Memorandum of Conversations, by Mr. Bainbridge C. Davis of the Division of North and West Coast Affairs

Participants: Captain Saunders, Aide to Mr. Sullivan, Assistant Secretary of Navy for Air
Bainbridge C. Davis—NWC and subsequently
Vice Admiral Ramsey, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations
Bainbridge C. Davis—NWC

During Ambassador Santamaria’s farewell call upon me today before his departure for a brief visit to Colombia, he referred to his failure to secure two demilitarized PBY–5A amphibian planes for the Colombian Air Force. I informed Ambassador Santamaria that I would make a further check to see whether any such planes would be secured at this time and accordingly called Captain Saunders (Navy extension 4590). I referred to the fact that Ambassador Wiley had talked to Secretary Forrestal7 about this during his period of consultation in Washington in November and subsequently both Ambassador Wiley and I had discussed the matter with Captain Saunders. He recalled the matter, and after discussing the situation with Admiral Spears (Director of Pan-American Affairs and United States Naval Missions) and Admiral Greer (who is about to succeed Admiral Spears), informed me as follows:

A few PBY’s have been declared surplus and will trickle in from various parts of the world but are in such bad condition that the Navy Department will declare to the Surplus Property Administration that these planes are “uneconomical of repair”. Captain Saunders would recommend that the Colombians not be encouraged in any way to obtain these planes because, while it might be possible for American [Page 650] crews with considerable experience to fly them safely after reconditioning, Colombian crews would almost certainly have unfortunate experiences with them. He added that, while at one time it appeared that there would be a considerable number of surplus PBY’s, the Navy’s plan to use this type of plane for pilot training has changed the picture and it is not intended in the near future to declare surplus any PBY’s in useable condition. (While Captain Saunders was not able to predict how long this condition would continue, he indicated, in response to my question, that it would almost certainly be true for at least the next six months.)

I informed Captain Saunders of a recent exchange of telegrams between the Department and the Embassy at Bogotá (Bogotá’s 1490 of December 18, 1496 of December 19, and Department’s 1136 of December 278), which indicated the availability of PBY’s in Canadian surplus. Captain Saunders suggested that the Colombians be advised to obtain them from Canada; and when I referred to the great stress which War and Navy had been placing upon the need for “standardization” of the military forces of this hemisphere, he replied that as these planes were of the same type and made by the same manufacturer, although in Canadian factories, he saw no objection to suggesting this source to the Colombians.

On January 9, before I had an opportunity to inform Ambassador Santamaria of the result of my conversation with Captain Saunders, the Captain phoned me again to state that developments were taking place at high levels which might result in the release of two PBY’s to Colombia. He explained that Ambassador Wiley had written to the Honorable William Bullitt9 regarding the importance of making good our promises to secure two PBY’s for the Colombian Government. Mr. Bullitt had taken up the matter with very high officials of the Navy Department and Vice Admiral Ramsey, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations, was exploring means of obtaining these two planes.

Later on January 9, Vice Admiral Ramsey telephoned me to say that he understood that Colombia was in great need of two demilitarized PBY’s and that it would be possible to make available these two planes. However, he understood that there were a considerable number of requests from other countries for PBY’s (such as fifteen for Brazil and twelve for Chile) and that it would not be possible to accede to these other requests. Therefore he wished to know whether the State Department approved of the release of the two PBY’s to Colombia on [Page 651] this basis. I replied that while we were anxious to assist Colombia in obtaining the two planes which had been promised and then denied through a series of unfortunate misunderstandings, I was not in a position to make a decision with regard to the other countries involved. I told Admiral Ramsey that I would like to consult Mr. Briggs10 or Mr. Braden11 and then inform him by telephone of our decision. He agreed to this procedure.

January 10, 1946

After consultation with Mr. Briggs, Mr. Flack, Mr. Wells12 and Mr. Dreier,13 I telephoned Admiral Ramsey to inform him that in view of the circumstances surrounding the Peruvian request for three PBY’s,14 it was the feeling of this Department that it would be politically inadvisable to supply two of these planes for Colombia without being ready to supply the three which the Peruvian Government had previously sought. Admiral Ramsey stated that it was his impression that Brazil and Chile wanted fairly substantial numbers, but I replied that our Aviation Division, our Division of Brazilian Affairs, and the Chilean desk officer had no knowledge of any such requests. And I suggested that these figures might refer to the proposed allocation resulting from staff conversations. I asked if I was correct in understanding that the proposal to release planes for Colombia was entirely separate from the staff conversation procedure (although it might, of course, make unnecessary the granting of additional PBY’s under that procedure) and Admiral Ramsey confirmed this. The Admiral stated that with regard to Peru, it was his impression that the cooperation received by, and effectiveness of our Naval Aviation Mission to Peru was not all that had been hoped for and that we are now considering the withdrawal of this mission. Under these circumstances, the Admiral did not believe that there would be a favorable disposition toward the release of PBY’s to Peru. I stated that I was not familiar enough with Peruvian matters to comment on this subject, but that it was felt here that it would not be wise to release PBY’s to Colombia and not to Peru because of the similarity of the two cases and that if these five could be made available, we felt that we would not be in a similar position with respect to requests which might be received from any other country in this hemisphere. In other words, we were limiting our request to five. Admiral Ramsey indicated that the reason for Navy’s present efforts to meet the Colombian [Page 652] demand was the direct result of a letter which Ambassador Wiley had written to Mr. Bullitt and the letter which Mr. Bullitt had thereupon written to Secretary Forrestal.

Admiral Ramsey promised to keep the two planes available for Colombia, pending an investigation as to the possibility of making available others for Peru, although he was not optimistic on this point.

I mentioned to Admiral Ramsey that this morning the Departmental Advisory Committee on Surplus Aircraft Disposal had reported the availability in Seattle, Washington, of ten PBY–5A’s in surplus; that three of these had been allocated to a United States veteran for domestic use; and that the remaining seven were still presumably available. I suggested that if these were not in unuseable condition, this might solve our problem for Colombia and Peru. The Admiral called me back in a few minutes to say that he had checked on the Seattle planes and that they were in such bad condition that they should not be made available to any foreign government.

When Admiral Ramsey called me this second time, he stated that he had found himself confronted with the additional difficulty that the Bureau of Aeronautics would have to spend a considerable sum of money reconditioning planes to replace those made available to Colombia, etc., and that he hoped that the Judge Advocate General’s office would find a legal way in which funds from the sale could revert to the Bureau of Aeronautics rather than to the Treasury Department, inasmuch as the Bureau was already suffering from restriction of funds. He mentioned this only as an additional problem and stated that he would continue his efforts to be helpful in the matter.

  1. James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy.
  2. None printed.
  3. Former Ambassador to the Soviet Union and to France.
  4. Ellis O. Briggs, Director of the Office of American Republic Affairs.
  5. Spruille Braden, Assistant Secretary of State for American Republic Affairs.
  6. Milton K. Wells, Assistant Chief of the Division of North and West Coast Affairs.
  7. John C. Dreier, Chief of the Division of American Republics Analysis and Liaison.
  8. For documentation on the allocation of planes to Peru, see pp. 1206 ff.