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Editorial Note on French Rearmament
Discussions regarding Allied materiel for French forces in North Africa had been taking place in Algiers since mid-November 1942. In December, General Giraud secured Joint Chiefs of Staff approval to send a military mission to Washington to negotiate for and expedite delivery of various supplies. The mission, headed by Major General M. Emile Béthouart, who had previously distinguished himself by his efforts to prevent French opposition to the TORCH landings, arrived on December 24 with a detailed plan, which Béthouart presented to the War Department. Marshall and his advisers agreed that the materiel was available in the United States to equip the 272,000-man force the French program stipulated, but they insisted that the shipping shortage constituted a severe impediment.
Prior to the Casablanca Conference, the United States had not committed itself to a definite program for French rearmament. But during the Combined Chiefs of Staff meetings on January 18 and 19, Marshall had stated his opinion that the French would fight well if rearmed, that they should be given modern equipment, and that the Allies should proceed with a definite rearmament program. Marshall was visiting Eisenhower’s Algiers headquarters, however, when Giraud met with Roosevelt on January 24. The French commander presented, for the president’s concurrence, a memorandum which, in effect, restated the program Béthouart had already presented to the War Department. Roosevelt wrote “Oui en principe” beside the paragraph that stipulated that the United States would supply materiel to outfit three armored divisions and eight motorized divisions plus one thousand aircraft, “and that of these quantities there shall be delivered in the course of the next few weeks 400 trucks and the armament for 2 armored regiments, 3 reconnaissance battalions, 3 tank destroyer battalions and 3 motorized divisions and such aviation materiel as may be sent by air.”
The French believed that they had received a much firmer commitment than the president had intended to convey, and their disappointment upon discovering Marshall’s attitude, illustrated in the following document, led to a controversy that would affect United States-French North African relations for several weeks. (Marcel Vigneras, Rearming the French, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1957], pp. 26–44; quote on p. 38.)
Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981– ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 3, “The Right Man for the Job,” December 7, 1941-May 31, 1943 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), pp. 527–528.