The Status of Our Navy


By CLARK H. WOODWARD, Rear Admiral, U. S. Navy; Commandant, Third Naval District

Delivered at the 172nd Annual Banquet of the Chamber of Commerce, State of New York, New York CityNovember 14, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol VII, pp. 111-114

MR. PRESIDENT, distinguished guests, members of the New York State Chamber of Commerce: I feel greatly honored at the invitation to be with you at this 172nd annual banquet. I deem it a special privilege,—one rarely accorded a naval officer,—to address such a representative group of men of the New York business world,—a large cross-section of the financial, commercial and industrial interests of this great country.

We, of the Navy, always enjoy exchanging ideas with our civilian friends. Getting the "other fellow's" viewpoint

should be mutually beneficial. At this particular time, when world conditions are in such a chaotic state, the armed services of the country need your help and active cooperation in preparing for the future. Such men as you, who are present tonight, can and do exert great influence in molding public opinion. Our national security needs thatassistance, and will need it for several years to come in order to prevent our becoming an "also defeated" nation.

On the first of September, one year ago, Europe was plunged into another great conflict which has shaken the foundations of the world. The past six months have been a period of most active and fierce fighting,—pressure warfare,—the equal of which has never been known in recorded history.

In this mad gamble for mastery of Europe,—which is only the first phase of a determined totalitarian attempt at world domination,—14 nations have completely lost their independence or some part of their territory, over which now flies the flag of a foreign aggressor. In addition alien armies are now maneuvering and fighting in three other quasi-neutral countries. Previous efforts at conciliation, negotiation and appeasement proved utterly ineffective.

The momentum of mechanized warfare,—increasing with each successive campaign,—has obliterated frontiers and overwhelmed or partitioned impotent neighbors. Swift, skillful and brutal strokes have brought one crushing defeat after another. In countries bordering the war area confusion is only equalled by dismay, as they fully realize that totalitarian states,—with will to power and mind to fight,— won't suffer peaceful and free peoples to go their way unmolested. Tomorrow lies before them as a menacing question mark, for dictators, drunk with power, can not stop in their greedy desire for new conquests.

But as one nation still remains uncrushed, the war is not yet decided. In fact, as there is no evidence of a dent in British resistance, the end of this life and death struggle is by no means in sight,—even though further reserves of massed brutal frightfulness are in store. Control of the sea is still in British hands.

Asia and Africa present a similar, but far less spectacular picture. The war-burdened Far East, in chronic turmoil, has been ablaze with the fury of a brutal undeclared war for nearly three years. Though the conflict covers a vast territory, it has not been as ferocious nor the results as marked as in the European counterpart. As for Africa, war in that quarter is a co-related part of the European conflict. So far it has resulted in the over-running of one neutral nation by one of the major belligerents.

As a matter of fact, the world is now going through its greatest crisis since the Renaissance,—a world revolution the avowed purpose of which is to crush the "degenerate democracies." It is a fundamental conflict between two diametrically opposite and eternally irreconcilable philosophies of government,—the totalitarian based on fear, hate and brute force; the democratic based on freedom under justice. It is the totalitarian that inevitably wars on democracies.

The totalitarian victories won so far have caused disturbing reverberations in the Americas. They have resulted from the democracies' weakness. Nor can democracies remain safe in a lawless world continually threatened by totalitarian wars. In consequence, for the first time, the United States,—realizing that the European war might spread to our shores, and rapidly,—has awakened to its own vulnerability and is now desperately, though belatedly, exerting its energies toward building up its armed forces to sufficient strength to meet any eventuality.

In addition, the United States is actively seeking to buttress the security of the Western Hemisphere by some form of international cooperation and defense. This is evidenced particularly by the Administration's frequent pronouncements; by the Pan-American Pact of last July and subsequent negotiations; by the permanent Joint American-Canadian Defense Board appointed in August; and by the acquisition of sites for naval and air bases from Great Britain the early part of September.

This latter, by the way, is one of the greatest defense strokes ever made in behalf of the protection of this country, increasing, as it does, our east coast security by at least 75%, and enormously strengthening our capacity for more adequate defense of the Western Hemisphere. Without them our security plans would have remained dangerously vulnerable.

From a national security standpoint 1940 is one of the most decisive years in our history since the Revolution. With our greatly increased and modernized Army and two-ocean Navy we are removing the weaknesses which proved so fatal to the European democracies.

Events leading up to the present wars in Europe, Asia and Africa have convinced us of the impossibility of securing peace by the idealistic and benevolent doctrines so mili-

tantly preached by the well-meaning but ill-informed pacifists and isolationists since the World War. On the contrary peace does and must depend on realistic armed preparedness as has been concurrently and continuously (for many years past) urged by the nation's expert military and naval paid protectors.

Experience abroad during the past 2 1/2 years has shown definitely that vacuous sentimentality and appeasement, when dealing with ruthless dictators, accomplished less than nothing. Outraged humanity, in the end, had to resort to arms for self-protection but delay proved fatal in a lawless world ruled by naked force. It is evident that peace must be defended with weapons of war, particularly when foreign swaggering bandit legions are on the march. They can be stopped only by force,—that being the only language they understand. The conditions in Europe and Asia have forced upon us the grave burden of total defense,—democracy's answer to total war.

The unanimous sentiment throughout the United States at the present time in support of such a mission is heartening proof that we have at last acquired a national understanding of our threatened condition, and therefore can not feel secure from an aggressive, covetous and ambitious potential enemy,—with a fiendish zeal for world conquest by force of arms,—without a strong and efficient armed force of our own, on land and sea and in the air, on which to rely.

The tragic events of the past year have shown us that unpreparedness led first to treaty breaking, then to arrogant defiance of international law and order, followed by invasion and brutal war in which erstwhile pacific and defenseless victims were bludgeoned into submission by insolent, murderous, "co-operating" aggressors who claimed they were merely "helping the maintain order and preserve peace."

Belated efforts toward preparedness in each case proved of no avail. The nations concerned are now paying the price for their failure to follow Washington's injunction to "prepare for war in time of peace." Their dire fate should be an impressive warning to nations which have not yet felt the aggressor's heel.

Fortunately, Americans though a pacific people at heart, are not pacifistic. I must admit, however, that until last year they had been leaning strongly in that direction since the World War. This was due primarily to the efforts of misguided but honest lovers of peace and wishful thinkers, abetted and urged on by designing demagogs spreading quack "peace" doctrines as panaceas. These were reinforced by paid professional propagandists, internationalists and communists in their high-powered long-range effort to undermine our national security by infectious ideological teachings,—against which latter unfortunately the army and navy can offer no protection.

As a matter of history our country was born of armed adventure and won its independence by a long course of conflict. Subsequently, during its 163 years of existence it has resorted to the sword many times, including participation in five foreign wars since the Revolution.

In each of these major conflicts we entered in an utterly unprepared state, both on land and on sea, despite previous tragic experience. Our experience in the World War was no different. More than half of our soldiers were sent to France in borrowed ships to fight the war with munitions and equipment purchased from the Allies. During our entire participation (except for naval guns) we never fired an American cannon nor flew an American aeroplane. Further comment regarding our criminal lack of preparedness is superfluous.

Fortunately we had Allies to protect us during that periodof floundering. In the future, should we ever have to go to war again,—which God forbid,—we will have to depend on our own equipment, supplies and munitions, and also on our own ships for transportation, as we can not count on any ally to help us.

Since the last Great War this world has never been free from international conflict, at least one war being recorded each year. During the past 18 months many new wars,— brutalitarian as well as totalitarian,—have broken out, so that today nearly two-thirds of the world are engaged in armed conflict of enormous proportions.

In the ever widening whirlpool of participation still other peoples are momentarily expecting to be drawn in. It is a continuous performance. As Napoleon laconically expressed the same thought: "War is as old as the world and will endure as long."

Never before, in the history of the world has there been a more difficult period than that which we are now facing. Present conditions should give us a deep and anxious concern, for our enormous stake in the world must be protected at all costs.

Never before, in times of peace, have the American people had greater need for clear vision, calm consideration of facts and cold precise reasoning regarding our national safety than exists today. The rapid marching events in Europe, particularly during the past year and a half, have been a terrible awakening to us and made us seriously realize that the country must be safeguarded against all potential aggressors, and that as quickly as possible.

Never before have our people been so fully impressed with the value of naval and military preparedness. The appalling sacrifice of blood and treasure, forced without warning upon small and peaceful nations, and their ruthless devastation and dismemberment,—because of their inability to protect themselves,—have been brought vividly to the consciousness of our citizens and made them take account of our own national security status.

Never before has it been so apparent that we no longer enjoy that "splendid isolation" once vouchsafed by the oceans to the east and to the west of us. The constantly increasing radius of submarines and the ever-extending ranges of airplanes have steadily reduced the defensive value of those previously considered formidable barriers.

It is the understanding of these facts,—vital consideration of which has been brought to us by the present war in Europe, with its measureless horror and suffering,—which has resulted in the spontaneous and overwhelming nationwide demand for our government to take the necessary steps to protect our coasts and frontiers against wanton assault. It is the studied consideration of our security status,—or rather lack of it,—which has impelled Congress to vote the necessary legislation and funds which ultimately will give us total defense, on both land and sea and in the air.

The need for national preparedness is more acute and unquestionable today than ever before in our history. It is the country's most tangible insurance policy, and the cheapest in the end. One must consider that wars resulting from lack of preparedness are infinitely more costly than the maintenance of a strong and efficient army and navy, not only in mere dollars, but more particularly in the needless and tragic loss of the flower of American manhood.

Our country has never been militaristic nor aggressive, and consequently until recent years, has given little serious thought to maintaining either the sufficiency or the efficiency of our armed forces. We look back upon this policy,—or, more correctly said, inexcusable lack of policy,—as a triple crime against life, property and liberty. The utterly unprepared state in which we entered each of our six major wars cost us the lives of many hundredsof thousands of soldiers and sailors,—sent into battle without proper training or proper equipment,—billions of treasure, and untold human misery and suffering. At long last, however,—and in fairness to those who may be called upon in future national crises to answer the call of duty,—with the preparedness measures we are now taking we can look forward with greater hope that the lessons learned from our past neglect are not to be repeated.

In 1933 our disillusioned government awakened from its pipe dream of idealistic internationalism and, with patriotic vision, began to correct the serious errors of past administrations by building up our armed forces and particularly the Navy. In this connection I wish to repeat a few pertinent excerpts from my address before the Academy of Political Science yesterday forenoon:

"Immediately after the World War we had the largest Navy in the world (built and building)—40 per cent greater than that of Great Britain, our nearest competitor. However, by the Washington and London treaties of 1922 and 1930, respectively, we lost 929,000 tons of fighting ships, . . ." (nearly half of our 2,100,000 tons of 1922). "Between 1922 and 1933 only 16 units were built to replace obsolete vessels. . . .

"That our Navy has been lagging in its defense program during the past seven years,—as has been so frequently, so publicly and so erroneously charged in recent months,—or that we have neglected to see the trend of international developments, is fully disproven by the facts.

"As of October 31,—2 weeks ago,—137 naval vessels have been built and commissioned since 1933. This is 8.5 times as many as were built in the 7 years preceding 1933. From a poor third among naval powers in 1933 we have today" (and I wish to interpolate: not next year, next month or even tomorrow, but today, we have) "The greatest, most powerful and most effective navy of any single nation on earth.

"Furthermore, due to our frequent battle maneuvers and constant target practice, our fleet is maintained in 'M-day' readiness status at all times. We have the most air-minded navy in the world and the efficiency of our naval air arm is unequaled.

"In 1933 sufficient funds from N.I.R.A. were set aside to start construction of 37 warships. The next year the Vinson-Trammell Act authorized building the Navy to treaty strength. In 1938 an increase of 20% was authorized. This was followed early this year by another increase of 11% in tonnage, thus bringing the total allowed underage strength of the Navy to 1,724,480 tons. . . . In May, the European war took a sudden and more decisive turn, . . . then followed the fall of France.

"Due to the European cataclysm and the increased activity in the Far Eastern struggle and unanimous demand for a so-called two-ocean navy arose throughout the country almost overnight. This produced immediate action by Congress. . . . An additional bill, enacted in September, gave the navy a 70% increase in strength, or 200 combatant vessels aggregating 1,325,000 tons plus 2,400 planes at a total cost of $3,969,053,312. . . .

"This most gigantic shipbuilding program in all history will bring our total to 651 combatant vessels of 3,412,440 tons and 15,000 aircraft,—the largest and most powerful navy in the world. . . . capable of meeting any demand that may be made upon it, including a simultaneous attack in either or both oceans by a combination of belligerents.

"It is of interest to note that contracts for the construction of all 200 ships recently authorized were madeby the Navy Department on September 9th, within 2 hours after the President signed the bill. Such a record has never been approached in this or any other country. It was made possible by the co-operation of Mr. Knudsen, Industrial Production Executive on the National Defense Advisory Commission, in conjunction with previous careful planning on the part of naval officials during the two months the bill was under consideration by Congress.

"The process of transforming dollars into ships, guns, torpedoes, planes, etc, is one that will require several years to complete. While the bulk of this program is expected to be ready by 1944, the latest battleships authorized,—all of which are to be built in government navy yards,—will not be completed until a later date, delay being due to scarcity of ways for this type vessel."

The ten billion dollars to be expended on this vast naval building program will be distributed, not alone to the shipyards (located on the two coasts, the Gulf and Great Lakes), but also to producers of raw materials and manufacturers throughout the length and breadth of our country. The stimulating effect on general employment of labor and on business will be widespread and of consequent benefit to all sections.

While the cost of this program seem enormous, at first sight, if payment is spread over a period of 10 years it will amount to only $7.50 per capita per year,—or less than two cents per day,—whereas our per capita income, according to official figures published last month, is approximately $536. Surely, for the richest nation on earth, 2 cents per capita per day is not an excessive amount to pay for national security.

I have often heard it remarked that "75 to 90 millions of dollars is too much money to put into one battleship, particularly when it can so easily be destroyed by aerial bombs." Well, to answer the last charge first, this is not true. Exaggerated statements regarding the effect of bombs on this type of vessel should be heavily discounted. No battleship, old or new, of any navy, in active service, have ever been destroyed by aerial bombs. Nor can they be, as battleships are protected by heavy side and deck armor against major calibre projectiles which automatically protects them against aerial bombs. Undoubtedly considerable damage can be done to the upper-works, but no news received from abroad during the present war indicates that any battleship has been vitally injured by bombs.

At this point allow me to interpolate. The preceding statement was written prior to the receipt of yesterday's news regarding serious damage sustained by two or three Italian battleships and other war vessels as the result of a British Aircraft raid in the Mediterranean. Briefly, according to press reports, the battleships, "snugly at anchor" in the harbor of Taranto, were surprised by a British naval air squadron,—a fleet unit having no connection with theRoyal Air Force,—which made a dive attack with naval torpedoes and not with aerial bombs.

In other words the damage sustained was in the underwater hulls of the ships,—-proved by their heavy list to starboard,—and not to their upper decks. No ships were sunk. That they were seriously damaged cannot be denied.

Please note, however, that these ships were not maneuvering and from all accounts,—because of the surprise attack,— the efficiency of the anti-aircraft defense was considerably reduced, thus allowing the airplanes to fly low in their approach.

In view of the above my statement still stands that, up to the present time,—and I quote,—"No battleships, old or new, of any navy, in active service, have ever been destroyed by aerial bombs."

The battleship of today,—combining the greatest concentration of fighting strength and utmost power of resistance (or power of survival) ever built into one hull,-is the type upon which depends the final outcome of a naval war. In fact, the Battle Fleet is the backbone of naval power, upon which the whole structure of naval strategy is based. Regardless of the air threat, every major Maritime Power continues to build battleships,—as many and as large as their funds allow.

Participation in the World War cost the United States 32.5 billions of dollars, or at the rate of 28.7 millions per day,—and that when a dollar was worth almost double its present value. Using this latter figure,—even at today's reduced monetary value, and taking into consideration increased cost of construction,—a modern 45,000-ton battleship, such as we are now building at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, can be constructed for a small fraction in excess of 3 days of warfare. Don't you think the security gained by battleships is worth that expenditure?

As true today as when first uttered by the great Admiral Nelson: "A line of battleships is the best negotiator in the world." Experience, as recorded in history, shows that a strong navy is not only the best protection against the hazards of war, but also the greatest bulwark of peace. No nation having full command of the sea has ever lost a war.

A recent triple "co-operative" military pact,—signed by certain European and Asiatic totalitarian powers,—definitely assures us that for the next 10 years, at least, the United States will never be faced by only one belligerent nation in only one ocean. We are not prepared at present, to meet such a direct threat from such a hostile coalition.

However,—once more quoting from my address of yesterday, and in conclusion,—"Our present . . . naval expansion program when completed, . . . will have so vastly increased our naval strength that, when and if war should come, we will be well prepared to take and retain command of the sea, in its fullest meaning, against the fleet of any nation or combination of nations in either the Atlantic, or Pacific, or in both oceans simultaneously.