"On the General Board of the Navy, Admiral Hilary Jones, and Naval Arms Limitation, 1921-1931"
by William Braisted
Department of History
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS 66506‑7186, USA
It is my honor and pleasure to introduce to you Dr. William Reynolds Braisted, currently Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Texas at Austin. A glance at his educational background reveals training at a number of prestigious institutions, including George Washington University, Stanford University, and the University of Chicago, with some postdoctoral work at Harvard University thrown in for good measure.
Aside from his career in academia, Dr. Braisted also served during World War II as a Research Analyst and Consultant for the Military Intelligence Service as an expert on Japanese politics. But he is best known for his scholarly achievements and indeed is now engaged in his fiftieth year of service to the University of Texas at Austin.
His interest in the U.S. Navy and its role in the forging of American policy in East Asia stemmed from a research project begun in a seminar over a half-century ago. Today he is recognized as a leading authority on the U.S. Navy in the "dreadnought era" as well as on America's complex diplomatic efforts in those years, with a special interest in East Asia.
He is perhaps best known for his first book The United States Navy in the Pacific, 1897-1909 and the massive follow-on study, which carried the subject on through the momentous Washington Naval Arms Limitation Conference of 1922. Thomas Buckley called the latter ". . . the most significant work in early twentieth-century American naval history published in several decades," while another reviewer described it as "required for collections on naval and diplomatic history." But he has also published innumerable book chapters and articles as well as a translation of the collected issues of Meiroku Zasshi, the nineteenth century "Journal of Japanese Enlightenment."
It was such work that led to invitations to serve as a Visiting Professor of Naval History at Annapolis and as the Secretary of the Navy's Professor of Naval History at the Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C. He has been recognized with a multitude of honors and awards, also too numerous to mention here, but which include a Fulbright Research Fellowship, a Mershon Fellowship in Military History, and grants from the Ford Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Perhaps the ultimate recognition came in 1988, when he was honored with the Order of the Sacred Treasure, conferred by the Emperor of Japan.
Please allow me now to present to you a scholar who has not only excelled in his several fields of interest, but who has helped to build them into what they are today: Dr. William Braisted.
"On the General Board of the Navy, Admiral Hilary Jones, and Naval Arms Limitation, 1921-1931"
by William Braisted
American naval men during the years after the First World War insisted that the United States should achieve naval parity with Great Britain and a navy at least one and two-thirds the size of the Japanese, i.e., a 5:5:3 ratio of naval strengths for Britain, the United States, and Japan.
This was based on the assumption that the United States should be prepared to fight the world's greatest sea power, Great Britain, in the Atlantic and the third greatest naval power, Japan, in the Western Pacific. These were the considerations that most influenced American naval officers, especially those on the Navy's General Board, when they drew up the Navy's building programs and when they approached naval arms limitation. The General Board of the Navy and Rear Admiral Hilary P Jones, the Navy's recognized authority on naval arms limitation, stressed that naval parity with Great Britain was in no sense parity in sea power, since Britain was assured sea power superiority by her world-wide system of naval bases and her unmatched merchant marine, in which she enjoyed a five-to-one superiority over the United States in large ships capable of conversion to cruisers.
The State and Navy Departments developed their policies on naval arms limitation quite autonomously without benefit of consultation in a later National Security Council or a Committee of Imperial Defense as in Britain. Consideration of naval arms limitation at the Navy Department fell largely to the General Board, a prestigious body that had been established in 1900 to advise on questions posed by the Secretary of the Navy. Working as a consensual group, this body of senior naval officers provided its advice when it was sought by the Secretary. On naval arms limitation, its advice was sometimes followed, sometimes ignored, and sometimes not even asked.
Soon after President Harding in mid-July 1921 sent out invitations to nine powers to a conference on arms limitation and Far Eastern problems, the dynamic young Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., assembled the General Board to report on what constituted a "naval unit" and the "equitable relativity of naval strength" of the five participating naval powers: Britain, the United States, Japan, France, and Italy. This was followed two weeks later by a request from Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes for a "Yardstick" by which to govern naval arms limitation. "Equitable relativity" and "a Yardstick" were themes that would be repeated through the years.
The General Board responded over the following weeks with a series of reports that stressed the necessity for maintaining a navy sufficiently powerful to discourage the British proclivity to dominate the world's markets and communications and to halt Japanese aggression in East Asia. The board warned:
Today no power in the Atlantic save our own balances British sea power. No power in the Pacific save our own checks Japanese sea power. We are reasonably certain that Japan will join Great Britain in a war against us Great Britain might undertake.
The board insisted that the United States required a navy equal to the British and twice the Japanese, or a navy equal to the combined navies of Britain and Japan should the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902 remain operative. Taking capital ships (battleships and battle cruisers) as the ultimate measure of naval power, the board proposed that the three major powers complete great ships of this class largely on a keels-laid basis until the American and British battle fleets reached high ceilings of 1,000,000 tons each, the Japanese, 600,000 tons. Further recommendations by the General Board and the Navy Department still proving high, Secretary of State Hughes and the American delegation to the conference adopted a "stop now" proposal, put together with the advice of Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt and a senior captain (soon to become rear admiral) from the General Board, William Veazie Pratt. This "stop now" proposal called for a halt in new construction for the battle fleets of the three powers at levels about half those originally proposed by the General Board and designed to produce fleets based on a 5:5:3 ratio: ultimately of 535,000 tons each for Britain and the United States, 315,000 tons for Japan.
The General Board protested in vain against the cuts. Nevertheless, the "stop now" plan became the basis of the Five Power Naval Treaty of 1922, which in addition to establishing ratios of 5:5:3:1.66:1.66 for capital ships and aircraft carriers of Britain, the United States, Japan, France and Italy also limited new capital ships to 35,000 tons mounting 16" guns, aircraft carriers to 27,000 tons mounting 8" guns, and cruisers to 10,000 tons mounting 8" guns.
The General Board opposed any limitations on fortifications and naval facilities important for the logistic support of the battle fleet on its passage to the Western Pacific during war. The Philippines, Hawaii, Guam, and the Panama Canal were positions of prime importance in this regard. To win Japan's acceptance of the 5:5:3 ratio, however, the diplomats at the Washington Conference inserted Article XIX in the 1922 naval treaty by which the United States promised to build no new fortifications or naval facilities west of Alaska, Hawaii, and Panama.
From contemporary evidence, it is difficult to support the theory, made popular by Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson during the Manchurian Incident 1932, that the treaties and agreements signed at Washington in 1921-1922 were so closely interlocking that the compromise of one would undermine the others. Conclusion of the Five Power Naval Treaty was facilitated if not made possible by the substitution for the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of the innocuous Four Power Pact in which Great Britain, the United States, Japan, and France promised to support the peace in the Pacific. The General Board at one point did recommend that the naval treaty be not signed until a settlement relating to China was achieved. The Washington Conference, in fact, was divided into two quite distinct sections relating respectively to naval and Far Eastern affairs linked by only the slenderest connections.
The Five-Power Naval Treaty certainly did not dispel anxiety in the General Board as to the naval intentions of Britain and Japan, especially the former. The General Board ignored naval arms limitation until it responded in 1925 to a request from Secretary of the Navy Curtis Wilbur with a distinctly negative assessment that was directed especially at Britain. Specifically, the Board opposed any extension of the ten-year holiday in capital ship construction imposed by the Five-Power Naval Treaty, given the alleged inferiority of the existing American battle line in the ranges of its main batteries, in speed, and in numbers of ships (eighteen American to twenty British); it opposed any discussion of limitations on improvements in existing ships lest this provoke controversies comparable to the acrimonious debate with Britain over the project by the Americans to raise the elevations of the great guns on some of their capital ships to increase theirs range; and it rejected the thought of extending limitation to the cruiser, destroyer, and submarine categories since this would only reinforce the dominant British sea power by enhancing the British advantage in bases and merchant marine. The board warned:
The dominant sea power ultimately dictates the world's navigation laws in peace as well as in
war. . . . Any further limitation of armament may increase Great Britain's power to ultimately
dictate to the United States what our domestic navigation laws shall be.
The General Board's report was signed by Rear Admiral Hilary P Jones, late Commander-in-Chief of the United States Fleet, who had joined the Board eventually to become the Navy's preeminent authority on naval arms limitation. Secretary Wilbur returned the General Board's paper with instructions that it be reconsidered.
Next year Jones was dispatched as senior adviser to attend the Preparatory Commission called by the League of Nations at Geneva to draft a multi-national disarmament treaty for consideration by the League's projected General Disarmament Conference. In position papers prior to the meeting, Jones supported the 5:5:3 ratio as between the British, American, and Japanese navies. But he completely rejected the abolition of battleships or their reduction in size, presumably because this would enhance the British superiority in other elements of sea power. He was also wholly against the British agitation for abolition of submarines, ostensibly because he did not subscribe to the theory that weapons by their nature were either offensive or defensive. American patriot that he was, Jones insisted that the United States should agree to no limitation on its sovereignty and that it should possess a navy adequate to defend its overseas possessions, to protect American citizens and vital interests in all parts of the world, and to assure "open lines of communication" world-wide. In short, at least a navy second-to none.
Before the Preparatory Commission's naval committee, Jones vigorously opposed an effort by the French and their European allies to force the adoption of the method of global limitation, by which each state would be allowed tonnage in a lump sum amount within which it could construct ships without regard to categories. This threatened to destroy limitation by categories which was the basis of the Washington Naval Treaty. With his British colleague, Vice-Admiral Sir Aubrey Smith, and the Japanese not far behind, Jones fought valiantly to secure recognition of limitation by categories as also a method of naval limitation.
The willingness of the Americans, British, and Japanese to cooperate in seeming defense of the Washington Treaty system may well have led them to underestimate their differences. Enroute back and forth between Geneva and Washington, Jones stopped twice in London, where, according to his own report, he received profuse assurances that the British accepted naval parity with the United States and supported arms limitation from such persons as W. C. Bridgeman, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and Admiral Earl [David] Beatty, the First Sea Lord. The British intimated that Britain would need large numbers of cruisers without spelling out their program.
Jones joined Ambassador Hugh S. Gibson as a delegate to the Three Power Naval Conference (Britain, the United States, and Japan) at Geneva during the summer of 1927. The primary objective of the conference was to extend the limitations to categories previously unrestricted or only partially restricted by the Washington Naval Treaty: cruisers, destroyers, and submarines. Especially in cruisers did there seem danger of a race between the three great naval powers. Although the General Board was as convinced as were the British that the large so-called treaty cruiser of 10,000 tons mounting 8" guns was second only to the capital ship in importance, the United States had laid down but two of eight of these 8 " gun ships authorized by Congress in 1924, as compared with thirteen of this type building for the British Empire and eight building or projected by Japan in 1927.
In marked contrast with 1921, the General Board's recommendations for the 1927 conference were very much in line with what the State Department and the President could support. Like Admiral Jones the General Board opposed any further limitation of capital ships before the next five-power naval conference that was to meet in 1931. The board affirmed that the large new 10,000 ton 8" gun cruiser was second only to the capital ship as an element in sea power, and it favored placing all cruisers in a single category limited to 300,000 tons for Britain and the United States and 180,000 tons for Japan. It opposed any ceiling above 400,000 tons in the cruiser category as practically unlimited. And it rejected any division of cruisers into sub-classes lest the United States might be obliged to build smaller, less heavily armed vessels of shorter steaming radius that did not fit American requirements. All levels for cruisers, destroyers, and submarines, of course, were to be based on the 5:5:3 ratio for Britain, the United States and Japan.
The General Board was much disturbed by reports that Japan might press to restrict further the movements of the U.S. Fleet by expanding the area of restrictions on fortifications and naval facilities under Article XIX of the 1922 naval treaty to include Hawaii and perhaps even Panama. It conceived that Britain might be interested in joining the United States to frustrate an effort by Japan to halt the strengthening of the naval bases at Pearl Harbor and Singapore.
As had Secretary Hughes at Washington in 1921, Ambassador Gibson presented the American program at the first session of the conference on 20 June. It included an extension of the 5:5:3 ratio to cover all hitherto unrestricted ships including a cruiser allowance of 250,000 to 300,000 tons for Britain and the United States and 150,000 to 180,000 tons for Japan. The British proposals embraced what the General Board and Admiral Jones would surely find anathema: a reduction in tonnage and gun caliber of individual capital ships, the division of cruisers into two categories, and strict limitation of heavy 8" gun cruisers. Admiral Jones established that the British claim for seventy to seventy-five cruisers would raise British total tonnage in cruisers to 600,000 tons, double the level recommended by the General Board. The British figures clearly suggested that the Royal Navy had not accepted the United States Navy as an equal or intended to force the United States to build a large number of smaller ships unsuited to American needs. (The British problem was that they had extensive worldwide shipping routes to patrol they needed more not larger ships.) The cruiser shock was followed by a battleship shock when the British revealed that, because they had measured their ships in legend tons rather than standard tons, their capital ships under the Washington Treaty actually totalled some 604,000 tons. This brought the tonnage ratios of the British, American, and Japanese battle fleets closer to a 6:5:3 ratio than the 5:5:3 ratio at which the Americans had aimed.
In the course of the next weeks, Admiral Jones and the Americans conceded a cruiser ceiling for Britain and the United States of 400,000 tons, the upper limit set by the General Board, Jones conjectured, probably quite erroneously, that the United States would be allowed to build twenty-five (250,000 tons) of the 8" gun, 10,000 tonners. At one point, Lord Cecil of the British delegation became so abusive of Admiral Jones that Ambassador Gibson threatened to withdraw from the meeting unless civilities were restored. At several meetings of the delegation heads, Admiral Jones' seat was occupied by Allen Dulles, the State Department's legal adviser, perhaps to avoid further confrontation between Jones and the British. The delegates sought to cover the failure of the conference at their final meeting on 4 August by announcing that they had decided to adjourn after constructive discussion.
To Secretary of the Navy Wilbur, Admiral Jones confessed that he had been "entirely outraged" by what the regarded as the extraordinary British demands. He felt that he had been completely misled during his two stops in London by the British professions in support of an arms conference and by their supposed acceptance of Anglo-American naval parity. Apart from cruisers, Jones deplored the British capital ship proposal which, if accepted, would extend for years the supposed superiority of the British over American battle lines. Jones had once affirmed to Admiral Pratt that he, like Pratt, regarded the United States and the British Empire as the two main pillars of civilization in the world. His experience at Geneva in 1927, however, surely deepened his feeling that the Royal Navy should be carefully watched. Jones was retired from the Navy for age (sixty-four) shortly after the 1927 Geneva Conference. He would be repeatedly called back when naval limitation was at issue, but he would never again be given delegate status.
The breakdown at Geneva was followed by moves by the General Board and in Congress to expand a cruiser building program that by February 1929 brought the number of American cruisers built, building, or authorized to thirty-three, twenty-three of them of the heavy 8" gun type that the British were so anxious to limit. When completed, the total tonnage would reach just over 300,000 tons, roughly equal to the tonnage recommended by the General Board and proposed at the Geneva Conference in 1927.
After the breakdown at Geneva, the General Board assumed a defensive line on naval arms limitation designed to protect the Washington Treaty, to assure limitation by categories, and to postpone any consideration of battleship tonnages until the next five-power naval conference scheduled for 1931. The General Board found "totally unacceptable" the tentative Anglo-French agreement revealed in September 1928 that proposed strictly to limit heavy 8" gun cruisers while leaving unrestricted smaller cruisers and destroyers mounting 6" guns and less. Why did Britain enter upon such a pact so manifestly unacceptable to the United States? Admiral Jones suspected a dangerous Anglo French combination. He held that it would be "fruitless" for the United States to continue at the Preparatory Commission should the commission adopt the Anglo-French agreement as its plan for limitation by categories.
There were those who thought the impasse between the United States and Britain could be broken, including Admiral Jones. In February 1929 he put forward in a meeting at the State Department the idea that there might be "a formula for the determination of a strategic value for lighter cruisers armed with six inch guns as compared with the standard, which should be the 10,000 ton cruiser with eight inch guns." It seemed that by adopting such a formula the current American program and the existing British cruisers could be accommodated within the 300,000 ton ceiling proposed by the Americans in 1927. Apparently ignorant of Jones' discussions at the State Department, Secretary of the Navy Wilbur, just before leaving office, recommended to the State Department that the Admiral be sent to the coming meeting of the Preparatory Commission but that the United States defer until the 1931 conference any new commitments on naval limitation. Nor does it appear that the General Board was apprised in advance of the proposal by Ambassador Gibson to the Preparatory Commission in Geneva in April 1929, Admiral Jones attending, that a system of 11 equivalent tonnage be considered for cruisers based on values established for such factors as tonnage, age, and gun power. This was the formula for the "yardstick" that eventually brought the Americans and the British to fresh negotiations and agreement. Though Admiral Jones probably did not invent the "yardstick," His flexibility of mind, counsel, and prestige undoubtedly contributed to its adoption.
The Preparatory Commission having adjourned to permit the Americans and the British to search for an agreement, it fell to Admiral Jones and the General Board to council the new President Herbert Hoover, and Secretary of State Stimson on "equivalent values" to be applied to the large 8" gun cruisers and the smaller 6" gun cruisers so that the diverse needs of the American and British navies in cruisers could be met while assuring parity between them in fighting strength. Having championed the importance of the heavy 8" gun cruiser for the American Navy, Jones now warned against under-estimating the value of the smaller, shorter range 6" gun cruiser to Britain, fully equipped as she was with bases.
Called upon by the President for specifics, Jones estimated that cruisers would deteriorate from fifty to sixty percent during their lifetimes, a good deal more rapidly toward the end. The gun factor, Jones warned, could not simply be measured in terms of the size of gun caliber, since the greater rapidity of their fire enabled manually operated 6" guns to deliver the same weight as the power operated 8" guns and the smaller 6" gun was fully as effective as the 8" gun at normal battle ranges. Jones thus estimated the value of a 6" gun at .96 if the 8 " gun were valued at 1.00. The value systems differed, however, and the value of a cruiser at the end of its twenty-year lifespan would be sixty percent of its original value according to Admiral Jones, fifty percent according to the General Board.
The skeptical General Board remained convinced that tonnage by categories was the most dependable measure for naval arms limitation, that age was still easy to comprehend, and that a formula comprised of tonnage, age, and gun caliber was the least desirable proposed measure. It noted that the age and gun factors depended on the values applied, and were therefore subjective.
The summer of 1929 was devoted to exchanges between British Prime Minister James Ramsay McDonald and his technical advisers and President Hoover and Secretary Stimson and their technical advisers, Admiral Jones and the General Board. Jones and the General Board applied their "yardsticks" while keeping from the British the values employed in their formulas. Finally, in early September, the British had come down to fifty cruisers, including fifteen 8" gun cruisers, totaling 339,000 tons, very close to what the General Board had recommended in 1927. But MacDonald would only allow the Americans eighteen 8" gun cruisers, five short of the twenty-three built, building or authorized. He would also require the Americans to construct 85,500 tons of 6" gun cruisers to complete their allowance.
This latest British proposal provoked a confrontation between the President and the General Board at a White House conference on 11 September 1929 attended by the President, Secretary Stimson, Secretary of the Navy Charles Frances Adams, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Charles Frederick Hughes, Admiral Jones, and all the members of the General Board. The group debated at length a paper in which the General Board claimed that MacDonald's latest proposal proved the British had abandoned the "Yardstick". On this assumption, the Board countered that the United States should be allowed at least twenty-one 8" gun cruisers with a smaller tonnage of new 6" gun cruisers. The President and Secretary Stimson denied that the British had abandoned the "yardstick". Hoover then ordered the Board to provide him with figures for an American allotment that, according to the President, Admirals Jones, Hughes, and one other admiral confirmed as representing parity under the "yardstick". Stimson later recalled that Jones at one point had dismissed the "yardstick" as camouflage. The members of the General Board returned to its rooms without yielding to the President.
Through the remainder of the day Secretary of the Navy Adams, Under Secretary of State Cotton, and finally Secretary Stimson followed the Board to its rooms. Finally, sometime after 8:00 in the evening, the Board agreed to amend its report and to recommend acceptance of the proposed British cruiser category of 339,000 tons. It still demanded twenty-one 8" gun cruisers with an allowance of new 6" gun cruisers that amounted practically to parity under the Board's formula. The difference of three 8" gun cruisers between the British and American positions remained until the opening of the five-power naval conference in London in January 1930. In justice to MacDonald, it should be pointed out that the Prime Minister held that, if the Americans insisted on more than eighteen cruisers, the Japanese would raise their cruiser requirements to a level that the Australians, the New Zealanders, and the British could not accept. From the American naval papers, it does not appear that either Admiral Jones or the General Board gave serious attention to the probable Japanese demands when they faced the British.
MacDonald's subsequent visit to the United States was occasion for an expression by the General Board that again reflected the tendency among American naval men to think of the strategies in the Atlantic and the Pacific in parallel terms but with the United States in reverse roles. Before the conference between Hoover and MacDonald at Rapadan, the General Board was asked, one suspects by the President, to affirm that British military and naval stations in the Western Hemisphere were in no condition to menace the United States. The General Board, Admiral Hughes signing, declined on the ground that, while the existing low level of development of the British facilities in the Western Hemisphere posed no appreciable menace to the United States, this level of development did not "eliminate the menace inherent in their position and natural physical characteristics. MacDonald seemed friendly to the suggestion from Hoover that the British and Canadians undertake to build no additional fortifications or naval facilities in the Western Hemisphere in return for a similar undertaking from the Americans with respect to the Eastern Hemisphere. Nothing came of the proposal, presumably because officers at the Admiralty were no more anxious to enter into such an arrangement than were American naval officers pleased to be limited by Article XIX of the Five-Power Naval Treaty.
The General Board was not called upon to prepare voluminous reports for the 1930 London Naval Conference comparable to those undertaken for the Washington Conference, the Geneva Conference of 1927, or the League of Nations' General Disarmament Conference of 1932. Representative naval officers were invited to the State Department for questioning that would produce no embarrassing formal papers. As had Secretary Hughes in 1921, so did Stimson in 1929, apparently upon the suggestion of Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., obtain a senior naval adviser sympathetic to his objectives, none other than Admiral William V Pratt, now Commander-in-Chief of the United States Fleet. And Pratt in turn gave the State Department the names of naval officers to serve on the technical staff at the conference. Perhaps because he was too distinguished to be ignored, Admiral Jones was named along with Admiral Pratt as one of the two senior naval advisers. Even before their departure for London, Pratt found that his advice was sought by Stimson, while (as Pratt reported to his wife) the elderly Jones seemed unable to adjust to the situation. The General Board and many in the Navy undoubtedly looked to Jones, not Pratt, to protect American naval interests at London.
The London Naval Conference of 1930 may have been a victory for statesmanship in which competitive navalism was harnessed in the interest of Anglo-American accord. It was also Hilary Jones' last battle and one in which the old stalwart suffered humiliating defeat. On 27 January, a week after the opening of the conference, Admiral Pratt assembled Jones and the naval technical assistants to discuss the American delegation's draft plan for limitation of the British, American, and Japanese navies. The most controversial element in the proposal was the section on cruisers in which the United States would be allowed but eighteen 8" gun 10,000 ton cruisers as MacDonald had suggested the previous September. In return for sacrificing three of the 8" gun cruisers desired by the General Board, the allowance of new 6" gun cruisers for the United States was increased from 35,000 tons to 70,000 tons. Jones recommended that the General Board's figures be substituted for the delegation's, and he noted the hearty support from two of the younger technicians experienced in General Board and conference affairs. At the close of the meeting, when Pratt claimed that, with the United States Fleet in the West Indies, 6" gun cruisers could control vital American sea communications to South America and in the Caribbean, Jones retorted that, given such an American disposition, the British fleet would head for Halifax. Queried by Pratt as to why he had not made a recommendation to the delegation, Jones responded that he had not been asked. Next morning, Captain A. H. Van Keuren, an able naval constructor and one of Pratt's nominees, made a devastating attack on the 8" gun cruiser, which he described as "an artificial type" that violated "all tenets of good design" because protection had been sacrificed to the General Board's requirements for speed and the additional weight of 8" guns. In the afternoon, Jones told the delegation that, since it was impossible to achieve parity in sea power with the British Empire given the superiority of the British merchant marine and bases, it was essential for the United States to equal Britain in naval strength. To this end the United States Navy required "cruisers of long range and greater power of survival," i.e., the 8" gun, 10,000 ton cruisers. Asked by Senator James K. Reed, one of the delegates, whether he preferred the heavy 8 " gun cruiser to a 9,000 ton cruiser mounting 6" guns, a heavy cruiser mounting 6" guns, more in line with Captain Van Keuren's thinking, Jones came down for 8" guns, but he would reserve the option for either caliber. Moreover, Jones claimed, the programs of the General Board and of the Congress for building heavy cruisers were actually less expensive than the delegation's plan, which entailed construction of more ships.
Jones was called for a final hearing on cruisers on 4 February, the day after MacDonald had told Stimson that the British could not possibly allow the Americans more than eighteen 8" gun cruisers. When the Secretary remarked on "the futility" of the "Yardstick", Jones, claiming that he might have been the originator of the concept, observed that the "Yardstick" was intended only to deal with specific programs at a particular time. The Admiral then informed the delegation that the British were simply repeating "on a reduced scale" what they had practiced at the failed Geneva Conference in 1927, where they had tried to reduce the Americans to the lowest possible limit of types suited to American needs and to provide increases in types suited to British needs.
The old sea dog further protested that all naval officers in Washington and most in the fleet were convinced that to substitute small cruisers for large would be detrimental to national interest. And should it get abroad in the United States that the British had again bettered the Americans, the situation created thereby would be "most unfortunate." At the conclusion of Jones' statement, however, Pratt declared that, if the eighteen-cruiser plan were approved, the United States would have incomparably the most powerful navy in the world. To which Jones countered that the Americans would be weakening their "relative strength in sea power". Next day, 5 February, the President cabled his hearty approval of the delegation's proposal, including the eighteen 8" gun cruiser allowance for the United States.
Jones remained at the conference for another two weeks occupying himself with sight-seeing and colorful British pageantry, but he was obviously not privy to the important naval discussions. The last entry in his log records a visit to Canterbury and great abdominal pain, after which the ailing and surely disappointed old man returned to the United States for hospital care. Secretary Adams wrote from London:
We are all quite heart broken that poor Admiral Jones developed troubles needing care at home. I fear he had a pretty unhappy time over here but through it all his fine personality and great respect with which he is held have been well maintained. Now and always he has done a great service.
The settlement with Japan was finally reached late in the conference after extended, private conversations between Senator Reed and one of the Japanese delegates, Matsudaira Tsuneo. The Reed-Matsudaira agreement raised the Japanese ratios vis-a-vis the United States and essentially abandoned the 5:5:3 ratio in categories other than capital ships and aircraft carriers that the General Board and Admiral Jones had long defended. It was apparently achieved without consulting the naval technical staff. According to one of the navy logs, when asked during a meeting of the staff if he knew of the agreement and could reveal it, Pratt, responded that:
At first Senator Reed had been handling the negotiation with the Japanese, and later Mr. Stimson had taken over; that he (Pratt) had been consulted from time to time in regard to the negotiations, but had been asked to tell no one about it, so of course he could not advise the Naval Officers.
Pratt indicated that his approval of the arrangement was based on the calculation that the American government would not be able to secure appropriations to build up to the 5:5:3 ratio by 1936. By extending limitation to include cruisers, destroyers, and submarines, the London Naval Treaty completed naval limitation under what has been called the Washington Conference System. The treaty may have gained some stature at the time from the fact that it was opposed by significant elements within the American, British, and Japanese navies, especially the latter. Every member of the General Board testified against the treaty at the Senate's ratification hearings. As did Admiral Hughes, the outgoing Chief of Naval Operations, and Admiral Jones. For the United States Navy, however, perhaps the most important advantage derived from the treaty lay in the fact that it forced the Japanese to halt or drastically curtail their naval construction, thereby providing the United States with the opportunity to catch up with and even surpass Japan in the category, cruisers, in which Japan by 1930 was ahead in ships completed. The Americans and British continued to debate over ships' sizes and gun calibers in less heated tones down to the collapse of naval arms limitation in the late 1930s.
Few have noted that the London Naval Treaty seemed important at the time because it provided tonnage figures for naval limitation by categories that could be incorporated in the more general disarmament treaty that the League of Nations' Disarmament Conference of 1932 undertook to conclude. For the 1932 conference the General Board prepared nearly forty formal reports all of them brought together in a "Gray Book" that was presumed to state Navy Department policy. Characteristically, the General Board only gave its attention to President Hoover's sweeping arms reduction proposal to the 1932 Geneva Conference after the proposal had already been made. The League's Disarmament Conference as well as the entire "Washington Treaty System" were swept aside by the political storms leading to World War II.
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