711.00111 Armament Control—Military Secrets/3574

Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Murray) to the Under Secretary of State (Welles)

Mr. Welles: This Division has given consideration to the question of the export of airplanes to Greece in connection with each of the three groups of planes (Vultee, Columbia, and Seversky) mentioned by the Minister in his memorandum of October 16. I am of the opinion that it would be unwise to hamper our own defense needs by insisting upon the exportation of these military planes to Greece.

I am led to this conclusion from the following considerations, based on our best information regarding the situation in Greece: (1) Mr. MacVeagh, our Minister in Athens, has reported that although there is increasing Greek public opinion in favor of resisting aggression and that the Metaxas Government has repeatedly declared that Greece will fight “to the last man”, Mr. MacVeagh still sees the possibility, if not the probability, that Greece still might submit, without fighting, to determined Axis demands. In view of our principal desire to avoid allowing planes to fall into Axis hands, the risk involved in sending valuable planes to Greece at this time is a major consideration. (2) Granted that Greece might resist, the Greek Army is neither welltrained nor well-equipped, and would probably offer little difficulty for a well-mechanized attacking force. Greece is particularly lacking in trained aviators and mechanics such as would be required to operate modern American-made planes. Therefore, even if American planes sent to Greece should avoid capture by Italy, they would probably not accomplish any important military result when manned by Greek pilots. (3) Since Great Britain has guaranteed Greek independence and is primarily responsible for the defense of that country, the planes which we are able to spare for export would be put to a much better use if supplied to Britain rather than to Greece.

Some considerations which might be listed in favor of selling a few planes to Greece are as follows: (1) Greece is faced with the question whether to resist aggression. There is strong public sentiment in favor of such resistance, and an indication from the United States, however small, of a desire to assist Greece might furnish the necessary encouragement to keep Greece in this frame of mind, while a refusal to permit Greece to obtain any of the three groups of airplanes so urgently requested by the Minister might cause his Government to feel that resistance is useless if the United States has no desire to lend any assistance. (2) Although some risk would undoubtedly be involved in supplying planes to Greece, a small number might be a sufficiently important token of our desire to assist Greece to hold the [Page 578]country in line, and the results which might be accomplished may be important enough to outweigh the risk, it being frequently impossible to avoid all risk in matters of this kind. (3) Unlike some of the other countries which Britain has agreed to help, Greece is within the reach of the British Mediterranean fleet. It is reported that the British would occupy Crete and some other Greek islands if Greece were attacked. The Greek Government would doubtless find Greek soil on which to maintain resistance for a considerable time. Aid to Greece would therefore not involve as much risk as would aid to a country not so favorably situated as regards assistance from the British fleet. (4) Italy, which is already launched, apparently irrevocably, on its Egyptian compaign,67 may hesitate to attack Greece if there is indication that any considerable fighting would result. A little assistance to Greece on our part might be sufficient to enable that country to save itself from attack by a show of some resisting power, at least as long as the Egyptian campaign is in progress.

While the above considerations have merit, I am inclined to think the arguments against selling planes to Greece the stronger, and am accordingly not prepared to recommend that the refusals already made in the present cases be changed.

Wallace Murray
  1. For correspondence on this subject, see pp. 465 ff.