Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle)

M. Tixier3 came in to see me today, at his request.

He referred to our request early in February that the Free French National Committee should study favorably the use of the airdrome at Pointe Noire and take steps for the immediate undertaking of work necessary to improve the airdrome so that it might serve as a part of [Page 565]the air route between the United States and Australia via Africa. M. Tixier handed me the attached note on the aerial base at Pointe Noire. This consists of a description of the present installations at the base; and the suggestion that there be sent forthwith to Pointe Noire a qualified representative of the American army who could speak French and who might discuss the necessary work there with Col. Carretier.4 It was suggested that no rent would be charged for the base or for the services; but that new installations and improvements should be in the charge of the American authorities and should become the property of the French after the war. The note likewise indicates that the aerial and land forces of the Free French are capable of furnishing all necessary personnel but that matériel would be needed, and presumably would have to be furnished under the Lend-Lease Act.5

M. Tixier indicated that it was entirely consistent with the policy of the French National Committee to grant the facilities requested or needed at Pointe Noire. He indicated that no conditions were laid down by the Committee, but it must be understood that the sovereignty of France is recognized and safeguarded. He did indicate, however, that the French National Committee felt that if the United States requested the collaboration of Free France, it ought to find some way of recognizing Free France as an ally.

I said that it had been the continuously expressed policy of the United States to recognize the sovereignty of France over all parts of the French Empire and that I had not the slightest hesitation in saying that the use of the airdrome at Pointe Noire would be merely within this policy. It was not different from the arrangements which we had with a great many countries on this Hemisphere and elsewhere. Naturally, the considerations of technical use suggested in the attached note would be gone into with great care; subject to the opinion of our experts I saw no difficulty arising out of it.

M. Tixier then said that there was, however, one consideration which weighed so heavily on the minds of the Free French authorities that he felt justified in including it in the present negotiation. This was the fact that there was very grave need of air transport in French Africa. The planes there were old and unsafe. General de Gaulle,6 in traveling through the territory recently, had had four accidents in a single flight, arising out of the quality and condition of the planes. Further, he had requested some few months ago thirty planes from the British, who were assumed to get them [Page 566]from us by the lend-lease procedure. After two months of negotiation this request had been refused, leaving the Free French territory without safe transport and with no apparent visible means of getting any. Specifically, they wanted eight Lockheed Lodestar transport planes. The Free French Committee proposed to give their High Commissioner in Africa7 instructions regarding the air base, but hoped that this could be simultaneous with receiving some assurance that they would get these eight transport planes.

I said to M. Tixier that I would take up at once the question of seeing what could be done about transport planes. I said that I noted the desire that the eight transport planes might be promised simultaneously with the airdrome permission. I said that I assumed that the Free French National Committee would hardly care to make a matter of urgent military necessity, such as the airdrome, a point of bargaining between the United States and the Free French Committee; this would be indeed a method of going at things which was hardly compatible either with the dignity of the United States or with that of the Free French Committee. I assumed, therefore, that this was merely a method of emphasizing the urgency of the need and the very real concern of the Free French in a matter of great importance to them.

M. Tixier agreed that he thought this was probably the underlying consideration, and he explained at some length the very great difficulties that they were having with air transport as explaining the exigency of the Free French National Committee in this regard.

I said to M. Tixier that I thought that he might well take advantage of this opportunity to explain to his Committee the principles on which the United States had consistently carried on negotiations of this kind. We had in no case made a bargain about any military cooperation. We had not bargained with the British when they granted us bases in British colonies along the American Coast.8 Neither had we bargained with them when we had supplied them with destroyers, later airships, and still later, lend-lease assistance. We had not bargained with Greenland when we had obtained landing rights there.9 Instead, we had in each case agreed to give sympathetic consideration to the necessities of our colleagues, as well as of ourselves, and had gone farther than any nation in history towards meeting those necessities in a spirit of pure cooperation. A similar practice had been followed among the members of the American family of nations in the Western Hemisphere. That was, in fact, the only way, as we saw matters, by which a proper basis of [Page 567]cooperation could be reached, and I was very sure that the Free French Committee, on considering the matter, would come to the same conclusion.

A. A. Berle, Jr.

Memorandum on the Pointe Noire Air Base

The base includes:

The airdrome and the runways, with two large hangars;
Radio and meteorological installations as well as large machine shops of the Congo-Ocean railroad which make it possible to take care of repairs and maintenance on the spot.

A. The repairing of a road joining the two land and sea bases is almost completely finished. Railroad sidings are provided for and they will be easy to build and will make possible the accumulation of stocks. An engineer who is a specialist in the building of air fields is available; he has worked in North America and is informed of the Pan American’s requirements.

B. These installations could be shared between us and the American Army, which will probably wish for certain improvements, such as a lengthening of the runways, the establishment of special repair shops and quarters for its personnel at Pointe Noire.

There is an inn available now for the crews.

It appears necessary immediately to send to Pointe Noire a qualified representative of the American Army, who knows the French language and who can discuss with Colonel Carretier the work which should be performed either by ourselves or by contractors. There are enough Frenchmen on the spot to take care of the direction of (undecipherable group) and to furnish all the personnel necessary for the operation of the airport.

C. No rent will be asked for the air base or for the radio and meteorological services. The financing of new installations will be borne by the American authorities and these installations or improvements will remain the property of France after the war without any compensation therefor.

D. The organization of the land and air defense may be studied with Colonel de Chevigné who will shortly arrive in Washington.

French air and land forces are in a position to furnish all the necessary personnel, but this personnel will need material which it will be to the advantage of the American Government to furnish in accordance with the provisions of the Lease-Lend Act.

  1. Adrien Tixier, Head of the Free French Delegation in Washington.
  2. Chief of the Free French Air Force.
  3. Approved March 11, 1941; 55 Stat. 31.
  4. Gen. Charles de Gaulle, President of the National Committee of the Free French at London.
  5. Gen. Marie Eugène Adolphe Sicé
  6. For correspondence on this subject, see Foreign Relations, 1940, vol. iii, pp. 49 ff.
  7. For correspondence on this subject, see ibid., 1941, vol. ii, pp. 35 ff.