The United States Political Adviser for Germany (Murphy) to the Director of the Office of European Affairs (Matthews)
Dear Doc: I presume that at some point in the Paris meetings the question of Danube navigation will be considered. With this in mind, the following view of the current problem as we see it from Berlin may be helpful.
As you undoubtedly know, there are some 500 vessels of all types now anchored in the U.S. Zone in Germany in the neighborhood of Passau. In addition, there are some 350 in the U. S. Zone, Austria, in the neighborhood of Linz. These vessels in the U. S. Zones, Germany and Austria, represent about ⅓ of the pre-war Danube fleet [Page 249]and we understand that current construction resulted in maintaining approximately the same number throughout the war. Therefore, on the Danube in countries under domination of the Russians, there are approximately 1600 vessels of all types compared with approximately 850 in zones under the control of the U. S. However, all reports from the Danube area indicate that the Soviets have removed to Russian rivers a large number of barges and tugs, so that at present there is a critical shortage of vessels, and particularly tugs, on the Danube below Vienna. So far as we know, all shipping on the Danube below Vienna is under the direct control of the Soviets. Moreover, they have formed shipping companies in Hungary and Yugoslavia at least, which are jointly owned by nationals of these countries and the Soviet Government.
No Danube traffic whatever is moving between the Soviet and U. S. Zones of occupation in Austria. Officially, traffic between the two zones is said to be impossible because the destroyed bridge at Tulln above Vienna prohibits the passage of vessels. Actually, vessels can pass this bridge and the obstruction could have been removed several months ago if either U. S. or Soviet forces wished to do so. Very few vessels have passed from Linz to Vienna and some of these have been fired upon by Soviet Forces.
During the Council of Foreign Ministers in September, Secretary Byrnes directed a telegram to the U. S. Forces in Austria and Germany, instructing them to withdraw all Danube ships under the control of U. S. forces into Bavaria and to withhold any restitution of these vessels pending some agreement with the Soviets. In January 1946, instructions were forwarded from State and War to restore and restitute Czech and Yugoslav vessels at once, and we gathered that the Department had decided not to make an issue of Danube shipping at that time. However, military and State Department representatives, both in Austria and Germany, dragged their heels and Erhardt cabled the Department urging that restitution be delayed until some working agreement had been reached with the Soviet occupation forces providing for free navigation on the Danube. After the Soviet forces in Austria had seized the offices of the first Danube shipping company (British Sector of Vienna) the attitude of the Department apparently stiffened, and new orders were forwarded through the War Department to withhold restitution of vessels belonging to countries under Soviet domination. Reports from Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia indicate that the owners of vessels do not wish to have them returned at this time, even though the governments of those countries have pressed for restitution.
In March, Soviet transport representatives made an indirect approach to U. S. Transport representatives in Vienna, apparently with [Page 250]the idea of arranging some working agreement with the U. S. forces which would permit traffic throughout the entire stretch of the Danube and which also might lead to the restitution of some vessels, particularly tugs, from the U. S. Zones to Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Hungary, etc. In other words, there is every indication that the Soviets were not happy about the frozen frontier on the Danube and were having their own traffic difficulties in areas under their control. With this development in mind, Colonel Holmer, Deputy Director of Transport, OMGUS, and Rainey of my office, together with Lt. Col. Tunold, Director of Transport Division USFA and McIvor of Erhardt’s office, worked out the attached paper recommending certain practical steps to be taken when and if the Soviets openly approached our representatives in Vienna. They felt that any agreement in principle which might be reached between the four powers at the Paris Conference or by direct intergovernmental negotiations must necessarily be reinforced by a very practical working relation with the Soviets in order to assure unrestricted traffic. Moreover, they assumed that the Soviets would discuss the Danube only with U. S. representatives and not with the French and British. You may recall that the Soviet reply to Secretary Byrnes’s plan for international control of waterways proposed at the September Council of Foreign Ministers was to the effect that control of waterways was a concern of the respective Zone Commanders. This attitude has been reaffirmed in relation to the Rhine and Elbe at Transport Directorate meetings in Berlin. The Soviet attitude, opposing French and British participation in any control of the Danube, is apparently based on the fact that neither of these countries occupies territory on the Danube—and further on a basic opposition to French and British representation on any re-established Danube commission.
The paper of recommendations referred to above was approved by myself and General Clay, together with the Directors of Transport and Restitution Division in OMGUS, and returned to Vienna. We have not yet heard whether representatives concerned in USFA also concur in the recommendations. In the meantime, the paper was forwarded to the Department for comment. The cabled reply48 would seem to indicate that the Department is not prepared to take the initiative for bilateral negotiations with the Soviets to establish some sort of control over the entire course of the Danube, at least not without obtaining concurrence from British and French. Moreover, there seems to be some question about deferring restitution of Danube watercraft until some satisfactory regulatory body is established for the entire length of the Danube.[Page 251]
This hesitation on the part of the Department seems somewhat inconsistent with the statement of policy on the Danube forwarded from the Department to diplomatic and military missions during February, and we are therefore uncertain as to the basic issue. Is the Department prepared to withhold restitution of Danube vessels until some working agreement is reached with the Soviets, and is the Danube to become an issue in the settlement of peace treaty provisions?
We understand that it would be undesirable to take any action which might prejudice the French and British position in regard to some future international Danube commission, and we recognize their special interests in Danube navigation. However, we believe they realize the necessity for bilateral negotiations between U. S. and Soviet occupying forces to open the entire river for navigation. Their interests surely will not be lost sight of in the event of such negotiations, nor would their future participation in international control of the river be prejudiced. Just now the most urgent problem is to get some sort of agreement with the Soviet occupying forces which will permit the safe movement of ships on the river. We believe this can be done only through bilateral agreement with the Soviets which would protect vessels of the riparian states from seizure by Soviet military forces.
Control by the Soviets of all Danube navigation from the Austrian border to the Black Sea is now reported to be complete. The same domination, through “joint companies” or seizure of ex-enemy craft, would undoubtedly be extended to include Austria, if it were not for the presence of U. S. forces above Linz. In actual fact, then, there is unilateral control of the major part of the river. Certainly it would be unrealistic to expect a change in the present trend toward complete Soviet domination of the entire river, with consequent exclusion of French and British interests, unless the U. S., as the one other occupying power on the Danube, takes a very firm stand in opposition. Because the Soviets have removed from the Danube a substantial number of vessels, particularly tugs, those 800 vessels held by the U. S. forces constitute greater bargaining power than originally believed, and the most important factor in negotiations with the Soviets. If the withholding of these vessels causes the Soviets to discuss some agreement with the U. S., then our cooperation should be based flatly on (1) free movement for vessels of all nationalities, (2) U. S. representation on a traffic body to insure that vessels are not seized and that shipping companies, not yet absorbed by the Soviet system, may operate under U. S. protection. There could be no actual freedom of movement unless U. S. and Western European personnel, as well as vessels under the U. S. flag, are permitted to operate [Page 252]throughout the length of the river. Of course these qualifications alone, in any Soviet-U.S. agreement, cannot effectively counteract Soviet domination of the Danube unless other and more far-reaching political changes take place in the Danube basin, but they should be basic in any temporary plan to initiate traffic.
- Telegram 982 to Berlin, April 26, 1946; not printed.↩