The “Potez-63” Note in Alger Hiss’ Handwriting

Three of the four handwritten notes produced by Whittaker Chambers on November 17, 1948, in the course of the Alger Hiss libel case deposition in Baltimore, Maryland, summarized U.S. State Department cables dated March 1938. (See my Baltimore Documents Overview.) The earliest of these three notes is known as the “Potez-63” note. During the FBI investigation, it became clear that the note summarized a small portion of a March 2, 1938 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Paris to the State Department in Washington, D.C. This excerpt quoted confidential information on a Chinese order for 30 French-made Potez-63 light bomber-pursuit planes that had been received by a U.S. Naval Attaché in Paris. Alger Hiss’s note said:

Potez-63
a latest type
light b p

About March 2 U.S. embassy in Paris cabled
that although France was permitting shipment of
military supplies to China and Indo China only to fill
existing orders, it was understood that this
restriction was being liberally construed.
For instance the Military Attaché had learned
that China had recently placed an order in
France for 30 Potez-63 planes, one of this
latest French types, a light bomber-pursuit.

Over the course of two Hiss perjury trials, this note was presented by the State as corroboration of Chambers’s testimony against Hiss – and evidence of Hiss’s treason.

In his opening statement at the first Hiss perjury trial, which began in New York on May 31, 1949, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Murphy promised: “We will corroborate Chambers’s testimony by the typewriting and by the handwriting …” However, some of the jurors in that trial remained unconvinced, and the trial ended in a hung jury.

In the second perjury trial, which began on November 17, 1949, the government case again rested on documentary corroboration of Chambers’s testimony – and the Potez-63 note was presented as unequivocal evidence that Hiss had passed “military information” to the Soviet government. On cross-examination by Murphy, no proof was offered to show that Hiss’s Potez-63 handwritten note contained information with respect to the national defense of the United States. Nonetheless, Francis Sayre, who had been Hiss’s boss in 1938, was questioned about “the military information contained on Hiss’s handwritten notes such as the nature of the French ‘Potez-63’ airplane” —  and had no knowledge of any of this. 1

In fact, no documentary evidence was presented at the trial to prove that the information in the Potez-63 note had anything to do with U.S. national defense or was of military nature. Nor was there any effort to establish a “reason to believe” that the information contained in the note was directed “to the injury of the U.S., and/or for the benefit of a foreign country.” 2

Nevertheless, in Murphy’s summation for the jurors this note fell into the category of the “immutable” evidence of Hiss’s treason:

Each of these documents, the typewritten documents, and the handwritten documents, each has the same message. … And what is that message? ‘Alger Hiss, you were the traitor…’ 3

Since the jury’s guilty verdict in the second Hiss perjury trial, a consensus has developed that “Hiss chose to summarize in his handwritten notes those matters of greater interest to Soviet military intelligence” – leaving out the parts of these cables relevant to the work supervised by Hiss’s boss, Francis Sayre. 4

This consensus has been reinforced by Allen Weinstein’s analysis in his book, Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case, originally published in 1978:

… a March 2 dispatch from the American Embassy in Paris to Secretary Hull about the U.S. response to the Sino-Japanese War, concerned recent orders placed by China for thirty late-model French fighter-bomber pursuit planes of the type called “Potez-63,” the information having come from the American military attaché in Paris. (Unlike the other three hand-written memos, this note by Hiss broke off in mid-sentence with the phrase “a light bomber pursuit.” This suggests that Chambers may have delivered the note’s second page to Bykov, thinking it too important to withhold from his Russian superior without calling attention to his own impeding defection, had Bykov learned its contents in some other way, since the March 2 cable went on to describe Soviet financing and shipment of airplanes and war materiel to China.)

A second section of the March 2 message from Paris, sent by cable later that same day, was of even greater concern to the Soviet Union. It reported the conclusion of the French Ambassador to Japan that, although the Russian government intended “to refrain from taking any more direct or aggressive interest in the China-Japanese conflict… he nevertheless has the ‘feeling’ that the Japanese may be preparing for a move against the Russian maritime provinces.” Although the informant in the French Foreign Office did not agree, the cable cited the view of unnamed “Japanese army chiefs…that they will be able to wage a successful war against Russia while holding the Chinese in check on their flank with little difficulty.”

But the original version of that same March 2 cable began with information of immediate concern to Sayre and Hiss, dealing with the reaction of European governments whose nationals had loaned money to China, and the probable impact on such loans of Japanese decisions to place customs duties from occupied Chinese ports in Japanese banks. Hiss did not copy this, thereby omitting the only important part of the cable that would be of interest to an American specialist in international economic relations.” 5

Although considered unassailable by many to this day, Weinstein’s analysis is striking in its discrepancies.

Most obvious is Weinstein’s assertion that Hiss’s note broke off in mid-sentence with the phrase “a light bomber pursuit.” However, in the original State Department cable these words (slightly paraphrased) are clearly the end of the sentence – and of the paragraph.

Here is the paragraph from Section One of the March 2, 1938 cable, which Hiss summarized in his note:

The Chinese are still getting a few airplanes from
France via the Indo-China route in fulfillment of orders
placed before the outbreak of hostilities. (I have
the impression that this phrase is interpreted with some
elasticity.) In this connection the Naval Attaché is
confidentially informed that an order was recently placed
for China for thirty Potez-63 planes, a latest type
French light bomber-pursuit plane.

With the original cable at hand, it is hard to guess what made Weinstein think “that Chambers may have delivered its second page to Bykov.” For Hiss’s summary comes directly from the second page of section one of the March 2, 1938 cable, and is followed on the same page by just a single paragraph:

Hoppenot said that the Russians are steadily
increasing their shipments of airplanes and war material
to China. How this is being financed is a puzzle to the
French. Sun-Fo the son of Sun-Yat-Sen and President of
the Chinese Legislative Yuan, has been in Russia for two
months arranging it.  It is believed that his visit had
had to do with financing and accelerating Russian ship-
ments of war supplies to China.
WILSON 6

From a Russian viewpoint, Weinstein’s intent in expanding this paragraph into a page – which would be “too important to withhold” from a Russian superior – seems incomprehensible.   Details about “Soviet financing and shipment of airplanes and war material to China” might be a puzzle for the French, and of interest to Americans, but certainly not news to the Soviets themselves.

According to Russian foreign policy records, Soviet “shipments of weapons, ammunition, military materials and machinery to China began in the fall of 1937” 7 – and elicited a keen interest on the part of Western powers, which responded with continuous diplomatic feelers and probes.

The earliest known record of these shipments being brought to the attention of a Soviet diplomatic official is dated January 1, 1938 and takes the form of a long, urgent, ciphered cable to Moscow from Ivan Majsky, the Soviet Ambassador in London. Majsky reported that the previous night, right before the New Year, Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Secretary, had summoned him to the Foreign Office, in order “to feel out whether the Soviet Union was willing to activate its policy in the Far East, and if so, on what terms.” Having acknowledged the importance of providing arms supplies to Chiang Kai-shek, Eden advised that it would be better to supply China on the sly – as was being done by certain other nations. “In this connection, Eden informed that the U.S.A. had been sending a large shipment of arms to China via Hong Kong, and that the French were doing the same (in particular, were sending airplanes), and that England was trying to allocate for China the maximum possible out of its military resources.” 8

Eden’s feeler followed an earlier acknowledgement in Soviet newspapers of Soviet “ammunition sales to China in limited quantities.” 9

Russian diplomatic records of late December, 1937 to January 1938 supply further background on Eden’s feeler.

On January 9, 1938, Maxim Litvinov, the Soviet Peoples’ Commissar (Narcom) of Foreign Affairs, informed Joseph Stalin of several ciphered cables that had been sent to Moscow by Ivan Lughanets-Orelsky, the Soviet Ambassador in China, in response to queries from Chiang Kai-shek about “further assistance” from the Russians. 10  Lughanets-Orelsky was a pseudonym: the Ambassador’s real name was Ivan Bovkun, and he was a resident, or station chief, of INO –  NKVD‘s foreign intelligence, serving as Moscow’s ‘secret eye’ in China.

As a result, details of Sun-Fo’s visit to Moscow were not news to the Soviets, who had the information meticulously recorded in their diplomatic files.

Sun-Fo arrived in Moscow on January 17, 1938, “commissioned by the Chinese Government, to ascertain the possibility of closer cooperation with the Soviet Union.” 11. The British Foreign Office was apparently aware of Sun-Fo’s Moscow mission, because they later suggested a discussion “of more active assistance to China” between Maxim Litvinov and the British and Chinese representatives at the upcoming League of Nations session. 12 By early February, however, Sun-Fo still had nothing to report to Chiang Kai-shek. 13  Later records confirm the opinion, voiced in the previously cited State Department cable from Paris, “that [Sun-Fo’s] visit had had to do with financing and accelerating Russian shipments of war supplies to China.” “In March 1938, three contracts were signed in Moscow according to which the USSR would supply China with 297 airplanes, 82 tanks, 425 guns, 1825 machine-guns, 360,000 shells, 10 million rifle cartridges, 400 trucks and other military supplies.” 14  However, the U.S. State Department was not to learn these details for a long time to come.

The Russian files shed some light on the way these supplies were financed, a matter which had been “a puzzle to the French,” according to the State Department’s March 2, 1938 cable. A footnote to Ivan Majsky’s cable to Moscow on April 13, 1938, citing a letter sent from Moscow to Luganetz-Orelsky in China, mentioned “a particular role currently played by the Chinese shipments to us of tungsten ore, antimony and the like” – and Britain’s probable awareness of this role. 15

Section Two of the March 2, 1938 cable, which was not summarized by Alger Hiss, did contain information of potential interest to the Soviet military intelligence – a “feeling” expressed by the French Ambassador in Tokyo “that the Japanese may be preparing for a move against the Russian maritime provinces.” That kind of information, however vague and unsubstantiated, was at the top of Soviet military intelligence’s priority list. From the early 1930s through the early 1940s, its assets would have been briefed on the need to be continuously on the lookout for such information – and to report any items they found.

This background is helpful, but it still leaves an unanswered question about the potential value to Soviet intelligence of Alger Hiss’s summary of a single paragraph in a two-part State Department cable.

For starters, let us have a look at the subject of Hiss’s note – the Potez-63 plane, or, more accurately, its earlier prototype, the Potez 630.

The Potez 630 and its derivatives were a family of multi-role, twin-engine aircraft developed beginning in 1934 by the Henri Potez Airplane Company (“Aeroplane Henri Potez”) for the French Armée de l’Air. Originally built under the French Air Ministry’s program,  Multiplace Légère de Défense (light, multi-seat defensive aircraft), Potez-63 was in fact to play three roles – fighter control, daylight interception and night-fighter. The Potez 63.01 prototype made its first flight on April 25, 1936 and proved to have excellent handling qualities. Ten further prototypes were tested before production orders were placed in 1937 for 80 Potez 630s and 80 Potez 631s.

Alger Hiss was most probably referring to the Potez 633, which was a light bomber version. The final production version was the Potez 63-11, of which 702 were built.

As for the Chinese order for 30 Potez-63 planes mentioned in Hiss’s summary, the planes actually never made it to China. A small number of Potez-633s originally destined for China were commandeered by the French colonial administration in Indo-China and saw action in the brief French-Thai War of early 1941.

The March 2, 1938 State Department cable described the Potez-63 as “a latest type French light bomber-pursuit plane” – the same description seen in Hiss’s summary.

According to Russian archival records, the Soviets already knew about the Potez-63 by early 1938. They had close official contacts with the French, and with Henri Potez himself – and most important, a close working relationship with Pierre Cot, the French Minister for Air. These contacts, sometimes described in the Russian files of the period as a “special relationship,” go back to the Soviet-French Mutual Cooperation Treaty signed in Paris on May 2, 1935. That treaty established a “special partnership relationship” between France and the Soviet Union – and a basis for military contacts and exchange.

A December 13, 1936 secret report to Vyacheslav Molotov, the Chairman of the Council of Peoples’ Commissars of the Soviet Union (the name of the Soviet Government until 1946, commonly known as Sovnarcom), provides a glimpse into this close working relationship, and reveals an early acquaintance with the Potez-63 and its designer. 16

The writer of the report, one Robert Eideman, was a Soviet cadre military commander with the rank of Comcor, or Corps Commander, which was an early Soviet equivalent of a U. S. three-star general. At the time, Eideman was the chairman of an organization called OSOAVIAKhIM, then a popular acronym for a society which organized mass physical training programs as well as military training for pilots, paratroopers, etc. Within a few months, Eideman would perish in Stalin’s purges.

Eideman’s report, discovered among Molotov’s private papers, which were only made available to researchers in 2006, gives a good idea of the situation in the Soviet Union in 1936.

Eideman described a November, 1936 visit to France by a delegation of Soviet air force brass  including Andrei Tupolev, the famous airplane designer, Mavrikii Slepnev, a famous polar pilot who had been named a Hero of the Soviet Union, and Eideman himself. They arrived in Paris on November 11 as guests of Pierre Cot, the French Minister for Air, and were welcomed at the Gare du Nord by the top brass of French aviation, including “three generals in full uniform.” According to Eideman, such “demonstrated attention and courtesy” continued throughout the whole visit.

The French Air Ministry treated its Soviet guests to “a large program of visits to the military units, schools and factories, including … a Navy aviation base in the south of France” which had been off-limit to the Soviets until that time. To emphasize the official status of the working relationship between the Soviet and the French military, the Soviets “visited military units and official meetings dressed in military uniforms.” They wore their mess uniforms on November 13 for the opening of France’s 15th Aviation Exhibition. According to a press report cited by Eideman,

the Soviet delegation attracted everybody’s attention. The public was watching the Soviet officers with open curiosity – now dressed in a uniform, which has little difference from the uniform of officers of other nations.

At the same time, Eideman noticed the reluctance of the French “to demonstrate their relationship” with the Soviets openly. This restraint did not apply to Pierre Cot, the Soviets’ main host, or the Air Ministry he headed. Eideman considered Cot “a convinced advocate of a close relationship with the Soviet Union and primarily with our aviation,” and described him as follows:

Young, energetic, independent – Pierre Cot probably occupies a special place in the government itself. He speaks with sincere warmth about the successes of our socialist construction, about our might, and, particularly, about the might of our Air Forces.

Eideman saw this attitude as the reason for Cot’s determined pursuit of “his course for the closest coordination of actions of the French and Soviet aviation” – notwithstanding obvious resistance on the part of Edouard Daladier, then France’s Minister of War and Chief of the General Staff.

Eideman described in considerable detail his final conversation with Pierre Cot, which took place on December 1, the day before the Soviet delegation’s departure from France. On his return from the meeting, Eideman made detailed notes of the conversation – and quoted from those notes in his report to Molotov.

Cot expressed his belief in the need for “a more practical cooperation between the air forces of our two nations as soon as possible,” particularly in the “case of a German 17 attack against Czechoslovakia.” Among practical steps, Cot mentioned sending “an authoritative aviation commission to the Soviet Union,” continuing an exchange of visits by French and Soviet pilots, and mutual acquaintance with each other’s airplanes. Meanwhile, he offered Soviet pilots then in Paris the chance “to fly all the latest French planes, explaining this by the need for pilots of one country to know better the aircraft of another country.”

Cot was far from being the Soviets’ only French friend. Eideman mentioned “quite a number of meetings” his group had in Paris with “friends” made during the earlier French visit to the USSR. These included Bossutro and Andre, who had headed the parliamentary delegation to the Soviet Union, and Henri Potez (the name on Alger Hiss’s note), who was cited as head of the industrial delegation. All these men were said to be “actively working towards strengthening the Soviet-French friendship.”

At the close of the French aviation exhibition, friendly feelings overflowed. The Soviets presented a Soviet “Stakhanovets” glider “to Pierre Cot, as a gift for the French People’s Aviation.” Henri Potez reciprocated with the gift of a French two-seater, 60-horsepower training plane for the Soviet OSOAVIAKhIM.

Eideman’s memo included two rather detailed reports, “On the People’s Aviation of France” and “On the State of French Aviation,” which would later be followed by still more detailed “special reports.” Both show an insider’s knowledge of the current state of French aviation, including the latest technological developments.

He also provided a detailed report on the latest models of French aircraft – which would again be followed by “separate detailed reports by experts.” What immediately catches the eye is his prominent mention of the Potez-63 plane:

Among two-engine high-speed planes [attracting the] most attention were several-seat fighters (for 3 persons) which are simultaneously able to perform the tasks of light bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. Among such cruisers most prominent were the Potez-63 and the Anrio-220, as having a maximum speed (up to 500 km) and very powerful armaments (2 guns and 3 machine-guns). Both of these aircraft are test samples and the tests have not yet been completed.

Three things are clear from Comcor Eideman’s December 13, 1936 report to Molotov:

  1. The Soviets had early, first-hand knowledge of the Potez-63 – and were on friendly terms with its manufacturer, Henri Potez, whom Eideman described to Molotov as one of the Soviets’ French “friends.”
  2. Eideman did not include the Potez-63 in the Soviet wish list (which consisted mainly of light training planes). The reasons for the Soviets’ lack of interest will be explained by the documents cited below.
  3. Last but not least, the Soviets had an enthusiastic and reliable first-hand source in the person of Pierre Cot. As other Russian archival records will show, the Soviets’ close relationship with the French Air Ministry (and particularly with Pierre Cot) continued well into 1938. As of the date reported in Alger Hiss’s note, Cot was still France’s Minister for Air – and was to become the Minister of Commerce later the same month.

In writing a memo for Molotov (who as head of the Soviet Government was the second man, after Stalin, on top-secret information distribution lists), Eideman had no need to explain certain things – for example, the reasons behind Pierre Cot’s enthusiasm for Soviet pilots in Spain. This enthusiasm was due in part to the fact that Soviet pilots were flying French planes there – coincidentally, planes produced by the Potez company. By August 15, 1936, the French Popular Front government sent the first five Potez-540 bombers to Spain, to help Republican forces combat aircraft supplied to Franco’s government by the Nazis and Italian fascists. The French bombers arrived complete with French crews and became part of the “España” squadron – then known as the “Foreign Group” – under the command of the French Communist writer, Andre Malraux.

From late September 1936, French pilots were joined by Russians and Spaniards, who by mid-October were substituting for departing French crews. On October 25, five French Potez bombers piloted by Soviet commanders bombed Generalissimo Franco’s Loyalist troops near Madrid. On October 27, they began bombing raids on enemy airfields.  Russian pilots considered the French bomber “easy and comfortable” to handle, pilot and maneuver, and they praised its combat-readiness, which was enhanced by disposable fuel tanks. The Soviet Air Force Command got so interested in reports of these Potez fuel tanks that it requested delivery of one such tank to the Soviet Union for closer scrutiny. However, Russian pilots soon discovered that the Potez bombers had a serious disadvantage – they were slow. According to Russian navigators, the French bombsight was obsolete and obviously inferior in comparison to the Russian OPB-1. Moreover, the French bomber proved to be defenseless against German fighters. Therefore, beginning in early November 1936, Potez bombers flew under the protection of Soviet I-15 fighters. On November 3, 1936, for example, five Potez bombers went on a mission accompanied by ten I-15 fighters.

The Russian pilots who flew the Potez bombers in Spain came home by early December, 1936, and went through detailed debriefing, with the participation of the top brass of the Air Force Command. 18

The 1938 files of the Office of the Peoples’ Commissar of Foreign Affairs, Maxim Litvinov, shed further light on the extent of Soviet familiarity with French aviation (due partly to the 1935 Soviet-French Pact, and partly to the special relationship with Pierre Cot.)

On  March 5, 1938, just three days after the U.S. State Department received the cable from Paris with a section about the Potez-63,  Litvinov wrote to Stalin about a memo he had received from the French Ambassador in Moscow, one Robert M. Coulondre – giving an idea of the privileged access enjoyed by the Soviet air attaché in France and his deputy. 19   Deploring “inattentive treatment of the French military, naval and air attachés and interns by the People’s Commissariat of Defense,” Coulondre attached a five-page memo in which he described “the most favorable conditions for Soviet military officers posted in France as attachés at the Soviet Embassy, as interns at various military units, factories and military agencies…” Outlining the access enjoyed by the Soviet air attaché in Paris, Coulondre wrote:

In 1937 alone, the Soviet air attaché in Paris and his deputy were able to make more than 27 visits to factories, aviation institutes, aviation bases and hydro-aviation engineering labs; … besides, [they visited] many military units, aviation schools and training camps. They were also allowed to fly French military aircraft.

As far as the material part is concerned, French aviation has satisfied all the requests made by the Soviet side, excluding, of course, some prototypes that have not yet been completed.

Coulondre goes on to list airplane engines, components, appliances and actual planes delivered to the Soviet Union in 1936 and 1937. In return, according to Coulondre, the Soviets supplied the French with just two items: “a single paratrooper gear and a single wind gauge. All French requests, particularly requests for providing Soviet planes I.16 and 5.V, had no effect.” The Russian I.16 clearly stands for I-16 fighter and 5.V for its fifth modification (in Russian, 5-I vypusk.)

Concluding his memo, Coulondre called for establishing parity, although “not by way of introducing limitations on the French side, but by greater liberalism on the part of the Soviet authorities, which would be in greater accord with the relationship of friendship existing between the two nations.” 20

Russian expertise in matters French turned out to be only part of the problem involved in exploring the conditions surrounding Hiss’s “Potez-63” note.

From 1938 correspondence discovered in Litvinov’s files for that year, as of early 1938 the French themselves were in desperate need of buying military aircraft – and repeatedly approached the Soviets both in Paris and in Moscow.

On February 9, 1938, Litvinov wrote to Stalin, referring to a ciphered cable from the Soviet Ambassador in Paris:

I am not making any suggestions on the substance of the statement of the French Minister for Air on the [Soviet] sale to France of 300 armed planes within 1938. It goes without saying, that if we could give at least one hundred planes, this would have a huge political impact. At any rate, I would suggest giving an answer not through a journalist but directly to the Minister for Air through the [Soviet] Ambassador – no matter whether the answer would be positive or negative. 21

In spring 1938, the French tried to feel out the Soviets about the possibility of purchasing “a quantity” of Soviet I-16 fighter aircrafts. On April 26, 1938, Litvinov informed Stalin:

The French Ambassador Coulondre has told me that Donzo, the French air attaché, was instructed to inquire about the specifications of the I-16 fighter aircraft, particularly its speed.

… Coulondre knows … that the French military is greatly interested in this type of fighter, in view of its serial production. Since the organization of such production in France takes a lot of time, there is a desire to buy a quantity of these fighters from us. In exchange, the French government is ready to familiarize us with some French types of fighter-bombers, which might be of interest to us. It is also possible to provide us with technical cooperation, including dispatching French personnel to organize production of these planes here. For the time being, Donzo would not discuss these issues with us, however, Coulondre thinks it necessary to tell this to us in an unofficial way, so that we could take into consideration the possible development of our negotiations with Donzo on aviation.” 22

In less than two months, the French would officially approach the Soviets to sell them fighter and bomber aircraft. On June 15, 1938, Litvinov wrote to Stalin, as follows:

Mandel, the French Minister for the Colonies, has officially turned to our Chargé d’Affaires [in Paris] to request whether it would be possible to buy 100 Soviet fighters and 50 bombers for French colonies. In case we answer this request in the positive, the [French] government will officially make a proposal. Mandel asked to give an answer as soon as possible.

I would like to remind you that the previous French government made a similar request, and our decision was negative; however, that [French] government seems to have fallen before it received our answer.

I find it necessary to emphasize once again that in case there is any possibility of satisfying the request of the French government, this would produce a huge political impact, and not just upon our relationship with France.

Asking for your instructions concerning the response to the French Government. 23

However, it turned out that, in their desperation to acquire military aircraft, the French were also turning to the United States for help.

A few years ago, while searching through oral history interviews on the Truman Memorial Library website, I came across an evidence that the French were actively seeking American support. An interview with Bernard Bernstein, a U.S. Treasury Department lawyer and financial adviser, included the following recollection:

… But another more dramatic experience that I had was being called to Herman Oliphant’s office sometime in 1938 and his saying to me that a Frenchman by the name of Jean Monnet had come from France to Washington for the purpose of trying to get a speed-up in the delivery of military planes for France. Against the background of what I’ve been saying about Treasury activities, naturally Monnet came over to the Treasury for help. Mr. Monnet was talking to Secretary Morgenthau about the procurement problem. The Treasury had as one of its divisions the Procurement Division.

… Well, I worked with Jean Monnet. This is when I first met Jean Monnet. He was a man of extraordinary dynamism and devotion to France, Britain and the West… 24

Following up on Bernard Bernstein’s comments yielded new information: I was able to confirm that Jean Monnet was sent on a purchasing mission in the fall of 1938 “to secure what he could from the American market.” He went back home “with a promising deal-an initial order of 555 American warplanes, options for future deliveries that by 1940 would come to 1,500 planes a year, and an unusual agreement in which the French government would invest $2.25 million for the expansion and retooling of an American firm, the Glenn L. Martin Company-an amount greater than what the U.S. government invested annually in its own aircraft industry, at least until 1940.” 25

However, Monnet’s trip turned out to be the second French aircraft-purchasing mission. In January 1938, the French sent Senator Amauny de la Grange to Washington “to investigate what American firms could offer and to purchase up to a thousand aircraft. De la Grange found President Roosevelt enthusiastic about the idea, but congressional isolationism, the Neutrality Act of 1935, and above all the limited capacity of the American aircraft industry forced the French to settle for one hundred Curtiss-Wright P36s. Yet de la Grange had paved the way for subsequent missions to the United States; the purchase of American aircraft would remain a major, and controversial, feature” of French policy. 26

A follow-up search through early 1938 files dealing with international economic matters, from the Office of Assistant Secretary of State Francis Sayre, could yield more information about that office’s possible involvement in gathering background information about the first French aircraft purchasing mission.

  1. Allen Weinstein, Perjury: The Hiss Chambers Case, Vintage Books, 1979, pp. 412, 480.
  2. See the guidelines for espionage prosecution, prepared in January 1947 by the U.S. Department of Justice’s legal expert, E.P. Morgan, at the request of the FBI, and cited in the Baltimore Documents Overview. [E.P. Morgan to H.H. Clegg, January 14, 1947. The FBI Silvermaster File, No 65-56402, Vol. 093, Serials 2000-2081, pp. 166-170.]
  3. Weinstein, Perjury, p. 497.
  4. John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, Early Cold War Spies: The Espionage Trials That Shaped American Politics, Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 112.
  5. Weinstein, Perjury, pp. 243-44. Footnoted to: Transcript of Alger Hiss’ 2nd trial, vol. VII, 3435; VIII, 3537.
  6. Government’s State Exhibit 2 in Alger Hiss’ Second Trial. Transcript of Record, Volume VIII, Government’s State Exhibits 1-24, p. 3537.
  7. Dokumenty vneshnei politiki SSSR. Ministerstvo inostrannykh del SSSR, t. XXI, 1 janvarya – 31 dekabrya 1938 g. M., Politizdat, 1977, s. 705 (prim. 26 k s. 164.) [The Documents of the Foreign Policy of the USSR, vol. XXI, January 1 – December 31, 1938, Moscow, Politizdat, 1977, p. 705 (footnote 26 to p. 164).] To be further cited as DVP.
  8. Majsky’s cable to the Peoples Commissariat of Foreign Affairs, Jan. 1, 1938. – DVP, v. XXI, pp. 11-14.
  9. Litvinov to Stalin, Jan. 3, 1938. – Fund 05 (Litvinov Secretariat files), description 18, P. 137, file 1, p. 8, Arkhive vneshnei politiki Rossiiskoi Federatsii (The Archive of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation – hereafter, AVP RF).
  10. Litvinov to Stalin, Jan. 9, 1938, No. 5019/1. – Fund 05 (Litvinov Secretariat files), description 18, P. 137, file 1, pp. 19-20, AVP RF.
  11. Record of conversation between B. Stomonyakov, Deputy Peoples’ Commissar of Foreign Affairs, with Sun-Fo, the Chairman of the Chinese Legislative Yuan, Jan. 21, 1938. – DVP, XXI, pp. 43-45
  12. Record of conversation between V. Potemkin, Deputy Peoples’ Commissar of Foreign Affairs, with Sun-Fo, the Chairman of the Chinese Legislative Yuan, Jan. 21, 1938. – DVP, XXI, pp. 45-46.
  13. Stomonyakov to Lughanetz-Orelsky, Febr. 1, 1938. – DVP, XXI, pp. 63-64.
  14. Footnote 26 to Majsky’s cable to Churchill, March 31, 1938. – DVP, v. XXI, pp. 704-705.
  15. Footnote 46 to Majsky’s cable to NKID, April 13, 1938. – DVP, v. XXI, pp. 708-709.
  16. C.[omrade] Eideman to the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR Com.[rade] Molotov V.M., Secret, copy No 2, December 13, 1936. – RGASPI [Rossiiski gosudarsvennii arkhiv sotsial’no-politicheskoi istorii – Russian State Archive of Social and Political History], fund 82 (Molotov Private Papers), description 2, file 1024, pp. 32-46, with Molotov’s pencil underlining.
  17. At this time and afterwards, the Soviets used the term “German” instead of “Nazi.”
  18. Source: http://www.airwar.ru/enc/bww1/potez54.html
  19. Litvinov to the Secretary General of VCP (b) c. Stalin, March 5, 1938, No 5093.  Fund 05 (The Office [Secretariat] of M.M. Litvinov), description 18, Por. 137, file 1, p. 85, AVP RF.
  20. Ambassador Coulondre’s memo, Russian translation from the French. Ibid., pp. 86-90.
  21. Litvinov to Stalin, February 9, 1938. – Ibid., p. 42.
  22. Litvinov to Stalin, April 26, 1938 – Ibid., p. 265.
  23. Litvinov to Stalin., 15, June 15, 1938 – Ibid., p. 319.
  24. Oral History Interview with Bernard Bernstein, July 23, 1975, New York, NY, by Richard D. McKinzie. Truman Memorial Library.
  25. Chapman, Herrick. State Capitalism and Working-Class Radicalism in the French Aircraft Industry. Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1991, 1990, p. 158. – Cit: http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft9m3nb6g1/
  26. Ibid., pp. 155-156. – Cit: Ibidem.