851.00/2175: Telegram

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

1135. My 1133, December 14, 3 a.m. Rochat confirms Laval’s resignation as Vice President of the Council and Minister of Foreign Affairs last evening. Laval is at present under house arrest for a minimum period of 3 days at Chateldon.

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Rochat said that at the Council of Ministers last night all of the Ministers had assembled and were grouped around the Marshal when Laval entered the room. The Marshal told Laval bluntly that he had lost his confidence and he would have to request his resignation. He said that for some time distrust of Laval on the part of his colleagues and himself had been developing and that the Marshal felt that Laval was not keeping him fully advised of his official actions. Laval thereupon tendered his resignation and returned to his office. Subsequently taken into custody by the Sûreté Nationale and transferred to his home at Chateldon where the police authorities had already instituted a search for documentation.

I asked Rochat who would probably succeed Laval as Foreign Minister, and he said he had no doubt but that it would be Pierre Étienne Flandin. He said that Baudouin would probably be made Minister of Press and Propaganda, and that otherwise he thought there would be no other changes. (I believe it is possible that Peyrouton, Minister of the Interior, or Alibert, Minister of Justice, may be appointed Vice President of the Council.)

I am also informed that according to Baudouin, the French Government despatched last night an emissary whose name is not yet divulged to convey the news of the foregoing proceedings to Chancellor Hitler with the explanation that this action represents no change in the French policy of collaboration but is the result of a personal difference between Marshal Pétain and Laval. This emissary is to say that Marshal Pétain regards himself as the active head of the Government; that he believes Laval has not kept him informed of many of his official actions and that the present change is necessary in order to emphasize that he is in no sense to be considered a figurehead.

This culmination of growing distrust of Laval on the part of his colleagues and by the public at home and abroad seems to be an organized effort to placate the Germans and simultaneously raise the stock of the French Government at Washington and London. Flandin has certainly been an ardent proponent of the policy of collaboration but at the same time he has never manifested the anglophobia of Laval. He apparently, however, believes that there is no possibility of a British victory (see my telegram 1110, December 10, 10 a.m.).

Rochat assures me that telegraphic and telephone communication with the outside world will be reestablished at noon today. He said that the elaborate police precautions were taken on the theory that Laval’s friends might attempt an ill-advised action.

Vichy is tranquil and the foregoing events have been accompanied by no disorder whatever.