852.00/2334: Telegram

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

696. In conversation this morning at the Foreign Office regarding the Spanish situation we were told the following:

Blum appearing before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Senate yesterday admitted frankly that the French Government had at first seriously considered acquiescing in the request of the Spanish Government for assistance in the way of airplanes and munitions. In this connection our informant said that the Franco-Spanish frontier is in one sense comparable to the American-Canadian border in that it has not been fortified [apparent omission] years; France has not maintained troops there and it is the one frontier from which France has felt that there was no danger to be feared. The setting up in Spain of a government of the military dictatorship type might well alter this situation and prove a serious danger to French security. A glance at the map would clearly indicate this: an unfriendly regime in Spain could in time of war prevent the transport of troops from French possessions in Africa to Europe through submarine operations from the Spanish coast. However, went on our informant, it had been explained by Blum to the Senate Committee that after mature consideration [Page 451]by the French Cabinet a decision had been reached that the French Government would not permit the despatch to Spain of any airplanes or munitions of war since any other attitude on France’s part would risk serious international complications. Blum stated categorically to the Senate Committee that no airplanes, arms or munitions had been delivered to the Spanish Government. In saying this, however, Blum stated that the French Government would reserve its position regarding the future depending upon what the attitude of other foreign governments might be.

As an example of sincereness the French had forbidden shipments of war materials to Spain. Our informant stated that an important order which had been placed several months ago by the Spanish Government with the Hotchkiss firm and was now ready for shipment was not being allowed to go forward. It was added that while the French Government was of the opinion that it could not interfere in the matter of shipment of strictly civil aircraft, as a matter of fact no such aircraft had been delivered from France to Spain since the outbreak of the revolution.

Regarding the press report today that Italian planes had been forced down in Morocco, the official at the Foreign Office showed us in the strictest confidence a telegram that had been received from the French Resident General at Rabat reporting that one Italian plane had crashed near Oudja and a second plane had alighted near the same place. The plane that crashed had a crew of five, two of whom were killed, the others being badly injured. The airmen were furnished with passports setting out that they were civilians but in one of the planes a list was found giving the same names for the airmen but listing them as officers and non-commissioned officers in the Italian Air Corps with their ranks. In one plane a package of coats worn by Italian Army aviators was found. Shortly after the plane had crashed a Spanish plane belonging to the rebels flew over and dropped a bundle containing uniforms of the Spanish Foreign Legion and a message to the fliers to put on these uniforms and declare that they were members of the Spanish Foreign Legion.

Concerning the possible German angle to this situation, our informant appeared to give credence to the report that General Sanjurjo had some time ago offered to or actually concluded an arrangement with Hitler whereby if the insurgents were successful Germany would be granted a naval base at Palma. Moreover reports received at the Foreign Office were to the effect that last April and May General Sanjurjo was in Berlin arranging for the purchase of military supplies for the expected revolution and that agents of the revolutionists had an account in the German South American Bank at Hamburg.

It was stated that the French Government has in mind and will “probably” propose to the other two principal Mediterranean powers, [Page 452]namely, England and Italy, that they join in a formal commitment not to furnish arms to either side nor to interfere in any way in events in Spain. If this step is pursued France will at least know by the nature of the Italian reply what Italy intends to do in relation to the Spanish situation.

The impression was obtained that if the step mentioned above is pursued and the Italians should evade a definite commitment to refrain from assisting the insurgents in the Spanish conflict it could hardly be expected that the French Government would continue to maintain its present strictly hands-off attitude.

The interpellations on the question of furnishing arms to Spain are expected to be debated in the Chamber of Deputies this afternoon and we will report on the subject later.

Cipher texts to London, Rome, Berlin.

Straus
  1. Telegram in five sections.