740.0011 European War 1939/20710

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

Dear Mr. Secretary: During the month of February as you have noted in our cable reports business has been unusually brisk in this area with reports from day to day in which our different sources of information have frequently been in complete disagreement.

Early in February M. Bousquet28 told us that a note had been received from some German authority requesting that France should interrupt commercial relations with the United States.

Day before yesterday we were told by M. de Chalvron29 and M. Wapler that German authorities have asked that diplomatic relations [Page 145]with the United States be not interrupted. We reported by cable that in M. Wapler’s opinion (he is one of the bright young men in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and anti-Nazi) this new German attitude in the matter of our relations with Vichy is in preparation for the possible use of France as an intermediary in a presentation of peace proposals that will be made by Germany following the spring offensive against Russia.

M. de Chalvron has informed us that your protest in regard to the visit of a German submarine to Fort-de-France30 was discussed with Krug von Nidda, the German representative in Vichy with the rank of Consul General, who gave his consent to the agreement that no belligerent vessels or aircraft will be permitted to enter French ports in the Western Hemisphere. Von Nidda is said to be not violently anti-American and is said to be under attack by Achenbach, Counselor of the German Embassy in Paris, who is an extremist.

M. de Chalvron admitted that Darlan has for some time followed an anti-American policy but that recent demands of Germany for horses, locomotives, rolling stock, food, etc., far beyond any possible requirements of the Armistice, have caused a change in Darlan’s attitude. He did not mention the possible effect of Germany’s present difficulties in Russia which almost certainly has injected some doubt into Darlan’s previous assurance that the Allies will be defeated. Admiral Darlan may be expected to shift from side to side with the changing fortunes of the war, and we should not fail to consider that his Government when it loses German support will probably be thrown out of office by a combination of some of the other aspirants.

There is sufficient evidence to justify our accepting it as a fact that Darlan made with Italy a secret agreement to ship supplies, trucks, and possibly other war material, to Rommel’s forces in French merchant ships via Tunis. He communicated this arrangement as a “Delta Plan” in secrecy to Admiral Esteva, Resident General of Tunisia, and it is more than possible that he did not inform the Marshal.

We believe that the Marshal himself abrogated the agreement and we believe also that the shipments can still be made as purely commercial transactions without formal Vichy approval. This should be facilitated by the use of French money which the Germans have in practically unlimited amounts and which costs them nothing.

We will of course endeavor to obtain information and report by cable in regard to all such shipments.

Court proceedings for the trial at Riom30a of ex-political officials Daladier, Blum, La Chambre, and Jacomet appear from all our information to be giving Vichy many unhappy moments.

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General Gamelin’s refusal to make any defense by making the army and the Marshal less vulnerable to criticism will help the Government, which appears to very definitely have in Riom “a bear by the tail”.

We are making arrangements to obtain all available information from Riom by getting a transcript of the record and by occasional attendance by one of the Embassy staff. Travel between Vichy and Riom is difficult with existing transportation facilities.

The President’s message of February 10th and yours in regard to the Martinique submarine visit with their demands for categorical assurances, accepted by Vichy as practical ultimatums, created consternation among our contacts in the Foreign Office; and the assurances to date constitute a real effort by Vichy to satisfy the United States without committing France to a position in direct opposition to the Axis powers.

The admitted “requisitioning” of French merchant ships by Japan is in fact probably an oral agreement. I accept as true the Marshal’s statement to me that he has not signed any agreement with Japan in regard to merchant shipping. The Marshal has of late appeared old and fatigued. He is always more than courteous in his relations with me.

Darlan’s explanation of his movement of the Dunkerque to Toulon31 is of course a weak effort to find an excuse for failing to keep his agreement with us. His statement to me, which doesn’t make sense, is that the ship is so badly damaged as to be out of service for the duration of the war, and that if it had remained at Oran progressive deterioration would have permanently ruined the vessel.

Like many of Darlan’s performances the movement was an accomplished fact when the news reached us.

We assume that the Department of State is giving adequate consideration to the question as to whether or not in the long view it is to the advantage of our war effort to continue to encourage and support the Marshal or to openly take sides with the dissidents.

From this limited point of view I am unable to satisfy myself as to which would be the better course, but it does seem clear that the United States should not through promises or agreements bind itself to a continued support of Vichy, but that it should on the contrary maintain its freedom to act in any direction at any time.

Vichy’s first replies to your demands for official “assurances” brought to us a bright hope (since somewhat faded) that the near future might permit of my returning to America and finding some kind [Page 147]of employment that is more directly concerned with our essential task of winning the war.

Delenda est Japanico.

With expressions of personal regard,

Most sincerely,

William D. Leahy
  1. Raymond Charles Bousquet of the French Foreign Office.
  2. Guillier de Chalvron of the French Foreign Office.
  3. See pp. 611 ff.
  4. Opened February 19, 1942. A special French Supreme Court was created to try certain French leaders for responsibility for defeat of France.
  5. For correspondence on this subject, see pp. 204 ff.