Roosevelt Papers: Telegram

The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Harriman) to the President1


(Personal and secret for the President from Harriman.)

Referring to your cable to me USnavcom 211720 of December,2 I beg respectfully to mention that the request Stalin made to you and the Prime Minister at Teheran was for the fulfillment of the Soviet request for a specific number of Italian ships, namely one battleship, one cruiser, eight destroyers and four submarines for dispatch to North Russia and 40,000 tons displacement of mer[chant] shipping for use in the Black Sea.

After some discussion both you and the Prime Minister agreed that the Soviet request should be approved and that the delivery of the ships was to be made by the 1st of February. No mention was made at Moscow or Teheran of their getting additional ships up to one-third of those captured.

I believe Stalin expects all the ships he requested will be turned over to the Soviet Government’s control by February first.

If for any reason it is not now advisable to meet this commitment on time I recommend that the facts be given to the British Minister3 and myself in Moscow as promptly as possible with instructions that we go directly to Stalin to explain to him the situation in full. Under this method of handling I have no doubt that Stalin will be reasonable [Page 857] and cooperative. On the other hand if the commitment cannot be carried out and we wait for him to bring pressure on us to carry out our earliest commitment resulting from Teheran I am afraid that suspicion might be aroused in his mind or in the minds of his associates who were not present as to the firmness of the other commitments taken at Teheran.

I interpret your cable as being for my information and if queried by Molotov will simply advise him that you are giving active consideration to the matter.

  1. Sent by the United States Naval Attaché, Moscow, via Navy channels. The copy of the message as relayed to Roosevelt at Hyde Park via Army channels bears the handwritten notation “Leahy to prepare reply. FDR
  2. Dated December 21, 1943, ante, p. 852.
  3. Presumably John Balfour, Counsellor of the British Embassy at Moscow with the local rank of Minister.