THE BRIDGE OF SHIPS
By ERWIN D. CANHAM
By Air Mail. AMERICAN public opinion is steadily realising the futility of producing the fighting tools for Britain if they do not reach their destination in adequate safety. Hence sentiment in favour of providing some sort of convoy-aid is visibly rising. Doubtless, by the time this article reaches Britain, some kind of action will be under way. The seizure yesterday [this article is being written on March 3ist] of 65 Italian, German and Danish vessels was one important step. President Roosevelt, newly returned from a brief vacation-cruise, is undoubtedly ready for other substantial deeds in the same direction, and it is safe to forecast them. The United States' contribution to the problem of the Atlantic depends upon two factors: the supply of naval vessels for the convoy-task, and the supply of merchant-vessels to do the carrying. In both respects, existing strengths and shipbuilding-facilities are of supreme importance.
However great these indirect aids, the major part of the Atlantic battle has now become the battle of the shipyards. With Sir Arthur Salter's arrival in this country the shipping facilities of America and Britain will certainly be co-ordinated up to the maximum of feasibility. It is futile to pretend that we are building enough merchant-vessels. We are not yet moving at the World War rate. But there is much reason to think that we are moving more wisely and in the end probably more effectively. Much energy was wasted in the last war in production of shipyards and ways which made a spectacular effort—too late. Today the whole emphasis is on prac- ticability, and here are its main outlines: In naval and merchant-shipping categories, we have under- taken a $10,000,000,000 shipbuilding programme, in addition to opening our yards for British repairs and refitting. The figures, broken down, show $8,000,000,000 being spent for 446 naval vessels of 2,500,000 tons, all to be completed by 1947, and $2,000,000,000 in merchant shipping divided among 451 craft of 3,500,000 tons, to be all finished by March, 1941, at the latest—and probably earlier. In addition, smaller yards have contracts for about 342 patrol-craft and small auxiliaries; 166 harbour and coastal craft and minesweepers; and 1,404 small boats, including amphibian tractors, landing-boats and aircraft-rescue boats.
These figures are as impressive as they appear. And they can be increased. They come atop a naval force which is the largest in American history, including 322 combatant ships divided among t5 , battleships, 6 aircraft-carriers, 37 cruisers, 159 destroyers, and 105 submarines. Building, with units of all categories steadily coming down the ways, are 368 more vessels, including 17 battleships, 12 aircraft carriers, 54 cruisers, 205 destroyers and 8o submarines. Such figures are not presented just to lend a technical air: they reveal, rather, that Anglo-Saxon naval supremacy of the future is secure if Britain can pull through its present crisis. And to the solution of that crisis the United States must at once contribute by helping to solve the convoy problem. Numerous units of the naval force will be available for Atlantic convoy-duties, particularly if Japan subsides. The plan by which the United States would assume the convoy-tasks for the 2,000 miles from Halifax to the formal boundaries of the Western Hemisphere seems still to be leading in public dis- cussion, although President Roosevelt's action may have altered this comment long before the article reaches Britain. On how this strictly naval programme will be worked out it is futile to speculate. And whatever the United States does, there will still remain the problem of merchant-bottoms. The 300,000 tons of German, Italian and Danish ships just seized here are expected to be added to the British pool as soon as they are seaworthy. Their sabotage-damage, while considerable, is expected to be largely repairable in reasonable time. Some further American tonnage now in the coastal trade, and a con- siderable quantity of French tonnage, could also be transferred. With ships, now tied up in other world ports, for which Britain is now negotiating, there is estimated in New York to be about 1,000,000 tons in all available.
But it is the output of the shipyards which offers the best hope of keeping the bridge of ships to Britain intact. On the basis of the U.S. Maritime Commission's 1938 programme, some 190 modern merchant-vessels of advanced design were on order at the beginning of 1941. They range from 5,000 to 12,000 gross tons. In addition a considerable number of ships, including numerous tankers, are building for private account. To this programme is added the 260 ships of the emergency-programme. `Some of them are now under contract, and a few will be furnished by the end of this year. These ships are of the simplest construction—" box-shaped ships with sharp ends "--with reciprocating engines, water-tube boilers, no turbines, a minimum of forgings and castings and electrical equipment.
Under the programme, nearly all of the 460 ships in these two series will be finished by the end of 1942, and if a speed-up is possible—it is being attempted—they will all be completed before then. Twenty-two merchant ships of about 170,000 tons, it is estimated, have been delivered in the first quarter of this year ; about thirty of more than 230,000 tons are -expected in the second quarter ; about thirty-two of almost 250,000 tons are due in the third quarter ; and in the fourth quarter the number confidently planned totals some 50 ships of more than 375,000 tons.
These amounts cannot be much increased by speed-up efforts, but in 1942 the estimated total is much more satis- factory-30o merchant-ships of about 2,300,000 tons in present calculations which may be radically revised upward. It is felt that perhaps, after conference with Sir Arthur Salter: something between 200 and 400 more of the "ugly ducklings in the emergency-programme may be ordered, and that our annual production rate of merchant-bottoms can be lifted to 5,000poo gross tons every twelve months by mid-1943. Provided the war lasts that long, and Britain's present effort is not gravely crippled, this production schedule ought TO assure the "bridge of ships." These coming days offer the greatest weakness of the whole programme. That is where the convoying facilities of the American Navy col' into play, and the co-ordinating skill of Sir Arthur Salter will be needed in reorganising the world's urgent carrying trade in 'coming months so that the most advantage vvill be had of existing ships. Likewise it may be more important to repair certain British ships in American yards than to con- centrate exclusively on new ships. Quite possibly even for Americans, will have to rot a bit longer on their wharves while tin and manganese and rubber take pri,ritY. That will be all right: it is quite obvious that the bridze of ships must be built and Americans are ready to do their