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Memorandum for the Under Secretary
of State [Welles]
May [July] 5, 1940 [Washington, D.C.]
Subject: Consideration by Liaison Committee of critical situation
at Martinique, and other French possessions in the Caribbean Area.
In the light of what has just occurred between the French and British Naval forces at Oran, it seems to me that the Liaison Committee should meet to consider whether any action other than diplomatic is now indicated for the United States in connection with possible, even probable developments in the French possessions in the Caribbean area.1
I understand that there are at present three French Naval vessels in the harbor at Martinique, and that at least two British Naval vessels are present in the same harbor. A serious development is therefore possible. Furthermore, yesterday’s change of attitude between the French and British Governments presents serious possibilities in connection with the disposal of the French possessions in this hemisphere.
Should the United States take any definite action at this time other than diplomatic; and if so, of what nature?2
I am sending a copy of this memorandum to Admiral Stark, and I am suggesting that we discuss this in an early meeting of the Liaison Committee.3
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Selected Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed memorandum.
1. On July 3 the British government had issued ultimatums to the French naval commanders at Alexandria, Egypt, and Oran, Algeria. When the commander at Oran refused to surrender his ships, the British attacked and destroyed or disabled the French vessels in a brief but intense battle. No ultimatum was delivered to the commander at Martinique, Admiral Georges Robert, who had aligned himself with the Vichy government, but on July 4 Britain instituted a blockade of the French ships—including an aircraft carrier, a fast cruiser, and several other vessels—in port there.
2. In early May 1940, President Roosevelt and Under Secretary of State Welles had agreed that some form of trusteeship under the aegis of the Pan American Union might be necessary to administer the European nations’ Western Hemisphere possessions. Shortly thereafter, Germany’s military successes in Western Europe caused the United States to press Pan American Union members to attend a meeting in Havana to consider the possessions issue. The conference could not be convened before July 21. (Stetson Conn and Byron Fairchild, The Framework of Hemisphere Defense, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1960], pp. 46-48.)
Martinique, Secretary of State Cordell Hull observed in his memoirs, “proved a magnet attracting much of our diplomacy in the summer of 1940.” (The Memoirs of Cordell Hull [New York: Macmillan, 1948], p. 818.) On July 5 Marshall joined with Admiral Stark in directing the Joint Planning Committee to prepare a “Joint Plan for the Occupation of Martinique and Guadeloupe.” The initial plan, completed on July 8, asserted that “any attempt by British or Canadian forces to land or take sovereignty of French possessions in the Western Hemisphere will be considered by the United States as an infraction of the Monroe Doctrine. . . . The use by the Axis of bases in the French West Indies would constitute a violation of the Monroe Doctrine. In order to prevent this, our occupation of Martinique and Guadaloupe may become necessary.” The proposed expeditionary force was to include an initial naval force of fifteen fighting ships and 2,800 Marines to be supported by 6,800 men from the army’s First Division. (NA/RG 319 [OPD, Joint Board, Serial 666].) The Martinique issue rose repeatedly as a diplomatic and potential military problem during the next eighteen months. (Conn and Fairchild, Framework of Hemisphere Defense, pp. 49-51, 84-88, 161-63.)
3. General Marshall attended one meeting of the Standing Liaison Committee at 11:30 A.M. on July 5 (from which this memorandum may have derived) and another at 11:00 A.M. on July 10.
Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Sharon Ritenour Stevens, and Clarence E. Wunderlin, Jr. (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 2, “We Cannot Delay,” July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 259-260.