Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle)

The British Ambassador called to see me today, at my request. I said I was sorry to ask him to call on an unpleasant matter. I said that our people were becoming increasingly unhappy and concerned about the delays of American shipping at Gibraltar, where the average delay amounted to approximately twelve days per vessel, with loss which must, of course, be obvious. Even conceding that war measures frequently resulted in confusion, there has been plenty of time to clear this up.

Further, I said, we were reluctantly forced to the conclusion that these delays were discriminatory, and perhaps intentionally so. Not only that, but the Italians were aware of this and were making capital out of it. As an instance, I read him, but without giving names and dates, the letter of December 29th, 1939 addressed to George H. MacFadden & Brothers from Battistel-Amiotti (file No. 300.115 (39), MacFadden & Bro., Geo. H.—121), in which the Italian buyers required shipment by Italian steamer, on the ground, among other things, that their vessels are quicker released from Gibraltar.

[Page 7]

I said that instances of this kind naturally led our people to wonder whether the Gibraltar station was being operated for purposes of contraband or for other purposes, and that I trusted the situation would be promptly cleared up.

I then handed him the Aide-Mémoire.8 Lord Lothian said that he would not comment, because he was not aware of the facts; but that he regretted the situation and would see if he couldn’t do something about it. He then said that there was, of course, always the difficulty of the Italian nuisance value in the Mediterranean.

I said that the Ambassador would do me justice to note that I had not brought that matter up; but since he had done so, I felt bound to say that instances of this sort gave rise to the feeling that the British government presumed on our friendship, and sacrificed our legitimate interests to the Italians. Lord Lothian agreed that there was this danger; and that in any event matters ought to be so handled that there was no discrimination; that he would send a cable to his government; and he hoped the situation would be corrected.

A. A. Berle, Jr.
  1. See infra.