Latin American Merchants 1939-1940 & Neutrality.

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Latin American Merchants 1939-1940 & Neutrality.

Post by cyanrumblecord » 09 May 2018 06:28

I've been looking at the Battle of the Atlantic & early neutral shipping losses.

AIUI the U.S during the 1930's conducted it's "Good Neighbour Policy" to get Latin America onside & quarantine the Western Hemisphere from any new European conflict. Various agreements were signed by Nations of the Americas to the effect that they were going to stay neutral & that any European interference with one of them was a matter of concern for all of them. WW2 breaks out & the U.S tries to keep it's Merchant fleet out of European waters. E.g it's Cash & Carry after a short while, not just Cash. "You ferry the guns in your own boats", part of the reasoning for that being "don't get our Merchant sailors killed & spark calls for war among us in retaliation."

I would have assumed that there would be some kind of similar arrangement for Latin American nations to keep their ships out of the warzones. Then I stumbled across this: SS.Uruguay, an Argentine Merchant steaming in the Atlantic towards Europe, sunk by a U-Boat a few hundred miles off the coast of France in late May 1940.

This has left me with a few questions about why it was there, why it was targeted & why this sort of thing didn't happen more often in the early war. I can think of a few plausible explanations, but there's little google is bringing up as to just which one it is.

- Latin America Nations may not have prohibited their ships from going to Europe but could have just had so few Merchants of their own at the time that most cross European-Latin American trade was taking place in European owned boats anyway & before May 1940 all the Latin American boats got lucky.

- Latin American Nations may not have prohibited their ships from trading with Europe & did have enough ships to regularly carry trade to Europe, but the profit motive generally wasn't there to do it in the face of potential sinking, so ships sailed to other destinations.

- The route the ship was taking was thought to be outside of a warzone but things changed so fast with the fall of France they got caught out.

- The owners of this particular ship tried to take a gamble & flouted whatever regulations were in place from their own government.

- Hitler might have ordered his forces to try not to attack Latin American ships in the early war so as not to antagonize the U.S & this sinking just represented the turning point where he no longer cared not to do that.

- Argentina, being the most reluctant Latin American nation in regards to American foreign policy at the time might have just not gone along with what other Latin American nations were doing.

If it was the case that Latin American nations were generally prohibiting their ships from going into the European warzone as part of an attempt at neutrality, the closest I can see to such an agreement is the Convention on Maritime Neutrality negotiated in 1928 at the international conference of American states at Havana, specifically;

Art. 16. The neutral state is forbidden:

(a) To deliver to the belligerent, directly or indirectly, or for any reason whatever, ships of war, munitions or any other war material

If anyone knows anymore as to just what the deal was I'd be glad to hear.

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Re: Latin American Merchants 1939-1940 & Neutrality.

Post by South » 13 May 2018 10:21

Good morning Cyanrumblecord,

Ref: "as to just what the deal was";

Welcome to AHF. I'm sure you'll be posting here frequently.

I saw your question a few days ago ... just too much to specifically respond to.

Yes, many agreements signed.

Do note that besides the US flagged merchant fleet, the US also had a fleet of "flags of convenience". Recall the later acronym "PANLIBHON".

Do note that much of Latin America had a pre-existing European presence, eg Trinidad, British Honduras, Falkland Islands, Dutch Caribbean, French Caribbean,... The Panama Canal Zone was deemed sovereign US territory.

Rather than starting with the 1928 Havana Convention, I'd recommend developing a good familiarity with Rainbow Plan 4: "to afford hemisphere defense..." Although dropped in May, 1942, it is a good foundation document to view the many conferences and sessions that addressed your thread subject.

Nothing is really forbidden without an enforcement mechanism.

~ Bob
eastern Virginia, USA

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Re: Latin American Merchants 1939-1940 & Neutrality.

Post by reedwh52 » 13 May 2018 21:23

None of the treaties prohibited a country from trade win non-belligerents. In the case of the United States, US flagged ships were precluded from sailing into presidentially declared war zones. Since British waters precluded trade with Germany & Britain, that was the only declared area ships were banned from.

Prior to May 10, 1940, the only belligerent nations in Europe were Germany, France, Britain,Norway. Trade with all other nations were not impacted by the Neutrality rules unless carrying contraband. If determined to be contraband, and apprehended, penalties would be exacted.

Based on the entry, Uruguay sailed from Buenos Aires for Antwerp on April 26, 1940 outbound for Antwerp. At that time, and for another14 days, Antwerp was a neutral port/destination.

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Re: Latin American Merchants 1939-1940 & Neutrality.

Post by cyanrumblecord » 14 May 2018 12:40

Thanks South & Reedwh52. Yes I'm aware that the Panamanian flag was selected as a flag of convenience for the U.S (it seems to have gotten a start on that the during Prohibition with Booze Cruises just off the U.S shore).

Just a couple of things I've come across, the "War Zone" as defined by the president under the Neutrality Act of 1939 seems to have included Ireland (the SS Uruguay diverted to Limerick, Ireland after Antwerp was no longer available as a destination), it's tucked into a little footnote in the last paragraph of some law reports from that period here: ( ... ea&f=false)

In another work ["In Danger Undaunted: The Anti-Interventionist Movement of 1940–1941 as Revealed in the Papers of the America First Committee" on page 2] it's described as "comprising the entire Baltic sea and the whole Atlantic area from Southern Norway to the British Isles, the Low Countries and Southern France".

I also came across a suggestion elsewhere that SS Uruguay was sunk as a deliberate message to Argentina. The pro-allied faction under Roberto M Ortiz had been trying to move Argentina towards a position of pro-allied non-belligerency ( ... v01/pg_743) in early 1940.

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