740.5/4–2851: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Embassy in the United Kingdom 1

top secret

4957. Eyes only Gifford and Spofford. JCS do not want to proceed with designation Adm Fechteler as SACLANT.2 Last statement Shin well in Commons April 193 and several personal statements by high Brit naval officers to US colleagues indicate beyond reasonable doubt that Fechteler not considered as exercising real command authority entire Atlantic, that Brit Adm commanding North Eastern sector would have de facto absolute powers with result that Brit attribute to Fechteler little more than role of purveyor US naval forces to Brit Commander in North Eastern Atlantic. Such interpretation Fechteler’s role and powers unacceptable to US. Also obvious that Brit patriotism has been aroused by Churchill’s political exploitation of Fechteler appointment. Furthermore, we have clear indication UK [Page 518]Gov now anxious for completion Fechteler appointment as facilitating subsequent designation Brit Adm as Supreme Commander Mediterranean. Latter would be unwelcome to Fr, Itals, Greeks and Turks and probably to other interested nations in addition to being unacceptable to us and to SACEUR who vitally interested in closest coordination between SHAPE and future Mediterranean Command organization and to whom the President has assigned operational control of US ships in Med. State shares JCS concern on these developments. Therefore we have concluded that the whole naval command problem shld be reviewed as an inter-related and interdependent whole by the Mil Comite and have in mind instructing Spofford to introduce resolution to this effect in Deps.

We are, however, full aware of pol importance this entire issue in UK and of possible unfavorable effect of such a course of action upon an already insecure Brit Gov. How we can proceed presents a real problem. Despite the fact that Adm Sherman offered to review the situation when he conferred with the Brit Chiefs in London in early March4 and again by dispatch to Lord Fraser in mid-April, this is not generally known. Therefore any action on our part wld have the appearance of our having deliberately held our hand until the Brit Gov was thoroughly committed and then refusing to act simply to embarrass the Gov and to contribute to its downfall. This same argument wld also hold if it was decided to hold an election in the near future until time elections were over.

There seem to be two alternatives open to us in the circumstances: one is for us to ask for review of the matter which has the disadvantages mentioned above; and the second wld be for the Brit to ask for a review of the whole situation which of course wld be very difficult for them to do now in view of what has just happened in the Commons. They cld perhaps however do this at some time in the future basing it on the reason that a study of the Mediterranean Command situation had revealed that the whole naval picture shld be studied together and asking that it be approached from that point of view. A delay shld be possible on Fechteler appointment if the Brit did not press for action in the Deps.

However if the review is to be any good it might well result in an American commander in the Mediterranean or a split command in the Atlantic with the UK commanding the North Eastern part. This wld be for all intents and purposes buying Churchill’s contentions and it seems unlikely that the present Brit Gov cld agree to any such set up.

We are very anxious to get urs and Spofford’s advice as to how to [Page 519]proceed.5 On mechanics it is our feeling here that the matter shld be taken up with the Brit before it is introduced in the Deps and that it shld be done here with both State and Navy participating. In the meantime, of course, it is of great importance that none of this be known by anyone else.

  1. Message drafted by Perkins and Knight; cleared by Admiral Sherman of Defense, S/ISA, and Matthews: and transmitted by Knight.
  2. This telegram was in response to Spofford’s telegram Depto 851 from London of April 28 requesting information on the status of the Fechteler appointment and what should be said if an inquiry were made on the subject in the NAC. (740.5/4–2851.)
  3. See telegram 5528, April 20, p. 510.
  4. See Draft Minutes of State–Joint Chiefs of Staff Meeting, March 14, p. 488.
  5. Ambassador Gifford replied in telegram 5692 from London of May 1 that he and Spofford agreed that, despite the political difficulties which reopening the SACLANT problem might involve for the United Kingdom, the whole question of the “naval command picture,” including the Mediterranean command situation, should be reviewed as a whole. Moreover, “We fully concur that matter shld be discussed with UK before it is raised in Deps. We believe approach to UK shld be in Wash and at senior service rather than political level.” (740.5/5–151)