How to Get a Breakthrough in Ukraine
The Case Against Incrementalism
President Charles de Gaulle in discussing current Franco-American relations often focuses upon the prewar neutrality of the United States as well as upon his wartime differences with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In doing so he conjures up the image of an unreliable American ally. His recollections have also pushed into the background of public memory the two years before France's tragic collapse in June 1940, when, in the words of former Premier Edouard Daladier, "President Roosevelt was for France a very great and noble friend." As Premier during those years, Daladier witnessed at first hand the American President's efforts to help France order some 4,000 American combat planes to rebuild French defenses against the imminent attack of Hitler's vastly superior air power. Hitherto the details of the story have been wrapped in the secrecy of American and French archives, private papers and personal memories, but it can now be seen that Roosevelt concentrated his principal effort on that aid because he believed that in no other way could the United States strengthen France so significantly. Neither Morgenthau's monetary agreements nor the sale of machine tools and raw materials would do so much to increase French capacity to resist Nazi aggression. Roosevelt was ready to go as far as possible in spite of isolationist opposition to the delivery of planes to France because of his further conviction that, despite the Neutrality Act, the frontiers of the United States extended to the Rhine. It was not until late 1937 that France seriously considered the purchase of American combat planes to help offset Germany's overwhelming aerial superiority. Since 1935, when Hitler tore up the Versailles Treaty and began to build his air forces, the German aircraft industry had adopted the latest aluminum construction techniques and turned out planes with heavier engines, higher altitudes and faster speeds than the wood and canvas planes which still made up the majority of the French and British air forces. By the end of 1937 Germany possessed some 1,000 war planes of the latest type, and a French Senator, Baron Amaury de la Grange, did not exaggerate when he informed his Senate colleagues in late December that "German aviation can fly over our territory with impunity." Shortly after the Senator made this statement, the French Government requested him to cross the Atlantic and determine how quickly the American aircraft industry could produce 1,000 modern planes. De la Grange was selected because of his broad knowledge of both French and American air power and because of his personal friendship with the President. He had first met Franklin Roosevelt when he married an American in 1913 and had seen him often during a tour of duty in Washington in 1918. As he had kept up this friendship, he easily arranged a visit at the White House for the weekend of January 15-16, 1938. Senator de la Grange found the American President in a particularly receptive mood. Since his Chicago speech of October 1937, Roosevelt had been seeking ways to implement his plea that the peace-loving nations of the world should quarantine the aggressors. Though he had not named them, he privately lumped Germany, Italy and Japan together at this time as the "three bandit nations." His concern grew in early November when the three officially joined together in the Anti-Comintern Pact and rumors spread that they were bound by new military agreements. He looked toward the Brussels conference of nations interested in the Far East to restrain Japan's undeclared war against China, but when the conference ended in a fiasco, the President sought other means to bring pressure on the aggressors. Then in early December Japanese planes wantonly sank the U.S.S. Panay in the Yangtze River. Outraged, the President proposed to Britain a joint long- range naval quarantine of Japan and sent a naval officer to London to discuss the project. It was in effect laid to rest on January 14, however, when Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain asked the United States to join in recognizing Italy's conquest of Ethiopia. Chamberlain's preference for appeasement had blocked the President's search for a resistance policy. It was two days later that Senator de la Grange arrived to open a new avenue by which the United States might help the European democracies to resist the Fascist dictators. On that Sunday afternoon, January 16, the President invited his French friend into his study and together they discussed the world situation. Roosevelt outlined his plan for a long-range naval quarantine of Japan running from Hong Kong to Manila and thence to Alaska. The Senator in his turn requested rapid delivery of 1,000 planes of the type then used by the American Army Air Corps. A letter de la Grange wrote immediately after this meeting summarizes his impressions of Roosevelt's reaction: It is his conviction that, more and more, Japan will depend on Germany and Italy and that, in order to contain the ambitions of these powers, England, France and America will be obliged to combine their efforts. The President will thus be completely in favor of all measures that the French Government might believe necessary to reinforce its air formations in time of peace and in time of war.[i] The President also pointed out, added de la Grange, that the arms embargo embedded in the Neutrality Act would not permit France in time of war to replenish its supplies from the United States "with complete freedom." Nevertheless, after further discussion in Washington, de la Grange stated in his final report: "As long as the White House is occupied by Mr. Roosevelt, who is francophile and fears German expansion," France could expect a broad interpretation of the embargo. The Senator personally thought this might mean "surreptitious delivery via Canada."[ii] Senator de la Grange could not report optimistically about his goal "to harness American industry to the French war machine," for he soon discovered that the production of combat planes lagged even more in the United States than in France. Thus he was finally forced to reveal, "It is regrettable that we cannot obtain in the United States beginning in 1938 a sufficient number of machines to reinforce our weak aviation." Only one plane appeared to measure up to France's needs, Curtiss Wright's P-36 fighter. However, as the company's production line was just beginning to turn out the first of the 200 ordered by the American Air Corps, France would have to finance a new assembly line, from which no more than 100 could be shipped before March 1939. The need for fighters was so great that the French Government favored ordering the 100 P-36s. However, the threat that delivery might be halted by the arms embargo just when a belligerent France needed them most remained a stumbling block. In late February, Edouard Daladier, then the Defense Minister, discussed this problem with the American Ambassador, William C. Bullitt, who agreed to go to Washington to determine whether President Roosevelt would be as helpful as de la Grange predicted. Bullitt's suggestion that Jean Monnet accompany him as Daladier's representative gave this Frenchman his first opportunity to see the President in action. Bullitt has recalled for this author that he and Monnet crossed the ocean on the same boat, but in order to avoid attention neither gave any sign of recognition to the other until they arrived in the President's study. There, in answer to Daladier's problem, Roosevelt told Bullitt to assure him that he was already campaigning for repeal of the arms embargo and expecting success. He hoped that the threat to ship American arms to the European democracies would make the Fascist dictators pause before launching a war. However, if war did come before the embargo could be repealed, the President said he would rush through the necessary revision of the Neutrality Act. If worst came to worst and he failed in this final effort, he had one last means of getting around the embargo, which specifically forbade flying planes out of the United States to a belligerent country. He would have the planes pushed across the border into Canada. He told Bullitt to search for areas where planes could land on the American side, and he sketched a map indicating likely places. Before leaving, Monnet requested the map as a memento and, with a characteristic grin, Roosevelt handed it to him. Though the map was later destroyed, it provided Monnet in the spring of 1938 with documentary evidence of Roosevelt's attitude toward the arms embargo.[iii] Obviously, the President had made no official commitment to the French Government; he had stated only his personal intentions. However, Guy La Chambre, who was French Minister for Air from early 1938 until March 1940, remembers that those expressed intentions were accepted for fact. Thus after becoming Premier in April 1938, Daladier decided to run the risk of having the P-36s rust on American docks and approved both the order for 100 and an option for an additional 300. It was in recalling this series of incidents that Daladier wrote recently to the present author, "President Roosevelt was for France a very great and noble friend." Daladier and La Chambre turned to President Roosevelt again that spring of 1938 because widespread opposition to the purchase of American planes had sprung up within France. The Finance Minister, Georges Bonnet, objected to the expenditure of France's limited gold reserves as required by the "cash and carry" clause of the Neutrality Act. Criticism also came from the Chamber of Deputies and the French press, as well as from labor and management in the aircraft industry. Most serious of all, technicians within the French Air Ministry doubted whether the export model of the P-36 would meet European combat conditions. Believing that other criticisms would be silenced if this last one were proved erroneous, the Minister for Air decided to send France's leading test pilot, Michael Detroyat, to the United States to fly the plane and make first-hand observations. Permission for such a flight ran into direct opposition from the U.S. Air Corps. As deliveries of the P-36 had not begun, the Air Corps still wrapped its three prototypes in secrecy. Typical of its position was a memorandum written by General H. H. Arnold, then the Assistant Chief of the Air Corps. After listing some dozen specific reasons why the French should not be permitted to fly the P-36, he concluded: "M. Detroyat is an engineer of unusual ability, a skilled test pilot and a skilled pilot of racing planes. He could learn more in twenty minutes alone in this plane than the average engineer could learn from a week's study of both the plane and its blueprints."[iv] President Roosevelt, who had a broader view of the international situation, provided the French with the first evidence that he could act as well as talk. He ordered the Army Chief of Staff to make secret arrangements for Detroyat to fly a P-36 "for just twenty minutes." As Arnold predicted, that was ample time to convince the French pilot of its merits; he reported to Paris that the Curtiss fighter was equal not only to France's prototypes but also to the operational model of the Messerschmitt 109, Germany's newest frontline fighter. The opposition of the French technicians crumbled and in mid-May France signed a contract for 100 P-36s. The French Government's original expectations of obtaining 1,000 planes had been frustrated, but it could find some comfort in the fact that a British air mission which toured the United States in the spring of 1938 also concluded that only the P-36 could measure up to Germany's current fighters. Even after this mission had obtained President Roosevelt's special clearance to fly the B-18, the Air Corps' medium bomber, it recommended that Britain order no war planes but rather 200 trainers and 200 transports, the latter being adequate for coastal patrol duty far from the battle lines. Despite the inferiority of American combat aviation, France turned again to the United States for further purchases after the Czechoslovakian crisis of September 1938. At this moment, when Hitler led Europe to the brink of war by demanding the annexation of the Sudetenland, the French Air Force was terribly inferior to the German Luftwaffe. According to official records, the French possessed but 17 planes which could match the performance of the hundreds poised on the Rhine frontier.[v] No wonder the French Chief of Staff for Air, General Vuillemin, informed the Government on September 26 that "only with great difficulty and at the price of heavy losses" could his Air Force fulfill its mission. If anyone was bluffing at Munich, it was Premier Daladier. On September 30 Prime Minister Chamberlain returned to Britain to announce "peace in our time," but the French Premier took a more realistic view. On October 3 he called in Ambassador Bullitt who subsequently cabled Washington: "Daladier sees the situation entirely, clearly, and realizes fully that the meeting in Munich was an immense diplomatic defeat for France and England." The Premier also requested Ambassador Bullitt to leave as soon as possible for the United States to make another effort to help France build up its air defenses. Bullitt arrived in Washington late in the evening of October 13 and went directly to the White House, where his talk with the President continued into the small hours. Later that morning of October 14 the President electrified a press conference by calling for a vast rearmament of the United States. As reports circulated that the President gave priority to air power and aimed at an American production of 20,000 planes, the suspicion grew that he sought such large quantities of planes in order to divert them to Britain and France and thus strengthen their defenses against Hitler's Third Reich. The truth of these rumors can now be underscored on the basis of a discussion which the President had with Jean Monnet, Ambassador Bullitt and Secretary of the Treasury Henry J. Morgenthau, Jr. on October 25. Monnet recalls that Roosevelt first spoke forcefully about the Nazi challenge to liberty and the danger that Hitler would resort to force in his drive to rule the world. The President then estimated that Germany had the capacity to turn out 40,000 planes while Britain could produce only 25,000 and France 15,000; he felt the United States should develop a 20,000 capacity in order to achieve overwhelming superiority. It is significant that the President used exactly the same figures the week before during a discussion at Hyde Park with Arthur C. Murray, a member of the House of Commons and a prominent Liberal. The President added that these 20,000 American planes would provide "the necessary overwhelming superiority over Germany and Italy." He went on to discuss with Murray how Britain could obtain its share of the new planes and concluded by sending the assurance to Chamberlain, "I will help all I can."[vi] Monnet's report to the Daladier Government reveals that during the White House meeting President Roosevelt had joined in the discussion as to how many planes could be produced for France. The estimate was that in a year's time the American aviation industry, "with certain but not excessive augmentation," could deliver some 1,000 pursuit planes and 1,000 bombers. There were two conditions: "Such deliveries presuppose that only existing American models would be used and that the types would be limited to one or at the most two for bombers and pursuits."[vii] While Premier Daladier welcomed the prospect of obtaining large quantities of American planes, Prime Minister Chamberlain, despite a Royal Air Force recommendation that the United States be aided in developing production, approved the purchase of only 200 additional trainers. The French Premier spelt out his plans to his National Defense Council on December 5. "We presently have the possibility of receiving about 1,000 planes of the latest model in use by the American Army. The American Government has formally promised delivery but it must be kept absolutely secret." He went on: "Our aerial inferiority is tragic. One thousand American bombers are necessary."[viii] The Finance Ministry, now under Paul Reynaud, again opposed the expenditure of gold necessary in the "cash and carry" transaction and refused to increase the budget. However, by the end of the week Daladier had juggled the budget sufficiently to provide the required funds and directed Monnet to proceed with his American negotiations. In mid-December when Monnet returned to Washington to arrange the purchase of the 1,000 bombers, the White House suggested that he avoid opposition by working quietly through Secretary Morgenthau under the pretense that the sale of planes to France was a commercial matter. Morgenthau shared Roosevelt's conviction about the need to strengthen France, and as one of Monnet's colleagues wrote in early 1939, Treasury officials "never ceased aiding the mission."[ix] Opposition came from other sources. First, the French technicians who accompanied Monnet soon concluded that none of the American bombers currently in production and released for foreign sale could survive European war conditions. However, on December 21 they learned from the Treasury that two light bombers were being developed for an Air Corps competition by Glenn Martin and Douglas. Monnet immediately requested clearance for his technicians to study the specifications of these bombers. Recognizing that this request would run into powerful opposition from the Air Corps, Morgenthau went over to the White House. He forcefully backed the French request by referring directly to the President's own attitude toward aid to the European democracies: "If it's your theory that England and France are our first line of defense . . . let's either give them good stuff or tell them to go home, but don't give them some stuff which the minute it goes up in the air will be shot down. No sense in selling them that which we know is out of date." Roosevelt accepted this argument and wrote the following note on Morgenthau's memorandum requesting release of the two bombers: "This is O.K. for reasons of state . . . should be kept as confidential as possible and the French orders filled so as not to interfere with the United States' new orders this spring."[x] After a Cabinet meeting that afternoon, the President persuaded Secretary of War Woodring to give grudging approval to the release. Trouble came when General Arnold, now the Chief of the Air Corps, was informed. He was convinced that the sale of the bombers to France would upset the Air Corps' new expansion program and fought to retain the Douglas bomber, believing it the better of the two. Air Force archives reveal that from December 21, when the General first heard of the French interest, until mid-January he threw every possible obstacle into the path of the French negotiations for the Douglas plane. His tactics ended only on January 16, 1939, when the President called a conference of all interested service officials. After Roosevelt reiterated his wish that every effort be made to assist the French air mission, he turned to Ambassador Bullitt, who spoke eloquently of time running out and of the need to aid France in building its air defenses. Secretary Woodring hedged and referred to his isolationist friends in Congress who might embarrass the President if the plane were released. It was a tense meeting and Roosevelt got his dander up. The upshot was that he signed a formal order and addressed it separately to the Secretaries of War, Navy and Treasury. It included the terse phrase, "You are directed" and implied compliance or resignation. Under this pressure General Arnold granted the release and Monnet sent two French representatives out to California in order to satisfy the Air Ministry's requirement to test the new bomber. After watching a flight demonstration, the French test pilot, Captain Paul Chemedlin, irritated the Douglas test pilot with some caustic observations. The American, as General Arnold later reported, decided to "make the Frenchman eat his words, or in other words, to give the Frenchman a ride," and Chemedlin was invited to climb into the after-section of the bomber. The plane was put through its usual paces, but to provide further proof of its man?uvrability the pilot brought the bomber down to 400 feet and feathered one engine. He then made a sharp right turn, with the dead engine on the lower wing, and followed this with a snap roll. The plane, pushed too far, stalled. Tragically, the American pilot was killed when his chute failed to open, but miraculously the Frenchman rode the plane down and survived the crash. A compatriot rushed up and, pushing his way through the crowd of bystanders, began excitedly to speak in his native language. The secret was out. The publicity given to the crash of the Douglas bomber with a French observer on board thoroughly alerted the American public to the fact that the United States was providing aid to the European democracies. In an effort to upset the isolationist argument that such aid would lead the nation down the road to war, President Roosevelt invited to the White House the Senate Military Affairs Committee which was investigating the presence of the Frenchman in what one of the Committee members called "the very latest word in American plane construction." According to a contemporary account by Joseph Alsop and Robert Kintner, the President at this meeting on January 31 tried to establish the fact that France and Britain were the first line of America's defense. He began by painting the dark picture of Europe, describing the German ambitions in the most lively terms, stating that Hitler would not be thwarted, warning that war was imminent. War, he said, . , . would directly affect "the peace and safety of the United States. The immediate struggle," he went on, "was for the domination of Europe, but so soon as one nation dominates Europe, that nation will be able to turn to the world sphere." After reviewing the German challenges to eastern and western Europe, the President added: "That is why the safety of the Rhine frontier does necessarily interest us." "Do you mean that our frontier is on the Rhine?" asked one of the Senators . . . "No, not that. But practically speaking if the Rhine frontiers are threatened the rest of the world is too. Once they have fallen before Hitler, the German sphere of action will be unlimited."[xi] It was too strong medicine for many of the assembled Senators. Instead of persuading them to curtail their investigations and support the sale of planes to France, Roosevelt only fanned the isolationist conviction that he was pushing the nation toward war. The secrecy with which he attempted to surround his comments was broken. The strength of the nationwide outcry against what was called extension of the American frontiers to the Rhine prompted the President to back down. Three days later he issued a denial. From a position of leadership Roosevelt retreated into a waiting position of silence. Monnet's mission was permitted to sign contracts for the new bombers, but, because of the prospect that delivery would be slow, only 100 of each were initially ordered. At the same time, France exercised its option for P-36s and ordered an additional 100 of these fighters. Once again the limited capacity of the American aircraft industry limited France's efforts to secure American aid. What was perhaps of prime significance for French leaders that winter of 1938-39 was that their negotiations for American planes had proved the sympathy of President Roosevelt and his closest advisers. Though in public he might feel forced to deny that England and France were the first line for the defense of the United States and that the American frontiers thus extended to the Rhine, the leaders of France knew that this belief was in fact the basis of his European policy. While the Air Corps and the isolationists might continue to oppose the sale of other new planes to the European democracies, Daladier, Guy La Chambre and Jean Monnet were now assured that the American President would, when the time came, do all in his power to aid France. And this in fact Roosevelt did. When war broke out in September 1939, a third French air mission rushed to the United States and, even while Congress debated the repeal of the arms embargo, secretly and successfully negotiated the purchase of 1,000 combat planes to be delivered by the end of 1940. Of even greater significance for the expansion of the American aircraft industry, France agreed to invest $10 million, a huge sum in those days, to double production of engines, the current bottleneck. In March 1940, patient and careful persuasion by Jean Monnet led Prime Minister Chamberlain's Government to agree to share equally with France in the purchase of 4,300 American fighters and bombers. The larger order, as Premier Daladier had stated in December 1939, aimed to obtain "absolute dominance in the air" over Germany. The Premier had been so determined that France make this purchase that he was ready "to make every French resource available to obtain these planes . . . . Versailles or any other possession of the French Government."[xii] The ultimate significance of the French and British orders was underscored by the official Army Air Forces history: "The initial expansion of the American aircraft industry in 1939-1940, and one which was of great benefit to the country, was paid for by Great Britain."[xiii] Secretary Morgenthau claimed that this investment speeded American production of war planes by a crucial 12 to 18 months. Though the planes did not arrive in time to protect France's frontiers on the Rhine from Hitler, they contributed directly to speeding France's liberation in 1944. Today many Frenchmen, influenced by President de Gaulle's wartime relations with President Roosevelt, remember him less as "a very great and noble friend" than as an essentially hostile ally. Many persons believe that the wartime incompatibility of de Gaulle and Roosevelt is at the base of current Franco-American differences. To whatever extent this is true, contemporary French feeling against America can perhaps be dissipated by recalling President Roosevelt's aid to France in ordering the planes needed so desperately for defense. Indeed, the memory of that Franco-American cooperation has greatly influenced the policy stressed since the war by Jean Monnet. While President de Gaulle has urged what would in effect be the withdrawal of the United States across the Atlantic, Monnet has argued for the maintenance of Roosevelt's frontiers in Europe in both an economic and military sense. Perhaps Franco-American coöperation on that basis will be aided if people will recognize President Roosevelt's courage, conviction and foresight in attempting, as early as January 1938, to pry open the American arsenal for the benefit of France. [i] Letter from Senator de la Grange to Senator Joseph Caillaux, Jan. 21, 1938. De la Grange Papers, held by the Senator's widow in Paris. [ii] Final Report on American Mission, Feb. 15, 1938. De la Grange Papers. [iii] When asked recently about this sketch, M. Monnet wrote, "I am very much afraid I cannot find the sketch of the airfield on the New York State- Canadian border. My prewar archives were burnt in Cognac during the war." [iv] Memo from Gen. Arnold to Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Marlin Craig, Mar. 9, 1938, Adjutant General's Office, File 452 (3-9-38). Washington: National Archives, Record Group 94. [v] "Procès-Verbal de Comité de Matériel," Sept. 29, 1938, filed in Box B/104 in the archives of the Service Historique de l'Armée de l'Air at Versailles. [vi] Lord Elibank (formerly Arthur C. Murray), "Franklin Roosevelt: Friend of Britain," Contemporary Review, June 1955, p. 364-367. [vii] Monnet Memorandum, dated Nov. 14, 1938, filed as #6 in "Commandes Américaines" in the private papers held in Paris by Guy La Chambre, Minister for Air, 1938-1940. [viii] Gamelin, "Servir," v. 2, "La Prologue de Drame (1930-août 1939)." Paris: Plon, 1946, p. 371-378. [ix] "Final Report, Air Mission to America," Dec-Jan. 1938, filed as #9 bis in "Commandes Americaines." La Chambre Papers. [x] John M. Blum, "From the Morgenthau Diaries," v. II, "Years of Urgency, 1938-1941." Beston: Houghton Mifflin, 1964, p. 65. [xi] Joseph Alsop and Robert Kintner, "American White Paper. The Story of American Diplomacy and the Second World War." New York: Simon and Schuster, 1940, p. 30-31. [xii] Ambassador William C. Bullitt to the Secretary of State, Nov. 23, 1939, in "Foreign Relations of the United States, 1939." v. II. Washington: G.P.O., 1956, p. 520-522. [xiii] "Army Air Forces in World War II," v. 6, "Men and Planes," eds. W. F. Craven and J. L. Cate, pt. 2, Alfred Goldberg, "Equipment and Services." Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955, p. 191.