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Aircraft Attacks

Volume 529: debated on Monday 5 July 1954

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement on the bombing and sinking of a British ship near Guatemala.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will instruct Her Majesty's representatives in Honduras, Guatemala and the United States of America to conduct inquiries as to the country of origin of the Thunderbolt aircraft used by the insurgents in the recent Guatemalan civil war that made attacks upon British shipping; the country or countries which granted the export licence to enable these aircraft to be supplied to the insurgents; and the country or countries from which these aircraft took off for their incursions into Guatemala.

As I have informed the House, the British steamer "Springfjord," on charter to the United States Grace Line, was bombed and set on fire on 27th June off the port of San José, Guatemala, when she was taking on a mixed cargo. Her crew are safe. Although badly damaged, Lloyds' Agent in Guatemala reported that the ship was still afloat on 29th June.

Immediate inquiries were addressed by Her Majesty's representatives in neighbouring countries to the Governments of El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua in an endeavour to establish the facts about the attacking aircraft. These Governments all stated that they had no information. The Guatemalan Government informed Her Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires on 28th June that the aircraft belonged to the insurgent forces.

A claim for compensation has been presented by the owners to the Guatemalan Legation in London.

Is the Minister aware that this was an American-type aircraft and that it must have taken off from territory other than Guatemalan? Does he intend to adopt the same attitude towards the loss of this British ship as the Chancellor of the Exchequer used to adopt during the Spanish civil war, or will he stand up for British interests?

I should imagine that there are very few aeroplanes in this part of the world that are not of American type.

Will the Minister verify from the Fact-Finding Committee which has gone out, I understand, on behalf of the United Nations, what the aircraft was, who gave the licence for its purchase and whether the United Fruit Company had anything to do with it?

Certainly. We shall try to find out whatever we can about an aircraft which, to whichever side it belonged, did a very wrong thing.

If the Minister of State tells us that we should proceed on a de facto basis, should we not address our communications to the United Fruit Company?

We have no reason to believe that there is any truth at all in what the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting. Of course, one advantage of the present de facto set up is that it appears to be a coalition of old and new elements in the Guatemalan Government. In those circumstances, we are pressing our claim with the new Guatemalan Government.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the two colonels concerned have been photographed kissing each other, so is not the show all over?

Will the Minister say where the 39 men—whom he has accepted in this "much exaggerated" event—obtained the napalm bombs which were put down on the British ship, and how the aircraft came into the possession of the rebels? Will he not ask the United States Government if they sold the ammunition to the rebels?

This is a matter to be investigated, but the hon. and learned Gentleman, in assuming that the United States Government are responsible in some way for this, is. I believe, stating something which is wholly divorced from the truth.

After the British ship had been bombed did the right hon. Gentleman instruct the new British representative to fly at once to Guatemala or did he tell him on no account to interrupt his holiday?

That is quite an unfair remark. The British representative was doing his best to get to Guatemala City, but it was impossible for him to get there. He was not on holiday at all, and I think that it is a quite irresponsible smear to have made a remark of that sort. The minute this incident happened Her Majesty's representatives in all these countries were instructed to make urgent inquiries.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what action the Security Council took with regard to the complaint made by Guatemala regarding the machine-gunning and bombing by foreign aircraft of Guatemala's civilian population; and what part the British delegate took in the discussion of this matter.

The complaint of the Guatemalan authorities was considered by the Security Council on 20th June. A resolution referring the complaint to the Organisation of American States for urgent consideration and requesting the Organisation of American States to inform the Security Council as soon as possible on the measures it had been able to take was vetoed by the representative of the Soviet Union. The Security Council then unanimously approved a resolution calling for the immediate termination of any action likely to cause bloodshed and requesting all members of the United Nations to abstain from giving assistance to any such action.

Will the Minister be good enough to answer "Yes," or "No," to a simple question? Is it a fact that American aircraft, manned by American pilots, machine-gunned Guatemalan civilians and dropped napalm bombs on Guatemala, and that Her Majesty's Government were well aware of that fact?

That is certainly not the case. Her Majesty's Government have no information of that kind whatsoever.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of all the answers to all these Questions about Guatemala, may I appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, to rule that if the matter is not otherwise debated between now and then it shall be debated for at least two hours on the Adjournment for the Summer Recess?

I shall consider that question along with the many other requests which I have received.