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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Destroyers-for-bases Agreement

2 September 1940

Location: Washington and London
Players: Roosevelt, Churchill, the US Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, and British Ambassador Lord Lothian.
Outcome: The exchange of 50 US destroyers for access to air and naval bases in British colonies.

Winston Churchill's signature
Winston Churchill's signature©
Britain had purchased US small arms in the summer of 1940, but needed an alternative to cash transactions. The Roosevelt administration came up with the straight trade concept, and in September 1940, Roosevelt signed the Destroyers-for-bases Agreement.

This gave 50 US naval destroyers - generally referred to as the 1,200-ton type - to Britain in exchange for the use of naval and air bases in eight British possessions: on the Avalon Peninsula, the coast of Newfoundland and on the Great Bay of Bermuda.

During negotiations, US access to bases was extended to include several locations in the Caribbean. A letter from the US Secretary of State to the British Ambassador, dated 2 September 1940, stated:

'His Majesty's Government will make available to the United States… naval and air bases and facilities for entrance thereto and the operation and protection thereof, on the eastern side of the Bahamas, the southern coast of Jamaica, the western coast of St Lucia, the west coast of Trinidad in the Gulf of Paria, in the island of Antigua and in British Guiana within 50 miles of Georgetown...'

The agreement had been negotiated in correspondence between the US Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, and the British Ambassador in America. The lease was guaranteed for the duration of 99 years 'free from all rent and charges other than such compensation to be mutually agreed on to be paid by the United States'.

Britain had fended off the threat of German invasion in the Battle of Britain and America appreciated that the country was willing and able to fight alone - but Churchill understood that an alliance with the US was essential if Britain was to continue the war effort.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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