711.62114 Sick/2

The British Ambassador (Halifax) to the Secretary of State

No. 446
Ref: 1749/53/43

His Majesty’s Ambassador presents his compliments to the Secretary of State and, with reference to the Department’s note No. 740.00114 (European War 1939/3985) of June 24th last,7 relative to the proposals made by the German and Italian Governments for the exchange of seriously sick and seriously wounded prisoners of war, has the honour, upon instructions from His Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, to transmit the following reply to the observations contained in the Department’s note.

His Majesty’s Government agree with the aim of reaching an immediate agreement with the German and Italian Governments as a basic policy for the duration of the war, for the prompt and mutual repatriation of seriously ill and seriously wounded prisoners of war regardless of the operations in which they were captured and of their rank or number.
They also agree on further consideration that the Axis proposal for selecting repatriables by Allied doctors in North Africa should be replaced by the normal procedure of examination by Mixed Medical Commission provided by the Prisoner of War Convention, which shall also apply to British and American prisoners in Axis hands. In order to save time and in agreement with General Eisenhower,8 arrangements are being made for an immediate visit to North West Africa of the existing Mixed Medical Commission from the Middle East, the members of which have already been accepted by both Axis governments.
His Majesty’s Government on reflection are prepared to forego the demand for safeguards as such. The plan outlined below provides for simultaneous sailings from each side under safe conducts and this it is hoped will be sufficient.
His Majesty’s Government have carefully considered the comments of the United States Government on the inclusion of protected personnel but consider that, so far from causing differences or delays, their inclusion should for the following reasons undoubtedly increase the chances of early agreement:
They are convinced that the German Government will only carry out an agreement provided that it is satisfied that there is a material advantage in doing so. According to their proposal they expect to recover thousands of sick and wounded from North Africa. In fact there will not be more than 400, including Italians. In addition the Germans will recover 602 already passed by Mixed Medical Commissions in the British Empire. The number of British prisoners of war so far notified as having passed the German Mixed Medical Commission is 2,952; to this number must be added any American and British passed during the examinations now in progress. The Allies therefore stand to gain heavily in point of numbers. In 1941, His Majesty’s Government concluded an agreement with the German Government to repatriate sick and wounded under the Prisoner of War Convention. The Germans then learned that they stood to lose on numbers and, on the personal intervention of Ribbentrop,9 went back on the agreement and have ever since declined to negotiate on any basis but that of numerical equality. The present German offer to return to the Convention is clearly prompted by the expectation that German repatriables in North Africa will amount to several thousands. His Majesty’s Government feel that there is a grave danger that the German Government on learning the actual numbers may act as before, and in the interests of the sick and wounded consider that everything possible should be done to obviate this risk. The inclusion of protected personnel should go far to overcome this difficulty, since the number captured in North Africa must exceed those held by the Germans.
The Head of special division of the Swiss Legation in London, who has recently discussed prisoner of war questions in Berne with [Page 58] representatives of the German High Command and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, believes that the inclusion of protected personnel would be welcomed in Berlin.
From the Administrative point of view there are obvious advantages in disposing of all repatriables at once. Separate operations would be wasteful of shipping, accommodation and manpower.
While it is true that protected personnel’s rights are founded on a separate convention, the obligation to repatriate is the same under both conventions,10 and is equally clear and binding.
Protected personnel are entitled to repatriation as soon as a route for their return shall be open and military considerations permit (Article 12 of Red Cross Convention). To retain them while returning sick and wounded would be a breach of this article.
His Majesty’s Government welcome the readiness of the United States Government to concert its reply to the German and Italian Governments with their own. They suggest that, subject to agreement on the inclusion of personnel protected under the Geneva Red Cross Convention, the exchange of views which has now taken place provides a sufficient common basis for such replies.
After examination of the shipping position, the following movements are proposed—
An exchange at Smyrna involving Germans now being concentrated in the Middle East and Indian, Australian, New Zealand and African personnel in Germany, whose ultimate destination will be eastward.
An exchange at Gothenburg involving Germans concentrated in the United Kingdom and half the remaining repatriables from Germany whose ultimate destination is the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States of America.
Simultaneously with (2) the evacuation in Axis ships of half the German repatriables in North Africa from an African port to an Axis port in the Mediterranean.
The simultaneous removal from Gothenburg and a North African port of the remainder on each side.
His Majesty’s Government would propose to include the details of the above programme in their reply to the German Government and hope that the United States Government will notify their agreement at an early date.
It is hoped, if the German Government accepts, to carry out this programme in August–September.
So far as the Italian proposals are concerned, while His Majesty’s Government are disposed to agree to a further repatriation, this proposed agreement with the German Government must be on the basis of the Prisoner of War Convention. Since, however, in the [Page 59] course of recent repatriation a considerable number of British repatriables were withheld by the Italians in breach of the Convention and of the assurances they had given, His Majesty’s Government would propose to insist on certain safeguards at present under consideration for preventing this in future.

Lord Halifax would be glad to learn Mr. Hull’s views on these proposals as soon as may be possible.

  1. See telegram No. 3866, June 24, 9 p.m., to the Ambassador in the United Kingdom, supra.
  2. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Commanding General, European Theater of Operations; Commander in Chief, Allied Expeditionary Force, North Africa.
  3. Joachim von Ribbentrop, Reich Minister for Foreign Affairs.
  4. Conventions signed at Geneva July 27, 1929, Foreign Relations, 1929, vol. i, pp. 321 and 336.