Memorandum of Telephone Conversation, by the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Murray)
Following my conversation with the Greek Minister this morning, as set forth in the attached memorandum,85 when he informed me that Secretary Knox had, during a conference in the Secretary’s office this morning, offered him 30 new Grumman planes and 15 of the old Grumman planes previously under discussion if his Government desired any of the latter category, I thought it wise to confirm this information through the Navy Department and therefore I telephoned Admiral Towers who, so the Greek Minister had informed me, had been present at the conference in Secretary Knox’ office.
Admiral Towers gave me the following information, which is anything but reassuring. He states that prior to the conference with the Greek Minister he (Admiral Towers) had consulted with Admiral Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, with regard to the offer of naval planes which Secretary Knox was to make to the Greek Minister. It appears that Admiral Stark informed Admiral Towers that he had “grave doubt” that he could give the certificate required by law stating that the equipment in question is not essential to the national defense. Admiral Towers went on to explain that, under Section 4 of Public Document No. 671 of the 76th Congress, which became law on June 28, 1940,86 the Chief of Naval Operations is required to sign a certificate in the above sense before any naval material may be disposed of to a foreign government. A further provision of the above-mentioned legislation is that, if and when such a decision has been taken and such a certificate has been signed, information to that effect must be conveyed within twenty-four hours to the Chairmen of the Naval Committees of both the House and the Senate.
The above facts were all brought to Secretary Knox’ attention before he made his new offer to the Greek Minister.
Admiral Towers stated that all of the above information was “in the family” but he went on to say that Secretary Knox had already gotten himself into one mess over the matter of Greek planes (his recent public statement that he had offered the Greeks 30 planes as a gift and that they had been turned down) and that now he had apparently gotten himself into a second mess.
I asked Admiral Towers whether I was correct in assuming that, in view of the above developments, he contemplated conferring further [Page 695] with Admiral Stark to ascertain whether the latter, despite his “grave doubts” might see his way clear to signing the indispensable certificate in order to make these naval planes available to the Greeks. He said that was the case but that he was by no means sanguine regarding the outcome of the efforts which he would make to clear up this unfortunate episode.