811.2353/4: Telegram

The Minister in Portugal (Fish) to the Secretary of State

94. Department’s No. 81, January 16, 6 p.m. The problem of forced landings of military planes in Portugal is not a new one for ourselves or the British as the Department will observe from such communications as my 1583 November 14 [15]; 1596, November 16; 1896, December 27; and 77, January 15.23

The general policy of the Portuguese Government has always been to intern initially both crews and planes.

I know of no instance in which military planes were released. Prior to our occupation of North Africa there were few if any cases where such planes were left sufficiently intact to be worth bothering about.

As for crews it has always proved possible for both sides to get them out of the country quietly after sufficient time had elapsed to permit public interest to die down and to enable Portuguese authorities to convince themselves that due respect had been shown to the principle of Portuguese sovereignty. Of the seven American airmen who had landed and been interned here since November 6 but prior to the arrival of these last 11 planes we have already succeeded in getting five out of the hands of the authorities and we hope that they will depart tomorrow for Allied-controlled territory. This is not easy to accomplish and requires considerable delicacy of handling. Nevertheless if the American press and radio will leave this subject alone I have no doubt that we shall in due time get the remaining pilots including the 11 new arrivals out as well.

As for the planes I doubt that representations for their release would be effective and I am not sure that they would be wise. Such a request would be at variance with the established British practice. These machines arrived armed and with guns loaded in the performance of a military mission. The Portuguese would doubtless reason that if they were to depart again with impunity all belligerents would soon take much greater liberty with operations in the neighborhood of Portugal confident that if they had fueling difficulties they could always fall back on Portuguese airports to save themselves. It would not appear to me to be to our advantage to have the German long-range bombers which occasionally operate off the Portuguese coast placed in a position where they could regularly risk running short of fuel and count on the Portuguese to help them get home.

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The Military Attaché expects to discuss this matter with Portuguese military authorities this afternoon and the Department will be duly informed of the results. Meanwhile the pilots have proceeded to the usual place of internment.

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