740.5/2–2651: Telegram

The United States Deputy Representative on the North Atlantic Council (Spofford) to the Secretary of State 1

confidential
priority

Depto 558. Following is Joint Embassy–USDep report of discussion in Commons this afternoon which followed Attlee’s statement re appointment Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, text of which being cabled separately.2

As soon as PM had finished reading statement which was listened to with close attention by House, Churchill who had been furnished copy shortly before Attlee commenced, said that in view its complex nature he wished time to study statement before determining whether or not he would ask that subject be debated later. He did, however, wish to compliment PM on having displayed more knowledge of subject than on previous occasion.

Conservative back bench did not fall in with Churchill’s suggestion that matter might be considered at another time and instead fired series [Page 478]of searching questions at Attlee including such points as who would exercise operational command of British units in Eastern Atlantic: who would be in command in Mediterranean, whether British admiral had been proposed for position Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic; who would control British merchant shipping. PM stressed that all forces in Eastern Atlantic would be under operational command of British commander and these would include not only British units but American units and those of other NATO countries. Latter replying to Churchill and Eden agreed there would be authority transfer and concentrate forces between Eastern and Western Atlantic as necessary. He said command Mediterranean not yet decided and stated definitely British merchant shipping would be allocated by British Government. He resented hotly implication that this command system had been imposed upon British. Rather there had been full discussion by military authorities and technical consultants and while the British Government naturally took full responsibility for its decision it had followed the advice British Chiefs of Staff throughout.

PM reiterated point made in opening statement that system envisaged would prove more expeditious re movement of naval vessels between Eastern and Western Atlantic than that in effect in war and pointed out in this connection that supreme commander would operate under direction standing group. Churchill took issue on these points as well, asserting Combined Chiefs of Staff had served highly useful purpose in war and that he considered it regrettable that Combined Chiefs of Staff had been dispersed. Attlee drew attention to fact that HMG had not been responsible for that action. At one point Attlee stated it had been put to government by the advisors that it was essential in wartime to have powers to transfer forces.

Twice during discussion Attlee asked that House postpone questioning until it had time to study his statement. His suggestion was shouted down on both occasions, while Speaker refused to accept point of order raised by Labor back bencher asking him to invoke cloture. Attlee who displayed increasing signs of anger continued to deplore discussions and observed “I would like everyone in this house to realize we do not want to drive rifts between Allies, but I must say some of questions from all parts of House seem to be directed towards that.” Similar line was taken by Labor back bencher who asserted action of opposition in raising issue had done more to create anti-Americanism than anything Communists had done for past three years.

Speaker finally concluded discussion despite protests by Churchill and Blackburn (Ind) after another Labor back bencher had given notice that he would raise matter on adjournment. (i.e. parliamentary maneuver which is customarily employed by opposition to obtain additional discussion of a government answer considered to be unsatisfactory, [Page 479]but in this case obviously intended to rescue PM.) Under parliamentary rules such discussion may take place on any day after usual 10 p. m. adjournment and must be voted on before consideration can be given to it. (Accordingly, no assurance in this case that question will be discussed at an adjournment although it can always be made subject of formal debate.)

House was in angry mood throughout discussion and PM did not have usual support of his own side. We therefore feel question of appointment Admiral Fechteler is still open and HMG will wish delay action Deputies but expect advise Hoyer-Millar later. In any case matter has now become domestic political issue and we have not heard last of it even though UK Government continues to stand on present agreement.3

[ Spofford ]
  1. Repeated information priority Paris as 1582, passed to MacArthur.
  2. Depto 559, not printed (740.5/2–2651). The text of Attlee’s statement may be found in Folliot, Documents on International Affairs, 1951, p. 62.
  3. In telegram 4674 from London of February 28, Ambassador Gilford reported on a speech by Emanuel Shinwell before the Foreign Press Association in which the Minister of Defense noted, inter alia, the existence of what he characterized as “impatient and ill-informed criticism” about the NATO command organization in general and the Fechteler appointment in particular. Shinwell added that it was essential that opposition leaders in British politics not be permitted to “befoul Anglo-American relations” for by so doing “we are making a gift to a potential aggressor.” This did not mean, Shinwell concluded, “that we should truckle to the United States and become a body of ‘yes men’. All that I am asking is that we should fully appreciate the tremendous significance of the American contribution and act reasonably one with another.” (740.5/2–2851)

    In telegram 4832 from London of March 8, Gifford informed the Secretary of State that the inclusion of three “Britishers” in the recently announced list of seven appointments to Eisenhower’s staff had done little to assuage British feelings in the Fechteler affair. He added that His Majesty’s Government was anxious to delay debate on the Fechteler appointment until after the Easter recess concluded on April 3 in hopes that by that time all NATO military appointments would have been announced and a White Paper issued setting forth “facts in proper perspective.” (740.5/3–851) For further documentation on Eisenhower’s subordinate command appointments, see editorial note, p. 498. The British White Paper in question, entitled The System, of Command Established Within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was published on April 17 (Calvocoressi. Survey of International Affairs, 1951, p. 29) and included as Appendixes “A” and “B” charts on The Higher Military Organization of NATO and The System of Command in NATO which are printed p. 459.