Paris Peace Conf. 184.00101/30

Minutes of the Daily Meetings of the Commissioners Plenipotentiary, Friday, March 7th, 1919

  • Present:
    • Mr. Lansing
    • Mr. White
    • General Bliss
    • Mr. Herter

1. The Commissioners began by discussing the meeting at the Quai d’Orsay yesterday, at which the report of the Supreme War Council on the military and naval terms which should be imposed on Germany was brought up.64 General Bliss said that he differed with Admiral Benson in the latter’s opinion that the signing of a convention such as the one proposed would in no way be an infringement of our national sovereignty. Mr. Lansing agreed with General Bliss in this, but at the same time felt sure that the Senate would not ratify any treaty which would involve the United States taking an active part in the control over a period of years of German armaments. Mr. Lansing at the same time felt that it was a mistake to mention the League of Nations in this particular convention because the League [Page 100] was not yet in existence, and there was always the possibility that it might not come into existence. General Bliss added that as far as he individually was concerned, he would never stand for the insertion of a clause carrying with it perpetual control of German armament by any inter-Allied body.

Mr. Lansing called attention to the clause in the proposed convention which permitted the Allies to forbid the importation into Germany of all such raw materials as might be used for the manufacture of arms or armaments, and stated that in his opinion, this clause would have to be struck out, as it gave to the Allies perpetual economic control of Germany. General Bliss stated that he had agreed to this clause in conference with Marshal Foch only because if he had not done so, no report whatever would have been handed down to the Council of Ten, Marshal Foch having stated that he would not submit any report on which reservations were made by the American delegate on the Supreme War Council. He agreed with Mr. Lansing, however, that this clause should be struck out.

Mr. Lansing stated that the kernel of the matter lay in France’s unfortunate geographical position vis-a-vis Germany, and that this was a matter which we could not help. He felt that we should now take a very firm stand with regard to the dis-armament of Germany [and?] lay down our policy under three heads:

Reduce Germany to impotence in a military sense.
Make her promise to reduce the manufacture of arms and munitions to certain limits.
Make her guarantee the fulfilment of the above clause by providing that France might occupy a portion of German territory in the case of a violation of the agreement.

General Bliss felt that the first two points were adequate, but that the third would merely lead to trouble in a certain number of years, because if Germany took it into her head to violate the agreement, her first step in that direction would be to protect strongly that portion of Germany which it had been agreed France might occupy. …

General Bliss observed that in his opinion, one further requirement should be exacted of Germany; namely, that she should pass on a statutory basis an enactment limiting of her own free will her army and navy. Such a provision would be more effective than any terms which would have to be perpetually guaranteed by the Allies, and if once passed, we could leave Germany alone to work out her own salvation.

2. Mr. Hoover, Colonel Logan and Mr. Harrison entered the meeting.

Mr. Hoover stated that the Italians were behaving extremely badly in regard to the feeding of both the territories of the former [Page 101] Austrian-Hungarian Empire and the Jugo-Slav territory. He added that although a few days ago a proposal had been made that America be appointed as mandatory for all the railways of these districts, a proposal which we naturally had to refuse, it was necessary for us to have placed at our disposition a certain number of cars and locomotives with which to move adequately the food which we were supplying to these districts. The Italians were putting all sorts of obstructions in our way, and had even gone so far as to say that they were unprepared to answer Mr. Hoover’s proposal because it was an entirely new matter. In refutation of this Mr. Hoover read the following memorandum:

[Page 102]
Jan. 15, 1919 Representatives of Director General apply for railway transport to Prague.
Jan. 20, 1919 Czech authorities send locomotives and cars to Italian frontier.
Feb. 1, 1919 Total 22,000 tons of food in port for shipment to Czecho-Slovaks and Jugo-Slavs.
Austrian employees on railway into Trieste were replaced with Italians.
Feb. 3. 1919 Czech locomotives and cars held up at frontier.
Feb. 4, 1919 Newly installed Italian railway employees strike.
Feb. 7, 1919 Allied Food Commission arrived at Trieste. Italian Military Authorities refuse to recognize Mission.
Feb. 10, 1919 American Engineers sent by Director General reported that operation of railways throughout old Austrian Empire so inefficient and chaotic as to be unable to cope with situation, that they can only be accomplished under some central authority.
Feb. 11, 1919 Food Mission requested Italian authorities to release 10 Czech engines and 7000 wagons which had been held up at frontier for ten days.
Feb. 12, 1919 Food Mission informs Italian authorities that they have delivered only one-fifth the agreed food shipments to the interior.
Feb. 13, 1919 Colonel McIntosh, representing American Relief Administration reports that situation increasingly serious.
Feb. 14, 1919 Strike partially settled but railways only partially operating.
Feb. 18, 1919 The Director General strongly represented the situation at Trieste to the Food Section of the Supreme Economic Council the Italian members being present.
The Director General informed the Food Commission at Trieste that Signor Crespi had urged upon authorities in Trieste the immediate solution of the situation.
Feb. 19, 1919 Food Mission at Trieste reports that no trains with food had moved in any direction for four days.
Feb. 19, 1919 Situation again discussed at Food Section of Supreme Economic Council and Italian Delegates undertook to secure action.
Railways into Jugo-Slav territories closed by Italian authorities.
Feb. 20, 1919 Allied Food Mission recognized by Italian authorities through efforts of Signor Crespi.
Feb. 21, 1919 Italian Government demands 100 engines and 2000 cars from Austrians and removed one of the four food trains from the service.
Feb. 23, 1919 Italian authorities undertake to move 3 trains daily from [by?] Udine route (1000 tons).
Feb. 24, 1919 At session of Supreme Economic Council, Director General of Relief announced his inability to take further responsibility for situation in Czecho-Slovakia and Jugo-Slavia and Austria as 3000 tons daily required was far beyond the capacity of Udine route, and proposed independent direction of rolling stock and railways this section. Italian Delegates undertook to secure action.
Members Trieste Food Commission go to Rome to make representations to Senor Orlando as to the distressing situation existing.
Feb. 25, 1919 Food Mission, Trieste, reports that it will take 65 days to move 60,000 tons over Udine Route (3000 daily are needed).
Situation again discussed at Food Section of Supreme Economic Council, and Italian Delegates undertook to secure action.
Feb. 27, 1919 Signor Crespi informs Director General that five trains daily would be put on via Udine and Tarvis, but that nothing could be done via Laibach.
Total of 5000 tons shipped to Czecho-Slovaks and Jugo-Slavs and 24,000 tons moved to the Austrians from Italy during the month. Further arrivals in port bring up total stocks at Trieste and Fiume to 61,000 tons.
Mar. 5, 1919 Situation raised by Director General at Supreme War Council.

After reading this memorandum Mr. Hoover read another memorandum as follows, indicating the nature of the difficulties to be met.

“The difficulties of internal transportation in the area of the old Austrian Empire do not altogether surround the difficulties of moving foodstuffs out of Trieste. While a large part of these difficulties manifest themselves at Trieste, this is by no means the only point of obstruction.

Considerable friction is constantly taking place between the Czecho-Slovaks and the Austrians, between the Austrians and the Jugo-Slavs, between all three and the Italians, and between the Jugo-Slavs and the Hungarians. These difficulties arise over jealousy in the partition of the limited amount of capable rolling stock, the exchanges [Page 103] required at some points of frontiers. Aside from the food blockade precipitated by the Italian-Jugo-Slav controversy, some solution must be found which superimposes the control over all of these different states.

For instance, the relation[s] of the Jugo-Slavs with the Hungarians are such that there is little food movement out of the Banat and other areas of surplus food supplies in certain localities, particularly the excess of potatoes in Poland which could be transported into Czecho-Slovakia and Austria. There is a surplus of sugar in Czecho-Slovakia which could be distributed into the other states. There is a surplus of salt in Austria which could be moved also. All of this movement is obstructed by a total chaos in railway administration. Above, superimposed on all of these, is a jealousy in coal distribution in the face of great shortages and the almost insuperable difficulties of finding sufficient coal to keep food movements in operation.

All of the interior states, that is, the Czechs, Austrians, Jugo-Slavs and Hungarians, would be glad to contribute their proportions of the necessary rolling stock to move food through the country if it could be contributed to an independent direction who could assure its use for these primary purposes.

I should like to again point out that it is necessary to move 3,000 tons daily out of the port of Trieste if order and human life are to be preserved, that with the very great good will that Signor Crespi and his colleagues have been able to bring to bear, they have so far been able to move a maximum of 800 tons a day inland over the Udine route. It is hopeless to secure the necessary movement of food except by the use of all railway routes out of Trieste and Fiume. Furthermore, as these railways traverse Jugo-Slav territory, where there is acute starvation, it is hopeless to expect any safety of operation through Jugo-Slav territory unless Jugo-Slav populations are themselves supported.[”]

Mr. Hoover then spoke of a scheme which he had presented for consideration which was perfectly satisfactory to all the nations of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, and by which the United States, through Mr. Hoover, would control the necessary amount of rolling stock of all of these nations to effect an equitable distribution of food. This scheme was acceptable only because of the confidence of these nations in the United States, [and] he states Italian interference in it would spoil the whole scheme. Nevertheless, Mr. Hoover was doubtful of its success because both the French and the Italians were strongly opposed, in fact, Mr. Hoover yesterday had received a letter from Marshal Foch in which the latter had insisted on the French authorities controlling all the railways in Czecho-Slovakia.

Mr. Hoover felt that in spite of the opposition, his scheme could go through because the British were practically pledged to it, and France’s opposition appeared to be centered in Marshal Foch. He asked that the latter be requested to explain his interest in the railroads of Czecho-Slovakia. All the Commissioners felt that General Weygand was responsible for this situation.

[Page 104]

Mr. Hoover observed that he had not yet told the Italians that their food supply would shortly be cut off. He realized that the situation in Italy was very serious, in fact probably more acute than it had been at any time during the war, but that neither he nor the American people would countenance Italy’s receiving preferential treatment over Poland, Bohemia or the Jugo-Slav territories, inasmuch as public sentiment was strongly in favor of rendering all assistance to these latter territories in order to help them during the difficult period of their creation. He added that the Italians after having held up approximately 60,000 tons of food at Trieste had now asked that this food be diverted for Italian use. The Commissioners agreed that Italy’s whole attitude in this matter was probably affected by her desire to have this food transferred for her own use. Mr. Hoover then suggested that Mr. Lansing speak to Sonnino about this matter just before the conference at the Quai d’Orsay this afternoon. Mr. Lansing should definitely threaten Sonnino that unless Italy gave her support to the American scheme and allowed ample cars and locomotives for the proper distribution of this food, the United States would allow Italy to starve together with the other countries. Mr. Lansing agreed to do this.

3. Mr. Lamont, Mr. Strauss, Mr. Baruch, Mr. McCormick, Mr. Davis, Mr. Robinson, Mr. McFadden and Mr. Sheldon entered the meeting.

Mr. Lamont read a short resume of what had taken place at the Armistice Commission at Spa, when the associated governments had tried to reach an agreement with Germany in regard to the feeding of Germany, and the latter’s delivery of her merchant marine to the associated governments. He stated that the Germans had refused to deliver their merchant fleet until the associated governments had given them a definite guarantee that sufficient food would be supplied to Germany to tide her over until the next harvest. The German delegates asked whether the delegates of the associated governments would consider pro rata deliveries of the German marine in accordance with the amount of food sent to Germany. This proposal the representatives of the associated governments stated that they were not authorized to consider. The German delegates then appealed to their government which flatly refused to consider any further proposal, such a one as the representatives of the associated governments had been authorized to make. Mr. Hoover, Mr. Davis and Mr. Strauss were all of the opinion that this was a political matter and the present German government could not afford to cede its merchant fleet under the circumstances. Mr. McCormick added that the associated governments had only agreed to allow Germany 270,000 tons of food stuffs in return for the use of the whole German merchant fleet, which was, after all, Germany’s only bargaining material. The French government [Page 105] was insisting that Germany be fed by American credits only and the German government apparently was cognizant of all the difficulties which the French and American governments were having in reaching a final agreement.

Mr. Hoover stated that it would take between four and five hundred million dollars to feed Germany until the next harvest. Germany’s assets were not sufficient to care for this sum, besides, there was a serious unemployment problem which had to be met if order was to be kept in Germany.

Just as an indication of the chaotic condition of Germany, Mr. Strauss told the story of the complete insubordination of the German clerks who were working for Mr. Melchior, German financial delegate. Mr. McCormick said that M. Clemenceau was trying to put the whole blame of allowing Germany to starve on the United States because the United States would not supply the necessary credit.

All present agreed to Mr. Hoover’s statement that the United States could not supply the necessary credits because Congress was not in session, etc., and would not even if she could. Mr. Davis felt that we should make to Germany a firm fair proposal in regard to feeding her until the next harvest, and then take her ships whether she liked it or not.

Mr. Hoover then read the following memorandum which had been prepared by Mr. McFadden:

“I, therefore, viewed from the interests of the associated governments, venture to suggest the immediate renewal of the shipping and food negotiations between the Germans and Associated governments with the authority of the Supreme War Council as regards the following:

The German government to immediately deliver their merchant fleet to the associated governments, and, in consideration thereof,
The associated governments will employ ships of said fleet in any service they may see fit on outward voyage, but homeward voyage of all cargo ships will be exclusively for the purpose of transporting food supplies for relief purposes to Germany and elsewhere.
An equitable division of such food supplies between Germany and other countries of Europe, but in no case will Germany be permitted to receive monthly a quantity of food in excess of . . . . . tons per month.
The foregoing is subject to satisfactory arrangements being made as regards payment for food between Germany and the associated governments, and also contemplates lifting the blockade on food so far as concerns the maximum quantity of food Germany may receive from all sources.[”]

He added that the proposals of this memorandum were good but that it offered no solution in the matter of payment. Mr. McFadden admitted that there was no such solution, but that he was not a financial expert and this phase of the matter did not come in his sphere.

[Page 106]

Mr. McCormick then read the following memorandum, indicating what steps had been taken up to date with regard to the feeding of Germany:

“1. The representatives of the German and Associated Governments met at the Hotel Britannique at Spa on March 4th and 5th for the purpose of continuing and concluding the negotiations in connection with the delivery of the German mercantile fleet to the Associated Governments in consideration of the Associated Governments’ lifting the blockade so far as concerns the importation of food products by the German Government.

2. Negotiations were terminated on the evening of March 5th no agreement having been arrived at for the following reasons:—

The representatives of the Associated Governments were authorized to guarantee a quantity of foods not in excess of 270,000 tons to the German Government.
The German Government was unwilling to deliver its merchant fleet to the representatives of the Associated Governments unless they (the Germans) could receive some assurance or guarantee from the Associated Governments that Germany would be allowed a quantity of food sufficient for its requirements until the next harvest; i. e., 400,000 tons of pork per month, together with a total of one million tons of maize.

3. Admiral Hope65 at the Conference on the afternoon of March 5th handed the German representatives a note reciting the various assurances given the German Government under the Armistice Agreements of Nov. 11th, 1918,66 and Jan. 16, 1919,67 together with supplementary agreements, with regard to the intentions of the Associated Governments as to the revictualling of Germany, copy herewith attached marked “Annex l”,68 but this document was considered by the German representatives as simply a repetition of documents already submitted to them, and as it contained no fresh assurances and nothing more definite than the documents they had already received, from the Associated Governments on this subject, they were unwilling to deliver their merchant fleet to the Associated Governments without a more definite assurance or guarantee, as under such circumstances their Government could not justify itself to its people.

4. The German position as regards the delivery of their merchant ships is predicted [predicated?] upon the following references in the Armistice agreements and other documents collateral therewith:

(a) The Armistice Agreement of Nov. 11, 1918, Paragraph 26, reads:

‘The Allies and the United States contemplate the revictualling of Germany during the period of the Armistice to the degree considered necessary.’

(b) The Armistice Agreement of Jan. 16, 1919, Article 8, reads as follows:

‘For the purpose of assuring relief to the people of Germany as well as the rest of Europe, the German Government will take the necessary measures for [Page 107] placing the merchant marine of Germany at the disposal of and under the flag of the Allies and the United States, assisted by a German delegation, for the duration of the Armistice.[’]

(c) The Supplementary Agreement of Jan. 17, at Trèves,69 contains the following:—

‘The whole of the German merchant fleet is to be placed immediately at the disposal of the Associated governments with a view to increasing the world’s tonnage from which the tonnage required for the supplying of food stuffs to Europe, including Germany, can be drawn.[’]

The delegates of the Associated Governments thereupon informed the German delegates in the first instance that the importation of the following supply of food stuffs will be permitted, namely, 200,000 tons of bread making cereals and 70,000 tons of pork, in such manner and to such places as the Associated Governments may prescribe and that the question of any further supplies of food would be referred to the Supreme War Council for decision.

(d) On Feb. 13 at Spa, the representatives of the German Government addressed a communication to the Chairman of the Inter-Allied Commission containing the following:—

‘According to Article 8 of the Trèves agreement of 16 January, the German Government declared its readiness to place the German merchant fleet under Associated control in order to assure the provisioning of Germany and the rest of Europe. To attain this end, namely, the assuring of the provisioning of Germany, two essential factors are necessary:—

Agreement concerning the amount and prices of provisions.
Agreement concerning the manner of payment.

The German Government, however, much as it may desire to carry out faithfully all its obligations, yet it is not only its right, but its serious duty not to give up the German fleet to foreign control and place the same under a foreign flag before the purpose shall have been assured for which such a significant measure was expressly agreed to.[’]

5. His Excellency, Herr von Braun70 in a communication dated Feb. 15th writes as follows:

‘We are therefore of the opinion and it has already been expressed by the delegates of the Allied and Associated Governments that the terms regarding the handing over of the merchant marine, the furnishing of food supplies, and the financing thereof, constitute an individual entity and that no one of these terms can be fulfilled before the conclusion of the other terms, and that therefore the regulation of German food supplies furnishes a supposition for the turning over of the merchant marine.’

The letter concludes as follows:

‘If there is no other way of saving the situation in Germany, at least the opportunity must be given, by raising the blockade, for us to obtain the necessities of life from neutral countries where rich stores exist and where we are convinced that we can suitably finance such importations. I have in mind obtaining those necessities from the Argentine, but we should also be able to import a great amount of food necessities from the Scandinavian countries as soon as imports are permitted. I shall …71

It is our firm opinion that the collapse of Germany before Bolshevism and the inundation of Europe by Bolshevism cannot be prevented if we leave this [Page 108] meeting, as has been pointed out by statements up to the present. It is in the interest of the whole civilized world that this be halted and I therefore beg you seriously once more to join us in hunting for the means of assuring the nourishing of Germany.’

(6). As to whether or not the German Government is correct, either technically or in principle, in their interpretation of the various agreements, it is a matter of opinion; at any rate, the language of the instructions may be considered as sufficiently indefinite to permit of several interpretations as regards the obligation of Germany to deliver their merchant ships with a guarantee of only 270,000 tons of food stuff.

(7). However, irrespective of the merits of the German Government’s contention as regards the conditions upon which they are willing to deliver their fleet, the political and industrial conditions in Germany, especially as regards food supplies, seem at the present time to be sufficiently serious to demand immediate consideration and action.

Statement of Assurances in Regard to Food Supply to Germany Given by Delegates of Associated Governments to Delegates of the German Government at Spa

In reply to the representations made on behalf of the German Government the representatives of the Associated Governments desire formally to reiterate the declarations already made on behalf of their Governments (subject to the delivery of the German Mercantile Marine) relative to the provisioning of Germany.

They repeat that the object of the delivery of the German Mercantile Marine is to ensure (assurer) the supplying of Germany and the rest of Europe with food supplies; that “in the first instance” the importation of food will be permitted up to 270,000 tons and that the question of further supplies will be referred to the Supreme War Council for decision and that the Supreme Economic Council “is disposed subject to the approval of the Associated Governments to consider a request from the German representatives for additional food stuffs for delivery in the immediate future provided that satisfactory financial arrangements are made by the German representatives with the financial representatives of the Associated Governments.”’

These assurances were unaccepted for the reason that same were declared as too vague to warrant the surrender of the German merchant fleet to the Associated Governments.[”]

Mr. Davis called attention to a certain article in the above memorandum and explained how, although the associated governments had promised some time ago to effect a satisfactory arrangement with regard to supplying Germany with 270,000 tons of food, the whole matter had fallen through because the French representatives had refused to agree on any financial agreement.

Mr. Hoover then suggested a new solution of the problem. He proposed that a certain number of the German ships, perhaps 7 or 800,000 tons be left to Germany for limited trade. On the outward trip the German Government should be allowed to select its own cargo subject to certain restrictions, and this cargo could be sent to certain specified ports. On the return trip these ships could then carry food for Germany. The rest of the merchant marine should be turned over to the Allies to be used in the feeding of Germany and other European [Page 109] nations. Mr. Hoover explained that this solution would take care of a portion of the unemployment problem in Germany because German crews could be used on these ships, and would, at the same time allow Germany to export sufficient materials to pay for a large amount of food stuffs which she required.

Several objections were raised to Mr. Hoover’s scheme, chief among which were the inevitable British and French refusal to allow any ship carrying the German flag to enter into the trade of the world while we were all still, technically, at war. Mr. Hoover explained that his suggestion had the added advantage of not definitely guaranteeing food to Germany until the next harvest. He felt that such a guarantee might induce Germany not to sign peace. Mr. McCormick explained that the whole trouble in this matter was not between us and the Germans, but between us and the French. Mr. Lansing agreed with him that we should present our views in the matter very strongly to the French Government. Mr. Davis observed, however, that the French would use a very subtle argument, which was hard to answer, namely, that the United States was, according to our scheme, trying to get rid of its surplus food stuffs and at the same time take over German material assets which should by rights be paid to France in the form of indemnities. Mr. McCormick believed that this argument could be offset if we arranged so that two-thirds of the food stuffs to be supplied Germany should come from outside of the United States and one-third from within the United States. Mr. Hoover had figured that it would be possible to obtain that much from the markets of other countries. Mr. Hoover then again made a plea for his suggestion, stating that it was based purely on common sense and reason, and that if adopted it would put the United States on the offensive and not perpetually on the defensive. If we were refused by the other associated governments, they would then have to offer some better substitute.

Mr. Davis remarked that the Supreme Economic Council was meeting at 12 o’clock and that at that time an effort would be made to get the French to lift the blockade on certain specified goods. He added that he understood that the meeting had agreed on the following points.

That freight charges of the German mercantile marine should go toward the payment of food stuffs.
That Germany should be allowed to ship coal and certain other materials to France in part payment for food stuffs.
That Germany should be permitted to pay for the importation of food stuffs from neutral countries.
That under certain conditions Germany might be allowed to dispose of some of her foreign securities in order to assist her in paying for some of her food stuffs.
[Page 110]

In return for this the associated governments would supply food to Germany until the next harvest, provided the merchant fleet were turned over to the associated governments. Mr. Sheldon remarked that as he understood it credits for all exports from Germany should go toward the payment for food stuffs. Mr. Hoover added that he hoped another point would be decided upon, namely, that on the outward voyage Germany should be allowed to export with a certain freedom.

Mr. Lamont then asked that Mr. Lansing bring up the whole question at the next meeting of the Supreme War Council, and propose that the whole matter of feeding Germany be referred by that Council to the Supreme Economic Council for final disposition.

This Mr. Lansing agreed to do.

  1. See BC–45, minute 3, vol. iv, p. 215, and minute 4, ibid., p. 220.
  2. British member of the Armistice Commission.
  3. Vol. ii, p. 1.
  4. Vol. ii, p. 11.
  5. See statement of assurances, etc., quoted on p. 108.
  6. See BC–1, minute 3, vol. iii, p. 512, and BC–4A, minute 4, ibid, p. 611.
  7. Under Secretary of State of the German Food Ministry.
  8. Omission indicated in the file copy of the minutes.