Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle)52
I refer to Algiers No. 3658, March 1st, 1943.53 This is a request from Giraud that all possible action be taken to avoid repetition of the incidents occurring in connection with the steamers Lot and Wyoming. In these cases, sailors deserted the ships and endeavored to join the Free French forces. They were promptly accepted by the Free French recruiting station. The Free French insisted that they came of their own accord. The Giraud group insists they were recruited.
I should not be surprised to find that an exactly similar incident was in the making in connection with the crew of the battleship Richelieu. I am not convinced that the de Gaullists are altogether innocent in the matter. We already know that a de Gaullist agent has been in touch with certain members of the crew of the Richelieu, though it does not appear whether the crew members came to him or he went to them. Certainly the de Gaullists are not doing anything to discourage defection of the Giraud sailors.
Our chief interest in the matter ought to be the keeping of the ships in active operation; and cross recruiting, if continued, may immobilize the ships.
It is obvious that very little will be done by the de Gaullists to discourage desertion from the Giraud camp. It is equally obvious that, at least in the United States, the Giraud group cannot do very much to prevent desertion.
I think we should take two steps:
- Draft telegrams both to Algiers and to London, in the hope of securing agreement between General Giraud and General de Gaulle on a joint statement. This statement ought to be in the form of an order by each to his respective followers not to recruit from the other side or to accept recruits from the other side; and should stress the absolute necessity of keeping the fighting and transport units in strength and up-to-date. I think that the statement should also provide a method by which sailors can choose in which of the fleets they wish to serve, and provided they loyally continue to render service, transfers will be arranged by the two authorities.
- I think consideration should be given to a clear statement by this Government of its position in the matter. The statement presumably ought to be issued by the Navy. It ought to say, in substance, that we are fighting a common war against a common enemy; that the first interest of all of us is to see to it that the transport and fighting [Page 210]units are maintained in continuous operation; that, in consequence, it is considered of the highest importance that every sailor shall stick to his ship until further notice.
I am pretty clear that incidents of this kind will continue. The Breton sailors, as I am told, tend to support de Gaulle. Whether their complaints against the North African naval authorities are justified, I am not clear, and no doubt they have been exaggerated. Equally, it is quite probable that there is some basis for the idea that some of these officers are not too secure in their loyalty to the United Nations.