810.20 Defense/5–2847

Memorandum of Conversation, by the British Ambassador to the Soviet Union ( Roberts )23

top secret

Anglo-United States Conversations

The Secretary of State24 saw Mr. Marshall at 14 Prince’s Gate at 12 midday on December 18th to hear from General Robertson25 and General Clay26 their ideas for future developments in Germany. The U.S. Ambassador, Mr. Douglas, Mr. Murphy,27 and Mr. F. K. Roberts were also present. The party stayed to lunch and were joined just before lunch by the U.S. Ambassador to Poland, Mr. Griffis.

Arms for Latin America

Mr. Marshall began the conversation by saying that he would like to refer to his conversation of the previous evening with the Secretary of State about arms for Latin America. He had looked into the matter and feared that it would be quite impracticable at the present time to agree to our proposal to send jet aircraft to Argentine. He wished, however, to be helpful and he had an alternative suggestion, that so far as possible British manufacturing capacity might perhaps be accommodated to produce the type of arms for Latin America which would fit in with the American standardization program. He reminded the Secretary of State of the great difficulties which had arisen between us and the Americans at the time of Dunkirk because even our small arms ammunition was not standardized. The U.S. Government were, however, firmly opposed to our delivering jet planes or heavy bombers to Argentina. In reply to a question from the Secretary of State he said he was not worried so much about delivering warships, although, if they were ships as big as a cruiser, there would be the point about standardization of guns and ammunition. He emphasized that he was not concerned with commercial competition but entirely with the defence requirements of the western hemisphere. In his own case he had to decide, when issuing arms export licenses, how to maintain the balance between different Latin American countries so that one did not get more powerful than another. He would like us to let him know in each individual case and to give the State Department a chance of [Page 235] bringing our needs into harmony with their general defence policy. He hoped that we could arrange to coordinate our manufacture of arms on the lines he had suggested. In reply to a further question from the Secretary of State about the effect of the recent Rio agreement28 he said he was not quite sure about the details, but general agreement including the Argentine had been reached in regard to cooperation over defence, and the U.S. policy was firmly set towards standardization.

The Secretary of State explained that we had to think about our aircraft design and production. In regard to jet planes we were, he thought, well equipped although all our goods were not in the shop window. We had, however, to keep our works going by finding orders. We could not afford to take the risk of not having our production going in case there was trouble in Europe. Unlike America with its mass production, with which we could not compete, we had to rely upon our higher grade production.

Mr. Marshall repeated that the only thing to which he was absolutely opposed was the export to Latin America of jet planes and heavy bombers. Even as regards this, he would take a different view when jet planes became more common.

The Secretary of State said that he understood that as regards the commercial aspects jet planes were three to four years behind combat planes. His object was to try to keep the commercial side going. He thought we ought to consider with the Americans whether it was wise to have frequent contests which would reveal our speeds. He understood the technicians wished to compete with one another, but we might only encourage others to copy our inventions.

Mr. Marshall said he was less concerned with that aspect of the matter than with the problem of maintaining an aircraft industry producing planes which might have no value whatsoever. Since we and the Americans were maintaining our air forces not like Hitler with a definite date in view for a war, but merely in order to keep the peace, the expense was tremendous. Aircraft were so short-lived and it was difficult to get the necessary appropriations.

Some discussion then took place on the difference between Navies and Air Forces as regards length of life of aircraft and battleships.

Mr. Marshall concluded this part of the conversation by saying that the issue between the United States and the United Kingdom with regard to the Argentine was a relatively small issue as compared with the larger issue of how to keep our respective air forces up to date.

F. K. Roberts
  1. There is no indication in the Department of State files as to how this memorandum was transmitted to Washington.
  2. The British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Ernest Bevin.
  3. Lt. Gen. Brian H. Robertson, Deputy Military Governor, British Zone of Occupation, Germany.
  4. Lt. Gen. Lucius D. Clay, Deputy Military Governor, American Zone of Occupation, Germany.
  5. Robert D. Murphy, U.S. Political Adviser in Germany.
  6. For text, see Department of State, Treaties and Other International Acts Series No. 1838 or 62 Stat. (pt. 2) 1681; for documentation on the Conference held at Rio de Janeiro, see pp. 1 ff.