Memorandum, of Conversation, by the Chief of the Division of Greek, Turkish, and Iranian Affairs (Jernegan)


Subject: Turkish Interest in Transfer of Italian Naval Vessels to the Soviet Union.

Mr. Esenbel1 called to confirm certain information given Mr. Berkol, Second Secretary of the Embassy, by Mr. LeBreton. He said that Mr. Berkol was not familiar with these matters and he wished to be quite sure that he had fully understood what Mr. LeBreton said. I said I understood that he had particular reference to the impending transfer to the USSR, as reparations, of thirty-three Italian naval vessels, a subject he had discussed with Mr. Satterthwaite last week. We had taken this up with the Division of Southern European Affairs, and our conclusion was substantially as follows:

The obligation to deliver the vessels in question arose from the Italian Peace Treaty, which was a binding international document, and the Department could see no way in which it could relieve the Italian Government of its obligation. We understood that the Italian Government might make one further attempt to avoid delivery or at least delay it, and it was of course in the interest of Italy to do so. We would not raise objection to this, and we considered it unnecessary to make any approach to the Italian Government in view of the circumstances.
I was told that upon receipt of the Italian ships, the Soviet Union would be obliged to return a cruiser to the United States and a battleship and certain cruisers to Great Britain. Consequently, it did not appear that the strength of the Red Fleet would be increased by the Italian transfer. Many of the Italian vessels involved were auxiliaries, not combat ships, and the two battleships were more or less obsolete.
It did not seem to me that the fact that the Italian vessels would [Page 985] be delivered in the Black Sea made any change in the situation. If the Soviets wished to reinforce their Black Sea fleet they could always do so by moving ships from the Baltic.
Soviet insistence on obtaining the Italian vessels would certainly be bad propaganda for the USSR in Italy, in view of the fact that the other major powers had largely renounced their right to receive Italian warships as reparations.

  1. Melih Esenbel, Turkish Chargé d’Affaires.