740.00112 European War 1939/3974: Telegram

The Consul General at Algiers (Cole) to the Secretary of State

602. From Murphy. Your 325, November 21, 6 p.m., and Ambassador Leahy’s 1454, November 19, 6 p.m., regarding our policy toward France and North Africa. I of course concur in the recommendations made by the Ambassador especially his suggestion that “it does not now appear to be to our advantage to permit the initiative to remain with the Axis Powers who equally with Vichy are responsive only to aggressive action.” I believe also that in translating that thought into action we should not abandon any instruments available to us.

I respectfully submit that the value to us locally (whatever its value in the United States) of a public declaration to the effect that the North African economic plan is suspended is doubtful. It seems to everyone here that such a declaration strengthens the German position. The local reaction is in part—if the Americans abandon us there is nothing else to do but depend on the other side. We are faced by opponents who do not publish in advance their decisions; they depend on surprise and duplicity as much as possible. It is evident that the German demand for the removal of Weygand is an expression of their opposition to his policy, part of which was expressed in his economic accord with the United States which enabled American influence to develop in this area.

The accord has brought with it certain advantages for our representatives in North Africa—a courier service, the use of cipher messages between the territories and the maintenance of observers, acting as control officers. Our cancellation of the accord will undoubtedly deprive us of these advantages just as it deprives friendly officials of our influence and support. It would seem that we should endeavor to retain these advantages as long as we can.

I recommend that if possible, we permit the economic accord (now suspended) to continue ostensibly in effect. It is understood that there are now two small cargo ships with mixed cargoes en route to Casablanca. Their arrival will create the impression for a short time at least that we have not abandoned the field. The small volume and the character of such cargoes are without military importance. The arrival of 1 or 2 additional non-petroleum cargoes during the coming weeks would enable us to maintain our position. The shipments would be compensated by cork and other shipments necessary for the national defense. Such a temporary set-up would provide a useful auxiliary for aggressive action in line with the Ambassador’s recommendation.

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I suggest the following considerations: The recall for consultation of the Ambassador and myself and publicity of the American attitude as recommended by the Ambassador are acts which should be implemented by the formulation of a new Mediterranean policy of which our French policy is a segment. (A rupture of our relations with the French Government, it seems to all here, would be a voluntary relinquishment of the advantage of maintaining representatives in this area—an advantage which the Germans after months of striving only recently obtained.)

It is now evident that the French State will yield to the Germans in French Africa. The only man who successfully opposed German encroachment has been removed. Concessions will be progressive—one step at a time always accompanied by a Vichy denial of any change of general policy or intention to make further concessions. Weygand’s removal opens the door to German infiltration, increase of Armistice Commission and other German personnel, who are already arriving, propaganda and other subversive activity. Quietly the ground will be laid for direct Axis control of the territory by the liquidation of unfavorable individuals and persuasion of others. When the moment is ripe the military use of Tunisia by the Axis would be automatic and undoubtedly coupled with a Vichy denial that this would affect in any way the status of Algeria. I believe that the doors of French Africa are now open to the Germans and that during the coming weeks they will use the entry provided them.

It is also clear that French circles here were wrong when they anticipated that the Germans in Spain would take all the necessary steps for the invasion of Africa before they brought pressure to bear on Vichy. The Germans to the contrary calculated Vichy’s confusion and readiness to submit to pressure and as a result Weygand was sacrificed to Hitler who apparently was in no position to invade this area.

It appears that the Germans, convinced that they cannot invade Britain nor win the battle of the Atlantic, must organize the Continent on a defensive basis to hold out indefinitely. With their successes in Eastern Europe they [could?] apparently dispose of inadequate resources if they could solve the transportation problem. Land transport and the Danube are inadequate to cope with the huge requirements of the Eur-African if we consider but two elements—Russian wheat and Rumanian oil. German domination of the Mediterranean therefore seems vital for Axis prosecution of the war. It has proved impossible to win the battle of the eastern Mediterranean because Britain has control of the Near East and might prevent passage through Turkey. On the other hand the reinforcement of Libya has proved too much for the Italian Navy.

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Therefore, it becomes apparent that the problem of the control of the Mediterranean can only be solved by action in the western part of that sea. If the hypothesis is correct that present French policy contemplates opening the door of French North Africa to the Axis, and that this in turn may be conclusive of the battle of the Mediterranean then I respectfully submit that our policy should support in every practical way a British effort to prevent all transport by the Mediterranean between Europe and Africa.

Libya has proved that adequate reinforcements cannot be brought by air and that they could be prevented from arriving here in force by a screen of naval units operating in the western Mediterranean.

If this can be done our task in North Africa as long as permitted would consist of the cultivation of well-disposed civilian and military officials (with the possibility of developing among the generals a provisional leader), the close surveillance of the movement of German effectives and material, the reporting of data of interest especially shipping and related developments. The Department undoubtedly has accurate information regarding the Axis shipping possibilities. That they are limited would seem clear from the fact that they have thus far not been able apparently to provide a foreign ship to fetch the 500 tons of cobalt ore awaiting them at Nemours. I am now told that the French Admiralty will perform this small service. It will undoubtedly also cooperate in facilitating other trans-Mediterranean shipments.

Replying to the Department’s inquiry I respectfully concur in the Ambassador’s recommendation that I be recalled for consultation.

Repeated to Vichy. [Murphy.]