740.0011 European War 1939/2955: Telegram

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

657. For the President. The Germans have launched the greatest attack of modern times on the French Army from the point where the Maginot Line ends at Montmedy northwestward to the line Sedan Givet Dinant Namur. They have put in four armored divisions and many other troops and an overwhelming number of tanks and airplanes. This is as you know, the shortest road to Paris.

The Belgians have been obliged to fall back to the line of Namur Louvain Malines Antwerp. Dutch resistance has been almost crushed.

At this moment news has reached the French General Staff that certain dispositions of airplanes and troops indicate that Mussolini is contemplating making a direct attack on France and that he has adjourned his attack on Yugoslavia.

There are literally no French planes available to face an Italian attack and the Italian aviation would be able to bomb southern and southwestern France at will.

I have talked with eyewitnesses of the German bombings in Belgium and Luxemburg, including the Archduke Otto and Bech, Foreign Minister of Luxemburg. Neither men, women, nor children are being spared and the tales of horror pass belief.

No one in Paris doubts that Mussolini is contemplating pleasurably the infliction of similar atrocities. Information reaching the French Foreign Office today which Léger32 has just given me indicates moreover that the Italians are trying to provoke incidents which will give them an excuse for attacking France. The Italian colony in Tunis has become most provocative and insults to French and English in Italy continue.

Nearly every member of the French Government and many French Senators have appealed to me today to ask you to make a final effort to keep Italy from entering the war as Germany’s ally. Telegrams from the French Ambassador in Rome today report that the Italian press is filled with praise of the American Government and its friendly gesture in eliminating certain duties on Italian goods.33 Poncet reports that this is being interpreted to mean that the Government of the United States approves of Mussolini’s present policies. Since you have handed Mussolini a carrot of this variety I trust that you have not forgotten the club.

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The suggestions that have been made to me are the following:

(1) That the most powerful weapon to employ against Mussolini would be a statement by the Pope based on purely spiritual grounds denouncing the barbarities which Germany has inflicted on the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg.

I have been requested by numerous members of the French Government to ask you to use all the influence you have to persuade the Pope to make such a declaration. It is pointed out that his telegrams to the sovereigns of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg were in the nature of political acts whereas what is needed is a declaration on the ecclesiastical and spiritual plane which centuries ago would have taken the form of excommunication of Hitler and Germany.

(2) Several members of the French Government and the Argentine Ambassador have suggested to me that if all the countries of Latin America should join in denouncing the invasion of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg, and if this denunciation should be fully supported by you the effect in Italy would be important.34

(3) It has been suggested to me by many persons that you might let Mussolini know privately that in case he should go to war at this time as Hitler’s ally you would do everything in your power to cut off from Italy all immigrant remittances and other funds which Italy ordinarily receives from the United States.

(4) All the members of the Government including Reynaud,35 the Senators, and others with whom I have talked today have implored me to obtain more planes immediately and have become exceedingly depressed when I explained that so far as I knew no planes were available.

You will have thought of other possible methods of influencing Mussolini and I do not wish to make this telegram any longer but I must end it by saying that unless action is immediate it will come too late and that no one in France, general or statesman, believes that France can resist an attack by Italy at this time when every available man in the French Army is needed to stem the German advance through Belgium.

  1. Alexis Léger, Secretary General of the French Foreign Office.
  2. A Treasury decision dated April 26, 1940, discontinued the countervailing duties on certain silk products.
  3. For correspondence regarding the collective protest by the American Republics against this invasion, see vol. i , section entitled “Cooperation among the American Republics, in their reaction to the European War,” subsection III.
  4. Paul Reynaud, President of the French Council of Ministers.