811.348 Z 4/68: Telegram

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

590. Your 803 October 6, 4 p.m.

In replying to the British note of October 4, you are instructed to present the following to the Foreign Office:

“The Government of the United States has carefully considered the reply of His Majesty’s Government, dated October the 4th, and is unable to perceive that any new arguments are advanced therein which have not already received serious consideration. While this Government is aware that certain technical difficulties may attend the construction in Germany of an airship for the United States, it is at the same time most firmly convinced that the justice of its claim more than outweighs the objections raised in the British note.

This Government cannot accept the argument that the rules for distinguishing between civil and military aircraft are applicable in this case, holding as it does that these rules were drafted to cover German aircraft, but not aircraft constructed in Germany for the allied and associated powers in just compensation for material illegally destroyed by Germany.

Neither can this Government accept the intimation that the United States has forfeited any of its rights in this connection by not ratifying the treaty. Although the United States did not participate in the distribution of the remaining German airships it never gave up any of its rights to share therein on an equal footing with other nations.

Although fully in sympathy with the desire of His Majesty’s Government for the prompt return of normal relations between Germany [Page 65] and the Allies this Government cannot share the apprehension expressed in the note of October 4th that the presence at Friedrichs haven of the comparatively small number of men necessary to construct this airship will in any way delay or endanger the restoration of peaceful conditions.

In dealing with the question raised in paragraph 8 of the note under reference the attention of the British Government is invited to decision number 1491 of August 17, 1921, whereby the reparation commission confirmed decision 966 of February 22, 1921, which in summary states that the plant, material and arms surrendered by Germany in accordance with Part V of the Treaty of Versailles are to be divided into two sections: 1, material which has certain value as being capable of economic use, for which Germany is to be credited on reparation account; 2, material ‘which has no value as being capable of economic employment and must in consequence be considered as being of a military nature.’ The latter material is not to be credited to Germany on reparation account.

The two categories are distinguished as follows: ‘In general the distinction between these two categories will result from the incorporation of any of the said material, plant, et cetera, in one of the aeronautical, naval or military establishments of one of the Allied and Associated Powers.’

From the above ruling it is evident that the airships delivered by Germany to the Allies and incorporated in their military establishments, together with the ship of this same category now claimed by the United States, do not come within the jurisdiction of the Reparation Commission, and their value is not to be credited to Germany on reparations account.

Furthermore, as stated in Annex 651a, of the Reparation Commission, dated February 5, 1921, ‘as the result of a protest from the Committee on the Air Clauses, the Ambassadors Conference however decided on June 5, 1920, that the proceeds of the sale of aeronautical material were attributed entirely to the Allied and Associated Powers in the proportions fixed by the Supreme Council on September 29, 1919, and that they should not be credited to Germany on reparation account.’

It is evident, therefore, that both the Reparation Commission and the Conference of Ambassadors have gone on record that aeronautical material such as required by the United States is not to be credited to Germany on reparation account.

In brief the Government of the United States takes this position; that the destroyed airships were a part of the aeronautical material which, under the terms of the armistice, Germany was to keep immobilized and at the disposal of the Allied and Associated Powers; when these ships were destroyed, their character as military material due the victorious powers was in no way destroyed; the mere fact that Germany, in order to fulfill her recognized obligations, must construct an airship has no significance.

This Government therefore is unable to agree with the British contention that the consequences involved in the granting of the request contained in the Embassy’s memorandum number 203 of September 22 are of such moment as to warrant the abandonment of its claim to an airship of the type already delivered by Germany [Page 66] to England and France, and, actuated by a spirit of friendliness and the desire for reciprocal good will, requests His Majesty’s Government to reopen the question for the further consideration which its proper settlement so clearly requires.”

A copy of this telegram should be sent to the Paris Embassy for its information and for Boyden47 with the request that if the Commission contemplates any decision contrary to the views expressed herein he should request postponement and report.

  1. Roland W. Boyden, American unofficial representative on the Reparation Commission.