The Secretary of State to President Roosevelt 65

021257. I have advised Molotov that sympathetic consideration is being given in Washington to the request of the Soviet Government for certain Italian naval and merchant vessels and that as a result I believed the matter could be worked out to their satisfaction. I further indicated that I would recommend the matter be concluded in all of its aspects as early as practicable.65a

Mr. Eden had received a cable from the Prime Minister favoring acceptance of the request in principle but raising a number of questions such as reservation of the two Littorio class battleships, reconditioning that would be necessary, and the actual use to which the ships would be put.

Considering the above and the fact that Molotov seems satisfied for the present with our general replies I have thought it unwise for me to say more than I have as it will involve me in technical matters with which I am not familiar and in my judgement would complicate rather than help the final amicable settlement of the matter. It seems to me that, since this is a matter of combined British-American interests, joint instructions should be sent to our Ambassadors for transmission to Mr. Molotov.

The instructions should authorize them to inform Molotov that the Soviet request for the use of Italian merchant and naval vessels has been approved subject to such reservations as may be considered appropriate.

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They should also be authorized to suggest at the same time that representatives of the naval staffs of the three countries meet at, say Algiers, to work out the arrangements necessary for completing the transaction.

I feel strongly that any question of one-third of the fleet being given to the Soviets should not be opened at this time but that the discussion be confined to the acceptance of the specific Russian request. Opening up the discussion to a proportionate division of the fleet would, in my view, lead to serious complications. If at a later date we find the Russians can use additional ships, it might then be to our advantage to offer them voluntarily the specific number and types we believe would be useful. This should only be done after careful consideration of the numbers and types that they have the capacity to use and maintain.

It is the opinion of our Naval officers here that the Soviet Government have been modest in their request because of their inability to employ additional vessels and that they would feel embarrassed if they were faced with the necessity of admitting that they did not have the ability to utilize at the present time their full one-third share.66

  1. Copy of telegram obtained from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, N.Y.
  2. Secretary Hull’s note to Molotov, summarized here, was dated November 1, 1943 (740.0011 Moscow/342).
  3. For a continuation of the discussion of this subject, see Foreign Relations, The Conferences at Cairo and Tehran, 1943, index entry (p. 913), “Italy: Soviet Union, request for Italian naval and merchant shipping.”