The Chargé in France (Matthews) to the Secretary of State on Petain's View of the French Fleet, 1 November 1940


(PARIS) VICHY, November 1, 1940-5 p.m.
[Received November 2-6:15 p.m.]

872. My telegram No. 861, November 1, 11 a.m.

The Marshal's reply to the President's message was sent off late last night to Ambassador Henry Haye. . . I quote the text in translation as sent me with a covering Foreign Office note today:

"Reply addressed on November 1, 1940 by Marshal Pétain to the message of President Roosevelt.

The Chief of the French State has received the message of President Roosevelt sent to him through the Chargé d Affaires of the United States.

Animated by the desire to preserve the friendship which since the foundation of the United States has bound the French people to the American people, he will refrain from calling attention to what there is in that communication which might make him question the fair attitude (dispositions, equitables) of the American Government. To answer the anxiety of President Roosevelt, he desires to state that the French Government has always preserved its liberty of action and that I knew that he might be surprised at an appraisement as inaccurate as it is unjust. The French Government has declared that the French fleet would never be surrendered and nothing can justify questioning today that solemn undertaking. President Roosevelt speaks of operations directed against the British fleet. He doubtless forgets that as a matter of fact the operations at sea which have taken place as they did in the most unexpected manner were undertaken by the British fleet. Furthermore, England has taken a position against France and against her government which the French people cannot countenance. His Majesty's Government lends its support to Frenchmen, rebels against their country, whose action, thanks to the aid of the British fleet and air force, encourages the unity of her Empire. France-and her Government [having given?] such assurances-will not engage in any unjustified attack but conscious of her duty she will see that her essential interests are honorably respected.

The French Government remains very desirous of maintaining the. traditional friendship which unites our two countries and it will strive under all circumstances to avoid misunderstandings or interpretations such as those which doubtless led President Roosevelt to address us this message."


Source: U.S., Department of State, Publication 1983, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, D.C.: U.S., Government Printing Office, 1943), pp. 591-92

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