Disposition of Submarines




Cary T. Grayson Papers, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, Staunton, Virginia


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SUBJECT: - Disposition of Submarines.

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Copies to: -
Mr. Lansing.
Colonel House.
General Bliss.
Mr. White.
Navy Department.


US Naval Advisory Staff, Paris.

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SUBJECT: - Disposition of Submarines.

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What attitude should be adopted by the United States towards the submarine?


The attitude of supporting the abolition of submarines, including the destruction of those in existence and the prohibition of future construction of submarines.

WS Benson,
Admiral, U. S. Navy.


The advantages of the abolition of submarines as an instrumentality of warfare may be stated as follows: -

(a) The immediate and practicable reduction of armaments without greatly affecting relative naval strengths, except in the case of Germany.

(b) Removal from the field of an instrumentality of warfare that may be treacherously used in an illegitimate way by a nation willing to accept the consequent obloquy despite prohibition by International Law.

(c) Removal of the necessity for future heavy expenditures to provide an instrumentality of warfare that has at present little or no peaceful use, and for which none of moment in the future is perceived.

(d) Removal of the further heavy expense consequent upon the necessity of providing anti-submarine vessels and equipment.

(e) Placing the plane of naval warfare on a higher level.

Against these advantages must be stated any disadvantages that may appear.

Considering first the special case of the United States. Speaking in a broad way, the United States will not be greatly affected. There will probably be some loss of relative strength as toward Great Britain; while as regards Japan the case will be about a stand-off. As regards other naval Powers the United States will not be unfavourably affected. If, as we believe should be done whether there be a League of Nations or not, the United States Navy is to be made to equal that of Great Britain, then the abolition of submarine warfare will result in no relative loss to the United States. The submarine is, par excellence, an instrumentality of the weaker power.

Hence the Committee concludes that no possible disadvantage to the United States need outweigh against the higher ideal of warfare that the abolition of submarine warfare undoubtedly serves.

Considering now the case of other nations. The submarine, as has been said, is the instrumentality of a weaker power and its abolition would increase relative weaknesses. Against this consideration is to be set the idea of a League of Nations whose protection of weak nations would outweigh any possible advantage to be gained by the use of submarines.

Hence, arguing altruistically on behalf of other nations, they have nothing to fear by the abolition of submarine warfare if a League of Nations be established and its principles be lived up to.

It should perhaps be added that, as heretofore conceived, there is a perfectly legitimate form of submarine warfare. It will be a step toward higher conceptions to make this form of warfare illegitimate now, and the Advisory Staff believes that the advantages greatly outweigh the disadvantages. Without reflection on any other nation’s conceptions of decent and honourable conduct in war, it may therefore be said that, if submarine warfare be abolished and all submarines be destroyed, no nation can be put in the position of being tempted to use them as Germany has used them in this war.



Benson, William Shepherd, 1855-1932, “Disposition of Submarines,” 1918 December 24, WWP15550, Cary T. Grayson Papers, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.