Memorandum Prepared by the Department of State for the State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee 8

The Department has never been inclined to minimize the military aspects of relief operations in enemy-occupied territory but in view of the strong political as well as humanitarian reasons for alleviating to some extent the distress of Allied civilian populations, it has taken the position that in so far as military and economic warfare considerations permit, limited assistance should be brought to these peoples.

This policy has been followed since before our entry into the war. The largest relief operation of this nature was the Greek relief [Page 29] scheme.9 This involved large shipments through the blockade and, of course, had the consent of the Allied military authorities. So far as the Department is aware, no allegation has even been made that this relief program adversely affected military operations. It did, however, serve to prevent mass starvation in the urban centers of Greece during the German occupation. No responsibility was lifted from the shoulders of the Germans since, as evidenced by the death figures during the horrible winter of 1940–41, the Germans had no intention of furnishing food to Greece. In the other then occupied areas, such large-scale relief measures were neither necessary nor desirable. We did, however, find it practicable and politically desirable to send through the blockade certain medical supplies and to facilitate the movement from neutral sources of supply of special foodstuffs for the benefit of children and women who received scant consideration from the occupying authorities.

There are now only two areas remaining under enemy occupation where the question of relief prior to liberation arises, i.e. the occupied portion of the Netherlands10 and Norway.

In the case of the Netherlands the situation by late fall of 1944 had deteriorated to such an alarming degree that from the humanitarian and political point of view it was essential to bring some measure of aid if military considerations permitted. As noted in the attached memorandum of November 8, 1944,11 the matter was considered by the Combined Chiefs of Staff who left the decision in the case to General Eisenhower.12 General Eisenhower not only concurred as to the desirability of sending assistance to this area but urged that it be done. Approximately 5,000 tons of Swedish produce have gone forward to this area. Further shipments aggregating somewhat more than 5,000 tons are ready to go forward. The Department of State has recently been informed by the American Embassy at London that the military authorities, instead of merely tolerating these shipments are anxious for operational as well as political reasons that there be no delay in sending further consignments. The military authorities, rather than expressing apprehension that such shipments might adversely affect projected military operations, have taken the position that failure to send further consignments would so affect those operations. Such a [Page 30] situation may well arise in Norway, if in fact it has not already arisen. It is essential, therefore, that we be in a position to take immediately such further relief action there, in consultation with the theatre commander, as may be required.

The draft reply enclosed with SWNCC 2413 suggests that from the military point of view civilian relief is important only in a period following liberation of enemy-occupied territory by our forces. London’s telegram 149814 indicates quite clearly that the military authorities in the field are of the opinion that in certain circumstances at least it is of equally urgent importance for military reasons to alleviate famine conditions even prior to liberation by our forces. Norway may soon fall into this category.

With reference to the objection to these relief operations based on the added burden on Allied shipping and port facilities, the Department can only reiterate the statement made in its letter of December 2214a that only neutral shipping not otherwise available for the Allied war effort would be employed. Few, if any, port facilities available to the Allies would be used. It cannot be seen how supplies sent under such programs can have any effect on military requirements since such supplies come from civilian allocations or neutral sources.

Considerable importance seems to be attached to the possibility of such operations resulting in benefit to the Germans by relieving them of the burden of provisioning civilian populations under their control. The fact is well known that this burden, while imposed on the occupying power by international law and practice, is not discharged by the Germans when it is inconvenient for them to do so. We have never proposed sending supplies to areas where the need is not so great as to prove conclusively that the Germans either cannot or will not provide adequately for the civilian population there. To provide a small measure of assistance in such circumstances relieves the Germans of a burden in theory only but not in practice.

The Department of State has received word from London that the British Prime Minister apparently now tends toward a relaxation in blockade policy to permit relief shipments from overseas. While specific reference is made to Holland, the same attitude can be expected to be taken as regards Norway if conditions there continue to deteriorate. Growing pressure is developing in favor of increased relief measures in Norway and it is understood that the Norwegian Crown Prince15 will shortly approach the President on this point. If the British Government agrees to increased relief for Norway, this change in its attitude can be attributed in no small measure to the position [Page 31] heretofore taken by this Government on the basis of correspondence exchanged between the Department and the J.C.S. on this subject in 1944. That correspondence is referred to in some detail in the Department’s letter of December 22, 1944.

For high political reasons the Government of the United States cannot about-face now in its attitude toward this general question. Aside from the important political reasons involved, the foregoing demonstrates that in certain circumstances relief programs in occupied territory are not detrimental to the prosecution of Allied military operations but, on the contrary, may be contributory to their success.

  1. Circulated in the State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee as document SWNCC 24/1, dated 15 February 1945.
  2. For documentation regarding the food relief program for Axis-occupied Greece, see Foreign Relations, 1943, vol. iv, pp. 167 ff., and ibid., 1944, vol. v, pp. 179 ff.
  3. For documentation regarding the negotiations for the establishment of a food relief program for German-occupied Europe in 1944, see ibid., 1944, vol. ii, pp. 252 ff. For documentation regarding the interest of the United States in 1945 in providing relief supplies for the people of the Netherlands, see ante, pp. 1 ff.
  4. Not printed.
  5. General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force.
  6. Supra.
  7. Not printed.
  8. Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. ii, p. 296.
  9. Prince Olav, Commander in Chief of the Norwegian Armed Forces.