851.248/139: Telegram

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

276. Daladier, Paul Reynaud31 and Guy La Chambre32 discussed with me today for several hours the general situation and the problem of providing France with an adequate air force. The conclusion was reached that the French should exercise the options they have obtained for an additional 120 Martin bombers and an additional 100 Douglas bombers and 250 North American training planes. The French Government will pay cash for these planes.

In the course of our conversation Paul Reynaud suggested that it might be possible either for the Export-Import Bank or private bankers in the United States to extend credits to American manufacturers of planes for French account, such credits possibly to run for as long as 5 years. This suggestion of Reynaud’s was not made as a formal proposal but was merely a remark in the course of an exhaustive conversation on the subject of air armament. I replied that I felt absolutely certain that there was not the slightest chance that the Export-Import Bank at the present time could finance such exports, and I believed that similar credits by private bankers would be forbidden by the Johnson Act.33

Both Daladier and Reynaud then expressed in the strongest possible terms their belief France had acted with extreme stupidity in defaulting on her debt to the United States.34 Daladier said to Reynaud that if France should continue to acquire gold at the present rate he thought the best use that the gold could be put to would be to pay France’s arrears on her debt to the United States.

They then asked me if I believed that the United States would be prepared to make a debt settlement at this time. I said that while we should always be glad to discuss the question, it was my own belief that France did not at this time have a sufficiently stable financial situation to make it possible for the French Government to pay sums to the Government of the United States large enough to be acceptable to the Congress of the United States as a debt settlement.

Reynaud suggested that France might make a “token payment” such as the British had once made.35 I expressed the opinion that, while [Page 502] the Government of the United States would be glad to receive any payment on the French debt it could not regard any “token payment” as relieving the French Government from the restrictions imposed by the Johnson Act.

Both Daladier and Reynaud continued to express their interest in settling the French debt to the United States and both pointed out that at the time of the default they had supported Herriot in demanding payment. Reynaud finally said that he would wish to discuss the matter again with me in the near future as he had some ideas.

All the remarks recorded above occurred in the course of an intimate and rapid exchange of views, and I should not be in the least embarrassed if I were obliged tomorrow to express opinions contrary to those I expressed today. I trust therefore that you will inform me immediately if my expressions of opinion were not in accord with your views.

We also discussed the situation in the Soviet Union and La Chambre expressed the opinion that the Soviet Air Force was falling further and further behind in efficiency because of the execution of all the leading Russian designers and constructors. He asserted that the Russians were still making copies of obsolete models obtained from the United States 4 years ago.

Daladier said that not only were there no intimate conversations of any kind today between the Russian Soviet and France but also that the French Ambassador in Moscow36 and the French Military Attaché37 now found it impossible to have any contact with anyone. He had no confidence in any statement or promise which might be made by the Russians. He felt however that if Rumania could be persuaded to accept Russian assistance the Russians might feel inclined to send troops to Rumania in case of a German attack on Rumania. He said that when he had talked with the King of Rumania on this subject the King had said to him that he would under no circumstances permit any Russian soldier or aviator to set foot on Rumanian soil. King Carol now appeared to be changing his point of view. It now seemed that in case of German attack on Rumania Carol might be willing to accept Russian assistance in case both France and England should promise to make war on the Soviet Union if Soviet troops should not evacuate Rumania after such assistance was no longer necessary.

In the course of our conversation there was considerable discussion of the impending reorganization of the French General Staff. Daladier said that he had decided to make General Gamelin Chief of the General Staff of National Defense which would serve as a coordinating [Page 503] General Staff for army, navy and air force. He had told General George that he would appoint him as Chief of the General Staff of the army on one condition; that General George should agree to have his office in the Ministry of War and not a detached office in the Invalides. Daladier said that the arrangement instituted by Foch who toward the end of the war had transferred the General Staff to the Invalides was much less efficient than the old system of having the Chief of the General Staff in the Ministry of War. Daladier said that it was literally true that he, the Minister for War, had not seen Gamelin for 2 months for the simple reason that the Chief of Staff was sitting in the Invalides and not in the Ministry of War. Daladier finally said that if General George should refuse to accept this condition by the day after tomorrow he would pass over General George entirely although he thought he was the best soldier in France and appoint in his stead a relatively junior man who was now in command in Bordeaux.

In the course of this general discussion about the General Staff I pointed out that in the month of September last the members of the General Staff of the army had seemed to be entirely unaware of what they could count on from the air force which was a separate entity and seemed to be making their plans without regard to the air force. Daladier replied “that was because there was no air force. They were quite right”.

Daladier had not yet made up his mind with regard to the question of immediate de jure recognition of Franco. He said that he would not recognize Franco de jure immediately. On the other hand he felt that continued resistance by the Madrid Government would produce merely a useless slaughter of brave men. He felt that while Franco would be delighted to have French de jure recognition at the moment and while today he was disposed to work on a friendly basis with France by the end of another month he would have no further interest in de jure recognition by France and the Germans and Italians would have him much more completely in their hands than today.

He believed therefore that France would have to move toward full de jure recognition of Franco. He did not want to rush matters. The question was of doing the thing decently.

Incidentally, in the course of this conversation Daladier said that he had received a few days ago from Negrin38 a letter thanking him for permitting munitions to come through as they had to Barcelona during the final month of resistance in Catalonia. Daladier said that 20,000 tons of munitions had crossed the French frontier to Barcelona during that month and most of them had not even been taken out of [Page 504] their cases when Franco captured the city. He added that in view of the loss of the Barcelona munitions factories he did not see how resistance could be prolonged more than 3 weeks to a month in the Madrid–Valencia district however heroic might be the defense.

We discussed the situation produced by the Japanese seizure of the island of Hainan. Daladier summed up the discussion by saying that France did not have sufficient forces and neither did England to distribute them over the earth. It was necessary for both countries to concentrate their forces in Europe at the present moment. It was therefore necessary to sacrifice whatever it might be necessary to sacrifice in the Far East. France therefore could not be expected to do more than to ask the Japanese to promise to get out of Hainan when the war with China should come to an end.

Daladier said that he still believed that Italy would not attack France at the present time but he was not entirely sure. Mussolini had lost one position after another to Hitler and was losing his personal popularity in Italy. Under the circumstances it was difficult to feel certain that he would not take the risk of general war. Once again Daladier expressed the opinion which was endorsed heartily by both Reynaud and La Chambre that war would be imminent if it were not for the hesitation created in Germany and Italy by the evolution of opinion in the United States and the attitude of the President and the American Government.

Bullitt
  1. French Minister of Finance.
  2. French Minister for Air.
  3. Approved April 13, 1934; 48 Stat. 574. For correspondence, see Foreign Relations, 1934, vol. i, pp. 525 ff.
  4. For correspondence on the initial default (payment due on December 15, 1932), see ibid., 1932, vol. i, pp. 727754.
  5. See ibid., 1933, vol. i, p. 839.
  6. Paul Emile Naggiar.
  7. L. Abraham.
  8. Juan Negrín, Spanish Prime Minister.