740.0011 European War 1939/1209: Telegram

The Minister in Uruguay (Wilson) to the Secretary of State

138. Guani26 sent for me at 9 o’clock. He said that he had spent 3 hours this afternoon talking with the German Minister. He had tried to obtain a statement from the Minister that the Graf Spee would respect Uruguayan law and either leave by 8 o’clock tomorrow night or be interned. The Minister had refused to commit himself, and had insisted that more time was needed for repairs. Guani had offered to propose on his own responsibility to the President of Uruguay that the committee of naval experts reexamine the question but on the condition that the German Government give assurances beforehand that it would accept the committee’s findings and act in accordance therewith. The German Minister also refused to commit himself on this. Guani said that he was convinced that if by 8 o’clock tomorrow night the Spee has not found an opportunity to slip away, she will resist internment.

He said that while he was being hammered on one side by the Germans, he was under constant pressure on the other side from the British. He had received numerous visits from the British Minister today, insisting that the time limit could in no case be extended, and trying to obtain assurances as to the steps Uruguay would take if the Graf Spee refuses to leave or be interned. Guani said that he felt that the British were trying to build up a case of inability on the part of Uruguay to enforce its neutrality laws, so as to be in a position to claim greater freedom of action for themselves. For instance the British Minister protested today because, so he alleges, the Graf Spee had fired one of its anti-aircraft guns at an airplane from the cruiser Ajax flying several miles at sea. This was of course absurd.

Guani then said that he wished me to transmit formally a message to my Government from the Uruguayan Government to the following effect: that in the event the Graf Spee by 8 o’clock tomorrow night has not left Montevideo and refuses to be interned, the Uruguayan Government will lack the necessary military force to compel the warship to be interned. He intends to transmit similar messages to the Argentine Government and the Brazilian Government. Then, if the contingency takes place and the British protest or try to take matters into their own hands, he will inform them that he is in consultation with governments of the American Republics concerning the matter.

  1. Alberto Guani, Uruguayan Minister for Foreign Affairs.