861.00/11855: Telegram

The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Steinhardt) to the Secretary of State

380. My telegram No. 378, April 13, 10 a.m.43 During my trip to the Caucasus Black Sea area, Crimea, and the Ukraine, I observed that a serious food shortage exists throughout the greater part of the districts visited attributable in my opinion to a considerable degree to inadequate distribution facilities and methods. At most of the towns where I stopped long lines of people were waiting to buy bread and other foodstuffs. At the important port of Odessa this condition was particularly noticeable, food lines being so continuous on the main street that thousands of people were visible from a single point. While in my judgment crop prospects for the coming season range from fair to medium, I have no reason to believe that even good crops this year would result in any material amelioration of the food situation.

My impression of the rail transport condition is that little is being done to augment existing distribution facilities either in respect of new railroad construction, the acquisition of rolling stock, or additional highway building. Maintenance of existing lines is negligible. I observed single track lines at many strategic points, particularly into and out of Grozny and a substantial part of the line from Baku to Batum. Roadbed was generally in poor condition and are unballasted in certain sections. Maintenance of way was non-existent for hundreds of miles and the condition of locomotives and rolling stock was mediocre with many in bad order on siding. With respect to the Grozny oil fields I noted that the refining plants are densely congested over a large area with some plants not in operation. Storage tanks in units of from 6 to 20 are extremely closely grouped, at some places only a few yards apart; the railway sidings are oil soaked. The entire area is extremely vulnerable to fire. The equipment in use appeared old but serviceable.

At Baku, I lunched with officials of the oil trust who furnished the following data, part of which I believe has not hitherto been given. 75% of the entire production of the Soviet Union originates from the Baku fields (this does not include Grozny). 20% of the production of the Baku fields is transported by a single 14–inch pipeline, for crude oil only to Batum, the daily run is about 15,000 tons or some-what [Page 196] over four and one-half million tons per annum, about 4,000 tons are shipped out of Baku daily by rail and the balance is transported by barges and some tankers to Caspian ports, principally Astrakhan, and thence up the Volga. The officials claimed an average annual production increase of approximately 8%, including 1940, but in view of their admission of salt water intrusion, sulphur content, and visible evidence of a large number of abandonments, I seriously doubt this claim.

The officials admitted Grozny output was not increasing; other sources indicate a considerable current decrease in that area. The total number of wells in the Baku fields was given as about 20,000 ranging in depth from 1,000 to 12,000 feet. From my observation most of these are under pump with few, if any, free flowing wells. Refining plants appeared less extensive than at Grozny. Gathering lines are above ground and in bad condition. Wells very close together in different fields and plants extremely closely grouped, with main line and feeder shut off valves above ground oil soaked and many leaking. Docking facilities primitive, antiquated, and limited. Baku, however, being less congested appeared less vulnerable than Grozny. I saw no evidence at either Grozny or Baku of military activities of any kind and noted no signs of defensive preparations.

Soviet shipping and port facilities in the Black Sea are conspicuously inadequate. From what I observed and was told I incline to the view that the Soviets have grossly exaggerated their naval strength in the Black Sea. Stopping at some 10 ports and spending several days at sea, I saw in all but 2 small coast guard cutters, 1 old destroyer in bad condition, and 1 mine layer. As far as I could see there was a complete absence throughout the areas visited of military or naval preparations. I was struck by the apparent failure to take the most elementary and obvious measures essential for the defense of such strategic points as Baku, Batum and Odessa. While at Batum I motored to and along the Turkish border, and saw no evidence of military preparations. The antiquated forts were normally manned, but I could observe no exceptional measures.

I conclude from the foregoing that the Soviets do not contemplate, at least for the present, engaging in any offensive military venture in the Black Sea area and that they are extremely vulnerable to naval and air attack in this region. The conditions I found in this region do not, of course, preclude the possibility of military preparations along the Bessarabian frontier.

With respect to potential Soviet economic aid to Germany I believe from what I saw in its industrial, agricultural and transport conditions [Page 197] in the important areas visited, that it is doubtful the Soviets will be able to render sustained economic assistance to Germany of a decisive character without subjecting Soviet internal economy to an excessive strain.

I saw no signs of political unrest. I am sending a more detailed report by pouch.44

  1. Not printed.
  2. Despatch No. 418, April 15, not printed.