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Memorandum for the File
June 7, 1940 [Washington, D.C.]
The attached is my suggestion for the President’s statement to the Press this morning1—not used by him.
G. C. M.
Since 1919 the Army and Navy have had on hand a tremendous supply of ordnance materiel which has gradually deteriorated and become obsolete. In July of 1919 the Congress passed an Act which gave to the Secretary of War the authority to sell such of this materiel which had become surplus to our respective needs. From time to time such sales have been carried out under the authority of this Act. The same Statute permits an inter-change of supplies and equipment between the Army and Navy.
Congress in 1918 passed an Act which authorized airplanes to be turned in in the same manner old automobiles are accepted by dealers as partial payments on new equipment. There is also a law on the books since 1926 which authorizes the Secretary of War to trade in deteriorated ammunition against the procurement of new ammunition.
Of course in all such procedures there must be a buyer for this old equipment or materiel in order to enable the Government to secure any advantage from the provisions of the law. Today this old equipment and deteriorated ammunition is of immediate value to certain countries and therefore there is a market, a buyer, which will permit this Government to dispose of this materiel. A number of items of Army ordnance have recently been sold to Brazil. Other South American countries are in the market for similar materiel. The Allied Purchasing Agent is desirous of obtaining as much of this old materiel as is surplus to our requirements.2
That is the situation in a nutshell.
Document Copy Text Source: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs (RG 165), Records of the Office of the Chief of Staff (OCS), Foreign Sale or Exchange of Munitions File, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland
Document Format: Typed memorandum signed.
1. At his press conference, President Roosevelt announced the signing of agreements where by the United States would sell obsolete or surplus military equipment to private firms which would immediately resell them to the Allies. (New York Times, June 8, 1940, p. 1.)
2. The question of the legality of transferring arms to the Allies was settled, in so far as surplus or obsolete materials were concerned, by Acting Attorney General Francis Biddle’s June 3 letter to Secretary of War Woodring. Marshall summarizes that letter here. The letter is published in S. Shepard Jones and Denys P. Myers, eds., Documents on American Foreign Relations: July 1939-June 1940 (Boston: World Peace Foundation, 1940), pp. 790-91.
On June 3 Marshall approved the Ordnance Department’s list of surplus materiel, and Arthur B. Purvis, director general of the British Purchasing Commission, asked for nearly everything on the list: 400 (later increased to 900) 75-mm field guns and 1,075,000 shells; 500,000 Enfield rifles and 130,000,000 rounds; 308 3-inch Stokes trench mortars and 97,680 shells; 80,000 machine guns of various types; 25,000 Browning automatic rifles; 20,000 revolvers and 1,000,000 cartridges; plus a large number of accessories. Increases were later made in certain of these items. The movement of supplies to the army’s docks at Raritan, New Jersey, began on June 4, although a formal contract was not signed until June 11—the day the first ship began loading. (See Hall, North American Supply, pp. 134-38, and NA/RG 165 [OCS, Foreign Sale or Exchange of Munitions File].)
Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland, Sharon Ritenour Stevens, and Clarence E. Wunderlin, Jr.(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 2, “We Cannot Delay,” July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 237-238.