Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.


Admiral William Leahy, Ambassador to Vichy


When Admiral William Leahy retired as Chief of Naval Operations in August 1939, President Roosevelt personally awarded him the Distinguished Service Medal.  “Bill,” he said, “if we have a war, you’re going to be right back here helping me to run it.”[1]

Leahy was then sixty-four. Balding, with a narrow, firm mouth under a small beak of a nose, he looked steadily out at the world from deep-set eyes. An old battleship skipper and First World War veteran, he proudly called himself a sailor. Doubtless Leahy was grateful for Roosevelt’s words, but he had been around long enough to know that politicians make lots of promises. Indeed, war came, and Leahy was recalled — but to serve as Governor of Puerto Rico.[2]

Then one Sunday in November 1940, Leahy was breakfasting with his wife Louise on the terrace of the Governor’s Residence when a courier arrived with an urgent request from the White House.[3] Would Leahy go to France, as Ambassador to the Vichy regime?

Author Kerem Bilge is an active-duty Foreign Service Officer. An earlier version of this article was published in the November 2006 issue of World War II magazine.  It is published here with the permission of the author.

Read Moments on World War II, including Douglas MacArthur II’s account of life in Vichy France.

Return to Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History 

Return to The Stump


 A Presidential Request          

Several thoughts must have run through Leahy’s mind.  This confirmed his operational naval career was over – he was not coming back, as fellow retiree Douglas MacArthur would, to command a theater or fleet – indeed, in France, Leahy would be even further from the Navy’s center of gravity than he was already. But it was a Presidential request. Leahy gave the answer dictated by a lifetime of service.  A few weeks later, crowds gathered on the streets of San Juan to wave goodbye as the Leahys departed.[4]

The U.S. Ambassador at the fall of France was political appointee William Bullitt (pictured), who without authorization left the mission in the hands of the career staff and returned to Washington to lobby for a new job.[5]  Roosevelt genially but firmly shelved him and offered the Ambassadorship to retired General of the Armies John J. Pershing.  Pershing had made a radio broadcast urging military preparedness and was an old friend of the Vichy leader, Marshal Pétain. But the First World War commander, nearly eighty, was frank with the President about his fading stamina and declined.[6] 

The President then turned to Leahy, whom he had known since his days as Assistant Secretary of the Navy.[7]   Roosevelt feared Vichy would turn the French fleet over to the Germans.  A senior naval officer could perhaps persuade them otherwise.

On arrival in Washington, Leahy was briefed by the President at length (Roosevelt did not leave important diplomacy to his Secretary of State).  Leahy was to prevent France from assisting Germany any more than the 1940 armistice required and to help the civilian population if possible.[8]   Crucially, Leahy was to gain the confidence of Pétain and Admiral Darlan, the French Navy’s commander, and convince them that France’s interests lay with the Allies.[9]   The President instructed Leahy to report directly to him via encrypted letter.[10]

Less than a month later, the Leahys journeyed over heavy seas to neutral Lisbon aboard the cruiser USS Tuscaloosa, [11] then by train and automobile to Vichy via Madrid.[12] The unpleasant trip included 36 sleepless hours without heat, “except,” Leahy commented dryly in his first letter to President Roosevelt, “that which could be applied internally.”[13]  The new Ambassador arrived at post at midnight, January 5, 1941.[14]

Vichy – first impressions

The resort town of Vichy was selected as the capitol of Unoccupied France because of its many hotels.   By 1941 the population – usually 90,000 in the high season – had swelled to 130,000.[15]  Many lived in neighboring towns, commuting on old, charcoal-burning buses.[16] Electricity was unreliable.[17]

Forty nations maintained diplomatic representation in Vichy, including Japan, Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Switzerland, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Iran, and the Vatican.[18]  The Swiss and Turkish representatives would become friends of the Leahys.[19]  Chinese representatives were present as well, and Leahy was impressed by their “courtesy and culture.”[20]

The U.S. Embassy, formerly a doctor’s office and crowded with period furniture, was known as the Villa Ica.[21]   Nicknamed the “Villa Icy,” Leahy remembered it as “bitterly cold.”[22]

The Embassy staff numbered twenty-five career State Department employees, many with families.[23]  They included Douglas MacArthur II, nephew of the general and an old family friend,[24] and Robert Murphy, who had opened the post.[25]  In addition to the Embassy in Vichy, consulates operated in Marseilles and Lyon.[26]  Until May of 1941, the United States also operated a consulate in occupied Paris.[27]  Leahy walked to work with such regularity that a nearby luggage shop supposedly set its clock by him.[28]

Leahy’s staff painted a discouraging picture. Vichy felt the war was over. Pétain had told Murphy, with an indulgent smile, that to continue to resist Germany would have been “insanity.”[29]  Both MacArthur and Murphy had met with Pierre Laval, twice Prime Minister of the Third Republic and Pétain’s Prime Minister at the beginning of the Vichy regime. Pétain sacked him in December but Laval’s views were commonly held.

A ferocious Anglophobe, Laval argued that Germany would defeat Britain but that he would make France Germany’s closest partner.  France would then run the new Europe from behind the scenes.  Laval had “supreme confidence in his ability to outsmart the Germans.”[30]

Forewarned, Admiral Leahy presented his credentials to Marshal Pétain at a formal ceremony with a naval honor guard.[31]  Leahy wrote the President that Pétain was alert, vigorous, and friendly.[32]  However, at a meeting the following day, Pétain let his staff do the talking and struck Leahy as a “tired, discouraged old man.”[33]

Leahy reported that Pétain, then eighty-five, had neither the physical stamina to run a government, nor confidence in his pro-German cabinet.[34]  None among them wanted a return to democracy, preferring a system “like…  Fascist… Italy without its expansionist policy.”[35]

Admiral Leahy transmitted these “first impressions”[36] and awaited instructions from Washington.

The View from Washington — FDR’s Support for Petain

France’s collapse in 1940 – in contrast to its heroic resistance during the First World War – shocked many.  Afterwards, the Third Republic was dissolved by a vote of 569-17 in the National Assembly and 225-1 in the Senate – poignantly, the sole dissenter was Lafayette’s great-great-grandson.[37]

The new “French State,” commonly called “Vichy” after its capital, was accepted by Roosevelt and many others as the legal successor of the Third Republic.[38] Roosevelt’s position was that only the French could determine France’s government.[39]  Therefore, the United States would not act against Vichy, nor support those who did, and would work with Vichy authorities in French territories liberated by the Allies.

Many argued against this policy, but what was the alternative? In retrospect, a good answer is “de Gaulle.” General Charles de Gaulle (pictured) fought hard against the Germans in 1940 as a tank commander. Unwilling to accept France’s surrender, he escaped to London, broadcast his loyalty to democratic principles, and eventually rallied an army of 40,000.[40] After France’s liberation, he restored democracy and sent an army against Germany as large as the one Britain fielded in 1939, on which the only limiting factor was the amount of equipment the Allies supplied.[41]

But in 1940 this was yet to be.  De Gaulle was personally difficult and suffered many setbacks in building his movement.  Robert Murphy noted that “it was not until 1943 that de Gaulle presented a clear-cut alternative to…  Vichy”.[42]  French exiles in America were bitterly divided.  Future father of the European Community Jean Monnet,[43] literary giant [author of The Little Prince] Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,[44] and film director Jean Renoir[45] were against de Gaulle (and also against Pétain, to varying degrees). The only major figure supporting de Gaulle was Eve Curie.[46]  So, despite arguments from Walter Lippmann and others, Roosevelt could cite ‘expert French opinion’ in support of his policy.

Additionally, Marshal Pétain had an almost mesmeric power over Roosevelt and his contemporaries.  Today, Pétain appears tragic at best, pathetic and shabby at worst.  But in 1940, he was still the Hero of Verdun, the friend of General Pershing, and a man who made no secret of his fondness for the United States. In 1931, he was received by President Hoover and rode in a ticker-tape parade in New York (Leahy met him briefly on this trip).[47]  Roosevelt had an “old and deep affection”[48] for Pétain which Leahy shared.   So, despite bleak prospects, they pressed on.

Initial Success: January-Spring 1941

Early on, Leahy’s mission went well.  Admiral Darlan, whom Pétain made Prime Minister in February,[49] was friendly, although his rabid views of the British recalled Laval’s. Leahy privately nicknamed him “Popeye.”[50]

On March 3 Leahy secured Vichy’s agreement to deny the Axis any oil from French North Africa.[51]   The following week, Leahy received the elderly General Maxime Weygand.[52]  Rumored to be the illegitimate son of King Leopold II of Belgium,[53] Weygand had been called out of retirement as France collapsed.[54]  Now commander-in-chief in North Africa, he was pro-Allied to a degree that made the Germans nervous,[55] and “made it plain that he would oppose…  an attack on North Africa by anybody.[56]

A few days later, under Leahy’s authority, [Charge d’Affaires to Vichy, at right] Robert Murphy finalized the Murphy-Weygand Agreement, [57]  which in April[58] began U.S. economic assistance to French North Africa and provided an excuse to station American officials there. The agreement also strengthened General Weygand.

Leahy wrote President Roosevelt that “[t]he only two persons here who have impressed me as completely devoted to France…  are Marshal Petain and General Weygand. While they possess an astonishing vitality, both are old and both are irreplaceable.”[59]

Leahy’s first test came in April, when under an earlier agreement Italy demanded 5000 tons of Algerian gasoline.[60]  Leahy reminded Darlan of the March agreement, and Darlan sent gasoline from Occupied France instead.[61]   Leahy felt that the real motive had been to undercut General Weygand, who needed the gas himself.[62]

That same month, the Leahys journeyed to Marseilles to meet a Red Cross vessel carrying relief supplies.[63]  Leahy was deeply moved by the sight of the “frail, gray and under-nourished” children.[64]   In a nearby village, the mayor, trying to express thanks, was so overwhelmed by what Leahy called “discouragement, hopelessness and the shame of defeat” that he broke down and wept.[65]  Leahy found it difficult to maintain his own composure.[66]

The gloomy atmosphere was not confined to Marseilles.  “I have no force,” Marshal Pétain lamented.  “At one time I had an army and I could do anything…”[67]  Leahy was beginning to see the limits of his influence.

Losing Ground: Spring 1941-Fall 1941 “The great leaderless mass of the French people”

Leahy reported to Roosevelt that Pétain was very friendly and asked Leahy to visit often.  He seemed to want sympathy.  Leahy glumly concluded “demands…by the Germans will either be granted… or permitted without active opposition.”   Leahy could not see Pétain alone, and wrote the President that:

“As the Marshal retains the…authority of an absolute dictator, it is possible for him to take charge… but at the age of eighty-five such action appears improbable… [H]e is…being maneuvered into a position where his only purpose will be to hold the loyalty of the French people and to make speeches to school children and veterans…. All of us in the Embassy are under constant…  surveillance.[68]

In August, Darlan quietly informed Leahy that the Nazis had broken the State Department’s codes.[69]  Leahy switched the Embassy to the Navy’s code system.[70]

Admiral Leahy noted that the French Navy remained neutral and the Axis still did not have access to French North African bases.[71]  Asia was different – on July 15, Admiral Darlan told Leahy that Japan would base forces in Indo-China, leaving the French colonial administration basically intact.[72]

Leahy replied “bluntly that if Japan was the winner, the Japanese would take over French Indo-China; and if the Allies won, we would take it.”[73]  Leahy also reported to President Roosevelt that Darlan had probably also promised North African bases to the Germans but that General Weygand was probably resisting.[74]

The next month, as Roosevelt and Churchill proclaimed the Atlantic Charter, Pétain proclaimed an end to political parties, the curtailment of civil liberties and an increase in the police force – a proclamation that sounded to Leahy “very much like a final burial service for the Third Republic.”[75]  Actions against Jews continued.[76]

Rumors reached Admiral Leahy that, following intense German pressure, General Weygand (now Marshal) was to be retired.[77]  Leahy met with Pétain and argued that the 1940 armistice did not allow Germany to dictate personnel decisions.[78]  If Vichy retired Weygand, America might cut off assistance and consider a policy “readjustment”[79] – serious words in diplomat-speak.

Pétain described himself as a “prisoner”[80] and said that nothing could be done. Weygand was retired two days later.[81]  French North African forces were thereafter controlled directly from Vichy.[82]

Leahy boiled over in his report to Roosevelt:

“While the great inarticulate and leaderless mass of the French people remain hopeful of a British victory and…that America will in the end rescue them…without their doing anything for themselves, the Government of France, headed by a feeble, frightened old man surrounded by self-seeking conspirators, is…controlled by a group which…for its own safety, is devoted to the Axis…[83]

Leahy had come to an inescapable conclusion about Pétain:

“While one may be… justified in looking at the difficulties of the Marshal’s ending years with understanding sympathy, it seems necessary to reluctantly relinquish what was perhaps always only a faint hope that it might be possible for me to give some semblance of backbone to a jellyfish.[84]

A few days later, the Leahys dined with Ambassador Kato of Japan.  Louise Leahy remarked that the Japanese diplomat was “unlike his usual urbane self.”[85]  The following Sunday, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.[86]

At War: December 1941-April 1942

To Admiral Leahy, news of the attack must have been especially painful.  The battleship USS Nevada, the minelayer USS Oglala, and the battleship USS California were all sunk and the cruiser USS Raleigh was severely damaged.[87]

Leahy had served on the Nevada as a commander; on the Oglala as its captain; on the Raleigh as a rear admiral; and on the California as a full admiral.[88] Virtually his entire seagoing career now lay in the mud at the bottom of Pearl Harbor.

The next morning, worried that the Germans might have their “Vichy puppets”[89] arrest everyone, Leahy ordered a re-examination of escape and document destruction plans.[90]

The Embassy officially informed the Vichy Government of America’s declaration of war on Japan.[91]  Murphy-Weygand aid was suspended (it would resume in March)[92].  Leahy also wrote Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles and said he was prepared to return to active naval service.[93]

When Germany declared war on the United States, Leahy told Pétain and Darlan that further French concessions to the Axis would be considered belligerent acts.[94]  They responded that Vichy wished to stay neutral but was powerless to resist German demands.[95]  It was “one of the great and terrible moments of history,” said the elderly Marshal as he escorted Leahy to the door.  “Never before has the whole world been at war – Europe, Africa, Asia, America, Australia.  I don’t know what will come…”[96]

Washington ordered Leahy to transfer eight officers and several files to the U.S. Embassy in Switzerland.[97]  Leahy also arranged for the Swiss to take over U.S. representation in Vichy should the Embassy be withdrawn.[98]

On Christmas Eve 1941, de Gaulle’s forces liberated St. Pierre and Miquelon, two French islands near Canada where a powerful Vichy radio transmitter was based.[99]  The Vichy administration there collapsed, and the population endorsed Free France by a vote of 90%.[100]  President Roosevelt, despite his dislike of de Gaulle, was savvy enough not to argue with the results.

However, Secretary of State Cordell Hull waxed indignant about the “so-called Free French”[101] and actually called for restoration of Vichy control over the islands.[102]  American public opinion strongly denounced Hull.[103]  Roosevelt, embarrassed, considered dumping Hull but relented because of the former senator’s good relations on Capitol Hill.[104]

Leahy grumbled that the incident caused “nothing but trouble”[105] and that it would now be easier for Germany to demand concessions from Vichy.[106]  Leahy apparently did not think to use the incident to persuade Vichy to move in a pro-Allied direction, or to argue to Washington that perhaps Vichy was not France’s center of gravity.

In 1942, Admiral Leahy analyzed French politics as revolving around five individuals.

First, Pétain, pro-American but powerless:  “a dictator in name only, having neither the will nor the stamina to resist the pressure of the conquerors.”[107]  Second, Laval, who “hung like an evil shadow over Vichy”[108] – pro-German and lurking in the background.  Third, Darlan, “a complete opportunist.”[109]  Fourth, de Gaulle, dismissed by Leahy as “thirsting for power”[110] and hardly different politically from Vichy.  Finally, Marshal Weygand.  Although Leahy would assess that “the United States pinned unsubstantial hopes”[111] on the North African generalissimo, Marshal Weygand’s resistance against Germany, though less than de Gaulle’s, seemed to count for more with President Roosevelt and Admiral Leahy.

At noon on January 12, 1942, Henry Leverich, a diplomat from the U.S. mission in Portugal, arrived at the Villa Ica with secret instructions from President Roosevelt.[112]

The Embassy was to approach Marshal Weygand (pictured) and propose he return to North Africa, take command of French forces, and create an anti-German resistance with U.S. backing.[113]  Unable to escape surveillance, Admiral Leahy designated MacArthur to meet Weygand, which he did at a hotel near Nice[114] while ostensibly on vacation.[115]

Leahy reported the results to President Roosevelt on January 25:  “[Weygand] will have nothing to do with the proposition and…  will not offer a suggestion of any other person who might be interested.”[116]  Weygand said he was “completely loyal”[117] to Pétain and would not give “any consideration to the possibility of…  taking any action.”[118]  Finally, Weygand said he was obligated to inform Pétain about the offer, though he would try to keep it secret from others.[119]

This flat rejection was a serious setback.  A further blow came on February 9, when Darlan admitted the existence of the Delta Plan, under which Vichy supplied Axis forces in Libya.[120]

Further, Leahy’s contacts reported step-by-step as the German warships Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen docked at Brest and were repaired, resupplied and redeployed.[121]  Despite Leahy’s reporting of this intelligence, the British were unable to sink the ships, which docked safely at Kiel.[122]  A German U-boat made port at Martinique, hospitalized an officer, and was resupplied.[123]  Leahy protested these blatantly un-neutral acts, privately noting that “everything pointed to my early recall…”[124]

In March, Leahy learned that Marshal Pétain had met secretly with Pierre Laval.[125] Pétain was increasingly “confused and fatigued”[126] – at one meeting the elderly Marshal asked how long the war would continue, and when Admiral Leahy predicted two years, Pétain replied that was “a very long time for France…”[127]

That same month, sources informed Leahy that there were 100,000-plus ex-soldiers in Unoccupied France who would rally to an Allied invasion.[128]  That month, the United States recognized de Gaulle’s control of French Equatorial Africa.[129]   Under Secretary Welles told Leahy on March 27 that the United States would continue to engage Vichy but would also recognize the Free French in territories they controlled:  “the time may come…  when these two policies are no longer compatible.”[130]

Leahy was worn out:

“After more than a year in this defeated country where not only the material necessities…  but also the spiritual values had been destroyed by an invasion of barbarians, the thought of returning to a free, undefeatable country was pleasing beyond the power of words…[131]

Beyond the stress of his job, Leahy worried about his wife Louise, who needed an operation.[132]  On Easter Monday, the Leahys took a break and drove into the countryside.[133]  Leahy was struck by the springtime beauty of the land,[134] and the war must have seemed far away.  In the Marconat Forest, the old sailor picked a large bouquet of white anemones for his wife.[135]  Louise Leahy entered La Pergola Clinic at Vichy on April 7 and the operation was performed successfully.[136]

On April 14, Leahy learned what would be announced publically the next day – under German direction, Marshal Pétain would appoint Pierre Laval to the leading position in the government.[137]  Vichy was moving purposefully in the direction of Berlin.  It was time to go.  Washington cabled Leahy that his recall would be announced shortly after Laval assumed leadership, and President Roosevelt made the announcement on the night of April 17.[138]

The next day, Marshal Pétain formally announced the formation of a new government under Laval (pictured).[139]  On April 21, Leahy suffered a terrible blow – Louise had died from a sudden embolism.[140]

“This sudden and…unexpected disaster on the eve of our departure…” Leahy would write, “left me in an abyss of emotional distress from which no outlet could be seen.”[141]

In his last days at post, Admiral Leahy was visited by prewar political leader Edouard Herriott.  Leahy was perhaps surprised to hear Herriott’s view that de Gaulle was fighting for France’s survival and ideals.[142]  Herriott warned against trusting Laval and said he would not serve in his government.[143]  Leahy later had his first and only meeting with Laval, where the latter made clear he would enthusiastically collaborate with Germany.[144]

Leahy’s last meeting with Pétain was that same day.[145]  The Marshal assured Leahy of his continued friendship and his desire that the United States and France remain friends.[146]  Admiral Darlan said much the same in his final meeting with Leahy, pledging that Vichy forces would never act against America.[147]  Both Pétain and Darlan indicated their mistrust of Britain.[148]

On April 30, the Embassy staff presented Leahy with a silver tray engraved with their signatures.[149]  The next day Leahy, with his wife’s remains, began the long journey home.  The Embassy was in the hands of a charge d’affaires, with no new ambassador on the way – a sign of America’s disappointment.

The U.S. Embassy in Vichy remained open until American troops landed in French North Africa under Operation Torch.[150]  Charge d’Affaires Pinckney Tuck then went to Marshal Pétain to announce the end of diplomatic relations between the United States and Vichy.[151]

Pétain said “I know,” then walked to the window and quietly whistled the First World War tune ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ before shaking hands with Tuck and dismissing him.[152]

Some took this as a sign that Pétain was secretly hoping for an Allied victory.[153]  In Vichy’s entire lifetime, this incident was perhaps its most pro-Allied moment – whistling and looking in another direction.

Shortly thereafter, Vichy interned the remaining Embassy staff.[154]  When the Germans invaded, they moved the diplomats to house arrest in Baden-Baden.[155]  (Read about their internment here.)

In March 1944, they were returned to the United States under a diplomatic exchange, and the MacArthurs held a reunion which Admiral Leahy attended.[156]  Several of the Embassy Vichy staff later returned to France as political advisors to the D-Day invasion force.[157] (Read MacArthur’s account of life in Paris after D-Day.)

Evaluating Leahy’s Mission — “The Shipwreck of France”

Leahy wrote that when he left Vichy, “the French fleet was still unavailable to the Axis; Hitler did not…  have any appreciable…  assistance from unoccupied France; the valuable bases in North Africa still were in French control…”[158]  Leahy could also have cited two other important accomplishments – the Murphy-Weygand Agreement, which allowed the United States access to French North Africa that would prove invaluable to future operations, and intelligence reporting on the repair of the Scharnhorst and similar matters.

The importance of the French Fleet is debatable.  In 1939, the French Fleet was significant, about a quarter the size of the Anglo-American navies.[159]  But, as Mario Rossi and others have pointed out, as Vichy did not maintain its ships or keep up the training of its sailors, the navy wasted away.

Leahy reported on the “pitiful” Vichy military exposition of April 1942, which consisted mainly of posters and photographs.[160]  In January 1942, Admiral Darlan was informed by his subordinates that “one cannot ask of our navy anything more than a brief defensive action…. All offensive action…is beyond our capabilities…”[161]  To the extent that Leahy kept the French Fleet out of German hands during his first few months in Vichy, he performed a valuable service, but soon thereafter it no longer mattered.

Leahy’s mission was based on the proposition that Marshal Pétain could have been persuaded to take an active pro-Allied stance.  Some still defend Pétain – Paul du Vivier, U.S. vice consul in Marseilles during Vichy, insisted as late as 1990 that Marshal Pétain was “a very patriotic man, and…  quite misunderstood…”[162]

Ray Harvey, du Vivier’s contemporary serving in Lyon, took a more balanced view:

“The French were very divided….It was really a civil war in France.…There were…people who were very anti-Pétain, others who felt they couldn’t do anything but put up with him, and others who clung to him emotionally…  I could never imagine the… rational French falling for this situation, but they certainly did.[163] ”    

In 1943, Pétain offered to defect to the British.[164]  Lower-level officials, perhaps sensing the old Marshal’s uselessness, declined the offer.[165]

The idea that Vichy would actively resist Germany was tacitly abandoned when Roosevelt and Leahy reached out to Marshal Weygand unsuccessfully. In his reports, Admiral Leahy accurately described Pétain and other Vichy figures, but also acquired Pétain’s strong distaste for de Gaulle.

Leahy and many others never managed to square the circle of being both against Vichy and against the one force that consistently opposed Vichy.  It was as if Pétain and de Gaulle merged in the American mind, creating an image of France being collaborationist and weak (Pétain), but simultaneously contrary and defiant (de Gaulle).  This image has proved enduring.

Perhaps the best summary of Pétain comes from de Gaulle himself:

“[T]he years had gnawed his character.  Age was delivering him over to maneuvers of people who were clever at covering themselves with his majestic lassitude.  Old age is a shipwreck….The old age of Marshal Pétain was to identify itself with the shipwreck of France.[166] 


Admiral Leahy buried his wife at Arlington National Cemetery on June 3.[167]  He then complied some reports and testified before the Senate.[168]  Leahy visited the frail General Pershing at Walter Reed Hospital.[169]  Leahy had nothing more to do.  There were rumors of new assignments but nothing solid.[170]

While Leahy was in Vichy, the world had moved on.  A new generation of admirals Leahy barely knew was leading a new Navy centered on aircraft carriers.  Was there a role for an old battleship sailor who had last held command in 1937?

An answer came when Leahy called on General George C. Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff. Marshall explained how he felt the new Joint Chiefs of Staff structure needed a neutral coordinator or chairman and that he had asked the President to offer Leahy the position.[171]  Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest J. King was not entirely supportive but acquiesced.[172]

So, at the age of sixty-seven, Leahy put on a uniform once again and was recalled to duty as Chief of Staff to the Commander-in-Chief.[173]

A whole new world opened before Admiral Leahy.  He chaired the Joint Chiefs and, more, acted essentially as Roosevelt’s National Security Advisor. With a small staff in the White House, Leahy monitored war-related developments world-wide and briefed the President every morning.[174]  Leahy was at Roosevelt’s side at all the wartime conferences – from Casablanca to Quebec, from Tehran to Yalta.

In December 1944, Congress created five-star rank for Leahy, Marshall, King, MacArthur, Nimitz, Eisenhower and Army Air Force General Arnold in that order– making William Leahy the senior officer in the U.S. armed forces.[175]

Roosevelt had kept his promise after all.



Brinkley, Douglas, director, and Michael E. Haskew, editor.  The World War II Desk Reference.  New York: HarperCollins/Grand Central Press, 2004.

de Gaulle, Charles.   The Complete War Memoirs of Charles de Gaulle.  Translated by Jonathan Griffin and Richard Howard.  New York: Carroll & Graf, 1998.

Fromkin, David.  In the Time of the Americans.  New York: Knopf, 1995.

Bland, Larry I. editor.  George C. Marshall Interviews and Reminiscences for Forrest C. Pogue.  Lexington, Virginia: George C. Marshall Research Foundation, 1991.

Grigg, John.  1943: The Victory That Never Was.  New York: Farrar, Straus and Giraux/Hill and Wang, 1980.

Keegan, John, editor.  Who Was Who in World War II.  New York: Crescent, 1984.

Kersaudy, François.  Churchill and de Gaulle.  London: Fontana Press, 1990.

Leahy, William D.  I Was There.  London:  Gollancz, 1950.

Murphy, Robert.  Diplomat Among Warriors.  Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1964.

“Oral History of Ambassador Douglas Macarthur, II, December 15, 1986 and January 29, 1987.”  Interview by Charles Stuart Kennedy.  In Frontline Diplomacy:  The U.S. Foreign Affairs Oral History Collection CD-ROM.  Marilyn Bentley and Marie Warner, editors. Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training: 2000.

“Oral History of Consul General Constance Ray Harvey, July 11, 1988.”  Interview by Dr. Milton Colvin.  In Frontline Diplomacy:  The U.S. Foreign Affairs Oral History Collection CD-ROM.  Marilyn Bentley and Marie Warner, editors.  Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training: 2000.

“Oral History of Dr. Paul F. Du Vivier, February 20, 1990.”  Interview by Charles Stuart Kennedy.  In Frontline Diplomacy:  The U.S. Foreign Affairs Oral History Collection CD-ROM.  Marilyn Bentley and Marie Warner, editors.   Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training: 2000.

Pogue, Forrest C.  George C. Marshall: Organizer of Victory.  New York:  The Viking Press, 1973.

Rossi, Mario.  Roosevelt and the French.  Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 1993.

Smith, Gene.  Until the Last Trumpet Sounds: The Life of General of the Armies John J. Pershing.  New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998.

“When Britain Put Pétain in His Place.”  The Sunday Times Online.  May 15, 2005.  Accessed October 7, 2015.

[1] William D. Leahy, I Was There (London, Gollancz: 1950), 12.

[2] Leahy, 16.

[3] Leahy, 15.

[4] Ibid, 16.

[5] David Fromkin, In the Time of the Americans (New York: Knopf, 1995), 400-402.

[6] Gene Smith, Until the Last Trumpet Sounds: The Life of General of the Armies John J. Pershing (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998), 285.

[7] Leahy, 11-12.

[8] Ibid, 17.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Leahy, 19.

[12] Ibid, 20.

[13] Ibid, 520.

[14] Ibid, 20.

[15] Leahy, 24.

[16] Ibid, 24.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Leahy, 26.

[19] “Oral History of Ambassador Douglas Macarthur, II, December 15, 1986 and January 29, 1987,”  interview by Charles Stuart Kennedy, in Frontline Diplomacy:  The U.S. Foreign Affairs Oral History Collection CD-ROM, Marilyn Bentley and Marie Warner, editors (Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training: 2000), 31.

[20] Leahy, 111.

[21] Ibid, 25.

[22] Ibid, 24.

[23] Ibid, 80.

[24] MacArthur oral history, 30.

[25] Leahy, 31.

[26] MacArthur oral history, 30.

[27] MacArthur oral history, 29-30.

[28] Leahy, 25.

[29] Robert Murphy, Diplomat Among Warriors (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1964), 58.

[30] Murphy, 59

[31] Leahy, 520.

[32] Leahy, 520.

[33] Ibid, 520.

[34] Ibid, 522.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Mario Rossi, Roosevelt and the French (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 1993), 166.

[38] Rossi, 49.

[39] Ibid, 50.

[40] Douglas Brinkley, director, and Michael E. Haskew, editor, The World War II Desk Reference (New York: HarperCollins/Grand Central Press, 2004), 391.

[41] John Grigg, 1943: The Victory That Never Was (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giraux/Hill and Wang, 1980), 193.

[42] Murphy, 65.

[43] Rossi, 62.

[44] Ibid, 62.

[45] Ibid, 64.

[46] Rossi, 64-65.

[47] Leahy, 21.

[48] Rossi, 69-71.

[49] Leahy, 28.

[50] Ibid, 62.

[51] Ibid, 35.

[52] Ibid, 33.

[53] John Keegan, editor, Who Was Who in World War II (New York: Crescent, 1984), 217.

[54] Leahy, 33.

[55] Leahy, 33-34.

[56] Ibid, 33.

[57] Leahy, 31.

[58] Ibid, 41.

[59] Ibid, 526.

[60] Ibid, 35.

[61] Ibid, 36.

[62] Ibid, 36.

[63] Ibid, 37.

[64] Leahy, 39.

[65] Ibid, 39.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Leahy, 535.

[69] Ibid, 90.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Leahy, 536.

[72] Ibid, 58.

[73] Ibid, 58.

[74] Ibid, 543.

[75] Ibid, 59.

[76] Ibid, 65-66.

[77] Ibid, 74-75.

[78] Ibid, 76.

[79] Leahy, 76.

[80] Ibid, 75.

[81] Ibid, 77.

[82] Ibid, 76.

[83] Ibid, 543.

[84] Ibid, 544.

[85] Ibid, 80.

[86] Ibid.

[87] Leahy, 81.

[88] Ibid, 81-82.

[89] Ibid, 80.

[90] Ibid, 81.

[91] Ibid, 82.

[92] Ibid, 106.

[93] Ibid, 80-83.

[94] Ibid, 84.

[95] Leahy, 84.

[96] Ibid, 84.

[97] Ibid, 85.

[98] Ibid.

[99] François Kersaudy, Churchill and de Gaulle (London: Fontana Press, 1990), 170.

[100] Kersaudy, 174.

[101] Ibid, 175.

[102] Ibid.

[103] Ibid.

[104] Rossi, 82.

[105] Leahy, 95.

[106] Ibid, 95.

[107] Ibid, 94.

[108] Ibid.

[109] Ibid.

[110] Leahy, 95.

[111] Ibid, 95.

[112] Ibid.

[113] Leahy, 95.

[114] MacArthur oral history, 47.

[115] Ibid, 46.

[116] Leahy, 549.

[117] Ibid, 548.

[118] Ibid.

[119] Leahy, 549.

[120] Ibid, 97.

[121] Ibid, 92.

[122] Leahy, 93.

[123] Ibid, 97.

[124] Leahy, 97.

[125] Ibid, 109.

[126] Ibid, 99.

[127] Ibid.

[128] Ibid, 106.

[129] Ibid, 107.

[130] Ibid.

[131] Leahy, 97.

[132] Leahy, 111.

[133] Ibid.

[134] Ibid.

[135] Ibid.

[136] Ibid.

[137] Leahy, 110.

[138] Ibid, 112.

[139] Leahy, 112.

[140] Ibid, 112.

[141] Ibid.

[142] Leahy, 113.

[143] Ibid, 113.

[144] Ibid, 114.

[145] Ibid.

[146] Ibid.

[147] Leahy, 114.

[148] Ibid, 113-114.

[149] Ibid, 115.

[150] “Oral History of Dr. Paul F. Du Vivier, February 20, 1990,” interview by Charles Stuart Kennedy, in Frontline Diplomacy:  The U.S. Foreign Affairs Oral History Collection CD-ROM, Marilyn Bentley and Marie Warner, editors (Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training: 2000), 13.

[151] Du Vivier oral history, 13.

[152] Ibid, 13.

[153] Ibid.

[154] Leahy, 272.

[155] Ibid, 272.

[156] Ibid.

[157] MacArthur oral history, 54.

[158] Leahy, 117.

[159] Rossi, 89.

[160] Leahy, 107.

[161] Rossi, 90.

[162] DuVivier oral history, 13.

[163] “Oral History of Consul General Constance Ray Harvey, July 11, 1988,” interview by Dr. Milton Colvin, in Frontline Diplomacy:  The U.S. Foreign Affairs Oral History Collection CD-ROM, Marilyn Bentley and Marie Warner, editors (Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training: 2000), 12.

[164] “When Britain Put Pétain in His Place,” The Sunday Times Online (May 15, 2005), accessed October 7, 2015.

[165] “When Britain Put Pétain in His Place.”

[166] Charles de Gaulle, The Complete War Memoirs of Charles de Gaulle, translated by Jonathan Griffin and Richard Howard (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1998), 73.

[167] Leahy, 116.

[168] Ibid, 116.

[169] Ibid, 117.

[170] Ibid, 116.

[171] Larry I. Bland, editor, George C. Marshall Interviews and Reminiscences for Forrest C. Pogue (Lexington, Virginia: George C. Marshall Research Foundation, 1991), 431.

[172] Bland, 432.

[173] Leahy, 117.

[174] Ibid, 121-122.

[175] Forrest C. Pogue, George C. Marshall: Organizer of Victory (New York:  The Viking Press, 1973), 484.


View All Military Articles.