The London Naval Conference of 1930
This conference was the third in a series of conferences meant to slow, limit or eliminate large combat shipbuilding efforts among a group of nations that were seen as potential adversaries. From the State Department’s Historian:
“The purpose of the meetings was to promote disarmament in the wake of the devastation of the First World War; they began with the Washington Conference of 1921–22 and concluded with the London Conference of 1935. After an unsuccessful meeting in Geneva in 1927, Great Britain, the United States, Japan, France, and Italy gathered in London in 1930 to make a new attempt at revising and extending the terms of the Five Power Treaty of 1922.”
The 1927 conference was considered a failure since the US and Great Britain could not agree on the issue of cruisers. The 1922 conference was successful at limiting the growth of battleships, but the naval officials involved felt that cruisers were the most logical way of filling the perceived gaps.
The Americans were particularly concerned about the vast distances it would have to travel and defend in the Pacific. The 1922 treaty had many provisions that prevented building up bases in the Pacific outside of the ones already partially in place. Fortifications were prohibited in places like Guam in the Marianas and even established bases in the Philippines were placed under strict rules.
The size of the treaty cruisers was limited to 10,000 but they were big enough to travel greater distances without having to refuel. The smaller cruisers were just not as capable.
The British were still pushing hard at limiting or eliminating submarines as well. They were well aware that the smaller nations views submarines as the great equalizer in large combat areas. The newer fleet type boats that the Germans had used were the precursors to the more modern boats that were emerging. Double hulled, larger, increased weapons and motive power as well as a range of new devices that made them more accurate and effective.
The 1930 conference was going to be led more by the civilians than by the military men as had been the case before. In the American seat was a man who was secretary of state in the current administration but had been the Secretary of War during the First World War under Wilson
Henry L. Stimson
Stimson returned to the cabinet in 1929, when US President Herbert Hoover appointed him US Secretary of State. Both served until 1933. Stimson lived in the Woodley Mansion in Washington, DC, where he remained through 1946.
Shortly after being appointed as the new Secretary of State, Stimson shut down the Cipher Bureau (US cryptanalytic service, later known as the “Black Chamber”) in 1929. According to the NSA’s Center for Cryptologic History, Stimson likely dissolved the bureau for budgetary reasons. But he also considered intercepting diplomatic communications unethical and famously commented, “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.”
In 1930 and 1931, Stimson was the Chairman of the US delegation to the London Naval Conference of 1930. As the Secretary of War, he was a firsthand witness to the devastation and destruction caused by modern mechanized war. While the American navy had pushed back hard against the elimination of submarines. So, it must have been a shock to the community when this piece came out in February of 1930.
DEMANDS SUBS BE DROPPED
Stimson Makes Plea for Complete Abolishment Of Undersea Craft
Britain Joins America With Italy and Japan Straddling Fence
LONDON, Feb. 11. (U.P) —The five powers at the naval conference definitely have agreed to restrict the use of submarines against merchant ships to the same rules governing Surface vessels, Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson, chief American delegate, told the press’ this evening In commenting on today’s plenary session of the conference.
By RAYMOND CLAPPER United Press Staff Correspondent
United Press Staff Correspondent LONDON, Feb. 11. (U.P)—Urging the London naval conference to sweep awav technicalities and strategic arguments in the name of humanity, Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson, speaking at the plenary session of the conference at St. James palace today demanded total abolition of the submarine as a naval weapon.
“For this conference,’’ he said in one striking paragraph, “called under such influences, to sanction an instrument of war the abuses of which were directly responsible for calling the western world into the greatest European war of history, would be a contradiction of the purpose for which we have met.”
The chief American delegate said the time had come to “speak frankly” on the question of submarines, and that it was the “conviction of the world that inhumane use of the submarine should cease.”
Stimson pointed out that arguments holding the submarine is a defensive weapon fall to the ground when past use of the submarine, far from its home ports, is recalled.
He emphasized the danger, even though agreements limiting the use of submarines may exist, of temptation to use the weapon in any way best suited to a belligerent’s needs, regardless of any accepted code of warfare.
George Leygues, the French minister of marine, taking issue with the American and British delegates, presented France’s demands for continuation of the submarine as an active force in the world’s navies.
l.eygues said his nation was willing to agree to the adoption of regulations regarding the use of submarines, and accepted the principles of the Root resolution outlawing unrestricted submarine war fare.
Leygues proposed a resolution
Leygues proposed a resolution providing for the appointment of a committee to prepare an agreement to be signed by all naval powers, to regulate submarine attacks on merchant ships in accordance with present rules applied to surface war- ships.
Following A. V. Alexander, first lord of the British admiralty, who outlined the British position supporting the American demand, Leygues made the following points summarizing the attitude of France:
“First, the submarine is a warship like other vessels.
“Second, the submarine is a defensive weapon which the naval powers cannot do without.
“Third, the use of the submarine should and can be regulated as other warships are regulated.”
The French naval minister defended at length the right of nations to use submarines legitimately and laid emphasis upon the geographical position of France and the necessity of defending her long lines of communication, necessitating the use of sub-surface ships.
The Italian foreign minister, accepted the submarine abolition in behalf of Italy, providing it is acceptable to all the powers. Admiral Takeshi Takhrabe delivered Japan’s pronouncement on submarines, in district opposition to the British and American viewpoints.
Explaining Italy’s stand, Brandi said his country was ready to renew an undertaking restricting the use of submarines against merchant ships. Brandi reiterated the argument that the submarine is the best weapon for small powers. The plenary session adjourned at 1:03 PM
Imperial Valley press. (El Centro, Calif.), 11 Feb. 1930.
By February 14, it was becoming obvious that the elimination of submarines was not going to be realized.
The only promise on a cut in present small ship strength is held out in the suggestion that mutual protective agreements might, influence a change in France’s tonnage requirements. Without such agreements, it is probable the achievements of the London naval conference will be limited to three:
First, a reduction in battleship strength.
Second, a broad limitation—or rather stabilization—of other classes of warships, with some additional building by France and Japan.
Third, the “humanization” of submarine warfare, under which undersea boats will be subject to regulations similar to those imposed on surface ships.
Imperial Valley press. (El Centro, Calif.), 14 Feb. 1930
Submarines and the 1930 treaty
In the end, submarine size and armament were to be restricted.
- No submarine the standard displacement of which exceeds 2,000 tons (2,032 metric tons) or with a gun above 5.1 inch (130 mm) calibre shall be acquired by or constructed by or for any of the High Contracting Parties.
- Each of the High Contracting Parties may, however, retain, build or acquire a maximum number of three submarines of a standard displacement not exceeding 2,800 tons (2,845 metric tons); these submarines may carry guns not above 6.1 inch (155 mm) calibre. Within this number, France may retain one unit, already launched, of 2,880 tons (2,926 metric tons), with guns the calibre of which is 8 inches (203 mm).
- The High Contracting Parties may retain the submarines which they possessed on 1 April 1930 having a standard displacement not in excess of 2,000 tons (2,032 metric tons) and armed with guns above 5.1 inch (130 mm) calibre.
- As from the coming into force of the present Treaty in respect of all the High Contracting Parties, no submarine the standard displacement of which exceeds 2,000 tons (2,032 metric tons) or with a gun above
5.1 inch (130 mm) calibre shall be constructed within the jurisdiction of any of the High Contracting Parties, except as provided in paragraph 2 of this Article.
Discord at Home
Within 24 hours of the announcement of the conclusion of the negotiations, both the House and the Senate naval committees voiced loud objections and announced investigations and interviews would be conducted.
But Senator Reed spoke at length about the successes of the conference. In part, he said:
“In submarines our problem has been different, because while we are encouraged by the agreement of the five powers to use the submarines in a humane way, nevertheless the temptation to sink merchant ships without warning is very real and we felt that the world would better insured against such a murderous submarine campaign as occurred in the last war if the submarine as an instrument of warfare was altogether abolished.
“Some of the other nations were not ready to go so far. however, and the best we could do was to agree to a parity in such vessels at a low figure between Great Britain and Japan and ourselves, a figure that requires the destruction of a considerable number of these vessels in the British, Japanese and the American fleets and to that extent removes the menace to innocent life that results from the very existence of these rattlesnakes of the sea.”
In the end, the depression and the moderate voices in congress joined with the President and passed the treaty.
The London Naval Treaty went into effect and was ratified in October 27, 1930. October 27 is Navy Day in the United States. Based on the further limitations of growth for the US Navy, it is no certain that the celebration was very joyful that day.
The Treaty was given short attention in the yards and docks of Japan. By 1931, her conflict with China would heat up once more and within a few years, Japan abandoned all pretexts of adhering to the treaty. Old ships like the Hiei were modernized and would accompany the expanded and powerful carrier fleet to Hawaii in December 1941.
What about Stimson?
In 1940, President Roosevelt returned him to his old job as the War Department head. The choice of Stimson, a conservative Republican, was a calculated effort by the president to win bipartisan support for what was considered the almost-inevitable US entrance into the war. Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Stimson entered in his diary the following statement: “[Roosevelt] brought up the event that we are likely to be attacked perhaps next Monday, for the Japanese are notorious for making an attack without warning, and the question was what we should do. The question was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.”
One of the projects that Stimson personally managed was the Manhattan Project. From inception to deliverance of the two bombs that were use as a method to convince the Japanese to end their war. That is a story for another time.
In 1930, Henry L. Stimson publicly disavowed the building and use of submarines. That makes what happened long after his death rather ironic. The USS Henry L. Stimson (SSBN-655), a Benjamin Franklin class fleet ballistic missile submarine, was the only ship of the United States Navy to be named for Henry L. Stimson (1867–1950), who served as U.S. Secretary of State (1929–1933) and U.S. Secretary of War (1911–1913, 1940–1945).
This completes the 30 days of submarine month on theleansubmariner for 2022.
I hope you have enjoyed reading some of the not so familiar stories of the first 30 years of the American Submarine Story. I am going to take a little time off to finish the editing process on my book “Every Moment Mattered”. Then I will be putting some additional notes together for the stories published this month and develop that into another book project.