740.00112 European War 1939/7290: Telegram

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

6596. Your 5869, November 21, 9 p.m. We Understand the British are taking the line that the Swedes must release the two Norwegian ships for passage to England. They claim there are no grounds in international law on which to base their detention and that the Swedes [Page 361] could meet German threats to stop the Gothenberg traffic by threatening in turn to prohibit the passage of German leave troops across Sweden. The British state the cargoes are composed of commodities that are very urgently needed in their war industries. Lyttelton48 probably knows as much as any one person about specific need for these cargoes.

Our general approach to the problem still conforms to the outline in Embassy’s 6374 of November 11 [12], 8 [10] p.m.49 We feel that it is desirable, in view of changed situation arising out of North African offensive,50 to get oil to Sweden quickly before Germany may take moves to prevent further increase in potential Swedish ability to resist. We would advocate, consequently, an immediate increase in the oil quota for Sweden without further negotiation or further specific concessions on their part. At the same time, we believe the Swedes should be told that we expect them to release the Norwegian ships for passage to Great Britain and to make other concessions as well, and that we will discontinue the enlarged quota if these expectations are not fulfilled. We feel that this approach provides the speed necessary for quick action under present circumstances and may well increase rather than diminish the concessions to us the Swedes will ultimately make. We would suggest that you approach the British Government to see whether they would be prepared to take this line in common with the United States.

We are moved, in making this proposal, by a certain amount of concern for the personal position of Boheman in Sweden. He left Sweden prepared to discuss a specific series of demands put forward by the British and ourselves as concessions to be made in return for an enlarged quota of oil. He came prepared to go a considerable distance to meet these demands. Since then, without personal contact on his part with his home Government he was faced with an enlarged program of concessions arising out of uncertainty on our part with respect to general policies to be pursued with Sweden. More recently still, most of these former demands have been relegated to the background and the release of the Norwegian ships has been made the primary consideration in the question of Swedish oil. We can appreciate that these new questions may be extremely difficult for him to face while he is away from his own country. We feel that it would be better for the representatives of the United Kingdom and the United States in Stockholm to insist on the release of the Norwegian ships on straight grounds of international law and not as a quid pro quo for oil.

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My concern with regard to friendly personnel in Sweden has been accentuated by a secret and confidential letter directed to Freeman Matthews51 from Winthrop Greene. In the letter it is stated that certain military information which was given to our Military Attaché in Stockholm for use in Washington only, was “picked up” or “leaked out” in London. This “resulted in the enforced resignation of prominent member of the General Staff”. I am trying to get full information on this incident but I believe it shows that there are definite limitations that can be overreached in dealing with individual Swedish officials. I believe that these limitations must be recognized in the diplomatic field.

  1. Capt. Oliver Lyttelton, British Minister of Production.
  2. Not printed.
  3. For correspondence on this subject, see vol. ii .
  4. Counselor of Embassy in the United Kingdom.