300.115 (39)/452: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Italy (Phillips)

13. The following Aide-Mémoire was handed to the British Ambassador today:8a

“This Government feels constrained to express its serious concern at the treatment by the British authorities of American shipping in the Mediterranean area, and particularly at Gibraltar. It has already made clear its position as regards the legality of interference by the British Government with cargoes moving from one neutral country to another, in its Ambassador’s Note Number 1569 of November 20, 1939.9 In addition, it now regrets the necessity of being forced to observe not only that British interference, carried out under the theory of contraband control, has worked a wholly unwarrantable delay on American shipping to and from the Mediterranean area, but also that the effect of such action appears to have been discriminatory.

“Since ample time has elapsed to permit the setting up of an efficient system of control, it would seem that the present situation can no longer be ascribed to the confusion attendant on early organization difficulties.

“From information reaching this Government it appears that American vessels proceeding to neutral ports en route to or from ports of the United States have been detained at Gibraltar for periods varying [Page 8] from 9 to 18 days; that cargoes and mail have been removed from such ships; that official mail for American missions in Europe has been greatly delayed; that in some instances American vessels have been ordered to proceed, in violation of American law, to the belligerent port of Marseilles to unload cargoes, and there to experience further delays. It is further reported that cargoes on Italian vessels receive more favorable consideration than similar or equivalent cargoes carried by American ships, and that Italian vessels are permitted to pass through the control with far less inconvenience and delay.

“There is attached a list10 of American vessels en route to neutral ports detained by the British Contraband Control during the period November 15th to December 15th, from which it will be seen that the average delay imposed has amounted to approximately 12.4 days. From information in possession of this Government, it is established that Italian vessels detained during the same period were held for an average delay of only 4 days.

“This Government must expect that the British Government will at least take suitable and prompt measures to bring about an immediate correction of this situation. It will appreciate receiving advices that the situation has been corrected.”

It is expected that its contents will be made public within the next few days.

Your telegram 43, January 19, 10 a.m.11 Please continue sending reports of this nature.

  1. The aide-mémoire was dated January 19, 1940.
  2. See telegram No. 1446, November 17, 1939, to the Ambassador in the United Kingdom, Foreign Relations, 1939, Vol. i, p. 806, and footnote 84, ibid., p. 807.
  3. For list of nine ships detained, with pertinent information as to each case, see Department of State Bulletin, January 27, 1940, p. 94.
  4. Not printed.