Executive Secretariat Files

Briefing Book Paper

Rearming of French Forces

Last August the British Embassy raised with the Department of State the question of equipping the armed forces of certain Western European Allies to enable them to maintain security in their own countries and to take part in the occupation of Germany. At that same time the British Chiefs of Staff placed the same proposal before the American Joint Chiefs of Staff. The British proposed that in view of the fact that French ground military units were presently furnished with American arms, that the United States should furnish arms and equipment to the French forces for the purposes indicated. The British, on the other hand, would furnish arms and equipment to the Belgians, Dutch, Norwegians and eventually the Danish. The British proposed that they furnish the French with air equipment. The American Joint Chiefs of Staff informed the Department of State that the British proposals, from a military point of view, were acceptable to them, but that the matter should be handled on a Government to Government level and not on a Combined Chiefs of Staff level.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff also indicated their view that the Soviet Government should be informed of the proposed action. Two memoranda (copies attached) on the subject were submitted to the President for his approval.1 That approval has now been received. The armament involved in these proposals is for post-European war delivery and is not involved in the present arrangements now under execution for the equipping of eight additional French divisions. The manner in which the equipment involved in the British proposal is to be supplied to the French Government is one to be worked out with the War Department and not at the level of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As soon as the mechanical arrangements can be made with [Page 305] the War Department it is proposed to discuss the matter first with the French authorities at a Government [level?] and at the same time to inform both the British and the Soviet authorities of the action we have taken.

The manner in which payment may be made by the French Government for the supplies thus envisaged is to be determined in discussion with the French authorities.

The British Embassy has informed the Department of State that the Departments of the French Government concerned in this matter are considering the complicated question of how far the mutual aid agreements between the United Kingdom Government and the countries in question are applicable to the equipment and training of Allied forces for the post-hostilities period. The British Embassy states that when final conclusions have been reached the Department of State will be informed. The equipping and training by the United Kingdom Government of Belgian, Norwegian and Dutch forces are at present governed by mutual aid agreements in force between the United Kingdom and the Governments in question.

[Attachment 1]

Memorandum to the President

top secret

Subject: Arming of French Forces.

In late August, the British Embassy approached the State Department, and the British Chiefs of Staff approached the Combined Chiefs of Staff, with reference to the adequate equipment of the forces of the Western European Allies, to enable them to maintain security in their own countries and to take part in occupying Germany. The question was asked whether the United States Government would be willing to re-equip a French Army for such purposes from American sources during the next few years, having in mind that present French land forces are provided with American munitions and matériel. British Chiefs of Staff suggested a continuance of British supply to Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium.

The United States Chiefs of Staff, through Admiral Leahy, stated to the Department that there was no objection on military grounds to the division of responsibility proposed but that no commitments should be made that will be rigidly exclusive for the future.

The authority to deliver supplies for security or occupation forces is given by the Lend-Lease Act, and these munitions could be furnished on straight lend-lease or on credit under Section 3 (c) of the Act. We could also furnish such supplies for cash, but cash purchases might use on [up?] dollars needed for civilian supply and reconstruction.

[Page 306]

I recommend that we accept the British proposal, but suggest dealing directly with the French. Our present policy toward France is based on the belief that it is in the best interests of the United States that France resume her traditional position as a principal power capable of playing a part in the occupation of Germany and in maintaining peace in Europe. The recruiting and equipping of French land forces would be a natural corollary of this policy, and politically such a move could be portrayed as a further evidence of American friendship for France and a proof of our desire to see her as a strong nation. … However, it must be borne in mind that France will make every effort to obtain arms from any source.

We are presently in the process of preparing a lend-lease agreement to be proposed to the French, and under that proposal these military supplies could be furnished on a straight lend-lease basis. However, unless the British are agreeable to furnishing comparable military supplies to Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Belgium on a similar basis, we may have to reconsider the implementation of our proposal in order to standardize the terms of our arrangements with the French and those made by the British with the other four countries in question.

I recommend further that the Soviet Government be informed of what the British and the American Governments propose to do, and that it be pointed out that the arming of the Western European Allies is on a non-restrictive basis.

(The foregoing proposal and recommendation are not of course related to the equipment and maintenance of French ground forces by General Eisenhower for utilization in the present campaign against Germany for which the General has full authority.)

[Attachment 2]

Memorandum for the President

top secret

Subject: Desire of British Government to Assist in Re-equipping the French Air Force

A communication has been received from the British Embassy relative to the desire of the British Government to make an immediate offer to the French authorities to assist in re-equipping the French Air Force. A copy of the communication in question is attached here-with.2

As indicated in the British aide-mémoire, the specific proposal now advanced was considered by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Admiral Leahy informed the Secretary of State that “from the military point of view [Page 307] there is no objection” to the British proposal whereby the British would undertake to equip certain French air units.

The “certain French air units” referred to in Admiral Leahy’s letter3 are the same as those described in the attached aide-mémoire.

The British attach importance to proceeding with this matter as soon as possible and in view of the concurrence of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it is recommended that we notify the British that we approve.

The question of our supplying equipment for French land forces, which was the main subject of Admiral Leahy’s letter under reference, is being dealt with in a separate memorandum.

  1. These memoranda were apparently prepared in the Department of State, not by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  2. Not with the copy of this memorandum in the Briefing Book and not printed.
  3. Not printed.