History Timeline 1940's

Troops from the United States and other Allied nations land on the beach at Normandy, France in 1944, beginning the western European invasion that would lead to defeat of Nazi Germany.

World War II, Invading Africa

U.S. Timeline - The 1940s

World War II



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  • Timeline

  • 1940 Detail

    June 14, 1940 - On the same day Paris fell to the German army and Auschwitz received its first Polish prisoners, the Naval Expansion Act is signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, increasing the capacity of the U.S. Navy by 11%. Four days earlier, Roosevelt had condemned the actions of Italy's declaration of war against France and the United Kingdom.

    USS Iowa


    Although it is a date less known than others in the World War II landscape, at least as far as United States involvement, there's not doubting its import or eventual impact. The United States was still officially neutral when June 14, 1940 rolled around, despite assistance with war munitions to Great Britain and a general knowledge which side they were on. Congress had been attempting to beef up its Navy since the treaties of disarmament of 1922, the Five Power Treaty, and 1930, the Naval Reduction Treaty. The Naval Expansion Act of 1938, as well as other previous legislation, had been trying to make up for lost time by expanding the capacity of the United States on the seas, if, and increasingly when, they would join the fray. So Congress went about to act, not even knowing that on the date President Franklin Delano Roosevelt would sign the 1940 version of the Naval Expansion Act, German tanks would be plying the streets of Paris. And this does not even mention an act the world would come to know later, as Polish prisoners were transferred to Auschwitz.

    The war had been escalating on two fronts. By May 11, 1940, President Roosevelt acknowledged that a state of war existed between Germany and Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, but that he intended to stay neutral. By May 16, with German troops moving toward the English Channel, Roosevelt decided to be prepared, asking Congress for additional appropriations for the Army and Navy. On May 28, Belgium had been subdued by the German army. As noted above, Mussolini had thrown in his support for Germany on June 10, 1940 on the same day Norway surrendered to the Third Reich. Meanwhile, Congress debated the Naval Expansion Act, increasingly needed despite the official neutrality stance and Churchill's letters for assistance. It had also been known since 1931 that Japan had expansionist policies, too, first in Manchuria, then in 1937, with Nanking, and thought soon, Hong Kong. A second front in the Pacific was brewing, actually boiling, and about to spill over.

    Within days after President Roosevelt signed the legislation on June 14, 1940, the Naval Expansion Act of 1940 was thought insufficient, as Germany now controlled France and the World War was now beginning to consume both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. A revised copy of the Naval Expansion Act was approved by Roosevelt on June 15, increasing the air power of the navy to ten thousand planes instead of the quantity of four thousand five hundred. By July 19, 1940, the Two-Ocean Navy Act, also known as the Vinson-Walsh Act, had passed Congress (in the House of Representatives the vote was 316-0 after only one hour of debate) and was signed by President Roosevelt. It called for a seventy percent increase in naval capacity, two-hundred and fifty-seven new ships, including seven aircraft carriers, and fifteen thousand planes.




    Full Text, Naval Expansion Act, June 14, 1940


    AN ACT

    To establish the composition of the United States Navy, to authorize the construction of certain naval vessels, and for other purposes.

    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the authorized composition of the United States Navy in under-age vessels as established by the Act of May 17, 1938 (52 Stat. 401), is hereby further increased by one hundred and sixty-seven thousand tons, as follows:

    (a) Aircraft carriers, seventy-nine thousand five hundred tons, making a total authorized under-age tonnage of two hundred and fifty-four thousand five hundred tons.

    (b) Cruisers, sixty-six thousand five hundred tons, making a total authorized under-age tonnage of four hundred and seventy-nine thousand and twenty-four tons.

    (c) Submarines, twenty-one thousand tons, making a total authorized under-age tonnage of one hundred and two thousand nine hundred and fifty-six tons: Provided, That the foregoing total tonnage for aircraft carriers, cruisers, and submarines may be varied by thirty-three thousand four hundred tons in the aggregate so long as the sum of the total tonnages of these classes as authorized herein is not exceeded: Provided further, That the terms used in this or any other Act to describe vessels of designated classes shall not be understood as limited or controlled by definitions contained in any treaty which is not now in force.

    SEC. 2. The President of the United States is hereby authorized to construct such vessels, including replacements authorized by the Act of March 27, 1934 (48 Stat. 503), as may be necessary to provide the total under-age composition authorized in section 1 of this Act.

    SEC. 3. The President of the United States is hereby authorized to acquire or construct naval airplanes, and lighter-than-air craft and spare parts and equipment, as may be necessary to provide and maintain the number of useful naval airplanes at a total of not more than four thousand five hundred, including five hundred airplanes for the Naval Reserve; and the number of useful nonrigid lighterthan-air craft at a total of not more than eighteen.

    SEC. 4. The President of the United States is hereby further authorized to acquire and convert or to undertake the construction of seventy-five thousand tons of auxiliary vessels of such size, type, and design as he may consider best suited for the purposes of national defense.

    SEC. 5. There is hereby authorized to be appropriated, out of any money in the Treasury of the United States not otherwise appropriated, such sums as may be necessary to effectuate the purposes of this Act, including not to exceed $35,000,000 for shipbuilding ways, shipbuilding docks, and essential equipment and facilities at naval establishments for building or equipping any ship, herein or heretofore authorized, and, in addition, not to exceed $6,000,000 for essential equipment and facilities at either private or naval establishments for the production of armor or armament: Provided, That equipment and facilities procured for the production of armor or armament pursuant to the authority contained herein may be leased, sold, or otherwise disposed of, in the discretion of the Secretary of the Navy, when no longer required for use under naval contract.

    SEC. 6. The allocation and contracts for construction of the vessels herein authorized as well as the procurement and construction of airplanes and spare parts, shall be in accordance with the terms and conditions provided by the Act of March 27, 1934 (48 Stat. 503), as amended.

    SEC. 7. Vessels of the following categories shall hereafter be deemed under age until the number of years indicated have elapsed since completion: Battleships, twenty-six years; aircraft carriers and cruisers, twenty years; other combatant surface craft, sixteen years; submarines, thirteen years.

    SEC. 8. The construction, alteration, furnishing, or equipping of any naval vessel authorized by this Act, or the construction, alteration, furnishing, or equipping of any naval vessels with funds from any appropriation available for such purposes, contracts for which are made after June 30, 1940, shall be in accordance with the provisions of Public Law Numbered 846, Seventy-fourth Congress, approved June 30, 1936, unless such course, in the judgment of the President of the United States, should not be in the interest of national defense.

    SEC. 9. For the purpose of modernizing the United States ships New York, Texas, and Arkansas, alterations and repairs to such vessels are hereby authorized at a total cost not to exceed the sum of $6,000,000. This sum shall be in addition to the total appropriation expenditures for repairs and changes to each of these vessels as limited by the Act of July 18, 1935 (49 Stat. 482; U. S. C., title 5, sec. 468a).

    SEC. 10. The provisions of section 4 of the Act approved April 25, 1939 (53 Stat. 590, 592), shall, during the period of any national emergency declared by the President to exist, be applicable to naval public works and naval public utilities projects in the Fourteenth Naval District for which appropriations are made or authorized: Provided, That the fixed fee to be paid the contractor as a result of any contract entered into under the authority contained herein, or any contract hereafter entered into under the authority contained in said Act of April 25, 1939, shall not exceed 6 per centum of the estimated cost of the contract, exclusive of the fee, as determined by the Secretary of the Navy.

    SEC. 11. In the discretion of the President, there is hereby authorized and established a Naval Consulting Board of seven members to be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, from among eminent civilians in the fields of industry, science, and research, to serve during the pleasure of the President. This Board is hereby authorized to make recommendations to the Secretary of the Navy in any matter concerning the Naval Establishment and the national defense. The members thereof shall serve without compensation, but shall be reimbursed for all expenses incurred incident to their travel and employment as members of the Board. There is hereby authorized to be appropriated out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, not to exceed $25,000 to effectuate the purposes of this section.

    Approved, June 14, 1940.


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    Text, Two-Ocean Navy Act, July 19, 1940


    AN ACT

    To establish the composition of the United States Navy, to authorize the construction of certain naval vessels, and for other purposes.

    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the authorized composition of the United States Navy in under-age vessels as established by the Acts of May 17, 1938 (52 Stat. 401), and June 14, 1940, Public Law Numbered 629, Seventy-sixth Congress, is hereby further increased by one million three hundred and twentyfive thousand tons, as follows:

    (a) Capital ships, three hundred and eighty-five thousand tons;
    (b) Aircraft carriers, two hundred thousand tons;
    (c) Cruisers, four hundred and twenty thousand tons;
    d) Destroyers, two hundred and fifty thousand tons;
    (e) Submarines, seventy thousand tons: Provided, That each of the foregoing increases in tonnages for capital ships, aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and submarines may be varied upward or downward in the amount of 30 per centum of the total increased tonnage authorized herein so long as the sum of the total increases in tonnages of these classes as authorized herein is not exceeded.

    SEC. 2. The President of the United States is hereby authorized to construct such vessels, including replacements authorized by the Act of March 27, 1934 (48 Stat. 503), as may be necessary to provide the total under-age composition authorized in section 1 of this Act.

    SEC. 3. There is hereby authorized to be appropriated, out of any money in the Treasury of the United States not otherwise appropriated, such sums as may be necessary to effectuate the purposes of this Act, including not to exceed $150,000,000 for essential equipment and facilities at either private or naval establishments for building or equipping any complete naval vessel or portion thereof herein or heretofore authorized, $65,000,000 for essential equipment and facilities for the manufacture of ordnance material or munitions at either private or naval establishments, and $35,000,000 for the expansion of facilities for the production of armor at either private or naval establishments. The authority herein granted for essential equipment and facilities, and for the expansion of facilities, shall include the authority to acquire lands at such locations as the Secretary of the Navy with the approval of the President may deem best suited to the purpose, erect buildings, and acquire the necessary machinery and equipment.

    SE. 4. The allocation and contracts for construction of the vessels herein authorized shall be in accordance with the terms and conditions provided by the Act of March 27, 1934 (48 Stat. 503), as amended.

    SEc. 5. The President of the United States is hereby further authorized to acquire and convert or to undertake the construction of -

    (a) Patrol, escort, and miscellaneous craft at a total cost not to exceed $50,000,000; and
    (b) One hundred thousand tons of auxiliary vessels of such size, type, and design as he may consider best suited for the purposes of national defense.

    SEC. 6. The provisions of the Act of March 27, 1934 (48 Stat. 504), requiring not less than 10 per centum of the aircraft, including the engines therefor, procured subsequent to that Act to be constructed or manufactured in Government aircraft factories or other plants or factories owned and operated by the United States Government, shall not operate to curtail procurement so long as production at the said Government plants and factories is maintained at the limit of their capacity as determined by the Secretary of the Navy.

    SEC. 7. No vessel, ship, or boat (except ships' boats) now in the United States Navy or being built or hereafter built therefor shall be disposed of by sale or otherwise, or be chartered or scrapped, except as now provided by law.

    SEC. 8. The President of the United States is hereby authorized to acquire or construct naval airplanes, and spare parts and equipment, as may be necessary to provide and maintain the number of useful naval airplanes at a total of fifteen thousand: Provided. That if, in the judgment of the Secretary of the Navy, the total number of airplanes authorized herein is not sufficient to meet the needs of the national defense, he may, with the approval of the President, make such plans for procurement as the situation may demand.

    Approved, July 19, 1940.

    Photo above: USS Iowa Battleship, ordered and constructed at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, 1939-1942, shown in operation in the Pacific Ocean, 1943/1944, United States Navy. USS Indiana in background. Image below: Guns for the navy and its two-ocean fleet, circa 1942, Alfred T. Palmer, United States Office of War Information. Courtesy Library of Congress. Info source: Naval History and Heritage Command; U.S. Statutes at Large, 1939-1940, Chapter 364, Chapter 644; "The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II," https://www.ibiblio.org/; World War II database, ww2db.com; Wikipedia Commons.


    Guns for the Two Ocean Navy







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