835.24/9–2647: Telegram

The Ambassador in Belgium (Kirk) to the Secretary of State


1496. 1. Embassy’s telegram 1451, September 21; despatch 1507, September 10.5 Called on De Gruben6 re shipment tanks and informed him intended take matter up with Acting Foreign Minister at appointment set tomorrow.

Meantime requested De Gruben furnish names of ships, dates departure, destination and number tanks to which he agreed.7 Did not disguise my concern lest these might reach Russia. He asked whether we objected to shipment to Argentina. Replied no instructions on this point except as to demilitarization.

2. De Gruben had seen photostats contract between British Disposals and Overseas Trading Corporation which contained one line requiring material to be “demilitarized”. He suggested this word might have been subject to “elastic interpretation”. Overseas Trading had informed him that distributor caps and sights were removed. I pointed out that these were trifling alterations which could be easily replaced and that “demilitarization” meant rendering them unfit for military use. He said Overseas Trading informed him that they purchased [Page 229] 1,587 tanks. I replied Van Loo8 had informed … [us] that he has purchased 3,000 tanks. I mentioned that some shipments had been described as general merchandise. He seemed obviously unhappy.

3. British … [have transmitted report to] London stating 87 tanks were shipped on Rio Diamante (see my despatch 1507 under reference) and 13 more will be shipped near future. Another 85 also to be shipped all to Argentina and that 60 or 70 tanks were shipped about a month ago direct to Argentina believed on Rio Gualeguay. British state understand some shipments were as “agricultural machinery.” British … report states tanks were disposed by British distributing 116 RVP northwestern Europe, and documents signed by officer whose signature appears to be Perkins. Van Loo says this, deal occurred 2 years ago.

4. Am informed by Hyssong9 all United States disposed material distributed OFLC was fully demilitarized so matter appears purely British lapse though it may be discovered later Canadian and Dutch: materials in Belgium also have been carelessly handled.

5. It occurs to me British may have made similar sales elsewhere in Belgium and in other countries including those where Communists; have great influence. Accordingly Department may wish request urgent information from British regarding all such sales and precise steps taken re demilitarization coupled with request that they undertake see all remaining stocks in Belgium and elsewhere are rendered unfit for military use. In this connection Embassy received report that Overseas Trading has branch in Rome and that they were sending military supplies to Bulgaria.

6. Also informed Overseas Trading Corporation purchased large amount radar and radio equipment. Stock held at Namur. My Military Attaché informs me that American radar and radio equipment can be freely purchased so these stocks may not have significance.…

7. Even assuming shipments went to Argentina and not reshipped Russia, am concerned that foregoing and future investigations may reveal disguised Russian general plan obtain available Allied military supplies from European dumps. In this connection am informed that Marcel Tralbaut, a well-known Belgian Communist who has recently made trips to Russia, has been in contact with Van Loo.

8. Reference your telegram 1353, September 25, 7 p.m.10 just received.

According to present information tanks were sold by British Disposals Commission directly to private Belgian company Overseas Trading Corporation prior to date when responsibility such transfers [Page 230] became centralized in OMA. There British not Belgian responsibility involved. Tank evidently sold as scrap and should have been demilitarized but BDC evidently lax in matter.

9. As indicated above we have made firm but informal request of Foreign Office for further information which has been promised. British Embassy also disturbed and attempting secure information from Ministry of Supply under which BDC operated.

10. Since evidence here indicated responsibility primarily British recommend our Embassy London be instructed to ask for immediate and full explanation.

Sent Department 1496; repeated London 105, Paris 122, Buenos Aires unnumbered.

  1. Neither printed.
  2. Baron de Gruben, Secretary General of the Belgian Foreign Office.
  3. In telegram 1613, October 17, 3 p.m., Ambassador Kirk reported the following shipments of tanks and tank chassis to Argentina: Formosa, sailed June 22 with 40 vehicles; Rio Gualeguay, July 13, with 85 vehicles; Rio Diamante, September 10, 87 vehicles. All of the Argentina Flota Mercante sailed from Antwerp for Buenos Aires. Other sailings on the same route were Rio Diamante, May 10; Rio Teuco, June 28; Formosa, August 30; and Rio Secundo, October 10. (835.24/10–1747)
  4. Victor P. Van Loo, head of the Belgian Overseas Trading Corporation.
  5. Maj. Gen. Clyde L. Hyssong, Office of the Foreign Liquidation Commissioner.
  6. Not printed.