The Convoy Conundrum
AFTER THE PASSAGE OF THE LEND LEASE ACT, THE CHIEF question facing Roosevelt was how to insure delivery of the cargoes of weapons and materials to Britain. Admiral Doenitz had begun to organize his increasing number of submarines in "wolf packs." As early as October 12, 1940, the President in a Columbus Day address on hemispheric defense had described the naval defenses of "this half of the world" and made what amounted to a campaign promise:
No combination of dictator countries of Europe and Asia will stop the help we are giving to almost the last free people now fighting to hold them at bay.1
In his address of December 29, 1940, Roosevelt had virtually promised that the United States would not permit the defeat of Great Britain.2 Quite apart from such promises, it was obvious that Lend Lease required delivery as well as manufacture of the goods needed in Britain and elsewhere for victory.
The equally obvious way to insure delivery was to use United States naval escorts to protect convoys of merchantmen. "Wolf pack" tactics of the German submarines made larger naval escorts necessary, and the Royal Navy was inadequate. Britain was losing the Battle of the Atlantic in the spring of 1941. Its monthly losses of merchant ships were from two to three times greater than its ability to replace them. Turning over to the Royal Navy important portions of the American fleet was "legal" under the Lend