Truman Papers

No. 386
Memorandum by the Assistant to the President’s Naval Aide (Elsey)1
top secret

Disposition of German Ships

On 23 May 1945, Stalin cabled to President Truman2 and Prime Minister Churchill that not a single German naval or merchant vessel had surrendered to Soviet forces. The question naturally arose, said Stalin, as to how the Soviet Union would obtain possession of one-third of the German ships which “rightfully and justly” should be allotted to it. He also said that he considered it necessary for the Red Navy to have the opportunity of examining all documents on the surrender and the current state of German ships.

Churchill replied to Stalin on 27 May that “These matters should form part of the general discussion which ought to take place between us.”3

Before the President had answered Stalin, however, Mr. Hopkins reported a discussion he had had with Stalin.4 On 28 May, he cabled:

“Two nights ago Stalin indicated that the Soviet Government had a number of questions which were annoying them concerning recent actions of the United States Government. I asked him last night if he would tell me frankly what they were. Stalin said the Soviet Government felt that the attitude of the United States seemed to [Page 563] promptly cool towards the Soviet Union once it became clear that Germany was defeated.”

One example Stalin cited in support of his criticism of the United States was the failure of the Soviet Union to receive any indication from the British and American Governments that it would receive at least one-third of the German Navy and merchant fleet.

Mr. Hopkins assured Stalin that there was no intention on the part of the U. S. Government to withhold from the Soviet Union its just share of surrendered German equipment and material.

The President added his assurance to that of Mr. Hopkins on the 29th.5 He thanked Stalin for his message of the 23rd and said that he was sure a fully acceptable solution could be reached at the Berlin Conference. “Regarding the available records of the German naval surrender,” he concluded, “it is my understanding that examination of German files is now being considered by our appropriate commanders in the areas concerned.”

The next day Mr. Hopkins reported to the President that Stalin had appointed Admiral Levchenko to a Four Power Naval Commission to consider the disposition of the German fleet.

There has been no reference to captured and surrendered German shipping since 30 May in the President’s messages in the Map Room.

It may be noted that neither the President nor the Prime Minister has yet indicated to Stalin that the Soviet Union will receive “at least one-third” of German shipping for which Stalin has asked.

G. M. Elsey
  1. Submitted to Leahy July 1 and subsequently forwarded to Truman.
  2. Following is the English translation of Stalin’s message transmitted to Truman by the Soviet Embassy, Washington, on May 23 (Truman Papers):

    “Personal and secret from Premier J. V. Stalin to President H. S. Truman.

    “According to data of the Soviet Military and Naval Command, Germany, on the basis of the capitulation act [instrument of surrender], has surrendered all her naval and merchant vessels to the British and the Americans. I have to inform you that the Germans have refused to surrender to the Russians even a single naval or merchant vessel having directed their entire fleet for [to?] surrender to the Anglo-American armed forces.

    “Under such circumstances, naturally, [there] arises the question that the Soviet Union be allotted its share of military and merchant vessels of Germany as it was done, in due time, in respect to Italy. The Soviet Government considers that it can rightfully and justly count on the minimum of one third of the naval and merchant vessels of Germany. I consider it also necessary that the representatives of the Naval forces of the USSR be provided with the opportunity to acquaint themselves with all documents on the surrender of naval and merchant vessels of Germany and also with the virtual [present?] state of the surrendered fleet.

    “On its part, the Soviet Naval Command appoints for this purpose Admiral Levchenko with a group of assistants.

    “I am sending a similar message to Prime-Minister Churchill.”

  3. See document No. 141.
  4. For a memorandum of the discussion referred to, see document No. 25.
  5. See document No. 143.