740.0011 European War 1939/25076a: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Chargé in the Soviet Union (Henderson)

535. Some days ago the Department learned that the German Government had demanded that France turn over about 140,000 tons of idle French merchant shipping for immediate use by Germany in the Black Sea.

The Department has discussed with the British Government the advisability of pressing the Turkish Government to refuse passage for the vessels through the Dardanelles, on the grounds that the vessels will unquestionably be used in some manner closely identifiable with military operations and that consequently they should be considered as naval auxiliaries rather than merchant vessels under the Montreux Straits Convention. The British Government has expressed concurrence in this view, but has pointed out that the Soviet Government should be consulted before the Turks are urged to make such a determination, since a ruling of this kind might, at some future time, be cited by the Axis as grounds for urging the Turkish Government to refuse permission for Soviet merchant vessels to leave the Black Sea.

Both the British authorities and ourselves believe that the balance would be in our favor if the Turks should refuse all transit of merchant vessels which may in fact be assimilable to naval auxiliaries, but we naturally wish to make certain that the Soviet Government concurs before instructing Ankara.

Please discuss the matter immediately with the Soviet Foreign Office and report its views. The matter is of much urgency, since the British Government has received word that the transfer of the tonnage is about to take place and arrangements are being made for the vessels to sail.