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

Participants: Mr. Aiken, the Irish Minister of Defense;
Mr. Devlin, the Secretary of the Irish Legation;
Mr. Acheson;
Mr. Curtis.17

Mr. Aiken called upon me at the request of the Under Secretary to discuss the request recently made by the Irish Government to purchase arms and munitions in this country. Mr. Aiken said that as a result of talks which he had had since his arrival here, he would wish [Page 224] to amend his application in the event that this Government found it possible to sell the Irish Government arms and munitions. The amendment would chiefly relate to a different type of anti-tank gun which could also be used for anti-aircraft purposes.

Mr. Aiken then reviewed the Irish situation and the need of his Government for munitions in a manner similar to his discussions with the Under Secretary.

In effect he stated that the continuance of Irish neutrality was a fixed factor in the situation which must be accepted by governments dealing with the Irish Government. He stated that the Irish people were united upon this policy; that even if he so wished, Mr. De Valera could not change it and that any attempt to do so would produce disunity and possibly civil strife in Ireland. He referred to this policy as “the crown and symbol of Irish independence.” He said that the Irish had 50, 000 men under arms and with additional equipment could put a quarter of a million men in the field in the event of attack upon Ireland by Germany. These men would be worth in their determined resistance three or four times that number of foreign troops.

When I pressed him as to the efficacy of selling arms to Ireland, in the event that it should be found possible, without close and prior arrangements with the British for the defense of Ireland, he stated that in his opinion any invasion of Ireland would not occur as a part of an invasion of England, but as independent action designed to cut British communications. He believed it would occur first by air and submarine transportation, later supported by troops coming on surface craft. He thought that the Germans might be able to land in the neighborhood of 100, 000 men by air and submarine. He thought that the first objective would be the Shannon estuary. Although he conceded that the critical period would be the first four or five days, he insisted that armed Ireland could deal with the situation until British help arrived. He insisted that if British troops were admitted into Ireland before attack it would produce civil disturbance in Ireland. He also insisted that the British had greatly exaggerated the utility of Irish ports, since the convoy routes were around the north of Ireland instead of the south of Ireland as had been the case in the last war.

I told Mr. Aiken that, as he knew, the policy of this Government was to furnish as extensively as possible aid to the nations which were fighting aggression; that the Government was engaged in a vast program of production which was being further extended in view of the recent legislation; that we had requests from other nations to whom the war had not yet come and that these requests were being reviewed by the military authorities to determine to what extent [Page 225] they could be integrated with the production program without delaying or defeating the first objective. I said that his request was being and would be carefully considered in the same way. Mr. Aiken said that he was most anxious to return home because of the critical conditions; that he earnestly hoped that we could arrive as soon as possible at a decision one way or the other.

D[ean] A[cheson]
  1. Presumably Charles P. Curtis, Jr., Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of State.