851.86/106: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Winant) to the Secretary of State

3264. The Department will recall the difficulties preceding and attending the departure of the SS Jamaique, a French ship under [Page 218]charter from Algiers and operated by our WSA.61 A new situation has now developed with regard to the SS Fort de Douamont similarly chartered and operated. On Friday April 30, a Fighting French naval officer from Liverpool met members of the crew at Middlesborough where the ship lay. On the following day 6 French Naval gunners and 6 merchant seamen deserted and some at least took tickets to London. A number of them have since been identified by British Security officials at the Fighting French naval reception center here. In order to move the vessel from Middlesborough to the convoy assembly point from which she is scheduled to sail next week the British Admiralty provided temporarily for that brief run only, 6 seamen from the British Shipping Pool and a military gun crew. Authorization has likewise been requested from North Africa to obtain 6 members of the gun crew of the Mont Vigo now in a British port to replace the deserters. The British through Charles Peake62 are endeavoring to persuade the Fighting French to send the deserters back to their vessel.

This brings again to the fore the whole question of British treatment of deserters from North African vessels who join the Fighting French. The whole previous file on this question was covered in Admiral Stark’s report to OPNAV63 of April 4, No. 00098 and of April 17, No. 00127. The Department will recall that earlier instructions of the British Admiralty to arrest seamen deserting North African ships to join de Gaulle were revoked following a telegram from Lord Halifax objecting to this drastic step. Admiral Stark now feels, however, that the question should be made a matter of formal protest to the British and is so telegraphing the Navy Department today. For the Department’s convenience we quote below the pertinent paragraph of standing instructions of the British Admiralty:

“His Majesty’s Government’s policy is that although every effort is to be made to persuade crews of North African French ships to remain with their ships, they should not be stopped from joining the Free French if they persist in their wish to do. In the latter case, therefore, they will not be treated as deserters but will, after the usual security examination, be handed over to the Free French.”

Winant
  1. War Shipping Administration.
  2. British Representative to the French National Committee.
  3. Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.