Edward Spears Assignment To Catastrophe Definition

1 In the footnotes that follow, all official messages not otherwise identified are from Bullitt to Hull. The key SD, with appropriate file number, will identify documents from the State Department archives. The key FR, with appropriate page, will identify documents which have been published in Foreign Relations of the United States for the years 1936–1939 (Washington, D.C., 1953–1956).

2TansillC. C., Back Door to War, Chicago, 1952, pp. 555–57; ChamberlinW. H., America's Second Crusade, Chicago, 1950, pp. 59–60, 100; SanbornF. R., Design for War, New York, 1951, pp. 47, 50, 54, 186.

3LangerW. L. and GleasonS. E., The Challenge to Isolation, 1937–1940, New York, 1952, pp. 123–24; DavisForrest and LindleyE. K., How War Came, New York, 1942, pp. 38, 45–46, 51; LangerW. L., Our Vichy Gamble, New York, 1947, pp. 5, 22.

4KaufmannW. W., “Two American Ambassadors: Bullitt and Kennedy,” in CraigG. A. and GilbertFelix, eds., The Diplomats, 1919–1939, Princeton, N.J., 1953, pp. 677–81. Kaufmann's incisive essay is the best available study of Bullitt's diplomatic career.

5DoddW. E.Jr, and DoddMartha, eds., Ambassador Dodd's Diary, New York, 1941, pp. 309, 372, 381; MillisWalter, ed., The Forrestal Diaries, New York, 1951, pp. 121–22.

6IckesHarold, The Secret Diary of Harold L. Ickes, New York, 1953–1954, III, 230; ChildsMarquis, “Trouble Maker,” Washington Post, Sept. 9, 1944.

7 A youthful acquaintanceship between the two men had withered soon after the First World War. Roosevelt, writing to a friend in 1919, commented disparagingly on “Billy Bullitt's” European mannerisms. FreidelFrank, Franklin D. Roosevelt, 11, Boston, 1954, p. 23.

8WehleL. B., Hidden Threads of History: Wilson Through Roosevelt, New York, 1953, pp. 112–19.

9Ibid., p. 119.

10 Bullit's prediction just before he left for Paris was that France, like Spain, would soon be engulfed in civil war, “probably by October.” Ickes, Diary, 1, 658. Roosevelt was not much more sanguine about France's prospects. Early in 1936 the president had written to Jesse Straus, Bullit's predecessor in Paris: “In more pessimistic moments I have of necessity come to believe, just as you do about France and the French future—yet I always say to myself that in previous parties [sic] France has always ‘snapped out’ of it. This optimism, I must frankly confess, has little foundation because of several well known incidents in the past 150 years where revolution or its equivalent and the emergence of some strong individual have proved the only salvation.” Roosevelt to Straus, Feb. 13, 1936, Presidential Secretary's File, Box 4, Hyde Park Library.

11 The Hyde Park papers contain many mementoes of this close friendship, ranging from acknowledgements of holiday gifts of boxes of apples or dachshund puppies to bantering exchanges of correspondence. In 1935, for example, Bullitt wrote to mank the president for the latter's telephone call while Bullitt was hospitalized: “And your letter, which arrived when I was feeling like a poisoned pup, was the perfect emetic. You are an angel as well as a President, and the best proof I know of how dumb old Uncle Henry Adams was when he wrote, ‘A friend in office is a friend lost.’ But, after all, he was speaking of Republicans—there were no Democrats in office.” Bullitt to Roosevelt, Feb. 9, 1935, President's Personal File 1124, Hyde Park Library.

12Ickes, Diary, 111, 216.

13 In the midst of the French collapse in 1940, for example, this tantalizing cable from Bullitt reached the White House: “The story here is mat the visitor who wanted a hot water bottle in the summer considered it unwise to permit frank statements about the progenitor of the little visitors because he expects at a given moment to act the same way. Don't forget Oswald.” Bullitt to Roosevelt, May 30, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3389 1/2). Bullitt was evidently trying to warn Roosevelt that the British might set up a Fascist government under Sir Oswald Mosley in order to get favorable peace terms from Hitler. Sometimes, however, his meaning was almost brutally obvious. “Do you realize,” he cabled late in May 1940, “that Berle's first name is planning to replace Sistie and Buzzie for your next reading of Dickens' Carol?” Bullitt to Roosevelt, May 29, 1944 (SD, 811.001 Roosevelt, F. D./7113 5/6).

14Paris-Soir, Sept. 24, 1936.

15Paris-Soir, Oct. 2, 1936. Only the monarchist organ Action Française was hostile to the new ambassador. It attacked him viciously as an “agent of Jewish finance and of the Soviets,” and hinted that Bullitt would shortly arrange an American loan of a billion dollars to facilitate a French attack on Germany. Action Française, Sept. 13, 1936.

16Ickes, Diary, 11, 520.

17Ibid., 111, 124.

18Ibid., 111, 146.

19 E.g., BenešEdvard, Memoirs: From Munich to New War and New Victory, London, 1954, p. 173. Beneš believed that Bullitt's apparent abandonment of the appeasement line after Munich was only a sham.

20 E.g., KennedyJoseph P., quoted in The Forrestal Diaries, pp. 121–22; and Tansill, Back Door to War, pp. 555–57. Contemporary critics of Bullitt's “warmongering” drew much of their ammunition from a slim volume of Polish documents captured by the Germans in Warsaw and published in the spring of 1940, with a foreword by Hartley GrattanC.: The German White Paper: Full Text of the Polish Documents Issued by the Berlin Foreign Office, New York, 1940. These documents purported to prove that Bullitt, from Munich onward, had assured both the Poles and the French that the United States would enter the war if the Western powers should decide to fight. Their publication caused such an outcry that Daladier, on April 4, 1940, wrote a personal letter to Roosevelt denying that Bullitt had ever made such promises. TrefousseH. L., Germany and American Neutrality, 1939–1941, New York, 1951, p. 50.

These charges against Bullitt have been raked up again recently by Georges Bonnet. In a letter to the Paris daily Le Monde (March 3, 1956), Bonnet accuses Bullitt of having “repeatedly affirmed in his conversations that in case of war against Hitler, the United States would not fail to enter the conflict very early.” Bonnet implies that the French government took this as a moral commitment, and insinuates that Bullitt may have failed to tell Washington what he was doing. What seems to emerge from all these accusations is the probability that Bullitt freely expressed his personal views, but took care to make no commitments on behalf of his government. How much influence his comments had on French and Polish decision-makers cannot be accurately judged.

21 That Bullitt failed to grasp the real nature of the Nazi movement in 1937 is evident from his shocked reaction to the views of British Ambassador Phipps, who had just been transferred from Berlin to Paris. “Phipps,” reported Bullitt, “exhibited a hostility to Germany and the German Government surprising to me.… He considered Hitler a fanatic who would be satisfied with nothing but the domination of Europe.” April 30, 1937 (FR 1937, 1, 84). Yet the French journalist Pertinax asserts that early in 1933 Bullitt warned him: “If you don't undertake a preventive war, France is lost!” Pertinax, Les fossoyeurs, New York, 1943, 11, 89.

If Bullitt misjudged Hitler in 1937, so did some of the French. According to Foreign Minister Yvon Delbos, “Hitler reigned but did not rule. He remained at Berchtesgaden most of the time playing pinochle with his cook, his butler and his chauffeur while Goebbels sat in Berlin and directed Germany's destinies.” August 26, 1937 (FR 1937, 1, 118).

22Dodd, Diary, pp. 309, 372, 381; BendinerRobert, The Riddle of the State Department, New York, 1942, p. 9.

23Kaufmann, “Two American Ambassadors,” pp. 657–58. Bullitt's early reports from Paris suggest, however, that French attempts at a rapprochement with Germany preceded the arrival of the new ambassador, and that Bullitt exerted only mild pressure in that direction. E.g., Oct. 27, 1936 (SD, 762.65/242); Nov. 1, 1936 (SD, 851.00/1602); Jan. 20, 1937 (SD, 740.00/99); May 31, 1937 (SD, 852.00/5567).

24 April 30, 1937 (FR 1937, 1, 86).

25 Dec. 1, 1936 (SD, 800.51 W89 France/1057); Dec. 16, 1937 (SD, 800.51 W89 France/1065); Jan. 4, 1938 (FR 1938, 1, 2).

26 E.g., Feb. 20, 1937 (FR 1937, 1, 46–54); Aug. 5, 1937 (FR 1937, 1, 115); Dec. 1, 1937 (FR 1937, 1, 181–82).

27 Bullitt to Roosevelt, Feb. 25, 1938 (SD, 123 Bullitt, William C./401).

28Ickes, Diary, 11, 409.

29 Sept. 8, 1938 (FR 1938, 1, 583); Sept. 15, 1938 (FR 1938, 1, 601); Sept. 19, 1938 (FR 1938, 1, 617–18); Sept. 25, 1938 (FR 1938, 1, 648–49); Sept. 26, 1938 (FR 1938, 1, 667–68).

30Langer and Gleason, Challenge to Isolation, pp. 37–38, 58; WatsonM. S., United States Army in World War II. Chief of Staff: Prewar Plans and Preparations, Washington, D.C., 1950, pp. 131–32; MorgenthauHenryJr “The Morgenthau Diaries,” Collier's, CXX (Oct. 18, 1947), p. 17. Watson suggests that Bullitt's oral report to Roosevelt on October 13 had such a sharp impact that the president at once speeded up his preparedness program. Over the next few weeks Bullitt conferred frequently with Roosevelt, helped to arrange for the sale of planes to France and Britain, and appeared before congressional committees to testify on the European crisis. One congressman complained that Bullitt came before his committee as a “high-pressure salesman” rather than as an unbiased expert. Congressional Record, Vol. 84, p. 1503 (Feb. 16, 1939).

31Ickes, Diary, 11, 519.

32 Bullit's skepticism about British firmness was increased early in 1939 when a high French official showed him a secret dossier on British policy during the Czech crisis before Munich. This dossier convinced Bullitt that the Chamberlain government had been guilty of the most cynical duplicity in dealing with the French and the Czechs. Ibid., 11, 652.

33 Feb. 6, 1939 (SD, 740.00/568); Feb. 13, 1939 (SD, 851.248/139); March 18, 1939 (SD, 740.00/632); March 23, 1939 (SD, 740.00/668); April 11, 1939 (SD, 740.00/772); April 28, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 177); May 6, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 180); May 16, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 225).

34 Feb. 6, 1939 (SD, 740.00/568).

35The Forrestal Diaries, pp. 121–22; cf. also the rather flimsy supporting testimony adduced by Tansill in Back Door to War, pp. 555–56. In only one of Bullitt's telegrams did he urge Roosevelt to have Kennedy put pressure on the British—with a view to getting a conscription law adopted in Britain. April 19, 1939 (SD, 841.2222/39). On one other occasion, Bullitt contacted Kennedy directly in an effort to get a firmer British commitment toward Poland. Lukasiewicz to Beck, March 29, 1939, German White Book, P. 53.

36Ickes, Diary, 111, 147.

37 Bullitt did complain to Ickes in February 1940 that he was overburdened by his responsibilities in Paris, since “the French consult him on everything and do everything he suggests.” Roosevelt evidently accepted Bullitt's self-appraisal; he told Ickes that “he doubted whether he could take Bullitt away from France because not only the officials there but the people depend so strongly upon his advice and sympathy.” Ibid., 111, 132–33, 136. Bullitt rarely hesitated to offer advice, especially when Daladier asked him to give it “as a friend, not as ambassador.” March 18, 1939 (SD, 740.00/632). How much of it was followed is, however, another matter. And Bullitt seems to have distinguished carefully between offering personal opinions and committing his government.

38The Forrestal Diaries, p. 122.

39 June 30, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 280); July 5, 1939 (FR 1939), 1, 282; Aug. 27, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 377). Cf. also Ickes, Diary, 11, 652.

40 Feb. 13, 1939 (SD, 851.248/139); April 12, 1939 (SD, 851.248/175); Aug. 28, 1939 (SD, 851.248/251).

41 March 13, 1939 (SD, 740.00/632).

42 March 18, 1939 (SD, 740.00/632); April 7, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 117–19); April 9, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 120–22); April 11, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 124); April 12, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 128). Bullitt served as a kind of intermediary between Daladier and Léger on the one hand and Beck and Ambassador Lukasiewicz on the other, and listened patiently to their mutual recriminations.

43 May 4, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 247); May 16, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 255); June 28, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 277).

44 June 30, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 279).

45 June 28, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 278); July 5, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 281).

46 Aug. 22, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 302).

47 Aug. 18, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 225–26). Several months earlier, the Polish ambassador in Paris had assured Bullitt that while his government would make no peacetime agreement authorizing the transit of Soviet troops, “in time of war we would be ready to take help from the devil himself.” March 20, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 80).

48 Aug. 22, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 301–4).

49 Aug. 25, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 366); Sept. 2, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 410).

50 Sept. 19, 1939 (SD, 740.00/2138).

51 E.g., Jan. 9, 1940 (SD, 851.248/318); Jan. 25, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/1556); April 12, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/2167); April 25, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/2484).

52 Sept. 25, 1939 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/538).


54SirSpearsEdward, Assignment to Catastrophe, London, 1954, 1, 71–72.

55 Nov. 3, 1939 (SD, 851.51/2794). Cf. Nov. 11, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 568); and Sept. 9, 1939 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/235).

56 Jan. 15, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/1489).

57 Jan. 25, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/1556).

58 April 30, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/2562).

59 May 9, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/2776).

60 The clearest reflection of this attitude may be found in the memoirs of General Spears, Churchill's personal representative to the French government in May-June 1940. Cf. also Bullitt's cable of May 16, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3115 3/8). For a remarkable study of Anglo-French conflict during May-June, 1940, see CairnsJ. C., “Great Britain and the Fall of France: A Study in Allied Disunity,” Journal of Modern History, XXVII (December 1955), pp. 365–409.

61 Daladier once expressed the fear that a failure in the Norwegian campaign might put the French defeatists in power. Bullitt expressed skepticism: “Aside from certain salons in Paris connected with banking interests,” he declared, “there is little or no discoverable defeatism in France.” April 25, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/2484). According to Langer and Gleason, however, Bullitt wrote privately to Roosevelt on April 28 expressing serious concern at the extent of defeatism and the lack of first-rate leadership in France. Challenge to Isolationism, p. 425. This letter, which Langer and Gleason consulted in the Hyde Park Library, has now been closed to scholars, along with most of the materials pertaining to Bullitt in that collection.

62 The Daladier-Reynaud feud has often been traced to the rivalries of those two ambitious and jealous ladies, the Marquise de Crussol and the Comtesse de Portes (e.g., in Spears, Assignment to Catastrophe, 1, 90–92, and passim). Bullit's messages contain no mention of either of them.

63 May 9, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/2776).

64 Nov. 13, 1939 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/997).

65 Sept. 30, 1939 (FR 1939, 1, 460).


67 Nov. 23, 1939 (SD, 851.248/296). Bullitt tried to persuade Daladier that he could achieve nothing in Washington because the State Department assured him that everything possible was being done; but Daladier replied that “the only opinion in which he would have absolute confidence would be my own. It is unpleasant to me to be obliged to report this sort of thing which sounds as though I were engaged in attempting to make myself appear more influential than I am; but I feel obliged to report the facts.”

68 Hull to Bullitt, Dec. 22, 1939 (SD, 123 Bullitt, William C./551).

69 During his weeks in Washington, Bullitt did his best to speed the supply of planes, but without much result. Langer and Gleason, Challenge to Isolation, p. 345. What he wanted most, however, was a post in the cabinet which would obviate his return to Paris. Roosevelt demurred at first on the ground that Bullitt could not be spared in Paris, but in March he finally promised that Bullitt would be made Secretary of the Navy as soon as the incumbent resigned-probably in June. Bullitt to the editor, New York Times, Feb. 19, 1948.

70 Murphy to Hull, March 23, 1940 (SD, 851.00/2005).

71 For example, on February 11, 1940, Bullitt told Ickes that French and British morale was high, that the French pilots were the best in Europe, and that the Germans would hesitate to challenge the French or to invade the Low Countries. But on March 10 Ickes noted that Bullitt was “not at all sure that England and France may not be utterly defeated in the present war.” Ickes, Diary, III, 133, 146–47. For another possible instance of Bullitt's contradictory views, see note 63 above.

72 June 12, 1940 (SD, 123 Bullitt, William C./600). Even Davis and Lindley, in their well-informed book How War Came, accepted the report as valid (p. 60).

73 May 11, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/2849). Ten days before the attack, Bullitt reported: “So much information has reached the French Government recently with regard to a forthcoming German attack on the Netherlands that the French Government is convinced that this information is being put out by the German Government and it is considered probable that Hitler will turn his attention to Yugoslavia or Hungary before attacking the Netherlands.” May 3, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/2637). Even as late as May 8, Reynaud and Léger continued to believe that Hitler's next move would be in the Balkans. May 8, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/2737).

74 May 13, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/2913).

75 May 14, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/2956).

76 May 18, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3131).

77 May 15, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/2986).

78 May 16, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3052). Bullitt reported the next day that the Belgian strike had been organized by the Communists on orders from Moscow, and had been promptly broken by shooting the ringleaders. He also reported some minor cases of Communist sabotage in the French army. “Please for the sake of the future,” he added, “nail every Communist or Communist sympathizer in our Army, Navy and air force.” May 17, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3115 7/8).

79 May 17, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3099).

80 May 17, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3115 4/8). According to Reynaud, the British ambassador had called on May 15 to deliver a polite note suggesting that the pocket in the French lines was no worse than many such pockets in the First World War. Reynaud had immediately wired Churchill: “The present war resembles in no way the war of 1914. It seems probable that German troops will enter Paris before midnight tonight.” This message, said Reynaud, had brought Churchill to Paris at once, and his visit had ended his complacency.

81 May 18, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3140).

82 May 22, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3231 1/2).

83 E.g., June 4, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3500 1/2); June 5, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3545 1/2); and June 9, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3552 8/14).

84 May 16, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3115 3/8). “It seems obvious,” declared Bullitt, “that unless God grants a miracle as at the time of the battle of the Marne, the French army will be crushed utterly. The British, who have not yet sent to France the quantities of pursuit planes that they have in England to protect their factories (they have exactly two squadrons in France) are already beginning to be critical and contemptuous of the French. That was the tone of the British ambassador when he spoke to me this morning.” As late as June 5, Bullitt continued to suspect that the British might try to save themselves by setting up a Mosley government. June 5, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3545 1/2).

85 June 5, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3545 1/2) June 6, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3552 1/2).

86 May 20, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/2855). Some months earlier, Bullitt had described Mussolini in even more colorful language as “a turkey buzzard soaring and peering and looking for something dead to eat.” Jan. 25, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/1556).

87 Cf. Bullitt's telegrams to Hull, almost daily from May 16 to May 31, in the series 740.0011 Eur. War 1939. Bullitt even found time to suggest an appropriate residence for the Pope: the ancestral home of Charles Carroll of Carrollton. May 13, 1940 (SD, 866A.001/86).

88 June 8, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3531 8/12). Almost every cable sent by Bullitt from May 15 onward contained some such plea or proposal.

89 May 31, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/2355 13/28).

90 May 28, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3352 2/8).

91 May 15, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3049).

92 Bullitt to Roosevelt, May 22, 1940 (SD, 811.001 Roosevelt, F.D./7113 1/6).

93 May 27, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3343 4/10). General Spears' estimate of Weygand during these critical days was almost diametrically opposed to Bullitt's. Assignment to Catastrophe, 1, 149–50, 190, 200–1.

94 May 30, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3391 1/2).

95 May 31, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3403).

96 May 31, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3411 1/2 and 3412 1/12).

97 June 8, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3552 7/14).

98 June 10, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3552 12/14).

99 May 28, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/2855 8/28); June 4, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War. 1939/3500 1/2). According to Davis and Lindley (How War Came, p. 48), Bullitt sometimes consciously distorted the facts as a code device. They cite a case when Bullitt cabled a report of a brilliant French victory, then telephoned the White House to convey the idea that Roosevelt should read it precisely in reverse. This was probably Bullitt's cable of May 27, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3343 8/10 and 9/10).

100 Bullitt to Roosevelt, June 12, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3691 3/14).

101 May 27, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3343 1/10); June 8, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3531 8/12). It has often been asserted that Interior Minister Georges Mandel was the one hard-headed realist who scoffed at the idea of Communist disorders. But Bullitt reported on May 28 that “both Reynaud and Mandel now expect a Communist uprising and butcheries in Paris and other industrial centers as the German army draws near,” and added, “Mandel appealed personally mis morning for speed” in securing American submachine guns. May 28, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3343 7/10).

102 June 11, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3658).

103 June 12, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3691 3/14).

104HullCordell, The Memoirs of Cordell Hull, New York, 1948, 1, 789–91; cf. Davis and Lindley, How War Came, pp. 69–70, and Langer and Gleason, Challenge to Isolation, pp. 524–25.

105Ickes, Diary, III, 276.

106Ibid., III, 329.

107 July 1, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/4361 1/2).

108 July 5, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/4556).

109 W. L. Langer believes (Our Vichy Gamble, p. 76) that Bullitt “no doubt had much to do with the formulation of American policy in these uncertain months.” Even this cautious judgment may exaggerate Bullitt's influence, but it is sounder than the view of BeneŝEdvard (Memoirs, p. 173) that Bullitt's hatred of the Soviet Union made him a Pétainist, or the charge of BendinerRobert (Riddle of the State Department, pp. 76–79) that Bullitt “put across the concept of Marshal Pétain as the George Washington of France,” and that he “probably more than any other single individual may be held accountable for our subsequent policy toward Vichy.”

110Congressional Record, Vol. 86, pp. 10478–80, 15019 (Aug. 19, 1940). Bullitt's senatorial critics accused him of advocating dictatorship in the United States, of “roaming around the country pleading the cause of the … Nazi-controlled Pétain government,” and of having once been a collaborator with the Communists. Senator Reed read from Who's Who to prove that Bullitt had married the widow of John Reed; Senator Wheeler declared that “the judgment of no man in the Government service has been more wrong than that of Mr. Bullitt with reference to the whole European situation.” Only Senator Ashurst rose feebly to Bullitt's defense, pleading that for such a man it would be torture to keep a speech “bottled up in his bosom,” and adding: “To imagine Bill Bullitt remaining silent would be to imagine a fat sylph, or an iron balloon.”

111New YorK Times, Sept. 23, 1940.

112Ickes, Diary, III, 342, 369, 374, 486–87, 538, 615–16.

113 In 1939 some Pennsylvania Democrats tried to start a presidential boom for Bullitt, aiming at the 1940 election. New YorK Times, March 23, 1939.

114 Bullitt met de Gaulle only once during his years in Paris. “He is a young man who appears to be vigorous and intelligent,” the ambassador noted on that occasion. Bullitt to Roosevelt, June 5, 1940 (SD, 740.0011 Eur. War 1939/3545 1/2).

115 Bullitt's penchant for voluminous telegrams, some of them twenty or thirty pages long, must have made him one of the most expensive ambassadors in our history. I noted in the State Department archives only one Bullitt despatch of me “think-piece” variety, sent via diplomatic pouch rather man by cable. April 19, 1937 (SD, 851.00/1672). The Department hastily sent Bullitt a commendation, and suggested that more such despatches would be welcome. But if Washington hoped that the ambassador would change his ways, it hoped in vain.

Assignment to Catastrophe is a two volume memoir by Sir Edward Spears of his experiences as Winston Churchill's personal representative to the Prime Minister of France from August 1939 to June 1940 and the Fall of France. As a source for historians it provides a valuable insight into the interior workings of the French governments of Paul Reynaud and Edouard Deladier from the perspective of an outsider.

Prelude to Dunkirk[edit]

The first volume is titled Prelude to Dunkirk and covers the period from August 1, 1939 to May 31, 1940.

The book opens with an idyllic description of luncheon with the Churchills at Chartwell on August 1, 1939 and introduces a theme which becomes extremely important throughout the work: Spears' great admiration for Winston Churchill. The description of a sunny, enjoyable afternoon is contrasted with the discussion of the impending war in which Spears is careful to note all Churchill's (eventually correct) predictions about the coming war.[1]

The Fall of France[edit]

The second volume, The Fall of France takes up the narrative from the June 1st and continues it until Spears' half-humorous, half-tragic account of the departure of his departure from France with General Charles de Gaulle on June 17. Contemplating de Gaulle's long exile Spears commented that 'his martyrdom had begun.'[2]


  1. ^Spears (1954). Prelude to Dunkirk. 
  2. ^Spears (1954). The Fall of France. p. 323. 
  • Spears, Sir Edward (1954). Prelude to Dunkirk (Part 1 of Assignment to Catastrophe). London: Heinemann. 
  • Spears, Sir Edward (1954). The Fall of France (Part 2 of Assignment to Catastrophe). London: Heinemann. 

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