851.00/2580: Telegram

The Chargé in Switzerland (Huddle) to the Secretary of State


399. Source Legation’s 257, November 20,1 attributes following to French Ambassador just back from several days sojourn in Vichy, [Page 42] where he had numerous conferences with Pétain and meeting with Darlan.

Pétain confirmed his initiative for St. Florentin meeting2 following Paris press accusations about his lukewarmness for collaboration, and complaints from occupied zone that he was not doing anything to alleviate difficulties there. His request for meeting with Hitler had been refused on ground that latter was too busy; instead Goering was offered and accepted by Pétain. Prior to departure for meeting Pétain had drawn up memorandum, reiterating the point of honor involved in his respect for the armistice provisions relating to French Africa and the fleet; further, containing complaints of the French in the occupied zone, a request for substantial diminution of the occupation costs now out of all proportion to the small occupying force, and numerous other French griefs.

The atmosphere of the encounter was cold. The memorandum was read in toto to Goering who told Pétain that it was not for vanquished Vichy to put demands, but to receive them. Pétain persisted, citing cooperation French industry, and Goering finally agreed that the occupation costs were indeed out of proportion; but he returned the document to Darlan, declaring that he could not possibly carry it to Hitler, who would only fly into a rage upon reading it and make matters worse by insisting upon further demonstrations to the French that they had really been beaten. Goering then proceeded to make counter demands, of which two were classed as urgent, namely use of North Africa, especially quick reinforcements to Rommel from “local resources” and use of French merchant marine. The third demand was for unequivocal French adhesion to “New Europe”, security to Germany for which would be immediate French accession to the first two demands. The public avowal could come later as could compliance with the fourth demand, French naval convoys of transports. At the end of the interview Goering suggested that Vichy initiate settlement negotiations with Rome which was the reason [for] Darlan’s trip to Turin, where he found an embarrassed Ciano, and from which nothing developed.

Pétain left Goering with the distinct impression that the Germans then counted upon Rommel to be able to hold out, in much the same position that he then was, for about two months and that they consequently would not precipitate matters, but would allow the French time to come around to agreement with Goering’s third and fourth demands. An early positive answer, however, was expected to the first two. Because Rommel was not holding out as the Germans had [Page 43] anticipated, Pétain felt, at the time of his subsequent conferences with his Bern Ambassador, that a series of ultimata could probably be shortly expected. At meeting with the Ambassador on December 15th Pétain suddenly stated a lengthy and pathetic jeremiad of his relations with Darlan and Pucheu, complaining that both were deliberately deceiving him and constantly exceeding their authority. Pétain said he had no confidence in Darlan and, with regard to Pucheu and his group of industrialists, exclaimed: “Can they be really Frenchmen?” Pétain asked the Ambassador to draw out Darlan at their coming meeting and then report back to him. Pétain termed Darlan “totally hallucinated” and said that, were it left to Darlan, Vichy would break immediately with the United States.

On December 13th Ambassador called on Darlan and had a depressing experience. Darlan told him that he had seen his reports, that the Swiss news was false and that Germany was not beaten; that he hated the English and Americans; that Germany was the only great power in Europe and that France deserved to be subordinate to Germany in saving Europe from disaster; that Germany could have peace with Russia any time it wanted; that the Japanese had 7000 men prepared for suicide in destroying the Anglo-Saxon fleets, and that consequently the United States despite its expanding industrial might was “washed up”; that Rommel was toying with the English in Libya, that Germany would ask for transit across North Africa and that Vichy would grant it; and finally that he, Darlan, knew that the United States would soon tire of the war and withdraw, leaving Germany to organize Europe, whereupon 5 years later “Europe” would embark on a “yellow peril” crusade against Russia, China and Japan. When the Ambassador suggested that there would be heavy internal resistance to such subservience by Vichy to Germany, Darlan admitted it and added that were he to venture on the street without his guards he would quite probably one day be cut to pieces by his enemies.

The Ambassador found very strong and potentially effective opposition to the Darlan-Pucheu Government (the position of which is anything but solid); that the army hates the navy; that because Pétain had refused to permit Dentz to succeed to Huntziger’s position Darlan was refusing to name anyone at all, thereby infuriating the army all the more; that the internal French situation is very tense and that something is very definitely in preparation in unoccupied France and French Africa in the way of effective resistance to a capitulation by Darlan to German demands with respect to French Africa; and that Darlan had often lied to Leahy.

Rochat asked the Ambassador to send all reports of confidential information to him personally for transmission to Pétain, since everything [Page 44] of that sort directed officially to the Ministry was passed on by Darlan to the Germans and not to Pétain.

Cipher text by pouch to Vichy.

  1. Not printed; it reported on the basis of reliable French Embassy sources the current status of Franco-German negotiations (851.00/2470).
  2. For a record of the conversation between Pétain and Goering at Florentin-Vergigny on December 1, 1941, see Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918–1945, series D, vol. xiii, p. 914.