740.0011 European War 1939/28442: Telegram

The Chargé in the United Kingdom (Matthews) to the Secretary of State

1728. My telegram No. 1665, March 8, 9 p.m.2 The text of the Soviet memorandum which Sargent has just sent me reads as follows:

“Secret. The Soviet Government, after taking cognizance of the memorandum delivered by the British Government on the 26th February, 1943,3 and giving careful consideration to all the questions contained therein, deems it necessary to state as follows:

(1) The Soviet Government has already informed the British Government that in view of the extreme difficulties of accommodating the personnel of British air squadrons in the Murmansk area, where air raids are unceasing, it considers the sending of the British air squadrons to this area unpracticable, inasmuch as the Soviet Government is able and ready itself to provide aerial protection of convoys with all the means at its disposal. The Soviet Government deems it necessary to confirm once more its former statement on the subject, avoiding any polemics on this question in a tone incompatible with our common interests.

With regard to the statement in the British memorandum that it is necessary to secure full coordination between the naval and air forces taking part in the operations, it is sufficient to mention that this task has so far been successfully carried out by the Soviet air forces, and its adequate fulfillment in the future can be fully secured. It cannot be again said [gainsaid?] that the Soviet air force has had great experience in operations for the protection of British convoys and all relative technical questions (methods of reporting the discovery of the enemy, signalling, et cetera) can be satisfactorily settled by the respective Soviet military authorities together with the British representatives.

It should be pointed out that the British air force in question would have to operate from Soviet territory and, in the first place, in Soviet zones. Consequently, the British air force first of all would have to combine its activities with the Soviet system of air protection and with the Soviet naval vessels and submarines which happened to be within the region of its operations. It is obvious also that the operations of the British air force in question would require, in a certain degree, protection from Soviet fighter planes, with which there would [Page 634]have to be the closest possible cooperation in combined operations. This task, of course, would be much more successfully fulfilled if all the aircraft were manned by Soviet personnel.

It goes without saying that if the British Government would find it possible to put at the disposal of the Soviet naval command, which has now no lack of pilots, aircraft specially earmarked for transfer to Murmansk, without British personnel, then the question of the protection of convoys would be settled still more satisfactorily.

(2) The Soviet Government cannot agree with the statement made in the memorandum that the Soviet authorities are taking certain measures which would create a serious threat to the safe passage of convoys. On the contrary, the Soviet authorities have been taking and are taking all possible measures for facilitating the arrival of convoys to the northern ports of the USSR.

With regard to the sealing of the Measoning Set, it should be pointed out that this set, which was brought at the beginning of last summer and has been in use ever since, was imported into the USSR in infringement of the existing customs rules of the USSR. A respective act was made on the 18th February, 1943, by the Chief of the Murmansk Customs House, and the British representatives were officially informed of it.

A warning must be given that the Soviet authorities cannot overlook the infringement of the established rules. However, desiring to meet halfway the request of the British Government and in order to help the successful protection of the convoys, the Soviet Government gave instructions to reconsider this question and grant to the British naval authorities permission to use the Measoning Set, [on?] condition of the coordination of its work with the Soviet naval authorities in the north.

In regard to the British radio stations in the Soviet northern ports, it has been established that, in accordance with the request of the representative of the British naval mission, Commodore Courtenay, the Soviet naval authorities on the 7th March, 1942, gave permission to install eight British radio transmitters in Murmansk, Polazmaya [Polyamoye] and Archangel. Hereby was exactly stated the limits of power for every transmitter. The British naval mission, however, without the consent of the Soviet authorities, increased the power of its transmitters, and in certain cases multiplied the original power several times. In connection with this, on the 22nd of February, 1943, the People’s Commissariat of the Navy gave instructions to the respective authorities to propose to the British representatives of the naval mission in the north to reduce the power of its radio transmitters, i.e., to bring them into conformity with the power—strength agreed upon at the beginning. The Naval Commissariat, however, has not yet given instructions to close down these transmitters. Simultaneously, it was pointed out that, if the British representatives considered it necessary to increase the power of their radio transmitters, they should apply on this question to the Soviet Naval Command for the necessary permission.

The Soviet Government would like to bring to the knowledge of the British Government that the above decisions of the Soviet naval authorities are based on the rules in operation in the Soviet Union, according to which not a single foreign radio station can be opened [Page 635]on the territory of the USSR without special permission of the competent authorities.

Taking into account the request of the British Government, the Soviet Government gave instructions that the desire of the British naval mission for a certain increase of power for the registered British radio transmitters necessary for the operation of the convoy system should, as far as possible, receive consideration on the part of the Soviet naval authorities.

(3) On the vexatious formalities mentioned in the memorandum concerning the method of disembarkation, control of British Government goods, mail, et cetera, the Soviet Government is not quite clear what is meant by the memorandum. If on this question certain concrete facts could be submitted confirming the existence of certain vexatious formalities, the Soviet Government is prepared to give instructions to remove them or possibly to modify the established rules.

Insofar as in the British memorandum are also mentioned formalities concerning the control of official and ordinary post passing through the northern ports, the Soviet Government would like to call the attention of the British Government to the following infringements on the part of British personnel:

For instance, in August 1942, on the British boat Trumble there were brought into the U.S.S.R. 22 postal packages; on the 26th August, 1942, on the boat 1–30, 23 packages; on the 18th November, 1942, 70 packages—all without the necessary permit of the Soviet authorities. The British Embassy was duly informed about these infringements of the Soviet rules and in certain cases, desiring to meet the request of the Embassy, exceptions were made and the post was allowed to go through without the necessary documents. On this question the Foreign Commissariat sent to the British Embassy letters on the 31st August, 1942, the 7th September, 1942, 8th December, 1942,. and the 19th, December, 1942. The Soviet Government therefore, is entitled to expect that the British Government will give the necessary instructions to the respective British authorities to adhere to the existing rules of the U.S.S.R. on this matter and not to infringe them.

The Soviet Government is of the opinion that in the practice of collaboration and joint work of the Soviet and British military authorities it is desirable and unavoidable that certain mutual concessions and exceptions should be made, whether on the question of visas, or receipt and despatch of post, or customs regulations, etc. The Soviet Government, however, believes that both governments must accept as a fundamental principle to honour the rules and regulations established in the other’s country and correspondingly instruct its subjects, including representatives of military authorities, to comply strictly with this principle. Moscow, March 3, 1943.”4

  1. Not printed; it reported that Sir Orme Sargent, Deputy Under Secretary of State in the British Foreign Office, had indicated that the question of convoys would soon be considered with the United States, perhaps “on the highest level”, and that “the British wish to take the position that the materials to be convoyed are here and ready if the Russians wish to come and transport them themselves; further that the British are even willing to provide the ships (though not the crews or the escort vessels).” (740.0011 European War 1939/28372)
  2. See telegram No. 1530, March 2, midnight, from the Chargé in the United Kingdom, p. 624.
  3. The difficulties faced in getting convoys through to the Soviet Union by the northern route were discussed between British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Anthony Eden, at this time in Washington, and President Roosevelt, as well as by Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill and the President by cables. In view of existing conditions, the British Prime Minister communicated the joint decision to Premier Stalin on March 30, 1943, that convoys would now be stopped, nor could they probably be resumed before early September. See Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War: The Hinge of Fate (Boston, 1950), pp. 752–755; ibid., Closing the Ring (Boston, 1951), pp. 256–258.