The Crisis of 1940

Germany broke the spell of the "phony war" on 9 April 1940 by invading Denmark and Norway. The United States by then had only partially completed its preparations under plans drafted in 1939 for maintaining American neutrality and at the same time forestalling military attack on the Western Hemisphere. In RAINBOW 1, the Army and Navy had an approved plan for hemisphere defense, but the ground forces and, even more seriously, the air forces ,of the Army were still considerably below the strength needed to execute/missions under the plan. American naval power was concentrated in the Pacific with only enough vessels in the Atlantic to maintain the neutrality patrol, because the United States since September 1939 had counted on British and French naval power to provide the bulwark against any German thrust across the Atlantic. Assisted by the neutrality act of November 1939, the administration was encouraging the British and French to make "cash and carry" purchases of American arms, with the primary objective of building up a balance of military power in western Europe that would minimize the chances of involving the United States in the war.

On the eve of the Scandinavian operations, it seemed to the Army and Navy planning staffs that Great Britain and France were catching up with the military might of Germany and consequently that the danger of American military involvement was less in the Atlantic area than in the Pacific. The Joint Planning Committee on 9 April therefore recommended to the joint Board that priority be given to preparation of basic and supplementary plans to meet RAINBOW 2 and 3 situations, leaving 4 to the last. Plans 2 and 3 dealt with situations that assumed major United States operations in the Pacific against Japan on the one hand and a more or less stabilized military situation in Europe on the other. The planners apparently considered a RAINBOW 4 situation-the "last ditch" hemisphere defense concept (the New World threatened by simultaneous attacks by Japan, Germany, and Italy, following the defeat of Great Britain and France)-the least likely to ensue. The Joint Board approved the planners' recommendations on 10 April, and its directive governed the work of the planning staffs until mid-May.1


The Defeat of France and Repercussions in America

Hitler loosed the full power of the German military machine against the West on 10 May 1940. When interviewed that day by newsmen, the President was no longer willing to say, as he had the preceding September, that he thought the United States could keep out of the war. Instead, he considered the chance of involvement to be "speculative." 2  Four days later the German Army crashed through the Sedan gap, and the outlook suddenly assumed an ominous cast for the United States as well as for France and Great Britain.

The British and French realized at once that the German breakthrough threatened their imminent defeat on the Continent, and they made immediate and urgent appeals to the United States for aid. On 15 May the new British Prime Minister, Winston S. Churchill, asked President Roosevelt to turn over to Britain thirty-five or more old-type destroyers, several hundred modern aircraft, and antiaircraft equipment and ammunition. He also wanted assurances that Great Britain could obtain American steel, and he requested that the United States dispatch naval forces to Irish ports and to the Singapore area. On the same day that the Prime Minister made his requests, he pledged that, regardless of what Germany did to England and France, England would never give up as long as he remained a power in public life, "even if England . . . burned to the ground." "Why," he added, "the Government will move to Canada and take the Fleet and fight on." 3  President Roosevelt realized that compliance with these British requests would force the United States to shift from a policy of neutrality to one of nonbelligerency, if not open war. This he was unwilling to approve, though he and his advisers fully appreciated the gravity of the situation and prepared to meet it as best they could within limitations imposed by the existing military means of the United States and the state of public opinion.

The President and his military advisers in conferences on 16 May agreed that, for the time being, the bulk of the United States Fleet should remain in the Pacific and, in consequence, that the Army should have primary responsibility for air operations in the Atlantic area and along the east coast of South America. Should France fall, they anticipated that Germany might secure immediate and free access to French African possessions. German air


forces would then be in a position to launch a direct attack on South America, and should Germany also acquire the British and French Fleets it might be able to launch a ground force across the South Atlantic as well. In view of these alarming prospects, the Department of State hastily made the necessary arrangements for military staff conversations with the Latin American nations in order to plan measures for the common defense, secure the use of bases, and obtain other military assistance for operations of United States forces .4

The War Plans Division on 22 May summarized what it termed the "imminently probable complications of today's situation." These it considered to be a Nazi-inspired revolution in Brazil, similarly inspired disorders in Mexico, Japanese hostilities against the United States in the Far East, a decisive Allied defeat in Europe followed by German aggression against the Western Hemisphere, or "all combined." The Army planners noted that the United States had vital interests in the Far East, in Europe, and in Latin America; but with its existing armed strength the United States could not then undertake decisive military action either in Europe or in the Far East. They therefore concluded that, for at least a year, the United States Army and Navy would have to limit their activities to "offensive-defensive operations in South America in defense of the Western Hemisphere and of our own vital interests; . . . possible preventive occupation of European possessions in the Western Hemisphere; and the defense of the continental United States and its overseas possessions East of the 180th Meridian." Given these assumptions and conclusions, the Army planners held that it was essential for the President and his advisers to decide "what we are not going to do" and "what we must prepare to do." 5  On 22 and 23 May General Marshall discussed this War Plans summary with the President, with Admiral Stark, and with Under Secretary of State Welles. All agreed to the soundness of its analysis and recommendations. "They all felt," the Chief of Staff reported, "that we must not become involved with Japan, that we must not concern ourselves beyond the 180 Meridian, and that we must concentrate on the South American situation." 6

Since the War Plans Division knew that no Army forces were ready for immediate employment in South America, it recommended on 22 May that


naval vessels be sent to eastern South America to bolster Latin American morale and be in position to take emergency action if necessary. The President and his advisers approved this recommendation on 23 May and arranged for a cruiser squadron, with marines aboard, to set out as soon as possible. The Navy employed the cruisers Quincy and Wichita, which visited South American ports during June.7

The President and his military advisers were particularly concerned over the possibilities of Nazi intervention in Brazil. Prompted in part by reports received through the British Admiralty on 24 May that the Nazis might be preparing to send an expeditionary force toward Brazil, President Roosevelt on the following day directed the Army and Navy to prepare a joint plan for sending an American force to forestall any such German move. The planning staffs hurriedly prepared a plan, with the code name POT OF GOLD, over the weekend of 25-27 May. It provided for the emergency movement of a large expeditionary force to Brazilian coastal points from Belém to Rio de Janeiro and for sending the first ten thousand men by plane to northeastern Brazil as soon as an Axis move or pro-Axis movement occurred. Of course the United States Government had no intention of putting the POT OF GOLD plan into effect either in whole or part except in extreme emergency and after consultation with Brazil. The services realized only too well that its execution would revive Latin American fears of Yankee imperialism; the Army, as the War Plans Division had pointed out on 22 May, had no units that were really ready for expeditionary force use; the Army Air Corps was certainly not equipped to carry out the contemplated air movement, and existing airfields on the route to Brazil were wholly inadequate to handle an air movement of this sort even if the equipment had been available; finally, the plan would have required the transfer of a substantial portion of the United States Fleet from the Pacific, a step strongly opposed by the Navy.8

Since they did not know the real scope and direction of German intentions, American military planners in May 1940 had to base their calculations


on the known capabilities of the German war machine and on the unpredictability of the Nazi Fuehrer. The course of subsequent events and later revelations were to make emergency schemes such as the POT OF GOLD plan seem somewhat excessive, to say the least. But, as President Roosevelt had repeatedly observed since early 1939, the long-range threat was very real, and an immediate German victory over Britain as well as France would have made it very present. Speaking confidentially to a group of businessmen on 23 May, the President said that the defeat of France and Britain would eliminate a buffer that for decades had protected the United States and its way of life. "The buffer," he continued, "has been the British Fleet and the French Army." If they were removed, the American system would be directly and immediately menaced by a Nazi-dominated Europe. "And so," he concluded, "we have to think in terms of (protecting} the Americas more and more and infinitely faster." 9  President Roosevelt's emphasis on the necessity of speedy action by the United States reflected the rapid deterioration of the Anglo-French military position. By 25 May a German land victory was certain. The Belgian Army surrendered on 28 May, and the epic evacuation of the British Army from Dunkerque followed immediately.

The events of May forced a radical change in the schedule adopted on 10 April for development of the RAINBOW plans. About 20 May the Joint Planning Committee dropped its work on RAINBOW 2 and RAINBOW 3 and turned to a hurried development of a RAINBOW 4 plan. The committee completed the draft of a basic joint RAINBOW 4 plan on 30 May and submitted it to the joint Board the next day. The board approved the plan on 7 June, and six days later the Secretaries of War and Navy transmitted it to President Roosevelt. On 14 August 1940 the President gave it his formal approval. By then, the War and Navy Departments had substantially completed their work on subordinate concentration and operations plans.10

The new joint RAINBOW 4 plan was based on assumptions that clearly indicated the dire forebodings of Army and Navy officers at the end of May. It assumed that, after the defeat of Britain and France, the United States would be faced by a hostile German-Italian-Japanese coalition. Its combined naval power, bolstered by portions of the British and French Fleets, would considerably exceed that of the United States. Japan would proclaim its absolute hegemony in the Far East, and might seize the Philippines and Guam.


Germany and Italy would occupy all British and French territory in Africa, and also Iceland. In Latin America, the Germans and Italians would use every means to stir antagonism toward the United States, and they might succeed in establishing pro-Axis governments in strategically located countries. Canada; remaining technically at war with Germany, would occupy Newfoundland, and the United States would have to join with Canada in the defense of Newfoundland and Greenland. Nevertheless, a considerable interval would probably elapse after the British and French collapse before the United States would be drawn openly into war.11

The United States planned to counter these threats initially by occupying key British, French, Dutch, and Danish possessions in the Western Hemisphere claimed by Germany and Italy as the spoils of war. Thereafter, its armed forces must be disposed along the Atlantic front of the hemisphere so as to prevent any lodgment by Axis military forces. In the Pacific, every effort would have to be made to avoid open hostilities with Japan; if they began, the United States should base its defense on Oahu and Alaska. The major portion of the United States Fleet would have to be withdrawn from the Pacific and concentrated in the Caribbean area. Though the original RAINBOW 4 concept had contemplated defense of the entire Western Hemisphere, the armed forces of the United States for the time being would have to confine their operations to North America and the northern part of South America (approximately within RAINBOW 1 limits), extending their operations southward only as additional forces became available. While maintaining a defensive position in both the Atlantic and the Pacific, the nation would have to increase its military power as rapidly as possible, with the eventual objective of limited offensive action.12

In presenting the RAINBOW 4 plan to the joint Board, the Joint Planners stressed above all the critical situation that would arise if the main elements of the British and French Fleets were surrendered to the Axis Powers. Should that happen, Germany and Italy would soon attain a naval strength in the Atlantic equal or superior to that of the entire United States Fleet. The planners estimated that the Axis nations would require a minimum of six months to recondition and man the surrendered vessels. For the United States, they pointed out, there would be two critical dates in this process: "The first is the date that either the British or French Fleet ceases to function, by reason


either of destruction or surrender. The second is six months after that date .... The date of the loss of the British or French Fleets automatically sets the date of our mobilization.13

Decisions on National Policy

With war plans in the making that took into account the new and grave turn in the war situation, the services felt the need of obtaining the President's decision on a number of broad questions of policy in national defense. President Roosevelt laid the groundwork for more detailed decisions in an address delivered at Charlottesville, Virginia, on 10 June 1940. After affirming that "overwhelmingly" the American people had now become "convinced that military and naval victory for the gods of force and hate would endanger the institutions of democracy in the western world," the President announced that henceforth the United States would pursue two "obvious and simultaneous" courses: "We will extend to the opponents of force the material resources of this nation; and at the same time we will harness and speed up the use of those resources in order that we ourselves in the Americas may have equipment and training equal to the task of any emergency and every defense."14  As the President subsequently pointed out, in June 1940 American industry was not yet geared to wartime production, and it would take industry time to change from a peace to war status. "To gain that time," he wrote, "it was necessary for Great Britain to maintain its defense, for if Britain were to fall it was clear that we would have to face the Nazis alone-and we were not physically prepared to do so."15  In a sense, the President's Charlottesville address constituted a public announcement of the impending shipment of large quantities of surplus Army stocks to the French and British.16

On the morning of the day that France sued for an armistice, 17 June, General Marshall and three of his principal staff officers met to discuss the situation. The Chief of Staff remarked that, among the various possibilities, it had occurred to him that Japan and the Soviet Union might suddenly team


up in the Pacific and force the bulk of the United States Fleet to remain there to defend the American position. If at the same time the French Fleet were surrendered to Germany and Italy, the United States would face an extremely serious situation in the South Atlantic. The chief of the War Plans Division, Brig. Gen. George V. Strong, expressed the opinion that Germany might strike at eastern South America within sixty days, and that initially the Nazis might try to block the Panama Canal by sabotage in order to bottle up American naval power in the Pacific. General Strong and the chief of G-3, Brig. Gen. Frank M. Andrews, recommended that the entire National Guard be inducted into federal service at once, so as to provide the troops that might be required to deal with the South American situation. At General Strong's urging the Hawaiian and Panama Canal Departments were alerted on this same day against the possibilities of surprise attack and internal sabotage.17  The alarm of 17 June also gave impetus to the garrisoning of Alaska, and the initial defense force for the new major base at Anchorage arrived there on 27 June.18

On the preceding day, 16 June, Army and Navy planning officers had collaborated in framing a paper entitled "Decisions as to National Action." It posed for the President's decision three possible courses of action for the United States: (1) to maintain a strong position in the Pacific; (2) to make every effort, including belligerent participation, to sustain Great Britain and France; or (3) to concentrate on hemisphere defense in order to "prevent or overthrow German or Italian domination or lodgement in the Western Hemisphere." The planners pointed out that if Britain and France were defeated in Europe and their fleets escaped across the Atlantic, the United States would probably become involved in the war automatically, since only the United States possessed the ports and base facilities from which these vessels could operate.19 Before General Marshall and Admiral Stark discussed the paper with Under Secretary of State Welles on 17 June, General Strong urgently recommended to the Chief of Staff that the third alternative be the one accepted. In turn, this would require maintaining a purely defensive position in the Pacific and halting the flow of material aid to Great Britain. The hemisphere defense policy recommended by General Strong would also involve


. . . an increase in naval strength in the Atlantic — an increase of strength in the Regular Army, an early mobilization of the National Guard, a marked increase of production of munitions, immediate preparation for protective seizure of key British and French possessions in the Western Hemisphere, preparation for immediate active military support of existing Governments in other American Republics and the furnishing them at the earliest possible date of means of defense on long term credits. 20

The Joint Planners' paper of 16 June and other recommendations, such as those submitted by General Strong, became the ingredients for the major policy paper of this critical period-the joint memorandum of the Chief of Staff and the Chief of Naval Operations for the President, dated 22 June 1940 and entitled "Basis for Immediate Decisions Concerning the National Defense." General Marshall and Admiral Stark discussed their joint memorandum with President Roosevelt on 24 June, and the President's decisions on the points presented were incorporated in a revision of 27 June. As stated in the revision, the basic decisions were: first, that if the French Fleet passed to German control, the United States would have to maintain the defensive in the Pacific and would probably have to move major units of the United States Fleet into the Atlantic; and second, that the United States would not release any additional military material to Great Britain, except for small quantities that might be released if they "would exercise an important effect in enabling Great Britain to resist until the first of the year." With respect to measures for the defense of the Western Hemisphere, the problems and decisions were:

4. Hemisphere defense may involve the necessity for —

a. The occupation of British . . . , French, Dutch, and Danish possessions in the Western Hemisphere (Atlantic and Pacific), after consultation with . . . the other American Republics and British Dominions concerned ....

(1) This will be effected in time to prevent cession to Germany by the terms of a peace.

b. Plans for the occupation of strategic positions in the Caribbean Area and in Central and South America, other than referred to above, when the agreements now under negotiation with the other American Republics provide therefor.

(1) Action in accordance with the plans will be taken in ample time to accomplish, the purpose.

c. The employment of armed force by the United States to sustain [that is, support] existing governments.

(1) Decision to take this action will be made as necessity requires. In reaching the decision consideration will be given to the fact that until December 1940 our Army will not be in a position to undertake any operations south of the latitude of Venezuela, unless mobilization and Selective Service are made immediately effective ....

d. The supply of munitions to Latin American countries.

(1) It is decided that by providing small amounts of munitions at intervals, the urgent requirements of the Latin American countries may be met. Credits will be extended for the purchase of munitions.


e. The adjustment of the economic relations between the United States and Latin American States . . . .

(1) Financial arrangements to accomplish this adjustment will be made on the basis of accepting the loss as a proper charge against our national defense.

5. The naval and military operations necessary to assure successful Hemisphere Defense call for a major effort which we are not now ready to accomplish. Time is of the essence in overcoming our unreadiness. To overcome our disadvantage in time, the concerted effort of our whole national life is required. The outstanding demands on this national effort are: — first, a radical speed-up of production, and second, the assembly and training of organized manpower.21

General Marshall and Admiral Stark on 24 June had also asked the President to approve a longer working week for war industry and the immediate adoption of selective service. The President was loath to approve the former so long as there were still large numbers of unemployed; he did approve the idea of selective service but urged a system that the Army considered unworkable.

An appendix to the joint memorandum of 27 June incorporated a decision by the President that "the United States Government . . . considers all islands in the Pacific east of the International Date Line as parts of the Western Hemisphere coming under the application of the Monroe Doctrine." To prevent the transfer of sovereignty of any of them to Germany, Italy, or Japan, the United States was prepared (after consultation with the British, French, Australian, and New Zealand Governments) to take possession of all these islands except those under New Zealand control. It also would request the Australian and New Zealand Governments to take the responsibility for seeing that no British or French islands west of the International Date Line fell into Axis or Japanese hands.22

The crucial points in the proposals and decisions made between 22 and 27 June were those relating to the disposition of the French Navy, to the discontinuance of material aid to Britain, and to the necessity for immediate and all-out mobilization. Action on these points was bound to be closely interrelated. If Germany secured the French Fleet, the United States would have to embark at once on full mobilization of its resources and manpower for hemisphere defense; therefore, it could not continue to send aid to Britain. In addition, the outlook for Great Britain's survival seemed exceedingly dubious. In late June, American Army and Navy experts were anticipating the probability of a British defeat or negotiated peace before the end of the summer. A joint planning paper of 26 June, for example, stated that it was


"doubtful that Great Britain . . . will continue to be an active combatant by the fall and winter of 1940." 23  President Roosevelt's decision of 24 June on aid to Britain represented a distinct qualification of the pledge he had made two weeks earlier in his Charlottesville address.

The President presumably considered this retreat necessary at least as long as the fate of the French Navy remained in doubt. Late in May he had warned the French that the United States considered retention of their fleet to be vital for the ultimate control of the Atlantic as well as for the eventual salvation of France. Before 10 June, both the French and the British repeatedly urged the United States to send strong naval forces to eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean waters to deter Italy from entering the war, but until the French armistice the United States held firmly to the policy of keeping its fleet in the Pacific. What it must do after that depended on what happened to the French Navy. On 19 June France's Admiral Francois Darlan gave his oath that the French Fleet would not be allowed to fall into German hands and that an armistice would be rejected if the Germans made such a demand. Continuing, Darlan asserted that if, subsequently, the Germans should attempt to seize any ship of the fleet, it would be scuttled by the French. 24  The United States Government put little faith in this pledge. Secretary Hull later told the French Ambassador that the terms of the armistice "apparently threw the entire French fleet directly into German hands." 25

The British, who of course were more immediately concerned about what happened to the French Navy, had even less faith in Darlan's assurances. On 3 July the British issued ultimatums to all French naval commanders to put their vessels under British control or suffer the consequences. A substantial number of French vessels were then berthed in British-controlled ports and were taken over without much difficulty. The critical portion of the French Fleet not under British control was stationed at Mers-el-Kébir in Algeria, and the commander of this force ignored the British ultimatum. Thereupon the British attacked, sinking or disabling most of the French ships and causing heavy loss of life-an action that produced a bitter breach in relations between the British and Vichy Governments. Secretary Hull in his Memoirs has written, "this was an action solely between the British and French." 26  It is now known that President Roosevelt discussed and approved the British


plans in advance with the British Ambassador, though apparently without the knowledge of the Department of State.27

The action at Mers-el-Kébir settled the French Fleet problem for the time being. Germany would not get possession of any significant portion of the French Navy, the British would continue to have naval superiority in the eastern Atlantic, the United States Fleet could remain in the Pacific as a check to Japan, and the Axis Powers could not, even if they wished, launch a sizable attack across the Atlantic until they defeated Great Britain.28

The heroic and successful British defense against the German air attacks that began on 10 July forms no proper part of this story. Nevertheless, in combination with the solution to the French Fleet problem, Britain's defense did enable the United States in September to return to the first of the basic policies enunciated by the President on 10 June-large-scale aid to Great Britain.


In the meantime, the United States embarked on a rapid and far-reaching mobilization of its industry and manpower. The American people quickly perceived that the danger was real and gave full backing to the unprecedented peacetime measures adopted for that purpose.29  Mobilization began with President Roosevelt's request to Congress on 16 May for large additional appropriations for national defense. In his message he emphasized the particular need for additional airpower to combat any attempt to establish a hostile air base within range of the Western Hemisphere, and called for an increase in the current twelve-thousand-plane capacity of the American aircraft industry to one of fifty thousand.

Congress responded in early June by appropriating or authorizing the expenditure of about $1,350,000,000-nearly two thirds of it for the Army. This total included a $200,000,000 Emergency Fund, to be expended or obli-


gated at the President's discretion. Allocations from this fund subsequently provided the means to finance several hemisphere defense projects, for example the arrangement with Pan American Airways for airport development in Latin America.30  The President followed his initial proposal with supplementary requests for defense funds on 31 May and 10 July. By mid-September 1940, Congress had appropriated or authorized the expenditure of more than eight billion dollars during the fiscal year 1941 for Army and Navy expansion-nearly three fourths of it for the Army. The Army's portion alone about equaled the entire appropriations for maintaining the Army and Navy from the beginning of the Roosevelt administration to June 1940.31  The defense appropriations between June and September offer a striking measure of the genuine alarm that gripped the American people and their representatives in Congress after the defeat of France.

The President on 28 May appointed an Advisory Commission to the Council of National Defense-a group of experts drawn from the ranks of industry and labor to advise on mobilization of the nation's resources. The Advisory Commission and representatives of the armed services collaborated during June in working out a munitions program to guide the mobilization process. In its final form of 30 June, the munitions program called for procurement by 1 October 1941 of all items needed to equip and maintain a 1,200,000-man army; procurement of reserve stocks of critical items sufficient to equip a 2,000,000-man force; creation of an industrial capacity adequate to supply a 4,000,000-man army on combat status; and an eventual strength of 18,000 planes for the Army Air Corps with expansion of the aircraft industry to an 18,000 yearly capacity for the production of Army planes.32

When Hitler struck at western Europe in April 1940, the Regular Army, had an enlisted strength of 230,000, approximately that authorized the preceding September. Following the President's messages of 16 and 31 May, Congress in early June authorized an increase in Regular Army enlisted strength to 375,000. Until mid June the Army had planned to reach this strength as rapidly as possible through enlistment of volunteers rather than through adoption of a selective service system, but the French collapse convinced General Marshall that a selective service system must be adopted. Prompted by the urgings of a group of influential civilians (including Henry L. Stimson, soon to become Secretary of War), Senator Edward R. Burke


and Representative James W. Wadsworth on 20 June introduced a bill proposing a selective service system similar to that embodied in current Army plans for rapid military expansion. On 24 June General Marshall and Admiral Stark recommended to President Roosevelt the "immediate enactment . . . of a Selective Service Law along the lines of existing plans, to be followed at once by complete military and naval mobilization." 33  As noted previously, the President approved the recommendation in principle but objected to the system that the Army wanted to adopt. By the time that Secretary Stimson assumed his new office on 10 July, the President had yielded his objections to the selective service bill then under discussion in Congress, and General Marshall was able on 12 July to make a forthright statement in its favor and also one for the immediate induction of the National Guard into federal service. After extended debate, Congress on 27 August authorized the induction of the National Guard and the calling up of the Army's Organized Reserves. On 14 September it passed the Selective Service and Training Act. These measures, together with an additional authorized increase in Regular Army strength, were designed to produce a 1,000,000-man army by the beginning of 1941 and a 1,400,000-man army (200,000 larger than contemplated in the 30 June munitions program) by 1 July 1941.34

The air program actually approved by the War Department in June 1940 fell somewhat short of the eighteen-thousand-plane strength indorsed by President Roosevelt on 18 June. On 25 June the War Plans Division recommended a program that would provide a total Army airplane strength of 12,835 modern planes by 1 April 1942. This total would permit the constitution of sixty air groups, of which fifty-four would be combat groups. General Marshall approved the new program on 26 June. It thereafter became known as the "First Aviation Objective" but was often referred to as the "54-group program." 35  The new air program was designed to provide adequate protection for the United States, its outlying territories (except the Philippines), and the Caribbean area, and also to provide a force of about 1,000 tactical planes for use, in cooperation with the Navy, in establishing and maintaining effective air control in South America. 36

In addition to its supply and manpower aspects, the Army's mobilization in 1940 included the installation in July of a new top civilian team, under


Secretary of War Stimson, which brought a new element of harmony into the civilian direction of the War Department. Organizationally, the Army established a separate Armored Force on 10 July, and on 26 July it created the nucleus of a General Headquarters to direct the training and emergency deployment of the greatly enlarged Army that was in prospect. 37 The four field armies in the continental United States, hitherto existing principally on paper, were presently given separate commanders and staffs and the immediate responsibility for training ground combat units as well as for planning the defense of the continental United States against external attack. 38

The plans and measures for Army expansion to meet the crisis of 1940 were matched by a naval expansion program, designed to provide the United States with a "two-ocean" Navy that could cope simultaneously with Japanese naval power in the Pacific and with the naval power that Germany and Italy had or might acquire in the Atlantic. On 7 June, the Navy's General Board proposed a building program that would about double the existing strength of the Navy in combat vessels. Congress approved the program on 19 July, and by the fall of 1940 the Navy had begun construction on more vessels than it then had in actual service.39

Outside of the military services, mobilization called forth a host of new civilian agencies under the Advisory Commission to the Council of National Defense to supervise the gradual transformation of the national economy from a peacetime to a wartime basis.40

The Fate of European Possessions

Germany's continental land victory and threatened invasion of the British Isles brought to the fore two parallel and interrelated problems: the fate of the Western Hemisphere possessions of the European nations engulfed or menaced by Germany, and the need of the United States for new bases along


the Atlantic front to fend off the threat of a Nazi onslaught on the New World. The new RAINBOW 4 war plan, hastily tailored to fit this emergency, had provided for the immediate occupation of European possessions in the Western Hemisphere and the deployment of United States forces for the protection of major defense positions from Newfoundland to the Brazilian bulge, both in European possessions and at strategic points in other Western Hemisphere nations. When the Germans failed to get the French Fleet, and also failed to carry out an immediate ground assault on Great Britain, the situation eased. The full scope of the RAINBOW 4 plan with respect to bases and possessions never had to be invoked, but its intent was partially realized in two political agreements of profound significance for hemisphere defense the Act of Havana of 27 July 1940 and the Destroyer-Base Agreement with Great Britain of 2 September 1940. Although the Army played a comparatively minor role in the actual negotiation of these agreements, it had a good deal to do with their inspiration and a very large interest in their consummation.

Until the war's quick turn in April and May 1940, neither the military nor the broader national interests of the United States appeared to justify forthright moves toward acquisition of new bases for purposes of hemisphere defense. In late March the Army's War Plans Division undertook a new detailed review of the potential military value to the United States of all European possessions in the Western Hemisphere, as well as of Cocos and the Galápagos Islands. It reached the conclusion that, from the Army's point of view, the only areas of any real military value to the United States were: Newfoundland (or a base site thereon) or, alternately, St. Pierre and Miquelon; Bermuda; the British Virgin Islands; Trinidad; and Cocos and the Galapagos Islands. But, the Army study held, "the potential military value of the areas listed above is insufficient, when weighed in the light of political and economic considerations, to justify their acquisition" at that time,41  During the same month, President Roosevelt informed the Navy that he had no intention during peacetime of approving the purchase or lease of any base sites in foreign territory in the vicinity of the Caribbean, because he believed "in the event of war independent Republics bordering on the Caribbean would be on the side of the United States" and would permit American forces to use their base facilities without further question .42

Germany's occupation of Denmark raised immediate problems for the United States with respect to the future of Greenland and Iceland. The Dan-


ish colony of Greenland was completely unprepared to resist a German attack or occupation. Since Greenland was considered a part of the Western Hemisphere, the United States opposed its military occupation by British or Canadian forces; such an occupation might give the Germans an excuse to attack this northern flank of the hemisphere. At the same time, the United States Government was as yet unwilling to commit itself to protection of Greenland with its own forces. It limited its actions to opening a new consulate at Godthaab, the Greenland capital; to the establishment of a Greenland patrol by Coast Guard cutters; and to the sale of a small quantity of arms and ammunition to Greenland authorities to be used for protection of the cryolite mine at Ivigtut.43

Iceland, unlike Greenland, was not generally considered to lie within the bounds, of the Western Hemisphere, yet Iceland's location on the northern flank of the main sea lanes between North America and the British Isles made its control of concern to the United States as well as to Canada and Great Britain. The Icelandic parliament simplified the situation by asserting its virtual independence of Denmark on 10 April 1940. A month later British troops landed in Iceland. To keep in touch with developments, the United States promptly arranged with Icelandic authorities for the exchange of consular representatives.44

The German occupation of the Netherlands and the prospect of. a Nazi victory over Great Britain and France posed an immediate and grave problem for the United States in regard to the fate of possessions of these three nations in the New World. Shortly before Hitler struck at the West, President Roosevelt had been presented with a suggestion that the United States acquire the Guianas-British, Dutch, and French. Both the President and Under Secretary of State Welles rejected this idea on the ground that a move to acquire sovereign or exclusive control over any European possession in the Western Hemisphere would not only be contrary to existing national policy against territorial expansion but also would be sure to arouse the suspicion and resentment of the Latin American nations. Instead, the President and Mr. Welles agreed that if European possessions had to be taken over to keep them from falling into German hands, the action should be accomplished by establishing a Pan-American trusteeship administration to supervise their temporary occupation and control .45


Before there had been any further definition of American policy on this score, the British and French precipitated a minor diplomatic crisis by landing forces on the Dutch West Indian islands of Curacao and Aruba on 11 May 1940. The Department of State registered a strong protest with British Ambassador Lord Lothian. As in the case of Greenland, the United States was opposed to the occupation of any Western Hemisphere territory belonging to a conquered or occupied nation by the armed forces of other belligerent powers. Secretary Hull finally persuaded the British to announce that they had no intention of occupying these Dutch possessions permanently and that they would withdraw their forces as soon as sufficient Dutch troops were available to defend them.46

The rapid German advance in France inspired more forceful proposals for dealing with the problem of European possessions. On 21 May one of General Marshall's staff officers recommended that "this country . . take immediate steps to acquire British and French possessions in the Atlantic," 47  and, as noted above, the "possible protective occupation of European possessions" was one of the main items presented by War Plans to the Chief of Staff for decision on 22 May.48  On 23 May Ambassador Joseph E. Davies, Special Assistant to the Secretary of State, urged the President to get in touch with the British and French Governments to see if they would "sell and assign certain of their possessions in this hemisphere which are vital to our defense in consideration of the relinquishment of their obligations to us." 49  These proposals, coupled with the British report that a German force of 6,000 troops had been embarked and might be headed for the South Atlantic with designs on either the Guianas or Brazil, persuaded the President on 24 May to direct the Army and Navy to prepare an emergency plan for occupation of all British, French, and Dutch possessions, in order to prevent them from falling into the hands of Germany by surrender or cession. While the Army and Navy staffs were working on the plan, General Marshall asked the Department of State to make diplomatic arrangements with the British Government so that, if necessary, American forces could be quickly established in, all British possessions except Labrador.50


The Navy War Plans Division, after collaboration with Army planners, submitted an emergency plan for occupying European possessions to Admiral Stark on 28 May. It proposed that, if Germany demanded the cession of any British, French, or Dutch possessions, the United States should immediately and without advance publicity assert its sovereignty over these possessions and occupy them forthwith. The joint Army and Navy RAINBOW 4 plan completed on 30 May contained approximately the same proposal. "Joint Task No. 1" in that plan was to "establish United States sovereignty in British, French, Dutch, and Danish possessions in the Western Hemisphere," including those in the Pacific east of the 180th meridian. The plan also proposed that the United States Government secure immediate approval of the governments concerned for American occupation of their possessions.51

While the Army and Navy planners were getting to work in June on the detailed subordinate plans to implement the joint RAINBOW 4 plan, the Department of State took the initiative, on the one hand in advertising the adamant opposition of the United States to any move by Germany or Italy to gain a foothold in the New World and on the other in working for the adoption of a Pan-American trusteeship scheme in substitution for the action proposed by the military services. Secretary Hull asked Congress to introduce a joint resolution declaring that the United States would not recognize the transfer of any Western Hemisphere possession from one European power to another, and that, in case anything of that sort were attempted, the United States "would immediately consult with the other American Republics on measures necessary to safeguard . . . common interests." 52  This resolution was introduced on 17 June, the day that France asked for an armistice. On the same day, the Department of State officially informed Germany and Italy that the United States would not recognize or acquiesce in any transfer of Western Hemisphere territory "from one non-American Power to another non-American Power." Secretary Hull, also on 17 June, invited the foreign ministers of the other American republics to a consultative meeting at Havana, Cuba, to be assembled as soon as possible, in accordance with the final resolution adopted at Panama the preceding October.53

The foreign ministers convened on 21 July 1940. Secretary Hull, as head of the United States delegation, found a difficult situation facing him at Havana, the Latin American delegates being all too aware that the existing


armed forces of the United States were not adequate to make any real defense of the southern portion of the hemisphere. Mr. Hull's opening address was fortified by the President's simultaneous request to Congress to increase the lending authority of the Export-Import Bank by $500,000,000 to aid in marketing Latin American products cut off from their normal European outlets.54  After a sharp diplomatic struggle, the delegates on 27 July reached agreement on methods for dealing with European possessions threatened by German or Italian engulfment. The Convention of Havana provided for an inter-American administration of European possessions should it become necessary to take them over in order to prevent the Axis Powers from gaining control of them. More important was the adoption of the Act of Havana, which called for the appointment of an interim emergency committee to function until the inter-American administrative regime could be established. The act also provided that, "should the need for emergency action be so urgent that action by the committee cannot be awaited, any of the American Republics, individually or jointly with others, shall have the right to act in the manner which its own defense or that of the Continent requires." 55  This last provision amounted to an authorization for the United States and its armed forces to undertake unilaterally the steps contemplated in RAINBOW 4, except for the assertion of sovereignty.56  The problem thereafter was one of developing the means to carry out temporary occupations of European possessions if such actions became necessary.

Before the Havana Conference convened, the United States had to tackle the specific problem of France's New- World possessions-the tiny islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon off Newfoundland's southern coast, French Guiana in South America, and the West Indian islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. For a variety of reasons Martinique was overwhelmingly the most important. It was the administrative center and economically the most productive of the French colonies. Furthermore, when France sued for an armistice on 17 June, several French warships scurried to Martinique's good harbor and capital, Fort de France. One, the aircraft carrier Bearn, was carrying a load of 106 pursuit planes of American manufacture en route to France at the time of the armistice. Another vessel brought in nearly a quarter billion dollars of the French Government's gold reserve, the bulk of which was then being rushed to the Western Hemisphere under United States Government and Navy auspices. Martinique also sheltered two French cruisers, one


a faster ship than anything the United States Navy had in the Caribbean area, as well as other naval and merchant vessels. When France surrendered, Admiral Georges Robert, who had been appointed High Commissioner for France's New World possessions in 1939, promptly asserted his unswerving loyalty to the Vichy regime of Marshal Henri Pétain.

American action toward Martinique was precipitated by British moves to insure that the naval vessels, gold, and airplanes there did not fall into German hands. On 1 July, after the Department of State learned that the British planned to establish a blockade of Martinique, Under Secretary Welles warned Lord Lothian that the United States would not permit Great Britain to occupy the French Antilles. When the British issued ultimatums to other French naval commanders on 3 July, they refrained from delivering one to Admiral Robert. Nevertheless, on 4 July they instituted a naval blockade of Martinique. The next day Secretary Hull protested to Lord Lothian that any British attempt to seize Martinique or the French naval vessels anchored there would "involve real trouble between your Government and mine." 57  On 6 July President Roosevelt directed the Navy to send a cruiser and six destroyers to Martinique, with the somewhat incongruous result that by mid July Martinique was guarded by an inner British naval patrol and an outer American one.58  On 5 July General Marshall and Admiral Stark had directed the joint Planning Committee to prepare an emergency plan for the occupation of Martinique and Guadeloupe by United States forces, "should events render this necessary to prevent control of these strategic islands by Germany or by French authorities under German direction." The plan, completed on 8 July, contemplated dispatch of an expeditionary force from New York on or about 15 July. The 1st Marine Brigade was earmarked to provide the initial assault force, to be followed by a task force built around the Army's 1st Infantry Division.59

With American military forces being readied to take such action toward Martinique as might become necessary, the State and Navy Departments during July and August negotiated a temporary compromise to relieve the tense situation. Although Admiral Robert resisted both British and American attempts to persuade him to release the airplanes and gold, or to throw in his lot with the Free French forces, he did agree on 24 July to discuss matters with an American naval representative. Rear Adm. John W. Greenslade was sent to Martinique, and by the end of August he and Admiral Robert had


worked out an informal agreement that provided essentially for the maintenance of the status quo in France's Western Hemisphere possessions. On the one hand, Admiral Robert agreed to permit the stationing of an American naval observer at Fort de France and the establishment of United States consulates in Martinique, in French Guiana, and in St. Pierre and Miquelon. On the other hand, Admiral Greenslade promised that the United States would supply the French possessions with needed food and oil.60  The effect of this understanding was to immobilize the French forces at Martinique. Great Britain withdrew its naval units and discontinued efforts to get Admiral Robert (and the ships, planes, and gold) into the British camp. The United States Navy continued an active surface and air patrol of the island to insure that the French authorities abided by their agreements. But the Martinique problem was far from settled and was to flare anew in late October 1940.61

The Destroyer-Base Agreement

The Anglo-American Destroyer-Base Agreement of 2 September 1940 was the spectacular end product of the measures taken during the preceding summer to protect the New World from Nazi intrusion. Actually, its principal stimulus seems to have been an American desire to bolster British naval strength against the threatened invasion of England, rather than an immediate military interest in the particular bases acquired in the deal. Since the spring of 1939 both the Army and the Navy had planned to acquire additional bases when needed for their hemisphere defense missions, and they certainly did not want the British possessions in which bases were obtained in. September 1940 to fall into German hands under any circumstances. But the Army was still too small to warrant promiscuous deployment of its forces to all areas that conceivably might be threatened by Axis occupation. Unknown to the American public, the Navy already had limited access to base facilities in Bermuda, St. Lucia, and Trinidad that helped to support the patrol of the western Atlantic, and it therefore had no immediate and pressing need for additional facilities. In effect, what happened in September 1940 was that the Army and Navy were handed base sites in British possessions and were told to fit them into their plans and preparations for hemis-


phere defense. Potentially, the base sites were far more valuable to the United States than the destroyers for which they were exchanged, but at the moment Army and Navy officers were inclined to view their acquisition as little more than a convenient expedient to make the destroyer transfer politically acceptable to the American Congress and people.

It was, then, the British quest for destroyers, rather than an American overture for new bases, that inspired the destroyer-base transaction. From 15 May 1940 onward, Prime Minister Churchill made repeated requests for the "loan" or sale of old destroyers-the recommissioned World War I type of vessels then engaged in the Navy's neutrality patrol in the western Atlantic.62  Whatever disposition President Roosevelt and his advisers may have had to act on these requests was soon curbed by Congressional action. Section 14(al of the Naval Expansion Act, passed on 28 June, read:

Notwithstanding the provision of any other law, no military or naval weapon, ship, boat aircraft, munitions, supplies, or equipment, to which the United States has title, in whole or in part, or which have been contracted for, shall hereafter be transferred, exchanged, sold, or otherwise disposed of in any manner whatsoever unless the Chief of Naval Operations in the case of naval material and the Chief of Staff in the case of military material, shall first certify that such material is not essential to the defense of the United States.

This limitation was followed by a provision that copies of any "contract, order, or agreement" made for the disposal of Army or Navy material must be deposited with Congress within twenty-four hours of the time that the transaction was completed. These new legal restrictions appeared to present a formidable barrier to the transfer of recommissioned destroyers to the British, as well as a sharp restraint on the future assignment of surplus Army and Navy stocks to them.63

The partial solution of the French Fleet problem in early July, coupled with the impending threat of a German invasion of Great Britain, made the President and several of his advisers increasingly receptive to the idea of transferring destroyers to Britain, if some way could be found to do so. Benjamin V. Cohen, one of Mr. Roosevelt's most trusted legal advisers, suggested such a way in a memorandum of 19 July, in which he concluded that neither American nor international law barred the sale of destroyers to Great Britain "if


their release [would] strengthen rather than weaken the defense position of the United States." President Roosevelt expressed his frank doubt of the validity of Mr. Cohen's argument, "in view of the clause in the big authorization bill [Naval Expansion Act] . . . which is intended to be a complete prohibition of sale." He added, "I fear Congress is in no mood at the present time to allow any form of sale." In expressing these views to Frank Knox, the new Secretary of the Navy, he nevertheless suggested that Mr. Knox explore the idea of getting Congressional approval of a "sale of these destroyers to Canada on condition that they be used solely in American Hemisphere defense, i.e., from Greenland to British Guiana including Bermuda and the West Indies." This, the President observed, "would release other ships for other purposes." 64

The first concrete proposal linking the transfer of destroyers to the acquisition of bases came from the Century Group, as the New York branch of the Committee To Defend America by Aiding the Allies was called. Members of the group assiduously circulated their proposal, particularly in its revised form of 25 July, among civilian and military officials in Washington, including Ambassador Lothian .65  Two months earlier, in late May, the British Ambassador had himself suggested that Great Britain volunteer to lease areas in Newfoundland, Bermuda, and Trinidad to the United States for the construction of air and naval bases. The British Cabinet had rejected this suggestion, partly because of the refusal of the United States at that time to turn over some of its destroyers to the British Navy. In late July the British Cabinet reversed its decision and agreed to offer limited base rights to the United States without requiring any quid pro quo.66  On 31 July Prime Minister Churchill addressed a new and urgent appeal to Mr. Roosevelt, stressing the desperate need for fifty or sixty destroyers as well as for motor torpedo boats and naval planes.67  Then on 1 August, representatives of the Century Group formally presented their proposal for exchanging destroyers for bases to the President. 68


It was in this setting that President Roosevelt and his Cabinet examined all aspects of the problem on 2 August. Secretary Knox proposed that Britain sell some of its possessions to the United States as a consideration for the transfer of fifty or sixty destroyers. Secretary Hull objected on the basis that a purchase of British possessions would amount to a violation of the recently adopted Havana agreements. The President himself suggested that instead of a purchase of territories the United States might lease bases in them, thereby securing an extension of the limited access to base facilities obtained in 1939. With respect to destroyers, the President and his Cabinet agreed unanimously that Britain was in desperate need of them, that their transfer could not be accomplished without the enactment of new legislation, and that Congress would not pass enabling legislation unless the United States received an ironclad guarantee from Great Britain that its fleet would continue the fight from American waters should Britain fall after a Nazi invasion.69

Three days later the British Ambassador submitted a list of what Great Britain wanted and of what it was prepared to give in return. Britain wanted ninety-six destroyers, twenty motor torpedo boats, fifty naval patrol bombers, an unspecified number of naval dive bombers, and 250,000 Enfield rifles. In return, Great Britain offered: (1) a "continuation" of the agreement made in 1939 for limited use by the United States Navy of waters and shore facilities at Bermuda, St. Lucia, and Trinidad; (2) United States Army aircraft to be allowed to land on Jamaica, British Guiana, and Trinidad; (3) Pan American Airways to be allowed to lease a small area in Trinidad where it could store supplies and erect a radio station; (4) Pan American Airways, as the agent of the United States Government, to be allowed to lease airfield sites in Jamaica and British Guiana; and (5) United States Army aircraft to be permitted to make occasional training flights to Newfoundland . 70  A comparison of these terms with those actually included in the agreement of 2 September 1940 indicates clearly how much negotiation and compromise was required during August to reconcile the British and American positions.

When Under Secretary Welles presented the British terms to President Roosevelt on 8 August, they contained two additional points. First, the British agreed that Prime Minister Churchill would reiterate the public pledge


given on 4 June with respect to the British Fleet; and, second, the British insisted that their commercial airlines must have equal rights with United States airlines during and after the war at airfields constructed by Pan American Airways in British possessions. On the first point, Mr. Welles observed that the 4 June pledge had been given in the name of the Churchill administration and not in the name of the British nation and that it therefore would not satisfy the President's demand for a guarantee.71 With respect to the second, the British demand scotched the initial intention of having Pan American Airways develop airfields in British Caribbean possessions; although Pan American undertook some preliminary work on air bases in Trinidad and British Guiana, these projects were taken over and completed by the Army and Navy, and the airfields developed in other British possessions were strictly military projects . 72

At some time during the next five days, President Roosevelt jotted down the concessions that he felt Great Britain must make in order to receive the destroyers:

1. Assurance on the part of the Prime Minister that in the event that waters of G.B. become untenable for British ships of war to remain, they would not be turned over to the Germans or sunk, but would be sent to other parts of the Empire for continued defense of the Empire.

2. Agreement that G.B. will authorize use of Newfoundland, Bermuda, Bahamas, Jamaica, St. Lucia and Trinidad and British Guiana as naval and air bases by the U.S., in the event of an attack on the Am. Hemisphere by any non-American nations. And in the meantime US to have right to establish such bases and use them for training and exercise' purposes. Land necessary for above to be bought or leased for 99 years.73

On 13 August the President first discussed these terms with an inner circle of his advisers and then transmitted them to Mr. Churchill. If the British agreed to them, Mr. Roosevelt stated, the United States would promise to furnish in exchange fifty destroyers, some motor torpedo boats, and ten naval aircraft. The Prime Minister on 15 August accepted the President's proposals in principle but with one significant exception: he offered only to "reiterate" the pledge he had given on 4 June and not to issue a new and more binding pledge with respect to the British Fleet. He also observed that it would be necessary to consult with Canada about the Newfoundland base. Nevertheless, Mr. Churchill now felt sufficiently confident of the successful conclusion


of the negotiation to begin the movement of British crews to Halifax to take over the destroyers.74

At a Cabinet meeting on 16 August the President discussed his proposals with Attorney General Robert H. Jackson, and the next day Mr. Jackson addressed a letter to Secretary Knox that concluded:

I understand that negotiations are now pending looking towards the transfer of certain old destroyers to the Canadian Government conditioned upon the granting by the British Government of certain naval and air bases in the Western Hemisphere to the United States. It is my opinion that the Chief of Naval Operations may, and should, certify under section 14(a) [of the Naval Expansion Act] that such destroyers are not essential to the defense of the United States if in his judgment the exchange of such destroyers for strategic naval and air bases will strengthen rather than impair the total defense of the United States.75

This opinion, it will be noted, presented the same argument advanced by Mr. Cohen on 19 July. By now accepting that argument, President Roosevelt and his advisers relieved themselves of their previous conviction that new legislation would be necessary- to authorize the transference of the destroyers.

Mr. Jackson's letter also indicates his understanding that the earlier idea of transferring the destroyers initially to Canada was still alive on the eve of President Roosevelt's meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King at Ogdensburg, New York, on 17-18 August. At Ogdensburg the President and the Prime Minister agreed on the immediate establishment of a Canadian-American Permanent Joint Board on Defense. Mr. Roosevelt also talked to Mr. Mackenzie King in some detail about his recent negotiations with Great Britain, and the two chief executives discussed the mechanism of transferring the destroyers at Halifax. Apparently they did not discuss an intermediate transfer of the destroyers to Canada, only their transfer through Canadian waters to British crews.76

After the Ogdensburg meeting Under Secretary Welles, at the President's direction, prepared drafts of notes to be exchanged between the United States and British Governments and handed them to Lord Lothian. Mr. Welles's draft of the British note contained three parts: First, Great Britain pledged


itself not to surrender or sink its fleet. Second, the British agreed to 99-year leases on bases in the possessions previously enumerated, with the United States exercising sole judgment in the selection of base sites "for purposes of defense as well as for peacetime training"; Mr. Welles's draft also specified that "the British Government . . . will grant to the United States for the period of the leases all the rights, power, and authority within the bases leased . . . which the United States would possess and exercise if it were the sovereign of the territory and waters above mentioned to the entire exclusion of the exercise by the British Government and its agents of such sovereign rights, power, and authority." And, third, "the British Government will accept as in full compensation for the leases . . . the following naval and military materiel," with specification of the latter left blank.77

The second Welles's draft was a formal acknowledgment by the United States Government of the above note and a pledge to transfer forthwith to the British Government the naval and military material listed in the note. In return for the acceptance of these terms, the United States offered to turn over to Great Britain fifty destroyers, twenty motor torpedo boats, five Navy patrol bombers, five Army B-17 heavy bombers, 250,000 Enfield rifles, and 5,000,000 rounds of small arms ammunition. Secretary of War Stimson and General Marshall on 20 August approved the proffer of the Army items involved.78

These proposals drafted on 19 and 20 August by no means reflected the terms upon which the British had previously indicated their willingness to settle. To date, Mr. Churchill had consistently refused to make any change in his 4 June pledge, and he seems to have been particularly disturbed by the insertion of the word "sovereignty" into the proposed agreement. In a -public address to Parliament on 20 August, the Prime Minister denied that "any transference of sovereignty" had ever been suggested during the negotiations. In a message to the President of 22 August, Mr. Churchill again refused to alter his 4 June pledge, and also objected to the proposal that the United States exercise exclusive judgment in the selection of base sites. Indeed, he now took the position that he and his government had never contemplated any formal bargain or exchange; the British Cabinet had decided to offer the bases "without stipulating for any return," and it was prepared


to make good its offer even if the United States decided against transferring the destroyers and other war material.79

The Prime Minister's message of 22 August created a temporary impasse in the negotiation. On the preceding day, Admiral Stark had written the President that he would sign the necessary certificates to permit the transfer of the destroyers and patrol bombers, but only if they were exchanged for bases and if an assurance that money for the development of the bases would be forthcoming. 80  With Admiral Stark reconciled to the deal, the President and his advisers had agreed among themselves on the terms to be offered Britain and on the method of executing the agreement. The new British proposal, that the bases be handed over to the United States as a "gift" and that the destroyers and other items be transferred to Great Britain as a separate but more or less simultaneous "gift," came as something of a shock to American officialdom. The Department of State told Lord Lothian that it would be "utterly impossible" to make a gift of the destroyers, and the President talked to Mr. Churchill in the same vein by transatlantic phone.81

At this point, Secretary Hull returned to Washington from a three weeks' vacation and took up the problem of resolving the wide differences that still remained between the American and British points of view. The impasse was broken on 26 August when the Department of State suggested that the two North Atlantic base sites-Newfoundland and Bermuda-be accepted from Britain as outright gifts, and that only the Caribbean base sites be specifically exchanged for the destroyers. The British Government agreed to this idea and voluntarily added Antigua to the list of Caribbean bases. Other compromises followed. At British insistence, all reference to "sovereignty" was dropped from the draft proposals. In place of the American demand for exercise of "exclusive judgment" in the selection of base sites, it was agreed that the sites would be chosen by a joint commission of experts who would make the selection "by common agreement"; on the other hand, the final agreement spelled out the general locations desired as base sites (for example, "on the east coast and on the Great Bay of Bermuda"), whereas the 19 August draft had merely named the various British possessions in which bases were to be established. Finally, the United States agreed that the guarantee with respect to the British Fleet reed not be made an integral part of the agreement, but that it could be given in a separate but simultaneous exchange of notes. On the British side, Mr. Churchill finally


accepted a formula for a guarantee pledging that Great Britain would never surrender or scuttle its fleet-the commitment that the President and his advisers had insisted upon as an essential quid pro quo since the negotiation began. With almost all details agreed upon, the Attorney General submitted to the President a formal legal indorsement of the transaction, except for the proposed transfer of motor torpedo boats, which he ruled illegal.82

The several notes that constituted the Destroyer-Base Agreement were signed on the evening of 2 September, and, in compliance with the act of 28 June 1940, President Roosevelt transmitted the two principal notes to Congress the next day. The separate notes containing the British Fleet pledge were not sent to Congress but were announced coincidentally in the press.83  The agreement, as signed, provided only for the transfer of destroyers, apparently because the President failed to tell Secretary Hull that he had approved the transfer of other Army and Navy material as well. Before Lord Lothian signed, he protested to Mr. Hull that he had understood that other military items were also involved. The Secretary insisted that he was not acquainted with the President's decision to include any other items than the destroyers. With some reluctance, the British ambassador signed the notes as they were presented to him.84  Newsmen on 3 September immediately noted the discrepancy between the wording of Secretary Hull's and Lord Lothian's notes, but a Department of State spokesman insisted "that while the destroyers represented inadequate payment for the bases, the agreement to deliver them completed the transaction." 85

The Army subsequently turned over 250,000 Enfield rifles to Great Britain, and in February 1941 it also agreed to" fulfill a promise made by General Marshall in June 1940 to furnish Great Britain with an additional 50,000,000 rounds of small arms ammunition. In neither instance was the transfer tied to the destroyer-base deal. As for the B-17's, while the British did not get the five out of existing Air Corps stocks that had been promised, they did receive an alternative consideration of much greater value. On 16 September, after the President and the majority of his Cabinet had decided against an attempt to reopen the destroyer-base negotiations in order to include in the


agreements the bombers and other material originally proffered, Mr. Roosevelt ordered the Army henceforth to split new B-24 bomber production with the British on a one-for-one basis, instead of the current distribution of two for the United States and one for Great Britain.86

In order to reconcile the acquisition of bases in British possessions with the Havana agreements entered into six weeks previously, Secretary of State Hull insisted that a circular note be sent to the Latin American governments informing them of the transaction and announcing that "the resulting facilities at these bases will, of course, be made available alike to all American Republics on the fullest cooperative basis for the common defense of the hemisphere." 87  This gesture led to a British query as to whether Mr. Hull's note was not really designed as a move to secure additional bases in Latin American territory. Further, the British wished to know whether they would have rights of equal access in any Latin American bases that might be obtained by the United States. The latter question was answered by a polite negative, but the fact that the British had raised it perhaps had something to do with the strictly American development and use of the bases in Britain's Atlantic possessions.88

Under oral instructions issued by Admiral Stark on 20 August, the Joint Planning Committee undertook a preliminary study of the prospective British base sites and completed it a week before the Destroyer-Base Agreement was actually signed. The Navy also took the initiative in establishing the board of military and naval experts that (in accordance with the terms of the final agreement) would select, jointly with the British, the actual sites to be developed as bases. This Army-Navy board departed for Bermuda on its first survey mission on 3 September 1940, the day that the Destroyer Base Agreement was announced.89

In transmitting the Destroyer-Base Agreement to Congress, President Roosevelt characterized the acquisition of base rights in eight British possessions as "an epochal and far-reaching act of preparation for continental defense in the face of grave danger."90  In contrast, the Chief of the Air Corps observed "that the transfer of destroyers to the British in exchange


for bases is good publicity but that it does not amount to nearly as much as it appeared, because these bases we have obtained are no good and will require millions of dollars for development." 91  The real value of the new bases as defense posts for the Army perhaps lay midway between the two estimates. The Army valued most highly those acquired in Newfoundland, Bermuda, and Trinidad, and was less impressed with the potential value of the other Caribbean sites except as locations for staging fields. When developed, the new bases would extend the Army's outpost line of defense eastward into the Atlantic by from several hundred to one thousand miles and add materially to the mobility of air defense operations that might be undertaken along the Atlantic front. The Caribbean bases not only would provide additional protection to the Atlantic approaches of the Panama Canal but also would facilitate the extension of Army airpower toward the bulge of Brazil.

The Destroyer-Base Agreement unquestionably met with the approval of the overwhelming majority of the American people arid of their representatives in Congress. Before details of the proposed agreement had been made known to the public, opinion polls had recorded that more than four fifths of the American people favored acquiring the British possessions involved or at least bases in them; and a nearly two-thirds majority in mid-August approved the idea of transferring destroyers to England. Mr. Wendell L. Willkie, the Republican presidential candidate, and other leading Republicans had indorsed both ideas during August. While there was a good deal of criticism in and out of Congress of the method employed by the President in arranging the agreement and much doubt expressed about its legality under either national or international law, the terms obtained seemed so advantageous to the United States-eight new bases for fifty old destroyers-that the American people accepted the destroyer exchange as a genuine bargain, without, of course, having more than a vague comprehension of its long-range implications. The British appear to have accepted it with equal enthusiasm, not only because they badly needed the destroyers but also because they needed even more a definite sign of open American support against the threat of Nazi invasion.

The significance and implications of the destroyer-base deal were clearly recognized by Germany and Japan. As rumors of an impending agreement reached Berlin, the German Foreign Office noted that the intention of the United States to "bail out" Great Britain was becoming increasingly obvi-


ous.92  Until the Destroyer-Base Agreement was announced, Hitler seems to have been convinced that the United States would remain neutral so long as he did not touch the Western Hemisphere. Now both he and Benito Mussolini realized that they had to face the possibility of eventual American intervention in the war. The Germans privately called the destroyer transfer "an openly hostile act," but they did not choose to accept the challenge and force the United States into the war.93  On the other side of the world, Ambassador Joseph C. Grew reported that the Tokyo militarists were equally impressed with the destroyer agreement as an indication "that Britain and the United States are steadily drawing closer together in mutual defense measures" and that, consequently, Germany might not defeat Great Britain after all.94

The exchange of destroyers for bases had a profound effect on the development of prewar policy. Whatever rationalizations the United States Government may have advanced at the time, it is now generally agreed that the exchange marked a clear departure from the path of neutrality and a clear confirmation of intent to give all aid to Great Britain short of declaring war. The United States had, indeed, entered into a limited participation in the war, and its national policy henceforth moved toward broader objectives than those associated strictly with hemisphere defense.95

American Military Preparations and the War Outlook July-October 1940

The war plans and defense measures adopted by the United States in the summer of 1940 have been reviewed in the preceding pages as if they were


interrelated aspects of a single program for national and hemisphere defense. Actually, the Army had adopted two programs: the first, an immediate program of emergency measures to be taken in the event of imminent military threat; the second, a long-range program to make the United States and the rest of the hemisphere reasonably secure from military attack by the autumn of 1941 and thereafter. Mr. Charles R. Stillman, business manager of Time magazine, after a month's research in Washington during June and July 1940, submitted a shrewd analysis of these two programs to the Chief of Staffs office for comment. Mr. Stillman failed to elicit the desired comment, but staff observations on his points provide an illuminating insight into Army thinking and planning at the time .96

The immediate program provided for the deployment in 1940 of about 100,000 troops to strategic points from Newfoundland to the Brazilian bulge. It was designed to meet a RAINBOW 4 situation as defined in the new joint war plan of June 1940- that is, the defeat of Great Britain as well as of France and the surrender or destruction of the British and French Fleets. It did not contemplate operations by United States forces south of the Brazilian bulge. The Army units to be used were to be drawn principally from the National Guard, and it was partly for this reason that the Army from June onward urged immediate induction of the Guard.97  To execute these measures would have required very close collaboration and cooperation with the forces of Canada to the north and Latin America to the south. The staff conversations undertaken in haste in June and July 1940 were of course aimed at achievement of these ends. The Army considered the Havana agreements of July 1940 of "enormous importance" in carrying out the immediate program in whole or in part, if it became necessary to do so. Finally, this program was a fluid one, the requirements for which changed from day to day as the war situation changed. The Army's conviction from September 1940 onward that Great Britain would probably hold out at least through the winter of 1940-41 meant that the immediate measures would probably not have to be carried out.98


The goal of the long-range or "big" program was to expand the Army as rapidly as possible to a 1,400,000-man total in order to give the United States a first-class Army as well as a first-class Navy to defend the Western Hemisphere against Old World aggression. This program was "based on a power policy in contemplation of an indefinite period of armed peace or semi-war" for the United States.99 Whether or not the United States could carry it out depended primarily on maintenance of Anglo-American naval supremacy in the Atlantic. The decision in July 1940 to keep the bulk of the United States Fleet in the Pacific to check Japan and guard the supply of vital raw materials such as rubber and tin was made on the assumption that the fleet could be moved swiftly to the Atlantic if necessary. The Panama Canal was therefore considered the key to the successful build-up of American military strength-the Army expressing its vehement concurrence in Mr. Stillman's characterization of the Canal as "the most strategic spot in the world today." 100

So far as the Army was concerned, the principal conflict between these two programs was the necessity under the immediate program of keeping an effective fighting force in being as against the need under the long-range program of using the existing Regular Army as a training and cadre nucleus for the expanded army that was being forged. When inducted, the great majority of National Guard units were found to be far from ready for emergency deployment to strategic points along the Atlantic front; they, too, needed to be trained. Because of this conflict, it looked to outside critics as though the long-range program had been more or less foisted on the Army's General Staff and that, if left to its own devices, the staff would have preferred to concentrate on immediate rather than future preparedness.101  Actually, the General Staff in July 1940 considered both programs essential and was working with equal fervor for fulfillment of each. Though the Army's military leaders were something less than enthusiastic about giving much material aid to Britain, they were well aware that the longer the British held out, the lesser the likelihood of their having to execute the immediate program and the greater the amount of thought and energy they could devote to carrying out the long-range program.

In any case, the armed services as well as the President felt in July 1940 that they needed better information on the chances of Britain's survival. They


appointed special observers who, after a personal briefing from President Roosevelt, went to Great Britain in early August to survey the situation. The Army's emissaries were General Strong, chief of the War Plans Division, and Maj. Gen. Delos C. Emmons, Commanding General, General Headquarters Air Force. Generals Strong and Emmons, when they returned to Washington about 20 September, expressed a general optimism over Great Britain's prospects, though General Emmons was less convinced than General Strong that Britain could successfully resist an invasion.102

The reports from Britain helped in the formulation on 25 September of a new joint Army-Navy estimate of the war situation and its bearing on the position of the United States. The planners assumed that Germany and Italy could not launch a major military attack against the Western Hemisphere until they had defeated Great Britain and gained naval control of the eastern Atlantic. It now appeared that British naval power based on the British Isles could be maintained at least for another six months. Even if the Axis Powers then gained control of the bulk of the British Fleet, it would take them six additional months to assimilate British naval strength and prepare it for offensive operations across the Atlantic. The United States, therefore, probably had at least a year's grace in which to complete its military preparations. By the end of that year (roughly, by October 1941), American mobilization under the long-range program was expected to produce the 1,400,000-man Army and enlarged Navy that would be strong enough to resist successfully any Old World military aggression against the New. During this year, too, the United States could afford to keep the bulk of its fleet in the Pacific to check Japan. On the other hand, if, as seemed increasingly probable, Japan should in the meantime strike southward in the western Pacific, the United States could not afford to commit a major portion of its naval strength in an effort to stop Japanese aggression. American naval power must be kept mobile, free to shift to the Atlantic to deal with any emergency that might arise there. 103

Even if the British Isles and the British Fleet did not succumb, the United States had to be ready to meet specific Axis advances with suitable countermeasures. If Germany moved into Spain and Portugal or threatened their Atlantic islands, the United States might have to occupy the Azores. If Gi-


braltar fell, permitting the Italian Fleet to debouch into the Atlantic, and if also the Germans moved into French North and West Africa, particularly if they made Dakar a naval and air base, the armed forces of the United States would undoubtedly be required to protect the airfields and ports of northeastern Brazil against a Nazi attack. Even if the Nazis made no move toward French West Africa, they might inspire widespread subversive activity within the Latin American nations. In that event the nations to the south might be expected to call on the United States for military assistance. If, on the other hand, and against expectation, the British Fleet were destroyed or surrendered, then within three months the United States would have to secure "all Atlantic outpost positions from Bahia in Brazil northward to include Greenland." Should none of these particular contingencies arise during the ensuing year, the United States could engage in an orderly expansion of its military power and build up its existing overseas outposts and the new bases acquired from Great Britain.104

Japan's formal adherence to the Axis on 27 September 1940 did not materially alter this outlook. The United States did not need the new Axis pact to remind it of the dangers of becoming involved in a war with Japan in the Pacific or of joining openly in the war against Germany and Italy in the Atlantic. War with Japan would not only throw the long-range mobilization program out of gear but also would virtually stop further aid to Great Britain. With the bulk of American naval power being maintained in the eastern Pacific, ostensibly as a deterrent to Japanese aggression, the Navy was as unprepared as the Army for action in the Atlantic.

The safety of the United States nevertheless seemed far better assured by early October 1940 than it had appeared to be during the hectic days of May and June. This assurance flowed not so much from a substantial improvement in the immediate military preparedness of the United States as from the stanchness with which the British were defending their homeland. It now appeared that the United States would have time to prepare its defenses. It needed time. At a conference in early October, General Marshall spoke of the Army's tactical air force as "non-existent, as it has been turned into a school." The United States, he continued, had practically no antiaircraft ammunition, and there were critical shortages in other types of munitions. General Strong observed that supply and shipping shortages would make it impossible for the Army within the succeeding fifteen months to send anywhere emergency expeditions of more than sixty thousand men in fully equipped units. While this situation lasted-and, irrespective of aid to Brit-


ain, it would last in declining measure until the fall of 1941-the defense of the United States would have to depend primarily on what. General Marshall called "our magnificent fleet." 105  Even Secretary of War Stimson, who customarily advocated more forceful policies than his military advisers, "accepted the proposition that our Fleet was the only reserve we had for national defense . . . and, in consequence, it should not be committed in any theater unless or until it developed that our national existence was at stake in that theater."106

When President Roosevelt said in an address on 12 October that the United States "wants no war with any nation," he presumably spoke with sincerity.107  In June he had insisted that the mobilization then being initiated was "a defensive program, not aimed at world affairs which do not concern the Western Hemisphere."1078 The difficulty lay in the fact that a totalitarian conquest of the Old World would inevitably concern the nations of the New and menace their freedom and security. The best hope of preserving the security and freedom of the United States, pending the completion of its own military preparations, now seemed to lie in buttressing Great Britain as the remaining bulwark against the military might and unprincipled leadership of Nazi Germany.



Previous Chapter        Next Chapter

Return to the Table of Contents


Page Updated 2 January 2003

Return to CMH Online