740.00119 (Potsdam)/5–2446

No. 401
Briefing Book Paper
top secret

The Left Bank of the Rhine

Recommendation:—The disposition of the left bank of the Rhine is essentially a problem of military security in which the legitimate needs of France, Belgium and the Netherlands should be recognized. This problem should ultimately be solved by a system of long-range controls over Germany rather than by transfers of Rhenish territory. Since the states of western Europe need have no concern about their security against German aggression so long as Allied military government exists in Germany, it would seem unnecessary at the present time to determine the nature of military establishments which may be required in the Rhine area after the termination of military government.
Basic Data:—The left bank of the Rhine includes the Saar, the Palatinate, Western Hesse and the bulk of the Rhine Province. It covers an area of 10,598 square miles and had a population of about 6,550,000 according to the census of 1939. Eight cities of 100,000 residents or more in 1939—Cologne, Krefeld-Uerdingen, Aachen, Mainz, Ludwigshafen, Saarbrücken, München-Gladbach, and Bonn—are located here, and the Saar and the western Ruhr constitute two important industrial centers. This region together with the Rhine itself is one of the most concentrated transportation areas in the world. Possession of the left bank and bridgeheads across the Rhine allows strategic domination of the Ruhr and command of the gateways into central Germany.

At the Paris Peace Conference Foch and his supporters were determined to establish one or more autonomous republics in the Rhineland protected by French military forces. The minimum objective of the French delegation was to extend the permanent military frontier of France to the Rhine. French aims were thus hardly realized by Treaty of Versailles providing for German demilitarization of the [Page 592] Rhineland and its occupation for a fifteen-year period by Allied forces.1

In the French view the Rhine is still the defensive bastion of France. De Gaulle has stated (July 10, 1944) that the flag of the French army must fly over the Rhineland,2 and there is evidence of an increasing tendency on his part to favor annexation of the left bank. Bidault has disclaimed any desire for annexation but is of the view that the Rhineland-Ruhr area should be separated from Germany and that France must have complete security control over the area north of the Saar extending through Cologne. He apparently believes that the remainder of the Rhineland north of this area and the Ruhr should be brought under some form of international regime. Other French leaders have in general advocated either French or international control of the Rhine area.

  1. The provisions referred to were contained in articles 42–43 and 428–432 of the Treaty of Versailles, signed June 28, 1919. Annotated text in Foreign Relations, The Paris Peace Conference, 1919, vol. xiii, pp. 159, 720725.
  2. See Charles de Gaulle, Discours et messages, 1940–1946 (Paris, 1946), p. 455.