Franklin D. Roosevelt

Letter to Churchill on the Transfer of Merchant Craft to Great Britain.

August 03, 1943

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

When you were with us during the latter part of December, 1941, and the first few days of 1942, after we had become active participants in the war, plans for a division of responsibility between your country and mine became generally fixed in certain understandings.

In matters of production, as well as in other matters, we agreed that mutual advantages were to be gained by concentrating, in so far as it was practical, our energies in doing those things which each of us was best qualified to do.

Here in this country in abundance were the natural resources of critical materials.

Here there had been developed a welding technique which enables us to construct standard merchant ships with a speed unequaled in the history of merchant shipping.

Here we had waiting cargoes to be moved in ships to your island and to other theaters. If your country was to have carried out its contemplated ship construction program it would have been necessary to move large tonnages of raw materials that we have here across the Atlantic to your mills and yards, and then, in form of finished ships, to send them back to our ports for the . cargo that was waiting to be carried.

Obviously, this would have entailed a waste of materials and time.

It was only natural for us then to decide that this country was to be the predominant cargo shipbuilding area for us both, while your country was to devote its facilities and resources principally to the construction of combat vessels.

You in your country reduced your merchant shipping program and directed your resources more particularly to other fields in which you were more favorably situated, while we became the merchant shipbuilder for the two of us, and we have built and are continuing to build a vast tonnage of cargo vessels.

Our merchant fleet has become larger and will continue to grow at a rapid rate. To man its ever-increasing number of vessels we foresee present difficulties of no mean proportions. On your side the British merchant fleet has been diminished and you have in your pool as a consequence trained seamen and licensed personnel.

Clearly it would be extravagant were this body of experienced men of the sea not to be used as promptly as possible. To fail to use them would result in a wastage of manpower on your side and, what is of equal importance, a wastage of shipping facilities. We cannot afford this.

In order that the general understanding we reached, during the early days of our engagement together in this war may be more perfectly carried out, and in order as a practical matter to avoid the prodigal use of manpower and shipping that would result from pursuing any other course, I am directing the War Shipping Administration, under appropriate bare boat arrangements, to number to your flag for temporary wartime duty during each of the suggested next ten months a minimum of fifteen ships.

I have furthermore suggested to them that this be increased to twenty.

We have been allocating to British services on a voyage-to-voyage basis large numbers of American-controlled ships. What I am now suggesting to you, and what I am directing the War Shipping Administration to carry out, will be in the nature of a substitution to the extent of tonnage transferred for the American tonnage that has usually been employed in your war program.

Details of the arrangements we can properly leave to national shipping authorities for settlement through the Combined Shipping Adjustment Board, whose function it is to concert employment of all merchant vessels, and will in accordance with its usual practice do so in connection with these particular ships.

Always sincerely,

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Letter to Churchill on the Transfer of Merchant Craft to Great Britain. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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