Documents were quoted in previous chapters to the effect that the British leaders were aware of the feeling for revenge pervading the German ruling circles and their leaders, including those considered ‘moderate’. These quotes fall short from reflecting the large amount of reliable information which was available to the British leaders. They do not show sufficiently how knowledgeable these leaders were of Germany’s aggressive preparations, be they in terms of secret rearmament or in terms of inculcating, specially among the youth, a war spirit. This annex is but a small indication of the voluminous reports and letters pertaining to the subject.
Sir H. Rumbold, British ambassador to Berlin sent to Simon a report on April 26, 1933, from which we quote :
Now that Hitler has acquired absolute control.. it may be advisable to consider the uses to which he may put his unlimited opportunities.. The prospect is disquieting, as the only programme.. which the Government appear to possess may be described as the revival of militarism and the stamping out of pacifism. The plans of the Government are far-reaching, they will take several years to mature and they realize that it would be idle to embark on them if there were any danger of premature disturbance either abroad or at home. They may therefore be expected to repeat their protestations of peaceful intent from time to time and to have recourse to other measures, including propaganda, to lull the outer world into a sense of security.
5. The outlook for Europe is far from peaceful if the speeches of Nazi leaders, especially of the Chancellor, are borne in mind.. Hitler’s thesis is extremely simple. He starts with the assertions than man is a fighting animal; therefore the nation is, he concludes, a fighting unit, being a community of fighters... A country or a race which ceases to fight is .. doomed.. Pacifism is the deadliest sin, for pacifism means the surrender of the race in the fight for existence... Only brute force can ensure the survival of the race. Hence the necessity for military forms. The race must fight; a race that rests must rust and perish. The German race, had it been united in time, would now be master of the globe today...
The British leaders therefore knew what Hitlerism was about. However, there was an additional aspect that seemed to have drawn their attention. The report continues:
8. Hitler admits that it is difficult to preach chauvinism without attracting undesirable attention, but it can be done.. To attack France for purely sentimental reasons would be foolish. What Germany needs is an increase of territory in Europe. Hitler even urges that Germany’s pre-war colonial policy must be abandoned, and that the new Germany must look for expansion to Russia and especially to the Baltic States. He condemns the alliance with Russia because the ultimate aim of all alliance is war. To wage war with Russia against the West would be criminal, especially as the aim of the Soviets is the triumph of international Judaism.
11.. The task of the present German Government is more complicated. They have to rearm on land, and as Herr Hitler explains in his memoirs, they have to lull their adversaries into such a state of coma that they will allow themselves to be engaged one by one.. What he probably means can be more accurately expressed by the formula: Germany needs peace until she has recovered such strength that no country can challenge her.. I fear that it would be misleading to base any hopes on a return to sanity or a serious modification of the views of the Chancellor and his entourage.
...I do not, of course, rule out the contingency that there may be a revulsion of feeling in this country, and that saner counsels may prevail when the new regime has had time to take stock of the European and world situation. But the spirit of the moment is definitely disquieting, and the Government of this country, for the first time since the war, are giving State sanction and encouragement to an attitude of mind, as well as to various forms of military training, which can only end in one way. I therefore feel that Germany’s neighbours have reason to be vigilant, and that it may be necessary for them to determine their attitude towards coming developments in this country sooner than they may have contemplated.
A note to the document says that ‘This despatch was read by the Prime Minister, and was circulated to the Cabinet..’
On May 10, 1933, Cadogan forwarded to Leeper (of the British delegation to the League, Geneva) a memorandum written by Brigadier Temperley. Cadogan accompanied the memo with the comment: “It is, I think, of the utmost importance and interest.” He added that a copy is with the War Office and that Eden had read the report. Vansittart agreed with the report. He suggested it be circulated to the Cabinet. This was done on May 16, 1933. We quote from the memo in full:
...Within a few weeks of his arrival, Hitler has carried out a revolution and made himself complete master of Germany. The country has given herself up to a delirium of reawakened nationalism and of the most blatant and dangerous militarism. Fuel has been added to the flames by an orgy of military parades and torch-light processions and by a constant stream of patriotic wireless addresses delivered by masters of the art of propaganda, including Hitler himself.
...On the military side, Storm detachments of the Nazis and Stahlhelm have been converted into auxiliary police. As the Nazi detachments were recruited from the most desperate and violent elements of the unemployed, they do not seem particularly suitable for police work, the more so since arms have been placed in their hands. Their number are probably in the vicinity of 75,000. They are to undergo military training similar to that given to the militarized police. The incorporation of these groups in the police is, of course, a flagrant violation of the Peace-Treaty. It is believed that the total strength of the Nazi Storm detachments is 300,000 men. Schleicher had started voluntary camps for Youth Training in military subjects and they were already in full swing before Hitler’s arrival. The openly expressed intention of this organisation is to train instructors in ‘Defence Sport’ and Field Exercises for the Associations. By March 1934 it is estimated that 40,000 potential instructors will have received training. A National Labour Corps was also in existence, 250,000 strong. They are dressed in uniforms and trained in camps under military discipline. Photographs and recent accounts of them in “The Times” clearly indicate the military character of their training, though part of their time is devoted to work on roads, etc. It has just been announced that the Chancellor has issue a decree calling up all youths of 20 years of age annually for national labour service for twelve months beginning on January 1, 1934. This will produce an annual contingent of 350,000. The Secretary of State for Labour Services announces that every youth must do his year in the Labour Service before passing on to military service, when conscription has been reintroduced.
...There are numerous indications in the last two months of increased activity in the German armament industry. Reports have been received that twelve firms, which are not allowed to produce armaments, have received test orders for war material. Preparations are reported to have been made for reopening of eight former Government arsenals.
At Geneva the German attitude has stiffened considerably. The German delegate has reiterated his refusal to accept the cardinal points of the British Draft Convention and has, in particular, declined to give up the Reichwehr and accept the uniformisation of European armies on a militia basis. The increasing insolence of the Germans has brought discussion on effectives to a complete standstill. When material is discussed, there are strong indications that the demands for samples of military aeroplanes, tanks and heavy guns will be very large.
What then is to be our attitude? Are we to go forward as if nothing has happened? Can we afford to ignore what is going on behind the scenes in Germany? The brief sketch of the post-war position, and particularly the intensification of military preparations under Hitler regime, coupled with the strident appeals to force of the Nazi leaders, not only means a secret German rearmament, but create an entirely new situation. Admittedly it would be a good thing to get Germany bound by a Convention, as a breakdown would mean that she would commence to rearm at once. On the other hand, there is little use in a Convention limiting effectives and material, if the preparations above indicated are to proceed unchecked, while the war-like spirit is being openly roused to a fever heat against the Poles as the first objective, with France as the ultimate enemy. Viscount Grey, in a recent speech, remarked how thankful the world must be that in the present condition of Germany she was disarmed by the Peace Treaty. Had this not been the case, Viscount Grey remarked, we should inevitably be once more on the verge of war. No moment could be worse chosen than the present one to advocate drastic reductions in the armaments of France, the Little Entente and Poland. Moreover, the destruction of all heavy material and bombing machines belonging to the French and her allies and to our own armed forces seems madness in the face of this direct German menace. We should do well to remember the old Ironsides motto of ‘Trust in God and keep your powder dry’.
If it is dangerous to go forward with disarmament, what then is to be done? There appears to be one bold solution. France, the United States and ourselves should address a stern warning to Germany that there can be no disarmament, no equality of status and no relaxation of the Treaty of Versailles unless a complete reversion of present military preparations and tendencies takes place in Germany. Admittedly this will provoke a crisis and the danger of war will be brought appreciably nearer. We should have to say that we shall insist upon the enforcement of the Treaty of Versailles, and in this insistence, with its hint of force in the background, presumably the United States would not join. But Germany knows that she cannot fight at present and we must call her bluff. She is powerless before the French army and our fleet. Hitler, for all his bombast, must give way. If such a step seems too forceful, the only alternative is to carry out some minimum measure of disarmament and to allow things to drift for another five years, by which time, unless there is a change of heart in Germany, war seems inevitable. Germany rearmament will by then be an accomplished fact and the material of ex-Allies, which would takes years of work and scores of millions of pounds to replace, may have been destroyed. This is an alternative which is unlikely to lead us anywhere. Strong combined action, however, as suggested above, should prove decisive, even though the threat of military pressure might have to be maintained for years, calling for fresh monetary sacrifices, until Germany is brought to her senses. But even this heavy responsibility should be accepted rather than that we should allow all the sacrifices of the last war to be in vain and the world to go down in economic ruin. There is a mad dog abroad once more and we must resolutely combine either to ensure its destruction or at least its confinement until the disease has run its course.
Brigadier Temperley was not aware of another alternative: to be nice and kind with Germany (justifications would have to be found for public opinion) so that she may expand Eastward.
On August 28, 1933, Vansittart wrote a long memorandum on the present and future situation in Europe. He said :
9. From the very outset of the new regime in Germany, I have felt, with all deference to those with more sweet reasonableness were disposed for at least a little to wait and see, that there was no doubt whatsoever about the ultimate intentions of the Nazis. The same words now appear in our last intelligence report, and our sources are particularly good. It is an open secret that anything peaceful said by Hitler is merely for foreign consumption and designed to gain time; and it is a significant fact that no utterance of Hitler may now be published without special sanction. Hitler’s disarmament speech was a unique event, a solitary exception not only in his own history, but in that of his party, in which he would have lost ground but for the fact that no Germans has taken it seriously. We should no more be deceived than the Germans. On the other hand, the intention to strike when ready is constantly proclaimed. Never was writing larger on the wall ..
11. The will to fight is being fully advertised in Germany, and the whole of the younger generation is falling rapidly into the hands of the war-masters.. By every form of tuition and propaganda the youth of Germany is being fed on false history, hate and pugnancy; in, in effect, again being told to prepare for the day.
12. Unless, therefore, these prognostications are falsified by a change of the German heart, which the action of other powers alone can induce, we must begin to take early account of the possibility that a rearmed Germany = and Germany intends without any doubt to rearm.. — will, within the next decade, be in a position to attack either France and the United Kingdom together, or, if we find means to escape from our obligations under the Locarno treaty.. France alone. . On either hypothesis, and on the form of 1914, Germany would win; a fortiori on the form of 1933, when we certainly, and France probably, are weaker. The evilly reborn Germany, on the other hand, will be stronger in a decade, if the present regime lasts. There is already in Germany a wider war-spirit, and a more complete lack of effective opposition, than in 1914.,
13 .. I would suggest, therefore, that in the general interest Germany should be kept underweight. It will be expensive, and in some quarters unwelcome.. There are, however, cases in which skin is more important than pocket. We can ill afford to let Hitlerite Germany prosper. The Trades Union Congress is also of this opinion, though for different motives, seeing their recently announced boycott of German goods.. Ought we not to wish strongly enough to see Hitlerism fail, to be prepared at least to risk the consequences, which could hardly be more dangerous to European peace? German communism has never seemed a menace to any observer who knows the German character, and is not gulled by German propaganda as to the fictitious ‘dangers’ from which Hitlerism saved a Germany that required no saving. The collapse of Hitlerism should leave Germany too weak and disordered for external aggression. That is the essential point. We are now at a pass where ‘peace in our time’ (and even in Eastern Europe) must be the first consideration.
Vansittart goes on examining the ways by which the West could weaken Hitlerism. None of his suggestion were considered seriously. Britain did not prevent the British Banks from investing heavily in Germany. As to the boycott, there are cases in which the British Government exerted pressure on individuals not to voice the need for such a policy.
On December 22, 1933 a meeting was held in Paris between a French delegation headed by Paul-Boncour, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs and an English delegation headed by Simon, the British Secretary for Foreign Affairs. We quote from the British minutes :
M. Paul-Boncour enquired how Sir John Simon reconciled the statement that the information in possession of His Majesty’s Government confirmed the majority of the points contained in the French memorandum, with the further statement that he did not consider it possible to substantiate the charges that breaches of the treaty had been committed. The French memorandum itself furnished the proofs of the contention contained therein.
A discussion followed which demonstrated the weakness of the British case. The French were prepared to produce the most stringent proofs, and still Simon did not want to commit the British Government to a line of action that would imply exposing publicly Germany’s violations of the Peace Treaty.
It seems that Vansittart’s argument that Germany was not at risk of becoming Communist in the wake of an Hitlerite defeat, did not convince Simon. He wanted Germany to be treated nicely. He often asked the question: what is the alternative? He never answered his own question. He seemed to imply that there was no alternative except war. This in spite of the fact that all the reports pointed to the fact that being nice to Germany and ignoring her treaty violations was precisely the policy which was bound to end in war. Simon’s question makes sense only if rephrased as follows: If we want to prevent Germany from becoming communist, what other alternative do we have except humouring Hitler and being nice to him?
On January 31, 1934 Phipps sent a report to Simon from which we quote :
2. .. The fear of France for her security arose from the very knowledge that, sooner or later, Germany must recover her strength.
5. .. Here it may be said that nothing had so enhanced the prestige of Herr Hitler in Germany as the behaviour of the ex-Allies since he took office. All reasonable and cautious opinion in Germany foretold disaster, occupation of the Rhineland, sanctions, perhaps blockade, if Germany reverted to nationalism. The Nazi seized power, and nothing happened. Herr Hitler left the League and still nothing happened. On the contrary, the statesmen in Europe were represented here as having been galvanised into running after Germany. The fear that force may be used against Germany exists, but is rapidly disappearing, and the man, particularly the young man, in the street thanks Hitler for the removal of a distressing bogey. It is therefore not surprising if the Chancellor pursues methods which hitherto have brought him success.
6. To attain his aims, the first step is obviously to discard the remaining servitudes of the Peace Treaty which stand in his way, namely, the disarmament stipulations. His policy is simple and straightforward. If his neighbours allow him, he will become strong by the simplest and most direct methods. The mere fact that he is making himself unpopular abroad will not deter him, for, as he said in his speech.. of the 17th January, it is better to be respected and disliked than to be weak and liked. If he finds that he arouses no real opposition, the tempo of his advance will increase. On the other hand, if he is vigorously opposed, he is unlikely at this stage to risk a break, and his policy will probably be to gain time and to go forward as best he can, trying to divide his opponents, and even reverting to the derided methods of his predecessors...
7. Recent events have, however, given heart to the Nazis.. There is an ever-growing conviction that the day is not so far distant when Germany can at last emerge safely into the open. Hence the Chancellor’s foreign policy today may be summed up in the word ‘rearmament’. With the passing of every month the demand for ‘equality’, that is to say, rearmament, becomes more insistent and the German requirements more extensive. Nothing short of a vigorous and united policy on the part of his adversaries would impress the Chancellor or the German people. Although Germany appears now to be flouting the opinion of Europe over a variety of major questions, she is doing so because she believes she can now safely pursue this course. She is, I consider, still sufficiently conscious of her weakness and isolation to be brought to a halt by a united front abroad, though the time is not far distant when even a threat of force will prove ineffective.
Such warnings as those given by Ambassador Phipps and Brigadier Temperley had either to be proven unfounded or to be acted upon. Nobody in the British Government circles dared denying their accuracy. The messages called for emergency measures. In short they were telling: “There is still time, but not much, to avoid a catastrophe.” The reason why nothing was done before it became late cannot be, as sometimes claimed, lack of knowledge or even lack of conviction of the seriousness of the German challenge. The seriousness had been acknowledged even before Hitler came to power. Since then only people pretending to have been blind, could have ignored the writing on the wall in giant characters.
The mood in the British Government circles can be fairly deduced from the quotes of a document dated February 9, 1934, and titled “Memorandum on the Possibility of a French Demand for an Investigation into the State of German Rearmament under Article 213 of the Treaty of Versailles” :
The French Government have on more than one occasion alluded publicly, in connection with the disarmament discussions, to their right, under Article 213 of the Treaty of Versailles, to ask the League Council to institute an investigation into the state of German rearmament.
4. According to the opinion expressed by His Majesty’s Minister at Paris on the 5th February, the possibility of a French appeal to Article 213 is perhaps somewhat more remote at the present time.. There is always the danger, however, that circumstances may suddenly deteriorate in such a way as to call the French threat into operation, and the object of the present paper is, therefore, to consider the possible effect in present circumstances of an appeal in the connection indicated to Article 213 of the Treaty of Versailles.
Clearly, the perceived danger is not Germany’s rearmament but the possibility of a French call for its being investigated. One could have thought that, after the stern warnings from the most reliable sources as to the danger of rearmament of a Germany led by leaders bound on aggressive expansion, the British leaders would have eagerly urged France to call for investigations. Such was not the case. The danger was elsewhere. The document continues:
10. It must be here observed that a difference between Britain and France on such an issue would place us in a most unsatisfactory position. We should have been divided from France on a critical matter, on which it would be difficult for us to maintain that the French contention was unjustified. Further, unless we are extremely careful, we might be regarded as indifferent to German rearmament, which would certainly be rapidly continued and would already have included the alleged military training in the associations of 2 1/2 million men in defiance of the provisions of the treaty.
This last paragraph reveals the following:
w Britain’s main concern is not Germany’s rearmament but rather ‘the most unsatisfactory position’ she would be placed in, were she, as she would have liked, to oppose France’s expected request for an investigation of Germany’s rearmament.
w Britain regrets that it would be ‘difficult for us’ to maintain that French contentions are unjustified. Germany’s violations to the disarmament clauses of the Versailles Treaty were so blatant that Britain had been obliged previously to acknowledge to France that France’s contentions were factual.
w Britain is aware that Germany’s rearmament would ‘certainly be rapidly continued’.
w Britain, while displaying a lack of concern for Germany’s rearmament, found it necessary to be ‘extremely careful’ to avoid being accused of indifference towards Germany’s rearmament. This task indeed necessitate ‘extreme care’. It is not easy to prevent France from implementing measures restraining Germany’s rearmament, and avoid being accused of helping Germany to avoid such restraints. To eat a cake and still have it requires the greatest juggling skills.
In the full knowledge of Germany’s rearmament and its ensuing danger to the cause of peace, Britain, while there was still time to restrain Germany, preferred to scheme on how to prevent France from causing difficulties to Hitler’s Germany. Had the British leaders been convinced that Germany’s military machine would be directed against the West, they certainly would have acted differently. Only the belief, and for some the hope, that Germany would ‘look’ eastward could explain the British ‘indifference’ towards Germany’s rearmament. This is not just a logical deduction. We did quote British leaders affirming that Germany would move eastward and not westwards.
Germany had left the League and the Disarmament Conference. All information pointed to the fact that rearmament was Germany’s aim and that she would certainly continue rearming secretly or openly. Nevertheless, Britain went through the movements of negotiating with France disarmament programmes to be proposed to Germany. This was a façade which would justify a refusal for supporting measures against Germany’s rearmament ‘as long as there was hope’ for reaching a disarmament agreement with her. But there was no hope. Politically, it was useful for British leaders, unconcerned with Germany’s rearmament, to display such hope, though it was proven unjustified by an avalanche of reliable reports. An exchange of opinions, in February 18, 1934, between Barthou and Eden is to the point :
Barthou said.. If it were asked why the French Government resisted reduction in its armaments, the reply was because the United Kingdom memorandum offered them nothing in exchange. It contained nothing about sanctions, but merely a proposal for consultations. At what moment would this consultation take place? Only after the violation of the convention had occurred. And what action would be taken as a result of such consultation? On this point the memorandum said nothing. The declaration of the 11th December, 1932, [prior to Hitler’s assumption of power], contained a reference to security as well as to equality of rights. In spite of this, the United Kingdom had given the French nothing in the matter of security..
It was not unfair to remark in conclusion that, as regards naval armaments and air armaments, equality of rights had been put off for two years and that these were both spheres of special interest to the United Kingdom; whereas in the matter of land armaments His Majesty’s Government had said: Que messieurs les Francais desarment les premiers! [Let the French disarm first!].
On March 21, 1934 a memorandum was prepared by the Foreign Office for the Cabinet. It said :
5. Annex II to this memorandum shows that in both the aeronautical and military spheres German rearmament may soon become a menace to the balance of power in Europe. German civil aviation is now the first in Europe; Germany already has in effect a fleet of 600 military aeroplanes and facilities for its very rapid expansion. She can already immediately mobilise an army three times as great as that authorized by the Treaty, and a rapid expansion of her mobilisation facilities must be expected. In such circumstances the continuation of effective demilitarisation of the Rhineland becomes problematical.
The British Government had received previously a great number of reports of the same nature, detailing the extent of Germany’s rearmament. Each report, as time passed, described the German danger in more dramatic terms. The document continues:
6. His Majesty’s Government have long been disinclined to try to secure the literal enforcement of Part V of the Treaty. They were guided, especially after the withdrawal of the Central Commission, by the practical difficulty of securing such enforcement and by the set back to European reconciliation which such attempts would in their opinion have involved. They considered that the disarmament clauses had achieved their main object, i.e., the reduction of Germany to such a condition of military impotence as to render her incapable of waging an aggressive war against her neighbours within a measurable period of time. Indeed, until the beginning of 1932, it seemed legitimate to hope that the forces of the Left in Germany would be able to keep in check any attempt at serious rearmament.
Britain had no sympathy for ‘the forces of the Left’ in Germany in spite of the guarantee they offered of keeping Germany disarmed. The document continued:
7. For the last two years the illegal character and the extent of German rearmament have been overshadowed and obscured by the discussions at the Disarmament conference. In our desire to obtain ‘the general limitation of the armaments of all nations’ rendered possible by the terms imposed on Germany by Part V of the Treaty of Versailles, we have been inclined to ignore the manner in which Part V was being infringed. We had hoped to solve the problem raised by the illegal rearmament of Germany, before it became unbearable acute, by the negotiation of a Disarmament Convention, which would cancel Part V of the Treaty and legalise some measure of German rearmament.
The discussions for rearmament would not ‘overshadow’ the illegal character and the extend of German rearmament unless permitted to do so. The ‘inclination to ignore’ Germany’s infringements to Versailles’ Peace Treaty were not due to the hope of reaching a real disarmament of the European powers. Britain had been warned that disarmament based on ‘equality’ meant at first an appreciable rearmament of Germany. It was known that Germany would not respect a disarmament agreement. It was understood that the inculcation of a military spirit in Germany was aimed at preparing the country to war. The document went on:
14. That we have a real grievance against Germany is shown by the fact that now, even if we obtain a Convention for limiting Germany’s rearmament, it is generally recognised that vital British interests will require a certain rearmament on our part in order to defend them against the threat of Germany’s growing military and aeronautical strength.
There are a numerous communications and reports describing in detail the extent of Germany’s illegal rearmament. They are long and technical. They, however, all convey a sense of urgency as to the necessity of facing the situation ‘before it be too late’.