The United States Political Adviser for Austria (Erhardt) to the Secretary of State
[Received February 20—12:38 p.m.]
243. Re restitution Yugoslavian and Czechoslovakian vessels held by American forces, our last instructions are Department’s 206, October 24, authorizing movement downstream to carry out restitution policy and Department’s 404, November 15 to Belgrade,21 to notify Yugoslavian Government that authorities in US zones have been so instructed. Similar instructions USFA are WARX 85965 from JCS.21a[Page 228]
Return of these vessels has not been processed here for two reasons:
- We anticipated events and conditions regarding Russian attitude against free navigation on Danube which have been largely confirmed in interim.
- Movement past Tulln physically impossible.
Czechoslovakians have exerted no pressure locally and appear not over-anxious for return of their vessels at this time (see also last sentence Praha’s 582, November 15, warning against Soviet requisitioning, and Budapest’s telegram, January 30, repeated Vienna as 33, reporting Czechoslovakian proposal to acquire Hungarian ships without reference to their own22).
Yugoslavians have pressed for restitution their ships. While it appears possible that they would remain under Yugoslavian flag if returned to them, it is evident from all reports that Yugoslavian shipping is actually under Russian domination and control and it appears likely that return of Yugoslavian ships would operate to extend and strengthen Russian grip on river.
Subsequent events have tended to confirm estimate of the position (see my 559, December 1223); (referred to favorably in Department’s 362, December 14 and Moscow’s 4299, December 2822) in which the vessels in American hands are regarded as possessing bargaining power vis-à-vis the Soviets’ fundamental objective of [objection to?] free navigation on Danube. Russian anxiety to obtain release of American-held ships and to “own” the river has been evidenced in the DDSG case (numerous recent telegrams on this case) and conspicuously, among others, is Budapest’s telegram, January 28, repeated to Vienna as 30.23
Recent exchanges between USFET and USFA have brought out that former was processing restitution of Yugoslavian and Czechoslovakian vessels and suggested that USFET process also those in Austria. USFA did not concur on ground that political implications on the Danube were involved with which USFET might not be familiar. The question of responsibility for operation and control of all vessels in both countries in our zone has been raised and is under discussion.
Majority of Yugoslavian and Czechoslovakian vessels is in Bavaria and Rainey, Berlin, advises that RD and R, Germany, has processed claims and is about to relinquish title under WARX 85965 and that [Page 229]Berlin has received specific instructions in Department’s 167, January 19,24 to restitute (see also Berlin’s 15, February 9 to Department24).
Believe desirable treat question uniformly in Berlin and Vienna and with consideration to larger political aspect of Russian domination Danube Basin through control of river. Due to mild winter, work on clearing Tulln bridge has proceeded and channel will probably be opened soon.
Sent Department as 243; repeated to London for Radius as 27, to Praha as 9, to Berlin as 26 Belgrade.