ISA/MDAP Files: Lot 52–26

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Director, Office of Military Assistance, Department of Defense (Lemnitzer)1

top secret

Memorandum for the Record

Subject: Record of Conversation between Secretary Marshall and Mr. Erasmus, South African Minister of Defense.


u.s. south africa
Secretary Marshall Mr. Francis C. Erasmus, Minister of Defense;
Major General Lemnitzer, OSD Mr. Hubert F. Cuff, Secretary for Defense;
Colonel A. Drexel Biddle, Army Major General Christian L. DuToit, Chief of General Staff;
Captain Craig, OSD Brigadier Klopper
Major George, OSD Ambassador G. P. Jooste
Colonel DeVos, Combined Air Military Attaché
[Page 1840]
Mr. Erasmus discussed the strategic importance of South Africa and the security problems with which it is faced. He stated that South Africa is proposing to hold a conference somewhere on the African Continent during the early part of 1951 to discuss security problems with the nations concerned, particularly the British, French, and Belgians. He hoped that the U.S. would be able to send a representative to this conference as an observer.
Under present plans South Africa intends to make one armored division and one fighter bomber squadron available for the defense of the African Continent. He envisaged that the most likely threat existed in the Northeast part of the Continent and that the South African forces would also be available for employment in the Middle East.
The South African Government has a serious internal security problem which stems from the fact that the population comprises 2½ million whites and 8 million blacks or Indians. To meet this situation Home Guard units were organized and partially equipped.
At the present time the South African armed forces are practically “naked” as regards equipment. Their primary needs include tanks, weapons and other equipment for the armored division; radar for air defense purposes, Navy patrol aircraft for antisubmarine patrol of the 3,000 miles of coastal sea lanes adjacent to South Africa and jet fighters for the fighter bomber squadron.
He indicated that he and his delegation had been to London to discuss the South African equipment requirements with Defense Minister Shinwell and the British Staffs. He indicated that the required equipment could be built in the U.K. but the financial terms were such that South Africa was unable to meet them. He told Mr. Shinwell that he was coming on to Washington to discuss South African equipment requirements with U.S. officials.
Secretary Marshall explained that since the Minister’s last visit to Washington in August 1949,2 Congress had approved an amendment to the MDAP legislation in such a way that it was now possible for reimbursable aid to be extended to South Africa, and had amended procedure on payments in such a way as to make it much more acceptable to nations obtaining assistance from us.
Secretary Marshall asked how we should proceed in dealing with this problem and I recommended that the subject is being explored by the South African staff with appropriate Defense staffs with a view to obtaining information regarding amounts of equipment involved, availabilities and costs. Upon receiving this information, if the South Africans decided to request U.S. equipment under Section 408 (e) of [Page 1841] the MDA Act, a formal request could be submitted by the South African Embassy through the Department of State. I then explained the general features of Section 408(e), as amended, and I agreed to furnish the South African Embassy with copies of Public Law 329 and 621 in order that they could study the provisions under which equipment would be provided (copies were furnished on the afternoon of 5 October).
During the discussions the South African delegation did not mention the possibility of a barter arrangement using uranium ore to pay for equipment purchased from the U.S., as was proposed during their visit in August 1949, nor did they indicate why they were unable to meet British financial requirements for any equipment purchased in the U.K.
L. L. Lemnitzer

Major General, U.S. Army
  1. The source text was circulated in the Office of the Mutual Defense Assistance Program, Department of State, by its Deputy Director, John O. Bell. A copy was also provided to the Office of European Affairs of the Department of State.
  2. Regarding the visit under reference, see Perkins’ memorandum to the Secretary of State, October 2, p. 1832.