740.00112 European War 1939/4184

The Chargé at Tangier ( Childs ) to the Secretary of State

No. 475

Sir: I have the honor to report a conversation I had with Mr. Cyr (for identification see Legation’s despatch no. 333 of September 51) concerning the situation in North Africa.

I have found Mr. Cyr an unusually keen observer in the many talks I have had with him since arriving in Morocco. He is very well informed of what goes on in France and in Morocco, including both the French and Spanish Zones.

He said that one must understand that the Vichy Government told the French Protectorate authorities very little of what was going on. I think this fact throws a great deal of light on the uncertainty which I observed displayed on my last visit to Rabat by officials there concerning the probable course of events. My informant stated that since he had visited France recently, including both zones, he too felt as many Frenchmen were beginning to feel that the policy of collaboration for France proper was necessary for France’s survival. That did not mean that either he or others were pro-German or believed that the policy of collaboration should extend to North Africa. Indeed he felt, if anything, that anti-German feeling was increasing by leaps and bounds in France and French North Africa.

He expressed the opinion that once British troops had reached the Tunisian border, Admiral Esteva, Governor General Chatel, and General Noguès2 in Rabat would have the greatest difficulty in keeping down the upsurge of sentiment which would be found to rise among all French in French North Africa. He added that at such a moment there would not be ten Frenchmen in North Africa who were anti-Ally.

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My informant expressed the view that we and the British should be giving very serious attention to a démarche with General Orgaz, Spanish High Commissioner in Spanish Morocco, at an appropriate time when British troops are approaching the Tunisian border. That moment, my interlocutor stated, would be a very critical one for North Africa, as there would be an unprecedented effervescence of French sentiment, stirred by the British cleaning up of Libya. At such a time the attitude of the Spanish Zone would become of very great importance and he suggested that we and the British might, at such a moment, approach General Orgaz, Spanish High Commissioner, and bring pressure to bear on him not to permit the use of the territory of Spanish Morocco by the Axis.

My interlocutor pointed out that there has been a considerable swing of sentiment among Spanish officials in Tetuan in recent months since the Russian campaign started. At the beginning of that campaign the Spanish were told in the Spanish Axis-controlled press that Moscow and Leningrad were to fall within a few days. They have heard that prediction made so often that they are now losing faith in Germany and there have been Spanish officials who have approached the French Consul in Tetuán with the request that he give them asylum in the coming Spanish revolution which will occur upon the overthrow of the Axis.

My informant went on to state that the officials of Spanish Morocco fully understood what their position would be in the event of an Axis defeat and that Spain would not be large enough for them. He stated that it is his belief that General Orgaz has been given most extensive powers by the Spanish Government to deal with any emergency which may arise in North Africa.

My informant is of the opinion that General Orgaz, whom he knows and with whom he has had frequent dealings, might well be amenable to an appeal from Great Britain or the United States. My informant suggested that he did not believe a threat of military force from the Democracies would be necessary. He thought it would be sufficient if we approached General Orgaz and pointed out that he had an opportunity to play a role in Spain such as General Weygand4 had been expected to play in France. It was suggested that it was in the interest of Spain that some figure such as General Orgaz should come to terms with the Democracies so as to preserve such continuity as might be possible during the changeover from the pro-Axis regime in Spain to the transitional regime necessary in the event of eventual Axis defeat. It might be pointed out to General Orgaz that, in the event he resisted any attempt by the Axis to use Spanish Morocco, the Democracies would assure him of such material cooperation in [Page 441] the building up of Spanish Morocco and of Spain as might be necessary after the war. My informant thinks that General Orgaz, who is a hard headed realist might be amenable to such an approach. It is suggested, however, that with the decline in the fortunes of the Axis it becomes less and less likely that Spain or Spanish Morocco would be inclined to yield to German pressure.

My informant told me that General Noguès’ references, in his conversations with me, to Spanish elements who would be anxious to see him removed probably referred amongst others to the French Ambassador in Madrid who, out of a desire for popularity with the Spanish, had been so conciliatory in his dealings with the Spaniards as to indicate a willingness to give away almost anything so far as French interests in North Africa were concerned.

My interlocutor spoke also of the great difference which existed between the two Zones in France in respect of collaboration. When he was recently in Paris his friends at the Banque de France had spoken with the greatest bitterness of the readiness of Vichy to yield to the Germans in matters on which the French in the Occupied Zone were prepared to dispute indefinitely with all the disagreeable consequences to Frenchmen who came constantly in contact with the Germans and had to bear the brunt of such disputes as Vichy did not have to suffer.

Respectfully yours,

J. Rives Childs
  1. Not printed.
  2. Adm. Jean Pierre Esteva, French Resident General in Tunisia; Yves Chatel, French Governor General of Algeria; and Gen. Albert Noguès, Resident General in the French Zone of Morocco.
  3. Gen. Maxime Weygand, Delegate General for French North Africa, September 1940–November 1941.