Page images
PDF
EPUB

"The situation in Syria has now become the subject of authentic declarations by the spokesman of the Wilhelmstrasse. According to his statements reports of the arrival of German troops at a Syrian port are believed not to correspond to the facts. In informed Berlin circles the opinion prevails that such reports of alleged German landings in Syria have been spread by English sources to establish a pretext for operations against the French mandated area. It goes without saying that Berlin is following with closest attention further developments relating to Syria and the evident English aspirations in that region. The view is held in Berlin that for the time being a British invasion of Syria would be an internal Anglo-French affair and that it is up to the French to react to it. The form of reaction which might be expected to a British invasion may, however, already be deduced from the statements of Admiral Darlan regarding the determination of France to defend its colonial integrity. As to the attitude of Germany one must wait and see in what manner France regards it as necessary to invoke the present German-French relationship arising from the most recent German-French meetings in case of a British invasion of Syria. Germany will of course be prepared to grant to the French the right to defend their own integrity."

It would seem that the German policy in the first instance is to force Vichy to oppose by force any action which Great Britain may take against German encroachments in Syria and thus to present the British with the dilemma of acquiescing in such encroachments or precipitating an armed clash with their former ally. Meanwhile Germany is undoubtedly proceeding at full speed with whatever plans it has for further action in the Eastern Mediterranean but is seeking to avoid the appearance of provocation in Syria itself. As usual in periods of preparation for new military action the war of nerves has taken the stage.

Repeated to Vichy.

MORRIS

740.0011 European War 1939/11680: Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut (Engert) to the Secretary of State

75

BEIRUT, June 4, 1941-9 p. m. [Received June 5-9:20 a. m.]

190. Local atmosphere especially in French circles has undergone certain almost imperceptible changes in the last few days. Collapse of the Iraq uprising " despite facilities put at the disposal of the Germans by the French authorities in Syria has made the latter feel a little foolish especially as they had already visions of a plentiful supply of oil piped to Tripoli and an easy exchange of other commodities as intimated in the second paragraph of my 179, May 30.

75 See pp. 486 ff.

On the other hand now that Crete is gone and we see the beginning of a new phase of the war most Frenchmen here are for the first time. realizing the possibility of a complete German military occupation of Syria. Heretofore such a contingency had been regarded as too remote to require serious thought but today even those who believe in obeying Vichy are asking themselves whether Pétain would want Syria to become part of occupied France. And as few Frenchmen can conceal their natural hostility to the Germans they do not relish the prospect of Nazification in a part of the world they had considered immune. Not much desire of abetting further Axis infiltrations is left and even the High Commissioner is said to have warned Vichy that he could not be responsible for the consequences if Germany continued her activities here on a large scale.

In this connection a French officer said to me the other day "We have been in Syria for 20 years and do not propose to get out." He was somewhat taken aback when I replied "American institutions have been in Syria for a hundred and twenty years and did not propose to get out either."

There has been a slight revival of French morale and ever since the shipment of war materials to Iraq many officers have declared themselves slightly out of sympathy with Vichy's policy. They feel the British have every excuse to justify occupation of Syria but they still lack complete confidence that Great Britain is strong enough to take over Syria and protect it against a determined German attack. The Germans have been clever enough to sense this change and are now posing as the real protectors of the French Empire against impending British aggression.

Repeated to Vichy.

ENGERT

740.0011 European War 1939/11699: Telegram

The Ambassador in Turkey (MacMurray) to the Secretary of State

ANKARA, June 5, 1941-3 p. m. [Received 10 p. m.]

179. In private conversation yesterday evening, my French colleague Henry 76 expressed belief that Germany is withdrawing from all military activity in Syria; that support given to Iraqi dissidents was mere gesture of sympathy which had disillusioning results in that incidental use of Syria, as base of German operations, even on small scale involved, had led to such outcry in France proper and in 76 Jules Henry, French Ambassador in Turkey.

Empire and elsewhere that game did not seem worth candle. He based this belief on information from "one of highest German quarters". He did not specify his source more precisely; but Witman (here as courier from Beirut) had just told me of having called earlier on Madame Henry who had talked with him to much the same effect and somewhat unguardedly disclosed that her husband had been discussing question with Von Papen " whom he had persuaded to telegraph to German Government this advice that Syria be left alone.

2. Henry went on to express his own hope (no doubt in expectation that through you and perhaps through my British colleague his views would reach attention of London) that British would in these circumstances refrain from attacking Syria and thus inevitably lead to resistance by Vichy and quite probably its putting naval bases and forces at disposal of Germany. He said he felt sure British were sufficiently aware of these probable consequences to avoid action against Syria.

3. Upon my asking why Germans should be sedulous to avoid on their own part anything which would tend to provoke British to take action involving them in such disadvantageous consequences as he foresaw, he outlined views which I sum up as follows:

a. Main German assault upon British position in Eastern Mediterranean and Near East is to be by way of North Africa; advance thus far made in Aegean may well be merely contributory to that and not intended as basis for separate land attack through Levant.

b. Germany fears invasion of Syria would lead Turks to intervene jointly with British; she reckons on it (as Von Papen told him some time ago) that unless antagonized they will come to see that alliance with Britain gives them no advantages and will ultimately come over to German side; she therefore wishes, if possible, to await peaceful conquest rather than have to subdue Turkish resistance.

c. Above all, Germany cannot be sure of various French reactions to attempted German occupation of Syria: Even though it were in response to British attack it might quite conceivably have effect of arraying whole French Empire on British side despite Vichy; much would depend upon lead given in that event by Weygand who is head-strong and unpredictable.

4. He thought it probable also that in existing conditions of sea and air power Germany is not prepared to attempt invasion of Palestine. He nevertheless admitted difficulty of accepting conclusion to which his own theories led him, viz., that German southward advance could be expected to stop at Crete.

Repeated to Beirut, which I understand now has this cipher.

MACMURRAY

"Franz von Papen, German Ambassador in Turkey.

740.0011 European War 1939/11718: Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut (Engert) to the Secretary of State

BEIRUT, June 5, 1941-10 p. m. [Received June 6-9:40 p. m.]

192. For the Secretary and Under Secretary. Referring to fifth paragraph of my 128, May 4, Sheik Taj-ed-Din came from Damascus to call on me tonight and requested me to transmit the following verbal message to the President of the United States.

"Syria is today facing the gravest crisis in her history. All patriotic Syrians fear that France is about to turn us over to the Axis Powers and we know the revolting hypocrisy with which both the Axis and French authorities here are today accusing the British of seeking to extend the war by attacking Syria. It is a thoroughly cynical policy whose sole aim is to bring about immediate and complete collaboration with a Europe politically and economically reorganized by the Nazis. Those of us who like myself have been loyal to France now believe it to be against the best interests of our country to be governed by a Berlin controlled Vichy let alone Berlin itself. We are therefore in favor of a British occupation of Syria and I know many Frenchmen feel as we do. But unfortunately there are some Syrians who because of German bribes and propaganda are or pretend to be pro-German; these elements might be troublesome as fifth columnists and in many other ways. I therefore venture to suggest the simplest and most effective way of winning them over to the cause of the democracies: A vast majority of Syrians even the so-called German or anti-British faction are today still intensely pro-American and have unbounded faith in the democracy and chivalry of the American Government and people. If therefore the United States could [apparent omission] that it approved the recent British declaration re Syrian independence and Arab unity 78 it would have an enormous influence on public opinion in Syria and Lebanon where it would be accepted as proof that antiBritish propaganda could safely be discounted. Considering that Syria had in 1919 almost unanimously voted for an American mandate," an expression of American interest in her fate at this time would seem rather logical particularly as we realize that the United States will after this war want the world to rise to a higher plane of international morality than after the last war. We all know that America seeks neither political influence nor protectorates but here is an unusual opportunity for her which may never return not only of frustrating Axis military and political designs in a strategically vital area, but also of becoming a factor for stability and constructive help in shaping the future of the world."

I feel the above appeal has much to recommend it. We are universally trusted because of our obvious disinterestedness and our well

78

Speech by Anthony Eden, May 29, 1941, British Cmd. 6289, Misc. No. 2 (1941): Speech by the Rt. Hon. Anthony Eden . . . delivered at the Mansion House on May 29, 1941.

7 See Report of the King-Crane Commission, August 28, 1919, Foreign Relations, 1919, The Paris Peace Conference, vol. XII, p. 751.

known sympathy for the cause of small nations. After the depressing lessons of the last post-war period we would seem to be justified in expressing solidarity of opinion and action with the British in the face of problems confronting the Arabic world. The immediate effect would undoubtedly be a serious weakening of Nazi prestige in Syria and a corresponding strengthening of all influences which are wishing us well in our efforts to help rid the world of the Nazi menace.

ENGERT

740.0011 European War 1939/11719 : Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut (Engert) to the Secretary of State

BEIRUT, June 6, 1941-4 p. m. [Received 10:05 p. m.]

193. The following is the substance of note dated today which the French High Commissioner requests me to transmit to the British authorities of Palestine and Transjordan:

Referring to paragraph 2 of article V of the Paulet-Newcombe agreement of December 23, 1920,80 fixing the Palestine frontier between the Mediterranean and El Hammeh and guaranteeing the British Government at all times the right to pass its troops along the stretch of railroad from Nassib to Samakh situated in Syrian territory, the High Commissioner finds himself obligated in view of present circumstances to suspend until further order all transit of military personnel or equipment over the line in question.

I am orally informed that there is no objection to the passage of non-military supplies.

ENGERT

740.0011 European War 1939/11754: Telegram

The Ambassador in France (Leahy) to the Secretary of State

VICHY, June 6, 1941-9 p. m. [Received June 7-1:30 p.m.]

642. Rochat asked Matthews 81 to call at 8:00 this evening and said he had been urgently instructed by Admiral Darlan to give us the following message:

“In the light of the tenacious and persistent campaign carried on by the English radio with reference to the situation in Syria, the

80 This is not a reference to the Paulet-Newcombe agreement but to the FrancoBritish Convention on certain points connected with the Mandates for Syria and the Lebanon, Palestine, and Mesopotamia, signed at Paris, December 23, 1920, League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. XXII, p. 355. For text of the Report of the Paulet-Newcombe Boundary Commission, dated February 3, 1920, see ibid., p. 366. 81 H. Freeman Matthews, First Secretary of Embassy in France.

« PreviousContinue »