340.1115/37: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in France (Bullitt)10

650. Your 1559, August 23, 7 p.m.11 This Department and appropriate agencies of our Government have continuously been giving attention [Page 590] to the steps this Government may take to facilitate the return of American citizens now in Europe as part of the general problem requiring our attention and growing out of European developments. The President is aware of the instructions which have been sent to our establishments abroad with respect to the arrangements to be made in case of emergency and has approved these and the plan for repatriation.

There is agreement that Naval vessels should not be used for repatriation except as they may be helpful for collecting small groups in the Mediterranean area for transportation to places where they can move to safe ports of embarkation. We are in constant touch with the Navy on this aspect of the problem.

With particular respect to the actual transportation of Americans desiring to return from Europe, the plans evolved by this Government contemplate the use of merchant shipping under the American flag and that such repatriation shall be at the expense of the Americans involved except when it is proved to the satisfaction of the consular officer that funds are not available to the individual or must be advanced on a promissory note (see paragraph 21, Circular instruction of March 21, 1939). There is agreement that it is not desirable at this stage to take any measures for the commandeering of vessels, although diversion in certain cases of American vessels from regular ports of call will be practiced when necessary. You will appreciate that it is considered essential in the public interest that the American flag services to various parts of the world should be maintained for obvious reasons. It is therefore intended to use American flag ships now in service for repatriation purposes and to put under charter for temporary periods by existing private lines some vessels which may be found available for this service, and if it becomes essential.

It will of course not be possible to bring back all of the Americans in Europe as rapidly as they will wish to return. It has always been envisaged that the Americans in Europe in case of emergency should be advised to leave metropolitan centers for as safe places as may be found and at which places they can await availability of transportation (see paragraph 19, circular instruction of March 21, 1939).

It will be recalled that until the issue of a proclamation of neutrality by this Government, and until 90 days after the date of such issue, there is no prohibition on the return of Americans to this country on merchant vessels of belligerent countries.

The Department, the Maritime Commission and the Navy are working in close cooperation on this matter and are in constant touch with the private shipping interests concerned. All agencies of our Government are giving continuous attention to the measures which may be [Page 591] taken by this Government to provide facilities for the Americans in Europe to return as rapidly as the facilities available will permit.

Any information you may wish with regard to specific aspects of the problem, we will be glad to furnish.

  1. The same telegram was sent, August 25, noon, to the Ambassador in the United Kingdom (No. 693) and to the Minister in Switzerland (No. 50). Telegram No. 50 included the request that copy be sent by mail to offices in Europe.
  2. Not printed; the Ambassador in France asked for information as to plans formulated for the evacuation of Americans from Europe.