740.00114 European War 1939/3839

The British Ambassador (Halifax) to the Secretary of State

Ref. 1749/11/43
No. 371

His Majesty’s Ambassador presents his compliments to the Secretary of State and has the honour to inform him that His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom have lately received proposals from the German and Italian Governments, which they understand have also been sent to the State Department, for the immediate repatriation of seriously sick and seriously wounded Axis prisoners from North Africa, those eligible to be selected by British and American doctors, in return for the repatriation of all British and American seriously sick and seriously wounded prisoners in German and Italian hands, in accordance with the Prisoners of War Convention.

His Majesty’s Government would like to concert their replies with the United States Government and to have their views on the most convenient and rapid method of conducting negotiations with the Axis Governments and of issuing the necessary instructions to the military and naval authorities to implement any agreement reached.
The provisional views of His Majesty’s Government are as follows:
In order to co-ordinate the approach by the two Governments to these proposals, and the necessary administrative arrangements for carrying out any agreement which may be reached, it is suggested that both the negotiations with the enemy governments and the administrative planning should be conducted by a small central organization in London on which the United States would be represented by military and diplomatic officers with authority to take rapid decisions on their own responsibility where no major issues are involved. The British members would include representatives of the Admiralty, War Office and Foreign Office. The organization would not exceed six in number and would be set up without delay. This arrangement appears to His Majesty’s Government to offer the best prospect of rapid and efficient treatment of the problem, and they are confident that Anglo-American co-operation in this instance would be as cordial and effective as it has been in the operations in North Africa.
The German proposals offer an opportunity to recover all seriously sick and seriously wounded British prisoners of war from Germany, many of whom have waited nearly three years, and would also relieve the North African Command of a heavy burden in the way of hospital accommodation, medical services, etc. From the point of view of His Majesty’s Government the Italian case, while requiring a simultaneous reply on the same lines, is less urgent since His Majesty’s Government are now in the process of recovering by means of normal repatriation arrangements under the Convention most of their sick and wounded from Italy.
His Majesty’s Government are strongly in favour of accepting the German proposals as a basis of agreement subject to the following conditions:—
That the Germans should give an assurance that the repatriation of all British and American prisoners captured before the ending of the campaign and now in German hands shall, without prejudice to their right to subsequent examination by a mixed Medical Commission, be determined forthwith by German doctors who will certify for repatriation those covered by both schedules “A” and “B” of the model draft agreement of the Red Cross Convention.3 All British and American seriously sick and seriously wounded passed by the mixed Medical Commission or certified as above shall be included.
That the Germans should accept such safeguards against breach of faith as may be considered necessary by the United States Government and His Majesty’s Government.
His Majesty’s Government are prepared to repatriate forthwith all eligible Germans seriously sick and seriously wounded held in the British Commonwealth whose right has already been established. They would also accept the German proposal for the examination of Germans in North Africa.
His Majesty’s Government would propose the repatriation from both sides under the projected agreement of general protecting personnel, less those required to care for their remaining compatriots. While, in the view of His Majesty’s Government, the seriously ill and seriously wounded should come first, such personnel is entitled to repatriation under the Red Cross Convention.
The combined Chiefs of Staffs have been asked to obtain information regarding the number of seriously sick and seriously wounded Germans in North Africa likely to be assessed as repatriable, the suitability or otherwise of Barcelona as a delivery port for German repatriables (on the assumption that access to any North African port by Axis ships is unacceptable) and the time necessary to complete the examination of German prisoners. If necessary, His Majesty’s Government could assist by providing British doctors with experience of the Convention.
His Majesty’s Government would be grateful for an early expression of the views of the United States Government on the above-mentioned points, and in particular on the suggestion that the necessary negotiations and administrative arrangements should be entrusted to a small Anglo-American organisation to be set up in London.
In conclusion His Majesty’s Government trust that the United States Government will agree that all public discussions of this matter should be avoided until agreement with the Axis has not only been reached but has actually begun to operate. It will be recalled that the [Page 53] failure of similar negotiations between His Majesty’s Government-and the German Government in October 1941 was in some measure due to premature publicity.
  1. See Annex to the Convention of July 27, 1929, relative to the treatment of prisoners of war, Foreign Relations, 1929, vol. i, pp. 336, 363.