No. 37  NAI DFA Washington Embassy File 119

Memorandum by Denis Devlin of a meeting between Frank Aiken and Dean Acheson

WASHINGTON, 2 April 1941

Mr. Aiken called by appointment to see the Assistant Secretary of State, Mr. Dean Acheson, at eleven a.m. Mr. Curtis of the State Department was also present. Mr. Aiken outlined the complete case for our neutrality emphasizing that the entire population of Ireland including the former pro-British and extreme republican elements were firmly behind the government in its attitude. No country was so united on the question of peace or war today and any government which attempted to lead Ireland into war would at once be overthrown; even Mr. de Valera with his great influence over the electorate could not attempt to do so. Neutrality for the Irish people meant in a way an assertion of independence and the fact that it has been possible to maintain it while Great Britain was at war was a proof of our sovereignty which the Irish people would be unwilling to forego. We wished no ill towards Great Britain and the people approved the government policy which for the last few years and especially since the conclusion of the Trade Agreements of 1938 has been directed towards establishing relations of friendship with Great Britain. As early as 1935, Mr. de Valera who foresaw the probable course of world events much sooner than many other statesmen, (here Mr. Acheson indicated agreement) declared that Ireland would never allow its territory to be used as the base for an attack on Great Britain. That undertaking has been observed to the letter and the British Government fully admits that it has. It is intended to observe it no less definitely in the future. However, Great Britain is at present acting as an aggressor in Northern Ireland and it is too much to ask the Irish people to fight against a potential aggressor on behalf of an actual one. The Irish people are determined on the unification of the country. All Ireland is naturally one, historically, socially and economically, and partition was an aggressive and imperialistic resolution of an internal problem which the Irish could easily have settled by themselves; and it was imposed arbitrarily from outside without consulting the people according to the usual democratic methods. Not one single representative of North or South voted, or indeed was allowed to vote on partition. It was true that a certain element in Northern Ireland wanted all Ireland to remain united with England but the alternative of partition was never put before them for a free vote and in view of the fact that Northern Ireland, the administrative unit so constituted, cannot possibly function economically, it was more than doubtful that the pro-British elements in Northern Ireland would have accepted it as a solution. However, the Irish people did not believe in solving this problem by force; it was content that it should be solved peacefully.

But while there was no possibility whatever that Ireland would enter the war, or would surrender the bases, or agree to any action which would lead us into war, it should be obvious to the British Government and to the American Government, which has a stake in British victory, that the efficient arming of Ireland to fight against a German invasion was greatly to their advantage. The country was determined to fight any invasion; a British invasion would be foolish because it would be resisted so fiercely as to prevent the invader from enjoying any of its fruits. The British should be reasonable in their own interests and refrain from any such action. As regards a German invasion there was nothing we could do to prevent it if Germany decided upon it and we could never know when it might take place. It was an obvious danger to Great Britain and as Ireland would resist it to the height of its power Great Britain should not impede our efforts to arm ourselves as well as possible.

Mr. Acheson asked, what was Mr. Aiken’s impression of the form that German invasion might take. Mr. Aiken replied that there were three possible reasons for which Germany might invade Ireland. The first two were: a diversion attack while the major attack on England was being launched and the strategic establishment of a base in Ireland from which the Germans would invade England by way of Liverpool (Theodore Bansse’s theory). Mr. Aiken did not consider these theories to be in line with the possibilities. He favoured the third interpretation which was that Germany would attempt to take over Ireland for the purpose of straddling the communications between America and Great Britain. This was a most dangerous possibility and its danger he feared was not realised sufficiently by the British.

Mr. Acheson asked whether we had any idea as to the numerical strength of a possible German invasion force. It was impossible to say, replied Mr. Aiken, but one could envisage anything from 50,000 to 200,000 men. Mr. Acheson showed great surprise and asked how could such a force be possibly transported. Mr. Aiken thought that the first attacking wave would be borne on troop carrying planes and big submarines and that later waves might come in surface craft. He pointed out that the danger of attack by glider was not realised; that the Germans had been practising glider transport, and openly too, for the last six years; they had not yet used it in this war. He knew that the method was to attach six gliders to planes specially constructed for the purpose and to release the gliders over countryside; these gliders can land practically anywhere.

Would it not then be more sensible, asked Mr. Acheson, to organise defense in common before the invasion. No, said Mr. Aiken, because of our general neutrality stand which he had already outlined and also for two practical rea- sons. 1 – That such action would be interpreted as a military alliance by Germany and would subject Ireland to immediate attack. 2 – Because it was important that the Irish people should be allowed to realise clearly who were the aggressors and if Germany came in first there could be no doubt about that. Mr. Curtis asked if he might sum up the position as it could profitably be interpreted to the American people. ‘You want,’ he said, ‘enough armament to hold off the Germans but not enough to attack England.’ Mr. Aiken agreed.

Mr. Acheson said that our application was being considered. A new agency had been set up under Mr. Harry Hopkins1 to organise full American aid to Great Britain, Greece and the countries actually fighting. These requirements would have to come first. A committee of the State Department, including him- self, was charged with the examination of applications from the non-warring countries like the Netherlands Indies and Ireland and it would be decided whether supplies would be granted us and if so in what form according to the various needs of the other parties.

1 Harry Hopkins (1890-1946), an architect of the New Deal, United States Secretary of Commerce (1938-40). He was one of Roosevelt’s closest advisers and his unofficial emissary to Churchill.

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