File No. 763.72/10308

The Ambassador in France ( Sharp) to the Secretary of State


4147. Weekly report. Military.

Like the first offensive projected on the northern front late in March, so the second offensive launched nearly two weeks ago against the French lines extending from Soissons to Rheims has been gradually checked. In each case similar gains in territory were made in large part during the first three or four days of the attack, the element of surprise as to time and place, always with the attacking party, being chiefly responsible for such successes. With defensive reserves increasing with each day, however, the advance has been stopped. Perhaps a cross-section of the greatest bulge of the territory thus gained would in both drives show something like twenty to twenty-five miles, though the average in width from end to end of the points of the offensive would be much less than this.

Manifestly the vital question which confronts the Allied forces today is how many sustainable advances will the enemy be enabled to make before important counterattacks can be successfully made against him. Another advance of a similar distance from the southernmost point of his second attack would cut in two distance which now separates him from Paris. It would amount to even more than this in the north, where Calais is the objective. Indeed it has become quite the settled opinion of many here that the enemy plans to keep on making attacks, making sufficient gains each time to finally enable him to plant his big guns within shelling distance of the city.

With this conviction uppermost in the minds of the people of Paris, many have plans quietly laid providing for women and children to leave the city in a timely and orderly manner so as to avoid any panicky conditions that might otherwise follow in an emergency. It is a delicate situation with which to deal; for obvious reasons publicity cannot be given to the carrying out of such plans. In so far as this Embassy is concerned, tentative plans have been made for removing the archives and records, etc., by [camion] should that later be considered necessary. I know that all Allied embassies and legations are doing likewise. Informed at the Foreign Office that provisions would be made by the French Government to transport the entire personnel of all the diplomatic and consular corps if the necessity occurred. In conference with Major Perkins of the Red Cross and Mr. Carter of the Y.M.C.A., I have learned that those organizations are also prepared to take care of [Page 254] their entire working forces, which alone constitute a considerable number estimated to be about fifteen hundred for the Red Cross and perhaps half that number for the Y.M.C.A. I have been pleased to know that during the past two weeks many Americans, chiefly women and children, have been going out of Paris to other points further south and west, and I hope that this work may go on until one can see more clearly what lies ahead.

This exodus has been without doubt very much hastened by the almost nightly raids of hostile aeroplanes and the daily visitation of the shells from the long-range guns. Of course some of these shells have been striking right in the heart of the business portion of the city and yesterday one struck in the building adjoining the Ministry of War. While no official account is issued as to the loss of life or property, yet without doubt nearly every shell exacts costly toll. Through it all, however, there has never been a moment of panic or fear and everything is being done in a systematic and orderly way without, in fact, the public knowing anything about plans for leaving. Mr. de Margerie of the Foreign Office within the past few days told me that as a matter of fact even before the first offensive the French had been quietly moving to different portion of France. As a precaution of safety, portion of their records and more recently in many cases munition plants and equipment were quietly being moved out of Paris to other places further to the south. This work has been under the direction of Mr. Loucheur, the Minister of Armaments. The tremendous explosion of the munitions storage depot at La Courneuve just about in the outskirts of the city two weeks ago determined the orders as to the necessity of removing other important plants and munitions storage warehouses away from danger. I have heard it is estimated that 60 per cent of the munition output in France comes from factories located in Paris. While at the Foreign Office a few days ago I saw workmen in the act of taking down the valuable tapestries hanging in the large salon for removal to other places.

Despite all these preparations, the determination to never yield a foot of territory to the enemy that can be held and to hold Paris at all hazards, has never been weakened. The determination to make every possible resistance, voiced by Marshal Joffre, as well as his comments on the advisability of certain civilian classes leaving Paris, which I have quoted in another telegram of today,1 fairly represents the general sentiment existing here. I trust that the Department will not be misled by these preparations for certain classes of people who are engaged in no useful [work] to leave the city, into believing [Page 255] that there is anything like a conviction that the city will be taken by the enemy. I think I can quite conservatively say that the confidence in the Allied forces to prevent such a catastrophe is unshaken. I mean merely to acquaint the Department with the situation which actually exists here and the methodical and sure manner in which that situation is being faced in taking timely precautions in preparing for the unexpected.

Naturally the events of the past ten days have caused a grave concern to everybody but already the possibility of danger from the second offensive has been discounted and the possibilities of another to follow further north are now being considered. In fact, it was Colonel Fabri, a gallant officer who lost a leg in the early days of the war and since has become one of the confidential aides on the staff of Marshal Joffre, who told me the other day it was from the third offensive that the greatest danger might come. He expressed this opinion because the French might not have sufficient reserves left to sufficiently protect such new point of attack. This morning in a talk with Mr. Clemenceau, who had late last night returned from the front, he told me that this futile attack had actually been launched last night in the neighborhood of Montdidier and was now being carried on with great force. He remarked to me, however, with much confidence, that the Allied troops were fully prepared to meet such attacks. It is at that particular sector, I believe, we have stationed the largest number of the American troops. Already, comparatively small as is our own contingent in numbers, the Allies have come to place great reliance upon us. The courage and very audacity of our boys, in a manner of fighting peculiarly their own, continue to call forth the most enthusiastic praise from the French officers. …

Personally I have great confidence in the conviction that the American troops are very soon to play a part of the most heroic proportions in stemming the tide of the enemy’s progress. I believe I would not indeed be surprised to see a counter move made against him at a propitious moment which would do much to demoralize the whole offensive operations. At the present moment our troops seem to [excel] in the loyalty which promises to permeate the Allied forces and to give them that confidence in the invincibility of their power that will stamp defeat written in its biggest letters all along the lines of the enemy trenches. But the awaited events of strategy will indicate the measure of success of the new attack. To-morrow I will refer in a supplemental report to the political significance of the recent Socialistic attack on the Clemenceau Government.

  1. Not printed.