THE BRIDGE TO FRANCE
Edward N. Hurley
CANCELLATION OF SHIP CONTRACTS
FOLLOWING the signing of the armistice, it became necessary to cancel many contracts which during the progress of the war we had entered into with builders, and also to countermand orders for supplying material .
These curtailments in our building program had to be made, in the first instance, to save for the Government as much money as possible; and in the second, to conserve the best and most adaptable vessels for our merchant marine and the development of our overseas trade when peace finally settled upon the world. While these considerations were essential, it also was necessary to study the situation from the standpoint of the shipyard workers. We had held out incentives to them to enter the yards, and on the whole they had given satisfactory account of themselves. They thought they had some claim on the Fleet Corporation, for employment; and the discharge of tens of thousands of them would have had a serious effect on economic conditions, especially in districts where it would have upset the local industrial structure. We were obliged to proceed carefully and with deliberation.
In the Delaware district, the yards had become very well organized and systematized by the time the armistice was signed. They were going ahead at full speed and accomplishing the results we had sought at the outset. Naturally, the builders were very reluctant to surrender their contracts when they had reached the point (after many vicissitudes and difficulties) where they could see handsome profits if the ship-building program were continued. On the other hand, I felt that many of the ships for which we had contracted (for war purposes and at war-time prices) could not successfully be employed in peace times in competition with foreign ships.
On April 30, 1919, when the resignation of Piez was to take effect, the ship-builders of the Delaware district gave him a testimonial dinner which was very largely attended and to which the staff of the Fleet Corporation was invited. It was a well-deserved compliment to a man who had done a big job and had done it well. In his speech at the dinner, Piez expressed disagreement with my policy of cancellation.
To my surprise, on the following day, the shipbuilders issued an appeal to their workmen to organize a parade to be held in Philadelphia in protest against further cancellations of ship contracts. Mr. Michael Francis Doyle, attorney for the various unions of shipyard workers in the Delaware district, sent me an invitation to review the parade in the grandstand together with the ship-builders and other guests. I notified Mr. Doyle that I was grateful for the invitation and that I appreciated very much the service which the workmen had rendered during the war, but that I could not accept his suggestion that I sit in the grandstand and review the parade. I told him I felt I did not belong there; that I was myself a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and that if an invitation were extended to me to march in the ranks with the men I would be very happy to accept it, but under no other circumstances. He promptly telegraphed me that I would be expected to lead the parade.
I was advised at the time that, to please the shipbuilders, the workmen were preparing banners with such slogan s as "Down with Hurley." When I agreed to lead the parade those inscriptions were eliminated and others substituted, which were not antagonistic, though they contained appeals for a continuation of ship construction.
When I arrived in Philadelphia on the day of the parade, a delegation of union men, of which Mr. Scott was Chairman, called on me and escorted me to Broad Street in front of the Fleet Corporation's offices, where the parade was to start. There were some fifty thousand men in line and seventy-five bands. It was one of the greatest demonstrations of its kind I ever witnessed. When we passed the grandstand, the ship builders occupying it were much surprised to see me leading the parade which they had planned for the purpose of forcing me to renounce my policy of cancelling ship contracts. The ship-builders had over played their hand, but I enjoyed the experience they furnished me. The union men understood my position. They knew that the policy was right, and that public sentiment was back of it.
There can be no doubt of the wisdom of the Board's policy of cancellation. Since the large post-war demand for bottoms there has been a surplus of ships and the Board has been endeavoring to dispose of the war fleet to private interests. It has put forth every effort to establish permanent trade routes under the American flag and to maintain an adequate American Merchant Marine in keeping with the present needs and the future growth of our country. To foster American ship-building the Board has built, at government expense, new American Diesel-type cargo-ships to demonstrate to private operators the economy of this power for ship operation. In this work of keeping the American flag on the seas the Board has endeavored further to interest the cooperation of American business men who export their wares to the markets of the world, to ship their goods in American bottoms. The Board has aroused in the public mind an interest in ships and shipping. An indication of public interest in ships is found in the fact that ship-models are once more in great demand for decorative purposes in thousands of our homes. These models of various types and kinds of vessels help to educate our youth in a knowledge of ship-craft. Recently $27,000 was reported to have been paid for a replica of a famous ocean-going vessel. This is most encouraging evidence of returning interest in the American Merchant Marine.
Narratives of the romance of the sea are finding popularity in our periodical publications. Magazines and Sunday newspapers are publishing seafaring stories in response to the demand for literature of this character. Thrilling experiences of the old clipper sailing days, when a voyage to India and China required six months, never will be re-enacted; but the romance of those days will continue to be told. An. exciting event of the sea will continue to arouse interest, whether the tale be one of a sailing vessel, a tramp steamer or an ocean-liner.
Fig. 21. WAR POSTER DRAWN IN COLORS BY MR. GERRIT A. BENEKER. ORIGINAL PRESENTED TO THE CHAIRMAN OF THE UNITED STATES SHIPPING BOARD BY MR. ARTHUR CUDDIHY OF THE Literary Digest.
We are again becoming ship-minded. Our boys and girls delight in making comparisons between our gigantic Leviathan and the ocean greyhounds of other nations. As we continue to increase our pride in our merchant ships, no doubt will remain that we are destined to establish an important place for the American Merchant Marine upon the seven seas.
Seafaring life, while more hazardous in olden days, still has thrilling experiences that test the bravery of the most courageous men. The heroism of Captain George Fried and his men of the S. S. President Roosevelt, who recently saved the crew of the British steamer Antinoe, after standing by for four days, is a fair example of what brave, humane seafaring men can do. After two of his men had lost their lives attempting to go to the rescue, the volunteers still continued their efforts in one of the worst storms on the Atlantic for many years. The rescue aroused the keenest interest throughout the world, and particularly among the American people. It did a vast good in setting an example to the captains of other ships, both American and foreign. The daring of this brave captain and his crew demonstrates the competence of the American sailor in time of emergency and grave danger.
NORTHCLIFFE'S SUGGESTION TO WILSON;
DISCUSSIONS IN EUROPE
I WAS urged by General Pershing and others to visit Europe during the war in order that I might become personally informed upon the nature of shipping problems that continually were developing there. They argued that arrangements for the use of shipping, which otherwise could be made only by cable and at some loss of time, could be effected more speedily. The President, however, felt that my place during hostilities was in Washington, directing the task of ship production.
By October 1, 1918, the Germans were in such a desperate plight that the end of the war by the close of the year could be foreseen. When they suddenly collapsed and the armistice was signed, the President wanted me to act as his shipping adviser at the Peace Conference. Shipping would have to be discussed, in connection with the return of our troops, and the relief of stricken European populations with the aid of our fleet must be considered. No treaty of peace, of the kind he had in mind, could be conceived, and no League of Nations, in which international trade and shipping did not play a part. The United States had become a great maritime power; and our maritime policies were bound to affect the peace deliberations. President Wilson therefore insisted on my going to Europe.
I proceeded to assemble a staff of assistants and advisers to accompany me on my European mission. One of the foremost of these was Mr. Thomas F. Logan, whom I appointed a Special Shipping Commissioner. Logan had a broad and comprehensive knowledge of governmental affairs in Washington and of international matters. I previously had taken occasion to avail myself of his counsel and advice. He not only possessed initiative, but had sound and conservative judgment. He proved to be an invaluable aide, both in Paris and in London. Another in whom I found I could place full reliance was Mr. John E. Barber, whom I also appointed a Special Commissioner, so that he might have authority to act for me in the many conferences with foreign officials with whom shipping matters were to be discussed.
Mr. William Francis Gibbs, of the Shipping Control Committee, also accompanied me, for I knew that it would be necessary to draw on his vast technical knowledge of British, German and American ships, and on his statistical information. When I found that I would have to return to Washington sooner than anticipated, I cabled for Henry M. Robinson (another of my associates in Washington and later a member of the Dawes Commission), one of the most valuable men who represented us in Europe during the delicate negotiations which made it possible to obtain the use of German ships in exchange for food and to assert the shipping claims that the United States presented at the Peace Conference. Robinson represented the Shipping Board and succeeded me on the various commissions of which I had been a member.
While I was enroute from New York to Europe the London papers published a story from America that one of the important matters I would take up with the British Government was that of standardizing the wages of seamen so there might be some definite basis upon which to determine the cost of future operations of ships by both Great Britain and the United States.
On arriving in England, November 23, 1918, I was met by Lieutenant-Commander George Barr Baker, U.S.N.R.F., representing Admiral Sims, and Lord Eustace Percy of the British Government. I knew Lord Percy quite well, for he had represented his government in Washington during the war. Later he was Minister of Education in the Baldwin Cabinet. Lord Percy informed me of the news item published in the London papers, that Lloyd George was conducting a campaign for reelection and that any remarks made by me on the question of seamen's wages might be misconstrued by the opposition and bring forth another issue in the political campaign. I told him I had made no statement whatever concerning the subject, that the story published was not true and that he could assure Lloyd George that I had no intention of discussing any matter that directly or indirectly would have a bearing on the political situation in England.
My first few weeks in Europe were spent in discussing shipping, food relief, international economics and peace, with leaders of British and French political thought. Thus, I learned much that was of later value, particularly of tendencies that were manifest, on every hand, to conclude a peace which would give the victors the spoils rather than carry out President Wilson's aim to prevent a recurrence of bloodshed.
One of the most staunch adherents of President Wilson was Lord Northcliffe (Alfred Harmsworth), the wealthy owner of many influential newspapers and other publications in London. Lord Northcliffe proved to have ideals far higher than those usually credited to publishers of sensational newspapers. Indeed, he had all the attributes of a broad-minded statesman.. I had made his acquaintance when he visited the United States during the war, and upon my arrival in London he courteously extended an invitation to Logan and me to have tea with him at his estate, "Broadstairs." I jokingly told him that if he would amend his invitation so that we might have luncheon with him, instead of tea, I would be most happy to accept.
When two or more Americans desire to discuss a matter of business they not infrequently do so at the lunch table. The British, on the other hand, extend an invitation to tea. It would be interesting to know the extent to which British tea parties and tea figured in shaping policies and in reaching decisions during the war. Not a few of our American representatives abroad, during the war, formed the tea-taking habit. The effect of indulgence in this otherwise innocent libation often proved advantageous to the British. Perhaps they had a recollection of a certain Boston Tea Party and believed that Americans could be influenced by a liberal dispensation of tea. At any rate, it was not unusual for Americans to "fall for" this sort of British subtlety. There, is no way of knowing what the effect might have been upon the war had an embargo been placed upon tea. "Freedom of the seas" was a cause of anxiety to the British, and "freedom of the teas" was a source of anxiety to us Americans "back home."I We never knew what would be the outcome of an invitation extended to an American representative to "take tea."
Northcliffe was one of the most powerful personalities in Great Britain---in the world, for that matter. He could make and unmake prime ministers, and formulate and carry through national policies. "Leaders" published in his newspapers became the subject of "questions" put to the government in the House of Commons. Embarrassing questions they sometimes proved to be. He had made Lloyd George prime minister of England. He had more to do than had any other Englishman not in the Cabinet, with shaping the war policy of Great Britain. It is said of him that he wanted to be a Napoleon, and even that he thought he had some psychic kinship with that despot.
In my conversation with him, Northcliffe strongly urged the need of President Wilson's presence at the Peace Conference. Perhaps, because he was a skilled journalist and therefore an evaluator of men, Northcliffe visualized better than any other man in Europe the preponderating role that the President could play in Europe. With Wilson at the Peace Table, Northcliffe contended, there would be a better chance for the League of Nations than without him. I was so impressed with this view that I urged him to cable it to the President's Secretary, Joseph P. Tumulty. A few days later, a felicitously worded telegram from Northcliffe was given out in Washington, and prepared the American people for the first journey to a foreign country ever taken by a President of the United States.
We discussed the whole field of European politics and economics, Northcliffe uttering his. opinions with a dogmatism which was characteristic of him. Thus, he was willing to see a modification of British interpretation of the "freedom of the seas" policy at the hands of President Wilson, provided the modification were "reasonable." We talked of Bolshevism, then threatening to engulf Europe, but which Northcliffe correctly foresaw would hardly affect the victorious nations. Still, he was convinced that if Europe were to progress toward prosperity and peace, concessions would have to be made to the masses in England. He was so strongly in favor of distributing some of the huge landed estates of England, held for centuries by titled families, that he expressed his willingness to turn over part of his own broad acres to homeless soldiers. Despite these liberal views, Northcliffe could not subscribe to Lloyd George's scheme for a "new England" which was announced that day and which proposed to give homes and lands to returning soldiers. Northcliffe asserted his personal knowledge that the Scottish troops did not want land given to them outright.
"FREEDOM OF THE SEAS"
President Wilson's reference to the "freedom of the seas," contained in his famous Fourteen Points, was more or less of a puzzle to the British. They never were quite able to comprehend his meaning, or just what significance the "freedom of the seas" had for them. They were fearful that, in some way, the doctrine might imperil their supremacy upon the ocean.
Sir Eric Geddes, First Lord of the British Admiralty, made a hurried trip to America in 1918. While here he endeavored, unsuccessfully, to commit the President to an explicit statement of the meaning of this somewhat indefinite phrase. He was familiar with America, having spent some years in the United States, and enjoyed a large acquaintance here. He was a man of forceful character and much interested in our shipbuilding program. He had a formal meeting with the President, which was understood to be for the purpose of paying his respects to the Chief Executive. That done, he directed the conversation to war subjects, and pointedly asked the President for his interpretation of the term "freedom of the seas." The question remained unanswered. His interview doubtless was a pleasant one, but he went away without having gained the information he so anxiously sought. The President was amused, rather than embarrassed, by Sir Eric's question. He told me it reminded him of a certain prominent diplomat who upon several occasions expressed a request for an interview, in the regular way, through the State Department. As is the custom in such cases, the nature of the interview desired and the subject to be discussed were set forth in writing. It is in this manner that appointments are made for diplomatic representatives to see the President. This particular diplomat, however, always broached some topic other than the one for which he had requested an audience, and never referred to the matter regarding which he had written to the State Department. Like Sir Eric, he always went away from the White House without having gained the information he sought. The President was deaf to questions propounded in such circumstances.
While Sir Eric's visit to the United States was fruitless so far as getting information about the "freedom of the seas," he did good work in stimulating our ship-building efforts by further impressing upon American officials the seriousness of the situation and the great need of ships.
An interesting figure quite often in evidence at the Peace Conference (although he did not figure in any of the important discussions) was M. Kerensky, who had held brief sway over Russia as Prime Minister immediately following the collapse of the Czar's government. Kerensky was a rather nervous and excitable individual, with a high-pitched voice and a fiery temperament. He was quite clever and always very much in earnest and enthusiastic. I can imagine that he had ability to influence a crowd when delivering a public address. That ability, no doubt, accounts largely for his success in Russia, although it was short-lived. He was making his home in London and during one of my trips there from Paris, mutual friends informed me that Kerensky desired to have a talk with me. I spent one evening with him at the home of a Russian doctor. Kerensky did not speak enough English to enable him to carry on a conversation direct with me, and I knew nothing of the Russian language. Our host acted as interpreter. Kerensky discussed various phases of the war and the Peace Conference, with special reference to their bearing upon Russia. I regarded him to be a man of intelligence and high character, although in many matters rather impractical. This was especially true of the purpose for which he sought an interview with me. He emphasized his desire to have the French take a more active interest in Russian affairs, pointing out that in view of the long friendships which had existed between France and Russia, this could be done effectively. He asserted that if it were not done a chaotic condition would result in Russia. Unless France did concern herself, he predicted, no part of the huge debt (either principal or interest) which Russia owed to France, ever would be paid.
His purpose in talking to me was to ask that I urge President Wilson to support his party in Russia, and thus accomplish the overthrow of the Soviet government that had succeeded his régime. He even seemed to entertain the idea that it was within the power of President Wilson to again order American soldiers, then no longer needed in France, to proceed to Russia and aid him in establishing a stable government. Kerensky was sincere in his sympathetic feeling toward the Allied cause, but primarily he sought the establishment of his own political party in power in Russia, with himself reinstated as its head. Of course the President was so occupied with the problems of peace that I knew it would be futile to present Kerensky's suggestion to him even if it had been either practical or possible for him to take any action. Subsequent developments have quite clearly indicated that Kerensky's prediction that the Russian Soviet Government would fail to pay the French debt was true.
HOUSE AND HOOVER
HERBERT HOOVER had hastened to Europe as soon as possible after the armistice was signed. From his experience as Food Administrator, he knew that Germany as well as the neutral and liberated countries would require immediate relief. He had formulated a plan whereby the distribution of food was to be placed under one control. Since the war had been won as the result of placing the Allied forces under unified command, with Foch as the generalissimo, there was good reason for Hoover to believe that a like plan would quickly succor the stricken countries. He was anxious to play the part of a Foch in relieving Germany and other nations.
In a cablegram to the President, dated November 27, 1918, drafted by Hoover but signed by Colonel House, the Hoover program of relief was fully outlined. House and Hoover pointed out that it was obvious that inter-allied administrative arrangements covered the Allied countries; and that if the whole of the world food supplies could be made available, through sufficient shipping, there appeared to be (over and above the Allied necessities) sufficient to take effective care of other populations, provided the supplies were administered with economy and under a single direction.
The one essential to this plan, in order that all world supplies might be brought into use, was that enemy tonnage be placed in service at the earliest possible moment. He said it appeared entirely just, in consideration of relief of enemy territory, that enemy shipping be placed in the general food service of all the populations released from enemy yoke, as well as enemy territory.
House and Hoover also told the President, in their cablegram, that they had considered carefully the suggestion made by Balfour to the Supreme War Council, at the time the terms of the armistice were under consideration, that the enemy be required to place under operation and control of the Allied Maritime Transport Council his mercantile fleet in enemy and neutral ports. The cablegram shows that both House and Hoover thought there would be many objections to this plan, in practice, and that the principle should be maintained that this fleet be used for purposes of relief and be under the direction of the Director-General of Relief. In order to secure its adequate operation, they contended that the Director-General should assign appropriate portions of this tonnage---first, for operation individually by Italy, France and Belgium sufficient to transport relief to the actually liberated nationals of those, countries. The administration of relief in each of these three instances then would naturally fall entirely under the three governments mentioned and would not further interest the Director-General of Relief. The remainder of enemy tonnage, or such part of it as would be necessary, should be placed under the operation of the British Ministry of Shipping and the United States Shipping Board, in equal proportions. These two would agree with the Director-General of Relief, to deliver in either case, cargo equal to the carrying of these two fleets from such sources and to such destinations as the Director-General of Relief might direct in supplying the balance of populations to be relieved.
Under this plan it would not follow that enemy shipping would be employed directly in the transportation of this cargo, but that equivalent cargo should be delivered. House and Hoover said this would enable the use of enemy passenger tonnage in the transportation of the United States or British armies homeward, the respective shipping boards giving an equivalent in cargo tonnage to the Director-General of Relief. This arrangement, they pointed out, in effect would add materially to the volume of world shipping and release tonnage for the various purposes of the individual countries.
House and Hoover further discussed their proposed method of dealing with the liberated peoples and with neutrals who would be expected to provide their own shipping, their financial resources and probably some tonnage. They concluded by saying that owing to the political necessity of American control over American resources and the greater coordination and efficiency to be obtained thereby, they were sure that the President would agree with them that the office of Director-General of Relief should be held initially by the United States Food Administrator, and in case of necessity by such a successor as he (Hoover) might nominate. They suggested that the policies of the Director-General should be determined by the Supreme War Council, to whom he should report inasmuch as it was the united policies in these matters not only to save life but also to stabilize governments. It was urged that the matter was exceedingly important and that they should have the President's advice concerning it at the earliest possible moment.
On the following day, Colonel House received from Secretary Lansing a response to this cablegram. The President authorized House to propose to the Supreme War Council the plan set forth. Although the most important feature of their plan involved American ships, House and Hoover had not consulted me in drafting the cablegram which they addressed to the President. I felt certain that if all the facts and circumstances were clearly presented to the President, he would not favor any proposal which contemplated the pooling of available tonnage for food relief, thus allowing it to get from under our control.
Accordingly, I advised the President by cablegram that Colonel House, who was recovering from illness, had not been able to give his personal attention to the Allied plans for world food control and that the shipping features of the Hoover proposal had not been submitted to me and had not received my approval.
I said my belief was that these plans conflicted with his general policy and should be held in abeyance until he had an opportunity to outline his program for the League of Nations. I further stated that the British were willing to give us the title of Directorship, but that the American Director would be under the control of and report to the Inter-Allied War Council; and that in line with his instructions I had informed Lord Reading that we could not enter into an agreement to yield control of our ships. I also pointed out that the procedure outlined in the House and Hoover cable amounted to surrendering control of our ships to foreign bodies, to which policy I believed he was properly and unalterably opposed; further, that such plans would permit the use of ships carrying our food stuffs to be wasted through inefficient control and management.
I contended that we, should have temporary use of all enemy passenger steamers for the return of our troops; also cargo-ships in enemy ports to lift all relief supplies controlled by us, but that the plans outlined in the House and Hoover cablegram would divide this tonnage without the slightest hope of having our fleet supplemented by British tonnage for this imperative movement of troops. I expressed my belief that the existing situation, which the British would like to cure with Committee and Director, was complete justification of the League of Nations, in that it amounted to the disregarding of the rights of small nations and yet conceded the need of concerted action. For the Director-General of Relief to control our shipping under European domination, as proposed, would tie our hands. It would be the first step to a similar control of raw materials. I said that matters certainly could wait until he arrived in Paris, as time would be required for the repairing and commissioning of enemy ships, and that in conference with the British and French I would make no concessions without instructions from him.
I felt certain that with a full understanding of the meaning of the House and Hoover proposal, which would have permitted ships to pass from under our control, he would not give his assent to it. This belief was confirmed two days later upon the receipt of the following cablegram:
Amembassy, Paris. Washington, Dec. 1, 1918.
6482. For Hurley. Your number two. President agrees with your position and asks that you confer immediately with Colonel House explaining to him that the aspect stated in your telegram was one which the President had not taken into account in assenting to House's suggested communication to the Supreme War Council.
For the Ambassador. Please advise Colonel House of the foregoing as soon as possible.
By fone from the Secretary
A few days later a meeting was held in London, at which the Hoover plan was discussed. Among those present were M. Clementel, M. Bouisson, Lord Reading, Sir Joseph Maclay, Signor Crespi, Signor Villa, Hoover and I. Opposition was indicated at once to any proposal that would pool available shipping, for food relief, under Hoover's direction. The belief was expressed that the "enemy might be given the impression that the unanimity of view which has marked interallied organizations has undergone a change which the enemy might think he could exploit" ; and, "that the people who have benefited by a relief in which all the associated countries could take part, should not consider it as furnished by the United States Government contrary to the intentions of the Allied governments, who would thus appear to be solely responsible for a policy of prolonging the blockade."(45) The real reason for opposition was the refusal of Great Britain to relax control over her own ships.
When Clementel came forward with an elaborate plan for pooling all surplus food and distributing it among the Allies and enemy and neutral countries that needed it, I seized the opportunity to propose a postponement of further action, using the League of Nations (then much-talked-of but not yet born) as an argument; and pointing out that possibly some mechanism might be established under the League for dealing fairly by all countries whether they needed food, iron, oil or wool. It was then by no means certain that the League of Nations would be organized, and if it were, what would be its constitution. In any event, months would elapse before it could act, and European relief was urgent. Despite this manifest objection to my argument, no one raised it, probably because no one ventured to oppose a League of President Wilson's conception.
At the London meeting, the Hoover plan was rejected definitely. In its stead was conceived an Inter-Allied Council which would act for the United States and its associates in studying means of relief. Ultimately this became the Supreme Council of Supply and Relief, that held its first meeting in Paris in January, 1919. Realizing the formidable character of the opposition to be made, Hoover abandoned his own plans, and became Director-General of Relief with purely administrative functions and without being given control over shipping. It was decided that the ships were to fly an Inter-Allied flag in addition to the flags of their own countries.
REPATRIATING OUR SOLDIERS
Although food relief was a pressing problem, as soon as the armistice was signed the speedy return of our two million soldiers was one of the uppermost problems with me. American soldiers had been keen to go to France, but were equally desirous to return home after the war. Over 50 per cent. of them had been landed in France by foreign vessels, chiefly British, and it was apparent that we would have to rely on foreign ships to bring them home. Feeling that we would be greatly embarrassed if the British failed to supply the necessary vessels for the repatriation of our troops, and knowing that Germany had in her harbors a number of large passenger ships, I laid the matter before the President. He urged me to put forth every effort to obtain some of these German passenger vessels.
In this problem, the position of the British was similar to ours. They had to consider their Australians, South Africans and Canadians. Both governments were striving to obtain as much available enemy passenger tonnage as possible, to carry out their programs. At a meeting with Lord Reading in London, November 25, 1918, I took up this question. I knew that we must arrive at some understanding satisfactory to both governments. Neither could afford to play the role of dog-in-the-manger. Europe was threatened with starvation. I pointed out to Reading that the more German passenger ships we could obtain for the return of our troops, the more cargo-ships we could release for European relief, for by reducing our army in France we would require less cargo tonnage for army food. He was very frank, and promised to use his influence in our case, which he subsequently did.
Lord Reading, Ambassador to Washington during the critical period of the war, was a fine type of British statesman. He had not previously been in the diplomatic service, but as Lord Chief Justice of England he had an exceptional experience which admirably qualified him for his war duties. He enjoyed from the first the respect and esteem of everyone with whom he came in contact. He had a keen understanding of the war shipping problems which daily were under discussion.
A characteristic among British statesmen whom I have met is that they are not likely to tell all they know, but they never misrepresent. The statements they do make can be relied upon. This was particularly true of Lord Reading.
A few nights after the Cambrai battle, in which the British lines were broken and their forces obliged to retreat, I dined at the British Embassy as the guest of Lord and Lady Reading. Their son had been in the engagement and no word had been received by them concerning him. While most of the guests knew nothing of the worry which must have been on the minds of the father and mother, I never shall forget the manner in which they suppressed their anxiety and the efforts which they made to be real hosts while their hearts must have been burdened with sorrow and apprehension throughout the dinner.
On my arrival in Paris, I explained to General Pershing the results of my talk with Lord Reading. Pershing was very anxious to hasten the return of his men, for an idle army becomes restless and critical if its demobilization is delayed unnecessarily. For this reason Pershing urged Marshal Foch to negotiate with the German Peace Commission at the December 13th meeting at Spa some method of acquiring German passenger ships. The terms of the November 11th Armistice had provided that the Allied Peace Commission should meet with the German Peace Commission every thirty days to adjust violations and to renew the armistice until final peace terms had been agreed on and signed. Foch did not press the matter, and while we appreciated that the French had many after-war problems causing them grave concern, I felt they did not show much interest and were rather slow in starting negotiations for German ships.
Until I went to France, I had thought Pershing's job was only a fighting one. I often had wondered what he was doing with the thousands of tons of supplies we were sending him. After I met General James G. Harbord and General Charles G. Dawes, I learned something of the high pressure that constantly was on the S.O.S. for munitions and supplies, and began to appreciate the work of Pershing, Harbord and Dawes, which largely was responsible for the success of the A.E.F. in France. General Harbord was not only a fighting soldier, but also was a great executive who knew how to do big things easily.
General Dawes, as head of the General Purchasing Board and an active member of the Military Board of Allied Supply, purchased from neutral and other countries thousands of tons of supplies urgently needed for the A.E.F., most of which were delivered by railroads and trucks, avoiding the danger of overseas shipping. Every ship that the Shipping Board could send to France was in service. The efficient efforts of General Dawes in rushing from every possible source thousands of tons of supplies, proved him to be a genius for organization and work. He rendered a great service, which materially lessened the Shipping Board's problem of sending supplies overseas.
General Pershing's thorough and aggressive manner of doing things impressed me. In his every move he demonstrated his executive ability and leadership. When future historians write the true history of the World War they will show that Pershing was not only one of the great military leaders but an efficient and effective business man back of the line and a forceful military leader on the battle front. His problems were many and he displayed statesmanlike qualities in handling not only his command but international problems, the solution of which proved him to be a tactful diplomat who commanded the respect of American and Allied leaders.
As an instance of how promptly Pershing acted: One morning while the American army was engaged in one of its great battles, a civilian, the holder of an important post in the War Department, happened to be in General Pershing's office. One of the General's aides entered hurriedly, saluted and said: "General, I wish to report..." When the aide saw the Washington official, he hesitated and started to withdraw. General Pershing said, "Make your report." The aide then stated that one of the generals in command had lost his way on the war map and that another had become so fatigued that he was lying under a tree while the battle was going on. Pershing immediately issued orders removing both generals and placing their commands in the hands of the next ranking officer. When this official returned to Washington, he told me of this incident as an example of Pershing's promptness and complete authority to act when the, efficiency of his army was at stake. It was this freedom of action without hindrance or consultation with any one that enabled Pershing to demonstrate what an able commander he was.
The terms of what may be called the "original" armistice had not provided with sufficient precision for the relief of Germany and the other countries facing starvation. When it became necessary to extend the armistice, an opportunity was presented to reopen this important question. From evidence gathered by the Supreme War Council, it was clear that the United States and other nations could be kept on a war diet for a time and starving European populations could be fed, provided that ships were found for the transportation of cereals, meats and fats. Our ships and those of the British still were needed to feed Allied and American armies in Europe and to keep essential industries going. The Germans alone had the ships needed. In January, the French were unanimous for inserting a clause in the extended or modified armistice autocratically demanding delivery of all German overseas passenger and cargo-ships. President Wilson, Lloyd George, Balfour and Lord Reading were opposed to compulsory methods. They decided that the ships must be obtained by bargaining with German civilians representing their Government, rather than through military channels.
PRESIDENT WILSON AND FOOD RELIEF FOR GERMANY
On January 13, 1919, I received a message from the President requesting me to attend a meeting at the Quai d'Orsay, to discuss the manner of taking over German ships. Marshal Foch presided over a galaxy of celebrities representing the great nations. Later, we reported to the Supreme War Council at which President Wilson, Lloyd George, Lansing, Balfour, Clemenceau, Sonnino and others were present. That meeting was a lesson in what is called "diplomacy." For two hours the French advanced one argument after another as to why the Germans should be prevented from buying food to stave off starvation, because less money would be left for reparations. President Wilson listened patiently, but not sympathetically. He politely rejected the notion that the collection of indemnities was more important than the saving of lives. When the meeting adjourned the French proposals were withdrawn. I went to M. Clementel's office to discuss with Lord Reading, Clementel, Hoover, the Italian and some other French representatives the form in which our demand for the German ships should be presented. It was agreed that the commission selected to modify the terms of the armistice should be a civilian body.
It also was decided that in negotiating with Germany each of the four governments concerned (the United States, Great Britain, France and Italy) was to appoint two delegates for ships, two for finance and two for revictualing. In accordance with this plan, I represented the United States for shipping. I had Admiral W. S. Benson as my personal adviser on admiralty matters, accompanied by Commodore A. F. Carter, and John E. Barber as my associates. Great Britain appointed John Anderson, J. A. Salter and Captain Hotham. The French representatives were J. H. Charpentier, P. Laurent-Vibert and Naval Lieutenant Fabre. Italy appointed Professor Bernardo Attolico. The delegates for revictualing were: L. P. Sheldon and Howard Heinz, United States; Sir John Beale, Great Britain; Pierre May, France; Commander Mario Giusti, Italy. The financial delegates were: Norman H. Davis and Charles Goodhue, United States; J. M. Keynes and Dudley Ward, Great Britain; Charles de Lasteyrie, France; Carlo Poma, Italy.
Fig. 22. ADMIRAL WILLIAM SHEPPARD BENSON. CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS DURING THE WAR.
This group of civilians planned to meet a similar group of German civilians, on January 15, 1919, at the old town of Treves, near the Luxemburg border, for the purpose of framing and signing an agreement whereby the German Government would turn over all German passenger and cargo tonnage bottled up in its harbors during the war, in exchange for food supplies for their people. This understanding was to be reached in accordance with certain clauses drafted by the Supreme War Council. "If the agreement is not brought about, Marshal Foch will, upon the recommendation of the delegates, take the matter in hand," was the somewhat ominous final clause of the instructions. The recommendations of the Supreme War Council, that were to be followed, considered the exchange of ships for food against adequate payment, the needs of the Allies and neutrals not being overlooked. I was elected chairman of the combined shipping and food delegations.
WITH FOCH AND THE GERMANS AT TREVES
WE ALLIED delegates leave Paris on January 14, 1919. The following day our special train is sidetracked next to that of Marshal Foch, at Treves. Pending arrival of the German Armistice Commission, we talk over the best method of dealing with the German shipping delegates.
At ten o'clock on. the morning of the 15th, two United States Army automobiles dash up. Out of them step the gloomiest, most dejected lot of men I ever have seen---Mathias Erzberger, Count von Obendorff, General von Winterfeldt of the German Army and Captain Vanselow of the German Navy. It is the military and naval delegation of the German Armistice Commission.
The Germans enter Foch's car. They range themselves on one side of the large table in the middle of the coach. The French range themselves on the other side. Foch enters. A stiff bow from him and his French associates. Equally stiff bows from the Germans. The atmosphere is tense---icy. Foch invites the assembled company to be seated. He proceeds to lay down the law. Copies of the new armistice terms are handed to the Germans---copies with parallel columns. In one column the alleged infractions of the original armistice are listed; in the other are the new terms. It is obvious enough that the Germans will not be given much opportunity for parleying. The new armistice must be signed within twenty-four hours. Foch so dictates to the Germans---also to us.
But where are the German shipping delegates? Their train has been delayed. They will not arrive for two or three hours, and we have only twenty-four in which to conclude a difficult piece of negotiation. We go to Foch. Will he give us more time? The delegates ought to receive fair play, we argue. The obdurate Foch gives us only until six o 'clock, not a second more whether we arrive at an understanding with the Germans or not. Evidently he regards us merely as meddlesome civilians, trying to prevent him from having his own military way. For the time being, we accept the situation. We have to.
We hire a large room in the Reichshof. Every German town, it seems, has a hotel called either a Reichshof or Kaiserhof. That room is to be our council chamber and meeting place. Our dining car is without bread, and because of the food scarcity we cannot purchase any. I learn that the American Red Cross may have some, and write a note to the Colonel in command. To our surprise, twelve loaves of bread are delivered to us by my personal friend Colonel George F. Getz, of Chicago. We are glad to get the bread, and are particularly pleased to see Getz. There, we have our first formal conference with the German shipping delegates. They come in very solemnly---Mr. Philip Heineken, Director-General of the North German Lloyd; Dr. F. Cuno, of the Hamburg-American Line; Von Braun, Under-Secretary of State; Geheimrat Seeliger, Doctor Melchior and Doctor Ratjen. We conduct ourselves in keeping with the example set by Foch in his car. Indeed, the formalities have been prescribed by Foch.
Our meeting with the enemy, however, proves to be more cordial than was expected. This arises from a somewhat amusing misunderstanding of the sign language. There are twenty-two of us in the room, at one side of the council table. As the Germans enter, we rise and bow. They return our greetings, and prepare to seat themselves opposite us. Motioning to a chair, I invite Herr Heineken to be seated. He mistakes my gesture, seizes my hand, and shakes it warmly! No doubt he thinks that the Anglo-Saxon pugilistic custom of shaking the hand of a beaten opponent also prevails at armistice meetings. The Germans certainly behave as though they are down and out. Heineken's cordial shaking of my hand causes a smile to appear from our side. They are a group of cultured gentlemen, and we have no animosity towards them. But, technically speaking, our country still is at war against theirs; and we have instructions to extend to them only the most formal greetings.
Anderson, a man of fine personal appearance, is mistaken by the Germans for an American. That is not at all displeasing to the members of our delegation. One of the German shipping men passes to him, across the table, a typewritten sheet. We know nothing about the contents of the letter, and Anderson is much surprised. We learn later that it is a copy of a letter they had written to General Pershing, offering the United States their passenger ships on a charter-rate basis. Pershing never has replied to the communication.
As Chairman, I open the proceedings by explaining to the Germans that ours is a civilian commission---the first that has stepped on German soil since the war started; and that we shall deal with them not as exacting representatives of the military authorities, but as humane negotiators. We have to settle highly important questions of relief, by ascertaining what German passenger ships can be placed at our disposal to release American and Allied vessels. I assure them we will not take advantage of our country's military power. We listen to their story, regarding their country's requirements of food, particularly the great need of condensed milk for the children, and hospital supplies for the sick. We have a feeling of sorrow.
A snag is struck. Doctor Melchior proposes that the German ships be turned over to the United States, but that they be manned by German crews. We decline to accept the proposal. The minutes are passing swiftly. It is five o'clock. Foch summons us to his car, and tells us that the armistice must be signed at once. We protest, and try to convince him that in all fairness to the Germans we ought to give them at least until seven o'clock (January 16) to consider a memorandum which we have presented to them. He refuses, whereupon we return to the council table. Again Foch summons us, this time to hand us copies of a clause he intends to incorporate in the terms of the armistice. It contains no provision for taking over German passenger tonnage, and deals only with the revictualing of Europe. We pluck up courage, reject the clause, present to Foch the entire plan we have discussed with the Germans' and ask that it be inserted in the terms of the armistice, pointing out that we represent the Supreme War Council and that it is unfair to ask the Germans (delayed through no fault of theirs) to sign any document they have had no time to study. We have the same degree of authority that Foch has. Our instructions are in English. Foch's instructions are in French. He insists on comparing them, and tries to prove that our understanding of them is wrong. We prove that we are right, but that does not influence him. One-half an hour is all that he will grant. We decline to consider so brief an extension. Foch counters, by refusing emphatically to insert our proposed clause in his terms because we have not reached any agreement with the Germans. He asserts that he has no authority to include our clause; and that the Allied Supreme War Council has not passed on the Naval Committee's report on the disposal of German ships. We become insistent. Sir John Beale and John Anderson urge that the time at which the armistice is to be signed should be extended until midnight,(46) and that our clause be inserted, provided it is accepted by the Germans. Foch does not budge from his position. We have to make the best of his unreasonable attitude, so we decide neither to approve nor disapprove of his inserting our clause. Our arguments make no impression upon him. We return to the hotel. While there, Foch sends us a message. The terms of the armistice have been signed! Our clause, in the exact form in which we prepared it, has been included. Foch having yielded to our proposal, our feelings towards him become some-what ameliorated. At half past nine, the appointed hour, we meet the Germans again. They are not aware of the signing of the armistice.
"Gentlemen," I address them, "We would be glad to take up with you the matter of food and ships. We regret that your train was delayed, and that you have been prevented from studying our proposal. You certainly were entitled to more time. But, gentlemen, the armistice has been signed. Nevertheless, we are just as desirous of arriving at an agreement with you as if the question at issue were still open. Circumstances over which we had no control made it imperative to sign the armistice at seven o'clock. The army has these matters in hand, and I am sure that you gentlemen, who have had such an extensive experience with army men, know what it means when they want matters settled."
Doctor Cuno has a sense of humor. "It's a joke," he laughs, "but it's perfectly true."
Each item of the agreement is thoroughly considered. Then we adjourn to meet the following day. It is my belief that in order to protect themselves from an enraged public at home, the Germans would much prefer to sign a clause compelling them to surrender their ships unconditionally. They thus would be placed in the position of being forced to give up their merchant marine to obtain food for their starving people.
By twelve o'clock of the eventful next day, we reach an agreement. We rush to our train and have the agreement copied. We have told the Germans that our train will leave at 12:30, and have asked Captain Vanselow to report at 12:15 to sign. At 12:28, the first document negotiated by, civilians representing the Allied and associated governments is signed. The German signatories express their appreciation of the treatment we have accorded them. At 12:30 our train leaves for Paris. Our mission is accomplished.
* * * * * * *
My next meeting with Marshal Foch was shortly afterwards, at the opening of the Peace Conference. He was in company with Admiral Browning of the British Navy. I put a hand on one of his shoulders and said, "Marshal, after my experiences with you at Treves, I readily can understand why the Germans signed the first armistice terms at Spa." He smiled, and replied that he did not have all the say nor his own way entirely, either at Treves or at Spa.
Our clause which Foch had inserted in the extended armistice on January 16, 1919, read as follows:
In order to assure the revictualing as to food of Germany and the rest of Europe, the German Government will take all necessary measures to put, for the period of the armistice, the entire German commercial fleet under the control and under the flags of the Allied Powers and of the United States, assisted by a German delegate.
This agreement does not prejudice, in any manner, the final disposition of these ships. The Allies and the United States will effect, if they deem it necessary, the partial or total replacement of the crews, which thus released will be repatriated to Germany.
For the use of these ships an appropriate remuneration will be paid which will be determined by the Allied governments.
All the details as well as the exceptions to be determined as concerns the different categories of ships will be regulated by a special convention, which shall be concluded immediately.
Delegates of the associated governments:
Edward N. Hurley, Chairman
L. P. Sheldon,
J. A. Salter,
T. M. Charpentier,
For the German Government:
Kapitan zu See und Mitglied der Waffenstillstande Kommission.
When the time arrived to make a definite working agreement on this basis, we realized that the Germans wanted food just as badly as we wanted their passenger ships to help them get it. Von Braun, Under-Secretary of State, had painted a ghastly picture of German conditions. Eight hundred daily were dying of starvation. Bolshevism stared the Government in the face. There were needed, urgently, 75,000 tons of fats, 10,000 tons of condensed milk, and other foods. The hospitals were unable to succor the sick and dying. They needed 100,000 rubber gloves, 18,000 air-cushions, 500,000 nipples, 10,000 water-bags, 220,000 pounds of vulcanite or artificial teeth and 50,000 tubes of catgut. The further catalogue of dire necessities was heart-rending.
Psychological studies of war conditions, made by the British, often were a revelation. I recall that at the Peace Conference, Mr. Henry Wickham Steed, formerly editor of the London Times and author of "Through Thirty Years," told me an interesting story of a study he had made of conditions showing one of the reasons for the breaking down of the morale among the German soldiers toward the close of the conflict. He said it was a generally accepted fact that Germany was a very efficient nation; that she had systematized everything very thoroughly; and that the Germans believed they could do everything better than any other people. He stated, that in the distribution of food throughout Germany during the war, there was no question but that the Germans worked out the method on the most scientific basis possible; but that, with all their efficiency, it was one of the causes contributing in no small degree to their loss of the war. In practically every German community each inhabitant received, through the Food Administration, his or her proportion of bread, meat and other supplies. But after distribution of equal shares to everyone, there was some surplus, often amounting to comparatively large quantities. This surplus was allotted to shopkeepers, to sell. Persons of financial means could buy food in addition to what had been apportioned to them, so long as the supplies lasted. A soldier home on furlough would see the surplus food in the shop windows, and the rich buying it. Perhaps his own wife and children were pale and emaciated, from lack of essentials; and he perhaps had been wounded and was going back to the front to sacrifice his life for the Fatherland. When he returned to the trenches he reported to his "kamarads" what he believed to be the great injustice that was being done to the real fighting men and their families. The conviction spread, in the ranks on the fighting line, that those who had wealth could get anything they wanted; but that the men who were making the real sacrifices, thousands dying for their country, were being discriminated against by their Government. There is little doubt that this did contribute materially to the downfall of Germany. It demonstrated that no matter how efficient a nation may be, there is no such thing as one hundred per cent. perfection.
In arranging the method of payment for food to be delivered, we had to consider French susceptibilities. France objected to any policy that would reduce the amount of German gold or securities available for reparations. Since most of the food had to come from the United States, we had the deciding voice. We left that question more or less open. The Germans again insisted on manning with German crews the ships to be turned over. They were moved partly by sentimental considerations and partly by the fact that thousands of German seamen otherwise would be thrown out of work, with the result that the difficulty of feeding an idle, starving population would be enhanced. But the Allies were firm in their opposition, and would go no further than to permit German crews to take the ships to ports of delivery in England and France.
Nor were the Germans pleased with the payment they were to receive for the use of their ships. There was consternation among them when they were told that the highest rate they would receive would be the lowest rate paid by Great Britain or her Allies to native or neutral shipowners, the "Blue Book Rates." As a matter of fact, whatever payment was made could have made little difference to the German shipowners. No money would pass into their hands, the payments being credited to the German account in the Reparations Fund.
When the shipping and food agreement, reached with the Germans at Treves, was published, the German shipowners of Hamburg and Bremen were indignant. German shipping had been exchanged for a mess of pottage, they charged. Although Cuno, of the Hamburg-American Line, had been one of the Treves delegates, he presided at a meeting of German shipowners and merchants held in Hamburg. Fruitless resolutions were passed there, urging the German Government not to ratify the Treves agreement. Doctor Rantzau, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, protested against "this violent subversion of Germany's economic development," and asserted that if the agreement were not upset, Germany's interest in the freedom of the seas (one of the fourteen. points) must be purely academic in view of the lack of German ships. All of that was very true---but protest to the government was futile.
THE SPA AND BRUSSELS CONFERENCES
BECAUSE the Treves agreement had outlined merely the general conditions under which Germany would receive food in exchange for the use of her ships another conference was necessary. A mechanism had to be devised to carry out the understanding that had been reached. The questions of the supply of food and raw material, of finance and of transport had to be treated as a whole. To the Americans it was evident that if reparation or indemnity were to be obtained, German industry had to be placed upon its feet. All their arguments in council were based on a recognition of this fact.
I was unable to attend the Spa Conference, because my presence in Washington was imperative. The principal representatives of the associated governments were: George Rublee, Henry M. Robinson, Commander J. C. Freemont, John E. Barber and Colonel J. A. Logan for the United States; J. A. Salter, E. F. Wise, Sir Thomas Royden, T. Lodge, Commander Spencer Cooper and Lieut. Commander McCormick-Goodhart for Great Britain; R. Laurent-Vibert, M. J. Max and Commandant de Meaux for France; Captain Lazzarini and L. Stobbia for Italy. The German delegates were practically the same as those who had signed the Treves agreement, von Seeliger heading the Shipping Section and von Braun the Food Section.
Precise instructions were given to the Americans, British, Italians and French On the questions to be discussed with the Germans and the course to be adopted in obtaining the German ships and the disposals to be made of them, in exchange for food. As at Treves the United States and our Allies were more concerned with obtaining large German passenger ships for the repatriation of troops than with cargo-carriers.
On February 6, 1919, Rear-Admiral George W. Hope of the British Navy handed to the German delegates a note in which they were informed clearly what was expected of them in clarifying the Treves agreement and carrying out its terms. It was evident that the Germans, doubtless acting under the pressure of public opinion at home, were bent on trying to reopen the whole issue that had been settled at Treves. Almost every issue raised by the agenda of the conference was contested by the Germans. By the terms of the Treves agreement, it was understood that certain vessels were to be delivered. But the Germans, contrary to the contemplation of the Allies, claimed exemption for some classes of ships. Their claims were refused.
It developed at one of the sessions that the Germans had sent five ships to Cherbourg, with French prisoners of War. The opportunity to seize the ships was too alluring for France to resist. Naturally the Germans protested violently to the British and the Americans. The French sheepishly admitted that they had seized the ships, giving as an excuse that they merely had anticipated the judgment of the shipping-food agreement then being negotiated. The French were talking no chances on "overlooking a bet."
The storm of disapproval that had broken out in Germany when the Treves agreement was signed had not been forgotten. Before the Germans would accede to or deny an important demand made by their opponents, they would call up Weimar, on the long-distance telephone, and consult with their Government. As a rule, that Government gave instructions which made vital concessions impossible. The second meeting, on March 4th, led to no conclusion, due to the unyielding German attitude. Admiral Hope abruptly ended further discussions, so the Spa negotiations came to nothing. Acting under instructions from their Government, the German delegates had refused (1) to include ships building among those to be surrendered; (2) to content themselves with a mere promise, on the part of the Allies, to consider certain exceptions to surrender of ships which were demanded; (3) to remove all German crews from German ships assigned for Allied and American operation.(47)
The Spa conference having failed, and the Peace Conference being in full swing by this time, it became necessary more than ever to arrive at some understanding with the Germans regarding ships. Another conference was held, at Brussels, on March 13-14, 1919. The United States was represented by Henry M. Robinson, Herbert Hoover, Thomas W. Lamont and Hugh Gibson. Great Britain sent a number of able men, among whom were Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss, Sir Joseph Maclay, John Anderson, T. Lodge and J. M. Keynes. The French delegates were Mm. Monnet, Charpentier, Laurent-Vibert, Commandant. de Meaux, Commandant Fillioux, Jules Max and Charles de Lasteyrie. Italy sent Signor Farina and Captains Lazzarini and Yung. Belgium was represented for the first time, her delegate being E. Francqui. Von Braun again headed the German delegation, and with him were Doctor Melchior and such important shipping men as Heineken and Cuno.
This time a definite agreement was reached. Concessions were made on each side, the Allies yielding far less than the Germans. The 270,000 tons of food promised at Treves was increased to 370,000. Germany was permitted to pay for this food by the export of commodities, by the sale of cargos of German ships in neutral countries, by credits in neutral countries, by the outright sale or hypothecation of foreign securities and properties, and by the use of gold, all subject to the permission of the Allied and Associated Powers.
During the armistice and up to May 1, 1919, the Allies acquired control of practically the entire Austro-Hungarian fleet, amounting to about 750,000 gross tons, and in the five weeks following the Brussels conference acquired 900,000 tons of German shipping. Of the German vessels, 550,000 gross tons were actually in operation on May 1st and 100,000 more were either enroute to Allied ports or ready to sail from German ports, for delivery.
Before and after this Brussels meeting had convened, the Allied Maritime Transport Council had assumed the management of nearly all obtainable German and Austrian tonnage. It proceeded to carry out the shipping provisions of the Brussels agreement. To France were assigned nearly 400,000 gross tons, or 625,000 tons deadweight, of enemy cargo vessels. About one-sixth were Austrian. The rest were almost entirely German, including over 90,000 gross tons of German long-distance passenger steamers and a small amount of Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian local passenger tonnage.
To the United States were assigned eleven large passenger vessels aggregating nearly 200,000 gross tons, vessels which we used for the repatriation of our troops and for which we substituted an equivalent tonnage of cargo steamers. We were charged with obtaining delivery, for the Allies, of 245,000 gross tons of German vessels in Central and South American ports, and of two passenger vessels of 25,000 gross tons in Norwegian ports.
Of the German vessels assigned to us by the Allied Maritime Transport Council, only nine could be employed for the return of troops. They could carry a total of only 3997 officers and 39,132 men. We could not rely on British and other foreign shipping for the repatriation of our soldiers. Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians and South Africans also had to be sent back to their homes. The United States was thrown largely upon its own resources. All available merchant vessels (fifty-six) were converted into transports. So were all suitable men-o'-war.
The energy and efficiency with which this task was performed are indicated by the fact that before the end of July, 1919, 1,770,484 men had been returned to America. Up to October 1, 1919, 1,945,367 men had been repatriated. It was accomplished without the loss of a single life due to hazards of the sea. The feat paralleled the war-time record made in transporting to France hundreds of thousands of American soldiers under American Navy convoy, without one loss due to any hazard of war. A tentative schedule was prepared by the Army and Navy, which showed the number of men that the Navy believed it could carry across the water, month by month, if the Army would deliver them as ships became available. This schedule was improved steadily as time passed, and in the month of June, 1919, 340,946 men embarked from France.
Great Britain received the balance of the German passenger and cargo tonnage and was charged with obtaining delivery of 350,000 gross tons of vessels in the ports of Holland, the Dutch East Indies and the Scandinavian countries other than Norway.(48) In accordance with the arrangement made by the Supreme War Council, each vessel taken over flew the flag of the Allied Maritime Transport Council (so that no one country would receive more than its just share of credit for food relief) as well as the national flag of the country by which the ship was being managed. It was expressly provided in the Brussels agreement that the ultimate disposal of the vessels acquired from Germany would be determined by terms of the treaty of peace.
Italy received, for management, the greater part of the Austro-Hungarian merchant fleet, a total of about 586,000 gross tons or nearly 800,000 tons deadweight. Immediately following the signing of the armistice, the Italians had seized most of the Austrian vessels then in the Adriatic Sea and applied them to Italy's urgent uses without consulting the Inter-Allied Maritime Transport Council or any of the Allied governments. The French were able to pick up a few of the smaller Austrian ships, but the greater number of them fell into the hands of the Italians. Consequently, bitter feelings developed between Italy and France over these Austrian ships.
AUSTRIAN SHIPS IN SPANISH WATERS
There were also about twenty-three Austrian vessels in Spanish waters. A determined struggle ensued between France and Italy as to which country should be permitted to take them. With the hope of reaching an amicable and satisfactory agreement regarding their disposal, the Supreme War Council suggested the holding of a meeting of British, French, Italian and American representatives, to consider the issue and to determine what division should be made of these Austrian vessels.
In the conference that was held, Lord Reading represented Great Britain, M. Clementel appeared for France and Professor Attolico for Italy. I represented the United States, with Admiral Benson as my associate. The representatives from the other countries also had the respective ranking admirals associated with them. The discussions continued for a week, and were most exasperating. They revealed that a serious situation was developing between two of our ally nations, which recently had been fighting in a common cause. Now that the enemy was vanquished, they bad started to quarrel over a division of a minor part of the spoils. So tense was the feeling at one stage that there was grave fear the French and Italian navies would be ordered out to decide the issue.
It was highly desirable to have the Austrian vessels placed in service at the earliest possible moment. An agreement finally was reached, whereby the Austrian ships in question were to be taken over by the nation which would man them first. To decide this matter, it was agreed that the naval attachés of the British, French, Italian and American embassies in Madrid should meet in the Spanish Capital, and determine among themselves whether France or Italy was better equipped to first put the vessels into service. This tentative agreement seemed satisfactory and fair and was signed by all of the representatives. We all felt greatly relieved, as it was our belief that the settlement would eliminate a somewhat embarrassing situation.
About ten days later I was greatly surprised to receive a request from George Rublee, representing the Shipping Board in many important matters at the Peace Conference, asking me to wire our naval attaché in Madrid to support the British position in disposing of the Austrian ships. He said he could not give me further information at that time, and preferred that I should not ask him for any. He requested that I take the action suggested, for the sake of peace between France and Italy. I did not send the telegram, but immediately called upon Admiral Benson and asked him to ascertain the real situation in Madrid in respect of those Austrian ships. I had believed that the matter of their disposal was settled, and that the ships were at sea.
Through private sources, we learned that the four naval attachés in Madrid who were to decide which country was able to man the ships first, never had held a meeting, for the reason that it had been impossible to get the French attaché to be present. Because no action could be had without him, nothing had been done. Later I learned the cause. It appears that immediately following the conclusion of our conference at the Quai d'Orsay, resulting in the agreement to which I have referred, one of the Italian representatives sent a message, in code, to Rome. He reported the agreement and concluded with the statement that in view of the fact that Italy had a sufficient number of men in Spain to man the ships at once, the Italian seamen already had a decided advantage over the French and would be able to take the ships. When this message was filed, it went immediately to the French Intelligence office, where it was decoded. The information it contained was transmitted promptly to the French authorities. Thus, the intended Italian movement was checkmated by the refusal of the French naval attaché in Madrid to meet with the other naval attachés designated to decide the question. After further controversy, a compromise was reached.
This action on the part of the French Intelligence service is strikingly illustrative of much of the work of the espionage systems which were employed by all of the Allies as well as our own Government, including the Intelligence Bureau of the Shipping Board.
Those days which followed close on the heels of the German overture for peace and leading up to the time the armistice finally was signed were days when nations prayed---when every man was stilled by the suspense of what the issue held. We members of the Shipping Board, our every yard teeming with activity, were most vitally concerned. Though perhaps it never before has been told, those were days when the Allies were helplessly relying on (and yet received no help from) one of the most empty figments of man's brain ---the "Intelligence Service," or espionage system employed by all nations during the war.
Gallant soldiers had fought through the years of war and at last had come to a point in the conflict at which the Germans were requesting a cessation of hostilities. Here was a breach, thrown open, that the "Intelligence Service" should have filled with information.
What to demand of the enemy?---That was the question.
It thrust itself upon the Allied leaders at a moment when they were entirely unprepared to meet or solve it. With their Intelligence System completely broken down, the forces of the Allies were left blind and groping to understand the true reasons why Germany desired an armistice.
At Paris when preliminary armistice proposals were discussed, the British Admiralty strongly insisted upon the complete surrender of the German Navy. But Foch and Haig dissented, pleading moderation as taught by the lessons of history in dealing with a vanquished foe. These two splendid military leaders did not know of the demoralization of the German General Staff, four weeks before, nor of the impending revolution in Germany; nor had they any knowledge of the complete disintegration in morale of the German people, which made the latter hysterical for peace at any cost.
It was simply their thought to end the war in victory for the Allies; and not, by haughty and unreasonable imposition of severe terms that the pride of the enemy could not accept, to continue the conflict for an indefinite period.
They knew that their tired armies had high hopes that the peace negotiations would end the war, and would become depressed if Germany did not sign. It would require heroic efforts to revive in them their old fighting spirit.
Lloyd George was in sympathy with the position taken by Foch and Haig. He expressed a fear that the demands of the Naval experts might prolong the war, and asked that a decision be put off a few days until at least Austria had capitulated. "We must ask ourselves," he said, "whether we want to make peace at once or to continue the war for a year. It may be very tempting to take a certain number of ships., But that is not the main issue. At present each of our armies is losing more men in a week than at any time during the first four years of war. We must not lose sight of that." (49)
Voicing his position and humanitarian outlook upon the situation, Marshal Foch said this:
"The only aim of war is to obtain results. If the Germans sign an armistice on the general lines we have just determined, we have obtained the result we seek. Our aim being accomplished, no one has the right to shed another drop of blood."(50)
With victory within his grasp, yet cautiously weighing what he considered the more extravagant proposals of his colleagues at the memorable session on October 27th, Foch gave way a trifle and indicated his willingness to be content with the delivery of 150 German submarines. Neither he nor Haig ever dreamed that the Germans would surrender their entire navy, but thought they would choose rather to fight to the very end if such a proposal were made.
Pershing, with his usual courage, supported the demand for surrender of the entire enemy navy. He had a fresh army which was increasing daily, and therefore urged Foch and Haig to include that provision.
Had it not been for the revolutionary movement in Germany which the Allied leaders, uninformed by their collapsed "Intelligence Service," knew nothing about, the German Peace Commission at Spa would not have dared to sign an armistice including any such provision for the total surrender of their navy. Had they refused to do so, the prior judgment of Foch and Haig would have been right, and history might have shown the war lasting for another year as Lloyd George predicted. But Erzberger and his colleagues knew what the Allied Intelligence operatives had failed to report. They knew too well of the internal upheaval, the flight of the Kaiser and the peace-hungry disposition of their countrymen. So Erzberger did sign, because there was nothing else left for him to do. He knew full well that the German people would agree to anything, to end the war.
This aspect of the armistice was something over which neither the Allies nor the German High Command had the slightest control.
It was unfortunate that the Intelligence units of the Allies did not acquire the facts regarding German conditions. Those facts were so vital they might easily have resulted in an earlier termination of the war had they been revealed.
But when the combined Intelligence sections of all the Allied forces in the war, for whatever reasons they failed, did not report the complete breakdown of morale of an enemy civilian populace, its brooding revolution and the mutiny of its navy, then the blame of inefficiency or something worse can but be leveled against such a service.
Gossip about what our neighbors are doing and are going to do seems to interest not only the people on Main Street but also the great governments of the world. Before the war each nation had an "Intelligence Service" and still has it, under guise of the various military and naval posts. But it seems that at critical periods these services do not function effectively.
Many persons believe that if the German and British "Intelligence Services" really were efficient in July, 1914, and Germany had been advised in advance of the true feeling in London (that England would be compelled to go to war if Belgium was invaded) Germany might have hesitated to mobilize and the World War would have been avoided.
England was fortunate in procuring a copy of the wireless code used by Germany in transmitting messages to her submarines. But it was not through the "Intelligence Service." It was through the efforts of Diver Miller, of the navy, who secured the first wireless code in a sunken submarine and later descended to every sunken U-boat that could be discovered, to obtain other wireless codes.
One set of Intelligence operatives tended to checkmate an opposition set, and some amusing phases of all this spy work developed as a result. A majority of the operatives were detailed to check the moves of the other Allies, instead of watching what Germany was doing. Jealousies among the nations arose and each nation became suspicious of its allies.
Spies were so numerous they crossed one-another's trails. They stumbled over each other and did a lot of hysterical things. For example, it developed to a point that whenever a bag of diplomatic mail was opened or a letter was unsealed, the offense was charged against the Germans. Perhaps this was not improper, under the circumstances. We had similar conditions to cope with in the Shipping Board.
In view of the utter failure of the intelligence units to function effectively prior to, and during the armistice negotiations, of the system of intrigue employed to obtain information even in peace times, and of exaggerated statements which only arouse jealousies among nations, such spy systems seem to do more harm than good. In most cases their efforts are absolutely valueless.
AMERICAN BUSINESS PROFITED BY OUR WAR FLEET
In spite of the heavy demands made upon the Shipping Board to expedite the return of troops, we still found it possible to aid Hoover in carrying out his stupendous program of European relief. This was made difficult, for the reason that as early as February, 1919, there was an exceptional demand all over the world for cargo space. Moreover, it was not definitely known what the food requirements were, nor to what extent starving populations could partially help themselves. The new countries of Central Europe had not as yet succeeded in organizing adequate administrative departments; therefore, neither Hoover nor our Board could look to them for information. A rough estimate indicated that there were upwards of 100,000,000 more Europeans than could be supported without imports. One has only to imagine the entire population of the United States literally starving to death, to realize what was demanded of Hoover as Director-General of Relief. Ultimately, he decided on the quantity of supplies to be shipped, and passed the orders to the Grain Corporation in New York. The American Relief Administration office in. New York obtained tonnage from the Shipping Board. In April, 1919, a total of 225 of our cargo-ships, aggregating 1,535,584 deadweight tons, was engaged in the movement of foodstuffs to Europe---about 22.5 per cent. of the active Shipping Board tonnage.(51)
In all, the American Relief Association delivered supplies at thirty-seven different European ports, nineteen in Northern Europe and eighteen on the Southern route. During the period between December, 1918, and August, 1919, more than 300 cargos from this country were sent abroad. At one time there were as many as seventy relief ships at sea. From the signing of the armistice until September 1, 1919, when general relief measures were nearly completed, the supplies delivered by the American., the Allied and neutral governments, under the direction of Hoover, reached the enormous total of about 4,760,000 tons of goods valued at more than $1,147,600,000. Of this amount nearly 77 per cent., $870,000,000 in value, was shipped from America. About 10.5 per cent., or $120,000,000, was from the British Empire. France and Italy each contributed about 2 per cent., while 4 per cent. was financed jointly by the United Kingdom, the United States, France and Italy The remainder came, from other countries.
Fig. 23. LARGE TYPE PACIFIC COAST STEEL SHIP, S. S. Greylock, 10,950 DEAD-WEIGHT TON STEEL CARGO-SHIP, BUILT BY THE LOS ANGELES SHIP BUILDING AND DRY DOCK COMPANY. THE PRESENT OPERATING FLEET OF CARGO-VESSELS IN SERVICE FEBRUARY 1, 1927, CONSISTS OF 337 SHIPS; OF THESE 240 ARE OVER 8000 DEAD-WEIGHT TONS, AND THE BALANCE BETWEEN 7000 AND 8000.
This great relief work could not have been accomplished had it not been for the cargo-ships built during the war and furnished by the United States Shipping Board.
The facts that our ship-building program was carried out under stress of war conditions when the wages of labor and the price of material were higher than at any other time in the history of the world, that we did not have a sufficient number of shipyards and were obliged to create them before we could undertake the building of ships and that we had only a limited number of ship-builders and ship workers who were experienced, naturally made the cost of our fleet excessive. Probably the cost was three times as great as it would have been had the building of such a fleet been undertaken in the period immediately preceding the European war; but production cost of practically everything else also was doubled, tripled and in many cases quadrupled during the war.
American manufacturers and American farmers had large surpluses. Europe needed our manufactured goods and farm products. What would have happened if we had not built the ships necessary to move a large part of such surpluses in 1919 and 1920? Eighteen million deadweight tons of shipping had been lost during the war. Every nation that had ships was using them in its own service. In the year 1913 our total exports amounted approximately to two billion dollars ($2,000,000,000) in value, of which only 10 per cent. were carried in American bottoms.
In 1919 and 1920, our total exports aggregated fourteen billion dollars ($14,000,000,000) of which 40 per cent. (40%) were carried in vessels flying the American flag. That 40 per cent. of our exports was equal to five billion six hundred million dollars ($5,600,000,000). If we had not had ships to carry the surplus volume of our production, total sales abroad for those years would have been decreased enormously. It would have meant a direct loss to American producers and American working men. In view of the fact that hundreds of thousands of working men who had been engaged in making war necessities were obliged to seek other opportunities of labor, and that 2,000,000 soldiers were returning home and would require employment, a serious condition would have resulted had it not been for our greatly increased export of peace-time necessities. Those surplus goods would not have been produced, for it would have been impossible to. export them without the war-built vessels. Those ships made it possible for the United States to export during this rehabilitating period substantially a third more goods than otherwise would have been possible.
Had it not been for our war-built fleet, ocean freight rates (which averaged $1.32 per deadweight ton in 1913 and had increased in 1919 and 1920 to an average of $7.68 per deadweight ton, or 600 per cent.) might easily have increased 1000 per cent. The existence of our ships helped to stabilize ocean carrying charges. Practically all of the earnings at these high rates would have gone to foreign shipowners had not the United States possessed a fleet able to carry 40 per cent. of our export trade, besides imports of vast quantities of raw material for our own use.
Chapter Thirty-Five: Shipping importance at the Peace Conference
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