851.85/388: Telegram

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

1577. Arnal96 asked us to call at the Foreign Office this evening and delivered the following note:

“With reference to the aide-mémoire delivered on December 17 by the Counselor of Embassy of the United States, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has the honor to inform the Embassy that this aide-mémoire calls forth the following reply from the French Government:

[Page 538]

On December 9 the French Government offered to cede the Normandie to the Federal Government ‘with privilege of repurchase,’ under reserve of the granting of counterparts, the first of which provided for utilizing the proceeds of the sale of this liner for the purchase in the United States of supplies destined for North Africa, and the second, the adjustment of the proposals made on November 1 by the President of the Maritime Commission of the United States to the French Ambassador concerning the utilization of French tonnage in American ports.

In its above cited aide-mémoire the Embassy of the United States apprises the French Government that ‘because of the entry of the United States into war the conditions set forth by the French Government covering the transfer of the Normandie to the American Government could not be accepted’ and that on December 16 the Maritime Commission proceeded to the requisition of this ship.

The French Government regrets that the Federal Government felt it necessary, without awaiting the conclusion the negotiations, to take a measure of this nature, which is contrary the provisions of the notes exchanged on April 3–4, 1941, under the terms of which the Federal Government manifested its willingness to accord a ‘special position’ to French ships in the United States under reserve of certain engagements undertaken by France on April 4, 1941, and strictly observed.

The French Government therefore considers it its duty to raise a formal protest against the requisitioning of the Normandie.

The Embassy of the United States adds, it is true, that the requisitioning of the Normandie resulted from the consent given by the French Government to the purchase of the vessel by the United States and has been carried out under conditions similar to those applied in the case of the Swedish SS Kungsholm, the owners of the Normandie to receive ‘just compensation’.

The French Government makes all reserves as to the fact that it is supposed to have given its consent to the purchase of the Normandie by the United States, since this consent was dependent on two counterparts, neither of which has up to the present been granted.

Considering that, under these conditions, it remains the owner of the vessel, it would like to conclude an agreement with the Federal Government as to the ‘compensation’ offered for the requisitioning of the vessel. It would be willing to accept that such ‘compensation’ be paid during the full period of utilization of the Normandie, by the Maritime Commission, at fixed dates and in amounts to be determined by mutual agreement, and for which it would like to receive proposals of the Federal Government. It would desire, moreover, that the sums, in dollars, paid in this connection, be utilized for purchases, on the American market, of products of various descriptions destined for Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Finally, it should be provided that in the event of the loss of the Normandie due to acts of war, or any other cause, the French Government would be entitled, at the end of hostilities, to a compensation covering an equivalent tonnage.

This latter request which had not been expressly formulated in the note from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of December 9, is justified by the entry into war of the United States, subsequent to the delivery [Page 539] of this note, and which evidently subjects this vessel to risks which were not anticipated prior to this entry into war.

As regards the other French vessels now lying in ports of the United States, the French Government notes the assurances given to M. Henry-Have, under the terms of which the former status of these vessels will be maintained. At the same time, it expresses the desire an agreement may be reached at an early date with a view to the utilization of these vessels under conditions which would permit an increase in the rhythm of transports to French North Africa.”

Arnal, who delivered this note, said that he could tell us unofficially that while the French Government had “felt it necessary to make a formal protest against the requisitioning of the Normandie it understood that the entry of the United States into war had created a changed situation insofar as foreign vessels in American ports were concerned. [”] He went on to say that the Normandie represented more than a mere ship to France: It was symbol of the days of France’s power and greatness. For this reason the French Government hoped that the American Government would take the view that title to the vessel is still vested in French hands and that it is only requisitioned by the American Government “for the duration of the emergency”. This, he said, would create an excellent impression in France.

He added that under these circumstances there was no reason for the United States to pay a lump sum for the purchase of the vessel and that the French Government on the contrary would like to have a fixed sum paid at regular intervals for the “use of the Normandie”. This money would be in the nature of “rental” and would be applied to purchases for North Africa. “France’s maritime situation after the war will be extremely difficult and we will need ships” he said. “For this reason in the event of the Normandie being lost we wish to have an equivalent amount of tonnage returned to us.” He added that in the event of its loss the French Government did not mean that a vessel the size and tonnage of the Normandie would be returned in its place but that a number of vessels with a total tonnage equivalent to the Normandie would be delivered to France.


[Subsequent to the requisitioning of the Normandie an agreement was reached between the Maritime Commission and the French Ambassador under which compensation for the vessel was deposited to the credit of its owners in a blocked account in the United States Treasury, and at the end of the war the Normandie was to be resold to the previous owners or their successors at a price to be mutually agreed upon.]

  1. Pierre Arnal, Minister Plenipotentiary in the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs.