Can anyone provide detailed sources on the economic impact of the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-1922 on France? Specifically looking for data on how the naval limitations affected France's military spending and economic stability. I do not have any university accounts so I can only use websites as a guest.

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    What exactly do you mean by "Economic Impact"? You mean like a measurable GDP delta? Remember the Great Depression happened soon after. You're going to have trouble finding anything that impacted their GDP to a competitive amount with that.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 9 at 15:09
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    The participants in the Washington Naval Conference all wanted to avoid any race to build up their fleets. So, sure, each wanted to avoid spending money to build new battleships. So France perhaps avoided spending more money in the future on battleships, but could spend it on other things (see Maginot Line).
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jul 9 at 15:59
  • history.stackexchange.com/questions/61613/… may be of some interest. One thing to note is that France did not take advantage of their ability to start new battleships in 1927, 1929, or 1931 (although the latter was overcome by the London Naval Treaty). So, clearly they saved money at least for a while.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jul 9 at 17:57
  • At least one historian, Robert Forczyk , thinks that the French battleships were a monumental waste of money considering France's terrestrial focus on Germany during the interwar years, far eclipsing the more obvious example of the Maginot Line. So, a more stringent limit might have been beneficial. Economically, spending money on defense is rarely a good idea, it's best done only when necessary for national security. Commented 2 days ago

2 Answers 2


Saber and Scroll Journal 1 points that the tonnage limits imposed on France (see below) were consistent with those imposed on Italy, and not at all consistent with France's overseas empire, which was second only to Britain's.

The Five-Power Treaty, . . . was the cornerstone of the naval disarmament program. It called for each of the countries involved to maintain a set ratio of warship tonnage which allowed the United States and the United Kingdom 500,000 tons, Japan 300,000 tons, and France and Italy each 175,000 tons. history.state.gov

Having established that, Saber and Scroll points out that the treaty didn't cover new ships like cruisers. The French Young School of ship designers enthusiastically designed and built innovative and striking vessels.

. . . on the eve of World War II the Marine Nationale retained - despite significant financial hurdles - the means to contest the Mediterranean against its Italian rival. IBID

The article continues to summarize France's strategy and geopolitical aims, which aren't critical to the economic impact requested by OP.

Navyhistory.org takes a different lesson, emphasizing the fact that although France was limited by the treaty, France's Naval strategy was more affected by innovations in ship design, which while affected by the treaty, were also influenced by other nation's ship designs, strategic goals to control the Mediterranean, and rivalry with Italy. If we adopt this analytical approach, then the impact of the Washington Naval Conference on France's economy was only one of a number of reinforcing drivers.

I think a full answer would have to summarize French Naval strength at the time of the treaty and the impact of shipbuilding on GDP from 1922 to 1940. Perhaps someone in the community can support? I want to strongly endorse the approach suggested by Jon Custer

One place to start then would be going to Wikipedia and laying out for yourself, starting on 11/11/18, what ships were in the Navy, which were building, and which were being disposed of, perhaps on a year-by-year basis. Next challenge is to find details on funding for the Navy, also year-by-year. I'm not sure if there are books on ship designs (like Norman Friedman's books for US types) which might have more detail.

1 I can't seem to quote from the paper; it is available in a PDF download and is surprisingly readable.

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    As Wikipedia notes, "Between the World Wars, the Navy modernized and expanded significantly, even in the face of limitations set by the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty." naval-encyclopedia.com/ww2/french-navy.php has an interesting note as well, "The French navy was able to not disperse itself, concentrating on the most important ships and building a coherent and innovative navy," I'd say, compared with the pretty sorry state of the French navy in WW1, it was far better prepared for WW2 than it gets credit for because the fall of France prevented it from doing much.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jul 10 at 12:44
  • Thanks for your response. I am trying to write a research essay so I was looking for evidence that the number of French warships decreased after the Conference. I believe that money saved was invested into rebuilding efforts after WW1. I am trying to find statistics that show positive impacts like ability to rebuild infrastructure with the saved money and negative impacts like not being as prepared for WW2 from a strategic point or even the decrease in activity in the naval sector and steel and manufacturing sectors, which were big industries
    – user67263
    Commented Jul 11 at 3:47
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    @user67263 - One place to start then would be going to Wikipedia and laying out for yourself, starting on 11/11/18, what ships were in the Navy, which were building, and which were being disposed of, perhaps on a year-by-year basis. Next challenge is to find details on funding for the Navy, also year-by-year. I'm not sure if there are books on ship designs (like Norman Friedman's books for US types) which might have more detail.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jul 11 at 12:37
  • @OldPadawan - thank you - peril of editing quickly. I appreciate the help
    – MCW
    Commented Jul 11 at 16:41
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    That Saber and Scroll article is quite good, and having had some time to dig into the French cruiser and destroyer classes I have to say that I was pretty impressed with them. A real shame they never got to show what they could do against the Italians.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jul 11 at 18:57

Since I spent some time on the cruisers to lay out some data, cribbed from various Wikipedia articles starting at the list of French cruisers. This is for the OP's benefit and I'm happy to make a community wiki if requested.

The French came out of World War One with a bunch of old Protected Cruisers (laid down 1887-1897) and Armored Cruisers (laid down 1890-1906). A handful of Protected cruisers lasted a few years but all were gone by 1922. The Armored Cruisers lasted a bit longer, some going in and out of reserve, with the Waldeck-Rousseau lasting until 1932 somehow. None of these would have stood up well in World War 2 by any stretch of the imagination.

In 1919 the French took over 4 cruisers from Germany and 1 from Austria as war reparations, all laid down from 1908 to 1915, so newer than anything they had built. These lasted pretty well, the last (Strasbourg, originally German Regensberg) lasting until 1935 before becoming a training ship.

In 1922 the French started building new cruisers, initially the 3 Duguay-Trouin light cruisers, entering service starting in 1926. In response to Italian ships, they shifted to (what would become) heavy cruisers (the light/heavy distinction only started with the London Naval Treaty of 1930). A summary of the rest of their builds up to the war is below:

Name Laid Down Commissioned Type
Duguay-Troin 1922 1926 Light
Lamotte-Picquet 1923 1926 Light
Primauguet 1923 1927 Light
Duquesne 1924 1928 Heavy
Tourville 1925 1928 Heavy
Suffren 1926 1930 Heavy
Colbert 1927 1929 Heavy
Jeanne d'Arc 1928 1931 Light, Training Ship
Foch 1928 1931 Heavy
Dupleix 1929 1932 Heavy
Algerie 1931 1934 Heavy
Emil Bertin 1931 1935 Light
La Galissonniere 1931 1936 Light
Montcalm 1933 1937 Light
Georges Leygues 1933 1937 Light
Jean de Vienne 1931 1937 Light
Marseillaise 1933 1937 Light
Glorie 1933 1937 Light

As you can see, things were slow going. One would want to also look at the Italian building schedule to see who was reacting to what as the two navies tried to play leapfrog to get back ahead. The other thing to notice is just how protracted the build process was during that era. I'm not sure if that is a result of the budget appropriations process, general industrial malaise, or what.

  • Thanks again. I'm a student (15 years) so I do not need a very high standard but do you think it is possible to write a 2 page essay for this question: Did the outcomes of the Washington Naval Conference positively or negatively impact France until 1928? This is the reason I am asking for evidence as I am struggling to find much. Could you to suggest some positive and negative factors? Right now I am thinking for positive- Save money, ensured protection, spent money on rebuilding infrastructure and for negative- Weaker military strategically going into war.I still need more factors + evidence
    – user67263
    Commented Jul 17 at 7:49
  • From France's perspective, the WNC was all good in the time before 1928. Their economy was in a shambles, there was lots of work to be done to rebuild the (land) war destruction, and they had lost many lives. Also recall that the WNC was only one part of a wider League of Nations push to reduce arms. France's main rival in the Med, Italy, had similar or worse problems economically. Given that the British managed to keep the Italian navy from doing much indicates that joint French-British forces would have done just fine as well. So a 2 page essay? Not a problem.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jul 17 at 12:34
  • Alright. So are the factors that I have listed fine, or do I have to change them? I will be doing my research based on these factors so before I go all in it would be good to know that I am going in the right direction. Or perhaps if it is not easy I could change my question to impacts on Britain? It might be easier to find sources talking about Britain online compared to France
    – user67263
    Commented 2 days ago
  • Two pages is not very long at all. Pick 2 or 3 points and focus on those. If it were me: (1) status of French navy relative to others at end of WW1, (2) WNC in the setting of League of Nations and broader disarmament movement, (3) eventual build up of fleet in competition with Italy. I think the WNC allowed the French to wait to build, giving them a solid, modern fleet at the outbreak of WW2.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented 2 days ago

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