Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Alger Hiss, Assistant to the Adviser on Political Relations ( Hornbeck )

Participants: Major General Burns, Executive Officer of the Munitions Assignments Board.
Brigadier General Spalding5
Mr. Ray of OLLA5a (Mr. John Orchard of OLLA joined the meeting toward its close.)
Mr. Keary6
Mr. Hiss

At Mr. Finletter’s7 request I attended a conference on the above subject8 in General Burns’ office. Mr. Finletter informed me that the meeting had been arranged by General Burns who had requested that Mr. Finletter be present. Due to an engagement with the Secretary, Mr. Finletter could not attend and sent Mr. Keary to represent him.

The meeting was informal and exploratory. General Burns said that the War Department has now received a requisition from the Chinese for trucks for the proposed route. In the course of the conversation General Burns stated that he had been informed by representatives of China Defense Supplies that the whole idea of the new route had originated with President Roosevelt. General Burns also said that Mr. Hopkins9 was most anxious that the route be pushed.

Early in the meeting General Burns read aloud a copy of a cable from General Stilwell10 on the subject. General Stilwell expressed himself as believing that it would be better for China’s full efforts to be directed toward regaining the Burma Road. He said that he had [Page 594] first heard of the proposed route from Dr. Soong11 at a meeting of American, British and Russian representatives. He indicated that he did not think it was desirable for us to assume any responsibility for actual operation of the route but said that he would make available an officer for “reconnaissance” purposes [General Spalding agreed to supply the Department with a paraphrase of this cable12]. General Burns emphasized that he considered it important that General Stilwell’s negative attitude toward the road not be allowed to reach the Chinese, as he feared that it might prejudice General Stilwell’s relations with the Chinese.

General Burns asked Mr. Ray for the views and recommendations of the Lend-Lease Administration. Mr. Ray said that he felt justified in stating confidently that the Lend-Lease Administration regarded it as of importance that the United States should give all possible assistance to making the route effective. General Burns referred to the difficulty of ensuring regular and efficient transportation over a long route through several different countries. He kept asking the question: How would you organize the route? Mr. Ray suggested that it might be wise to authorize an initial trial shipment of about 800 trucks. These together with Lend-Lease trucks allocated to China which are already in Karachi (now numbering about 350 but subject to diminution if needed by General Stilwell) could be supplied with necessary spare parts and other equipment for prolonged operation and loaded in addition with Chinese Lend-Lease supplies now at Karachi. In view of the fact that the British have indicated that they can supply from Iran and India such trucks as are needed for the Iranian route, Mr. Ray suggested that the additional 800 trucks might be divided on a fifty-fifty basis between the Russians and the Chinese for use on the respective stretches of the road to be operated by them.

General Burns then asked me what the attitude of the Department of State was on the whole matter. I explained that thus far the Department had functioned in connection with the proposed route largely from the point of view of collecting information of assistance to the directly interested agencies in ascertaining the status of the matter. General Burns said that in view of General Stilwell’s attitude he thought that the primary question should be one of the political desirability of complying with the Chinese request for trucks. He and General Spalding said that there should be no difficulty at all about obtaining the necessary quantities of trucks and that, although there would be more difficulty with regard to shipping, they did not anticipate very much difficulty on this score either. I referred to the views expressed by our Embassy at Kuibyshev and both General Burns and [Page 595] General Spalding said that they had already received paraphrases of these telegrams. I said that I was in no position to speak authoritatively for the Department but that a number of us who had considered the matter had felt there was merit in the views expressed in these two telegrams. I said that particularly it seemed to me that if we could it would be desirable that no impression be given that refusal of the United States to make trucks available had killed a promising new route into China. General Burns, General Spalding and Mr. Ray expressed themselves as fully in agreement with this point of view. As a result of further discussion it seemed to be generally agreed by those present that it might be wise to recommend that the Chinese be informed that this Government is desirous of being as helpful as possible in making the new route effective and that to that end we would be pleased to make available an initial shipment of 800 trucks and that from the operation of these trucks it would be possible to determine whether additional quantities could be effectively utilized over the new route.

At this point General Burns again reverted to the question of adequate cooperative organization throughout the extent of the route. He pointed out that the Army and Lend-Lease Administration are accountable for dispositions made of Government property and that therefore they must be reasonably assured that any trucks allocated to the new route can accomplish the purpose for which they are allocated. I remarked that since the proposal is basically a Chinese proposal it would seem appropriate for the War Department officials to discuss this matter directly with the Chinese and to point out to the Chinese that our officials in charge of Lend-Lease allocation would have to be supplied with an appropriate program of operations which would include adequate reporting and other control measures. General Burns said that he would prefer some such approach rather than any attempt of the United States actually to take over operation and supervision of a route which would in fact have to be operated in part by the British, in part by the Russians and in part by the Chinese. It was suggested that a member of General Wheeler’s13 staff at Karachi might well turn over the material initially to the British at Karachi and that the Chinese could make arrangements for reports of operations from there through to Sinkiang. It was also pointed out that when our Consulate at Tihwa is opened it might be possible to receive direct reports from that point of materials passing through Tihwa. These combined reports might perhaps supply an adequate accounting system.

In conclusion General Burns said that he was prepared to support the recommendation of the Lend-Lease Administration for an initial [Page 596] allotment of 800 trucks along the lines indicated if the Chinese could supply an adequate accounting procedure. He asked that the views of the Department of State be communicated in a letter to Secretary Stimson14 with a copy to him.

  1. Of the Munitions Assignments Board.
  2. Office of Lend-Lease Administration.
  3. Representing the Division of Defense Materials.
  4. Thomas K. Finletter, Acting Chief of the Division of Defense Materials.
  5. “Request by the Chinese for trucks in connection with the proposed route from India to China via Iran and the Soviet Union.”
  6. Harry L. Hopkins, Special Assistant to President Roosevelt and Chairman of the Munitions Assignments Board, United States and Great Britain.
  7. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell, Commanding General, United States Army Forces in China, Burma, and India.
  8. T. V. Soong, Chinese Minister for Foreign Affairs.
  9. Not printed; brackets appear in the original.
  10. Maj. Gen. Raymond A. Wheeler, Commanding General, Services of Supply in China, Burma, and India.
  11. Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War.