Secretary Knox reveals U.S. convoying (9-18-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (September 18, 1941)

Coasts protected –

Non-interventionists see no countermove

Washington, Sept. 18 (UP) –
Leaders of the non-interventionist bloc in Congress remained silent today following announcement by Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox that United States warships are convoying vessels carrying aid to Britain.

In making the announcement, Mr. Knox said the American Navy is convoying as far as Iceland.

Non-interventionists said privately there was no countermove they could make. Prohibition of convoys had been one of the main objectives of the non-interventionist bloc and members of it frequently used as a battle cry President Roosevelt’s campaign statement:

Convoys mean shooting and shooting means war.

Mr. Knox’s statement was the first official disclosure that the U.S. Navy has undertaken convoying as part of President Roosevelt’s orders to protect merchant vessels of all nationalities in American defense waters and to shoot on sight all German or Italian warcraft entering those areas.

The Navy also reveals that plans for safeguarding American coastal waters against attack are complete and that anti-submarine nets have already been laid in some harbors. Mr. Knox said the Navy was continuing a search started several months ago for Axis submarine bases off the coast of South and Central America.

In response to a question at his press conference about the protection of war shipments to Great Britain and the Navy’s new policy of “shoot-on-sight,” Mr. Knox replied:

The escort of convoys by war vessels is only one of the methods that can be used and are being used in all of our defensive areas.

The pronouncement brought praise from administration supporters.

Senator Claude Pepper (D-FL) said the nation had:

…approved the [shoot-on-sight] policy announced by Mr. Roosevelt last Thursday.

It is the only way to assure getting the goods to the nations fighting Hitler. It is the only way to keep Hitler in Europe, and by keeping war away from the United States, to keep the United States out of war.

Chairman Sol Bloom (D-NY) of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said the action would:

…just insure that the supplies will get there.

Despite his use of the phrase, “All of our defense areas,” Mr. Knox referred specifically to the North Atlantic. He said he would not tell newsmen whether the Navy is furnishing protection for merchant ships outside of this area.

New methods used

Recalling his declaration to the American Legion Monday that the Navy would use every means to assure adequate protection for all ships carrying Lend-Lease supplies as far as Iceland, Mr. Knox said:

You must bear in mind that, since the First World War, many more methods than the convoy have been developed to protect ships, and we are employing all of them.

Mr. Knox said no clashes with German raiders had been reported in the past few days and promised that:

We will tell the world if we catch a raider.

Details of American convoying methods were not revealed on grounds they came under the heading of military information.

Asked regarding the arming of merchant ships, Mr. Knox said this was one method under consideration, that it required legislation and that he has not yet formed an opinion on the subject.

U.S. lacks guns

He said a shortage of guns to mount on merchant craft is:

…one of the main things that affects us; we have gun crews available from our regular Navy.

As for reports that a German raider has been operating in the South Pacific, presumably using the Galápagos Islands as a base, Mr. Knox said:

We think there is a raider. One ship has disappeared, but that’s all the news we have.

Mr. Knox disclosed that many months ago the Navy searched various Pacific Islands that might be used for raider bases. He explained that the search was part of “our security program.”

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