No. 180 NAI DFA Paris Embassy 19/34A

Confidential report from Seán Murphy to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Paris, 18 May 1940

There was a rather wide-spread feeling of depression on Thursday afternoon, following on a rumour, which has since been denied, to the effect that German armed columns had penetrated as far as Laon – which is about 100 kilometres south-west of the Belgian frontier and more or less in a direct line to Paris, from which it is distant about 130 kilometres. Although it was admitted that isolated German armed columns had penetrated deeply behind the allied lines, the feeling yesterday was much better. Judging, however, by the press comments this morning, the position is far from good in as far as concerns Franco-British resistance. The Maginot line proper ends at Montmédy which is situated along the Belgian frontier about 40 kilometres from its junction with that of Luxemburg. From Montmédy to the coast the fortifications have been described by one writer as constituting a reinforced field position. In Romier's view if the German drive between the Sambre and Rethel continues, the allied front in Belgium would be seriously threatened from the south. Duval, in his article, in the Journal seems doubtful of the possibility of a favourable result for the Franco-British forces from the battle in progress. His conclusion is 'I do not hope and no more do I fear, I even refuse to admit that the issue of the present battle should decide everything'. Gamelin,1 on the other hand, in the 'ordre du jour' which he issued yesterday said that 'the fate of the fatherland, that of the allies, the destinies of the world depend on the battle in progress' and urged his troops 'if they cannot advance to die on their position rather than abandon a morsel of native soil entrusted to them'. Last evening's Paris-Soir indicated that the efforts of the French forces to block up the 'pockets' which the Germans have opened in their line have for object 'to substitute a continuous line to the mobility of the actions which are going on'. Almost certainly the French staff wants to convert 'the war of movement' which their communiqué of Thursday morning announced was developing into the 'war of position' which is the kind of warfare in anticipation of which the Maginot line and other fortifications were erected. This desire of the high command to 'fix the front and hold the enemy on more solid positions' was also mentioned by Duval in his article in the Journal des Debate last evening. One point which many commentators have mentioned as being in favour of the possibility of halting the German advance is that the further they advance and the greater the number of divisions engaged the more difficult it is to keep them fully supplied, particularly in petrol.

The public is being warned to give no credence to rumours which are not definitely confirmed. Such rumours were particularly alive on Thursday. M. Reynaud dealt with them to some extent before the Chamber on the 16th and over the radio on the same evening. He said, inter alia, that 'we shall be called on (in the future) to take measures which would have yesterday appeared revolutionary. Perhaps we shall have to change the methods and the men. For every failure, the punishment of death will come'. The phrase about changing the men caught the attention of some of the press. There has been a rumour which is unconfirmed that General Gamelin might be removed and replaced by perhaps Giraud2 who has been in charge in Belgium. Up to the developments of last week, there was a certain amount of criticism of the tactics advocated by Gamelin who has apparently been completely in favour of staying on the defensive and awaiting an enemy attack which seems to have become replaced in fact by a war of movement. It has also been suggested that General Gamelin's possible successor might be General Weygand.

[stamped] (signed) Seán Murphy

1 General Maurice Gamelin (1872-1958), commander of French forces countering the German invasion of France in 1940. His plans, based on static defence, failed to halt the rapid German advance and he was removed from command on 18 May 1940 and succeeded by General Weygand.

2 General Henri Giraud (1879-1949), commanded the 7th Army in the Netherlands in May 1940, subsequently held as a POW at Königstein Castle, Dresden, until his escape in 1942. On the assassination of Admiral Darlan in December 1942 Giraud became de facto leader of the Free French though he was ultimately superseded by de Gaulle.

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