811.34541D/11a: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Winant)

5736. Personal for the Ambassador. By direction of the President, the State Department in collaboration with the War and Navy Departments has for some time been considering the desirability of an approach to the Irish Government on the question of Naval and Air bases in Ireland. It is now proposed that a personal message be sent by the President to Prime Minister de Valera on this subject.

In considering this matter we have kept constantly in mind the fact that, aside from other considerations, Ireland is at the back door of Great Britain and that happenings inside Ireland are of more immediate and more direct interest to Great Britain than to the United States. An approach by the United States might possibly be received more sympathetically than a similar approach by the British Government. In view of Britain’s immediate interest, however, we desire to take no step in relation to this matter which does not have the full approval of the British authorities. We have assumed that any Naval and air facilities obtained in Ireland would be available also to British Forces, but we believe it wise in our initial approach to the Irish authorities to be silent on this point.

It is understood that the President and Prime Minister Churchill have discussed this question19 and are in agreement that an approach to the Irish authorities is desirable at this time. Before proceeding with the matter, however, we desire that the form of our proposed approach be considered and approved by the authorities in London. Will you therefore take this question up with Eden20 at once and request the views of the British Government on the proposed message from the President to Prime Minister de Valera. We believe that the time is now ripe to make an approach of this kind and we hope that the British Government will give us its views as soon as possible.

The text of the proposed message reads as follows:

“From the outbreak of war in September 1939 I have watched the efforts of the various smaller neutral nations of Europe to remain aloof from the conflict raging about them. Even when fully aware that their very existence was threatened, these nations still hesitated to join their strength to the forces resisting Axis aggression. They hoped that by refraining from measures of self protection or of assistance to their friends they might be spared. In trying so desperately to escape attack they have actually assisted the Axis forces in overrunning their [Page 148] lands. Thus they fell easy prey to Axis duplicity and were swallowed up one after the other without an opportunity for concerted resistance.

Ireland has so far escaped this unhappy fate of these other small ‘neutral’ nations, only because powerful armed resistance has stood in the conquerors’ path.

I recall that shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the German and Italian declarations of war against the United States you made a speech describing the intimate ties which bind our two countries and affirming the friendly sentiments of Ireland toward the United States in the war. In this speech of December 14, 1941 you stated:

‘Since this terrible war began our sympathies have gone out to all the suffering peoples who have been dragged into it. Further hundreds of millions have become involved since I spoke at Limerick a fortnight ago. Its extension to the United States of America brings a source of anxiety and sorrow to every part of this land. There is scarcely a family here which has not a member or near relative in that country. In addition to the ties of blood there has been between our two nations a long association of friendship and regard, continuing uninterruptedly from America’s own struggle for independence down to our own. The part that American friendship played in helping us to win the freedom that we enjoy in this part of Ireland has been gratefully recognized and acknowledged by our people. It would be unnatural then if we did not sympathize in a special manner with the people of the United States and if we did not feel with them in all the anxieties and trials which this war must bring upon them. For this reason strangers who do not understand our conditions have begun to ask how America’s entry into the war will affect our State policy here. We answered that question in advance: the policy of the State remains unchanged. We can only be a friendly neutral.’

You were good enough to have excerpts from your speech transmitted to me through the Irish Minister in Washington. I replied to you at that time as follows:

‘I have received, through Mr. Brennan, the Irish Minister in Washington, certain extracts from your speech delivered at Cork on December 14. I note with particular interest your reference to the long association of friendship and regard between our two countries, your expressions of sympathy with the people of the United States in the present conflict and your declaration of friendly neutrality on the part of the Irish Government.

I fully understand the strong desire of Ireland, and the desire of every nation not at war, to avoid active participation in the present struggle. Unfortunately, as the experience of so many nations, including our own, has so clearly demonstrated, the desire to avoid the wave of conquest provides little guarantee of national safety. On the contrary it merely gives to the aggressor the opportunity to choose the moment and manner of attack, sometimes carried out most treacherously.

I cannot let this opportunity pass without repeating what has now become the obvious, namely, that Axis aggression is now being waged on a world-wide scale, that until this aggression has been stopped by force of arms there is no security for any nation, great or small.

These are stern facts which the Irish people may well ponder today, and I feel that the American Government would be failing in its duty of deep friendship if it did not, with the wisdom of its recent experience, underline their vital significance to the Irish Government.

We do not minimize the task before us but I need scarcely tell you of the absolute confidence of the American Government and the American people in the final triumph of the cause for which we are now fighting and our determination to carry the fight through to complete victory. Happily the vast majority of mankind and the preponderance of resources are on our side. The assistance which any nation or any people may give in this struggle merely speeds the day of victory and peace and security for all nations.

Your expressions of gratitude for the long interest of the United States in Irish freedom are appreciated. The policy of the American Government now as in the past contemplates the hope that all the free institutions, liberties and independence [Page 149] which the Irish people now enjoy may be preserved for the full enjoyment of the future. If freedom and liberty are to be preserved, they must now be defended by the human and material resources of all free nations. Your freedom too is at stake. No longer can it be doubted that the policy of Hitler and his Axis associates is the conquest of the entire world and the enslavement of all mankind.

I have every confidence that the Irish Government and the Irish people, who love liberty and freedom as dearly as we, will know how to meet their responsibilities in the present situation.’

Although the Irish Government in the intervening months has in certain ways demonstrated its friendship for the United States, the fact is that we have done far more for Ireland since the outbreak of war than Ireland has done in return. In the summer of 1940 when Ireland was virtually unarmed and in deadly peril of German aggression 20,000 American rifles were supplied to the Irish Army. The American Government was unable to provide more only because we too were unarmed and were building up our own armament and because we were in addition providing arms and war supplies to those nations which were actively defending themselves against aggression.

More recently the American Red Cross, with the approval of the American Government, has undertaken to send $500,000 worth of medical supplies to Ireland. Part of these supplies have already been shipped.

Not only arms and medical and other supplies have been provided Ireland from the United States. The American Government in September 1941, in the face of a growing world shipping shortage, made available to the Irish Government by charter two American merchant ships to enable the Irish Government and Irish people to carry to their shores foodstuffs and other supplies of critical necessity.21 The chartering of these ships to the Irish Government represented a real sacrifice on the part of this country at a time when shipping space was most badly needed. In making this sacrifice we were motivated by the most friendly considerations and by the sole purpose of helping to prevent suffering and deprivation among the Irish people.

Let us contrast American help to Ireland with the Axis contribution to Irish welfare during the present war. Germany has bombed Irish cities and destroyed Irish lives and property with impunity. A German plane has sunk a ship carrying a cargo of American wheat to Ireland and Axis submarines have sunk other ships carrying supplies to Ireland. Both of the two ships chartered to Ireland by the United States and sailing under the Irish flag have been sunk by Axis submarines. The loss of these ships harms not only Ireland but the United States to whom the vessels belonged, and the whole United Nations war effort.

I believe it is now time, therefore, for Ireland to consider what steps it can take to be of assistance to the United States and the United Nations in bringing the Axis aggressors to their already certain defeat.

I am informed by our highest military and naval experts that it would be helpful to us at this stage in planning our war strategy to know that naval and air bases in Ireland would be available to American forces in the event such facilities should be needed. In the opinion of American experts the use of such facilities would, in certain contingencies, [Page 150] help to save American lives and the lives of nationals of those countries associated with us in the war.

As you say, there is scarcely a family in Ireland that does not have a member or a near relative in the United States. These Americans of Irish blood and background are loyal American citizens and are making their full contribution to the war in every way. Here at home they are supporting the war effort as loyally as any section of the American population. They are contributing their full share of fighting men for duty in the armed forces overseas. Fighting with these American soldiers of Irish blood as comrades in arms are many tens of thousands of other Irishmen from Great Britain and other countries of the British Commonwealth and including Ireland itself. The opportunity to help save the lives of these men and of all those fighting with them must surely strike a sympathetic chord in the hearts of the people of Ireland and indeed of all Irishmen everywhere.

I therefore ask in the name of the Government of the United States and on behalf of the American armed forces that the Irish Government now agree to grant to the United States, for the duration of the war and six months thereafter, permission to use existing air and naval facilities in Ireland at any time these facilities should be required and also permission to establish and use such other naval and air facilities as may be needed by American forces. I give you the solemn assurance of the Government of the United States that American forces will evacuate Irish soil at the end of the war and that the bases will be returned to the Irish Government.

It is entirely possible that Irish bases may not be needed. Further progress of the war may soon render bases in Ireland of little or no military value to us. In such event we would, of course, not exercise the permission which I now ask to use Irish bases. Nevertheless, it would be of real assistance to us now in planning our war strategy to be able to count upon the use of such bases if they should be needed. Whether American forces actually use these bases or not, Ireland would have the satisfaction of having made available to us such of its facilities as we may need to help bring the war to an end as speedily as possible and with the least possible loss of life.

An agreement on the part of the Irish Government to the foregoing effect would for military reasons be kept strictly secret.

The Irish Government, which has thus far remained strictly neutral, may be tempted to believe that, since the United Nations will win the war in any event, Ireland’s freedom is therefore amply assured whether or not Ireland offers any contribution to victory. Even if the Irish Government were inclined to pursue such a course, I frankly do not believe that it would be in Ireland’s interest to do so.

An agreement to place Irish naval and airbase facilities at the disposal of the American Government, to be used only in the event these facilities are needed, would constitute an historic step in associating Ireland with its traditional friends and in ranging Ireland on the side of right and justice—and victory—in this greatest struggle of all history.

These considerations lead me to hope that your Government will make a favorable reply at an early date.”

Please send a copy of this telegram to Mr. Gray at once for his information. The Department will send him instructions about the [Page 151] delivery of the message upon receipt of word from you that the British Government has approved this message.

  1. At the First Quebec Conference (August 17–24, 1943), or during Mr. Churchill’s visit to President Roosevelt at Hyde Park, N.Y., in August, 1943. The records of the Quebec Conference are scheduled for publication in a subsequent volume of Foreign Relations.
  2. Anthony Eden, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
  3. For correspondence on this subject, see Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. iii, pp. 215 ff.