This article may lend undue weight to certain ideas, incidents, or controversies. (December 2020)
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 US 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 countries. US President Franklin Roosevelt used an executive agreement, which does not require congressional approval. However, he came under heavy attack from antiwar Americans, who pointed out that the agreement violated the Neutrality Acts.
By late June 1940, Germany had defeated France. 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. The US government was sympathetic to Britain's plight, but US public opinion then overwhelmingly supported isolationism to avoid involvement in "another European war". Reflecting on that sentiment, the US Congress had passed the Neutrality Acts three years earlier, which banned the shipment or sale of arms from the US to any combatant nation. US 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 US Justice Department stated that the transaction was legal.
By late May, the evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk, France, in Operation Dynamo caused the Royal Navy to need ships immediately, especially as it now fought the Battle of the Atlantic in which German U-boats threatened the British supplies of food and of 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.
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, Roosevelt bypassed the Neutrality Act by declaring as "surplus" many millions of rounds of US ammunition and obsolescent small arms and authorizing their shipment to Britain. Roosevelt rejected Churchill's pleas for destroyers for the Royal Navy.
By August, while Britain was reaching 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 the US if they fell into German hands.
Roosevelt approved the deal on the evening of August 30, 1940. 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 US security. 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:
- Eastern side of the Bahamas
- Southern coast of Jamaica
- Western coast of Saint Lucia
- West coast of Trinidad (Gulf of Paria)
- British Guiana (now Guyana) within fifty miles of Georgetown
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 the Battle of the Atlantic. Although enemy attack on either territory was unlikely, it could not be discounted, and Britain had been forced wastefully to maintain defensive forces, including the Bermuda Garrison. The deal allowed Britain to hand much of the defence of Bermuda to the still-neutral US, which freed British forces for redeployment to more active theatres and enabled the development of strategic facilities at US expense, which British forces would also use.
Both the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) maintained air stations in Bermuda at the start of the war, but they served only 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 and hosted the Bermuda Flying School, but it did not operate maritime patrols. The FAA station on Boaz Island serviced aircraft based on vessels operating from or through the Royal Naval Dockyard, but it attempted to maintain maritime patrols by 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 that 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 World War I. RAF Transport Command relocated its operations to the airfield when it was completed in 1943, but RAF Ferry Command remained at Darrell's Island. The US Navy had established the Naval Operating Base at Bermuda's West End, 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 by using floatplanes and was waiting for their own base to become operational). The RAF and FAA facilities were closed after the war, which left 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). Those 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 the 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 so were known as the "Town" class, but they had originally belonged to three classes (Caldwell, Wickes, and Clemson). Before the end of the war, nine others had 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 Soviets' relationship with Finland. The destroyers were in reserve from the massive US shipbuilding program during World War I, and many of the vessels required extensive overhaul because they had not been preserved properly while inactivated. One British admiral called them the "worst destroyers I had ever seen", and only 30 were in service by May 1941. Churchill also disliked the deal, but his advisers persuaded him merely to tell Roosevelt:
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.
Roosevelt responded by transferring ten Lake-class Coast Guard cutters to the Royal Navy in 1941. The United States Coast Guard vessels were ten years newer than the destroyers and had greater range, which made them more useful as anti-submarine convoy escorts.
The agreement was much more important for being the start of the wartime Anglo-American partnership. Churchill said in the British 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".
- 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, which was attached to Fort Bell and later became Kindley AFB. Transferred to the US Navy in 1970, it operated as NAS Bermuda until it 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.
- A Naval Air Station at Crabbs Peninsula
- An Army Air Force airfield (Coolidge Army Airfield (later AFB)) (closed 1949)
- 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)
A total of 50 ships were reassigned: 3 Caldwell-class, 27 Wickes-class and 20 Clemson-class destroyers.
|No||Name||Class||Year of launch||Service history and fate|
|01||USS Craven (DD-70)||Caldwell||1918||To Britain. Renamed HMS Lewes. Scuttled on October 12, 1945.|
|02||USS Conner (DD-72)||Caldwell||1917||To Britain. Renamed HMS Leeds. Broken up in 1947.|
|03||USS Stockton (DD-73)||Caldwell||1917||To Britain. Renamed HMS Ludlow. Sunk as a target in 1945.|
|04||USS Wickes (DD-75)||Wickes||1918||To Britain. Renamed HMS Montgomery. Broken up in 1945.|
|05||USS Philip (DD-76)||Wickes||1918||To Britain. Renamed HMS Lancaster. Broken up in 1947.|
|06||USS Evans (DD-78)||Wickes||1918||To Britain. Renamed HMS Mansfield. Broken up in 1945.|
|07||USS Sigourney (DD-81)||Wickes||1917||To Britain. Renamed HMS Newport. Broken up in 1947.|
|08||USS Robinson (DD-88)||Wickes||1918||To Britain. Renamed HMS Newmarket. Broken up in 1945.|
|09||USS Ringgold (DD-89)||Wickes||1918||To Britain. Renamed HMS Newark. Broken up in 1947.|
|10||USS Fairfax (DD-93)||Wickes||1917||To Britain. Renamed HMS Richmond. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Zhivuchiy ("Tenacious"). Broken up in 1949.|
|11||USS Williams (DD-108)||Wickes||1918||To Canada. Renamed HMCS St. Clair. Foundered in 1946.|
|12||USS Twiggs (DD-127)||Wickes||1918||To 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.|
|13||USS Buchanan (DD-131)||Wickes||1919||To Britain. Renamed HMS Campbeltown. Destroyed in the St. Nazaire Raid on March 28, 1942.|
|14||USS Aaron Ward (DD-132)||Wickes||1919||To Britain. Renamed HMS Castleton. Broken up in 1947.|
|15||USS Hale (DD-133)||Wickes||1919||To Britain. Renamed HMS Caldwell. Broken up in 1944.|
|16||USS Crowninshield (DD-134)||Wickes||1919||To Britain. Renamed HMS Chelsea. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Derzkiy ("Ardent"). Broken up in 1949.|
|17||USS Tillman (DD-135)||Wickes||1919||To Britain. Renamed HMS Wells. Broken up in 1945.|
|18||USS Claxton (DD-140)||Wickes||1919||To Britain. Renamed HMS Salisbury. Broken up in 1944.|
|19||USS Yarnall (DD-143)||Wickes||1918||To 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.|
|20||USS Thatcher (DD-162)||Wickes||1918||To Canada. Renamed HMCS Niagara. Broken up in 1946.|
|21||USS Cowell (DD-167)||Wickes||1918||To Britain. Renamed HMS Brighton. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Zharkiy ("Zealous"). Returned to Britain and broken up in 1949.|
|22||USS Maddox (DD-168)||Wickes||1918||To Britain. Renamed HMS Georgetown. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Doblestny ("Valiant"). Broken up in 1949.|
|23||USS Foote (DD-169)||Wickes||1918||To Britain. Renamed HMS Roxborough. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Zhostkiy ("Adamant"). Returned to Britain and broken up in 1949.|
|24||USS Kalk (DD-170)||Wickes||1918||To Canada. Renamed HMCS Hamilton. Broken up in 1945.|
|25||USS Mackenzie (DD-175)||Wickes||1918||To Canada. Renamed HMCS Annapolis. Broken up in 1945.|
|26||USS Hopewell (DD-181)||Wickes||1918||To Britain. Renamed HMS Bath. Sunk on August 19, 1941 by U-204.|
|27||USS Thomas (DD-182)||Wickes||1918||To Britain. Renamed HMS St. Albans. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Dostoyny ("Excellent"). Broken up in 1949.|
|28||USS Haraden (DD-183)||Wickes||1918||Initially to Britain and then on to Canada. Renamed HMS Columbia then HMCS Columbia. Broken up in 1945.|
|29||USS Abbot (DD-184)||Wickes||1918||To Britain. Renamed HMS Charlestown. Broken up in 1947.|
|30||USS Doran (DD-185)||Wickes||1918||To Britain. Renamed HMS St. Marys. Broken up in 1945.|
|31||USS Satterlee (DD-190)||Clemson||1918||To Britain. Renamed HMS Belmont. Sunk by U-82 on January 31, 1942.|
|32||USS Mason (DD-191)||Clemson||1919||To Britain. Renamed HMS Broadwater. Sunk by U-101 on October 18, 1941.|
|33||USS Abel P Upshur (DD-193)||Clemson||1918||To Britain. Renamed HMS Clare. Broken up in 1945.|
|34||USS Hunt (DD-194)||Clemson||1920||To Britain. Renamed HMS Broadway. Broken up in 1947.|
|35||USS Welborn C Wood (DD-195)||Clemson||1920||To Britain. Renamed HMS Chesterfield. Broken up in 1947.|
|36||USS Branch (DD-197)||Clemson||1919||To Britain. Renamed HMS Beverley. Sunk by U-188 on April 11, 1943.|
|37||USS Herndon (DD-198)||Clemson||1919||To Britain. Renamed HMS Churchill. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Deyatelny ("Active"). Sank on January 16, 1945 in uncertain circumstances.|
|38||USS McCook (DD-252)||Clemson||1919||To Canada. Renamed HMCS St. Croix. Sunk by U-952 on September 20, 1943.|
|39||USS McCalla (DD-253)||Clemson||1919||To Britain. Renamed HMS Stanley. Sunk by U-574 on December 18, 1941.|
|40||USS Rodgers (DD-254)||Clemson||1919||To Britain. Renamed HMS Sherwood. Sunk as a target in 1945.|
|41||USS Bancroft (DD-256)||Clemson||1919||To Canada. Renamed HMCS St. Francis. Foundered in 1945 while en route to scrap yard.|
|42||USS Welles (DD-257)||Clemson||1919||To Britain. Renamed HMS Cameron. Damaged beyond repair in an air raid at Portsmouth on December 5, 1940.|
|43||USS Aulick (DD-258)||Clemson||1919||To Britain. Renamed HMS Burnham. Broken up in 1947.|
|44||USS Laub (DD-263)||Clemson||1918||To Britain. Renamed HMS Burwell. Broken up in 1947.|
|45||USS McLanahan (DD-264)||Clemson||1918||To Britain. Renamed HMS Bradford. Broken up in 1946.|
|46||USS Edwards (DD-265)||Clemson||1918||To Britain. Renamed HMS Buxton. To Canada in 1943. Renamed HMCS Buxton. Broken up in 1946.|
|47||USS Shubrick (DD-268)||Clemson||1918||To Britain. Renamed HMS Ripley. Broken up in 1945.|
|48||USS Bailey (DD-269)||Clemson||1919||To Britain. Renamed HMS Reading. Broken up in 1945.|
|49||USS Swasey (DD-273)||Clemson||1919||To Britain. Renamed HMS Rockingham. Struck a mine on September 27, 1944, and sank while under tow.|
|50||USS Meade (DD-274)||Clemson||1919||To Britain. Renamed HMS Ramsey. Broken up in 1947.|
- Syrett, David (1994). The Defeat of the German U-boats: The Battle of the Atlantic. Univ of South Carolina Press. p. 10. ISBN 9780872499843.
- Burns, James MacGregor (1956). Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox. Easton Press. ISBN 978-0-15-678870-0, p. 438
- 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.
- William R. Casto, "Advising Presidents: Robert Jackson and the Destroyers-For-Bases Deal." American Journal of Legal History 52.1 (2012): 1-135. online
- Martin Gilbert, Churchill and America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.
- Goodhart, Philip (1965). 50 Ships That Saved the World. New York: Doubleday. p. 175.
- 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.
- Blair, Clay (1996). Hitler's U-Boat War, The Hunters 1939-1942. Random House. p. 229. ISBN 0-394-58839-8.
- Neary, 1985
- States, United (June 24, 1973). "United States Treaties and Other International Agreements". Department of State – via Google Books.
- "Planning to Protect our Bahamian Islands". Bahama Pundit.
- "Seaworthy Publications, Inc. – Nautical Book Publisher". Archived from the original on March 13, 2013.
- University, Sam Houston State. "Page Not Found: 404 | Sam Houston State University". SHSU Online. Archived from the original on September 27, 2013. Cite uses generic title (help)
- 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) . 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 . CMH Pub 4-2.
- STRATEGY: Bases Chosen December 1940 Time article about the bases.
- Naval Bases constructed after the deal