Jul 19

Two-Ocean Navy Bill Becomes Law, 19 July 1940

Monday, July 19, 2010 12:01 AM


 On 17 June 1940, Congressman Carl Vinson, the chairman of the House Naval Affairs Committee, brought before the committee a bill crafted by Chief of Naval Operations Harold R. Stark and his staff that called for a 70 percent increase in the size of the U.S. Navy’s authorized combatant tonnage. Admiral Stark testified before the committee the following day. He called for increasing the Navy by some 200 combatants and 20 auxiliaries—an increase of 1,325,000 tons of new ships—at a cost

In 1940, Admiral Stark won congressional approval for a “two-ocean Navy” and authored the document that set America’s Europe-first strategy of World War II.

of $4 billion. Although he did not provide the committee with the numbers, he was expecting that this increase would furnish his service with an additional 7 battleships, 18 aircraft carriers, 27 cruisers, 115 destroyers, and 43 submarines. Stark testified that this increase was needed in light of existing world conditions—it would allow the U.S. Navy to undertake offensive action against an enemy navy in one ocean while carrying out successful defensive operations against an opposing navy in another ocean.

The members of the House Naval Affairs Committee needed little reminding about the dire situation in Europe. In fact, that morning newspapers around the country were reporting that France’s leaders had requested an armistice with the Germans. Nazi Germany had just knocked France out of the war. Spurred by the international news, the committee, and indeed Congress as a whole, acted with unusual dispatch. The House Naval Affairs Committee reported the bill out the day after the CNO testified, and the full House voted to approve it on 22 June.

Dubbed the “Two-Ocean Navy Bill,” the legislation was handled almost as swiftly in the Senate. Reported out by the Senate Naval Affairs Committee on 8 July, it was passed by the Senate two days later. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed it into law on 19 July 1940. The Two-Ocean Navy Act and the monies thereafter appropriated by Congress to carry out its terms, laid the groundwork for the wartime U.S. Navy that helped substantially to win World War II.

  • Corbin Williamson

    Did the Two-Ocean Navy Bill include authorization for the CVEs built for the USN and the RN?

  • Jose Cabanillas

    It would appear not. The first real impetus for construction of escorts other than for training didn’t come until 1941, if I read my history correctly. The Long Island was originally designated as an AVG and used for transport and training until later in the war. I don’t think the CVE’s got ordered until 1941.

  • Joel Holwitt

    Because of his (lack of) involvement and responsibility for not providing Admiral Kimmel at Pearl Harbor all available intelligence, Admiral Stark has been frequently neglected by military and naval historians. This is regrettable, because as his photo caption states, he wrote the memorandum that would become the National MIlitary Strategy of the Second World War, Plan Dog. Fortunately, B. Mitchell Simpson wrote an excellent biography of Stark, utilizing interviews with Stark and his papers.

    The Two Ocean Navy Act belies the frequent claim that the attack on Pearl Harbor ended the “age of the battleship” and ushered in the dominance of the aircraft carrier. Instead, as the numbers clearly show, Stark intended (and the Navy built) far more aircraft carriers than battleships, and a significant number of smaller combatants like destroyers and submarines. The ESSEX-class aircraft carriers that would play such an important role in winning the Second World War had already been designed long before Pearl Harbor and the first three ESSEX-class carriers had already been laid down before December 7, 1941. The Navy did not suddenly wake up to aircraft carriers because of Pearl Harbor — years of war games, fleet exercises, and technological innovation had already laid out the path for the transition. And even officers like Admiral Stark, who had only served on surface combatants, recognized the importance of the aircraft carrier and its potential.

    Because of the head start afforded by the Two Ocean Navy Act, many of these ships reached the fleet by 1943, decisively swinging the tide of war to the United States. Without the Two Ocean Navy Act, the U.S. Navy way well have not had these ships until 1944 or later, and the course of the Second World War would have gone quite differently.

  • Jim Valle

    I think it might be misleading to claim that the Two Ocean Navy Act proclaimed the end of the battleship era for the U.S. Navy. It is more likely that Stark and his successor, Admiral King intended to have a “balanced” fleet with heavy commitments to both carriers and battleships. The complicating variable was the unusually long lead time needed to bring battleships on line. For this reason the Navy started planning its battleship program well before the Two Ocean Navy Act appeared. The North Carolina Class ( two ships ) was started in 1937 followed by the South Dakota Class ( 4 ships ) in 1938. Design work on the Iowa Class ( four ships ) was essentially complete by 1940 and the Two Ocean Navy Act called for five Montana Class ships which were in the design phase by 1941. Consequently ten modern battleships were active in the Navy during WWII in addition to four Alaska Class battlecruisers. The Montanas were eventually cancelled. The construction of Essex Class carriers did substantially outstrip the battleship program in part because it proved much easier to initiate serial production of the Essex Class ships once the design had been standardized and the decision was made not to provide them with armored flight decks. To sum up, Stark and King had fifteen modern battleships and four battlecruisers built, building or in the pipeline at the time of the Two Ocean Navy Act or shortly thereafter and that, I think is a pretty impressive commitment to the battleship concept.

  • Joel Holwitt

    I agree it would be misleading to proclaim that the Two Ocean Navy Act proclaimed the end of the battleship era for the U.S. Navy. It was not. But the Two Ocean Navy Act did demonstrate the Navy’s progress with aircraft carrier development and production well before December 7, 1941, as well as the recognition by senior officers of the importance of the aircraft carrier well before Pearl Harbor.

    The large number of fast battleships that were built after 1936 had everything to do with the long hiatus in battleship building and Japan’s withdrawal from the London Naval Treaty. After Japan renounced the London Naval Treaty, the United States activated the escalation clause in the London Naval Treaty of 1930 to build battleships with 16-inch guns that could keep up with the faster aircraft carriers. By the time the NORTH CAROLINA-class battleships commenced construction, the U.S. Navy had already experimented with and built six aircraft carriers with a seventh, USS WASP, on the ways. The older battleships could not keep up with these carriers, and the Navy recognized the need to build a balanced fleet that could proceed at a reasonable speed.

    In point of fact, the U.S. Navy originally planned for six IOWA-class battleships, but only built four and completely canceled construction of the MONTANA class. Additionally, the United States built only two of the ALASKA-class battlecruisers. Six were originally planned. So yes, there was a sizable commitment to battleships well through the first years of the war, but that doesn’t change the fact that contrary to popular belief, the Navy did not build aircraft carriers as an afterthought or treated them like “red-headed step-children”. The Navy had recognized the importance of aircraft carriers for over a decade, and had experimented with carrier size, air group composition, and some air strike doctrine with four different types of aircraft carriers prior to settling on the ESSEX-class carrier as the optimal design.

    During the last decade, there has been a number of books by Thomas and Trent Hone, Craig Felker, and John Kuehn that have discussed the importance of the interwar period to the strategy, tactics, and technology with which the U.S. Navy won the war in the Pacific. These works, along with previous books by William McBride, Edward S. Miller, and Michael Vlahos, very much show that the U.S. Navy of the interwar period was an innovative and forward-thinking organization that assessed the challenges of a major Pacific Ocean conflict and adapted to meet those challenges. The Two Ocean Navy Act was the coda to this era, just before the crucible of war.