contained in my telegram No. 30, July 8, 2 P. M. at plenary session on Monday. Unless you see reason to the contrary and the British Government makes their position clear, think you should do the same.
500.A15 a 1/400 : Telegram The Chairman of the American Delegation (Gibson) to the Secretary
GENEVA, July 9, 1927–11 p.m.
[Received July 1044:39 a. m.] 78. Bridgeman suggested to me that we have a private conversation to discuss political and nontechnical phases of our work with a view to seeing whether we could open any avenues for investigation by technical experts. As I wished to explore every method of discussion I readily agreed; and, accompanied by Dulles, I met privately today with Bridgeman and Cecil, Saito and Ishii.
Cecil suggested as a possible way out of the impasse regarding cruisers that we should study building programs between now and 1931 which would control completed cruiser tonnage as over 1934. Bridgeman indicated that they would be prepared to abandon their projected program of 10,000-ton 8-inch[gun!] vessels and perhaps stop work on one vessel just commenced in the hope that no further vessels of this character would be constructed, that of course we should be accorded the full liberty of constructing 10,000-ton vessels up to the number which they might have completed under present plans by 1934. As I interpret this suggestion the British would complete seven vessels of the 10,000-ton Kent class and three or four vessels of the London class and that their other 10,000-ton cruiser program would
be abandoned. Cecil and Bridgeman indicated that their building program, including 1931, could be restricted within 400,000 tons and foresaw the possibility that such a limit might be possible for a treaty which would terminate in 1934. They emphasized that the 1931 Conference would in any event deal with the whole subject and that if we now provided for programs between now and 1931 we would have met the problem particularly confronting us.
I indicated that while I was not in a position to pass on this suggestion our naval experts would study it, and pointed out that in the last analysis building programs must be translated into total tonnages and that we could not profitably discuss anything over 400,000 tons.
Ishii indicated that they were planning eight 10,000-ton vessels but could eliminate one of these vessels not yet laid down in the event that the United States and Great Britain agreed within this period that they would not lay down or complete more than the eleven contemplated by the British.
While the foregoing may offer a way out of the cruiser dilemma it will not represent any very real limitation, although it may represent renunciation on the part of Great Britain of the construction of further 10,000-ton 8-inch [-gun?] vessels and give us freedom to build up to them in this class without restriction as to the future. The British have not at any time indicated a willingness to limit their final total tonnage to less than 465[,000] in 1936 and ultimately to over 550,000 tons.
As I felt that Bridgeman in the Monday plenary session would probably try to throw upon us the onus for impeding the work of the Conference by insistence upon twenty-five 10,000-ton vessels, I told him that the number of such vessels would be subject to negotiation provided that this would render it possible for them to bring their total needs to figures which constituted a real limitation. I emphasized that Great Britain was far in the lead in the construction of 10,000-ton vessels and had set the pace and that it was futile to talk of the reduction in the number of such vessels as long as they either had or were about to acquire a large number of vessels of this character.
I report the foregoing to show the efforts which are being made here to fortify [sic] a way out of the cruiser impasse and I have not abandoned hope that a solution may be reached. The Japanese delegates this afternoon gave no indication as to whether they were prepared to revise upward their total tonnage figures for cruisers so as to make negotiation between the British and Japanese possible.
Captain Egerton of British delegation and Captain Toyoda of Japanese delegation this evening called on Admiral Schofield for informal discussion of cruiser problem. Captain Egerton proposed as a possible solution a building program as to vessels laid down between
now and 1931 for each of the three powers as a means of escaping the present apparent impasse. Both he and Captain Toyoda agreed that on the basis of total tonnage limitation or limitation by numbers there was no possibility of reconciling the Japanese and British theses or of reconciling our thesis with the British inasmuch as the British requirements translated into total tonnage reach 465[,000] tons in 1936 and the Japanese approximate maximum tonnage in combined destroyer and cruiser classes for themselves for the same period is 310,000 tons. Both Captain Egerton and Captain Toyoda said that they were stating their views but could not be considered as binding their delegates.
500.A15 a 1/409 : Telegram
The Chairman of the American Delegation (Gibson) to the Secretary
GENEVA, July 11, 1927–1 p. m.
[Received 4:35 p. m.] 80. Late last evening I received a letter from Mr. Bridgeman as follows:
“You and your colleagues will by this time have looked into the question of an agreed program of cruiser construction as a basis for arriving at a settlement sufficiently to form an idea whether or not it gives a hopeful prospect of success.
Both you and Viscount Ishii expressed some doubts as to the wisdom of having a plenary session tomorrow though you both kindly gave way to my desire for an opportunity of explaining, as I hope to be able to explain, the British position more fully.
But if your chief delegates and those of Japan are able to say that you think the new scheme holds out real prospects of success I should be willing to postpone my statement of the British case for a day or two so as to admit of the possibility of being able to come to the plenary conference with some agreed policy.
I called on Viscount Ishii this morning and he hoped to be able to give me his reply this evening. Should you be able to do the same and both answers were distinctly hopeful I would ask you to postpone this plenary session if you think fit."
For explanation of first paragraph of Bridgeman's letter see my 78, July 9, 11 a. m.
[Paraphrase.] Previously, when Viscount Ishii and I objected to calling a plenary session, stating that we considered it wisest to discuss our divergent views in private session and then announce to the public our decision, Bridgeman, you will recall, insisted upon a plenary session. Only upon his statement that he desired that the British views be given at a plenary session did Viscount Ishii and I agree to this. Under these circumstances, I considered that
the responsibility for calling off the meeting should be placed upon Bridgeman and not upon the American or Japanese delegations. Therefore, I sent the following reply to Mr. Bridgeman, after consulting Saburi, who was entirely of my opinion: [End paraphrase.]
"I have just received your note of this evening in regard to the desirability of deferring the plenary session called for tomorrow.
As I stated yesterday afternoon, I should be glad [to] explore any possible method of meeting our present difficulty with regard to the cruiser question. Frankly, as you will understand, there has not been sufficient time to determine whether the methods discussed yesterday afternoon, and also between our experts, will hold out a substantial hope of settling our present problem. For that reason I hesitate to hazard an opinion with regard to your suggestion of delaying tomorrow's meeting on this account.
If, however, you feel that it would be wiser to defer the public meeting for the present I shall be glad to acquiesce in your decision and I would only suggest that you send word this evening to Hugh Wilson in order that he may know whether to continue preparations for tomorrow or to cancel the orders which have been given and notify the various delegates accordingly. As I say, I shall readily abide by any decision you may reach."
[Paraphrase.] While no reply was addressed to me last night by Bridgeman, he intimated that he was desirous of consulting Cecil and the various Dominion delegations this morning. I understand that there was a divergence of opinion among the British delegation and that postponement of the meeting had been urged upon Bridgeman by his own associates. [End paraphrase.]
The morning papers carry the news of the assassination in Dublin of Mr. O'Higgins, Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs, their representative at this Conference, who had only recently participated in our work here. I therefore immediately sent word to Mr. Bridgeman that, in view of this tragic event, I, as President of the Conference, suggested, if Mr. Bridgeman approved, a postponement of the plenary session. Mr. Bridgeman replied by letter as follows:
“My colleagues, representative of all parts of the British Empire, join me in expressing to you our appreciation of your kind thought in suggesting the postponement of the plenary meeting today as a token of respect for our colleague, whose tragic death we all so deeply deplore."
The following communiqué has consequently been issued.
“The Secretary General of the Conference begs to announce that on account of the tragic death of Mr. Kevin O'Higgins, the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Ireland and former delegate to the Conference (for) the Limitation of Naval Armament, the plenary session scheduled for 3 p. m. today at the Hotel Des Bergues has been indefinitely postponed. Mailed to London.
500.A15 a 1/412a : Telegram The Secretary of State to the Chairman of the American Delegation
WASHINGTON, July 11, 1927–6 p. m. 41. Article by Wythe Williams printed in today's New York Times was made subject of protest to the Department by the British Ambassador. He particularly took exception to the following: 68
“On the eve of what may turn out to be the break-up of the Conference, the American experts have planned a 'countersurprise' which, if launched, is likely to produce a tremendous sensation."
The article went on to say that if British bring up question of capital ships "the searchlight of publicity will be trained on the mass of documents, lists and figures now in possession of the Intelligence Depart[ment] of the United States Navy tending to prove that the British Navy is actually overtonned in battleships on the basis of the 5–5 ratio established between the British and American fleets by the Washington treaty, and that it has, in fact, shot up to a 6-5 ratio or even higher.”
Williams then continued to discuss tonnage of the different ships with obvious intention of proving that terms of Washington treaty have not been kept by British.
Sir Esme Howard said it seemed clear that someone in American delegation had been giving out alleged facts and that such an article could only result in causing intense feeling in Great Britain to degree that might break up Conference.
Howard was informed that undoubtedly writer of the article had knowledge of naval matters which he interpreted as he pleased, and that it was most improbable that anyone in the American delegation, in face of repeated statements by officials of the Government of the United States that all nations concerned had loyally fulfilled terms of the treaty of Washington, would have made any of the alleged assertions.
Howard added that majority of articles published under Williams' signature were, in his opinion, provocative and many times written for purpose of disrupting Conference.
The Ambassador was informed that statement of his protest would be cabled you.
* Quoted passage not paraphrased.