The Ambassador in Spain ( Bowers ), Then in France, to the Secretary of State
No. 1657

Sir: In view of the bitter fighting now in progress, with the rebel offensive in Catalonia, and the Loyalist offensive in Estremadura, I have the honor to submit some observations on the political significance of these military operations. These conclusions are based on my own judgment reenforced by the common conclusion of colleagues and some supporters of General Franco from across the border with whom I have contacts.

It has now been many weeks since Mr. Chamberlain entered into his engagement to visit Mussolini in Rome.14 As you know there has been grave apprehensions concerning such a meeting, especially in France, but also in England, as denoted by the sharp questioning in the Commons and by the tone of the press. To this, I add private information from within the Foreign Office, which is increasingly nervous over Mr. Chamberlain’s passion for visiting the caves of the Forty Thieves.

It has been commonly believed here, and feared in France, and among the Loyalists in Spain, that the Rome meeting might resolve itself into another Munich, and that it was the purpose of Mr. Chamberlain to grant belligerent rights to Franco in the belief that through the effective starving of the loyalist civilians, the fascist forces would achieve the victory now more than two years and four months over due according to the original calculations.

It is the common belief here that this concession at the expense of the Spanish democracy was to be made easier by achieving a crushing victory before Mr. Chamberlain reached Rome.

To this end, Franco has been accumulating more war material than has ever been assembled at one time in the entire history of Spain. This has been brought in in streams from Italy and Germany, particularly from Germany, for weeks. This is common knowledge. It will be recalled that when Mr. Hudson of the Overseas Trade Division of the British Government was asked in the Commons to explain why there were five German to one British ship entering Franco harbors, he explained quite frankly that this did not imply an advantage in normal trade since “these German ships are carrying war material to Franco.” Included in the war material are many additional planes. And, while it is denied by Rome, there is absolutely no doubt that [Page 723] additional Italian soldiers have been brought in for this offensive in Catalonia which was to bring the Spanish Government to its knees before Chamberlain reached Rome. Four divisions of Italian troops were given conspicuous places in the offensive.

The plan to inflict a crushing defeat before Chamberlain reached Rome miscarried for two reasons.

  • First, the stubborn resistance of the loyalist army, which, considering its disadvantage in heavy artillery and planes, which Non-intervention forbids it to buy for defence, has been most remarkable.
  • Second, the launching of the loyalist offensive in the South which, before Chamberlain reached Rome had taken more than 300 square miles of territory from the rebels, had surrounded the famous lead mines, and had come within a very few miles of cutting Franco’s communications between the North and South. This compelled Franco to bring many more Moors over from Morocco, to scour his entire southern section for troops that had been diminished through transfers to the Catalonian front, and finally to send many of the planes and some of the soldiers concentrated for the Catalonian offensive.

Thus when Mr. Chamberlain reached Rome the plan had failed. He was deprived of any excuse for agreeing to belligerent rights.

Two other factors entered to prevent any pro-Franco agreement with Mussolini.

The first was the stupid blunder of Mussolini in making his demand for Tunis, Corsica and Nice. This thoroughly aroused the French and unified the factions as they have not been unified for some years. It awakened the French to the meaning to them of a Franco victory and the domination of Spain by Berlin and Rome. It led to the very sharp refusal of the French Government to permit Chamberlain to act as mediator with Italy. It called forth the warning that France would not think of granting belligerent rights. And it sent Daladier15 forth on his African journey to make speeches which, for the first time, from a European Democracy, challenged the pretensions of the totalitarian States.

There was another factor which is believed here to have been important—the militant speech of Roosevelt and the general acclaim among the English people.

I have learned from inside the Foreign Office in London that Mr. Chamberlain’s statement in approval of the general tone of the Roosevelt speech was not a spontaneous act on his part; that he was urged by the Foreign Office to give out such a statement; and that the statement was prepared, not by Mr. Chamberlain himself, but by functionaries in the Foreign Office. Thus when the Rome conference began all plans had gone awry.

Respectfully yours,

Claude G. Bowers
  1. See telegram No. 17, January 16, 1 p.m., from the Ambassador in Italy, vol. i, p. 2.
  2. Edouard Daladier, French Prime Minister and Minister of Defense.