Roosevelt Papers

The British Ambassador ( Halifax ) to the President
personal and
most secret

Dear Mr. President, I enclose herein a copy of a telegram which I have just received from our Ambassador in Cairo. This telegram is headed “Following from Mr. Bullitt and Captain Lyttelton”.1

[Page 249]

I am having a copy sent to the Prime Minister.

Believe me, Dear Mr. President,

Yours very sincerely,

The President’s Personal Representative ( Bullitt ) and the British Minister of State in the Middle East ( Lyttelton ) to President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill 2
most secret

Following from Mr. Bullitt and Captain Lyttelton.

Please convey simultaneously to President Roosevelt and the Prime Minister personally.

This telegram represents the agreed views of Mr. Bullitt and myself on the subject of possible invasion of Tunisia if and when all Tripolitania should be occupied by His Majesty’s Forces. We have had the advantage of a general discussion with Catroux, particularly upon the French officers in Tunisia, but we could not carry on the discussion very far for obvious reasons.

We assume the following premise applies to-day:
That some resistance by the French in Tunisia is certain and that French blood would be shed.
That the strain on shipping and Naval escorts would preclude the immediate supply of substantial forces in Tunisia from Alexandria and that, therefore, the bulk of any supplies for these forces must come through the Western Mediterranean.
That it would be impossible to supply forces through the Western Mediterranean if the French in Algeria and Morocco should be engaged in hostilities against us. We must count on the probability that German Air reinforcements would cross to Algeria and Morocco and operate against our shipping from those bases. We must also count on the probability that the Vichy French fleet would operate against us.
The Commanders in Chief have not yet completed their study of the problem and the above premises may consequently be qualified, but we do not think they can be materially changed.
Catroux put the minimum force necessary to invade Tunisia from the South at six Divisions. We think this should be accepted with reserve but taking into account the possibility of large reinforcements being brought from Algeria and Morocco we consider the force must be substantial.
We consider that in view of 2(c) above operation would not be sound unless simultaneous with the invasion of Tunisia United States Forces should seize Casablanca or possibly Agadir. Such an operation would seem to involve preliminary seizure or control of Canaries, the Azores and Madeira; we think invasion of Tunisia must not be considered in isolation from the problem or of reactions of all French North African Colonies. We believe there would be French resistance to landing of American forces unless careful preparations should have been made within French North African Colonies. We think it may be possible to have American forces welcomed in French North African Colonies provided certain French leaders can be approached and informed that an American landing in force at either Casablanca or possibly Agadir is to be expected.
Above opinions are based on the present situation remaining unaltered. We believe the Germans may take action which would bring the majority of the French in North Africa over to our side if we should be in a position to give them effective and immediate aid.
We therefore recommend that if resources permit (a) British forces in Middle East which are already estimated to be considerably short of minimum required for defence of two fronts, should be reinforced; (b) U.S.A. should immediately start preparations for Casablancan expedition; (c) propaganda and subversive activities in all French North African Colonies should be immediately concerted between the United States and Great Britain.
With regard to 7 (a) considerable supply problems will be involved in employing forces in Tripolitania and if premise 2 (b) is correct we must look to supplies and reinforcements for Tunisia after its occupation being shipped through Western Mediterranean.
With regard to 7 (c) the nature of the propaganda is one of nice judgement and Bullitt and I propose to sketch tentative plan for submission to you.
We would emphasize that this is a preliminary telegram which is sent by us to reach you while the Prime Minister is still in Washington and that it is sent without full consultation between Commanders in Chief. It appears however to us that if resources are available in the near future the planning must start at once in order that we may either be ready to undertake invasion by force at a later date or reach the highest possible state of preparations to take advantage of any favourable opportunity produced by German action against France.
  1. For an explanation of the reasons for this method of transmitting the joint telegram, see Bullitt’s telegram, supra.
  2. For a reference by Roosevelt to this telegram, see the meeting of January 1, 1942, 6 p.m., ante, p. 153.