851.01/947: Telegram

The Chargé in the United Kingdom ( Matthews ) to the Secretary of State 1

triple priority

460. General Catroux came to see me this morning at his request and said that Colonel Billotte and several other officers are leaving for [Page 817] Algiers tonight (my telegram 415 January 16, 4 p.m.2). He, Catroux, expects to be in Gibraltar Friday (barring delays caused by bad weather) and said that he would like to have a conversation either with General Giraud himself, whom he knows well personally, or with one of his officers. He said that he would be quite willing to go on to Algiers if his presence there would not cause embarrassment at this particular time to General Eisenhower or General Giraud. It will be more satisfactory, he feels, if he can have a preliminary conversation with General Giraud or one of his officers before the meeting between de Gaulle and Giraud, and I told him that I fully agreed. He said that he wanted to get a picture of Giraud’s ideas, for he realizes the difficulties both for General Eisenhower and for General Giraud in the present situation. He said that he thinks that it is high time that there should be some agreement between various French elements fighting the Germans and he saw no real obstacle to reaching a common accord with General Giraud. No questions of internal French politics, he said, should be allowed to come up for consideration now, and such matters should be left for decision after the war.

However he does believe there must be some central administrative organization exercising “French Sovereignty” to conduct negotiations during the war period, rather than various groups operating independently and often at cross purposes.

He asked what Peyrouton’s position is to be (and though he did not specifically so state, it was clear to me that like the other Fighting French, he does not like him). I replied that I did not know. I said that I understood Hoppenot was en route to North Africa and that I had a high personal regard for him. He agreed that Hoppenot is a good man. He asked if I had any information as to when de Gaulle would visit Washington and I said that I had none.

He also talked a little of his ideas of general strategy, stating that he had always favored some offensive from Syria up into the Balkans and that he thought the Turks might be willing when the time comes to cooperate either by coming in to the war or permitting troop passage. He feels, he said, that the delay in cleaning out Tunisia, which he attributed entirely to the rain and mud, had the unfortunate effect of retarding plans for the Spring, but he expects that the Axis will be driven from Tunis in a month and a half time. He does not think that Rommel will attempt to make much of a stand at Tripoli but will fall back to try to occupy the Mareth line in Tunisia. I made [Page 818] no comment on these observations as to strategy other than to agree that the unusually heavy rains in Tunis were an important element of bad luck.

While Catroux is ambitious and politically minded, he has a sense of the practical and I believe that a meeting between him and General Giraud would be useful.

Repeated to Algiers for General Eisenhower and Murphy.

Matthews
  1. This telegram was repeated to Algiers for Eisenhower and Murphy; it was received there on January 20, 3 p.m.
  2. Not printed; it reported that de Gaulle had decided to postpone the departure of the military mission he was planning to send to Algiers pending the receipt of formal guarantees from American military authorities that (1) he would be permitted to use his own secret cipher for communications with Giraud, and (2) that Eisenhower would give blanket approval to any agreement reached between de Gaulle and Giraud, whatever the terms might be (851.01/946).