The British Prime Minister (Churchill) to President Roosevelt 30
Admiral Darlan’s declaration and threat31 make me wonder whether it would not be best for you to intervene as a friend of both sides and try to bring about a working agreement. We do not wish to push things to extremes, and we naturally should be most reluctant in a thing like this to act against your judgment after you have weighed all the pros and cons. We fear very much prolongation of the war and its miseries which would result from breakdown of blockade of Germany and there are immense difficulties in preventing Germany from profiting directly or indirectly from anything imported into unoccupied France. Dealing with Darlan is dealing with Germany, for he will not be allowed to agree to anything they [Page 120]know about which does not suit their book. Also there is the danger of rationing spreading to occupied France, Belgium, Holland and Norway. Perhaps however you might be able to devise a scheme under which supervision would limit leakage and might also give you a number of agents in favourable positions in unoccupied France and in French Africa. It would be easier for you to talk to Vichy with whom you are in regular diplomatic relations, than for us to negotiate via Madrid or by making speeches on broadcast. Besides this, Darlan has old scores to pay out against us in the dire action we were forced to take against his ships.
Would you therefore consider coming forward on the basis of how shocked you were at the idea of fighting breaking out between France and Great Britain, which would only help the common foe. Then you might be able to procure Vichy assent to a scheme allowing a ration of wheat to go through, month by month to unoccupied France and something for French Africa as long as other things were satisfactory. These other things might form the subject of a secret arrangement of which the Germans will not know, by which German infiltration into Morocco and French African ports would be limited to the bare armistice terms, and by which an increasing number of French warships would gradually be moving from Toulon to Casablanca or Dakar.
I have asked the Foreign Office to telegraph to Lord Halifax all sorts of things we think should be taken care of, so that he can tell you about them, but the two I have mentioned are worth more to us than the disadvantages of a certain amount of leakage of food to the enemy. It would have to be made clear that the relief accorded was limited to stated quantities of food at agreed intervals and did not extend to other goods. For instance, there is a French ship, the Bangkok, with 3,000 tons of rubber on board which is certainly not all for teats of babies’ bottles, and we have abundant cases of all kinds of valuable munition materials which are going straight through France to Germany or Italy, not entirely without some greasing. Moreover, it would be a great pity if any large number of ships which are all needed for our life and war effort were used up in food carrying. I do not want the people here, who, apart from the heavy bombardment likely to be renewed soon, are having to tighten their belts and restrict their few remaining comforts, to feel that I am not doing my best against the enemy. Nevertheless if it were not unwelcome I would gladly invite you to act as intermediary and make the best plan you can to beat Hitler. We have supreme confidence in you, and would receive with profound respect what you thought best to do.
The bases question32 has, I think, been tidied up, and I hope to bring an agreed document before the Cabinet tomorrow, Thursday, [Page 121]afternoon. Will you let me know when you would like the announcement to be made. Does it matter if it comes on morrow of passing of Lease-Lend Bill?33
- Copy of this telegram dated March 12 was delivered by the British Ambassador on the following day.↩
- On March 10 Darlan made statement to American correspondents at Vichy that if British interference with food shipments were to persist he would be forced to ask permission to convoy French food ships with the French Navy and fight for their protection.↩
- See vol. iii, pp. 53 ff.↩
- Enacted March 11, 1941; 55 Stat. 31.↩