851.86/76: Telegram

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

1828. Embassy’s telegram no. 1616, March 5, midnight. Admiral Stark has requested that the following telegram be sent to the Department:

  • “1. Have discussed further with General de Gaulle problems involved in acceptance by Fighting France of enlistment in American ports of men from French ships from North Africa.
  • 2. De Gaulle recognizes impossibility of permitting delays in sailings for North Africa, insists on the difficulties both of a moral and a material order for Fighting France of refusing to accept such enlistments, and refuses to consider as deserters men transferring from one French service to another French service.
  • 3. Instructions being sent Catroux to discuss with Giraud terms of immediate agreement on organization of French forces in the war to permit initial transfer between various services of officers and men desiring to transfer either from North African forces to Fighting French units or vice versa.
  • 4. Pending such agreement de Gaulle reaffirms proposals in Massigli letter of March 3 summarized in Embassy telegram no. 1616 March 5, 12 p.m., to State Department. First he insists that in case of naval vessels in American ports for refitting spontaneous offers of ratings and men from such vessels to join Fighting France be accepted and asks American authorities to avoid treating men as deserters by [Page 214]arresting or returning them by force to ships. He recognizes need for agreement which will assure full complement upon completion of rent. General de Gaulle remarked that neither American procedures nor international law had ever foreseen the present exceptional situation of France and especially the naval position of those sailors who were recently ordered by their officers to fight the allies of France and who are not certain of the will of certain of these officers to lead them legally in battle against the enemy.
  • 5. I explained to de Gaulle impossibility for American naval officers to connive at desertion of naval personnel from their vessels or recognize legitimacy of transfers of men not authorized by their own commanders and urged he come to an immediate understanding with Giraud with suspension of acceptance of such naval ratings as recruits during negotiations under way.
  • 6. Second in case of war vessels engaged in active operations or of merchant or naval supply ships, required to return immediately with cargoes for North Africa de Gaulle proposed to order Fighting French recruits from such vessels to make return voyage, with understanding they be permitted on arrival in North African port to leave their ships to join Fighting French forces. De Gaulle’s agreement is conditional on guarantees being given that these men may join Fighting French after arrival in North Africa. He would send representatives with such ships to North Africa to insure observance of guarantees. I urged that important object was to keep ships running subordinating other questions to this. General de Gaulle said he fully recognized the importance of the question of transport but could not overlook the grave moral and national problem raised by the position of these sailors.
  • Third, if large proportion or whole crew of ship wish to join Fighting France, de Gaulle proposes his representatives provide necessary officers and men for return journey to North Africa, again on condition that they be permitted to rejoin their own service on arrival.”

Admiral Stark informs me that the foregoing text was submitted to and approved by General de Gaulle. Admiral Stark had suggested that acceptance of recruits from French ships from North Africa should be suspended pending conclusion of negotiations with Giraud for a general agreement covering transfers of personnel. In the case of men wishing to join Fighting France but prepared to remain on their ships for the return journey from United States ports to Africa the Admiral suggested arrangements might be made on their arrival in Africa to opt for transfer to Fighting France. He further suggested guarantees would be given that they might then be transported to a Fighting French base. In his conversation with Admiral Stark, General de Gaulle agreed to these suggestions but when the Admiral’s proposed cable was submitted to him he “welshed” (the expression is Kittredge’s58) and insisted that men wishing to join Fighting France should be actually enrolled before returning to Africa.

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I am told, incidentally, that during the past week some dozen members of Fighting French Air Force, Army and Navy have approached Admiral Stark to ascertain whether some arrangements can not be made to permit them to join Giraud’s North African forces. There is no doubt in Kittredge’s mind that large numbers of Fighting French officer and enlisted personnel are fed up with their organization and are eager to join the North African forces. While publicity has now been given here to the “wholesale desertions” from the Richelieu and other French ships in American ports, no whisper has appeared in the British press of growing dissatisfaction within the Fighting French forces.

  1. Comdr. Tracy B. Kittredge, aide to Admiral Stark.