745A.13/11–551: Despatch

The Ambassador in the Union of South Africa ( Gallmari ) to the Department of State

confidential
No. 296

Subject: Conversation between the Ambassador and Minister of Defense, the Honorable F. C. Erasmus

I made my first call on Minister of Defense Erasmus this morning. He received me in a very friendly way. At the very outset he said he remembered vividly the friendly, sympathetic understanding shown him by Mr. Acheson and General Marshall when he visited the States last year and discussed with them South Africa’s armament needs.1

Erasmus then turned to the MDAP agreement and said he was very happy that appreciation of South Africa’s position had been shown in Washington and that the way was now clear for signing the agreement.2 This would be done any day now, he added. South Africa, [Page 1456] he said, particularly because of its present limited manganese supply, could not give a blanket commitment covering assistance on its side. While there were undoubtedly as yet a number of unknown sources of manganese in the country which would in time be developed, the supply from present known sources was limited to about fifteen years.3 I interjected that the agreement as originally drawn up was, as I understood it, a form agreement of the type generally submitted to countries who had qualified for aid on a reimbursable basis. I was happy, nevertheless, that an understanding had been reached by our two Governments which now made the signing possible.

Erasmus then said that he hoped an early start could be made in supplying South Africa with the equipment needed. I asked Erasmus whether the requirements, as given in the original list submitted by him during his visit in Washington, had been materially altered, and he said the list stood substantially as originally drawn up.4 He hoped progress could also be made with the list which was recently submitted to the British Government. He was very gratified, he said, to have been told that the U.S. and U.K. would coordinate their efforts in supplying the Union.

Korea was then touched upon. Erasmus said that because of the severe losses of machines and men in Korea, he had felt compelled during the last session of Parliament to state in Parliament that the Union Government would undertake to have its squadron in Korea equipped with jets. He said that it was a big disappointment when he was told by both the British and by us that jets were not now available. He said South Africa, in view of public opinion, was in the position where unless jets were made available the squadron would have to be grounded. From Britain word has come that jets would not be available before 1953. From Ambassador Jooste, however, he had just received word that we would give the problem prompt consideration and that hope was held out, according to Jooste, that perhaps by January some jets could be made available. I asked Erasmus from whom Jooste had received this information. That he said he did not know. The situation, he then said, might, of course, be eased [Page 1457] if the cease-fire were soon negotiated. In any event, he said even a few jets by January would ease the Government’s position materially.

Before we left this subject I reminded Erasmus that we had two squadrons fighting alongside the South African squadron in Korea, and that these squadrons, because of the shortage of jets, were equipped no different from the South African squadron.5

I then asked Erasmus what steps, if any, were contemplated during the coming session of Parliament to extend the time for compulsory military service. He said that the draft legislation he had in mind would extend compulsory military service (in active citizen force) from three months over a three-year period to twelve months. Manpower shortage, however, he pointed out, would at any time make it somewhat difficult to get such amending legislation through Parliament. He could not say at present whether the question would be opened in the coming session of Parliament. He wished to see first what developments, in the field of disarmament, took place at the forthcoming General Assembly meeting at Paris.

As I was taking my leave, Erasmus said that he must apologize for having, in our first meeting, touched on the two problems, the need of armaments for South Africa and the need for jets in Korea. He would appreciate, he said, any help I could give him. I told him that I would, of course, report our conversation and request that both problems continue to be given sympathetic consideration.

I was very favorably impressed with the friendly, frank way Erasmus received me and talked with me.

Comments of the Army Attaché, Colonel Davis, and of the Minerals Attaché, Mr. Frisbie, on some of the statements made by Minister Erasmus are enclosed.6

W. J. Gallman
  1. For information on Erasmus’ meetings with Acheson and Marshall on October 5, see the editorial note, p. 1427.
  2. Regarding the exchange of notes of November 9, constituting the agreement relating to mutual defense assistance between the United States and the Union of South Africa, see the editorial note, p. 1459.
  3. In a memorandum of November 5, a copy of which was attached to this despatch, Embassy Minerals Attaché Frisbie commented that the estimate of a 15-year supply of manganese ore appeared to be used as an excuse for South Africa’s inability to give the kind of materials commitment called for in a mutual defense assistance agreement. Frisbie observed that it had already been reported to the Department of State that recent South African official estimates had established manganese ore reserves sufficient for 50 years of production at the current rate.
  4. In a memorandum of November 5, a copy of which was attached to this despatch, Embassy Army Attaché Col. John Davis said that Erasmus had obviously not been able to keep up with the details of the negotiations and was in error in his observation that the original South African list remained un-altered. Davis commented that most of the equipment originally requested from the United States was currently scheduled to be obtained from the United Kingdom.
  5. See Under Secretary Webb’s memorandum of his conversation with Jooste on October 23, p. 1451.
  6. Regarding the comments under reference here, see footnotes 3 and 4, above.