Truman Papers

No. 603
Memorandum by the Assistant to the President’s Naval Aide (Elsey)1
top secret


Indo-China first became a subject in Presidential messages in November 1944. General Wedemeyer, Commanding General of U. S. Forces in China, on 15 November reported2 that British, Dutch and French interests were making an intensive effort to ensure recovery of their prewar political and economic positions in the Far East. One example of this effort was the establishment of a French [Page 916] military mission in India which was preparing to infiltrate into Indochina. For his guidance, Wedemeyer asked for U. S. policy regarding Indo-China which, by decision of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, is in the Chinese Theater.

President Roosevelt instructed Ambassador Hurley the next day3 to inform Wedemeyer that “United States policy with regard to French Indo-China cannot be formulated until after consultation with Allies at a forthcoming Combined Staff conference.”

The President also asked Hurley to keep him posted on British, French and Dutch activities in southeastern Asia. Hurley had no information on Indo-China to pass to the President at the time, but on 26 November he sent a short diatribe4 against the policies of our three Allies which, he said, were directed to the “repossession of their colonial empires and the reestablishment therein of imperial governments.” On New Year’s Day 1945, Hurley sent the President a long and unfavorable analysis of British, Dutch and French policies with respect to China5 but he still had no information regarding Indo-China.

Nor did the Joint Chiefs of Staff know what our Allies proposed to do there. On 21 November, [1944,] by direction of the President, they had informed the Commanding Generals of U. S. Forces in India, Burma and China that: “This Government has made no final decisions on the future of Indo-China, and it expects to be consulted in advance with regard to any arrangements applicable to the future of southeast Asia.”6 The Joint Chiefs were not consulted by the British or the French, however, and when President Roosevelt arrived at Yalta he had no official information on their intentions with respect to Indo-China except that de Gaulle had spoken in a general way about sending French troops there.7

On 8 February, while explaining his views on trusteeships, President Roosevelt told Stalin he had in mind a trusteeship for Indo-China. He said the British did not approve and wanted to give it back to the French because they feared that the implications of a trusteeship might affect Burma. He added that the French had done nothing to improve the natives since obtaining the colony. When President [Page 917] Roosevelt said that de Gaulle had asked for ships to transport French forces to Indo-China, Stalin asked where de Gaulle would get the troops. The President replied that de Gaulle had said he would find the troops when the President found the ships; so far there were no ships.8

In March, Wedemeyer and Hurley were both in Washington. President Roosevelt told Wedemeyer that he must watch carefully to prevent British and French political activities in the area and that he should give only such support to the British and French as would be required in direct operations against the Japanese.

On 24 March, President Roosevelt and Hurley had a long discussion on Indo-China. Hurley reported this conversation to President Truman on 28 [29] May as follows:9

“In my last conference with President Roosevelt, I informed him fully on the Indo-China situation. I told him that the French, British and Dutch were cooperating to prevent the establishment of a United Nations trusteeship for Indo-China. The imperialist leaders believe that such a trusteeship would be a bad precedent for the other imperialistic areas in southeast Asia. I told the President also that the British would attempt, with the use of our Lend-Lease supplies and if possible our manpower, to occupy Indo-China and reestablish their former imperial control. I suggested to the President that for my own guidance and in order to clarify Wedemeyer’s position I thought we should have a written directive on Indo-China. The President said that in the coming San Francisco Conference10 there would be set up a United Nations Trusteeship that would make effective the right of colonial people to choose the form of government under which they will live as soon as in the opinion of the United Nations they are qualified for independence.”

While Wedemeyer and Hurley were in Washington, Churchill wired11 that he understood there had been occasional difficulties between Wedemeyer and Lord [Louis] Mountbatten, British Commander of the Southeast Asia Theater, about activities in Indo-China, and he proposed that he and President Roosevelt direct the Combined Chiefs of Staff to make arrangements for “full and frank exchange of intentions, plans and intelligence between Wedemeyer and Mountbatten as regards all matters of mutual concern.”

The President replied on 22 March11a that he understood both commanders were independently conducting air operations and intelligence missions in Indo-China. This was wasteful and apt to [Page 918] produce dangerous confusion, and President Roosevelt suggested a solution:

“It seems to me the best solution at present is for you and me to agree that all Anglo-American-Chinese military operations in Indo- China, regardless of their nature, be coordinated by General Wedemeyer as Chief of Staff to the Generalissimo.1213 If you agree to this proposal, I suggest that you direct Mountbatten to coordinate his activities in Indo-China with Wedemeyer.”

Churchill did not reply to the President’s suggestion until 11 April, after Wedemeyer had stopped at Mountbatten’s headquarters on his return to China from Washington. The two theater commanders had discussed operations in Indo-China. Wedemeyer was guided by President Roosevelt’s verbal directive to support only British and French operations directed against the Japanese, and he left Mountbatten’s headquarters believing he had reached an agreement whereby the British Commander would not carry out operations in Indo-China until they had been approved by him.

Mountbatten had another understanding of the agreement, however, and the British conception of it was voiced by Churchill to President Roosevelt on 11 April.14 It was apparent that political motives inspired British operations in Indo-China, as the Prime Minister wrote:

“Now that the Japanese have taken over Indo-China and that substantial resistance is being offered by French patriots, it is essential not only that we should support the French by all the means in our power, but also that we should associate them with our operations into their country. It would look very bad in history if we failed to support isolated French forces in their resistance to the Japanese to the best of our ability, or, if we excluded the French from participation in our councils as regards Indo-China.”

It was also apparent that the British did not consider the WedemeyerMountbatten agreement as calling for anything more than an interchange of information, for Churchill quoted his proposed directive to Mountbatten as follows:

“You may conduct from whatsoever base appears most suitable the minimum pre-occupational activities in Indo-China which local emergency and the advance of your forces require. It is essential, however, that you should keep General Wedemeyer … continually informed of your operations. …”

President Truman answered Churchill’s message on 14 April.14 He did not make an issue with Churchill, but he carefully stated the [Page 919] American understanding of the WedemeyerMountbatten agreement, as follows:

General Wedemeyer reports that his conference with Admiral Mountbatten resulted in an agreement that the latter would notify Wedemeyer when he desired to conduct an operation in Indo-China and that the operation would not be conducted until approval was given by the Generalissimo. Wedemeyer’s understanding is that the procedure will be for Mountbatten to notify General Carton De Wiart, who would inform Wedemeyer in his capacity as chief of staff to the Generalissimo. If the proposed operation from SEAC could not be integrated with China Theater plans, then Mountbatten agreed he would not undertake it.”

Following different policies and without an understanding on operations in Indo-China, Wedemeyer and Mountbatten came into open disagreement in May. Mountbatten informed Wedemeyer he intended to fly 26 sorties into Indo-China in support of French guerrilla groups.

Wedemeyer asked for more information because, he said, the French Government had placed all French guerrilla groups in Indo-China under the Generalissimo (Wedemeyer is Chiang’s Chief of Staff) and not under Mountbatten. He asked the specific question, “What arrangements have been made to insure that the equipment furnished guerrilla units is employed against the Japanese?”15

Mountbatten did not answer this question, and after a quick exchange of messages16 in which he gave Wedemeyer neither the numbers nor the locations of the guerrilla units which he intended to supply, Mountbatten abruptly ordered his planes to carry out the sorties without waiting for the consent or approval of Wedemeyer or Chiang Kai-shek. Wedemeyer on 25 May protested vigorously:15

“It had never occurred to me that you would presume that you have authority to operate in an area contiguous to your own without cognizance and full authority of the Commander of that area. … Your decision to conduct these operations without the Generalissimo’s approval is a direct violation of the intent of our respective directives.”

Wedemeyer informed the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the circumstances, as he saw them, of his misunderstanding with Mountbatten. He reported his conclusions:15

“I have not sufficient information available to coordinate or evaluate the operations Mountbatten is now undertaking and I cannot carry out the explicit instructions of the President. … If lend-lease materials are being made available by United States to British in [Page 920] support of French Indo-China operations, I believe that these materials should be turned over … [to the China Theater] so that our country at least gets credit for such support and further so that I can carry out my directive in screening the nature of operations in the area.”

Ambassador Hurley summarized his own view of the conflict in British and American policies which underlay the Wedemeyer-Mountbatten dispute in a long message to President Truman on 28 [29] May:17

“I had been definitely directed verbally by President Roosevelt in regard to his policy in Indo-China,” he wrote, “but we in this theater have never received a written directive on the political policy of the United States in Indo-China.

“It is in this situation we find ourselves when Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Supreme British Commander in Southeast Asia, informed Wedemeyer by cable that he is flying British sorties into Indo-China, which is not in his theater, without the consent of the Theater Commander, the Generalissimo, and without the consent or cooperation of General Wedemeyer. This military phase of the situation is being submitted to the Joint Chiefs of Staff by Wedemeyer, Lord Louis is using American lend-lease supplies and other American resources to invade Indo-China to defeat what we believe to be the American policy and to reestablish French imperialism.

“Attention is called to the fact that Lord Louis very recently requested General Sultan, United States India–Burma Commander, for a large increase in lend-lease supplies that will enable him to defeat the Roosevelt policy in Indo-China and reestablish imperialism in that area. If you, sir, are opposed to Lord Louis[‘] political objectives in Indo-China, I suggest that our Government stop giving him lend-lease supplies and deny him the use of American Air Forces and other American resources.

“The move of the imperialistic powers to use American resources to enable them to move with force into Indo-China is not for the purpose of participating in the main battle against Japan. Such a move would have two political objectives: (1) The reestablishment of imperialism in Indo-China and (2) The placing of British forces in a position where they could occupy Hong Kong and prevent the return of Hong Kong to China.

“It would clarify the situation in Asia for all of us if we could be given: (1) A definite Indo-China policy, and (2) A definite policy on Hong Kong or if we could be directed to follow the Roosevelt policy in both areas.”

On 31 May, in a personal message to General Marshall,18 Wedemeyer endorsed Hurley’s interpretation of British intentions in the Far East. He reported that his information pointed to an increase of British political and economic operations in Indo-China for the purpose of recovering British pre-war prestige and economic preferment in Southeast Asia; and that it was probable the British would [Page 921] propose, at the next Big Three meeting, extending the boundaries of Mountbatten’s command to include all former British, French and Dutch colonial possessions.

There have been no Presidential messages on Indo-China within the past month. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have taken no action on inter-theater disputes in Asia, pending a meeting of the Combined Chiefs; Churchill has maintained a careful silence; and President Truman has told Hurley that this question will probably be discussed at the forthcoming Berlin Conference.19

G. M. Elsey
  1. Submitted to Leahy July 1 and subsequently forwarded to Truman.
  2. Report not printed.
  3. See Military Situation in the Far East, Hearings Before the Committees on Armed Services and Foreign Relations, United States Senate, 82d Congress, 1st Session (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1951), pt. 4, p. 2889.
  4. See ibid., and Don Lohbeck, Patrick J. Hurley (Chicago, 1956), p. 322.
  5. See Lohbeck, Patrick J. Hurley , pp. 323–324.
  6. Full text not printed.
  7. This paragraph does not take account of Anglo-American consultations affecting Indochina, in which both the Department of State and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were involved, which had been proceeding for almost a year. The President had been informed of the status of these consultations by the Department of State in December 1944, more than a month before the Yalta Conference, and Indochina continued to receive the attention of the Combined Chiefs of Staff during the early months of 1945.
  8. See Foreign Relations, The Conferences at Malta and Yalta, 1945, p. 770.
  9. For another extract from this message, see post, p. 920. For further extracts, see Military Situation in the Far East, pt. 4, pp. 2890–2892; Lohbeck, Patrick J. Hurley , pp. 409–411, 413–414.
  10. i. e., the United Nations Conference on International Organization.
  11. Message not printed.
  12. Full text not printed.
  13. Chiang Kai-shek.
  14. Ellipses and brackets throughout this document appear in the original.
  15. Full text not printed.
  16. Full text not printed.
  17. Full text of message not printed.
  18. Not printed.
  19. Full text of message not printed.
  20. Full text of message not printed.
  21. For another extract from this message, see ante, p. 917. For further extracts, see Military Situation in the Far East, pt. 4, pp. 2890–2892; Lohbeck, Patrick J. Hurley , pp. 409–411, 413–414.
  22. Not printed.
  23. See document No. 149.