851.86/64: Telegram

The Chargé in the United Kingdom (Matthews) to the Secretary of State

1278. In a second communication in reply to Admiral Stark’s letter mentioned in my 1174, February 15, 10 p.m. [midnight], General de Gaulle states that “in contradiction with what you seem to suggest,” the National Committee cannot be held responsible for the consequences of the personnel from the Lot and Wyoming joining Fighting France since this act was “entirely spontaneous” and “was inspired by profound reasons”. De Gaulle says however he does not wish to see these ships immobilized which should be used in the service of France and makes the suggestion that as a first measure men and ratings to complete the crews of the Lot and Wyoming might be provided from units of the French Fleet recently arrived in New York which he points out will be necessarily out of service for a long period. De Gaulle further declares the National Committee would be prepared to place on board the Lot and Wyoming a detachment of petty officers and sailors, commanded by an officer and sufficient to complete the crews and allow the sailings. Such personnel would be drawn from naval effectives [Page 205] now at St. Pierre. On arrival in North Africa they would be released and returned to England on the assumption that French personnel would be available in North Africa.

Admiral Stark would appreciate being informed as soon as possible if we are willing to accept de Gaulle’s offer to provide a Fighting French naval detachment to complete the crews of the Lot and Wyoming under the conditions above indicated, a suggestion which, it seems to me, might lead to trouble among the crews.

Admiral Stark has been informed that in British ports similar incidents have occurred, resulting from desertions to join Fighting France from sailors of North African ships. A Fighting French recruiting officer was in fact arrested but subsequently released with the warning that he should refrain from recruiting such deserters. On February 13 British services concerned agreed on prompt action and, for the information of American authorities confronted with a similar problem, Admiral Stark was advised of the following steps being taken with respect to ships already in United Kingdom ports:

Men on shore will be informed that they must remain with their ships, as British authorities will not permit them to join Fighting France and will deport deserters to North Africa.
Any man refusing to return to their ships in spite of this warning would be forcibly returned if ships were still in port.
British authorities would impress on masters of ships that there must be no victimization of men who intended to join de Gaulle but were persuaded to return voluntarily.
Admiral Cunningham48 would be asked to arrange to inform crews of all ships sailing for British ports that they would not be permitted to desert to Fighting France [on] arrival.

British security officers will in the future visit ships from French North African ports on arrival to explain the position above outlined. Ministry of War Transport hopes to announce shortly that crews of French ships from North Africa will henceforth receive British rates of pay as is now the case with the Free French merchant marine. This may remove one incentive for desertion as men at present think they will be better paid under the Fighting French.

British officials feel agreement between Free French and North African authorities would be the only long-term solution of this problem. They believe it may become serious when units of North African navy arrive for refueling. Each of the two French groups they say seeks to recruit, or is prepared to accept enlistments from vessels under control of the other group.

Admiral Stark has written General de Gaulle today again inviting attention to the responsibility of the National Committee regarding the enlistment of deserters of French ships from North Africa. [Page 206] Pointing out the danger of repetition of such incidents, he again asks de Gaulle to issue instructions to Fighting French representatives in the United States to refuse the enlistment in the United States of any such deserters. Should such instructions be issued, Admiral Stark suggests that steps similar to those adopted in British ports be taken to avoid punishment or victimization of men voluntarily returning to their ships after offering to join the Fighting French services.

  1. Sir Andrew Cunningham, British Naval Commander.