Destroyers-for-bases deal

The destroyers-for-bases deal was an agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom on September 2, 1940, according to which 50 Caldwell, Wickes, and Clemson class US Navy destroyers were transferred to the Royal Navy from the United States Navy in exchange for land rights on British possessions.

Generally referred to as the "twelve hundred-ton type" (also known as "flush-deck", or "four-pipers" after their four funnels), the destroyers became the British Town class and were named after towns common to both the US and Britain.[1] Roosevelt used an executive agreement that did not require Congressional approval, but he came under heavy attack from antiwar political elements. The agreement violated the Neutrality Acts.[2]


By late June 1940, Germany had defeated France, and the British and their Commonwealth and Empire stood alone in warfare against Hitler and Mussolini.

The British Chiefs of Staff Committee concluded in May that if France collapsed, "we do not think we could continue the war with any chance of success" without "full economic and financial support" from the United States of America.[3] Although the US government was sympathetic to Britain's plight, American public opinion at the time overwhelmingly supported isolationism to avoid US involvement in "another European war". Reflecting this sentiment, Congress had passed the Neutrality Acts three years previously, which banned the shipment or sale of arms from the US to any combatant nation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was further constrained by the upcoming 1940 Presidential election, as his critics sought to portray him as being pro-war. Legal advice from the United States Justice Department stated that the transaction was legal.[4]

By late May, following the evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk, France, in Operation Dynamo, the Royal Navy was in immediate need of ships, especially as they were now fighting the Battle of the Atlantic in which German U-boats threatened Britain's supplies of food and other resources essential to the war effort.

With German troops advancing rapidly into France and many in the US Government convinced that the defeat of France and Britain was imminent, the US sent a proposal to London through the British Ambassador, the Marquess of Lothian, for an American lease of airfields on Trinidad, Bermuda, and Newfoundland.[5] British Prime Minister Winston Churchill initially rejected the offer on May 27 unless Britain received something immediate in return. On June 1, as the defeat of France loomed, President Roosevelt bypassed the Neutrality Act by declaring as "surplus" many millions of rounds of American ammunition and obsolescent small arms, and authorizing their shipment to the UK. Roosevelt rejected Churchill's pleas for destroyers for the Royal Navy.

By August, while Britain reached a low point, US Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy reported from London that a British surrender was "inevitable". Seeking to persuade Roosevelt to send the destroyers, Churchill warned Roosevelt ominously that if Britain were vanquished, its colonial islands close to American shores could become a direct threat to America if they fell into German hands.

The deal

President Roosevelt approved the deal on the evening of August 30, 1940.[6] On September 2, 1940, as the Battle of Britain intensified, Secretary of State Cordell Hull signaled agreement to the transfer of the warships to the Royal Navy. On September 3, 1940, Admiral Harold Stark certified that the destroyers were not vital to the security of the US. In exchange, the US was granted land in various British possessions for the establishment of naval or air bases with rent-free, 99-year leases, on:

The agreement also granted the US air and naval base rights in:

No destroyers were received in exchange for the bases in Bermuda and Newfoundland. Both territories were vital to trans-Atlantic shipping, aviation, and to the Battle of the Atlantic. Although enemy attack on either was unlikely, it could not be discounted, and Britain had been forced to wastefully maintain defensive forces, including the Bermuda Garrison. The deal allowed Britain to hand much of the defence of Bermuda to the still-neutral US, freeing British forces for redeployment to more active theatres. It also enabled the development of strategic facilities at US expense which British forces would also use.

The Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) each maintained air stations in Bermuda at the start of the war, but these only served flying boats. The RAF station on Darrell's Island served as a staging point for trans-Atlantic flights by RAF Transport Command and RAF Ferry Command, BOAC, and Pan-Am, as well as hosting the Bermuda Flying School, but did not operate maritime patrols. The FAA station on Boaz Island, existed to service aircraft based on vessels operating from or through the Royal Naval Dockyard, but attempted to maintain maritime patrols using pilots from naval ships, RAF Darrell's Island, and the Bermuda Flying School.

The agreement for bases in Bermuda stipulated that the US would, at its own expense, build an airfield, capable of handling large landplanes, which would be operated jointly by the US Army Air Force and the Royal Air Force. The airfield was named Kindley Field (after Field Kindley, an American aviator who fought for Britain during the First World War). RAF Transport Command relocated its operations to the airfield when it was completed in 1943, although RAF Ferry Command remained at Darrell's Island. Prior to this, the US Navy had established the Naval Operating Base at Bermuda's West End. This was a flying boat station, from which maritime patrols were operated for the remainder of the war (the US Navy had actually begun operating such patrols from RAF Darrell's Island, using floatplanes, while waiting for their own base to become operational). The RAF and FAA facilities were closed after the war, leaving only the US air bases in Bermuda. The Naval Operating Base ceased to be an air station in 1965, when its flying boats were replaced by Lockheed P-2 Neptunes, operating from the Kindley Air Force Base (as the former US Army airfield had become). These US air bases were in fact only two of several US military facilities that operated in Bermuda during the 20th Century. The US abandoned many of these bases in 1949 and the remaining few were closed in 1995.

The US accepted the "generous action… to enhance the national security of the United States" and immediately transferred in return 50 Caldwell, Wickes, and Clemson-class U.S. Navy destroyers, "generally referred to as the twelve hundred-ton type" (also known as "flush-deckers", or "four-pipers" after their four funnels). Forty-three ships initially went to the British Royal Navy and seven to the Royal Canadian Navy. In the Commonwealth navies, the ships were renamed after towns, and were therefore known as the "Town" class, although they had originally belonged to three classes (Caldwell, Wickes, and Clemson). Before the end of the war, nine others also served with the Royal Canadian Navy. Five Towns were manned by Royal Norwegian Navy crews, with the survivors later returned to the Royal Navy. HMS Campbeltown was manned by Royal Netherlands Navy sailors before her assignment to the St. Nazaire Raid. Nine other destroyers were eventually transferred to the Soviet Navy. Six of the 50 destroyers were lost to U-boats, and three others, including Campbeltown, were destroyed in other circumstances.

Britain had no choice but to accept the deal, but it was so much more advantageous to America than Britain that Churchill's aide John Colville compared it to the USSR's relationship with Finland. The destroyers were in reserve from the massive US WWI shipbuilding program, and many of the vessels required extensive overhaul because many were not preserved properly when inactivated. One British admiral called them the "worst destroyers I had ever seen",[7] and only 30 were in service by May 1941.[3] Churchill also disliked the deal, but his advisers persuaded the prime minister to merely tell Roosevelt that:[7]

We have so far only been able to bring a few of your fifty destroyers into action on account of the many defects which they naturally develop when exposed to Atlantic weather after having been laid up so long.[7]

Roosevelt responded by transferring ten Lake-class Coast Guard cutters to the Royal Navy in 1941. These United States Coast Guard vessels were ten years newer than the destroyers, and had greater range, making them more useful as anti-submarine convoy escorts.[8]

The agreement was much more important for being the start of the wartime Anglo-American partnership. Churchill said in Parliament that "these two great organisations of the English-speaking democracies, the British Empire and the United States, will have to be somewhat mixed up together in some of their affairs for mutual and general advantage".[3]

The bases

Northern America

Not actually part of the exchange, but the US received base rights here for free, in addition to those that were part of the exchange. The US Naval Operating Base was established in 1940, operating as a flying boat base until 1965 (when the US Navy switched to using landplanes from Kindley Air Force Base). The base continued in use for other purposes as the US Naval Annex until 1995. Construction began at the same time of a US Army Air Force airfield, Kindley Field, attached to Fort Bell, and which later became Kindley AFB. Transferred to the US Navy in 1970, it operated as NAS Bermuda until it was closed in 1995.
Several Army Air Force airfields. As with Bermuda, no destroyers or other war material was received in exchange for base rights in Newfoundland.
Pepperrell Airfield (later AFB) (closed August 1961)
Goose Bay Army Airfield (later AFB) (turned over to Canadian Forces, July 1976)
Stephenville Army Airfield (later AFB) (closed December 1966)
McAndrew Army Airfield (McAndrew Air Force Base in 1948; transferred to US Navy, 1955; closed 1994 and eventually transferred to the government of Newfoundland and Labrador for civilian use)
A Naval Air Station
Naval Station Argentia (closed 1994)
Multiple Marine and Army Bases and detachments in support of the above.

British West Indies

A Naval Air Station at Crabbs Peninsula
An Army Air Force airfield (Coolidge Army Airfield (later AFB)) (closed 1949)
Naval seaplane base on Exuma Island at George Town.[10][11][12]
An Army Air Force airfield (Atkinson Aerodrome (later AFB)) (closed 1949)
A Naval seaplane base near Suddie.
An Army Air Force airfield (Vernam Army Airfield (later AFB)) (closed 1949)
A Naval Air Station (Little Goat Island) and a Naval facility at Port Royal
An Army Air Force airfield (Beane Army Airfield (later AFB)) (closed 1949)
A Naval Air Station (Gros Islet Bay)
Two Army Air Force airfields
Waller Army Airfield (later AFB) (closed 1949)
Carlsen Army Airfield (later AFB) (closed 1949)
A Naval Operating Base, a Naval Air Station, blimp base, and a radio station[13]

The ships

A total of 50 ships were reassigned: 3 Caldwell-class, 27 Wickes-class, and 20 Clemson-class destroyers.

NoNameClassService history and fate
01USS Craven (DD-70)CaldwellTo Britain. Renamed HMS Lewes. Scuttled on October 12, 1945.
02USS Conner (DD-72)CaldwellTo Britain. Renamed HMS Leeds. Broken up in 1947.
03USS Stockton (DD-73)CaldwellTo Britain. Renamed HMS Ludlow. Sunk as a target in 1945.
04USS Wickes (DD-75)WickesTo Britain. Renamed HMS Montgomery. Broken up in 1945.
05USS Philip (DD-76)WickesTo Britain. Renamed HMS Lancaster. Broken up in 1947.
06USS Evans (DD-78)WickesTo Britain. Renamed HMS Mansfield. Broken up in 1945.
07USS Sigourney (DD-81)WickesTo Britain. Renamed HMS Newport. Broken up in 1947.
08USS Robinson (DD-88)WickesTo Britain. Renamed HMS Newmarket. Broken up in 1945.
09USS Ringgold (DD-89)WickesTo Britain. Renamed HMS Newark. Broken up in 1947.
10USS Fairfax (DD-93)WickesTo Britain. Renamed HMS Richmond. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Zhivuchiy ("Tenacious"). Broken up in 1949.
11USS Williams (DD-108)WickesTo Canada. Renamed HMCS St. Clair. Foundered in 1946.
12USS Twiggs (DD-127)WickesTo Britain. Renamed HMS Leamington. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Zhguchiy ("Firebrand"). Recreated the St. Nazaire raid in the Trevor Howard film Gift Horse. Broken up in 1951.
13USS Buchanan (DD-131)WickesTo Britain. Renamed HMS Campbeltown. Destroyed in the St. Nazaire Raid on March 28, 1942.
14USS Aaron Ward (DD-132)WickesTo Britain. Renamed HMS Castleton. Broken up in 1947.
15USS Hale (DD-133)WickesTo Britain. Renamed HMS Caldwell. Broken up in 1944.
16USS Crowninshield (DD-134)WickesTo Britain. Renamed HMS Chelsea. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Derzkiy ("Ardent"). Broken up in 1949.
17USS Tillman (DD-135)WickesTo Britain. Renamed HMS Wells. Broken up in 1945.
18USS Claxton (DD-140)WickesTo Britain. Renamed HMS Salisbury. Broken up in 1944.
19USS Yarnall (DD-143)WickesTo Britain. Renamed HMS Lincoln. To Canada in 1942. Renamed HMCS Lincoln. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Druzhny ("United"). Last one to be broken up, in 1952.
20USS Thatcher (DD-162)WickesTo Canada. Renamed HMCS Niagara. Broken up in 1946.
21USS Cowell (DD-167)WickesTo Britain. Renamed HMS Brighton. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Zharkiy ("Zealous"). Returned to Britain and broken up in 1949.
22USS Maddox (DD-168)WickesTo Britain. Renamed HMS Georgetown. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Doblestny ("Valiant"). Broken up in 1949.
23USS Foote (DD-169)WickesTo Britain. Renamed HMS Roxborough. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Zhostkiy ("Adamant"). Returned to Britain and broken up in 1949.
24USS Kalk (DD-170)WickesTo Canada. Renamed HMCS Hamilton. Broken up in 1945.
25USS Mackenzie (DD-175)WickesTo Canada. Renamed HMCS Annapolis. Broken up in 1945.
26USS Hopewell (DD-181)WickesTo Britain. Renamed HMS Bath. Sunk on August 19, 1941 by U-204.
27USS Thomas (DD-182)WickesTo Britain. Renamed HMS St. Albans. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Dostoyny ("Excellent"). Broken up in 1949.
28USS Haraden (DD-183)WickesInitially to Britain and then on to Canada. Renamed HMS Columbia then HMCS Columbia. Broken up in 1945.
29USS Abbot (DD-184)WickesTo Britain. Renamed HMS Charlestown. Broken up in 1947.
30USS Doran (DD-185)WickesTo Britain. Renamed HMS St. Marys. Broken up in 1945.
31USS Satterlee (DD-190)ClemsonTo Britain. Renamed HMS Belmont. Sunk by U-82 on January 31, 1942.
32USS Mason (DD-191)ClemsonTo Britain. Renamed HMS Broadwater. Sunk by U-101 on October 18, 1941.
33USS Abel P Upshur (DD-193)ClemsonTo Britain. Renamed HMS Clare. Broken up in 1945.
34USS Hunt (DD-194)ClemsonTo Britain. Renamed HMS Broadway. Broken up in 1947.
35USS Welborn C Wood (DD-195)ClemsonTo Britain. Renamed HMS Chesterfield. Broken up in 1947.
36USS Branch (DD-197)ClemsonTo Britain. Renamed HMS Beverley. Sunk by U-188 on April 11, 1943.
37USS Herndon (DD-198)ClemsonTo Britain. Renamed HMS Churchill. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Deyatelny ("Active"). Sank on January 16, 1945 in uncertain circumstances.
38USS McCook (DD-252)ClemsonTo Canada. Renamed HMCS St. Croix. Sunk by U-952 on September 20, 1943.
39USS McCalla (DD-253)ClemsonTo Britain. Renamed HMS Stanley. Sunk by U-574 on December 18, 1941.
40USS Rodgers (DD-254)ClemsonTo Britain. Renamed HMS Sherwood. Sunk as a target in 1945.
41USS Bancroft (DD-256)ClemsonTo Canada. Renamed HMCS St. Francis. Foundered in 1945 while en route to scrap yard.
42USS Welles (DD-257)ClemsonTo Britain. Renamed HMS Cameron. Damaged beyond repair in an air raid at Portsmouth on December 5, 1940.
43USS Aulick (DD-258)ClemsonTo Britain. Renamed HMS Burnham. Broken up in 1947.
44USS Laub (DD-263)ClemsonTo Britain. Renamed HMS Burwell. Broken up in 1947.
45USS McLanahan (DD-264)ClemsonTo Britain. Renamed HMS Bradford. Broken up in 1946.
46USS Edwards (DD-265)ClemsonTo Britain. Renamed HMS Buxton. To Canada in 1943. Renamed HMCS Buxton. Broken up in 1946.
47USS Shubrick (DD-268)ClemsonTo Britain. Renamed HMS Ripley. Broken up in 1945.
48USS Bailey (DD-269)ClemsonTo Britain. Renamed HMS Reading. Broken up in 1945.
49USS Swasey (DD-273)ClemsonTo Britain. Renamed HMS Rockingham. Struck a mine on September 27, 1944, and sank while under tow.
50USS Meade (DD-274)ClemsonTo Britain. Renamed HMS Ramsey. Broken up in 1947.

See also


  1. Syrett, David (1994). The Defeat of the German U-boats: The Battle of the Atlantic. Univ of South Carolina Press. p. 10. ISBN 9780872499843.
  2. Burns, James MacGregor (1956). Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox. Easton Press. ISBN 978-0-15-678870-0., p. 438
  3. Reynolds, David (1993). "Churchill in 1940: The Worst and Finest Hour". In Blake, Robert B.; Louis, William Roger (eds.). Churchill. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 248, 250–251. ISBN 0-19-820626-7.
  4. William R. Casto, "Advising Presidents: Robert Jackson and the Destroyers-For-Bases Deal." American Journal of Legal History 52.1 (2012): 1-135. online
  5. Martin Gilbert, Churchill and America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.
  6. Goodhart, Philip (1965). 50 Ships That Saved the World. New York: Doubleday. p. 175.
  7. Olson, Lynne (2010). Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood With Britain In Its Darkest, Finest Hour. Random House. pp. 19–20. ISBN 978-1-58836-982-6.
  8. Blair, Clay (1996). Hitler's U-Boat War, The Hunters 1939-1942. Random House. p. 229. ISBN 0-394-58839-8.
  9. Neary, 1985
  10. Naval base
  12. The Tourism Boom Archived 2013-03-13 at the Wayback Machine
  13. The Destroyer-Naval Base Exchange Archived 2013-09-27 at the Wayback Machine

Further reading

  • Burns, James M. Roosevelt: the Lion and the Fox (1956), 437-52
  • Casto, William R. "Advising Presidents: Robert Jackson and the Destroyers-For-Bases Deal." American Journal of Legal History 52.1 (2012): 1-135. online
  • Conn, Stetson; Fairchild, Byron (1989) [1960]. The Framework of Hemisphere Defense (PDF). United States Army Center of Military History. pp. 51–62.
  • Goodhart, Philip. Fifty Ships That Saved The World: The Foundation of the Anglo-American Alliance (London: Heinemann, 1965)
  • Leutze, James R. Bargaining For Supremacy: Anglo-American Naval Collaboration, 1937-1941 (1977). online
  • Neary, F. F. "Newfoundland and the Anglo‐American Leased Bases Agreement of 27 March 1941." Canadian Historical Review 67#4 (1986): 491-519.
  • Pious, Richard M. "The Historical Presidency: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Destroyer Deal: Normalizing Prerogative Power." Presidential Studies Quarterly 42.1 (2012): 190-204.
  • Reynolds, David. The Creation of the Anglo-American Alliance, 1937-41: A Study in Competitive Co-operation (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1982), ch. 4 & 5; the standard scholarly history of the entire deal.
  • Whitham, Charlie. "The thin end of the wedge: the British Foreign Office, the West Indies and avoiding the Destroyers-Bases Deal, 1938–1940." Journal of Transatlantic Studies 11#3 (2013): 234-248.
  • Woodward, Llewellyn. British Foreign Policy in the Second World War (1962), pp 82–90
  • ""The New Bases Acquired for old Destroyers"". Guarding the United States and its Outposts. United States Army Center of Military History. 2000 [1964]. CMH Pub 4-2.
  • STRATEGY: Bases Chosen December 1940 Time article about the bases.
  • Naval Bases constructed after the deal
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