77th Congress                Senate               Document
  1st Session             (Ser. 10545)             No. 617


JULY 29 (legislative day, JULY 28), 1941-Ordered to be printed

Mr. WALSH, from the Committee on Naval Affairs, submitted the following


[To accompany S. Res. 138, a resolution authorizing an investigation of charges that American naval vessels are convoying ships or have destroyed German naval vessels]

The Committee on Naval Affairs, to whom was referred Senate Resolution 138, introduced by Senator Wheeler on June 30 and referred to the Committee on Naval Affairs, submit the following report the Senate:


The committee considered that its function was to conduct a preliminary hearing for the purpose of determining the question of whether not to recommend to the Senate favorable action in support of an extensive and complete investigation into the subject matter presented therein.

The committee did not consider it necessary to do more at this time

than to report to the Senate the results of its preliminary investigation and await the further action of the Senate regarding any further action desired. The evidence presented to the committee was confined to the officials of the Navy Department who alone were in a position to inform the committee of the facts.

The resolution contains various "whereases" in which were set forth various statements printed in newspapers and written by columnists dealing with naval operations at sea. The particular statements are set forth in the resolution and referred to hereafter in detail.

The resolution contained two important "resolves":

First, an investigation of the charges that American naval units are convoying or escorting ships at sea; and

Second, that American naval units are shooting or dropping depth bombs on German naval units.

Page 2

The committee made detailed investigations into these two subjects, and also made inquiries of the representatives of the Navy Department before the committee on many phases of Navy policies and activities up to the present time.

In view of the limited and ex parte nature of its preliminary inquiry the committee is of the opinion that it should make its report in the nature of questions and answers rather than pass judgment on the accuracy and inaccuracy of the statements of evidence present in detail.


Excerpts from the hearing held on July 11, 1941, when Hon. Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy, and Admiral H. R. Stark, Chief Of Naval Operations, appeared before the committee in executive session are as follows:

The CHAIRMAN. Secretary Knox, the first paragraph of the first "whereas" in Senate Resolution 138, which the committee has under consideration, reads as follows:

"Whereas on June 2, 1941, Joseph W. Alsop was sworn in as a Naval Reserve officer by the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, and

"Whereas the said Alsop, as co-author of a syndicated newspaper column, on June 9, 1941, 1 week after he had taken the oath as a Naval Reserve officer, stated in that column:

"In one case, rather more than a month ago, an encounter between German and American warcraft at sea very nearly terminated in an attack by the Germans. In another, slightly more recent, an attack on what was believed to be a German submarine was actually made by an American destroyer."

The committee will be pleased to have your comments on this statement.

Secretary Knox. We haven't any knowledge whatever of any such incident. In fact, we are supremely confident it never occurred. I think it is a pure fabrication out of whole cloth. Not any officer of ours-and the Chief of Naval Operations will support me in this-had ever heard of such an incident, and certainly the officer commanding the American ships involved would have been in duty bound to report.

The CHAIRMAN. The second paragraph of this first "whereas" reads as follows:

"No details of the first episode are available, but the basic facts of the second are known.

"The destroyer, the name of which cannot be ascertained, was picking up

survivors from a British vessel sunk not far from the coast of Greenland. While the operation was in progress the destroyer's detecting device announced the approach of a submarine. The submarine could only have been German. It was virtually certain to use its torpedoes, as semi-darkness concealed the nationality of the American ship. And the commander of the destroyer accordingly dropped three depth charges.

"Thus, although the President is waiting for the Germans to shoot first, the truth is that there has been shooting already."

Secretary KNOX. Now, here are the facts: One United States destroyer operating off Greenland heard the S O S of a steamer and proceeded to the location and picked up 60 of the survivors of the steamer. While engaged in this act of mercy, the operator of the listening equipment reported to the captain that he thought he heard a submerged submarine. The captain immediately turned toward the direction indicated and dropped three depth charges. In doing

Page 3

this, he very prudently exercised the right of self-preservation, for had there been a submarine there, his destroyer might have been sunk. There was no other evidence that a submarine was there and it is quite possible no submarine was there. The listening-equipment echo might have been received from a whale or a large fish, or a cold current, instead of a submarine-something which is frequently experienced.

Now, none of them knew whether there was a sub there or not, but the man in command did what any man would do who was on the verge of an attack by a submarine. He would do it in self-defense.

Senator JOHNSON. Now, how did these people get hold of that story?

Secretary KNOX. I happen to know how they got hold of that, because I went after the fellow with spikes in my boots. As I understand it, it was told to a Boston Post reporter on the streets of Boston by a couple of members of the crew of the destroyer when she came home.

The CHAIRMAN. Was it published first in the Boston Post?

Secretary KNOX. I do not know that. We did not get any word whatever of this for 2 weeks, so when the rumor first reached our office it was categorically denied. We had no knowledge whatever of it. Later we got the details as I have given them to you here.

The CHAIRMAN. Did you get the details voluntarily from the officer in command of the destroyer?

Secretary KNOX. Yes; he made a written report to his commander in chief.

The CHAIRMAN. By request of the Navy Department?

Secretary KNOX. No; not at all. Am I right about that, Admiral?

Admiral STARK. Yes; made to Admiral King, and King sent it right down to the office.

Senator BREWSTER. In this instance we have the peculiar angle that this man was apparently a member of the Navy Department at the time this happened. How does that affect the picture? This Alsop was sworn in, as we understand, as a Naval Reserve officer 1 week before this happened.

Secretary KNOX. Yes.

Senator BREWSTER. What about discipline?

Secretary KNOX. I gave him the most godawful bawling out that a man ever got.

Senator BREWSTER. Do you think, Mr. Secretary, that that answers the question.

Secretary KNOX. That is as far as I went.

Senator JOHNSON. These incidents that you say were utterly false occurred just prior to his being commissioned, did they not?

Secretary KNOX. Just after.

The CHAIRMAN. Just before he was assigned to duty.

Secretary KNOX. He was a commissioned officer when I talked to him.

Senator JOHNSON. He was a commissioned officer when you talked to him?

Secretary Knox. Yes, sir.

Senator JOHNSON. He is performing now the duties abroad that have been assigned to him?

Secretary KNOX. That is right.

Page 4

Senator JOHNSON. They are of a secret and confidential nature are they not?

Secretary KNOX. They are.

Senator JOHNSON. Well, what possible dependence can you place upon a man performing accurately a confidential mission when you have had such experience with him as you have had?

Secretary KNOX. Well, you have to choose. I gave him hell, all right. You had to choose between a reprimand and a discharge. My judgment may have been in error. I took the former rather than the latter course.

Senator JOHNSON. The lapse of time between his appointment and the incident was very short; wasn't it?

Secretary KNOX. That is right. It was very short.

Senator BYRD. One week. He was sworn in on June 2 as he wrote this article on June 9.

Secretary KNOX. I think that was the first article.

Senator BYRD. Mr. Secretary, what are his duties now?

Secretary KNOX. What is that?

Senator BYRD. What are his duties now.

Secretary KNOX. He is in the Intelligence Service.

Senator BYRD. Wasn't he given an assignment which is given to people with very unusual qualifications and which is very desirable?

Secretary KNOX. I would not say so. Of course I cannot discuss what the assignment is, but I would not say it is very desirable.

Senator BYRD. Your reprimand dealt, as I understand it, with the second incident; not the first?

Secretary KNOX. I do not know anything about the first.

Senator BYRD. The first incident was very much worse than the second. He states a fact that never occurred at all.

Secretary KNOX. Completely untrue.

Senator BYRD. Should not that be made a part of the record? Should not he be reprimanded more severely for that than simply for all indiscretion?

Secretary KNOX. I did not go into the specifications. I was just bawling him out for writing as he did.

Senator BYRD. If he was a was al Reserve officer at the time and had been sworn in a week before it seems to me that is much more reprehensible. What disturbs me about it, Mr. Secretary, very frankly is that you gave him this confidential commission, which must have been of some importance, after this occurrence and after your reprimand to him.

Secretary KNOX. I would have to do one of two things: Either discharge him or reprimand him and I reprimanded him. The assignment to this particular duty came subsequently. He is now active in the Navy.

The CHAIRMAN. The next whereas in Senate Resolution 138 is as follows:

"Whereas on June 23, 1941, Drew Pearson and Robert S. Allen in their syndicated newspaper column charged:

"A group of American naval vessels has just returned from its first experience at Atlantic 'patrol,' or 'convoying.' Whatever it is called, they helped to get about 80 British merchantmen safely most of the way to the West Coast of Africa. Then the British took over.

"Three United States airplane carriers, six destroyers, and three cruisers accompanied the convoy across the Atlantic-but never within sight of the 80 British merchantmen.

Page 5

"One airplane carrier steamed ahead of the merchantmen, another to the rear, another to the north. Each carrier was protected by two destroyers, zigzagging constantly The carriers performed the most important part of the patrol, keeping their airplanes constantly scouring the sky.

"Once a plane sighted a German surface raider and radioed its position to British warships, which rushed up and sank her. The battle took place so close to American vessels that they could hear the fighting, though they never saw the ships. United States radio operators picked up the distress message sent to Berlin by the Nazi vessel saying that she was sinking.

"On another occasion, an airplane-carrier detector picked up the vibrations of a submarine, and signaled it come to the surface. When there was no answer, United States destroyers immediately dropped depth charges. After that the detector picked up no more vibrations.

"When the patrol reached its meeting place with the British near Cape Verde Islands off the African coast it turned north and shortly after this the 12 United States naval vessels headed home."

Secretary KNOX. That is a perfect piece of fabrication. There isn't a word of truth in it of any kind.

The CHAIRMAN. That statement goes down to the statement beginning "On another occasion"?

Secretary KNOX. Yes; down to "On another occasion" and including that. That is completely manufactured out of whole cloth.

The CHAIRMAN. Where did they get this information?

Secretary KNOX. I haven't the faintest idea. It looks to me like a pure invention.

Senator TYDINGS. That is worse than the other. Are you including the paragraph starting with "On another occasion"?

Secretary KNOX. Yes; the one about dropping depth charges. There isn't a particle of truth in it.

Senator BONE. Then the entire statement is utterly false?

Secretary KNOX The entire statement is utterly false.

Senator LUCAS. Every sentence?

Secretary KNOX. Every single word in it, without qualification.

Senator BREWSTER. Nothing in it is true?

Secretary KNOX. Nothing whatever.

Senator TYDINGS. Mr. Secretary, if I may ask you two or three questions. It may be somewhat superfluous, but I would like to put it out in the clear. There was no incident where one or more airplane carriers convoyed 80 or a lesser amount of British merchantmen across

the ocean?

Secretary KNOX. Never.

Senator TYDINGS. There was no case where a battle took place at sea which we inspired or that we stood by and listened to?

Secretary KNOX. Nothing of that kind whatever. We do not know a single thing about it, and we would know about it if it ever happened.

Admiral STARK. We never heard of it.

* * * * * * *

Admiral STARK. As regards our men-of-war going over with the British convoy and turning them over to the British authorities, there is just nothing in it at all. We have never convoyed a single merchant ship with the exception that early in the war, the American flag steamship Iriquois was bringing home a large number of Americans. It all came out in the press that somebody warned-as a matter of fact it came from the Germans that the British were going to blow her up with a bomb. We put no credence in it, but we immediately sent

Page 6

ships out and escorted her from somewhere off the Grand Banks to New York. That is the only instance where we escorted a merchant ship.

The CHAIRMAN. The other "whereas" in Senate Resolution 138 is as follows:

"Whereas on June 23 1941, Gen. Hugh S. Johnson in his syndicated column stated:

"To all experienced eye there can be small doubt, after reading innocent but censored letters from young naval officers, that we have already sunk Nazi submarines. A submerged sub isn't so hot with the radio. A depth bomb leaves no trace. If this is an incorrect conjecture, and it can be no more than conjecture there is little doubt that our Navy "spots" German subs and guides British ships to them.

"It seems to be quite generally believed that the seizure of great passenger liners and recent shifts of the Navy from the Pacific (not through the Panama Canal, but around Cape Horn) are preparatory to an attack on Dakar in West Africa, or other key Atlantic positions.

"What's the difference between that and outright war?"

Secretary KNOX. There is no truth in it whatever. I do not know but what these young naval officers may have written I am sure, but the incident never occurred. We have never sunk any submarines.


* * * * * * *


The CHAIRMAN. Admiral, it was enlightening and helpful to hear you saying that naval vessels have not participated in any convoying. What distinction does the Navy make between patrolling and convoying?

Admiral STARK. The public uses the word "convoy" more often than it uses the word "escort." A large number of ships together would constitute a convoy, even were the Navy with it, or without the Navy, but if you put naval ships with it to protect it you escort the convoy, and I might say we have escorted no merchant ships whatever, with the single exception of the Iroquis.

* * * * * * *


Question. All information in the possession of the Navy relating to attacks made upon United States vessels and planes.

Secretary Knox. None made; none whatever, except as attacked by the Axis vessels on ours. Is that it?

Question. All information in the possession of the Navy relating to attacks upon United States vessels and planes?

Secretary KNOX. None made; except the Robin Moor, the Panay, and the Tutuila, all of which are well known. In case the committee is not familiar with the Tutuila incident, she was struck by a bomb fragment during a recent bombing raid of the Japs on Chungking. The Tutuila was anchored in the designated spot, well clear of Chinese ships and installations.

* * * * * * *

Page 7


Question. All information in the possession of the Navy relating to attacks by United States Naval or Coast Guard vessels or planes on Axis vessels or planes?

Secretary KNOX. None made whatever, except that the Panay fired in self-defense when she was bombed.

Senator TYDINGS. That was how long ago?

Secretary KNOX. Two years ago.


Question. What in general are the orders and instructions which have heretofore been issued to commanding officers of vessels and airplanes on neutrality patrol?

Secretary KNOX. Of course that is secret information.

The CHAIRMAN. That cannot be disclosed.


Question. Are any additional steps or orders contemplated which would cause American ships of war or American personnel to fire upon the ships or personnel of any other nation?

Secretary KNOX. AS I have already stated, I am not at liberty to discuss operating plans, contemplated or otherwise. I would not be doing my duty if I did not require the Chief of Naval Operations, as directed by law, to prepare operating plans in advance so that the Navy can be effective under all eventualities. We are not at war, and the nature of these plans is a military secret which I cannot disclose. I may add that this procedure goes on year in and year out in the Navy Department, even when times are most peaceful, and even then such matters are inherently of the greatest secrecy.


Question. Does collaboration with any other country envisage shooting by American ships on the ships of other nations.

Secretary Knox. That falls in the same category.

Senator JOHNSON. What do you mean by that, by "falls in the same category"? As what?

Secretary KNOX. The word is "collaboration." That necessarily would mean plans, I take it, and whatever plans we may have for a future war in collaboration with some other nation.

Senator JOHNSON. I think it is in the present, whether the collaboration exists now, in writing or otherwise, with any other country regarding the ships of any other nation.

Secretary KNOX. Again I repeat, Senator, that is secret information.

Senator JOHNSON. Now, has there been any change in the orders since the peaceful taking of Iceland?

Secretary KNOX. The only thing we have to date, sir, is contained in the message of the President on Iceland. I would like to read just two paragraphs.

Senator JOHNSON. They are in general terms, aren't they?

Secretary KNOX. Yes they are in general terms.

* * * * * * *

Page 8

The CHAIRMAN. What we are trying to do here is to break down the opinion that has been given to the public through these statements that our Navy is pursuing a course of participation, remotely or indirectly, in war. The evidence shows that is not the fact.

Admiral STARK. That is right. In other words, the public has been led to believe we were shooting, working with British ships. That is not true.

Senator BONE. The trouble with these reports circulated by these newsmen-I know it is true in my State-when we want to get a statement clarified they will not disclose anything.

The CHAIRMAN. And we can assure the American people that there is no undeclared war, a hidden war, or a naval war as far as we are concerned?

Secretary KNOX. That is right.

* * * * * * *


Question. Information regarding the occupation of Iceland, including the number of American troops landed, the number of British troops replaced by American troops, the date that the occupation was decided upon, and all other matters and things relating thereto?

Secretary KNOX. Obviously, I am not at liberty to answer this question. The answer to it, as to many of these other questions would be eagerly welcomed by certain foreign powers. And disclosure of military information may well result in the unnecessary sacrifice of life. Of course, the Germans would love to know how many troops there are there, and they would like to know how many the British had there.

Senator JOHNSON. Can you answer any part of it?

Secretary KNOX. No.

Senator JOHNSON. Well, it is published all over the world, isn't it?

Secretary KNOX. What?

Senator JOHNSON. The number of troops.

Secretary KNOX. No. Some very erroneous figures have been published that I have seen.

Admiral STARK. Utterly erroneous.

* * * * * * *

Senator BYRD. The President announced that he would supplant them. Churchill told the House of Commons that they would be there jointly. So if the Germans attack the British troops they would likewise have to attack the American troops.

* * * * * * *

Senator LUCAS. As one of the members of the committee I want to go on record now-you may transfer this to the proper authorities or what it is worth-as one member of the committee I want to go on record now as saying that I am one who hopes that the British will evacuate the troops that they have in there and let the world know that there is no one in there but American troops, on the island of Iceland. If that isn't done and the bombers come over and bomb Iceland and kill 100 American soldiers and 200 English, or vice versa, then we are in for a considerable amount of trouble, without getting the unanimity of thought from your people back home that you

Page 9

ought to have. If you leave American soldiers there alone and then your bombers come over and destroy American lives, and they know nobody is there but American soldiers, then you get a repercussion back home that you want. But you will never get it if you fraternize with the English soldiers on that island, and you are bound to have trouble just as sure as anything in this world if you keep them there.

Senator JOHNSON. How soon will that come?

Senator LUCAS. I don't know, Senator Johnson. I pass that along for what it is worth, and I think it is worth a whole lot.

Senator BYRD. I agree with you on that.

The CHAIRMAN. I think there is a general unanimity of opinion on that.

Senator LUCAS. I think that that point, Mr. Chairman, if it is agreeable to the committee, ought to be stressed, and the President of the United States ought to know what this Naval Affairs Committee is thinking about.

* * * * * * *


Question. Whether or not the Navy expects to seize or occupy additional strategic locations?

Secretary KNOX. I do not suppose anybody wants me to answer that.

The CHAIRMAN. I suppose that includes the thought that has been expressed in the press, that it may be contemplated establishing bases

in northern Ireland and Scotland.

Senator RUSSELL. You were answering the question a few minutes ago when you were interrupted.

Secretary KNOX. I will be glad to talk about that. Regarding Senator Taft's statement in regard to the bases in the British Isles, the British Government has contracted with American contractors for the construction of certain bases in the British Isles. The details and locations of these bases must necessarily remain secret The materials for the bases are being provided for the British Government with funds appropriated under the Lease-Lend Act. The cost of construction at the sites is being paid for by the British Government with their own funds.

* * * * * * *

The CHAIRMAN. Are you in a position to say Mr. Secretary, that there are no contemplated plans at all for establishing naval bases in northern Ireland?

Secretary KNOX. These bases are being established now, not for our use but for British use.

The CHAIRMAN. Not for our use?

Secretary KNOX. That is right.

The CHAIRMAN. Not for use of the United States Navy?

Secretary KNOX. No. It is being done for the British.

Senator BYRD. Being done by an American contractor?

Secretary KNOX. Yes.

Senator JOHNSON. Do you think you would be right in using them if the occasion shall arise? If we shall get in the war?

Secretary KNOX. We will probably use all kinds of British bases if, we get in the war.

Page 10

Senator JOHNSON. Certainly. These bases are as much for our purposes as they are for the British purposes, are they not?

Secretary KNOX. Not now they are not.

Senator JOHNSON. Why not?

Secretary KNOX. Because we are not in the war.

Senator JOHNSON. Well, we are paying the cost of them, aren't we?

Secretary KNOX. We are paying for them out of the lease lend funds. As a matter of fact, we are repairing their battleships in our yards and paying for it out of the lease-lend funds.

* * * * * * *

Senator LUCAS. Whatever the English do with it, that is a matter within their own discretion.

Secretary KNOX. Correct.

Senator LUCAS. The only interest we have in it is just what you explained here in answer to the previous question?

Secretary KNOX. That is right.

Senator BYRD. The labor is being paid for by the British Government, you say?

Secretary KNOX. Paid for by the British Government.

Senator BONE. How are our funds employed in building the bases?

Secretary KNOX. Our funds are not employed in them at all.

Admiral STARK. That is for material only, Senator Bone.

Secretary KNOX. Those are out of the lease-lend funds.

Admiral STARK. Those are out of the lease-lend funds.

* * * * * * *


Question. All information regarding the cooperation the United States Navy has extended to the British Navy?

Secretary KNOX. Collaboration with the British along the lines of the Lend-Lease Act. That is the only collaboration to date.

* * * * * * *


Question. Information concerning the additional steps that are contemplated to increase the aid that is now being given to the British Navy?

Secretary KNOX. I have nothing on that subject, except under the terms of the Lend-Lease Act.

* * * * * * *


Question. The steps that have been taken and the steps contemplated to operate American ships and planes from British ports or bases?

This is again an operating question and is in the same category.

* * * * * * *

Secretary KNOX. If you put that all in the past tense, up to this time.

Senator LUCAS. You have, up to this moment, operated no planes or ships from British ports, then?

Page 11

Secretary KNOX. That is right.

Admiral STARK. Unless you consider Bermuda or Trinidad when you say "British ports."

Senator LUCAS. I understand; but in European waters, where we consider the combat zones are, no ships or planes of any kind have ever been operated in that territory?

Secretary KNOX. That is right.


Question. Information concerning any instructions which may have been issued to American naval officers to insure that American vessels and planes will not be mistaken for British vessels or planes?

Secretary KNOX. That is also in the secret category.

Senator LUCAS. Is it safe to say we are not operating as British vessels, we are not flying British flags, so forth and so on? We are operating as we have always operated, as far as American vessels are concerned? We are not doing any camouflaging?

Secretary KNOX. No. We are keeping our lights on, and everything.

Senator LUCAS. Not trying to make anyone believe we are in the British Navy?

Secretary KNOX. No.

* * * * * * *


Senator BREWSTER. There is quite a large story that the Ranger had its bow blown off by a German bomb.

Admiral STARK. A United States ship, the U. S. S. Ranger?

Senator BREWSTER. Yes.

Admiral STARK. I have never heard of it

Senator BREWSTER. There is nothing to that story?

Admiral STARK. No.

* * * * * * *


Another whereas set forth in Senate Resolution 138 is as follows:

"Whereas other reports circulate to the effect that some of our ships have sunk German ships; and that American sailors are in London servicing American planes:"

The Secretary of the Navy's testimony to the committee clearly indicated that no ships of the United States Navy have sunk German ships, and that American sailors are not in London servicing American planes.

The questions on this point asked Secretary Knox were as follows:

"Question. Can you give the committee any information regarding the number of officers and men of the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard on British vessels with British aircraft units or on British soil, and the kind of duty they perform?

"Secretary KNOX. I do not have the numbers with me but may answer this question in general that we are taking every advantage of placing observers in positions where information obtained will be useful to the United States.

"Senator BONE. Admiral, they are only placed there as observers, of course?

"Admiral STARK. That is all."

Page 12


The committee is of the opinion that no further investigation need be undertaken at this time as the preliminary hearings covered the subject by a detailed examination of naval officials who were in a position to furnish the committee with the facts.

This HTML document was created by GT_HTML 6.0d 08/05/96 9:08 AM.