294 Commonwealth Government to Mr W. S. Churchill, U.K. Prime Minister

Cablegram 242 28 May 1940,


Your Z cablegram [2] indicating the possibility of an early French collapse must impel the earliest examination of British Commonwealth policy and course to be pursued.

The absence of a French counter attack on a large scale against the flank of the German breach, and the failure to employ or have in position a strategical reserve to meet any breakthrough led us to assume something was radically wrong with the French Army. The view that a collapse may be possible must have been due to sudden developments, for it has apparently not been possible for us to be supplied with the facts or appreciation which support this view.

It is therefore difficult for us to form a judgment or consult effectively unless we have full information of the military, economic and moral factors, especially so far as they affect France. Consequently we would request such an appreciation at the earliest possible moment, with particular regard to the following points- 1. What are the major reasons for believing that a French collapse is possible? Is it due to moral and psychological factors, affecting the whole population, which have undermined the fighting spirit of the Army, or is it due to purely military factors such as overwhelming air superiority, armament and strength of German divisions? If the former, the position would be desperate unless immediate steps could be taken to counteract it by radical change in political leadership. Another change in high military command might prove fatal at this juncture. On other hand, if latter is true, and fighting spirit Army is unimpaired, France might well be determined to fight on defensive until unfavourable factors are counterbalanced by supreme war production effort on part of Allies. In face of crisis, this is spirit and resolve of our people here, and we are certain it is true throughout Empire. We have difficulty in believing a similar spirit is not actuating France, especially if reinforced by strongest assurances from us that we are fighting to finish.

2. Assuming worst, however, the nature of the collapse must profoundly affect our own course of operations. Would it be (a) complete capitulation of France and exit from war, or (b) surrender of French Armies in France only, withdrawal of French Government to London or Algeria, and continuation of struggle by her overseas forces and Navy.

If (a) then our own position in the Mediterranean, Egypt and Near East calls for immediate examination, because it would appear inevitable that Italy would enter the war at this stage, even if she had not done so previously.

3. To our mind, another feature merits immediate consideration.

The main theme of German propaganda has been that England has let down in turn Czechoslovakia, Finland, Norway, Holland, and will certainly let down France as well. If British Army withdraws from France or is forced to surrender by failure of supply, as a prelude to French collapse, then it is obvious utmost will be made of alleged inadequacy of British support with strong probability of disastrous effect on neutrals, especially United States. It would seem advisable that consideration should be given to this contingency, by preparation of joint communiques and anti- propaganda measures.

You will appreciate the object of this cable is to ensure we shall be in position to send our views if and when the crisis under contemplation arises, with promptitude, and to enable us to form opinion as to manner and theatre our own efforts can best be directed.

1 This cablegram was sent through the U.K. Dominions Secretary.

2 It is not dear whether this reference is to Document 282 or Document 292.

3 The number has been inserted from the Prime Minister's Dept outward cable register (FA: A3637).

[FA: A3196, [0.3270] [3]]