Paris Peace Conf. 180.03501/106


Notes of a Meeting of the Heads of Delegations of the Five Great Powers Held in M. Pichon’s Room, Quai d’Orsay, Paris, on Thursday, December 4, 1919, at 10:30 a.m.

  • Present
    • America, United States of
      • Hon. F. L. Polk
    • Secretary
      • Mr. L. Harrison
    • British Empire
      • Sir Eyre Crowe
    • Secretary
      • Mr. H. Norman
    • France
      • M. Clemenceau
    • Secretaries
      • M. Dutasta
      • M. Berthelot
      • M. de Saint Quentin
    • Italy
      • M. Scialoja
    • Secretary
      • M. Trombetti
    • Japan
      • M. Matsui
    • Secretary
      • M. Kawai
Joint Secretariat
America, United States of Capt. B. Winthrop
British Empire Capt. Hinchley-Cooke
France M. de Percin
Italy M. Zanchi
Interpreter—M. Camerlynck

The following were also present for the items in which they were concerned:

  • America, United States of
    • Rear-Admiral McCully, U. S. N.
    • Mr. E. L. Dresel
    • Mr. A. W. Dulles
    • Dr. I. Bowman
    • Lieut-Commander Koehler, U. S. N.
  • British Empire
    • General Saekville-West
    • Lieut-Colonel Kisch
    • Captain Fuller, R. N.
    • Lieut-Commander Dunne, R. N. V. R.
    • Mr. Ibbetson-James
  • France
    • M. Georges Leygues
    • Marshal Foch
    • M. Jules Cambon
    • M. Sergent
    • General Weygand
    • General LeRond
    • Commandant le Vavasseur
  • Italy
    • General Cavallero
    • Rear-Admiral Grassi
    • M. Stranieri
    • Capt. de Corvette Ruspoli
    • Commandant Fea
    • Commandant Ingianni

[Page 468]

1. M. Leygues said that he was in receipt of a number of telegrams from the French Naval Officer in charge of the ex-Austro-Hungarian warships at Cattaro, which referred to a state of excitement prevailing amongst Hungarians and Jugo-Slavs at that place. He thought that the situation of the enemy warships in that port was rather precarious. The enemy fleet there was composed of approximately 40 units of which 6 or 8 were important. He felt that an incident similar to that of Scapa Flow should not be repeated in any event. He added that Cattaro was a difficult port to supervise on account of its geographical situation, and he was of the opinion that the security of those enemy warships would be far greater in a French port such as Bizerte. He, therefore, proposed that the enemy warships at Cattaro should be convoyed to a French port, where they would of course remain at the disposal of the Conference and their definite attribution would not be prejudiced in any way thereby. Secondly, he proposed that the naval forces of the other Allied and Associated Powers should help the French Navy in the convoying of those vessels from Cattaro to a French port such as Bizerte, which was a long and difficult process. Question of ex-Austro-Hungarian Ships at Cattaro

M. Clemenceau asked whether warships which were being guarded by the Italian Navy happened to be in Italian ports.

M. Leygues replied that there were such ships at Pola and some in Venice.

Sir Eyre Crowe said he accepted the French proposal in principle but would, of course, have to refer to the Admiralty the question of helping the French navy in the convoy of those warships.

Mr. Polk said there were also two Austrian warships at Spalato under guard of the American Navy.

Sir Eyre Crowe asked whether those ships could not be taken out at the same time as the ships at Cattaro.

Mr. Polk replied they were quite willing to have those ships taken out and sent anywhere but American ports.

M. Leygues suggested that the question of convoy should be referred back to the Inter-Allied Naval Commission.

Mr. Polk said there was a doubt in the minds of the naval authorities regarding the authority of the United States over the enemy warships at Spalato. There had been a decision by the Board of Admirals, but no definite mandate from the Conference had been received for those ships. He inquired whether the French position was the same.

M. Leygues replied it was the Inter-Allied Armistice Commission which had given its decision in the matter and therefore the situation was the same for America and France.

[Page 469]

It was decided:

to adopt the French proposal that the ex-Austro-Hungarian warships at Cattaro should be convoyed to a French port, preferably Bizerte;
to refer to the Inter-Allied Naval Commission for examination and report the question of aid to be given the French navy by the other Allied and Associated navies in the convoy of ex-Austro-Hungarian warships from Cattaro to a French port.

2. M. Leygues said that a letter from the Polish Delegation had been communicated to him asking that enemy warships be allotted to Poland. That request brought up once more a recent decision of the Council to the effect that no enemy warships would be attributed to small Powers.1 He thought it advisable for the Council to examine their decision anew. As a matter of fact, Belgium had in her possession from ten to fifteen enemy warships among which were some German torpedo boats which had been found at Antwerp and others which had escaped to Holland and been returned to Belgium. She had asked to be allowed to keep those warships for the reason that she needed them badly in view of the extended coast line. He was of the opinion that it would be extremely difficult to ask Belgium to return those ships and that such a procedure would certainly hurt the national feeling. Under those circumstances it seemed all the more difficult to refuse the requests for enemy warships of other small Powers, among which some, as Poland for instance, had been created from nothing and therefore relied on the Conference for assistance. Among the German warships were torpedo boats and destroyers of relatively small fighting value which nobody wanted; would it not be possible to give a certain number of ships selected amongst those to be destroyed, provided they were used for purposes of policing the coast, fisheries, prevention of smuggling, etc. He called the attention of the Council to the fact that in the Treaty of Peace with Bulgaria that State had been allowed, under Article 83, to keep a certain number of warships for police and fishery duties, and for that reason it seemed difficult to refuse the claim made by small Allied Powers when a similar one had been granted to an enemy State. Attribution of Enemy Warships to Powers With Limited Interests

Sir Eyre Crowe said that he could agree at once with M. Leygues’ proposal. The British Admiralty had always maintained that a certain number of smaller ships could be allotted to small States for police duties.

Mr. Polk said he wished to inquire whether there would be a distribution of those smaller vessels among all the other small Powers, [Page 470] or whether that distribution should apply only to Poland and Belgium.

M. Leygues thought that such attribution could be made to all the smaller Powers having an outlet to the Sea, but in practice the question was only of particular interest to Poland and Jugo-Slavia, not to speak of Belgium.

M. Scialoja agreed with the French proposal provided that only smaller boats be attributed for strictly police purposes as in the case of Bulgaria.

Mr. Polk also agreed provided all the smaller States got them.

It was decided:

to allow Belgium to keep the small enemy warships held in her ports provided such ships be used only for police work;
to give a certain number of small enemy warships, selected from amongst those to be broken up by the Allied and Associated Powers, to all the Allied States with limited interests making a request for such vessels, provided such ships be used solely for police work;
to refer to the naval experts for examination and report the questions raised by the above paragraph 2.

(The meeting then adjourned.)

The Heads of Delegations held a conference in camera.

Hotel de Crillon, Paris, December 5, 1919.

  1. HD–101, minute 1, p. 345.