Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Murray)

Mr. Henry L. Roosevelt, Acting Secretary of the Navy, accompanied by Admiral William H. Standley, Chief of the Naval Operations, called on the Secretary yesterday to discuss the question of sending an American naval vessel to Djibouti in order to maintain communications between this Government and its Legation at Addis Ababa. Mr. Roosevelt stated that the President had taken the matter up with him and asked him to discuss it with the Secretary of State.

Admiral Standley pointed out that prior authorization for an American naval vessel to visit and remain any time at Djibouti would of course have to be obtained from the French authorities. As far as the use of the vessel’s radio in communicating with Addis Ababa and with this country is concerned, the Admiral stated that it was entirely contrary to customary practice, which required that the radio equipment of any such vessel be sealed while in a foreign harbor.

As regards the use of naval airplanes which would be available if a cruiser were sent, the Admiral pointed out that only seaplanes accompany [Page 883] cruisers, although they could of course be equipped with wheels in case of necessity. However, both the Admiral and the Acting Secretary of the Navy were skeptical over the possibility of flying the cruiser’s planes from Djibouti to Addis Ababa, and it appears, furthermore, that the President is doubtful as to the advisability of such a plan. I mentioned, in this connection, the British Air Ministry’s misgivings over the possibility of evacuating British and other foreign nationals in Addis Ababa by air in case of disaster. The Admiral said that he had been informed that the Italians had already found great difficulty in using either water-cooled or air-cooled planes in East Africa owing to the altitude.

Under the circumstances it seemed unnecessary to pursue further the question of resorting to airplane communication between Djibouti and Addis Ababa even if it is decided to send a cruiser to Djibouti.

Admiral Standley raised the question as to whether the French themselves may not be contemplating the establishment of some safe means of communication between Djibouti and Addis Ababa in case of hostilities. As a result of discussions on this matter, it was decided that we should as a preliminary step communicate with the French Government and ascertain what, if any, steps it proposes taking to maintain communication between its East African province and the Ethiopian capital. Since the British must also be vitally concerned in this matter in view of the fact that the cables of the Eastern Telegraph Company have a station in Perim Island in the near vicinity of Djibouti, it was thought desirable to address the same inquiry to the British Government. Appropriate instructions were therefore sent yesterday evening to both Paris and London.85

Wallace Murray
  1. Neither printed.