Paris Peace Conf. 184.02302/1

Brigadier General C. H. McKinstry to the Special Representative ( House )

Subject: Preliminary report on verification of Belgian and French estimates of damage to industries in the invaded parts of Belgium and France.

Telegraphic orders as follows were received by me on November 20, p.m.:

“Proceed to Paris without delay, reporting on arrival to Mr. House, special representative of the U. S. at that place for temporary duty in connection with the appraisement of captured (sic) property.”

Reporting on the morning of November 22nd at 78 rue de l’Université, I received from Mr. Auchincloss instructions in substance as follows: The U. S. Peace Commissioners will be called upon to concur with the Allied Governments in the presentation of claims against Germany for damage to industries in Belgium and France. The U. S. Peace Commissioners will wish to be in possession of evidence sufficient to convince them of the substantial correctness of these claims. It is desired that General McKinstry make an independent investigation of the character and extent of the damage inflicted. If practicable, the investigation should be made without the knowledge of the Belgian and French Governments.
Mr. Auchincloss at once put me in touch with Messrs. Summers and Legge of the War Industries Board who had just returned from a trip to parts of Belgium and France which had been held by the Germans, and through the courtesy of these gentlemen I met other members of the W. I. B., notably Messrs. Yeatman and Patterson who had also inspected damage in the invaded territories. I have also had the advantage of a talk with Mr. Miller, Special Representative of the State Department.
For the purposes of this preliminary report, it will suffice to say that a typical case of damage to an industrial establishment would present these features:—
  • Removal of materials (e. g. copper) or machinery, for which the Germans gave receipts.
  • Removal of same without receipts.
  • Removal of materials (e. g. copper) in such a way as to wreck machinery.
  • Destruction of machine tools or of machinery for the mere purpose of destruction, i. e. to cripple and retard the reestablishment of manufacturing.
Naturally, competitive industries (textile, steel) have suffered most.
It will not be necessary at this stage to speculate on the form which “restoration” for Belgium and “reparation” for France will take as the result of the Peace Treaty:—Whether the Belgian and French claims are to be extinguished by an indemnity, leaving Germany in the possession of machinery removed to the homeland, and therefore in a position of tremendous superiority over the ravaged industrial regions; whether stolen property is to be returned or German machinery and plant are to be substituted for wrecked Belgian and French machinery and plant; whether the Allies will confiscate the output of German mills and mines to the value of the ante-war output of Belgian and French mills and mines, pending the rehabi[li]tation of the latter, etc., etc. In any case an estimate of the damage done must be made. Presumabl[y] the Belgian and [Page 578] French Governments are causing such estimates to be made each in its own territory, though possibly cooperatively.
Estimating the damage done to a plant, for example, a textile mill, is not a simple process, even when the investigation can be made immediately after the damage occurs and when therefore the minimum quantity of oral and documentary evidence enters the case. The determination of the condition of plant removed can evidently not be made by physical inspection. In many cases, again, destruction is so complete as to render the identification of individual pieces of machinery difficult. These things are mentioned to indicate that an estimate of the amount of damage in any particular mill, for example, will be a matter of difficulty, unless, of course, “restoration” is to mean providing a mill of equal capacity either by paying for the purchase and installation of equivalent new machinery, or by installing equivalent machinery to be taken from the Germans.
Mr. Patterson states that were he charged with estimating the damage to any of the big mills which he has recently inspected in Belgium, he would engage the services of a mill engineer and of an insurance adjuster, and to indicate the character of the service which he would think it necessary to employ he gave me the names of—
  • Lockwood Greene & C°, Boston, Mass.
  • Charles T. Main, Boston, Mass.
as mill engineers, and the—
  • Factory Mutual Insurance Company,
  • 31 Milk Street, Boston, Mass.
as an insurance adjuster.
A similar process, that is, the employment of appropriate construction and machinery experts, would be necessary in the case of each industry examined.
The more important industries concerned are the—
  • Textile,
  • Steel
  • Coal
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Chemical
  • General, such as railroads, timber, etc.
  • Machine shops (every kind of machine tool)
  • Steam and electrical power plants.
The facts convince me that a proper investigation cannot be made by the American government unknown to the Belgian and French governments.
A certain number of experts in one or more of the branches above mentioned are now in the Army in France, and I have taken steps to have the qualification cards of officers of the Corps of Engineers consulted with a view to the preparation here of a list of those whose services should be obtained if the investigation here in question is to proceed. As soon as I have the necessary administrative assistance, I will have this inquiry extended to other branches of the service. It must be said, however, that these qualification cards are prepared from information furnished by the officers themselves and a selection based upon the cards would probably not result in obtaining the same talent as would be obtained by applying to the proper sources at home. I suggest that the President be requested by cable to call on the Chairman of the War Industries Board to cable a list of, say, twenty names of available, high-class men in each of the departments of industry listed in par. 9 above, indicating in the case of each man his present whereabouts (United States, England or France). In view of the information available to the Chairman of the War Industries Board, no other method of obtaining the men needed can rival the one suggested.
If you share the opinion that an investigation to be of value must be made openly, we are led to consider whether a checking of the investigations made under the direction of the Belgian and French governments would not yield results superior to those obtainable by an independent investigation. This is quite apart from the duplication of effort involved in an independent investigation. Unless the American investigators are in possession of at least all the facts considered by the Belgian and French investigators, suspicion will at once, and by that mere fact, be thrown upon our results. Our means of arriving at the facts are necessarily inferior at this time to the means which have been and are available to the Belgians and French. If the American representatives make their investigations with the Belgians and French, concurrence in the findings of the Belgian and French Boards would lead to the presentation to the Peace Conference of results in which all the investigators were agreed, while non-concurrence in any particular would be based not upon differences in the data considered but upon differences of method or of assumed values. Differences based on the consideration of different data would be difficult, perhaps impossible, of adjustment. Joint action by the investigators would only be possible with the consent of the Belgian and French governments following formal request by the United States.
I would have preferred to write even this preliminary report after a careful examination of a number of wrecked plants. Though [Page 580] not unfamiliar with cities and villages destroyed by shellfire, incendiarism, and mines, and with individual houses which have been exposed to German vandalism, I have never had the time or opportunity to make a careful examination of mills, mines, or industrial plants which have been the object of systematic spoliation or destruction. It seemed urgent, however, to present the fact that the investigation which you desired is one which must be made by experts, that obtaining the services of these experts will take time, and that when the corps of experts is assembled the investigation itself will take time. I have fortified myself, however, by conversation with the experts of the War Utilities Board Mission, whose technical language I am able to understand, whose recent visit to the despoiled territory has put them in possession of valuable facts, whose descriptions enable me to see to some extent with their eyes, and whose consultations with one another have led to the crystallization of opinions as to the form which the investigation which you have in mind should take. Proper weight will not attach to the opinions expressed herein unless it is borne in mind that they are shared by the gentlemen mentioned.
It is unnecessary to express my entire willingness to proceed with an investigation under any instructions that may be given, but as the original instructions were tentative in character, I have felt at liberty to make recommendations somewhat at variance therewith.
I recommend that if a verification of the claims of Belgium and France against Germany for damage to industries is thought necessary:—
Our investigation be open.
It be made in cooperation with the Belgian and French appraisers, if these governments will consent thereto.
It be made by men obtained in the manner suggested in the latter part of Par. 11 above.
[C. H.] McK[instry]