740.0011 European War 1939/3808

The Ambassador in Argentina ( Armour ) to the Secretary of State

No. 750

Sir: Referring to the Embassy’s despatch no. 706 of May 24 last10 enclosing a memorandum of conversations which took place at a [Page 777] luncheon at the British Embassy prior to the departure of the French Ambassador, M. Peyrouton, I have the honor to inform the Department that during the time that has elapsed the British Ambassador has on several occasions mentioned to me the preoccupation of his Government lest, in the event of Italy’s entering the war,11 Italian submarines come to the Rio de La Plata for the purpose of attacking British shipping.

The Ambassador informs me that he has taken up the matter of preventing belligerent submarines from having access to Argentine ports several times with the Foreign Minister, thus far without success. According to Sir Esmond Ovey the Secretary General of the Foreign Office, Dr. Santos Muñoz, takes a very legalistic view of the question, while the Minister of Marine, Admiral Scasso, who is currently believed to have pro-Nazi sympathies, is also opposed to any change in the present position of the Argentine Government, which places belligerent submarines in the same category as surface craft. The Ambassador believes that it is the opposition, particularly of these two officials, which accounts for the refusal of the Foreign Minister to take the action recommended by the British Ambassador.

Their Naval Attaché today informed our own Naval Attaché that yesterday Sir Esmond Ovey again spoke to Dr. Cantilo12 on this question and pointed out that his Government views the matter so seriously that in the event the Argentine Government would not be willing to reconsider its position, it might be necessary for the British Government to make arrangements to purchase necessary supplies, particularly meat, elsewhere, possibly in Brazil, or even in South Africa.

In a recent talk with Sir Esmond he expressed the hope that our Government might be willing to support the British Government’s position on this question, and said that he was considering the sending of a telegram to his Government suggesting that the matter be referred to the British Ambassador in Washington for the consideration of the American Government. I ventured to suggest to Sir Esmond that as the Brazilian Government had taken a position similar to our own on the question of submarines, he might possibly consider having his Government take up the matter with the Brazilian Government. It seemed to me that the Brazilian Government could with logic point out to the Argentine Government that its policy with regard to submarines, aside from the question of their own waters and those of Uruguay, constituted a danger to Brazil in that submarines taking refuge in Argentine or Uruguayan waters would presumably be in a position to prey on Brazilian shipping, particularly [Page 778] foreign belligerent shipping visiting Brazilian ports. Sir Esmond seemed to feel that any suggestions from the Brazilian Government would be less effective than those coming from our own Government.

In a recent conversation with the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs with regard to the protest made by the Argentine Government to Berlin on the sinking of the Uruguay, Dr. Gache expressed the opinion that the German reply would probably be a negative one. I asked him in this event what action, if any, he thought his Government would be prepared to take. His reply was merely a shrug of the shoulders. I then ventured to suggest, making it clear that this was entirely a personal opinion, that this might be a favorable opportunity for his Government to announce that in the future all belligerent submarines would be banned from Argentine waters subject possibly to the qualifications contained in our own decree. If, as he thought probable, the German reply were to point out that it was impossible to prove that the submarine which sank the Uruguay was a German submarine, the Argentine Government, it seemed to me, could properly use the argument that in view of the difficulty of distinguishing between belligerent submarines, all belligerent submarines in the future will be banned from Argentine waters.

Dr. Gache seemed to think well of the suggestion, but of course was not in a position to give me any indication as to what the attitude of the higher authorities would be on this matter.

Respectfully yours,

Norman Armour
  1. Not printed.
  2. See section entitled “Efforts by the United States To Keep Italy From Entering the War Against the Allies”, Vol. ii, pp. 685 ff.
  3. José María Cantilo, Argentine Minister for Foreign Affairs.