740.00112 European War 1939/3037

Memorandum of Telephone Conversation, by the Assistant Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Villard)

Mr. Hall28 telephoned to raise a point in connection with the arrangements just concluded for the respective departures of the six French vessels to be employed in the North African trade plan. He said that he did not wish to be obstructive but, in order to anticipate any possible future difficulties with London, suggested that the three vessels at Marseille ought to leave for the United States somewhat in advance of the departure of the three vessels from this side. Mr. Hall said that the earlier departure from Marseille might be advisable because the vessels would be two days in the Mediterranean before passing Gibraltar, and that, therefore, it might be advisable to have the departure date correspond to the moment when the vessels entered the Atlantic and had left the Mediterranean behind.

I told Mr. Hall that we had already sent a telegram for General Weygand expressing our approval of the arrangement already worked out and that I feared the injection of this new element into the picture would only serve further to complicate and delay matters. I said that we felt it was all the more urgent to get the plan under way at once, while Germany’s attention was engaged elsewhere, and that I hoped the British Government would adhere to the original agreement that these vessels be permitted to depart simultaneously from their respective ports. Mr. Hall said that in view of this feeling on our part, he would drop the subject and would not raise the point with London.

I then asked Mr. Hall what assurances the British Government were prepared to give that the vessels engaged in this legitimate and approved trade with North Africa would suffer no interference. I recalled that Mr. David Eccles29 had told us the British Government could give no written assurances on this score but would give an oral undertaking that the vessels would be allowed to proceed unimpeded provided the trade was conducted according to our understanding and agreements. Mr. Hall replied that he could not go so far as to give us any blanket assurances, either oral or written. He said that as long as there was no change in the “basic data” of the situation, that is, no untoward acts or pronouncements by the French Government and no violation of the agreement by the vessels in question, these ships would encounter no interference. Beyond that, the British Government could not go.

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I asked Mr. Hall whether his definition of untoward acts or statements applied only to the North African situation or to the general situation in France or, for example, in Syria. Mr. Hall replied that he would limit his observation to any change in the situation under the control of General Weygand, or in any moves made by the vessels themselves which would be contrary to the spirit of the understanding.

Given fulfilment of the “basic data” as described above, Mr. Hall said that the British Government would not interfere with the passage of the six ships to be employed in the North African trade.

  1. Noel Hall of the British Embassy.
  2. Representative from the British Ministry of Economic Warfare.