Document 23: G. Gould Lincoln, "The Treaty Navy," DAR Magazine (November 1930), 661-672.


        In 1930, the great powers made another attempt at naval disarmament. Although technical arguments over the merits of different cruiser attributes dominated the discussions, Britain, Japan, and the United States came to an agreement. While pacifists were disappointed that greater reductions were not made, the London Treaty of 1930 placed ratio limits on more vessels than the Washington Treaty.[V] G. Gould Lincoln's article in the November 1930 issue of the DAR Magazine explained the terms of the treaty and exactly what it meant for the American Navy. Photographs of the vessels described by Lincoln accompanied the article. Such information provided Daughters with enough accurate facts to speak with confidence on the Navy's need for more vessels to defend America.


The Treaty Navy

G. Gould Lincoln

        Shall Uncle Sam build his Navy up to the full strength permitted under the London naval limitation treaty? Having entered into an agreement with Britain and Japan which covers all categories of naval vessels from the battleship to the submarine, is the United States to carry out, in its own building program, the program laid down in that treaty?

        All three of the great naval powers, which became party to the London treaty in full, made much of their demands for adequate national defense. It is to be presumed that the terms of the treaty grant to each of the nations not the maximum of their demands for national defense but naval strength somewhere between the minimum and the maximum of the estimates made by their chief naval officers. That being the case, should the United States now go ahead and construct every ton and cast every gun that is permitted by the treaty?

        The answer to this question, given by thousands and probably millions of Americans, would be: "Yes; by all means build up to the full treaty strength." Such will be the answer of all those interested in an adequate Navy and in national defense. But there will be thousands on the other side of the fence; thousands who will urge that it is useless to expend hundreds of millions of dollars to increase the strength of the Navy when we are at peace with the world.

        The struggle over the size of the Navy is coming when Congress meets next month. It promises to be a major engagement. The first shot will be fired when President Hoover sends to Congress his annual message, making recommendations for naval building. His budget message, submitted at the same time, will give the total amount of money which the administration believes should be expended on the Navy during the next fiscal year.

        Whether the President will feel justified in urging the Congress to expend all the money that would be required to start the program for full treaty-strength Navy remains to be seen. There have been indications that a falling off in the revenues of the country may be expected, due to the circumstances. The administration will hesitate to run the country further into debt or to force a situation that might bring about an increase in Federal taxes. Yet there is the clear implication that the administration, which negotiated the London treaty and pressed it upon the Senate until that body ratified it, is called upon to go ahead with a naval building program which shall approximate the full strength accorded the American Navy under the terms of the London treaty.

        Various estimates have been made of the cost of building the Navy to full treaty strength. One of them is that it will require an outlay of $990,000,000, almost a billion dollars. That is a large amount of money. It will be argued that this expenditure for increasing the size of the Navy is in reality an insurance against war and against a much larger expenditure in the event we were drawn into international conflict. On the other hand, it will be urged that to spend this huge sum of money, or even a greater part of it, would be unfair to the tax-payers of the United States.

        In the Congress there has been for years a "big Navy" group and a "little Navy" group. These groups exist today. They will come into conflict as soon as the naval appropriations bill is presented in the House. It is inevitable. When the London treaty was before the Senate for ratification last July, a reservation was proposed declaring that the Senate should ratify the treaty only with the understanding that the American Navy should be brought up to full treaty strength.

        This reservation was offered not by the friends of the treaty but by its opponents. Their effort was to make the treaty unpopular with a number of Senators who were prepared to vote for ratification, Senators who belong to the "little Navy" group. Had this reservation been adopted, there is grave doubt that the treaty would have been able to command the two-thirds vote necessary for ratification. Certainly many of the Senators who intended to vote for ratification would have been embarrassed. When the reservation came to a vote, therefore, Senators like Reed of Pennsylvania, Swanson1 of Virginia and others, who are heartily in favor of building the Navy up to the treaty strength, were constrained to oppose it. The reservation was defeated.

        It becomes clear, with these facts in mind, that the supporters of the proposal to build the Navy up to full treaty strength have a real task before them. If they are to succeed, they must have public opinion back of them. All kinds of arguments against increasing the Navy as permitted in the terms of the treaty will be advanced. Senators and Representatives will argue that it is folly to spend a dozen millions of dollars for a naval vessel which may become obsolete within a few years. The charge will be made that the United States is encouraging war rather than peace by going ahead with a big naval building program. Questions will be asked regarding the plans of Great Britain and Japan--are those nations preparing to take advantage of the terms of the treaty to build new war vessels?

        If it is possible to judge the future from the past, the English and the Japanese are not likely to let the development of their navies slide, even though it means the expenditure of a great deal of money to continue building. Both of these nations are far ahead of the United States in the matter of modern cruisers and submarines. They must, under the treaty, be idle while we are building. They did their building in the years since the Washington Naval Conference, which in 1922 established limitations for battleships and aircraft carriers, but left the nations to go as far as they like in with all other categories of ships. The United States stood by and let the other nations forge ahead.

        The London Naval Treaty expires December 31, 1936, a little more than six years hence. Provision has been made for calling another conference in 1935. At that conference it will be determined whether there is to be still further curtailment of naval strength or whether there is to be the same allotment of naval strength as provided in the London treaty, or whether there is to be no limitation whatever, with every nation at liberty to build as many war ships as they may desire or can afford to build.

        Just what does the London treaty call for in the way of an American Navy and what must the United States build to catch up to full treaty strength?

        There is one category of ships which has actually been reduced by the agreement reached in London--the battleship fleet. These huge craft, the backbone of the Navy still, despite the development of submarines and aircraft, were reduced for the three nations as follows: the United States and Great Britain are to retain fifteen battleships each, while Japan is to retain nine. The United States is engaged in "modernizing" some of its battleships to bring them up to greater strength and efficiency. This modernization includes elevation of guns to obtain greater range, added deck protection, and alterations to main propulsion machinery.

        Under the terms of the Washington treaty, still applicable under the London treaty so far as aircraft carriers are concerned, the United States is permitted to have 135,000 tons of such vessels; Great Britain, the same tonnage, and Japan, 81,000 tons. The United States today has three aircraft carriers, with a total of 76,286 tons. None of these carriers are now under construction for the American Navy, although appropriation has been made for one additional carrier of 13,800 tons. The British Navy today boasts six aircraft carriers with a total tonnage of 115,350 tons and Japan 3, with a total tonnage of 61,270 tons. It is clear that both these nations are far nearer their treaty strength in aircraft carriers than the United States.

        One of the three carriers listed as built for the United States is the Langley, of 10,286 tons. The Langley is an "experimental" ship and may be replaced at any time. Subtracting the tonnage of the Langley, the United States has two carriers of 66,000 tons built and one carrier of 13,800 tons appropriated for, or a total of 79,800 tons. This leaves a balance of 55,200 tons of aircraft carriers that may be built by the United States under the treaty allowance.

        When we come to cruiser strength, the United States has a much longer road to go to reach treaty strength. The London agreement for 8-inch-gun cruiser tonnage is as follows: the United States, 180,000 tons; Britain, 146,800 tons, and Japan, 108,400 tons. They cannot exceed that size, though they may be smaller if desired.

        The United States has five of these big cruisers already constructed, a total of 50,000 tons. It is building eight more, or 80,000 tons, and has authorized the construction of five more, with $200,000 appropriated toward their construction--a mere nothing when compared to the total cost. Under the terms of the treaty, the United States can build two of these five at once, the three others to be laid down in 1933, 1934, and 1935 respectively, and completed in 1936, 1937, and 1938.

        The British Navy today has fifteen 8-inch-gun cruisers, a total of 149,426 tons and four more under construction, which would bring the total tonnage up to 186,226 tons. It is clear that Britain must scrap some of these vessels, and under the treaty terms she will do so.

        Japan has eight of these 8-inch-gun cruisers constructed and four building, with a total tonnage of 108,000 tons, or just 400 tons short of the treaty allowance in this category of ships.

        The London treaty provides that the United States may have 143,500 tons of 6-inch-gun cruisers. It allots the British Empire 192,200 tons of such craft and Japan, 100,450 tons. Take a look, now at the present strength of the three countries in 6-inch-gun cruisers. Uncle Sam has ten, with a total tonnage of 70,500 tons. The British have 39 such vessels, of 177,685 total tonnage and one more of 6,500 tons building. Japan possesses 21 6-inch-gun cruisers, totaling 98,415 tons and is at present building none of this type.

        An easy mathematical calculation shows that the United States is entitled to build 73,000 additional tons of 6-inch-gun cruisers, the British may build another 14,515 tons and Japan 2,035 tons. By the terms of the treaty the British Empire may replace 91,000 tons of these cruisers by the year 1936--for a number of her vessels are becoming obsolete. Japan also has the privilege of replacing 35,755 tons. The life of the ten cruisers of the United States carrying 6-inch-guns will not expire by 1936.

        The cruiser strength and the type of cruisers caused more conversation at the London Naval Conference and more debate in the Senate of the United States than any other feature of the agreement made by the three nations. The United States, on the advice of its naval experts, held out for the 10,000 ton, 8-inch-gun cruiser as more suitable to meet its needs. The British advocated the smaller, 6-inch-gun cruiser. In the end a compromise was reached under which the United States was permitted to have a greater tonnage of the larger cruisers and Britain was allotted more tonnage in the 6-inch type. The British Empire, with naval bases located in all parts of the world, is well able to make use of the smaller cruisers, with less sailing radius. The United States preferred the larger, 8-inch-gun cruisers with a wider sailing radius, in order to safeguard the extensive coast and the commerce of this country in all parts of the world.

        The opponents of the London treaty in the Senate centered their fire largely on the cruiser provisions of the pact. They insisted that the United States was being "forced" by Great Britain to build a type of naval vessel which the United States did not want. If proposals are submitted in December for the construction of new 6-inch-gun cruisers, the fight is likely to start all over again. Yet if the United States does not go ahead and build these 6-inch-gun cruisers, it cannot attain full treaty strength for its Navy. The American delegation in London insisted that the size of the 6-inch-gun cruisers be not limited to less than 10,000 tons. It was successful in its contention. It is quite possible, therefore, for this country to construct the larger cruisers and arm them with 6-inch guns, giving just as wide a sailing radius as the 8-inch gun, 10,000 ton cruisers. Possibly this will be done. While the 8-inch gun is far more powerful and has a greater range than the 6-inch gun, the smaller caliber gun has the advantage of being able to fire much more rapidly than the 8-inch gun.

        All three of the nations adhering to all provisions of the London treaty--France and Italy joined in some of the provisions--are over the treaty limit set for destroyers. The United States is far over the limit. But nearly all of the American destroyers were constructed during the World War. Many of them will become over age before the expiration of the London treaty in 1936. The United States has today a total of 284 destroyers, amounting in tonnage to 290,304 tons. This country and the British are each allowed 150,000 tons of destroyers. But of the total destroyer tonnage now possessed by the United States, only 33,571 tons will not be over age by 1936. It is clear, therefore, that the American Navy has considerable destroyer construction staring it in the face. The British today have 150 destroyers built, 20 building and another 3 appropriated for, a total of 191,261 tons. Japan has 102 destroyers built and 13 building, a total of 129,375 tons. The British and Japanese destroyers are not as old, however, as those of the United States, for 58,581 tons of the British destroyers will not be over age by 1936 and 93,205 tons of the Japanese destroyers will still be within the age limit at that time. Replacement of destroyers under the treaty will be in order. The United States may lay down as many as 116,429 tons of destroyers this year, if it desires, to replace over-age vessels; the British, 111,419 tons and the Japanese, 12,245.

        The British made desperate efforts to bring about an agreement eliminating submarines at the London conference. The United States was willing to go along with them in this demand. But it soon became clear that the French would never agree to this proposal. The treaty as finally drawn, however, reduced the submarine tonnage of the United States, Great Britain and Japan to 52,700 tons each. The treaty also provided that these under sea boats are not to exceed 2,000 tons each nor to mount guns in excess of 5.1 inches in caliber--except that each nation may retain, build, or acquire three submarines not to exceed 2,800 tons each with guns not in excess of 6.1 inches in caliber.

        At present the United States has 127 submarines, built, building, or appropriated for, of a total of 90,810 tons; the British have 66 submarines, totaling 63,324 tons; and the Japanese, 71 submarines totaling 77,842 tons. Some of the vessels are becoming over age or are already at that stage. Provision is made by the treaty for replacements. The United States, for example, is entitled to build 39,900 tons of new submarines for replacements during the life of the treaty.

        It is apparent that the United States, even had there been no treaty, would have to do a very considerable lot of naval building in the next six years owing to the fact that many of its vessels were becoming over age. That is, of course, if it was desired by Congress to keep the Navy efficient.

        Doubtless members of Congress will keep a weather eye out to see what the British and the Japanese are doing in the way of naval construction under the naval treaty. If these two countries should show an inclination not to build, there will be a demand by the "little Navy" men in our Congress that the United States refrain from building.

        The London Naval Treaty, however, contemplates for the United States a well-balanced, up-to-date Navy. It would appear to be the part of common sense for this country to attain a treaty strength Navy with as little delay as possible. It may be necessary, because of decreased government revenues, to go somewhat slowly in this matter. But the sooner a balanced naval program is outlined and undertaken by the Government, the better. Even should the 1935 naval conference provide for greater reduction in naval strength, the United States will have been fully justified in its construction toward the present treaty Navy. For it is well understood that a strong Navy in the hands of this country makes good bargaining for reduction of armaments when the Americans meet with the representatives of other nations about the conference table.


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1. Claude Augustus Swanson (1862-1939) held a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1893-1905, was governor of Virginia from 1906-1910, U.S. Senator from 1910-1933, and Secretary of the Navy from 1933-1939.