No. 218 NAI DFA Paris Embassy 19/34A

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

La Bourboule, 8 July 1940

1. The result of the war seems to be accepted without active discontent. The public has already been informed by Marshal Pétain that France was beaten because of her unpreparedness, and the lack of British support. It is being exhorted both by the press and public men to look only to the future and see that the mistakes and lack of cohesion and organisation which led to failure in this case, do not recur.

2. It seems to be assumed in public quarters that France's destiny, not only in the remote, but in the immediate future, lies in her own hands, and that if the population will work hard, increase in numbers, be disciplined, and (in the words of Marshal Pétain) not allow 'the spirit of enjoyment to triumph over that of sacrifice' France will again become a big power. Most of the press seems to imply that France may become a great power in a very short time. M. Baudoin, the Foreign Minister, in one of his declarations to the press, seems to draw a parallel between the present position of France and her position in 1815, and to imply that her immediate future, internationally, may follow similar lines to those on which she developed in the years following 1815. At least one newspaper (Paris-Soir) had developed this thesis and informed the public that the France which was completely beaten militarily in 1814, became the arbiter of Europe at the Congress of Vienna the following year. A parallel seems also to be made with France's history after 1870. It is not impossible that this process may even be extended in the minds of some to the German recovery after 1918.

3. There is a distinct possibility of the French Government and public cherishing illusions as to France's future, both from drawing inexact historical parallels, and attributing the French defeat wholly or partially to wrong motives. There is no doubt that France's defeat is in a large measure due to the rot which seems to have pervaded all French life for years past. From a demographic viewpoint France has been in a precarious position for many years, without any real effort having been made to mend it. Her public life has of course been characterised by an astounding instability in Governments which have risen and fallen for all sorts of internal reasons, questions frequently of a most unimportant kind. Deputies and Governments have, in the absence (or rather non-exercise) of the dissolution weapon, felt completely immune, during the term of the legislature, from the verdict of their constituents and have only rarely been guided exclusively by the general interests of the country. The history of the present legislature, up to the outbreak of war, was one of a continuous displacement of the reins of Government from the Socialist Left, which undoubtedly was the representative majority, to the Centre and Right with Daladier. The French Parliament was in fact behaving up to the war, almost as if France existed in a vacuum with no possibility of disturbing influence from outside. The public administration must have been one of the most inefficient in the world, as far as getting work done was concerned. The war only brought into relief the defects of the system. Most people believed that while the Civil Administration might be (and was admittedly) inefficient, an Army with the traditions behind it which the French Army has, could not but be of the first class both in planning, organisation and equipment. This does not seem to be the case. M. Reynaud's statement in the Chamber in May that France 'expected a classic war' (and this after the experience of Poland and Norway) shows the deficiencies on the intelligence or strategic side. The French General Staff seemed to be aware neither of the size or number of the German tanks and armoured divisions. The Corap1 Army which was sent to hold the bend of the Meuse was according to M. Reynaud's statement completely disorganised. I have been told on reliable authority that the French Government two years ago bought the licence of a cannon for 50 million francs, and then only manufactured 12. I have also been told by an eye-witness that the guns used by at least some of the soldiers, were the actual guns (i.e. not only the same model) as those used in 1914-18 war. Finally I was informed from two different sources that American 'planes which arrived in France months ago were never unpacked. The relative lack of men in France is intelligible considering her population. It is amazing, however, that a wealthy country like France and a country which has, nominally at any rate, spent much money on armaments since the last war, should have been defective in material as Marshal Pétain said was the case. The Maginot line on which much was spent and in which so much reliance was placed was, of course, eventually turned by the Germans and captured with little effort, the French having already withdrawn their troops from some portions of it. The failure to prolong this line to the coast seems inexplicable in the light of events. Presumably the French General Staff thought it advantageous for them to have an open frontier in which they believed they would eventually beat their opponents. Certainly the General impression in Paris when the Germans entered Holland and Belgium and 'the attack which had been awaited since October' (Gamelin's 'ordre du jour' of 10th May) was that it was only now a matter of a short time until France would be victorious.

The French Army having proved as inferior as it did, it is not surprising that France was beaten. The inferiority of the French Army (apart from numbers) was a direct product of the prevailing state of French public life and the French philosophical conception of what made life worth while. As already mentioned, Marshal Pétain has informed the French people of this fact. His words may, however, be lost sight of, or there may be a tendency to attribute what has happened to other causes and to nourish false hopes. Already the public is probably beginning to think, because of the official emphasis which is being laid on the point, that the British failure to send sufficient troops or the fact that British Foreign policy controlled that of France, means that, after all, the blame cannot be put wholly on the French system. Both the above causes contributed to France's present plight. It is a question, however, whether the subordination of French foreign policy to that of Great Britain was really as important as it is being represented in so far as France's going to war with Germany is concerned. French policy for at least a hundred years and perhaps for three hundred (since Westphalia)2 seems to have been based on the fear of Germany (or Prussia) as a danger to her existence. A fact which is indisputable is that most Frenchmen believe that France lost a golden opportunity of crushing a Germany regarded as dangerous to herself in March 1936.3 The belief that Germany did represent a danger to France seems to have been strengthened and to have become almost universal after the German occupation of Czechoslovakia. So far from holding that in allying herself with England, France was being led into a path which her interest said she should not follow, one had the general impression that it was France which sought the English alliance. In the result this was mistaken policy. In the absence of the result it would have been difficult to prove it. The practical side of this question is that the conclusion drawn may lead Frenchmen to think that their reliance on Great Britain was responsible for their defeat, and that their general lack of organisation was to that extent not to blame.

5.4 The tendency to draw parallels from the past is capable of creating illusions as to France's future status, and seems to be already having this effect. The parallel with 1815 would seem to be based on one fundamental error, in that the position accorded to France in the following years was a function of the principle of the balance of power in Europe. The principle of the balance of power in Europe seems to have been mainly a British pre-occupation for the reason that England was not herself interested in expansion in Europe, and only desired that no Continental power should be so strong as to threaten the security of Great Britain, while she was busy developing her interests in other parts of the world.

6. If Great Britain should be defeated in this war, there would seem to be no reason why Germany should be anxious to apply the same principle. As for the parallel with the 1870 defeat, the conditions here too may be quite different. France recovered from the 1870 defeat sufficiently to be able, with her ally, to defeat Germany in the 1914-18 war, because once the peace treaty of 1871 was signed, Germany did not actively and directly interfere with developments in France – to such an extent that Bismarck more or less directly encouraged French colonial development, and a consequent increase in the wealth and man power of which France disposed. It is possible that Germany, if victorious, will draw a lesson both from the French experience after 1870, and to a greater extent, her own experience after 1918, so as to prevent France being in a position for a long time to come to threaten the conquest of Germany.

7. One of the strongest themes of all French thought and writings on international affairs since Germany began to grow in strength during the last 7 years, has been that France made a great mistake in not taking measures of a permanent kind after the Versailles treaty, to see that Germany should not again rise to a position of such strength as to be able to threaten France. French writers have always asserted that this would have been done (by the permanent occupation of the left bank of the Rhine, as suggested by Foch,5 and other measures of a like kind) but for British opposition again inspired by her desire to maintain the balance of power. Practically all that was written since the war began on the terms to be accorded to Germany in the post-war period, and on the assumption of a German defeat, went at least the length of insisting on possession of the left bank of the Rhine, and in many cases went further in the direction of advocating the breaking up into small states of the German Reich.

8. It is difficult to see how in the event of final victory, Germany will not impose conditions on France, and provide for their observance, which will keep France harmless. Official utterances do not, however, seem to betray a consciousness of this likelihood, and speak of the future of France as if it is something which depends exclusively on the French people and Government, untroubled by any outside interference.

1 The reference is to the Ninth French Army, commanded by General André Georges Corap, which defended the River Meuse in 1940.

2 The Peace of Westphalia, 1648, refers to a set of treaties that ended the Thirty Years' War and Eighty Years' War and resolved the structure of the European states' system until the nineteenth century. The resulting 'Westphalian System' used to describe post-1648 international relations was based on stability preserved by the balance of power, international law and diplomacy.

3 On 7 March 1936 German forces occupied the demilitarised zone in the Rhineland. Britain and France did not oppose the move. Germany's armed forces were judged, even by Hitler, to be weak in 1936 and in retrospect it seemed that London and Paris could have thwarted Germany's expansionist foreign policy by a decisive military response to the remilitarisation.

4 There is no section numbered 4 in this document.

5 Marshal Ferdinand Foch (1851-1929), French general, Supreme Commander, Allied Forces, Europe (1918); accepted Germany's surrender in 1918; Marshal of France (1918).

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