810.20 Defense/1327a: Telegram

The Acting Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Brazil ( Caffery )

525. Personal for the Ambassador. The President desires you to obtain an audience with President Vargas and to deliver to him the following personal message from the President:

“In view of the developments of the past few weeks and because of the rapidity with which the international situation is changing, I have felt that it might be helpful to us both if I addressed to you this personal message in order to let you know of my views with regard to the world situation and to inform you of some of the steps which this Government is taking in order to assure itself that it is not overlooking any practicable precaution which would insure the security and the defense of the Western Hemisphere.

As I notified your Government yesterday, the United States, by agreement with the Government of Iceland, has undertaken to defend the integrity of that country. The British troops, which until now have taken part in the defense of Iceland, will eventually be replaced by American forces during the period of the next few months. Through the American defense of Iceland and of Greenland24 and through the utilization of the bases25 acquired last year from Great Britain, what may be called the outposts of the defense frontier of the Western Hemisphere in the North Atlantic are rendered reasonably secure.

As I indicated yesterday in my message to the Congress of the United States,26 it is necessary to forestall any attempt on the part of Germany to utilize the pincers method of attack against the Western Hemisphere. Were Germany suddenly to resort to these tactics, she would undoubtedly have needed to utilize Iceland in the North Atlantic and presumably Dakar and the Cape Verde Islands in the South Atlantic as naval and air bases, first of all to cut off all convoys [Page 505] to the British Isles and, subsequently, as concentration points for actual attack against North and South America.

The possibility of a sudden German movement from the points I have named in the South Atlantic is still disquieting. As a partial measure to forestall such a movement, I have ordered considerable forces to the bases leased by the United States in Trinidad and in British Guiana. I think you will agree that should there later be signs that Germany is actually preparing to move to Morocco and West Africa, the forces sent by the United States to Trinidad and British Guiana would not be sufficiently close to the point of the Western Hemisphere which Germany would probably first attack, namely, Natal, in order to render speedy and immediate effective assistance to the Brazilian forces.

A careful survey of typical German action makes it probable that their blitzkrieg tactics would give to us in the Americas no breathing spell to prepare defenses in any given spot after the Germans had suddenly occupied West Africa and the Cape Verde Islands. For in such event Germany might well launch an air and sea attack against Natal almost immediately.

I have under consideration the possibility of negotiating with the Government of the Netherlands for the temporary use of air and sea patrol facilities at Surinam. In the event that such a negotiation were concluded, would your Government be willing to share in the utilization of such facilities with the United States by the stationing of Brazilian forces there as complementary to the United States forces as a measure of cooperation in the defense of the Western Hemisphere.

Another strategic point which must remain in friendly hands if the security of the New World is to be safeguarded is the Azores. I have made it clear to the Portuguese Government that this Government desires only that the Azores and Cape Verde Islands remain under the unimpaired and sovereign jurisdiction of Portugal.27 In the event, however, of a German occupation of Portugal, it is highly probable that Germany would immediately attempt the occupation of the Cape Verde Islands and of the Azores. In the interest of the defense of the Western Hemisphere such occupation would have to be prevented by the United States. In such event I hope the Government of Portugal would request the United States or Brazil, or both, to assist Portugal in defending both the Azores and the Cape Verde Islands. I would also welcome knowing from you whether, in such contingency, the Brazilian Government would be willing and prepared to share with the United States that further possible defense task.

The present hostilities between Germany and the Soviet Union have for the moment diverted the major portion of Germany’s attention from the west to her eastern frontier. It is impossible at this time to predict how long this situation may continue. It seems to me all the more desirable, therefore, by the friendly exchange of views which I am seeking by means of this personal message, to clarify the positions of our Governments with regard to these vitally important questions.

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May I take this opportunity of expressing to you my deep appreciation of all the innumerable evidences of cooperation which the Brazilian Government has shown to the Government of the United States during these past months. The intimacy of the relations between our two countries and the friendship between the people of Brazil and of the United States are traditional and I feel that in recent times they have become closer and more understanding than ever. I shall await with great interest the views which you may feel free to express to me with regard to the problems mentioned in this message.

I am addressing you somewhat at length because I want you to share all my knowledge and all the possibilities I am compelled to prepare against. The gist of the matter is frankly this:

  • First. If Germany should eliminate Russia in a few weeks, a very large amount of personnel and matériel would be released for use elsewhere.
  • Second. In such event it could be used directly against the British Isles, or, should that seem to the Germans of doubtful outcome, the obvious alternative would be to try to close all access for shipping to Great Britain. The obvious places to cut off shipping would be the narrow portion of the South Atlantic and the northwest approaches to the British Isles. The success of such a move should be forestalled with plenty of preparation. Germany so far has succeeded through the use of surprise tactics and because of the shortness of time for preparation on the part of the countries she has attacked. Therefore, we feel that this summer, even before the Russian venture is settled, the Americas should take all preliminary precautionary steps.

Please accept the assurances of my warm friendship and personal regard.”

Please telegraph the Department as soon as you have delivered this message and inform the Department of any indication the President may give you as to the manner in which his reply will be sent.

  1. For correspondence regarding agreement for the defense of Greenland, see vol. ii, pp. 35 ff.
  2. For correspondence regarding negotiations for transfer of American destroyers to the British Navy and for establishment of American naval and air bases in British possessions in the Western Hemisphere, see Foreign Relations, 1940, vol. iii, pp. 49 ff.
  3. For text of President Roosevelt’s message to Congress, July 7, 1941, see Department of State Bulletin, July 12, 1941, p. 15.
  4. For correspondence regarding concern of the United States over the fate of Portugal and her island possessions in the event of attack by Germany, see vol. ii, pp. 836 ff.