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Destroyers‐For‐Bases Agreement

Destroyers‐For‐Bases Agreement (1940).On 3 September 1940, after intricate negotiations, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced that he was transferring fifty destroyers of World War I vintage to England—already at war with Germany—in exchange for ninety‐nine‐year leases to seven British air and naval bases in the western hemisphere (Newfoundland, Bermuda, several Caribbean islands, and British Guiana). Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill had first asked for the warships to replenish British losses in the Norwegian campaign. Despite his promise that spring to support England with “the material resources of this nation,” Roosevelt waited as Britain continued the war against Nazi Germany after France's surrender. Private groups like the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies worked to arouse public opinion in support of Britain, while FDR sought assurances that Churchill would never surrender the Royal Navy, even if Hitler occupied the British Isles.

Not until intelligence in August 1940 during the air Battle of Britain indicated that Britain had better than a fifty‐fifty chance of defeating a German invasion did Roosevelt finally act. By obtaining valuable bases in exchange, he persuaded a reluctant chief of naval operations, Adm. Harold R. Stark, to certify, as required by law, that the destroyers were no longer essential to national defense. The President bypassed Congress by concluding the arrangement through an executive agreement, an action challenged by isolationists but justified legally by Attorney General Robert Jackson. Because most of the old vessels needed extensive repairs and refitting, the actual military value of the Destroyers‐for‐Bases‐Agreement proved less important than the diplomatic implications. What Roosevelt called the most important “reinforcement of our defense … since the Louisiana Purchase,” Churchill considered “a decidedly unneutral act” that inaugurated the Anglo‐American alliance of World War II.
[See also Lend‐Lease Act and Agreements; World War II, U.S. Naval Operations in: The North Atlantic.]

Bibliography

David Reynolds , The Creation of the Anglo‐American Alliance, 1937–1941, 1981.
Robert Shogan , Hard Bargain, 1995.

J. Garry Clifford

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