811.79658/3–245: Telegram

The Minister in Sweden (Johnson) to the Secretary of State

817. Department’s 373, February 28, 7 p.m.76 Obtaining the release of interned bombers is one of the most delicate matters which could be taken up with the Swedish Government; and in my considered judgment our only chance of achieving our objective in this connection is through careful preparation of the ground in interested quarters prior to making formal request. Accordingly in the absence of the [Page 758]Foreign Minister77 and Mr. Boheman,78 I arranged to broach the question informally to Messrs. Assarsson79 and Hägglöf80 on February 26. The latter happened to be in Stockholm that day and I felt it would be helpful to have him present at the meeting, since his good offices had already been requested by General Anderson, Deputy Commander Operations United States Strategic Air Forces in the course of conversations regarding the matter in London last January. I found both Assarsson and Hägglöf sympathetic but pessimistic and strongly of the opinion that formal request for the release of our interned bombers should not be made until as many as possible of the interested individuals and agencies of the Government had been apprised of the advantages that would accrue to Sweden from meeting the request. I pointed out to them that the Swedish Government had already established a precedent which might well serve as a spring board for the desired action. This was the Swedish Government’s decision to release interned Allied airmen “on account” (Legation’s 3895, September 26, 10 p.m., 194481 and related correspondence). I also stressed the obvious political advantages to Sweden from meeting our wishes in this matter and urged that under existing conditions no action should be regarded as impossible, that responsible officials should pursue a “can do”, not a “can’t do” policy. They agreed to help insofar as practicable and in this connection they undertook at my request to endeavor to keep the minds of responsible officials open, so that a negative attitude on the part of the Government would not develop while high officials with whom decision will rest were being informally prepared.

I had this first informal approach followed up by Gumming and Ravndal82 who discussed the subject informally with Grafström;83 and I am having General Kessler prepare the military particularly General Nordenskiöld.84

General Kessler has authority to give the Swedes up to 20 aircraft in exchange for the release of our flyable interned bombers and he will attempt to arouse support for our request by letting it be known that we would be prepared to let the Swedes have free of charge the bombers we have loaned them for civil aviation purposes as well as the five [Page 759]fighters now interned here. He hopes that the opportunity of acquiring those bombers free will interest those concerned with ABA and SILA85 and that the chance of getting five fighters immediately and free will gain support for our request from the Swedish Air Forces which badly needs them.

Grafström who has informally been apprised of what General Kessler is prepared to offer expressed the opinion following discussion with Assarsson and Hägglöf and presumably other high officials of the Government that an offer of a gift of the nature indicated would not have the supposed appeal. He said that our request would be regarded by some members of the Government as tantamount to a request that the Swedish Government take the status of a nonbelligerent and in consequence would require something far-reaching to get the Government’s acquiescence. He suggested that we should be prepared to offer to undertake parallel conversations relating to some of Sweden’s postwar interests. Asked what he had in mind in this connection, he replied that he would let us know after he had explored the matter with officials of the government. Mr. Cumming at this point expressed to Grafström as his personal view that the higher the questions went into the stratosphere of policy the more two considerations would be pointed up: (a) Sweden’s pursuit of a policy of neutrality during the time we have been fighting the war at such a terrific cost in lives and material and (b) the relatively few matters which can be treated as purely of Swedish-American concern.

A further progress report will be submitted following General Kessler’s conversation with General Nordenskiöld which will occur as soon as practicable, the latter’s return from maneuvers, possibly tonight. See my immediately following telegram.

Johnson
  1. Not printed.
  2. Christian E. Günther.
  3. Erik C. Boheman, Under Secretary of the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
  4. Per Vilhelm Assarsson, Assistant Under Secretary of the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
  5. Gunnar Richardson Hägglöf, Swedish Minister to Belgium and the Netherlands, and former Chief of the Commercial Section of the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
  6. Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. iv, p. 691.
  7. Christian M. Ravndal, Counselor of Legation.
  8. Sven Grafström, Deputy Director of the Department of Political Affairs of the Swedish Foreign Ministry.
  9. Gen. Bengt Nordenskiöld, Commander in Chief, Royal Swedish Air Force.
  10. Svensk Interkontinental Lufttrafik AB (Swedish Intercontinental Air Traffic, Inc.).