The Ambassador in France ( Bullitt ) to the Secretary of State
[Received September 16—10:45 a.m.]
2000. Your 920, September 14, 5 p.m. I am, of course, exceedingly grateful for the effort the Department is making to provide emergency shipping for the repatriation of American citizens urgently desiring to leave the scene of war for the United States. I believe I understand the difficulties you have had to face.
I have noted attentively the words in the last paragraph of the Department’s telegram under reference with regard to the last westbound sailing of the Manhattan “with approximately 200 passengers under capacity”. That ship sailed from Havre on September 1st before war had actually been declared. The manager of the United States Lines in France sold for that sailing every bed which had been allotted his office. It seems to me that we should not accept a statement that this ship sailed with approximately 200 passengers under capacity as indicative of a lack of demand for space at that time. It is also not clear what the author of that statement regards as the capacity of the ship and whether he is referring to a theoretical or a practical capacity. We do know that the ship sailed from South hampton with 450 passengers more than it had ever carried before; that theoretically it would have been possible to wedge more passengers on board by process of placing strangers in cabins with married couples mixing men and women indiscriminately and insisting that the 20 Congressmen on board accept strangers in their cabins.[Page 605]
I am told [no?] practical steamship authority ever hopes to fill a vessel to its theoretical capacity either as regards passengers or cargo. There is always the possibility of the last minute failures to arrive because of illness, rail connections, et cetera. We do know that the next sailing of the lines the Washington carried 1753 passengers with a theoretical capacity of 1780.
I hope, therefore, that the Department will not conclude from the statement in question which was undoubtedly made by some well-meaning person that the thousands of nervous Americans then awaiting sailing disdained even a cot in one of the public rooms of the Manhattan.
The same paragraph also contains a reference to the last westbound sailing of the Exchorda with 25 vacant places. I am informed by the Consulate at Marseille that the Exchorda sailed with 175 passengers. The office at Marseille booked passengers for all places allotted by the company to that office. It is understood that two passengers failed to make connections and were left behind. The Genoa office of the American Export Lines, it is understood, controls the booking of space and can undoubtedly explain why the theoretical passenger capacity of the vessel was not attained.
The Department’s telegram under reference makes no mention of provisions to be made for Latin Americans. I should be grateful for the Department’s further advice as to what I should now say to my Latin American colleagues, all of whom, to my great embarrassment, have been and are calling me daily for specific information as to when ships to evacuate their nationals will arrive.