851.85/214: Telegram

The Ambassador in France (Leahy) to the Secretary of State

397. [From Matthews.82] Embassy’s 394, April 4, 9 p.m. I called on Rochat83 this afternoon and told him that I was frankly worried at the trend in Franco-American relations and that I wondered whether the French Government realized fully our present psychology and our determination first and foremost to take whatever measures seemed necessary or desirable for our own security and our effort to see that the Axis is defeated. French policies and the attitude of the French Government were consequently invariably first measured in the light of these objectives. I enlarged on this theme and called to his attention [Page 529] the recent recall of the Italian Naval Attaché at Washington84 and the text of the Department’s note85 rejecting German and Italian protests for the recent ship seizures as indications of our frame of mind. I said that I had felt impelled to make this friendly call by the wording, particularly the last paragraph, of Admiral Darlan’s note of yesterday. I pointed out that we felt that we had shown special consideration toward French ships in our ports because of our confidence in Marshal Petain and in any assurances that he might give me. I feared, therefore, that the phraseology of the French note would strike the Department as unappreciative, to say the least, particularly the statement that the placing of armed guards on the ships in question would be considered “as an unfriendly act”. This strong phraseology, I said, struck me as singularly inopportune at a time when the French Government is asking so much of us and showed a failure really to understand our seriousness of purpose.

He said that, speaking quite frankly and off the record, he had expected my visit and that he quite agreed that the phrase was unfortunate. It had not been in the original draft but, he said, had been inserted by Admiral Darlan himself. He went on to say that the Admiral looked upon the question “from the sailors’ viewpoint” and that the phrase was “sailors’ phrase”. Admiral Darlan had not meant it in any sense of a threat but rather to express the view that, having given the assurances we requested, if thereafter armed guards should be placed on the French ships it would hurt the pride of the French Navy and Merchant Marine. He asked especially that I send this telegram in an effort to remove any erroneous “impression” the unfortunate wording of the note may have caused. He added incidentally, that the pertinent instructions to avoid any sabotage had been sent from Vichy last night.

Rochat went on to say that he was continually pointing out the “risks” (as far as we are concerned) involved in present French policies and he hoped with some success. His task is not an easy one. Matthews.

  1. H. Freeman Matthews, First Secretary of Embassy in France.
  2. Charles Antoine Rochat, Acting Secretary General of the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
  3. See pp. 802 ff.
  4. Notes of April 3 to the German Chargé and the Italian Ambassador, vol. i, pp. 461 and 462, respectively.