851B.20/196

Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle)86

From a strictly confidential source, it is now certain that:

(1) Admiral Robert got notice on January 6 from Premier Laval that French merchant ships plying the Antilles will no longer have safe passage, unless certain new pledges are made by Robert and Laval.

(2) On January 8, Robert pledged that warships, planes, gold, merchant ships, tankers, and so forth, would not in any event fall into the hands of the United Nations, and that he would not have any relation with the North African Government. He notified Malige of this.

On January 28, Robert again told Laval that he was being pressed by the United States to the point of suggested cut-off of supplies to Martinique and it would help if he could use the ships there to send sugar to Morocco. On February 1, Laval refused to do this. Robert is under orders in case of greater pressure by the United States to comply with instructions already given. It is plain that the instructions referred to mean scuttling the ships, and so forth.

(3) Although we are supposed to be in control of communications, a station at Martinique is sending out coded messages, presumably to Vichy and the Germans. Copies of all messages are supposed to be filed with Malige. The copies filed with Malige are not forwarded to State.

This angle may be covered with the Navy, but I know of nothing indicating that all of the messages sent are filed, inspected and read.

(4) The danger to the French ships in Martinique is of course obvious, and that is apparently recognized in the negotiations. But the other danger, namely, that the Martinique station may be used as the method by which certain espionage reports are reaching Europe, seems not to be covered, so far as I can see.

(5) There is a possibility that this angle may be fully covered by Navy; but we are not informed on the point.

I believe that we may be open to criticism on two points:

  • First: Continued permission of communication between Robert and Laval seems to me unwarranted and dangerous. When the gentlemen’s agreement was made, Laval, despite his many misdeeds, was still a French unit. Now he is, at best, a German prisoner, and probably a German agent. A gentlemen’s agreement on the basis of Robert’s [Page 228]relations with France was understandable. But I cannot see that a gentlemen’s agreement on the basis of Robert’s agreement with the Germans could stand gunfire.
  • Second: Since Robert is in direct communication by code with Vichy, that is to say, the Germans, we are open to criticism unless the Navy is prepared to tell us that it was abreast of these communications and in adequate control of them. The second situation is intrinsically more dangerous than the first, since the first merely has to do with the safety of a limited amount of matériel—albeit of great potential value. But the latter may jeopardize the safety of a very great many ships and men.

I should be glad if you would let me know whether the Navy is prepared to say that they have the situation under control. If not, I believe we should promptly work up with the Navy and the Army appropriate methods of control of the station. If there is adequate reason for not closing it down, arrangement should be made for Malige to send the filed copies of the messages here, and the code messages as they are picked up should be adequately processed by the Intelligence people, so that measures can be taken thereon.

Mr. Dunn may wish to refer to Magic Summary No. 321, page 2 ff.

A. A. B[erle], Jr.
  1. Addressed to the Assistant Chief of the Division of European Affairs (Atherton) and to the Adviser on Political Relations (Dunn).