740.0011 European War 1939/29428

The Belgian Ambassador (Van der Straten-Ponthoz) to the Secretary of State

No. 2289

The Belgian Ambassador presents his compliments to the Honorable the Secretary of State and has the honor to have recourse to his usual courtesy in the following matter.

On April 29th the Belgian Government handed to Ambassador Biddle in London a note regarding the bombardment of Antwerp by the American Air Force, the contents of which is summarized here below.

“The Belgian Government having been consulted by the British authorities regarding the bombardment of military objectives on Belgian territory, agreed in principle on such bombardments on condition that the military importance of the objective be in proportion to the hazards involved by the civilian population. The Belgian Government also emphasized the desirability of consulting with the Belgian information services before proceeding with such aerial operations.

The Belgian Government regrets that these principles which had been carefully adhered to up until now, were not applied at the time of the raid on The Erla Works and The Gevaert Photographic Supply Company near Antwerp on April 5th. On that day 300 tons of bombs were dropped from a very high altitude into a densely populated area, killing 1200 persons, many among whom were children. German propaganda was not slow to take full advantage of the profound emotion created among the people by these heavy casualties.

The Belgian people are prepared to accept the inevitable risks of Allied aerial operations, provided they are assured that every precaution has been taken to reduce their sacrifices to a minimum. In the case of the raid of April 5th these precautions were apparently not taken as evidenced by the results of the raid on the one hand, and the appalling loss of life on the other.

The Belgian Government cannot consider as acceptable the conditions under which that air raid was carried out and urgently requests that the American Air Force avoid objectives and methods of operation that involve excessive hazards for the civilian population. The Belgian Government is certain that the United States Government is fully aware of the importance of this matter. Disregard of the principles outlined above would result in destruction, loss [Page 3] of life, and grief far in excess of the military need, and might further leave an undesirable impression on the minds of the Belgian people.

The United States Government no doubt knows that it is with the full support of the Belgians in the occupied country that the Belgian Government is giving all possible aid to the Allied war effort for the liberation of the enslaved people of the world. It is within the framework of this policy and without any contradiction to its principles, that the present request is being made.”

The Belgian Ambassador has been instructed by his Government to call this matter to the special attention of the American authorities. He would be very grateful if the Department would be kind enough to interpose its good offices so that favorable consideration be given to this request.