The Norwegian Ambassador (Morgenstierne) to the Secretary of State

Excellency: In my note to Your Excellency of February 28, 1942,9 I pointed out that the devastating losses suffered by the Norwegian merchant fleet in the common cause of the United Nations had led my Government to request the Government of the United States to assist Norway to make good these losses, in some measure, by making available new vessels to be placed under the Norwegian flag.

Subsequently, preliminary discussions took place between representatives of the State Department and of my Government, but it was not found feasible to carry these discussions to a conclusion pending the signing of the Lend-Lease Agreement between Norway and the United States on July 11, 1942, and of the accompanying notes of the same date. In the notes exchanged on July 11, 1942, it was stated i.a.:

“3. The Government of the United States of America recognizes that the Norwegian merchant fleet not only constitutes an important [Page 484]contribution to the war effort of the United Nations but is likewise one of the principal national assets of the Royal Norwegian Government and, accordingly that the latter Government, which is operating its Fleet for the benefit of the United Nations in the common war effort, should be assisted in replacing ships lost in the service of the United Nations. Accordingly, the Government of the United States of America will continue to review the situation with the Royal Norwegian Government with a view to assisting that Government in a program of replacement as soon as conditions permit. The two Governments agree that negotiations to this end should be commenced without delay and should be pressed to a conclusion as promptly as possible.”

Since February 1942 the position of the Norwegian merchant fleet has still further deteriorated. Since that time up to January 12, 1943, as so far reported, 1,067,980 tons dwt. have been lost (very many in service specified by your Government, all of them in the promotion of the common war effort), so that Norway has now suffered a total loss of about 2,500,000 tons or over 40% of that part of its fleet which was outside of Norway when the enemy invaded that country in April, 1940.

The losses since December 7, 1941, up to January 12, 1943, amount to 174 vessels, aggregating 1,218,178 tons. A large proportion of these vessels was lost off the Eastern seaboard of the United States, as can be seen from the attached map.10 I also enclose a statement11 showing the composition of the fleet in the possession of my Government after the invasion, including a specified statement of the lost tonnage. It will appear therefrom that our losses chiefly consist of Diesel motor ships, an important part thereof being Diesel tankers.

Immediately upon the conclusion of our Lend-Lease Agreement of July 11, 1942, I ventured to urge that the negotiations about replacement of our devastating losses be carried on without delay, and, in accordance with our exchange of notes, be pressed to a conclusion as promptly as possible. I also had the great privilege, on several occasions, to discuss this matter with the President of the United States.

Shortly before I left for a visit with my Government, temporarily residing in London, I presented to the Department of State a Memorandum, dated September 22, 1942,12 in which I set forth our position and strongly appealed for Your Excellency’s kind assistance in order that some positive action might be taken in this long pending matter.

The importance to my country of actual replacements has already been stressed on previous occasions, but you will perhaps allow me [Page 485]to remind you that no country in the world is more dependent upon shipping than Norway, whose soil is suitable for cultivation to the extent of about only 3 per cent of her area. The nation’s livelihood can be maintained only by relying heavily upon the earnings from the merchant fleet.

Our country is being exploited to the utmost by the German invaders, and with a vast amount of reconstruction work waiting to be effected, Norway will, after the war, more than ever, be dependent upon shipping. The permanent replacement of her fleet to some modest extent in advance of the peace, is, therefore, of vital importance to my country and my Government is extremely anxious that our negotiations, as contemplated in the Notes of July 11, 1942, should be pressed to a conclusion with all possible dispatch.

While these negotiations are pending, it has been suggested that, in order to utilize for the war effort the experienced Norwegian sailors, unemployed for the time being, especially the engineers practised in the handling of Diesel motors, some American newbuildings should be transferred to the Norwegian flag during the hostilities without transfer of title.

By the end of 1942, no American ship had yet been transferred to the Norwegian flag, but in a letter dated December 30, 1942, Admiral Land has been good enough to inform me that two Liberty ships scheduled for delivery at Wilmington, N. C., on January 28th and 31st next, will be made available for operation under Norwegian flag and with Norwegian crews. It is stated that the “transfer of these vessels for Norwegian operation, for employment in the war effort under the direction of the War Shipping Administration, does not contemplate a transfer of title to the Norwegian Government, but it will provide vessels for Norwegian crews who would otherwise be idle due to the loss of Norwegian shipping in war service.”

I beg to enclose for Your Excellency’s information copy of my letter in reply, dated January 5, 1943.13

While my Government appreciates this first step, it is evident that this transfer of two ships would be only an extremely modest beginning, and it is the confident hope of my Government, therefore, that they may count on Your Excellency’s continued cooperation, in order to make such transfer on a substantial scale a reality in the nearest possible future, and in order that the ships thus transferred may include not only Liberty ships, but also tankers and Diesel C boats, as mentioned in my Memorandum of November 20, 1942.13

I need hardly point out, however, that a transfer for temporary use of even a considerable number of ships would not in any way constitute [Page 486]a solution of the problem referred to in the exchange of notes between Your Excellency and myself, in connection with the Lend-Lease Agreement, viz. some definite and real replacement of Norway’s shipping losses.

My urgent request to Your Excellency, therefore, is for your continued good offices, in order that positive steps may now be taken towards filling the gaps in Norway’s sadly dwindling fleet. I may add that the Norwegian Minister of Shipping, who has arrived in this country for the purpose of furthering these questions, as well as I personally, are ready at any time to continue the discussions about this matter in order that they may be brought to the earliest possible conclusion as stated in our above mentioned exchange of notes.

Please accept [etc.]

W. Morgenstierne
  1. Not printed.
  2. Not found in Department files.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. iii, p. 80.
  5. Not printed.
  6. Not printed.