317 Lord Caldecote, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Commonwealth Government

Cablegram 174 LONDON, 30 May 1940, 9.10 p.m.


Your telegram 242 of 28th May. [1]

The following appreciation deals with the points raised. There is no reason to assume that anything is radically wrong with the French Army. The recent break-through was the result of faulty tactical dispositions, including the posting of troops not of the highest standard at the crucial area where the Maginot Line proper terminated and defensive zone began. The troops in question did not fight as well as the best units of the French Army but there is no reason to doubt the morale in general of the French Army. It is, however, the case that the very heavy scale of tank attack with heavy air support came as a tactical surprise and caused temporary loss of morale where it occurred.

As regards your point (1) you will have seen from my telegram 172 today [2] that according to the latest information we could not regard the French collapse as other than a possibility. We understand that the French Army will fight on the line of the Rivers Somme and Aisne and are informed that they would continue to fight even if this line were broken. We have given the French Government full assurance of our determination to stand by them to the end and that we expect them to do the same by us. There is no reason to suppose the existence of any moral or psychological factors having materially undermined the fighting spirit of the French Army or the French population.

As regards point (2) it is impossible to forecast the nature which a French collapse would take, should it occur. The situation which we are particularly examining is the worst case, namely, your hypothesis (a). We agree that the entry of Italy into the war against us appears inevitable. Even in this case, we have every intention of maintaining the security of our vital interests in the Near East and of course in the Far East. In the event of any French collapse less complete than (a), the difficulty of maintaining our security in the Near East would be reduced.

As regards point (3), we entirely agree with the view expressed in your telegram as to the mode of public presentation and we are already taking steps with a view to the matter being dealt with as you suggest.

In conclusion, we should like to emphasize the importance that in all public and official references to recent events, anything in the nature of recrimination against the French should be avoided.

The French and British interests stand together today as much as ever and the solidarity of the alliance remains a very important factor in the successful prosecution of the war.

I should like to stress the extreme importance of the strictest secrecy in regard to the contents of this telegram and my immediately succeeding telegram.

1 Document 294.

2 Document 304.

[FA: A3195, 1.3733]