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In the Destroyers for Bases Agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom on September 2, 1940, fifty mothballed destroyers were transferred to the United Kingdom from the United States Navy in exchange for land rights on British possessions. The destroyers became the Town-class, and were named after British towns if there was a United States town of the same name, as the agreement contained rigid clauses regarding naming.


The Second World War started in September 1939. After the eight month interlude of the Phony War, France and the Low Countries were quickly overrun by the Nazi German Blitzkrieg in the Battle of France in May 1940. This left the United Kingdom and British Empire fighting alone (or almost alone after the Italian attack on Greece that autumn), against Germany.

The Chiefs of Staff Committee concluded in May that if France collapsed, "we do not think we could continue the war with any chance of success" without "full economic and financial support" from the United States.[1] Although its government was sympathetic to Britain's plight, American public opinion at the time overwhelmingly supported isolationism to avoid US involvement in "another European war". Reflecting this sentiment, Congress had passed the Neutrality Acts three years previously, which banned the shipment or sale of arms from the US to any combatant nation. Additionally, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was further constrained by the upcoming 1940 Presidential election, as his critics sought to portray him as being pro-war.

By late May, following the evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk, France, in Operation Dynamo, the Royal Navy was in immediate need of ships, especially as they were now fighting the Battle of the Atlantic in which German U-boats threatened Britain's supplies of food and other resources essential to the war effort.

With German troops advancing rapidly into France and many in the US Government convinced that the defeat of France and Britain was imminent, the United States sent a proposal to the United Kingdom through the British Ambassador, the Marquess of Lothian, for an American lease of airfields on Trinidad, Bermuda, and Newfoundland.[2] British Prime Minister Winston Churchill initially rejected the offer on May 27 unless Britain received something immediate in return. On June 1, as the defeat of France loomed, President Roosevelt bypassed the Neutrality Act by declaring as "surplus" many millions of rounds of American ammunition and obsolescent small arms, and authorizing their shipment to the United Kingdom. But Roosevelt rejected Churchill's pleas for destroyers for the Royal Navy.

By August, while Britain and her Empire stood alone against Germany, the American Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy reported from London that a British surrender was "inevitable". Seeking to persuade Roosevelt to send the destroyers, Churchill warned Roosevelt ominously that if Britain were vanquished, its colonial islands close to American shores could become a direct threat to America if they fell into German hands.

The deal

On September 2, 1940, as the Battle of Britain intensified, United States Secretary of State Cordell Hull signaled agreement to the transfer of the warships to the Royal Navy. In exchange, the US was granted land in various British possessions for the establishment of naval or air bases, on ninety-nine-year rent-free leases, on:

  • Newfoundland (today part of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador)
  • Eastern side of the Bahamas
  • Southern coast of Jamaica
  • Western coast of St. Lucia
  • West coast of Trinidad (Gulf of Paria)
  • Antigua
  • British Guiana (present day Guyana) within fifty miles of Georgetown

The agreement also granted the US air and naval base rights in:

  • The Great Sound and Castle Harbour, Bermuda
  • South and eastern coasts of Newfoundland

No destroyers were received in exchange for the bases in Bermuda and Newfoundland. Both territories were vital to trans-Atlantic shipping, aviation, and to the Battle of the Atlantic. Although enemy attack on either was unlikely, it could not be discounted, and Britain had been forced to wastefully maintain defensive forces, including the Bermuda Garrison. The deal allowed Britain to hand much of the defence of Bermuda over to the still-neutral US, freeing British forces for redeployment to more active theatres. It also enabled the development of strategic facilities at US expense which British forces would also utilise.

American and British sailors examine depth charges. In the background are US Wickes-class destroyers before their transfer

The Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) each maintained air stations in Bermuda at the start of the war, but these only served flying boats. The RAF station on Darrell's Island served as a staging point for trans-Atlantic flights by RAF Transport Command and RAF Ferry Command, BOAC, and Pan-Am, as well as hosting the Bermuda Flying School, but did not operate maritime patrols. The FAA station on Boaz Island, existed to service aircraft based on vessels operating from or through the Royal Naval Dockyard, but attempted to maintain maritime patrols using pilots from naval ships, RAF Darrell's Island, and the Bermuda Flying School.

The agreement for bases in Bermuda stipulated that the US would, at its own expense, build an airfield, capable of handling large landplanes, which would be operated jointly by the US Army Air Force and the Royal Air Force. The airfield was named Kindley Field (after Field Kindley, an American aviator who fought for Britain during the First World War). RAF Transport Command relocated its operations to the airfield when it was completed in 1943, although RAF Ferry Command remained at Darrell's Island. Prior to this, the US Navy had established the Naval Operating Base at Bermuda's West End. This was a flying boat station, from which maritime patrols were operated for the remainder of the war (the US Navy had actually begun operating such patrols from RAF Darrell's Island, using floatplanes, while waiting for their own base to become operational). The RAF and FAA facilities were closed after the war, leaving only the US air bases in Bermuda. The Naval Operating Base ceased to be an air station in 1965, when its flying boats were replaced by Neptune landplanes, operating from the Kindley Air Force Base (as the former US Army airfield had become). These US air bases were in fact only two of several US military facilities that operated in Bermuda during the Twentieth Century. The United States abandoned many of these bases in 1949 and the remaining few were closed in 1995. The US does retain the right to base military forces in Bermuda and Newfoundland.

The US accepted the "generous action… to enhance the national security of the United States" and immediately transferred in return 50 US Navy destroyers "generally referred to as the twelve hundred-ton type" (also known in references as "flush-deck" destroyers, or "four-pipers" after their four funnels). Forty-three ships initially went to the British Royal Navy and seven to the Royal Canadian Navy. In the Commonwealth navies the ships were renamed after towns, and were therefore known as the Town class, although they had originally belonged to three ship classes: (Caldwell, Wickes, and Clemson). Before the end of the war, nine others also served with the Royal Canadian Navy. Five Towns were manned by crews of the Royal Norwegian Navy, with the survivors later returned to the Royal Navy. HMS Campbeltown was manned by Royal Netherlands Navy sailors before her assignment to ram the drydock gates and sacrifice herself in the St. Nazaire Raid. Nine other destroyers were eventually transferred to the Soviet Navy. Six of the 50 destroyers were lost to U-boats, and three others, including the Campbeltown, were destroyed in other circumstances.

Britain had no choice but to accept the deal, but it was so much more advantageous to America than Britain that Churchill's aide John Colville compared it to the USSR's relationship with Finland. The destroyers were in reserve from the massive US World War I shipbuilding program, and many of the vessels required extensive overhaul due to the fact that many were not preserved properly when inactivated; one British admiral called them the "worst destroyers I had ever seen",[3] and only 30 were in service by May 1941.[1] Churchill also disliked the deal, but his advisers persuaded the prime minister to merely tell Roosevelt that:[3]

We have so far only been able to bring a few of your fifty destroyers into action on account of the many defects which they naturally develop when exposed to Atlantic weather after having been laid up so long.[3]

Roosevelt responded by transferring ten Lake-class coast guard cutters to the Royal Navy in 1941. These United States Coast Guard vessels were ten years newer than the destroyers, and had greater range, making them more useful as anti-submarine convoy escorts.[4]

The agreement was much more important for being the start of the wartime Anglo-American partnership. Churchill said in Parliament that "these two great organisations of the English-speaking democracies, the British Empire and the United States, will have to be somewhat mixed up together in some of their affairs for mutual and general advantage".[1]

According to the Hague Convention of 1907 the agreement was not compatible with USA "Neutrality", and could therefore have been used as a casus belli for a Declaration of War on the United States by the Axis Powers.[citation needed]

The bases

  • Bermuda
Not actually part of the exchange, but the US received base rights here for free, in addition to those that were part of the exchange. The US Naval Operating Base was established in 1940, operating as a flying boat base until 1965 (when the US Navy switched to using landplanes from Kindley Air Force Base). The base continued in use for other purposes as the US Naval Annex until 1995. Construction began at the same time of a US Army Air Force airfield, Kindley Field, attached to Fort Bell, and which later became Kindley AFB. Transferred to the US Navy in 1970, it operated as NAS Bermuda until it was closed in 1995.
  • Newfoundland
Several Army Air Force airfields. As with Bermuda, no destroyers or other war material was received in exchange for base rights in Newfoundland.
Pepperrell Airfield (later AFB) (closed August 1961)
Goose Bay Army Airfield (later AFB) (turned over to Canadian Forces, July 1976)
Stephenville Army Airfield (later AFB) (closed December 1966)
McAndrew Airfield (later AFB) (transferred to US Navy, 1955)
A Naval Air Station
Naval Station Argentia (closed 1994)
Multiple Marine and Army Bases and detachments in support of the above.

British West Indies

  • Antigua
A Naval Air Station at Crabbs Peninsula [5]
An Army Air Force airfield (Coolidge Army Airfield (later AFB)) (closed 1949)
  • The Bahamas
Naval seaplane base on Exuma Island at George Town. (closed 19??)[6][7][8]
  • British Guiana
An Army Air Force airfield (Atkinson Aerodrome (later AFB)) (closed 1949)
A Naval seaplane base near Suddie.
  • Jamaica
An Army Air Force airfield (Vernam Army Airfield (later AFB)) (closed 1949)
A Naval Air Station (Little Goat Island) and a Naval facility at Port Royal
  • Saint Lucia
An Army Air Force airfield (Beane Army Airfield (later AFB)) (closed 1949)
A Naval Air Station (Gros Islet Bay)
  • Trinidad
Two Army Air Force airfields
Waller Army Airfield (later AFB) (closed 1949)
Carlsen Army Airfield (later AFB) (closed 1949)
A Naval Operating Base, a Naval Air Station, blimp base, and a radio station[9]

The ships

No Name Class Service history and fate
01 USS Craven (DD-70) Caldwell To Britain. Renamed HMS Lewes. Scuttled on October 12, 1945
02 USS Conner (DD-72) Caldwell To Britain. Renamed HMS Leeds. Broken up in 1947
03 USS Stockton (DD-73) Caldwell To Britain. Renamed HMS Ludlow. Sunk as a target in 1945
04 USS Wickes (DD-75) Wickes To Britain. Renamed HMS Montgomery. Broken up in 1945
05 USS Philip (DD-76) Wickes To Britain. Renamed HMS Lancaster. Broken up in 1947
06 USS Evans (DD-78) Wickes To Britain. Renamed HMS Mansfield. Broken up in 1945
07 USS Sigourney (DD-81) Wickes To Britain. Renamed HMS Newport. Broken up in 1947
08 USS Robinson (DD-88) Wickes To Britain. Renamed HMS Newmarket. Broken up in 1945
09 USS Ringgold (DD-89) Wickes To Britain. Renamed HMS Newark. Broken up in 1947
10 USS Fairfax (DD-93) Wickes To Britain. Renamed HMS Richmond. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Zhivuchiy ("Tenacious"). Broken up in 1949
11 USS Williams (DD-108) Wickes To Canada. Renamed HMCS St. Clair. Foundered in 1946
12 USS Twiggs (DD-127) Wickes To Britain. Renamed HMS Leamington. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Zhguchiy ("Firebrand"). Recreated the St. Nazaire raid in the Trevor Howard film Gift Horse. Broken up in 1951
13 USS Buchanan (DD-131) Wickes To Britain. Renamed HMS Campbeltown. Destroyed in the St. Nazaire Raid on March 28, 1942
14 USS Aaron Ward (DD-132) Wickes To Britain. Renamed HMS Castleton. Broken up in 1947
15 USS Hale (DD-133) Wickes To Britain. Renamed HMS Caldwell. Broken up in 1944
16 USS Crowninshield (DD-134) Wickes To Britain. Renamed HMS Chelsea. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Derzkiy ("Ardent"). Broken up in 1949
17 USS Tillman (DD-135) Wickes To Britain. Renamed HMS Wells. Broken up in 1945
18 USS Claxton (DD-140) Wickes To Britain. Renamed HMS Salisbury. Broken up in 1944
19 USS Yarnall (DD-143) Wickes To Britain. Renamed HMS Lincoln. To Canada in 1942. Renamed HMCS Lincoln. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Druzhny ("United"). Broken up in 1952.
20 USS Thatcher (DD-162) Wickes To Canada. Renamed HMCS Niagara. Broken up in 1946
21 USS Cowell (DD-167) Wickes To Britain. Renamed HMS Brighton. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Zharkiy ("Zealous"). Returned to Britain in 1949 and broken up.
22 USS Maddox (DD-168) Wickes To Britain. Renamed HMS Georgetown. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Doblestny ("Valiant"). Broken up in 1949
23 USS Foote (DD-169) Wickes To Britain. Renamed HMS Roxborough. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Zhostkiy ("Adamant"). Returned to Britain in 1949 and broken up in 1952
24 USS Kalk (DD-170) Wickes To Canada. Renamed HMCS Hamilton. Broken up in 1945
25 USS Mackenzie (DD-175) Wickes To Canada. Renamed HMCS Annapolis. Broken up in 1945
26 USS Hopewell (DD-181) Wickes To Britain. Renamed HMS Bath. Sunk on August 19, 1941 by U-204
27 USS Thomas (DD-182) Wickes To Britain. Renamed HMS St. Albans. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Dostoyny ("Excellent"). Broken up in 1949
28 USS Haraden (DD-183) Wickes Initially to Britain and then on to Canada. Renamed HMS Columbia then HMCS Columbia. Broken up in 1945
29 USS Abbot (DD-184) Wickes To Britain. Renamed HMS Charlestown. Broken up in 1947
30 USS Doran (DD-185) Wickes To Britain. Renamed HMS St. Marys. Broken up in 1945
31 USS Satterlee (DD-190) Clemson To Britain. Renamed HMS Belmont. Sunk by U-82 on January 31, 1942
32 USS Mason (DD-191) Clemson To Britain. Renamed HMS Broadwater. Sunk by U-101 on October 18, 1941
33 USS Abel P Upshur (DD-193) Clemson To Britain. Renamed HMS Clare. Broken up in 1945
34 USS Hunt (DD-194) Clemson To Britain. Renamed HMS Broadway. Broken up in 1947
35 USS Welborn C Wood (DD-195) Clemson To Britain. Renamed HMS Chesterfield. Broken up in 1947
36 USS Branch (DD-197) Clemson To Britain. Renamed HMS Beverley. Sunk by U-188 on April 11, 1943
37 USS Herndon (DD-198) Clemson To Britain. Renamed HMS Churchill. To USSR in 1944. Renamed Deyatelny ("Active"). Sunk on January 16, 1945 in uncertain circumstances
38 USS McCook (DD-252) Clemson To Canada. Renamed HMCS St. Croix. Sunk by U-952 on September 20, 1943
39 USS McCalla (DD-253) Clemson To Britain. Renamed HMS Stanley. Sunk by U-574 on December 18, 1941
40 USS Rodgers (DD-254) Clemson To Britain. Renamed HMS Sherwood. Sunk as a target in 1945
41 USS Bancroft (DD-256) Clemson To Canada. Renamed HMCS St. Francis. Foundered in 1945 while en route to scrap yard.
42 USS Welles (DD-257) Clemson To Britain. Renamed HMS Cameron. Damaged beyond repair in an air raid at Portsmouth on December 5, 1940
43 USS Aulick (DD-258) Clemson To Britain. Renamed HMS Burnham. Broken up in 1947
44 USS Laub (DD-263) Clemson To Britain. Renamed HMS Burwell. Broken up in 1947
45 USS McLanahan (DD-264) Clemson To Britain. Renamed HMS Bradford. Broken up in 1946
46 USS Edwards (DD-265) Clemson To Britain. Renamed HMS Buxton. To Canada in 1943. Renamed HMCS Buxton. Broken up in 1946
47 USS Shubrick (DD-268) Clemson To Britain. Renamed HMS Ripley. Broken up in 1945
48 USS Bailey (DD-269) Clemson To Britain. Renamed HMS Reading. Broken up in 1945
49 USS Swasey (DD-273) Clemson To Britain. Renamed HMS Rockingham. Struck a mine on September 27, 1944, and sank while under tow
50 USS Meade (DD-274) Clemson To Britain. Renamed HMS Ramsey. Broken up in 1947

See also

  • Banff-class sloops similarly transferred to the Royal Navy in 1941.
  • Lend-Lease, a successor agreement loosely modeled on the Destroyers for Bases Agreement.
  • Northeast Air Command for airfields in Newfoundland and Labrador


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Reynolds, David (1993). "Churchill in 1940: The Worst and Finest Hour". In Blake, Robert B.; Louis, William Roger. Churchill. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 248, 250–251. ISBN 0-19-820626-7. 
  2. Martin Gilbert, Churchill and America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Olson, Lynne (2010). Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood With Britain In Its Darkest, Finest Hour. Random House. pp. 19–20. ISBN 978-1-58836-982-6. 
  4. Blair, Clay (1996). Hitler's U-Boat War, The Hunters 1939-1942. Random House. p. 229. ISBN 0-394-58839-8. 
  5. Wikipedia s.v. Transport in Antigua and Barbuda --- Other ports and harbours include Jolly Harbour, Deepwater Harbour, High Point Crabbs Peninsula .... Merchant … 15 Jan. 2009
  6. Naval base
  8. The Tourism Boom
  9. The Destroyer-Naval Base Exchange

Further reading

External links

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