740.0011 European War 1939/16905: Telegram

The Consul at Tunis (Doolittle) to the Secretary of State

144. The shock of Weygand’s dismissal which was like that of the Armistice is now producing in Tunis strong doubts of Vichy. Former [Page 478]sincere collaborationists are revising their ideas and for the first time since my arrival here the possibility of North Africa declaring itself free is openly discussed. However, the result of the British campaign in Libya will be the touchstone. It is not believed here that the Germans are in sufficient strength in Sicily to take positive action against Tunis if the British make speed.

In the Air Force the defection of General Odic32 has had an enormous effect. No longer ago than July Odic had told the local aviators that they must follow the Marshal blindly and now they know not what to believe. According to Bergeret,33 here on inspection and the last military man in the Cabinet, the resignation of Pétain may be expected any day.

General de Lattre34 is reported furious over appointment of Juin to supreme command in Africa. Other military men are badly shaken and there are signs of an impending conflict between Army and Navy here.

The United States have critical role to play, one which must be speedily and seriously studied. Our prestige is great and our disinterestedness admitted. But we are far distant. The French here would like to have not only our promise of material help but our physical presence in the form of armed forces, even a token naval detachment, as a buffer against the British and a guarantee of our sincerity of purpose.

On the other hand the Arabs want to see the French put down and look to America to help them win a greater degree of freedom. They fear the conflict is moving in on Tunisia and they want a friend at hand.

Vichy is rumored to have until Thursday35 to accede to whatever demands Germany may have made. This rumor may tie in with the remark about Pétain’s possible exit. Up to today no demands have been made on the Tunisian Government itself from any source. In any case the whole North African situation hinges entirely on the success of the British drive in Libya and failure there now will destroy what little will to resistance remains among the French and throw them definitely into the German orbit in self-defense.

In that case and if we are unwilling or unable to act we might as well close our offices here and write off our investment.

Repeated to Vichy, copy to Algiers and Tangier.

  1. Gen. Robert Odic had retired on August 10, 1941, as Commanding General of the French Air Forces in Africa. He promptly left North Africa for the United States and subsequently joined the Free French.
  2. Gen. Jean Marie Joseph Bergeret, French Secretary of State for Aviation.
  3. Gen. de Lattre de Tassigny, French commander of troops in Tunisia.
  4. November 27.