868.48/2035: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Winant) to the Secretary of State

845. I have just received the following letter from Mr. Eden of the Foreign Office:

“As you know the 8000 tons of wheat which His Majesty’s Government and the United States Government decided should be sent to Greece through the blockade as an exceptional emergency measure will if all goes well be shipped shortly from Haifa.

This concession by no means satisfied the Greek Government and the Greek Prime Minister has hinted that he will resign if further shipments are not allowed. It is indeed clear that the famine in Greece is on too large a scale for this single shipment to make any appreciable impression and all reports indicate that the situation has if anything deteriorated further. We have reached the conclusion therefore that as an exceptional case further shipments of wheat or flour to Greece should be arranged though the objections to allowing relief through the blockade to other occupied countries are as strong as ever.

There are, however, many disadvantages in making piecemeal concessions. These would involve allowing unconditional and therefore entirely uncontrolled shipments; upsetting the program of the Middle Eastern Supply Center; temporarily withdrawing tonnage urgently needed by our own war services; and setting a precedent for uncontrolled relief which will be invoked by the governments of other occupied countries. We consider therefore that strict conditions should be laid down for further relief shipments to Greece.

In particular we should in order to save our shipping resources insist that future shipments shall be made in neutral ships (not now under Allied charter) and with neutral crews and that these ships should be given safe conducts enabling them to go to the country where wheat is produced and carry it direct to Greece. A suggestion that the Axis should be made to release Greek ships under their control for the proposed shipments has been examined but rejected because there are not many of these vessels; they are [Page 740]in bad condition and their tonnage is unsuitable. We understand, however, from His Majesty’s Minister of [at] Stockholm that there are number of suitable Swedish ships available in the Baltic and we hope it may be possible to induce the Swedish Government to allow them to be chartered and to encourage Swedish Red Cross to undertake distribution in Greece under the auspices of the International Red Cross. There is evidence that the Swedish Red Cross will be willing to undertake work of this kind and it is thought that they are in a better position to do so than the International Red Cross itself.

As regards quantities, the Greek Prime Minister has asked for 33,000 tons a month which is about the total average import in normal years. There could be no question of our undertaking to supply so large an amount. The quantity to be supplied under the scheme now proposed must be governed by the shipping available. To give an example regular shipments of 15,000 tons a month from Canada would, we understand, require not less than 6 ships of 5,000 tons gross tonnage each.

We should of course like the United States Government to be associated with us in this matter and the procedure we would propose to adopt is to ask the Swedish Government whether they will offer the use of Swedish ships for the purpose indicated and also offer the service of the Swedish Red Cross to supervise distribution. We should go on to say that if they will do so we would suggest that they should so inform the International Red Cross for communication to the occupying powers in Greece, adding that they understand that the United States and United Kingdom Governments would agree to the use of the ships for carrying wheat or flour to Greece subject to the five conditions enclosed herewith.

The two footnotes are not for communication to the occupying powers: There [They?] will be covered by our making clear to the Swedes that the whole proposal depends on (a) their requesting safe conducts for their ships to the point of loading, and (b) their being able to make satisfactory arrangements for the proposed commission of control to report fully to us.

We have attempted to draw up the conditions in such a manner as not to provoke their rejection by the Germans on prestige grounds but they do in fact represent what we regard as the most reasonable conditions we can offer and it is not our intention to enter into debate with the Axis about them.

I should be most grateful if you could ascertain as a matter of great urgency whether your Government would be agreeable to proceeding on these lines.

It would be appreciated if the approval of the United States Government if given could cover our putting the proposal to the enemy powers through the International Red Cross ourselves should the Swedes not be willing to do so.

I would add that as the above arrangements must, of course, take some time to come into effect we are considering your memorandum of the 18th February about the despatch of the Industria from the United States to Turkey as a separate question. I hope to let you have a reply as regards this in the very near future.”

[Page 741]

Following is the enclosure to the above quoted letter:

  • “1. All belligerents to give safe conduct in both directions for ships engaged in carrying foodstuffs to Greece for distribution as relief under this scheme.
  • 2. A neutral commission to be established in Greece and have under its direct control the distribution of all goods imported as relief.
  • 3. Foodstuffs imported as relief through the blockade to be reserved solely for the Greek population and to be distributed where in the opinion of the commission the need is greatest.
  • 4. Foodstuffs originating in Greece to be reserved solely for persons normally resident in Greece in peacetime except insofar as any foodstuffs consumed in Greece by the armed forces or officials of the occupying powers are replaced by equivalent imports of foodstuffs into Greece for the Greek population.
  • 5. The commission to have the right and duty to verify by direct observation that these conditions are fulfilled, to be sufficiently numerous and to maintain a sufficient staff, and to enjoy (with its officers) such complete freedom of movement and facilities for inspection and inquiry as are necessary for this purpose.
  • Footnote[s]
    (a)
    If as is contemplated the ships used for the relief mission are Swedish the safe conducts will have to cover the original voyage from the Baltic to the port of loading.
    (b)
    In addition we shall require an assurance that the commission will be able to report fully to His Majesty’s Government on all matters connected with the working of this scheme.”

Winant