HL Deb 14 June 1944 vol 132 cc244-50

LORD VANSITTART had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government for details of the recent action of the Turkish Government in allowing German vessels of war to pass through the Straits from the Black Sea to the Ægean; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, before putting my Motion as to the rather curious conduct of our curious Ally, I should like to say a few words about the course of this somewhat fantastic relationship as it has appeared to the man in the street. During the years in which we suffered adversity, we made every allowance for the position of the Turks; we put no pressure upon them. In that I think His Majesty's Government were wise. The Turks were indisposed to come in, and for material reasons no doubt afraid to come in, and we all understood that. I even well understood the occasional references of the Government to the loyalty of the Turkish Government, though some of those references had, to my ears, the somewhat perfunctory tang of diplomacy. But then the tide turned, and I think it might have turned more quickly if the Turks had had the courage of any convictions; but, instead of that, they played us up. They extracted from us as great a quantity of arms and munitions as was possible, running into very considerable amounts which we could ill spare to spectators. Then, when we said "Come in now, the water's fine," they still shivered on the brink and said, "It looks to us a little chilly still, so we think we will go home"—and they went home, and proceeded to sell chrome and other commodities to our enemies.

Even that performance we stomached, though some of us, like myself, stomached it with feelings of rising disgust. When the export of chrome was finally abolished, I can assure your Lordships that some of us felt no gratitude whatever; we thought that this was merely a sign of long overdue decency. I ask your Lordships, therefore, to imagine our feelings when we find that the next development in this extraordinary story is that the Turks are actually and actively helping our enemies by passing German warships through the Straits in order that we may be the better attacked on the high seas. I am not going to waste one word on the niceties and details avid technicalities of the Montreux Convention; I am going to come straight to the hard fact that this is not only an unfriendly but a hostile act, committed by a so-called Ally on behalf of a half-beaten enemy.

His Majesty's Government have shown exemplary and indeed monumental patience, as they always do. I think that sometimes they show too much. I could do with a little more asperity in the case of false friends, and therefore I hope that on this occasion a stiffer line will be taken with the Turks. The Prime Minister adumbrated in his last speech on the subject that they would not be admitted to the peace table. I should hope not; but that is a very small consolation. As a matter of fact, that speech was made before the commission of this unfriendly act; and therefore I ask myself, and I ask the Government, what remedy we have. I hope that the Government will be able to tell me something about it to-day. I should also like to know from them the approximate extent of the damage to which we may be exposed by this unfriendly act, although, of course, I shall not press them on that point if they feel indisposed to embark on the seas of operational prophecy.

This time, however, I think that we want something more than mere representations. The Turkish Government may explain, may argue, and may even apologize, but all that seems to me no good whatever; they cannot put the ships back into the Black Sea. Are the Government going to content themselves with protest and rebuke? I hope that we shall find some more tangible means of making our displeasure felt. I might venture to suggest two very humble contributions. One is that they should form in the Foreign Office a very small additional department, a Department of Curiosities, and that this alliance should be Exhibit A. Secondly, bearing m mind the precedent of the "Alabama," I hope that the Government will notify the Turkish Government that at the conclusion of hostilities a bill will be presented to them for any damage sustained. I hope we shall also find means to ensure that the bill may not necessarily be a big one; but, whatever it is, the Turkish Government should be compelled to foot it hereafter. I beg to move.


My Lords, your Lordships and the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, himself will, I am sure, forgive me if I do not enter into the rather wider issues which he mentioned in the early sentences of his speech. They went a good deal beyond the terms of the Motion, and I propose to confine myself merely to answering the question which lie asks. I think it may be for the convenience of the House in answering his question if I recapitulate briefly the incidents which gave rise to it. Your Lordships, I think, are already aware that, consequent on the series of recent Russian victories on the Eastern Front, the German theatre of operations in the Black Sea has been severely and happily restricted; and, as a result, during recent months the German authorities have started to move shipping from the Black Sea, where 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, the free passage of which, as your Lordships know, by a belligerent through the Straits is permitted under the terms of the Montreux Convention regarding the régime of the Straits. Other vessels, however, fall into a very 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 5o tons, much smaller vessels, 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 on, and the latter for all sorts of warlike purposes, including submarine chasing.

These vessels are of a type which were used consistently by the Germans for military operations in the Black Sea and in the Mediterranean, and there can be no shadow of doubt that they will be similarly used in the Ægean. To obtain passage for them through the Straits, the Germans, for obvious reasons, dismantle their armament, and this armament is installed again when the ships reach their destination in the Ægean. Both these classes of vessel are regarded by His Majesty's Government as either men-of-war or auxiliary ships of war, the passage of which by a belligerent through the Straits in time of war is prohibited by Article 19 of the Montreux Convention. There has been a question whether the E.M.S. craft fall within this prohibition; but we know, the Germans know, and the whole world knows, that these craft, like the K.T. type, are essentially military in character, and that they have been used for military or naval operations in Black Sea, and are going to be used again for the same purposes in the Ægean. In the view of His Majesty's Government, therefore, they cannot be considered as other than vessels of war, and their passage through the Straits is entirely contrary to the real objects and intentions of the Convention, and to permit it is to assist in a clear abuse of that Convention.

The duty of the Turkish Government to stop these vessels is the more evident when I remind your Lordships that the Turkish Government have already once detected the Germans in a similar breach 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 not unusual blunder of giving publicity to the military use of the barges, and that particular fraud was brought to an end by the Turkish Government. In spite of repeated representations by His Majesty's Ambassador, four K.T. vessels and eight E.M.S. craft in all have during the first days of June passed through the Straits into the Ægean, the Turkish Government having maintained that on examination no proof could be found of their being any other than commercial vessels.

His Majesty's Ambassador at Angora at once protested to the Turkish Minister for Foreign Affairs not merely against the passage of the vessels but against the inadequate and hurried inspection to which they were subjected by the Turkish authorities. The Minister for Foreign Affairs persisted, however, in his claim that there was no legal ground on which he could stop the vessels, a claim which His Majesty's Government find it difficult to understand, since, as I have said, the Turkish Government have already put an end to the precisely similar fraud of the German landing barges. In view of this unsatisfactory reply and seeing that there are further ships of these types which the Germans will be wanting to pass from the Black Sea into the Ægean, His Majesty's Ambassador was instructed last week to seek an audience of the Turkish President in order to represent to him how profoundly shocked His Majesty's Government were 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.

This interview took place on June 8, when the President promised to have the matter examined by his Government and return us an answer to our protest. The matter is thus still the subject of discussion in Angora and I hope the noble Lord will understand if I am not able at the moment to give any further details. I should however like to conclude this statement on a happier note by saying that a further K.T. vessel which arrived at the entrance to the Bosphorus on June 5 has been detained in the Straits by the Turkish authorities.


My Lords, it is not denied that this time the Turkish Government have lent themselves to a definitely unfriendly act with their eves open. If I understand the noble Viscount rightly, there was a previous occasion when some kind of action was either undertaken or attempted without their knowledge, but this time it has been done with their knowledge and they have sought to excuse it by a pretext which has been declared to be unacceptable by His Majesty's Government. We seem to be embarking, as I anticipated, on a course of protest and if necessary rebuke, but I come back to what I said in my few opening remarks, that that surely gives us no satisfaction, because we are liable to damage owing to the passage of camouflaged warships through the Straits to the high seas, and they cannot be restored to their former position. Therefore I would like again to urge upon the Government the possibility of obtaining some sort of satisfaction by considering the possibility of putting in a bill at the end. I would like to ask the Leader of the House whether he will take that suggestion into consideration, because I do feel that there are limits to our patience, and that those limits Should at times be clearly defined in order to maintain not only British interests but the respect in which this country should be held; because, it people continue to think that they can get away with murder or something a little less, and then say, "Well, sorry, it is done now; there is nothing more to be said. Perhaps there is something in the British case, but why go on talking?" I do not think that is very conducive to the respect in which I wish to see this country and this Government held abroad. So I put the point again to the noble Viscount and ask if he will place the suggestion I have made before the Government.


I will certainly transmit to the Foreign Secretary what the noble Lord has said, but I think it is clear to the House that I have made a very firm statement on the subject. I do not think it would justify any suggestion that the Government are shilly-shallying in this matter. We take a very serious view of what has happened, and I can assure the noble Viscount that everything that he has said will be taken fully into account.


I made no suggestion that the Government were shilly- shallying but that we were showing an almost too exemplary patience. But I shall be amply satisfied if the noble Viscount assures me that my suggestion will be put before the Government, and I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.