Edward N. Hurley to Woodrow Wilson


Edward N. Hurley to Woodrow Wilson


Hurley, Edward N. (Edward Nash), 1864-1933




1918 September 23


Not enough ships to bring home American ships if peace breaks out.


Library of Congress, Woodrow Wilson Papers


Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum


Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924--Correspondence
Shipping--International cooperation


Morgan Willer




Document scan was taken from Library of Congress microfilm reel of the Wilson Papers. WWPL volunteers transcribed the text.


My dear Mr. President:

Unless we make arrangements, long in advance, for the prompt and safe return of our troops at the end of the war, I fear we will become involved in an embarrassing situation. We may have three or four million men in France and Italy, and additional troops in Siberia and Northern Russia, when the time is reached for a discussion of peace among the belligerents.

We cannot tell what the outcome will be, and there would be grave embarrassment if we had our large American army in Europe with no obligation on the part of Great Britain to aid in supplying vessels for the return of these troops to America. In case of any disagreement with any nation arising from peace negotiations, our army might actually be held in hostage.

Even now sixty per cent of our troops are being carried in foreign ships. It is quite clear that we will not have enough ships to bring back our troops with any degree of promptness. We are building numerous transports, but they will not be provided in sufficient numbers to meet the situation. The best we could do, without assistance, would be to bring back our troops at the rate of 200,000 a month, which would extend the operation over a period of several years.

On several occasions this subject has been brought up by the Shipping Board with representatives of the British government but [no] encouragement has been received. We have suggested to Commissioner Stevens that he take it up, but although this was several months ago, not the slightest progress has been made.

In connection with this matter, it is interesting to note that the British Ministry of Shipping proposes to charge the American government $150. per capita for the transport of United States officers, troops and cargo carried in British or British controlled tonnage.

This extremely high rate is to apply in connection with the eighty-division program, which is now under consideration on the other side. Moreover, in allowing us to use the “Aquitania,” “Mauretania” and “Olympic,” the United States government is asked to assume war risk amounting to more than $30,000,000 on the first mentioned vessel, more than $20,000,000 on the second, and more than $30,000,000 on the third. Thus, if the vessels were torpedoed, we would have to pay $80,000,000 for three ships worth not over $20,000,000 at the most liberal war estimate.

It does seem to me that the British are driving very hard bargains. In view of these circumstances, I think we should make every effort to have a very definite understanding with respect to the tonnage that will be required for the return of our troops when the war ends. It is not merely that we may have some assurance of rates within reason, but that we may not be left to our own devices to find any tonnage at all.

Do you think it might be possible, through Secretary of War Baker, to have a fair settlement of these questions made a part of the eighty-division army program now under consideration?

I feel that this is a matter that you would want to handle yourself, but I need not tell you that I am at your disposal in connection with it.

Faithfully yours,
Edward N. Hurley

The President,
The White House.

Original Format



Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924






Hurley, Edward N. (Edward Nash), 1864-1933, “Edward N. Hurley to Woodrow Wilson,” 1918 September 23, WWP25200, World War I Letters, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.