Afrerrhefall ofFrance, in June 1940,
Prime Minister Winston Churchill predicted that very soon the whole might and fury of Nazi.
Germany would be turned against the United Kingdom for “Hitler [knew] that he must break us in this island or lose the war.”
The critical factor in British survi val was keeping sea lanes open, and to do that the Royal Navy sorely needed destroyers.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized Britain’s desperate need and, in response to Churchill’s second plea in July 1940,
the arranged to exchange fifryoverage destroyers for the right to build naval and air bases in Newfoundland,
Bermuda and the West Indies.
The destroyers-forbases deal was signed on 2 September and annou nced on 4 September 1940.
In Richmond, Virginia, an artifact of those dark times has recently emerged from a library stack in the Richmond Public Library.
It is the bridge badge, known in the US Navy as a ship’s plaque, of HMS Richmond (G-88),
formerly USS Fairfax (DD-93), a “four-piper” destroyer turned over to Britain in 1940.
The destroyers-for-bases deal was complex and extraordinarily controversial, particularly since 1940 was a presidential election year.
Attorney General Robert Jackson, later to become a Supreme Court Justice and the United States’s prosecutor at the Nuremburg War Crimes trials,
had in June 1940 opined that building PT boats and turning them over to the English would be a clear violation of the Neutrality Act.
However, he held that the destroyers (which had an estimated useful life of sixteen years) were obsolescent,
had not been built for delivery to a belligerent power, and could therefore be transferred to the Royal Navy.
In response to the Attorney General’s opinion, Admiral Harold R.
Stark, USN, Chief of Naval Operations, immediately certified that the ships being exchanged were obsolete,
all having been built before 1922, and that the opportunity to establish naval and air bases strengthened national defense.
The chosen vessels sailed from Norfolk and other east coast ports to Boston, where they were placed in full operational condition.
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