852.00/8851: Telegram

The Chargé in France (Wilson) to the Secretary of State

138. The Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Alvarez del Vayo, whom I have known before, came to see me this morning. He said that he had been out of touch with representatives of the American Government for some days and that he would like to have my Government informed of the attitude of the Spanish Government.

He said that the situation was critical but that the Spanish Government intended to hold fast in Barcelona. The Government was confident that it could do so and that it would come through this crisis as it had done on similar occasions in the past when the outside world had given up the Loyalist cause as lost.

He said that the superiority in matériel on Franco’s side was of course almost overwhelming. Throughout November and December, in preparation for the offensive, Franco had received heavy and continued reinforcements of war material from Germany and Italy in the form of airplanes, tanks and machine guns. The Spanish Government had brought this situation to the attention of the French and British Governments. The Spanish Government was receiving absolutely nothing in the way of war material from France. A little, however, was still being received from Russia and this was the only outside assistance being accorded the Government side.

Alvarez said that the Spanish Government could have held up Franco’s advance longer if they had been willing to risk two or three army corps at Montblanch. Instead of this, however, they had decided to fall back on Barcelona to’ convert the city into a fortified area and to hold out there. He said that they have 200,000 trained troops in Barcelona and adequate munitions for such artillery and machine guns as they possess. Barcelona, he said, will be another Madrid.

[Page 729]

He said that his principal worry is the refugee problem in Barcelona. There are over a million refugees there now. It is essential to evacuate 150,000 children without delay. He saw Bonnet yesterday and requested that the French Government allow these children to come into France, the Spanish Government being responsible for their maintenance. He believes that the French Government will agree that at least part of these children may enter France, finding it advisable for domestic political reasons to try to cover itself in this fashion for its failure to give any assistance to the Spanish Government.

Alvarez spoke with gratitude of the assistance of the American Government and the American Red Cross in providing flour for the starving refugees in Spain.22 He said that on broad humanitarian grounds he deeply hoped that our Government would give any encouragement it appropriately could to efforts to get these 150,000 children admitted into France or other countries.

The Minister said that even if Negrin and he should prove to be wrong regarding their ability to hold out in Barcelona,—and he emphasized again that he was absolutely convinced that they would in fact hold out—then the Government would carry on the fight in central Spain for months and years if necessary. He said that the Estremadura and Levante armies are in good condition and capable of resisting indefinitely.

He said that the members of the Government were remaining in Barcelona. He and his wife return there tonight. The personnel of the Ministries however was being distributed in various places between Gerona and Figueras since it was impossible for them to carry on their work in Barcelona because of the constant air bombardments.

At the close of our conversation he reiterated his desire that the Government of the United States should be informed that it was the firm intention of the Spanish Government to hold out in Barcelona and that they were convinced that they would be successful in doing so.