HC Deb 14 June 1944 vol 400 cc1986-8
Mr. Ivor Thomas

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any statement to make on the passage of German naval vessels through the Turkish Straits.

Mr. Eden

Of recent months the German authorities have started to move shipping from the Black Sea, where, after their defeats, they no longer require it, through the Straits into the Ægean Sea, where, in consequence of the efforts of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, the German shipping position has greatly deteriorated. A few of these German ships are merchantmen. Other vessels, however, fall into a different category. These are of two types. The first are what are known as K.T. vessels, ships of some 800 tons, with a normal armament of two 3.7 inch guns and machine guns. The second type are known as E.M.S. craft, of some 40 or 50 tons, with a normal armament of one 3 pounder, machine guns and depth charges. The former are used mainly for the transport of troops, war stores and so forth, and the latter for all sorts of war-like purposes, including submarine chasing. To obtain passage for them through the Straits, the Germans dismantle their armament, which will be installed again when the ships reach their destination in the Ægean, and pass them through as commercial vessels.

Both classes of vessel must, however, be regarded as either men-of-war or auxiliary vessels of war, the passage of which by a belligerent through the Straits in time of war is prohibited under Article 19 of the Montreux Convention. The duty of the Turkish Government to stop these vessels is the more evident when I remind hon. Members that they have already once detected the Germans in a similar abuse of the Convention. German landing craft disguised as commercial barges were passed for some time through the Straits by the German navy. Then the Germans made the blunder of giving publicity to the military use of the barges and that particular fraud was brought to an end by the Turkish Government.

Four K.T. vessels and eight E.M.S. craft in all were during the first days of June passed through the Straits into the Ægean. In spite of representations by His Majesty's Ambassador at Angora, not merely against their passage but against the inadequate and hurried inspection to which they were subjected by the Turkish authorities, the Turkish Government have persisted in their claim that they can find no evidence on examination that they are other than commercial vessels.

In view of this unsatisfactory attitude and seeing that there are further ships of these types which the Germans will wish to pass from the Black Sea into the Ægean, His Majesty's Ambassador on instructions has represented to the President of the Turkish Republic that His Majesty's Government are profoundly disturbed by the fact that the Turkish Government should have lent themselves to this palpable manoeuvre of the German Government who hoped thereby to increase German naval strength in the Ægean to the direct detriment of British interests. The President has now promised to have the whole matter re-examined by his Government.

I should add that a further K.T. vessel which arrived at the entrance to the Bosphorus on 5th June has been detained in the Straits by the Turkish authorities.

Mr. Thomas

Can the right hon. Gentleman say that the Soviet Union have joined in a similar protest at Ankara?

Mr. Eden

We are in close touch with our Allies on this subject, but I should like to have notice of the question whether this particular representation has been joined in by them.

Mr. Bellenger

Will the right hon. Gentleman obtain an undertaking that all these German vessels will be prohibited from going through the Straits until a decision has been given by the Turkish Government?

Mr. Eden

That is exactly the point of the representations we have made to the Turkish Government and the Turkish President.