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Memorandum for the War Plans Division1
May 23, 1940 Washington, D.C.
Sale of Airplanes and Ammunition to Allied Purchasing Agents.
I discussed with Mr. Sumner Welles the list of munitions in the memorandum submitted by the Chief of Ordnance on May 22d (400,3295/4226) this morning. This list had been gone over by the President yesterday afternoon.2 His directions were that I go further into the matter of determining what I might be able to state, under the terms of the law, was surplus, and what other legal methods I might be able to find to arrange for releasing various items of this equipment for the use of the Allies. He further directed me to confer with Mr. Welles this morning, in order to see what might be done towards meeting the Allies’ request.
Mr. Welles is familiar with the items on the list, and with the complications regarding their being declared surplus. In effect, he stated that under the law the War Department could not sell this surplus materiel to the Allies; that he felt that international law would similarly forbid such transaction.
I told Mr. Welles that the matter was now in his hands; that I would continue to study it to see what means or methods we might find—such as turning in the 30 caliber ammunition for the purpose of securing better ammunition,—towards facilitating the release of these munitions to the Allies. Mr. Welles stated that he would consider the matter, that we quite evidently had done our best and it was really a matter of governmental policy and law, which he would look into.
I explained to Mr. Welles the situation regarding aircraft, that we could not jeopardize the completion of our augmentation of operating units, by releasing planes under process of manufacture for delivery to the Army; that the situation as to pilots would become an impossible one in a very few months if we did not receive deliveries of planes.3 He agreed with this. I told him that in the smaller matters of accommodating them regarding engines and things of that sort, we would do practically all of this as desired by the Allies.
G. C. Marshall
Document Copy Text Source: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs (RG 165), Records of the War Plans Division (WPD), 4244-6, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland
Document Format: Typed memorandum signed.
1. This memorandum was also addressed to the assistant chief of staff, G-4 (Moore), and to General Wesson, the chief of Ordnance.
2. The original copy of General Wesson’s memorandum for the chief of staff bears the president’s check marks beside the materiel to be released. (NA/RG 165 [OCS, Emergency File]. Much of the documentation for the complex issue of releasing materiel to the Anglo-French Purchasing Board—changed to British Purchasing Commission after the fall of France—is in NA/RG 165 [OCS, Foreign Sale or Exchange of Munitions File].)
3. During his May 17 meeting with Secretary Morgenthau, Marshall had commented at length about the importance of keeping available a sufficient number of modern pursuit planes to train the new pilots the army was beginning to produce at the rate of 220 per month. “We are right at that moment of all these things being synchronized—we keep on receiving the pilots but we have lost the training ships.” At the moment, Marshall said, the army had 150 P-36s. If the United States shipped the British 100 of these—which Marshall asserted was about a three-day supply under current battle conditions—the army’s pilot training schedule would be set back nearly six months. (FDRL/H. Morgenthau, Jr., Papers [Diary, 263: 241-49])
Recommended Citation: The Papers 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. 223-224.