740.0011 European War 1939/7140: Telegram

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

1124. Marshal Pétain received me this evening and for over an hour made a tour d’ horizon of France’s problems. He was most cordial but unhappy over France’s predicament.

The Marshal said he is delighted about Admiral Leahy’s impending arrival.58 I mentioned that the Ambassador’s coming raised the question of place of residence as we had been informed that the Marshal was leaving for Versailles next week. He replied that it is a fact unless the Germans change their minds that he plans to proceed to Versailles for a stay of about 2 weeks. He plans to make subsequent visits to Versailles. This involves no change in the status of the Diplomatic Corps which will remain at Vichy. He emphasized twice that Admiral Leahy should plan to reside at Vichy. The Marshal promised to facilitate finding appropriate residential quarters for Admiral Leahy.

The Marshal said he could see no outcome of the war but a drawn peace. He said the Germans had not abandoned their planned invasion of England and he thought they would attempt it next spring. He said he thought that England would hold but on the other hand he can see no prospect of a German military defeat.

The Marshal said that he bore the English no ill will; he admired their courage and hoped they would win although he, as a military man with some experience, could see nothing but a drawn peace. He recognized, he said, that the ill-advised actions of Mers-el-Kebir and Dakar were attributable to the snap judgment of “Winston Churchill [Page 419] who is capable of almost any rash act when drunk as he frequently is”, said the Marshal.

The Marshal said the Germans have acted miserably toward France, ruthlessly taking every advantage to pillage the country scientifically by means of the issue and arbitrary fixed value of German occupational money in terms of francs. He said, “We are under their heel and we are unable to oppose them in many things but there are limits beyond which they cannot go and they know it.” A number of advances have been made by them, he said, regarding the French fleet, all of which he had firmly repelled. There is unanimity of opinion, he believes, on the part of the Government and the French population that the fleet will be preserved to protect the French colonial possessions. The Marshal said: “I hope your President understands that I have kept and will continue to keep the solemn promise I made that the French fleet will be scuttled before it is allowed to fall into German hands.” The Marshal said that the Germans had missed their great chance of rapprochement with France and again demonstrated their inability to administer a foreign people. The German Army, he said, is continually at sixes and sevens with the German civil administration, constantly requiring Hitler’s personal intervention.

I asked the Marshal about General Weygand’s mission to North Africa. The Marshal said: “I sent Weygand to Africa to quell the dissident movement which had begun to assume alarming proportions.” The Marshal believes it was only Weygand’s presence and activity there that reestablished French authority which starting at Dakar was badly shaken.

The Marshal then added a most significant remark to the effect that Weygand is now organizing an expeditionary force to defend the Chad against any expedition, British or De Gaulle, which may be operating in that territory. (This dovetails with Baudouin’s reference to the visit to Paris by General Huntziger and Admiral Darlan for the purpose of obtaining German approval of an increase of French military effectives in North Africa—see my 1110, December 10, 10 a.m.59)

I asked the Marshal how long it was intended to retain Weygand in Africa and he replied “as long as his mission there seems justified.”

I told the Marshal that the Department wished me to inspect our consular establishments in North Africa including Dakar; that we were greatly interested in the economic aspects of that territory. He wished me luck and said every facility would be accorded.

I brought up the question of Martinique in a general way emphasizing our interest. The Marshal said: “For us Martinique is really of small importance, when our present problems are considered. You [Page 420] may assure your Government that I have every disposition to please and to work in harmony with your Government in that connection.”

The Marshal said he has had several conversations with the Spaniards who were demanding concessions of French Moroccan territory. The conversations were not coupled with threats by the Spaniards who, the Marshal is certain, have no wish to enter the war. “However,” he said, “the Germans have promised them Gibraltar and who knows what Spanish pride and necessity may oblige them to do.”

I congratulated the Marshal on his splendid physical condition and he remarked that when he fought the war 20 years ago he thought that he had finished. He doubted that he would have the years and energy to lead “the crusade facing France which will be long.”

  1. Admiral Leahy had been recently appointed Ambassador to France.
  2. Entire text not printed; for extract, see p. 627.