IN VICHY, THE NORTH AFRICA INVASION astounded American diplomats as much as it did the Pétain regime. Keeler Faus, a junior member of the US Embassy staff, wrote in his diary for 8 November that a colleague ‘knocked on my door at 7.45 to tell me that Mr. [Tyler] Thompson wanted me to come to the Embassy at once–for the Americans invaded North Africa–Algeria and Morocco–before dawn this morning’. Thompson told him that embassy Chargé d’Affaires S. Pinckney Tuck had just delivered a message from Roosevelt to Pétain, who declared that the French Empire would defend itself against the American aggressors. Faus was assigned to obtain as much petrol as he could, so that the diplomats could escape when Vichy severed relations with the United States. ‘The cops in the streets gave me big smiles,’ Faus wrote, ‘one or two took off their caps, several stopped me to shake hands to congratulate me.’ Thirty-two-year-old Faus, who had been western Maryland clay court champion before joining the foreign service, went to the Tennis Club after lunch and played two sets. In the evening, he went out again ‘not knowing whether we might not meet the Germans somewhere on the way. Rumor had it that they were driving south. No incidents.’
Although Pétain had ordered French forces in Africa to oppose the Allied invasion, he refused a German directive to declare war on the Allies. Pierre Laval went to Germany to see Hitler, who demanded the use of French air bases in Tunisia and at Constantine in eastern Algeria. When Laval declined, German troops in the Occupied Zone invaded Vichy France and disarmed the French troops who had been permitted under the Armistice of 1940 to retain light weapons. ‘The night before the Germans came down and occupied the southern zone,’ Françoise de Boissieu, a Jewishrésistante hiding near Vichy, said, ‘Ruth Thompson, wife of one of the American diplomats [Tyler Thompson], came by bike to tell us we had to leave at once. If not, she warned us, we would be among the first arrested.’ Although due to give birth in a few weeks, Françoise and her Catholic husband fled immediately and took refuge in the house of friends in Paris.
The American Embassy’s staff did not depart, despite their elaborate preparations. The Germans rolled into Vichy on 11 November and seized the embassy. Tyler Thompson, in an interview years later with author Adam Nossiter, recalled that the Germans ransacked the Villa Ica while ‘one goon had a machine gun pointed in my stomach, which is not the way diplomats are supposed to earn their living’. When Keeler Faus tried to enter the building, he noted in his diary that evening, ‘a German stuck the point of his submachine gun in my stomach and asked me what I wanted’. The French sent Thompson, Faus, Douglas MacArthur and the rest of the diplomats with their families to be interned in the town of Lourdes. The French lodged them in a hotel of the same name as the one they inhabited in Vichy, the Ambassadeurs. They had the run of the town, provided they went out with a French inspector of police, and were able to play tennis and touch football. Interned in other hotels were American journalists and Red Cross personnel. With the rupture of diplomatic relations between Washington and Vichy, American citizens in France no longer had an embassy to represent them.
Germany’s abrupt occupation of southern France, combined with Italy’s seizure of Corsica and the Côte d’Azur around Nice and Menton, made French officers in Algeria and Morocco more hostile to Germany. Pétain was now physically, as he had been politically, a hostage of the Nazis. The French officers’ loyalty to him had become meaningless, making their conversion to the Allied cause easier. Eisenhower capitalized on French support to combat the Germans, Italians and diehard Vichyites in Tunisia.
To Charles Bedaux, the replacement of Vichy administration in Africa with American occupation did not mean a change of plan. He pursued the Americans for his pipeline, as he had once charmed Franz Medicus and Pierre Laval in pursuit of the same goal. Felix Cole, US Consul General in Algiers since 1938, received Bedaux on 11 November. The efficiency engineer was as persuasive as ever, arguing that the Americans had the opportunity to prove to the French that they would ‘not retard French Africa in its development but on the contrary that they are ready to accelerate the rhythm of its progress towards complete unity by aiding in the construction of a pipeline for water and fuel [as] a link between Africa and North Africa’. Consul General Cole’s cables to Washington did not indicate that he encouraged Bedaux, but Bedaux told friends in Algiers that Cole was interested in his project. Either Cole said something to give Bedaux hope, or his salesman’s bravado made him believe Cole had. In any event, he went on planning his expedition.
During a Luftwaffe raid over liberated Algiers one evening, Bedaux spoke to a group of American reporters on the balcony adjoining his at the Hôtel Aletti. When journalist John MacVane realized the man speaking to him was the famous Charles Bedaux, he asked why the efficiency engineer was in Algeria. Bedaux answered, ‘I am carrying out an industrial mission for the Vichy government. A big communications plan in Morocco. I was caught here by the invasion of our American troops.’ In MacVane’s book, War and Diplomacy in North Africa, his publishers removed the section on Bedaux over his objections, in which MacVane wrote, ‘He did not seem happy at the arrival of “our American troops.” “All my plans are now upset,” he said. “Naturally I am going to see Admiral Darlan and the American authorities about the possibility of carrying through the scheme anyway.”’ MacVane distrusted Bedaux: ‘His voice dripped with cordiality but no one who saw those hard, shifting eyes behind the heavy spectacles would have trusted him on sight.’ The next night, during another German raid, MacVane was hosting Americans from the ‘political-warfare section’. Bedaux invited the men to watch the spectacle from his balcony. ‘I tipped off the political warriors as to who he was and we went out on the balcony,’ MacVane wrote. One of the Americans was Edmond Taylor, a former Chicago Tribune correspondent in Paris who had signed on with the Office of Strategic Services.
Bedaux needed American approval to cross US army lines with his long truck convoy. He wrote to Robert Murphy on 17 November, congratulating him on ‘work well done’ and declaring that he was ‘ready to place myself at your disposal as soon as the French Government cancels the Mission Order I have’. With French officers ignoring orders from Vichy to fight the Americans, it was unclear why Bedaux was waiting for Vichy to cancel his. When American forces requisitioned the Hôtel Aletti, Bedaux and his son found an auberge not far from Algiers at ’Ain Koussa. From there, he tried to contact Murphy. One letter to the diplomat, written the day his survey mission should have begun, 15 November, argued that the pipeline was in America’s interests: ‘Carrying through the study of the laying of a pipeline for water and fuel across the Sahara would be a fine opportunity for the United States to show to the world that French Africa far from suffering from the occupation can reasonably hope to receive from America the first practical link between its northern and central sections. At the present exchange the whole project would cost only sixteen million dollars.’ Bedaux ended on a personal note, ‘Will you remember August 1939 when we gave you Candé as an annex to the Embassy and realize that in my desire to be usefully active today I ask your help.’
Murphy came under strong criticism in the press and among the Free French for leaving Vichy officials in office, appointing former Vichy Interior Minister Marcel Peyrouton as governor general and allowing the résistants who had obeyed his orders on 7 November to be arrested. Many of his Jewish agents, including Dr Henri Aboulker, were imprisoned by the very men they had detained on Murphy’s orders. When Pierre-Jérôme Ullmann, the Jewish stepson of Fernand de Brinon, learned that many of Murphy’s Jewish agents had been taken into custody, he left Bedaux’s employ and went south to British territory.
When Dr Aboulker and the colleagues who seized Algiers for the Americans were finally released, the aged doctor told A. J. Liebling, ‘It is almost impossible for one of us to see Murphy. He shuns us like a case of an extremely contagious disease.’ Murphy, in the aftermath of the invasion, was also ignoring his former host and frequent source, Charles Eugene Bedaux. Bedaux’s letters to Murphy went unanswered.
The New York Metropolitan Opera opened its thirty-eighth season at the beginning of December with a lavish production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Daughter of the Regiment. The French-born soprano Lily Pons, wearing a demure white gown and revolutionary stocking hat, waved what Lifemagazine called ‘the Fighting French Cross of Lorraine instead of the Tricolor while the entire company renders the Marseillaise’. The Cross of Lorraine was the symbol used by Charles de Gaulle and the Free French in homage to the Lorrainers, who had endured German occupation from 1870 to emerge once again as free Frenchmen in 1918. The rousing anthem, which was not in Donizetti’s original, may have convinced some of the audience that, with American help, France would be freed of German troops as Lorraine was in 1918.