The Secretary of State to the Secretary of the Navy (Forrestal)

My Dear Mr. Secretary: I refer to the Department’s letter of December 22, 194446 concerning the question of intra-blockade and trans-blockade shipments of relief supplies to enemy-occupied areas.

The draft reply to this letter forwarded by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy on February 9, 1945 was considered by the State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee in the light of counter-arguments presented by the State Department representative on that Committee (see SWNCC 24 and 24/147). On March 5, 1945 SWNCC advised the State Department of an agreement reached by it for continuation of the relief program from Sweden to Norway provided the average monthly shipments are limited to 1,000 tons and are restricted to relief supplies and provided that any additional relief shipments are referred to the War and Navy Departments for decision.

It is my desire in this letter to raise for further and urgent consideration the question of relief shipments from neutral countries inside the blockaded area to enemy-occupied territory. As a practical matter the only neutral country involved is Sweden and the enemy-occupied areas consist principally of Norway and occupied Holland.

As the result of the discussion of this matter in SWNCC, it was decided to delegate to a subcommittee composed of representatives of the War, Navy, and State Departments, and an observer from the Foreign Economic Administration the function of receiving and considering such proposals. The War Department representative, however, in the light of the position expressed in the JCS letter of December 248 considers that he is without authority to take a favorable position on behalf of the War Department on any proposal of this character. Consequently, although various proposals have been submitted for consideration, only one such proposal thus far has been agreed to by the military authorities and in that case agreement was given only as the result of intervention in the matter by the [Page 47] President. In effect, therefore, the position now adhered to by the military authorities, if not altered, amounts to the implementation of the policy suggested by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in their letter of December 2, proposing that this Government adopt as a policy the position that no relief shipments, regardless of origin, should be permitted to enemy-occupied territory.

In its administration of the European blockade, prior to the entrance of the United States into the present war, the British Government took a favorable attitude in regard to the movement of relief supplies from neutral countries within the blockaded area to enemy-occupied territory in cases where adequate safeguards could be set up in regard to distribution and the amounts involved were not unduly large. Upon its entrance into the war, this Government accepted this position and relief shipments of this nature continued to be made from time to time, with the approval of the blockade authorities. The Allied military authorities were fully aware of this policy and until objection thereto was expressed in the JCS letter of December 2, no military objection to this policy had ever been put forward. The Allied Governments likewise were fully familiar with this policy and relied upon it as a settled and continuing policy.

The policy was adopted as a means of relieving pressure on the Governments responsible for the maintenance of the blockade in favor of granting exceptions to the blockade in order to permit the direct shipment of relief supplies from overseas to the civilian populations of the occupied countries. The policy served its purpose well since, as you know, during the period when such shipments might have had an adverse effect on Allied military success, authorization for trans-blockade shipments to occupied countries was withheld except in the special case of Greece. The policy regarding intra-blockade relief shipments had an important political value also in that it afforded a means of giving encouragement to resistance groups, served to strengthen the internal political position of the Governments in exile thereby tending to reduce the danger of political unrest following liberation, and made it possible for the blockading Governments to demonstrate in a practical way their concern for the plight of the civilian populations of the occupied countries, without permitting the introduction of supplies into the blockaded area which were not already available for purchase by the enemy.

The effect of the position taken by the Joint Chiefs of Staff is to reverse this Government’s position on the question of intra-blockade relief shipments at a time when the Department of State is at a complete loss to advance to the interested governments any reasons for a change in that policy. The Joint Chiefs of Staff gave no reasons for [Page 48] this change in position in their letter of December 2 and no reasons have subsequently been put forward except that to introduce from any source supplies into an enemy-occupied country is tantamount to making such supplies available to the enemy and thereby prolonging the war. The fact is that enemy requisitions in occupied territory are made without reference to the needs of the native population. Such requisitions are neither increased nor decreased by the possibility of relief shipments into the area concerned. Such shipments, therefore, serve only to fill a void arising in part from enemy requisitions which otherwise would remain unfilled. Experience has shown that, under adequate safeguards in regard to distribution, relief supplies do reach the persons for whom intended.

In the light of SHAEF’s recent authorization for the introduction from any source whatsoever of relief supplies for the civilian populations of the Channel Islands, La Rochelle, the islands of Oleron and Re, and the occupied portion of the Netherlands, the Department of State feels even more strongly than it did at the time its letter of December 22 was prepared that the movement of modest amounts of relief supplies from neutral countries to enemy-occupied territory under proper safeguards as to distribution is of little, if any military significance and is a question which must and should be decided on economic warfare and political bases.

I, therefore, most strongly urge that the Joint Chiefs of Staff be requested to reconsider the position taken in their letter of December 2, 1944 and maintained since that time, and that they inform the Department of State that from the military point of view no objection will be offered to the movement of reasonable quantities of relief supplies from neutral countries within the blockade area to enemy-occupied areas under such safeguards and conditions as the blockade authorities deem advisable. This has been the practice followed by the British military authorities. Consequently, under present circumstances that Government in meritorious cases is able to take immediate action on such proposals. This Government is not in such a position and, therefore, the onus for holding up shipments to which the British are agreeable falls on this Government. This matter has taken on an added degree of urgency as the result of a recent telegram from the American Ambassador at London,50 a copy of which, in paraphrase, is enclosed. It will be noted that a meeting in London was originally scheduled for March 28 to discuss Norwegian relief matters. That meeting has been postponed until April 4 and the Department is suggesting that it be put forward another week by which time the Department hopes to be in a position to dispel the [Page 49] confusion which now exists and to give the Embassy further guidance as to the position it should take. I should, therefore, be grateful if this matter were treated as one of the greatest urgency.

I am sending a similar letter to the Secretary of War.

Sincerely yours,

Edward R. Stettinius