No. 185  NAI DFA Paris Embassy P48/14

Extracts from a letter from Seán Murphy to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(Personally Typed)

VICHY, 17 February 1942

I have not sent you a report on the situation here for some time because it has been and still is very confused. It is I think certain that relations between France and Germany have not improved within recent months. There still is contact between Ministers of the government here and representatives of Germany, but anything in the way of negotiation has I think come to a standstill. I understand that Admiral Darlan1 recently in a private conversation said, it was almost impossible to collaborate with the Germans. What significance is to be given to that remark I cannot say. It is however interesting to note that de Brinon,2 who as you know is the representative of the French Government in Paris and a strong protagonist of the policy of collaboration, said, within the last three weeks in a press interview that he was disappointed with the success of the policy. In answer to a question on the policy he replied 'ou sommes nous? Je ne sais pas' He went on to say that he thought that the lack of success was due to a want of confidence on both sides, and he appealed to the Germans for more comprehension of the situation. He ended by saying that he believed that collaboration between France and Germany was essential in the interests of the two countries, and in the interests of the new order in Europe. Whatever may be the real feeling in official circles on this question I don't think, there is any doubt, that the population in this zone, and I believe even more so in the other zone, is profoundly disappointed with the results achieved and about 80% of them are against the policy for [reasons] which will appear later in this report.

The official attitude here is definitely anti-British. This attitude is reflected in the press, which is of course controlled, in the way in which news relating to England's part in the war is reported and by articles in the press which lose no opportunity to show that England has no hope of winning the war, that she has lost command of the sea, and that her Empire is quickly breaking up. They affirm very clearly that England is hoping that the Russians and the Americans will save her from disaster but they consider that, even if that should happen, England is finished as a dominant power in the world. These assertions may [be] and probably are correct but it is the manner in which they are presented that shows the attitude. This attitude could only be taken on very definite instructions from the Ministry of Information and Censorship because the attitude of the press towards America's part in the war is quite different. The press gives the Communiqués without comment and in a reasonably prominent place. Where a success, such as those of General MacArthur,3 are reported they are given fair prominence and any editorial comment, which is slight, is favourable.

With regard to Ireland generally and the statements of the Taoiseach in particular press comment has been invariably favourable. On the question of the American troops in the six counties and the Taoiseach's protest thereon all the press comment was favourable.

With regard to the relations between this country and America I think that this is probably the question in which the Marshal interests himself the most. It is generally known that he is anxious to maintain good relations with America and is prepared to go a long way to secure that end. For this reason the protest regarding the landing of de Gaullist troops on the island of St. Pierre4 was not pushed too much, and the requisition of the Normandie was accepted fairly easily.5 The Hungarian Minister6 with whom I was talking the other day mentioned the Marshal's well known desire to keep in with the United States because, said he, he is anxious to have relations with a big power outside the Axis Group; otherwise he would feel completely at their mercy. Whatever may be the reason, the fact seems beyond doubt. His personal relations with the American Ambassador are I believe very cordial, and he sees him very often alone. There have been certain difficulties recently because it is said of the fact that the French allowed reinforcements to reach Rommel through Tunisia. This rumour was very current but like so many others I was unable to get anything tangible to support it. I believe that the Marshal will do what he can to maintain good and especially diplomatic relations with America. Darlan is not nearly so enthusiastic, though even he, would not like to see a break.

[matter omitted]

The main preoccupation of the Government and of the population is the very serious food situation which is daily becoming worse. The main causes of this situation are = (1) Very incompetent administration and organisation. (2) Large requisitioning by the Germans. (3) Lack of seeds and manures and great difficulty regarding tillage. On the administrative side the main trouble appears to be the bad distribution of food. The stocking by the Administration of large quantities of food and the holding of it for so long, that in a number of cases, the stocks have gone bad and have been completely lost. Some departments are particularly badly off and the Administration seems incapable of assisting them. In the departments of Herault and Aude some two months ago the situation got so bad that the population became very agitated and demonstrated publicly. The Food Department realising the dangerous situation immediately released sufficient food to deal with the position for the moment. They thus showed that there were stocks available, but it took an acute situation to have them produced.

[matter omitted]

The situation, as I said at the beginning is confused and it is difficult to see in what direction events are moving. One hears, for example, that the Communist movement has gathered strength and that the possibilities of internal troubles are considerable. There are no very obvious signs of these movements but Vichy is not a place where they could be readily detected. I think it is true to say that the population are much more discontent[ed] than they were this time last year and that if the food situation does not improve this discontent might take a violent form.

1 Admiral François Darlan (1881-1942), Prime Minister of France (Vice President of the Council) (1941-2).

2 Ferdinand de Brinon (1885-1947), French lawyer and journalist, representative of the Vichy government in Paris (1940-4); later President of the French Governmental Commission – the Vichy government in exile.

3 General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964), United States General and Chief of Staff of the United States Army (1930-5), Commander of United States forces in the Philippines (1941-2), Supreme Commander of Allied Powers in Japan (1945-51); commanded United Nations forces in the Korean War (1950-1).

4 One of the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon group, located 10 kilometres off the coast of Newfoundland, St. Pierre was loyal to Vichy. Under orders from General de Gaulle, and without the knowledge of the United States or Canada, Free French forces took control of the islands on 24 December 1941.

5 SS Normandie, a French ocean-going liner launched in 1935 and seized by the United States government in 1940, being renamed USS Lafayette. On 9 February 1942, while berthed in New York she caught fire and capsized.

6 Baron Bakacs Bessenyei.

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