The Department of State to the British Embassy 57


The Department has been aware for some months of the desire of the British Government to have the British Overseas Airways Corporation utilize airports in Liberia under the control of the United States Government, and it has discussed this subject on several occasions with the War Department. It is understood that the matter has also been under discussion at frequent intervals between officials of the War Department and representatives of the British Air Ministry in Washington. On January 20, 1943, the problem was again raised by Sir Ronald Campbell, who stated to Mr. Berle that the question had reached an acute stage because inability of the BOAC planes to stop in Liberia had forced suspension of operations between Takoradi and Freetown.

The position of this Government, as explained in previous discussions, has been that the operation in Liberia of other than military aircraft was not contemplated under the terms of the defense agreement between the United States and Liberia and therefore could not be supported because of the clear understanding on this point entertained by the Liberian Government. Moreover, until the engagements of the United States Government in respect to the defense agreement were fully carried out, which is not at present the case, it was felt that any approach to the Liberian Government to obtain permission for the landing of British civil airplanes on transport duty would be premature. Instead, the commanding general of the United States forces in Central Africa turned over a transport plane to the Royal Air Force to permit operation by the latter of a weekly air service between Bathurst and Lagos, with a stop at Roberts Field in Liberia, which service was to be used entirely for British personnel and cargo.

There is no objection to the use of the Liberian airports by transport or cargo planes of the Royal Air Force when necessary. The difficulty lies in granting landing rights for civilian airplanes on transport duty, as distinct from military craft, under the provisions [Page 711] of the defense agreement with Liberia. Pan-American Airways, an American corporation, holds the exclusive landing rights on Roberts Field and Fisherman Lake for non-military aircraft.

On the other hand, the British Government’s view has been that the use of the Liberian airports is essential for refueling purposes in the operation of the BOAC services on the West Coast of Africa, particularly to enable the planes to make shorter flights and thus increase their useful loads. It is understood that these services are considered by the British Government to be vital to the war effort and that the increased cargoes which could be carried would materially assist in the prosecution of the war.

On November 18, 1942, a conference was held at Group Captain Merer’s office in Washington, attended by representatives of this Department, the War Department, and the Royal Air Force, at which it was agreed that information would be furnished concerning the frequency of the service and the payloads involved, and showing the extent to which the use of Liberian fields would increase the payloads. At that meeting it was also agreed that on receipt of this information the possibility of taking up the subject with the Liberian Government would be considered further, on condition that no request would be made for British installations in Liberia, that the refueling would be performed by the American military authorities, and that the facilities would be terminated at the end of the war. Up to February 9, 1943, no details along the above lines had been supplied by the British Government.

Nevertheless, in recognition of the British desire and in the hope of contributing in every way possible to an early ending of the war, the United States Government is willing to discuss this question with the Government of Liberia with a view to making temporary arrangements for BOAC planes to stop at Roberts Field for purposes of refueling by the American authorities. Such arrangements would be made on the basis of the wartime emergency and would under no circumstances be valid beyond the duration of the war.

It may be stated that this Government regards seriously its relations with the independent Republic of Liberia. The United States Government is particularly desirous of carrying out in good faith its understanding with Liberia on defense matters because of the cooperation displayed by that country in making its territory available for military purposes and in otherwise assisting the cause of the United Nations. The responsibility resting on this Government of asking the Liberian authorities to extend the interpretation of the defense agreement so as to include British civil airplanes on transport duty is considerable, because of the necessity of justifying at the conclusion of the war any of the arrangements made by or with the consent of the [Page 712] American military authorities while Liberian territory was under United States jurisdiction. This Government must be prepared to answer to the Liberian Government for all such commitments as that represented by the request of the British Government for the use of the landing fields in Liberia. Moreover, as previously mentioned, until its own engagements are fulfilled with respect to the defense of Liberia, the Government of the United States is reluctant to present to the Government of Liberia the question of landing rights for the civil airplanes on transport duty of a third country.

Finally, it may be said that the difficulty in this matter is increased by the fact that the Liberian Government is inherently suspicious of British motives, due to various acts in the past which the Liberians have interpreted as encroachments on Liberian territory from the neighboring British colony of Sierra Leone.

  1. This is a revision of an aide-mémoire (not printed), sent to the British Embassy on February 17 but returned on February 19 with various marginal notations.