811.348 Z 4/68: Telegram

The Ambassador in Great Britain (Harvey) to the Secretary of State

803. Reference German airship for the United States Government. Following note dated October 4th received from Foreign Office this morning.

I have given the most careful attention to Your Excellency’s memorandum, no. 203 of September 22nd, in which you explain the reasons for which the United States Government desire the issue of instructions to His Majesty’s Ambassador at Paris to support at the Conference of Ambassadors the claim of the United States Government to a military airship of the L–70 type as their share of the compensation to be made by the German Government for the destruction of seven Zeppelin airships in the summer of 1919.
Your Excellency will I know accept my assurance that in any circumstances—but more especially in those to which Your Excellency draws attention as arising out of the recent deplorable loss of the ZR–2 (R–38)—His Majesty’s Government would not do otherwise than examine in the most sympathetic spirit a request of this nature addressed to them by the United States Government. The matter is however affected by certain weighty considerations to which I, much to my regret, call attention and which were probably not present to the mind of the United States Government when their request was formulated.
The precise manner in which compensation is to be given by Germany was as Your Excellency points out laid down by the protocol of June 30, 1921 which was drafted in accordance with the allocation of the German airships, approved by the Supreme Council on September 29, 1919. But in considering the form which under the protocol the American share of that compensation should take, it is necessary to take into account, firstly, the rules for distinguishing between civil and military aircraft, which the Allied Governments, in order to secure the execution of articles 170 and 198 of the Treaty of Versailles, are about to submit to the German Government for acceptance; and, secondly, the effect which the decision still to be given by the Reparation Commission, as explained in paragraph 8 below, may have on the matter.
The Supreme Council decision of September 29, 1919 under the heading “airships” allocated (1) the two best airships of the 70 class to France and to Great Britain, each power to exercise its choice in that order; and (2) the remaining German airships [Page 63] (actually five in number, seven having already been destroyed by the Germans although this destruction was not at the time known to the Supreme Council) to the United States, Italy, Great Britain, France, Japan and Belgium, each power to exercise one choice in alternate rotation. The United States not having ratified the Treaty of Versailles did not participate in this distribution so that the five vessels were actually disposed of to Italy, Great Britain and France. The ship allotted to Belgium was destroyed by the Aeronautical Commission of Control as the Belgian Government did not wish to exercise their right of choice. Had the United States Government ratified the treaty at the time these vessels were distributed they would presumably have been allocated to the United States, Italy, Great Britain, France.
The protocol of June 30, 1921 provided for the delivery of the airships Bodensee and Nordstern to Italy and to France as compensation for two of the zeppelins destroyed in 1919 and for payment of monetary compensation for the remaining five zeppelins (the amount due to be estimated from the plans of the destroyed vessels by the Aeronautical Commission of Control). The protocol as Your Excellency points out by providing that the proportions in which this compensation should be divided amongst the Allied and Associated Powers should be decided by themselves, recognized the right of the United States Government to participate therein. It at the same time provided that by direct arrangement between Germany and any Allied and Associated Power one or more civil airships might be delivered to that power in substitution for that power’s share of the monetary compensation.
The fact that airships of a civil type alone were under the provision of law to be substituted for the monetary compensation was as Your Excellency is aware due to the provisions of articles 170 and 198 of the Treaty of Versailles in respect of subscribing to which the Allied Military Committee at Versailles included amongst the rules for distinguishing between civil and military aircraft a rule defining a military airship as an airship having a greater capacity than 30,000 cubic meters.
In these circumstances His Majesty’s Government hope that the United States Government will not persist in their claim for a military airship which does not appear to be supported either by the circumstances in which the Supreme Council decision of September 29, 1919 was executed or by the terms of the protocol [of] June 30, 1921. Effect cannot in practice be given to the desire of the United States Government without untoward results among which I may mention an inevitable increase in the difficulties experienced by the Allied Governments in obtaining the execution of articles 170 and 198 of the Treaty of Versailles. Moreover, the construction of a large military dirigible in Germany for the United States Government must inevitably postpone the early termination of the work of the Aeronautical Commission of Control—a measure for which in the face of no little opposition His Majesty’s Government have consistently pressed and which is desirable in the interests of both economy and of the relations between the Allied Governments and the German Government. These are consequences which I am confident that the United States Government will be anxious to avoid.
Finally it should be explained that in the view of His Majesty’s Government the question whether the value of the civil airships delivered and the cash paid by Germany as compensation for the destroyed airships is to be credited to Germany and debited to the recipient is under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles determinable by the Reparation Commission. It is unfortunate that a decision of the Commission on the matter was not obtained before the signature of the protocol of June 30th, 1921, but His Majesty’s Government have now instructed the British delegate on the Commission to endeavor to obtain a decision of the Commission thereon at the earliest possible opportunity. Should the Commission decide that no credit is to be given to Germany the acts contemplated in the protocol of 30th June 1921 can be carried out as originally intended. If however the Reparation Commission shall decide that Germany is to be credited on account of reparation this will apparently involve some revision of those arrangements, at any rate in the case of the United States Government which has put forward no claim to reparation and which cannot therefore be debited by an entry on reparation account.
I have the honor to be, etc.”

Repeated to Paris.