The "Destroyers-for-Bases" Agreement - September, 1940.
May 10, Fri. --
Germany invades the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The Netherlands and Belgium declare war on Germany.
British troops occupy Iceland.
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain resigns; First Lord of the Admiralty Winston S. Churchill becomes prime minister.
May 14, Tue. --
German troops smash through French lines at Sedan, and move toward the English Channel.
Dutch Army capitulates to Germany.
May 15, Wed. --
British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill ("Former Naval Person") pleads for U.S. aid in a personal message to President Roosevelt. Churchill's request is six-fold. First, he requests the loan of 40 or 50 "older destroyers" to bridge the gap between what the Royal Navy has on hand and what is under construction; second, he asks for "several hundred" of the latest planes; third, he asks for antiaircraft "equipment and ammunition"; fourth, he asks that the U.S. continue to provide Britain with steel; fifth, he asks that a U.S. squadron visit Irish ports; and sixth, he intimates that the U.S. "keep that Japanese dog quiet in the Pacific, using Singapore in any way convenient".
May 16, Thu. --
President Roosevelt responds noncommittally to Prime Minister Churchill's telegram of the previous day. Addressing the possible loan of destroyers, Churchill's first concern, the President informs the "Former Naval Person" that such a step cannot be taken without "specific authorization of the Congress" and that U.S. defense requirements assumed priority. He also informs Churchill that the U.S. Fleet would remain concentrated in Hawaiian waters, "at least for the time being."
May 20, Mon. --
Prime Minister Churchill, in telegram to President Roosevelt concerning the recent meeting of Lord Lothian (British Ambassador to the U.S.) with the Chief Executive, acknowledges U.S. difficulties but expresses continuing interest in destroyers. "If they were here in 6 weeks," Churchill states, "they would play an invaluable part."
May 26, Sun. --
Evacuation of British, French, and Belgian troops from Dunkirk, France, begins, aided by poor flying weather that limits German aerial operations
May 28, Tue. --
Ambassador to France Bullitt urges that the Atlantic Fleet be sent to the Mediterranean as "one of the surest ways" to obtain British and French cooperation in keeping German attacks away from the U.S.
May 30, Thu. --
President Roosevelt rejects Ambassador Bullitt's request to send the fleet to the Mediterranean. "The presence of the fleet in the Pacific at this time is a very practical contribution to the maintenance of peace in the Pacific."
June 10, Mon. --
Italian troops invade France. "... the hand that held the dagger has struck it in the back of its neighbor." - FDR
June 11, Tue. --
British Prime Minister Churchill, in telegram to President Roosevelt, again raises the need for destroyers with the Italian entry into the war and the possibility of having to deal with more submarines. "To this," Churchill declares, "the only counter is destroyers. Nothing is so important as for us to have 30 or 40 old destroyers you have already had reconditioned."
June 15, Sat. --
British Prime Minister Churchill, in telegram to President Roosevelt, again asks for destroyers, calling the matter one "of life and death." Britain will carry on the struggle "whatever the odds," the "Former Naval Person" declares to the President, "but it may well be beyond our resources unless we receive every reinforcement and particularly do we need this reinforcement on the sea."
June 17, Mon. --
Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Harold R. Stark asks for $4 billion to construct the "Two-Ocean Navy."
July 10, Wed. --
Battle of Britain [air war] begins with first concentrated German air attacks on British convoys in the English Channel.
July 19, Fri. --
President Roosevelt signs Naval Expansion ("Two Ocean Navy") Act providing legislation to expand the fleet 70 percent
July 31, Wed. --
Churchill, again asks for the loan of destroyers. In the previous ten days, the Royal Navy has suffered the loss of four of its destroyers and damage to seven. "If we cannot get reinforcement the whole fate of the war may be decided by this minor and easily remediable factor."
August 2, Fri. --
President Roosevelt and his cabinet have "long discussion" concerning "ways and means to sell directly or indirectly" 50 or 60 destroyers to the British. There is no dissent "that the survival of the British Isles under German attack might very possibly depend on their [the British] getting these destroyers." All present agree that legislation to accomplish that goal is necessary.
August 5, Mon. --
Lord Lothian, British Ambassador to the U.S., provides President Roosevelt with a note concerning the facilities which the British were prepared to "extend to the United States Government..."
August 13, Tue. --
President Roosevelt confers with War Department heads. Consequently, FDR informs Churchill "it may be possible to furnish to the British Government... at least 50 destroyers..." Roosevelt states, though, that such aid could only be given provided that "the American People and the Congress frankly recognized in return...the national defense and security of the United States would be enhanced." The President thus insists that (1) should British waters be rendered untenable the British Fleet would be sent to other parts of the Empire (and neither turned over to the Germans nor sunk) and (2) that the British government would grant authorization to use Newfoundland, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Trinidad and British Guiana as naval and air bases, and to acquire land there through 99-year leases to establish those bases
August 16, Fri. --
President Roosevelt, in press conference, announces that the U.S. government is discussing with the British government the acquisition of naval and air bases to defend the Western Hemisphere and the Panama Canal. However, secrecy continues to shroud the ongoing discussions concerning the transfer of destroyers to the British.
August 15, Thu. --
Churchill responds, encouraged and grateful; "the worth of every destroyer that you can spare to us is measured in rubies..." The "moral value of this fresh aid from your Government and your people at this critical time will be very great and widely felt."
August 27, Tue. --
Admiral Stark certifies that the destroyers involved are no longer essential to the defense of the United States, thus clearing the way for their transfer.
September 2, 1940 Tue. --
Secretary of State Hull and British Ambassador Lord Lothian exchange notes concluding the agreement to trade destroyers for bases; the U.S. will provide, by executive agreement, 50 over-age (World War I Emergency Program) destroyers in return for 99-year leases on bases in the Bahamas, Antigua, St. Lucia, Trinidad, Jamaica, and British Guiana. The British provide bases at Newfoundland and Bermuda as outright gifts.
September 3, Wed. --
President Roosevelt announces the "destroyers-for-bases" agreement.
September 6, Fri. --
USN arrives at Halifax, Nova Scotia with destroyer tender Denebola (AD-12) and Russell (DD-414) along with a squadron of the first eight destroyers for Great Britain. "By the long arm of coincidence" (as Churchill puts it) the Royal Navy crews assigned to man the ships arrive simultaneously.
The second group of 8 arrives September 18.
The third group, of 6, arrives Sept 20.
Fourth group, of 8, arrives October 5.
Fifth group, of 10, arrives October 16.
Because of delay in the arrival of crews, the last of the destroyers is postponed
Sixth group of 10, arrives Nov 21.
Sept 9, 1940, Mon --
Navy awards contracts for 210 new construction ships including 12 aircraft carriers and 7 battleships. [The Essex class carriers were expanded to 14 completed during the war,
1943-44. None of the 7 battleships are built, this includes the two of the Iowa class and the entire Montana class will be canceled.]
First eight destroyers are transferred to Britain control under destroyers-for-bases agreement at Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Aaron Ward (DD-132) becomes HMS Castleton,
Buchanan (DD-131) becomes HMS Campbeltown,
Crowninshield (DD-134) becomes HMS Chelsea,
Hale (DD-133) becomes HMS Caldwell,
Abel P. Upshur (DD-193) becomes HMS Clare,
Welborn C. Wood (DD-195) becomes HMS Chesterfield,
Herndon (DD-198) becomes HMS Churchill,
Welles (DD-257) becomes HMS Cameron.
September 16, Mon. --
President Roosevelt signs Selective Training and Service Act, thus establishing the first peacetime draft in the history of the United States.
September 23, Mon. --
Second group of ships involved in the transfer to Britain is turned over to Royal Navy crews at Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Kalk (DD-170) becomes HMS Hamilton,
Maddox (DD-168) becomes HMS Georgetown,
Cowell (DD-167) becomes HMS Brighton,
Foote (DD-169) becomes HMS Roxborough,
Hopewell (DD-181) becomes HMS Bath,
Abbot (DD-184) becomes HMS Charlestown,
Thomas (DD-182) becomes HMS St. Albans,
Doran (DD-185) becomes HMS St. Marys.
September 24, Tue. --
Third group of ships are turned over to the Royal Canadian Navy at Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Mackenzie (DD-175) becomes HMCS Annapolis
Haraden (DD-183) becomes HMCS Columbia
Williams (DD-108) becomes HMCS St. Clair
Thatcher (DD-162) becomes HMCS Niagara
McCook (DD-252) becomes HMCS St. Croix
Bancroft (DD-256) becomes HMCS St. Francis
October 6, Sun. --
Fourth group of ships involved in the destroyers-for-bases agreement are turned over.
Branch (DD-197) becomes HMS Beverley,
Hunt (DD-194) becomes HMS Broadway,
Mason (DD-191) becomes HMS Broadwater,
Satterlee (DD-190) becomes HMS Belmont,
Laub (DD-263) becomes HMS Burwell,
Aulick (DD-258) becomes HMS Burnham,
Edwards (DD-265) becomes HMS Buxton, and
McLanahan (DD-264) becomes HMS Bradford.
October 16, Wed. --
Sixteen million men register for the draft under Selective Training and Service Act.
October 23, Wed. --
Fifth group of ships are turned over
Twiggs (DD-127) becomes HMS Leamington,
Philip (DD-76) becomes HMS Lancaster,
Evans (DD-78) becomes HMS Mansfield,
Wickes (DD-75) becomes HMS Montgomery,
McCalla (DD-253) becomes HMS Stanley,
Rodgers (DD-170) becomes HMS Sherwood,
Conner (DD-72) becomes HMS Leeds,
Conway (DD-70) becomes HMS Lewes,
Stockton (DD-73) becomes HMS Ludlow, and
Yarnall (DD-143) becomes HMS Lincoln.
November. 17, Sun. --
PBYs inaugurate flight operations from Bermuda; seaplane tender (destroyer) George E. Badger (AVD-3) provides support.
November 26, Tue. --
Sixth and last group of ships involved in the destroyers-for-bases agreement are turned over to Royal Navy crews at Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Bailey (DD-269) becomes HMS Reading,
Meade (DD-274) becomes HMS Ramsey,
Shubrick (DD-268) becomes HMS Ripley,
Swasey (DD-273) becomes HMS Rockingham,
Claxton (DD-140) becomes HMS Salisbury,
Fairfax (DD-93) becomes HMS Richmond,
Robinson (DD-88) becomes HMS Newmarket,
Ringgold (DD-89) becomes HMS Newark,
Sigourney (DD-81) becomes HMS Newport and
Tillman (DD-135) becomes HMS Wells.
December 3, Tue. --
President Roosevelt embarks in heavy cruiser Tuscaloosa (CA-37) at Miami, Florida, to inspect base sites acquired from the British under the destroyers-for-bases agreement. During the cruise, he will broach the lend-lease concept that he will implement upon his return to Washington
You always hear how these were overage, obsolete destroyers. In fact, most had been authorized during the first world war but were completed in 1919-20, thus in 1940 were only 20 years old. As this page is written, we have ships on deployment to the Persian Gulf that are 44 years old, aircraft carriers Kitty Hawk (CV-63) and CVN-65 Enterprise (CVN-65) and Kennedy (CV-67) is 37 years old.
Destroyer Spruance (DD-963) was commissioned in 1975, 30 years ago, but perhaps the frigates are a better comparison, McInerney (FFG-8) is from 1979, 26 years old. Submarines Los Angeles (SSN-688), 1976, Philadelphia, (SSN-690) and Memphis (SSN-691) were each commissioned in 1977.
These 1920 destroyers had already been taken out of moth-balls and recommissioned for US usage in 1940 because the war in Europe started in 1939 -- they were not sitting idly. The first 40, those asked for by Churchill, were sailing with Commonwealth crews within 7 weeks. The last ten were delayed while Churchill found additional crews.
These 20-year old destroyers allowed convoy escort into the Atlantic routes to and from England which was out of air cover range and kept England supplied, meanwhile the US immediately brought an additional batch of destroyers out of mothballs to replace them, as well as expanding new construction, and soon agreed to provide convoy escort from North America to mid-ocean where the Brits took over.
Nine of the 50 were sunk in wartime service : seven torpedoed with great loss of life, one by mine and one by air raid.
Two were used as targets and one, Campbelltown, was used packed with explosives to ram and destroy
the drydock at St. Nazaire. Nine were subsequently transferred to Russia
They sank eight U-boats and one Italian sub and captured two U-boats.
The US commissioned about 280 destroyers in 1919 and 1920, no new construction entered service until eight were commissioned in 1934-5. The WWI era destroyers were typically 1100 tons, 314 feet long 31 feet beam and carried 4- 4" guns. By time of the destroyer trade of 1940, 66 new destroyers were commissioned of typical size of 1500 tons, 341 feet 36 beam carrying 5- 5" guns.
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About this page: DDs for Bases. Chronology and discussion of the Destroyers for Bases agreement of September 1940 in WW2.
Written February 4, 2005.