THE POLICY OF A FREE HAND. PART 2
(The Chamberlain Era up to Munich)
Centres Of Power In Foreign Affairs
Differences of political views have always existed between the members of the British Cabinet as well as among the many high officials of the Foreign Office. With the assumption of power by Hitler, these differences evolved into serious divergences. It soon became possible to distinguish definite political trends.
In his memoirs, Eden refers to the ‘elder’ members of the Cabinet as being pro-German, insensitive to Germany’s speedy rearmament and motivated by their hate of the Soviet Union. The elders were not a majority in the Cabinet, however, they managed to control the Cabinet through their prestige and influence.
The Foreign Office was dominated by the personality and experience of such members as Vansittart, Sargent, Strang, Collier and others. They were all acutely attuned to the German danger but differed on how to face it. It was usual for them to discuss their differences and, more often then not, they ended up agreeing on common recommendations.
These recommendations, even when supported by Eden, had little effect. Eden was weak and did not stand his grounds. Paradoxically, when the Foreign Office seemed to have lost the internal battle, and Halifax became Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the voice of the Foreign Office would, sporadically, become more effective. Halifax being close to the Prime Minister, influence on him could have important consequences on Cabinet decisions.
At the time, there were many centres of power in foreign affairs. By deciding the stand the Prime Minister would take in a House debate, by issuing instructions — not always respected — as to the policy the Prime Minister would have to follow at decisive meetings and by issuing public expressions of policy, the Cabinet, subject to approval by Parliament, was supposed to be supreme. It had the last word on policy determination. However, since the Cabinet often had to express itself in convoluted ways, the Foreign Office had room for manoeuvre. It was the body issuing instructions to the ambassadors on a day to day basis. As such, the Foreign Office was also a Centre of power.
By-passing the Cabinet and the Foreign Office and, as we shall see, implementing a personal policy, the Prime Minister himself, together with the people willing to play his game, represented a centre of power distinct from that of the Cabinet.
Faced with the question of ascertaining Britain’s foreign policies in the thirties, and particularly under Chamberlain’s premiership, the historian has to consider documents telling differing stories. What was the British foreign policy at the time? It all depended on which power centre had the upper hand, and this changed according to the state of the public opinion and the measure of its reflection on the mood of the House.
N. Henderson, the British ambassador in Germany, in agreement with Chamberlain, disregarded instructions from the Foreign Office which reflected Cabinet decisions . Germany was supposed to take Henderson’s statements at their face value, while at the same time, the German leaders knew that the professions of ‘goodwill’ by the British ambassador were never, in public, as strongly and openly expressed by the British leaders. Germany was aware of the ongoing struggle between the Foreign Office and the British Premier’s circle . In such conditions, Germany had her doubts concerning the Premier’s ability to always deliver what the ‘good will’ expressions promised.
The Foreign Office instructions, even when not obeyed, had therefore important effects on how Germany perceived the English mood. Similarly, important members of the British establishment would meet Hitler in Germany and assure him of their sympathy with Germany’s ambitions. Hitler, while conscious of the fact that such sympathies ran against the public opinion in Britain, would take note of the important fact that very influential British citizens were supporting his aggressive policy towards Eastern Europe.
British policy was made up of all these elements. The British establishment, the British conservative House, the Foreign Office, the Cabinet and the Premier shared certain common stands. They all hated the Soviet Union, though they were not all motivated by this hate to the same degree. They all wished to keep Britain out of involvement in Eastern Europe, but not all were prepared to give Hitler, a free hand in Eastern Europe. They were all reluctant to accept a situation in which Britain and Russia would be allies, but some would not hesitate to work for such an alliance if it was in Britain’s best interests. They differed over their estimates of the German danger to the West and, consequently, over the needs for military preparedness. They also differed concerning the measure of encouragement, or discouragement, to be expressed to Germany as to her ambitions in the East.
Foreign Office Versus Cabinet
The Secretary for Foreign Affairs heads the Foreign Office and is also a member of the Cabinet. Speaking of the differences between Cabinet and Foreign Office, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is here considered as a Cabinet member who, like any other Cabinet member, could be in tune or out of tune with the Foreign Office tendencies.
The Foreign Office was aware that a firm stand by Britain, implying her readiness to get involved to prevent aggression in Eastern as well as in Western Europe, would ensure peace over the continent. It would, of course have required that Britain collaborate with France in her efforts to prevent Germany’s rearmament, and encourage France to enforce the demilitarisation of the Rhineland. Alternatively, it would have required an effort at rearmament commensurate with the readiness to get involved in the preservation of peace in Central and Eastern Europe.
The Foreign Office also knew of the very Conservative nature of the House, and of the ‘elder’ members of the Cabinet. They knew how strong was their blind anti-communism. They knew that there was no chance that such a house and such a Cabinet would implement a policy of collective security which would restrain a Germany so virulently anti-communist.
The Foreign Office, in vain, sounded the alarm concerning Germany’s secret rearmament. When Germany’s rearmament became threatening they again sounded the alarm for better military preparation. While there was still time and capability to chastise an aggressive Germany, they urged serious warnings be given that Britain would not allow an attempt against the independence of either Austria or Czechoslovakia. When it became doubtful that Germany could be threatened, they resigned themselves to advocate a policy of ambiguity as to what would be Britain’s stand, with the knowledge that, at the time of decision, Britain would keep out of any serious involvement. On occasion they urged that a free hand be given to Germany in Eastern Europe against the Soviet Union but not in Central Europe where Britain had, they said, vital interests.
The ‘elder’ members of the Cabinet did not have to advocate a free hand to Germany. It was enough to steer Britain’s policy on a course that would make it credible that Britain had no other choice. Once Germany was deliberately allowed to cross with immunity the point of no return, the point at which she could not be stopped without war, British involvement would become more difficult. A free hand to Hitler could then be presented as being imposed by the circumstances. Even then it would not be described as a free hand but as a ‘realistic policy’ .
Preparations had been restricted by the Cabinet to the defence of the British Island, and were at a lower level than what was strictly necessary. In consequence, many of the advocates for collective security and for a strong stand against Germany would feel compelled to reject a British involvement in Central and Eastern Europe, for as long as it would take Britain to rearm. The role of diplomacy would then be that of ‘gaining time’ by using all the means that could delay either Germany’s aggression or Britain’s stand against it.
The Baldwin-Hitler Meeting That Never Was
In March 1936, Germany military reoccupied the Rhineland. The British leaders feared a strong French reaction which could result in the fall of the Nazi regime. Britain exerted strong pressure on France to prevent her from military action. The establishment position can be seen from a letter by Violet Markham to Thomas Jones dated March 22, 1936 :
I am simply in despair about the European situation. Germany was, of course (as always), utterly wrong in method though right in fact. But she has flung us into the arms of France in a deplorable way; you have seen how the French are exulting over the military guarantees into which England has now entered. Flandin triumphed all along the line in London; was there ever anything more grotesque than the suggestion of the international force to police a Ruhr zone? To me is an utter scandal that Italy, who is slaughtering Abyssinians at the moment, should sit in judgment on Germany for moving troops into her own country. Does this new agreement mean that if France gets embroiled with Germany we have to go and fight with Italy and Russia? But because of the Soviet Pact with France the whole Labour Party has swung over on to the French side and Russia is coming out on top in a most disgusting way
Violet Markham got the wrong impressions from the official communiqués. In fact Flandin failed totally to get Britain to stand up to her Locarno commitments (in spite of the official expression to the contrary). All he obtained was insignificant military consultations between the British and French staffs as a face saving measure. Britain, of course, protested against Germany’s military reoccupation of the Rhineland. It also sent an aggressive questionnaire asking Hitler if he was willing to commit himself to definite policies.
Violet Markham’s letter may help to understand how it came about that a German act of unilateral repudiation of the Treaty of Locarno, accompanied with a military operation violating the French security, should result in a decrease of French popularity and an increase of German popularity in British Conservative circles. In a letter dated April 4, 1936, Thomas Jones writes :
In two party meetings of back-benchers last week, the first, addressed by Austen and Winston, was on the whole pro-French; but two or three days later opinion had swung round to a majority of perhaps 5 to 4 for Germany. Part of the opposition to France is influenced by the fear of our being drawn in on the side of Russia.
In this atmosphere, the merits of the German side seemed convincing. Speaking of Ribbentrop, Thomas Jones says after meeting him on April 8, 1937 :
He talks English very well and I’m sure does not want war in the West
By implication, this meant that Ribbentrop might want war in the East. The situation, as seen by the British establishment, required an ‘understanding’ with Germany. In a letter dated May 3, 1937, Thomas Jones wrote from Cliveden :
` I have written today to the P.M. urging him again.. not to put Germany publicly in the dock and ply her with questions as if she were a criminal. There will be no conciliation possible with that method. I wish Phipps were an ambassador of some weight and power.
Phipps’ was not blind to Germany’s danger and was constantly reporting on Germany’s aims and advanced state of rearmament. It was necessary, therefore, to denigrate him.
On May 16 T. Jones reports from Berlin on an interview with Ribbentrop :
R. began his talk which lasted till lunchtime, with brief interruptions, by saying that he had sent for me in order to talk without reserve and in a way he could not with Phipps at the Embassy. He wished me to pass on to Mr. Baldwin what he said.. He said he knew what my position was in London and if I could agree to go to and fro between him and Mr. Baldwin in confidence, my visit might be of the greatest importance — as important as Joseph Chamberlain’s. ‘I want Mr. Baldwin to meet Hitler.. I put off Halifax until I could see you, to try this method first.
Ribbentrop wants to by-pass Phipps and the Foreign Office and T. Jones is more than willing. He will suggest to Baldwin to get rid of Phipps. The idea of a Baldwin-Hitler visit seemed to be to his liking and he will recommend it to Baldwin.
Tom Jones met Hitler on May 17, 1936 and told him :
Shortly after Mr Baldwin returned victorious from the last election campaign to enter upon his third premiership he had told me that among the objects which he hoped to pursue were the following: to launch the young King, to get alongside Germany, and to hand over his party united and in good heart to his successor. The reference to Germany obviously pleased Hitler
Back from his visit to Hitler, Tom Jones was Baldwin’s guest at Chequers for a few days. Baldwin having asked him what to do, he answered :
2) If it is our policy to get alongside Germany, then the sooner Phipps is transferred elsewhere the better. He should be replaced by a man of D’Abernon or Willington type, unhampered by professional diplomatic tradition, able of course to speak German, and to enter with sympathetic interest into Hitler’s aspirations.
3) Hitler believes in you, and believes that only you in this country can bring about the reorientation of England, France and Germany which he desires. He wants to meet you to tell you this face to face. This secret visit should be arranged without too much delay, and a communiqué issued shortly after saying it had taken place. The visit of Halifax or appointment of successor to Phipps should follow at once, the points of the new ‘alliance’ worked out and its relations with the League or the reconstructed League
6) We should not be compromised into undertaking to protect Austria from falling into the lap of Germany. We do not mean to fight for Austria any more than for Abyssinia. We are not going to impose sanctions against Germany under any formula of collective security. Has this been made crystal clear to France?
Already in 1936, Halifax was considered the proper man for a further visit to Hitler. Alliances are made against prospective enemies. Who could be that enemy which threatens Germany, Britain and France? Tom Jones is more explicit in a letter dated May 23 written at Chequers where he is Baldwin’s guest :
We have to choose between Russia and Germany and choose soon, for if we do not do so, Germany and Italy will converge as, apart from Austria, they have no fundamental divergences. Hitler feels quite unequal to standing up alone to Russia and is disturbed by the way in which Russia and Czechoslovakia are concerting an air policy. He is therefore asking for an alliance with us to form a bulwark against the spread of Communism. Our P.M. is not indisposed to attempt this as a final effort before he resigns after the Coronation next year, to make way for Neville Chamberlain
The projected meeting between Baldwin and Hitler was the object of further discussions between Britain and Germany. The place of the meeting had to be chosen. It would be neither Britain nor Germany though, at one time, a flight by Hitler to Chequers was considered. The time had to be studied. Germany was asked if it could wait till August.
On June 2, 1936, the subject was resumed between T. Jones and Ribbentrop :
Lunch alone with von Ribbentrop at the Carlton. Reported what had transpired since my visit to Berlin with special reference to the proposed secret meeting of Hitler and S.B. Said S.B. has never flown and does not much like the sea. I assumed one could not expect Hitler to land in England any more than our P.M. in Germany. Von R. said he could arrange for Hitler to come quite close to our coast, two or three miles from Dover or Folkstone... He agreed that to postpone the meeting until S.B. went on his holidays to Aix was undesirable, and if the attempt to secure S.B. failed the sooner Halifax met the Fuhrer the better
Soon the British fears increased, and the Conservative balance moved still more towards Germany. In June 1936, general elections in France brought to power the French Popular Front. The French Prime Minister was Leon Blum, a socialist. The communists, while not participating in the government, where part of the Popular Front coalition. The preparations for the Baldwin-Hitler meeting went on. On June 8, T. Jones wrote :
Saw Horace Wilson.. He had reported to S.B. my week-end adventures at Sandwich. S.B. replied that he had been thinking a lot at Wotton and Ford Manor and was in favour of meeting Hitler but was of the view that the meeting had better be quite open. This would be more in keeping with his own (S.B.) ‘character’. He had since seen Eden and it was agreed between them that Eden should also think hard over the week-end. S.B. is willing to go to Berlin, accompanied by Eden. I warned H.W. that the interviews must not get mixed up with the apparatus of the Foreign Office, as one of its objects was to escape it.
On June 16, Eden informed T. Jones that he strongly objected to the proposed meeting ‘and the matter was dropped’.
And so it was that, after Germany’s remilitarisation of the Rhineland, and while protesting strongly against it and sending a stern questionnaire to Germany, Britain, behind France’s back, was negotiating with her the possibility of an alliance against Russia which would follow a visit between Baldwin and Hitler or between Halifax and Hitler.
The scheme did not go through. Eden foiled it. The idea was resuscitated a year later. Halifax still was to be a main player but in more adverse conditions. The crisis over the remilitarisation of the Rhineland was over. Germany felt immune from a French retaliation and the balance of military preparedness had shifted. Germany, which still could be defeated, was already a military power to be reckoned with.
A year earlier Britain could think of an alliance with Germany. The fear of the Popular Front in France motivated the Conservative circles toward it. Now, in 1937, the situation had changed. Blum was no longer in power in France were the left threat seemed to be receding. The Spanish civil war was dividing the British public opinion and the barbaric destruction of Guernica by German bombers revolted British friends and enemies of Germany. An alliance was out of the question, though hatred of the Soviet Union remained a strong bond between the British and German Leaders.
Halifax had less cards to play with. He had to reckon with the German feeling that Britain was preventing her from realising her aspirations. In short, Britain was not giving her an unqualified free hand in Eastern Europe.
Chamberlain And The Foreign Office
Since 1931, and without interruption, Neville Chamberlain had been a Cabinet member. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1931 to 1937 he bore an essential responsibility for budget allocations for the armed forces. To state in 1937 that, in view of the military weakness of Britain, the country could not take the strong stand, which should otherwise have been her policy, was a recognition of failure.
A failure which condemned the Foreign Policy of a country to impotency would, in most circumstances, cause the fall of the responsible government. Nevertheless, this was never considered. The House did not express any condemnation.
After all, there was a group of Conservative members in the House, Churchill among them, who had, along with the Foreign Office, foretold the predicament in which the country would fall as a result both of its tolerant policy toward Germany, and the lack of military preparations. This group could have brought forward an alternative to the Chamberlain Cabinet. However, that state of unpreparedness which ‘forced’ Britain to ‘reluctantly’ abstain from involvement against aggression in the East, had been deliberately brought about by the Government, with the complicity of the House. It was based on the trust that Hitler ‘would look’ exclusively to the East.
Although this trust was expressed in reports and Cabinet meetings, it was never publicly alluded to by responsible officials. The people were told that Hitler wanted peace, that by redressing some of Versailles ‘mistakes’, by restoring Germany’s honour and treating her as an equal (equal in the right to rearm) Germany would become as peaceful as Britain. This was said in the knowledge that it was absolutely false.
The Cabinet, through the Foreign Office, was flooded with accurate reports, from most reliable sources, describing the aggressive mood of the German people, deliberately created by the Nazi. They also described the horror of the regime, and brought indisputable proof — and it was not disputed in private — that Germany would proceed to aggressively expand to the East. This was done at a time at which Germany was still militarily very weak. She could have easily been stopped, without any British involvement. All Britain had to do was to abstain from discouraging France, or even Poland . Neville Chamberlain, more than anyone else in the Cabinet, was aware of the German danger. Nevertheless, more than anyone else he used his influence to prevent a rearmament policy geared at stopping Germany. This, in spite of the obvious fact that the price to pay for stopping Hitler would increase very fast with time, until it would be out of reach.
Even before he became Prime Minister, Chamberlain played an important role in Foreign Affairs. We saw the strong interest he took in problems related to the Far-East and how his proposal to Simon, and later their joint proposal, were based on concerns as to the political situation in Europe.
His influence on the Cabinet was great. He was consulted by Hoare and, for instance, reviewed, before delivery, the speech the latter made at Geneva in support of the League. He felt strong enough to intrude on Eden’s domain and made the notorious speech of the ‘midsummer madness’ urging the discontinuance of League sanctions against Italy.
A new era of foreign policy, therefore, did not start with his appointment as Prime Minister. It was indeed the continuation of an old era, but with a different style in which Chamberlain’s imprint was quite noticeable.
He quickly got rid of Vansittart by promoting him to a post from which the latter could exercise less influence on foreign affairs. Chamberlain bragged that, in this, he succeeded in three days doing what Baldwin could not accomplish in years. He put Eden in an impossible situation with respect to his relations with the Italian ambassador and forced him to resign. In his memoirs, Eden advanced other reasons for his resignation. The fact is that, in a very short time, Chamberlain removed the two people most critical of his policies.
A new British ambassador, Sir Neville Henderson had been appointed by Eden to Berlin. He proved to be a staunch supporter of Chamberlain’s foreign policies and, as such, was much appreciated by Chamberlain.
Before taking office in Berlin, Henderson met Chamberlain who was Prime Minister designate and was to become Prime Minister two months later. Henderson expresses thus the identity of their views :
..Mr. Chamberlain outlined to me his views on general policy toward Germany; and I think I may honestly say that to the last and bitter end I followed the general line which he set me, all the more easily and faithfully since it corresponded so closely with my private conception of the service which I could best render in Germany to my own country. I remember making but one reservation to Mr. Chamberlain, namely, that, while doing my utmost to work as sympathetically as possible with the Nazis, it was essential that British rearmament should be relentlessly pursued..
We detailed in Chapter I a report in which Henderson exposed his political thoughts. There can be little doubt that he conveyed them to Chamberlain and got his approval. In particular, he told Chamberlain of his intention to commit an indiscretion in the first days of taking office. We quote :
Inasmuch as any public attempt to co-operate with the nazi government would constitute somewhat of an innovation, I remember also asking Mr. Chamberlain whether, as Prime Minister, he would object to my being.. slightly indiscreet on first arrival in Berlin. His reply was to the effect that a calculated indiscretion was sometimes a very useful form of diplomacy..
Consequently, on June 1, 1937, while delivering a speech in Berlin to the Anglo-German Association, he said :
In England.. far too many people have an entirely erroneous conception of what the National-Socialist regime really stands for. Otherwise they would lay less stress on Nazi dictatorship and much more emphasis on the great social experiment which is being tried out in this country. Not only would they criticize less, but they might learn some useful lessons.
The British government, through its ambassador, let Germany know that, contrary to public opinion — “far too many people” — it does not so much mind the nazi dictatorship as it appreciates the ‘great social experiment’ from which it is willing to learn lessons.
Chamberlain came to power slightly more than a year after Germany’s remilitarisation of the Rhineland. At the time, under British pressure and for reasons of her own, France let slip the last opportunity to easily inflict a moral and military defeat on Germany. It was the fear that Hitlerism would not recover from such a defeat that motivated the British pressure on France (see in chapter 1 Baldwin’s statement at a Cabinet meeting).
Saving Hitlerism, and immensely increasing Hitler’s prestige, had consequences that were not welcome to everyone. One of them was that Germany, as soon as Hitler would have built adequate fortifications in the Rhineland, would be in a position to expand in the East with impunity. Her strategical and military position would be notably improved, and the door would open to further her military strengthening through expansion in the East.
There was still time ‘but not too much’ was the opinion of many of those British politicians who were worried by the situation. Others were happy, they trusted that Germany would ‘look’ exclusively to the East.
Discovering Germany’s Ultimate Aims
During the last months of Baldwin’s premiership, and the first months of Chamberlain’s, much effort was dedicated to the problem of ascertaining what were the real and final aims of Germany. These speculations arose out of repeated and ambiguous declarations by German leaders that Britain was the one country which, on every occasion, stood in the way of Germany’s realisation of her aspirations. It was felt, in the Cabinet and at the Foreign Office, that such declarations had to be clarified. In particular, what were these German aspirations which, according to the German leaders, were opposed by Britain? Could it not be that there was a misunderstanding? Meetings were held and reports were written and it was decided that the question had to be answered by an authoritative member of the German Government.
Perusing these documents leaves the reader with a feeling of unreality. What could a declaration of aims, orally made at a meeting between political leaders, reveal more than the precise information already in the hands of the British government ? All sources were agreed that Germany wanted from Britain a free hand in the East. Here, for instance, is what Henderson wrote to Eden on July 5, 1937 :
..The aim of German policy is.. to induce Great-Britain to dissociate herself, not from France, but from the French system of alliances in Central and Eastern Europe. It is equally to detach France from that system or, alternatively, her Eastern allies from France. Nor do the Germans make any secret of their efforts and desires in this direction.. The colonial question is, in my opinion, in fact secondary for the moment, and will not become primary, except as a mean of pressure, until the first objective of ‘a free hand in the East’ is attained or unless there seems to be no prospect of attaining it.
..There is no doubt whatsoever that Germany would sign to-morrow almost any agreement or undertaking between the three Powers which would be limited to the West. And she would probably abide by it. Her reservations are in respect of Central and Eastern Europe where she feels that her future lies by means of the realization of aspirations which are in her opinion vital to her well-being, legitimate, and not in conflict with any direct British interest.
Britain, repeatedly, gave Germany assurances that she would not stand in the way of her aspirations in Central and Eastern Europe, provided that their realisation resulted from peaceful evolution, and not from the use of force. However, it was evident that the realisation of Germany’s ambition could not result from a peaceful evolution. That much had been affirmed at a meeting in February 1937 of the Committee of Imperial Defence, the conclusions of which had been approved by the Cabinet. Literally, hundreds of quotes could be given reporting clearly and credibly on Germany’s aims in Eastern Europe. They pointed out the obvious, that these aims could not be reached without violence.
The options were known, and limited in number. Either Germany was to be given a free hand in Eastern and Central Europe as a price for an ‘understanding’, or there would be no understanding with Germany. The last eventuality raised the spectrum of war between the West and Germany.
The situation was not new. All the pre-Chamberlain policies pointed to the fact that it had been decided to avoid war, and therefore to accept Hitler’s expansion in the East. The implementation of such a policy was, however, difficult. In particular, there were two obstacles in the way of that policy: public opinion in Britain, and the French quest for security which led to her commitments in the East. In this respect, it is interesting to quote from a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Foreign Policy held on May 11, 1937 :
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER [Chamberlain] thought that it would be a great mistake to discuss the colonial question on a purely hypothetical basis. He thought that we ought to take the line of declining to say whether we would, or would not, in certain circumstances contemplate concessions in this field. ..it would be much wiser not to attempt at the present stage to be too definite. We ought to endeavour to find out exactly how far Germany was prepared to meet our political desiderata.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR [Lord Hailsham] agreed, but did not think that Germany had any intention of making a settlement of a kind which we could contemplate.
Thus was described, in a general and obscure way, the tendency for a deal with Germany: colonies to Germany versus Britain’s ‘political desiderata’. Britain’s desiderata obviously consisted in what Germany would undertake NOT TO DO. It was the delineation of what Britain and Germany would tolerate from each other without becoming enemies.
The British leaders wanted to know the precise measure in which Germany, in the pursuit of her well known ambitions, was ready to comply with Britain’s request that Germany constrain herself with methods acceptable to the British public. Only then could Britain be certain to avoid involvement.
The bargain offered to Germany, i.e. a free hand in Central and Eastern Europe on the condition of ‘good behaviour’, would not be attractive to Germany for long. It would soon be too late for this. With the remilitarisation of the Rhineland, Germany could now rearm with immunity. The day was close when she would be stronger than the combined Western countries. In the meantime, Central and Eastern Europe lay, so to say, in Germany’s palm without any possible protection from the West. The only deterrent against Germany could be the fear of losing a world war. With time, this fear was diminishing since Germany’s rearmament was increasing at a faster rate than that of Britain and France.
In a report by the Chief of Staff Subcommittee of the C.I.D. dated November 12, 1937, we read :
We therefore conclude that, even if assured the cooperation of Italy, Germany would hesitate to embark, early in 1938, on hostilities against us.
..French mobilization in 1938 would enable her to put approximately the same number of divisions as Germany in the field, whereas, by 1939, this will no longer be the case. France must also consider that her fixed land defences are now relatively as strong as they are ever likely to be, and looking ahead she may foresee the danger of military encirclement by three dictator Powers
..If internal difficulties should force her [Germany’s] leaders to consider war as the only alternative to loss of prestige, they might decide to gamble upon the effect of air attack. The scale of her attack in 1938 would be lower than that of which she may be capable in 1939, but, on the other hand, she may become aware of our deficiencies in modern bomber aircraft and the backward state of our air defence measures and the industry weakness of France.
The British Chief of Staffs thought that Germany’s chances at war would be greater in 1939 than in 1938. Only the fear of a loss of prestige could make them ‘gamble’ on the possibilities of the effects of air attacks. These conclusions did not take into account the enormous military advantages that would accrue to Germany as a result of the annexation of Austria and the occupation of the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia. The neutralisation of Czechoslovakia as a military power would, alone, constitute an important factor in the improvement of Germany’s strategic position and military power. It would reinforce the Chiefs of Staff’s argument that 1939 would be a better year for Germany to unleash war.
All incoming reports from Germany indicated that she believed that time worked for her . This belief was shared by the British military authorities. Just waiting without resolving any problem was not therefore ‘gaining time’ but losing time. It was the Germans who were gaining time by diplomatic inaction.
The diplomatic records of the time (1937) show that, unlike the case in 1936, Germany manifested little interest, if any, at reaching an ‘understanding’ with Britain. A visit by Von Neurath to London, in response to a British invitation, was delayed by Germany a number of times until it was cancelled. When Halifax was invited to a hunting exhibition in Germany, it was Britain that started all the motions to obtain Hitler’s consent to meet him. Germany was not enthusiastic .
Since Central and Eastern Europe could not be defended by the Western Powers, Germany would soon have a free hand in these regions, whether it was given to her or not. What then could Britain offer Germany and what could be Germany’s contribution to the quid pro quo? The solution was to offer Germany colonies and a free hand NOW, even before she would become overwhelmingly powerful, in return for her commitment to exert her free hand in Central and Eastern Europe with restraint.
Giving colonies to Germany meant taking them away from some countries. Britain wanted to avoid any contribution. She devised many plans whereby the contributors would be Portugal, Belgium and France .
Lothian visited Hitler on May 3, 1937. Britain warned Germany not to attach too much importance to what unofficial British visitors could say. The warning specified that this did not apply to Lothian who ‘was in a different category’ . The implication was that Lothian was more than just a private British citizen. In fact Lothian, who was distrusted by the Foreign Office, had excellent relations with Chamberlain whom he met before going to Germany and with whom he discussed his upcoming visit. In particular, Chamberlain asked him to try to find out the present status of Schacht in Germany (Schacht was the one German official that was most insistent on the importance of colonies for Germany).
A British summary of the discussion between Hitler and Lothian mentions that Hitler complained of the British reluctance to have Germany recover her colonies. We read from the summary :
Lord Lothian in his reply stated that so far as colonies were concerned, the problem was admittedly a very difficult one. After such a lapse of time, the restoration of the colonies would amount to a major surgical operation, the consequences of which, for the Empire, might be very serious indeed. There might, he thought, be some adjustment in West Africa, but he could not hold out any prospect of revision on a substantial scale. At the same time there was no reason why Germany should not extend her influence economically in Central and Eastern Europe . Surely the German Government could convince her Eastern neighbours that their nationality was not menaced by Germany. Nationality was the most potent thing in the world. Great Britain always recognized this, and the cohesion of the Empire was due to her recognition of the nationality of all the component parts of the Empire. Once Germany persuaded her neighbours that their national sovereignty was safe, they would not be afraid to enter into closer trade relations. In that way Germany would have at her disposal a trade area like that of the British Empire, and the raw material problem would cease to exist.
This seems innocent, but it was far from being so. Some essential components of the British Empire had to be militarily occupied to ensure obedience to the British policies. The parts which were relatively master of their destinies were those parts which had a very weak native population. There is no way of enforcing the membership of Central and Eastern Europe in a market dominated by Germany except by ensuring a German political domination over these countries. This political domination may have to be supported by military domination or the threat thereof. To make the matter clearer, Lothian immediately added:
There were only certain definite things for which the British Empire would have recourse to war. These were the defence of the Empire, the defence of the Low Countries or France against unprovoked aggression, the defence of British shipping. But the British people would not fight for the League or hazy ideas, or for Abyssinia or anything else that did not directly concern them.
Lothian knows that an offer of economic domination means nothing if Germany is not allowed to use force or, at least, to threaten the use of force. This is the reason why it was necessary to include in the argument a clear hint that the use of force would not lead to war with Britain.
Vansittart described Lothian as an amateur. Commenting on a suggestion to help Germany attain a position of economic domination in Central and Eastern Europe, Vansittart notes:
It means, to be quite precise, the conquest of Austria and Czechoslovakia & the reconquest of Danzig and Memel; followed by the reduction of the other states to the condition of satellites — military satellites — when required. This is a quite clear and comprehensible program, but it is quite incompatible with our interests. We fought the last war largely to prevent this..
If HMG fell in with all this, they wd be going dead against the democratic tide; and the effect on the USA wd be catastrophic. I doubt if we shd ever recover.
Vansittart thought that it would be easy to expose the weakness of Lothian’s arguments and spoke of the necessity of destroying Lothian ‘gently’. As a matter of fact it was Vansittart who was ‘gently’ destroyed.
In fact the deal offered by Lothian to Germany was unattractive. Hitler had realised that, by forcing France to react very mildly to the remilitarisation of the Rhineland, Britain had already virtually given Germany a free hand in Central and Eastern Europe. Britain had realised it too. So an understanding with Germany had to offer something more, colonies for instance.
In a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Foreign Policy on April 6, 1937, objections were raised as to the morality of letting natives be ruled by a Nazi regime. Chamberlain, on the contrary, thought it vital to give an indication that Britain was prepared to talk on colonies. He had no fear of mistreatment of the natives :
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER said that quite frankly he did not share the view that when Germany had possessed colonies she had maltreated and exploited the native population. He thought that in this matter German colonial administration had been unjustly maligned
The objections against letting the natives be ruled by Germany had nothing to do with the pre-war German record. It had everything to do with the way Nazi Germany was treating the Jews who, in Nazi views, were still superior to the blacks. Chamberlain would not stop at such details.
The British view was summarised by Halifax after his visit to Hitler :
It seems to boil down to whether or not we should feel it possible or desirable to explore a colonial settlement on broad lines (highlighted in the original), with the idea, if such seemed feasible, of using it as a lever upon which to pursue a policy of real reassurance in Europe: in other words, instead of trying to do a bargain on the line of getting him to drop colonies as a return for a free hand in Europe, to try for the more difficult but possible sounder bargain of a colonial settlement at the price of being a good European
Here Halifax appears to recognise that Britain’s previous policy was that of giving a free hand to Germany in Central and Eastern Europe so that she would drop her claims on colonies. Now offering a free hand to Germany would no longer be such an interesting prospect to Germany. She was about to be in a position to do what she wanted in those parts of Europe. The deal now, which was much more difficult, was to get Germany to be a good European. This, all the evidence shows, meant that Germany would not ‘look’ to the West and would restrict herself to ‘civilised’ methods in the realisation of her ambitions in Europe.
Britain was most interested in avoiding involvement in Central and Eastern Europe. As explained earlier, this could be attained if France’s commitments and the public opinion in Britain, could be neutralised. This was the aim of the British leaders and that of Chamberlain in particular. It, however could not be attained, except if Germany was proceeding in a way that would not be ‘shocking’.
Between peaceful evolution and naked aggression, there was a spectrum of other possibilities. A combination of British ingenuity, and German patience would allow, within this spectrum, to find the proper way to satisfy the leaders of both countries. Henderson, in a letter dated November 12, 1937, wrote :
The state of mind which the Nazi wish to produce in Austria is that a Nazi victory is inevitable in the long run and that those who support Dr. Schuschning are backing a losing horse. Germans feel that it is only a matter of time before their beaver-like activities cause Dr. Schuschning’s dam to crumble away
Henderson’s expression ‘beaver-like activity’ found favour in the eyes of Halifax and Chamberlain who adopted it and used it on occasion. Here was the solution which was thus expressed by Halifax at a Cabinet meeting discussing the results of Halifax’s meeting with Hitler :
Nevertheless he [Halifax] would expect a beaver-like persistence in pressing their aims in Central Europe but not in a form to give others cause — or probably occasion — to interfere
Chamberlain agreed :
..There would be nothing to prevent the Germans from continuing what Lord Halifax called their “beaver-like activities”, but he would regard that as less harmful than (say) a military invasion of Austria
It is a matter of form. An invasion is a brutal operation destined to realise its aims in one step. A persistent beaver-like activity may have the same final result. However, since it consists of many smaller steps there may be no ‘probable occasion’ to interfere. Even if the last of the many steps is brutal, public opinion would have already expected it and would therefore accept it.
We will come back to Halifax’s visit to Hitler. What matters here is the realisation that the quid pro quo with Hitler had not for object to bar him access to Central and Eastern Europe but to ensure that it be done in a way which was politically less harmful than a military invasion.
The Foreign Office At Cross Purpose With Chamberlain’s Policy
In this situation, an effort to ascertain from the German leaders what their aims were, and to have them affirm they had converted to the principle of peaceful evolution, made so little sense that the question was naturally raised as to the real purpose of such efforts.
Recent history had revealed that a more respectable Germany had, in 1914, considered a written pledge to be ‘a scrap of paper’. What value could then be attached to the spoken word of a leader of a much less respectable Germany? Besides, were the ‘final aims of Germany’ to be beyond her present reach, would the leaders reveal their cards when it could lead to preventive measures by the other side which would make their aims unobtainable?
On many occasions Hitler had said that he recognised the Locarno agreements as having been signed by Germany freely. As such, and unlike the case of the imposed Versailles Treaty, he considered those agreements as legitimate and binding. This did not prevent him, on a shallow pretext, to denounce the agreement and remilitarise the Rhineland. Furthermore, this step was expected by Britain and France .
It turned out that secret information from insiders in Germany, a knowledge of the nationalist and aggressive mood of the German leaders and the reading of ‘Mein Kampf’ were a greater help for accurately predicting Germany’s next steps than a pre-definition of these steps by the German leaders themselves. In fact, while wondering about German aims, the British leaders predicted exactly every step Hitler would take. They never considered the possibility that a given step would be the last. They knew, and they said it in meetings and reports, that Germany’s appetite was without bounds .
Major Timperley had said it well: “There is a mad dog on the loose”, and you do not argue with a mad dog. The problem was that this mad dog was considered to be the bulwark of Germany, and of Europe, against communism. Since the German appetite was so well known, the efforts at getting it defined by the German leaders themselves must have had a different reason than the one advertised.
Under the cover of an endeavour to delineate these aims with precision, it was possible to achieve two aims. On the one hand, a case could be built for a qualified acceptance of these aims. Whatever expansion Germany could achieve ‘peacefully’ would be agreeable to Britain. The public opinion could be neutralised. On the other hand, an ‘understanding’ could be reached with Germany as to the regions where such ‘peaceful’ efforts would be out of the question.
On May 6, 1937, a report written on April 30, 1937 by St. Clair Gainer, the British Consul in Munich, was sent to the British Government. The importance of the report is that it revealed what Hitler had said just two days before to an impeachable source with whom he did not have to conceal his inner thoughts. I quote :
..General von Reichenau.. dined with me yesterday at my house and.. after dinner I had a long discussion with him about current affairs.
General Reichenau said that two days ago when the Chancellor was at Munich he had the opportunity of hearing from his own lips particulars of his views and plans. The Chancellor told him that for the present he was content to do nothing. Time was on Germany’s side. France was on the verge of collapse.. and he was counting upon that collapse to smooth his path in Europe. This would pave the way to revisions of the peace treaties in the East and the rectification of Germany’s Eastern frontiers which Herr Hitler was determined to bring about by peaceful means, but if peaceful means should fail he would not hesitate to apply force. ‘It is one thing to rearm but another to use armaments.’ Germany had not only rearmed but was quite ready to use her armaments..
..He would at any time gladly make a regional Western pact but in no circumstances would that pact form part of ‘collective security’ arrangements embracing the East, nor would he allow any conditions as to disarmament to be introduced into the Western pact.
Vansittart minuted the following on the report:
Here we have again — for the nth time — most ample evidence of Germany’s intention to expand at the expense of her neighbours, by force if necessary. That is a policy of violence and robbery.. What separates us is really a fundamental difference of conception, of morality. And that is the real answer to all the weak stomachs who would like us to be immoral because they prefer to be blind.
Eden added to the Vansittart minute: “Most useful. Mr. Gainer should be thanked.”
The needed information was, ‘for the nth time’, in the hand of the British Leaders. And when Vansittart was speaking of ‘all the weak stomachs who would like us to be immoral’ he obviously had in mind those political leaders with whom he differed most and who were headed by Chamberlain.
The options that were available to Britain, and the choice she made were explained in Eden’s intervention at the first meeting of principal delegates to the Imperial Conference held on May 19, 1937 :
..In March, 1936, Germany denounced the Treaty of Locarno and reoccupied the Rhineland. This was a serious blow to France, and still more serious blow to Belgium. The position was an extremely critical one. There were many who urged that France should mobilize and call upon us to come to her help. Our relations with France at that time were by no means as close and cordial as they were now. There was considerable irritation in this country with France’s attitude over the Abyssinian question. France had been in the past the principal upholder of the Covenant, and had France and Belgium taken forcible action against Germany, it was very likely that a grave divergence of view between France and Belgium on the one hand, and ourselves on the other might have made close collaboration impossible for many years to come, and might well have jeopardized the peace of Europe .
In his memoirs, Eden recounts how much France’s endeavour at a mutual assistance treaty with the Soviet Union had, at the time, angered a number of British Cabinet members and made them more sympathetic to Germany. He does not say that, moreover, at a Cabinet meeting, Baldwin had stated that pressure must be exerted on France to let her understand that defeating Germany, over the problem of the Rhineland, would result in Germany becoming communist.
What is specially relevant here is the admission that Britain was aware that the remilitarisation of the Rhineland was ‘a serious blow to France, and a still more serious blow to Belgium’. Nonetheless, the remilitarisation of the Rhineland had been considered previously by the British Chiefs of Staff as not affecting the British vital interests.
This clearly meant that when Britain had to weigh the importance of serious blows to her two closest allies versus the possibility of Hitler’s fall, she was more concerned about the latter. On that scale should be measured the profession of interest in ‘peaceful’ evolution in Eastern Europe expressed later by Britain, while possessing the knowledge of Hitler’s aggressive intentions, and while stating in Cabinet meetings and documents the belief that no peaceful evolution in the East was at all possible .
In spite of the above, Britain continued with the efforts to “find out Germany’s final aims”. If Germany’s known aims were not final, they were already bad enough to exclude a ‘moral’ settlement. The knowledge of the ‘final aims’ was superflous. Only if Britain was prepared to negotiate on the base of these known German aims did it made sense to make sure that they were final or quasi-final.
An invitation extended to Von Neurath to visit London had been accepted and then postponed more than once by Germany. And then came the opportunity of conversations between Halifax and Hitler on the occasion of Halifax’s attendance at a Hunting Exhibition in Germany.
Halifax’s Visit To Hitler
Two records exist of the conversations that went on between Hitler and Halifax during the latter’s visit to Germany. One is a written account by Halifax which was discussed by the Cabinet on November 24, 1937
The minutes of the visit have been found by the Soviet Union in her zone of occupation in Germany. The authenticity of the document has not been challenged. The German document has been written by the interpreter Dr. Paul Schmidt and is more detailed than the version given by Halifax.
Schmidt’s version is reliable. It is reported that :
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs [Eden] who had read not only the Lord President’s report but also the notes of the German interpreter, expressed great satisfaction with the way the Lord President [Halifax] had dealt with each point in his conversation with the Chancellor.
Halifax himself had to rely on Schmidt’s notes. From the summary of the Cabinet discussion on November 24 we read :
..Herr Hitler himself, however, had suggested an advance towards disarmament by the possible abolition of bombing airplanes — he had overlooked this point in his own note, but it was included in the interpreter’s notes.
On December 7, 1937, Henderson wrote to Eden from Berlin :
I recently asked Dr. Schmidt, the very intelligent and excellent interpreter of the Hitler-Halifax conversation, what impression he thought that Hitler had got from the meeting
..In reply to what points they regarded as progress, Schmidt said that first of all Hitler had been pleased by Halifax’s recognition that Nazi Germany had in fact constituted a bulwark against communism
The British authorities did not object to Schmidt’s version which was given to them. Moreover that version is more in the nature of minutes while Halifax’s account is mixed with afterthoughts and what clearly appears to be some editing. In particular Schmidt’s reference to Halifax’s recognition of the German role as bulwark against communism comes out in a much more credible way in Schmidt’s document than in Halifax’s. In any case, since Schmidt’s document has been considered reliable in the British Cabinet meeting, and after Henderson’s testimony concerning Schmidt’s work as an interpreter, we may rely on his version.
At the very beginning of the conversation Halifax set the tone :
..The great services the Fuhrer had rendered in the rebuilding of Germany were fully and completely recognized, and if British public opinion was sometimes taking a critical attitude toward certain German problems, the reason might be in part that people in England were not fully informed of the motives and circumstances which underline certain German measures.
Halifax confirmed here Henderson’s ‘indiscretion’. He implied that he himself, unlike the British public opinion, understood the motives and circumstances which underlined the German measures that caused an outcry in all the world, and that he, Halifax, did not take a critical attitude. The trouble with British public opinion was that it remained ignorant of the facts.
Halifax mentioned the concern of the English Church and that of Labour Party circles who are critical of ‘certain things’ in Germany. He added however that the Government had a different attitude :
In spite of these difficulties he (Lord Halifax) and other members of the British Government were fully aware that the Fuhrer had not only achieved a great deal inside Germany herself, but that, by destroying Communism in his country, he had barred its road to Western Europe, and that Germany therefore could rightly be regarded as a bulwark of the West against Bolshevism.
Hitler did destroy communism in Germany. He destroyed it not in a military battle against a foreign invader, but by the use of brutal police force against large sections of the German population. As in the case of Mussolini, the British leaders did not mind dictatorship and brutal rule, as long as it was used to suppress communism. Such was not the view of the British public opinion. What Halifax was here saying to Hitler, he could not repeat in public in the House of Lords.
The quote illustrates a siege mentality and a paranoia pervasive among the establishment. Halifax sounds as if there were barbaric hordes threatening the West. He is grateful to Hitler for having destroyed the internal danger in Germany and for having made her a bulwark of the West protecting it from invasion by these hordes. Hitler is primarily considered the saviour of the West and not the racist and ambitious politician bent on subjecting Europe to Germany’s will of expansion. It is an Establishment view, not the British people’s view.
Halifax stated that, following an understanding between Britain and Germany, France and Italy would have to be included. In this way European peace would be secured. Somehow, like in the case of the four-power treaty , the Soviet Union was not needed for the maintenance of peace. This, in spite that the Soviet Union was already playing an important role in international affairs. She had concluded treaties with France and Czechoslovakia and was an active member of the League.
Hitler explained that a solution to the European problems can be achieved either by force or by resorting to higher reason. It is evident, he added, that in both cases the results have to be identical. In other words, he is asking Britain to let Germany have peacefully all that she could obtain in war by virtue of her superior military potential.
Halifax stressed the fact that Britain had been helpful and that Britons were realists. He reminded Hitler the number of times in which Britain’s attitude was sympathetic, including the case of the remilitarisation of the Rhineland.. Britain, he said, was ready to contemplate adjustments to new conditions and correction of former mistakes. He added :
England exerted her influence only in the direction of preventing these changes from occurring.. by the free play of forces, which in the long run, implies war. He must once more stress, in the name of the British Government, that no possibility of changing the existing situation must be precluded, but that the changes must take place only on the basis of a reasonable arrangement. If both sides are agreed that the world is not static, then they must seek, on the basis of common ideals, to live up to this recognition in a way as to direct the available energies in mutual confidence toward a common goal.
There is here a sign of Chamberlain’s personal diplomacy. Eden, the Foreign Secretary, was not in favour of informing Hitler that ‘no possibility of change of the existing situation must be precluded’. Halifax made the statement in the name of the British Government. Not having been authorised to do it by Eden, he might have received the authorisation from Chamberlain.
The scope of Germany’s ambition was well known to Halifax. Nevertheless nothing was to be precluded. Any change of the status-quo would have to be made at the expense of some other countries. If force is not to be used, how else can such countries be induced to yield to Germany? The British Cabinet would later answer the question, however, the example of Munich was to become a good illustration.
Hitler stressed that :
..he unfortunately had the impression that although the will was there to act in a reasonable way, there were big obstacles to reasonable solutions especially in democratic countries.. Necessary reasonable solutions were frustrated by the demagogic lines of the political parties.
..He believed that any proposal he made would at once be torpedoed and that any government that wanted to accept it would meet with big difficulties from the opposition.
This is the fundamental reason for which Hitler could not rely on a British grant to Germany of a free hand in Eastern Europe. The ‘demagogic lines’ of the political parties might force Britain to take a stand against Germany, notwithstanding the granting of the free hand.
Halifax was reassuring. After stressing that England would not change her form of Government ‘so soon’, he explained :
That England concluded the naval agreement with Germany, in spite of the fact that much in it was objectionable from the party standpoint, was proof that the British Government also acted independently of the parties. It was certainly not the slave of demagogic party manoeuvres.
Britain would try again and again to put Hitler’s mind at rest on this count, without success. Halifax then asked Hitler concerning the amendments to be made to the League’s Covenant which would result in Germany returning to the League. He suggested that a modified League could settle ‘the reasonable methods’ alluded to by Hitler. He added :
He therefore wanted to know the Fuhrer’s attitude toward the League of Nations, as well as toward disarmament. All other questions could be characterized as relating to changes in the European order, changes that sooner or later would probably take place. To these questions belonged Danzig, Austria and Czechoslovakia. England was only interested that any alterations should be effected by peaceful evolution, so as to avoid methods which might cause far-reaching disturbances..
Conversations were held between France and Britain over Halifax’s visit to Germany. The French party included Camille Chautemps, Prime Minister and Yvon Delbos Minister of Foreign Affairs. The British party included Chamberlain, Eden and Halifax. “Mr Chamberlain asked whether Delbos saw any way of preventing German expansion in Central Europe short of using force.” He added that British public opinion would not allow the country to be entangled in a war on account of Czechoslovakia In these talks Chamberlain explicitly rejected the possibility of giving Germany a free hand in Central or Eastern Europe. He was speaking to French representatives.
On the face of what occurred between Halifax and Hitler as well as at the subsequent Anglo-French conversation, the appearances do not support that a policy of a free hand was, at that stage, directing British decisions. The appearances may be deceiving. This is why we will consider a contemporary document which is relatively unimportant except that, in its case, the appearances could not deceive anyone.
In a letter, dated February 12, 1938, sent to Henderson, Eden gives him instructions as to what he should say to Hitler and to the German foreign minister. We quote :
As regards to the colonial question, you might say that you had found a real disposition to study the question carefully.. The question.. was full of difficulties.. public opinion in this country was extremely sensitive on the subject.. A solution.. might be found.. upon the idea of a new regime of colonial administration in a given area of Africa.. Treaties acceptable and applicable to all the Powers concerned on exactly equal terms. Each power, while solely concerned for the administration of its own territories, would be invited to subscribe to certain principles designed to promote the well being of all.. as well as stipulations for the welfare and progress of the natives.
In appearance, Eden reveals his concern for the welfare and progress of the natives. In reality the opposite is true. Eden knows perfectly well what are the racial theories of Nazism and how badly the black people fared at the bottom of Hitler’s list of races, as subhumans. He knew that, at the Berlin Olympics, Hitler had refused to shake hands with the U.S. black sportsman who won competitions. He knows that ‘welfare and progress’ are flexible terms subject to interpretation, that Germany cannot be trusted to respect her signature and that she will never accept that foreign organisations exert a control on the way she would implement her colonial obligation. Furthermore, her record on civil rights was so awful that there could be no doubt that she would exert no restraint with the native people.
Guaranteeing on paper the welfare and the progress of the natives is not proposed for their sake, but in consideration of the British public opinion which ‘was extremely sensitive on this subject’. This document, which specifically mentions the need to promote the welfare and progress of the natives, proves the hypocrisy of the Government which would not hesitate to deliver the natives to a very sore fate, provided a piece of paper could allow the British Government to claim innocence.
Documents which specifically reject the possibility of a free hand to be given to Germany in Central and Eastern Europe do not, therefore, prove that it was indeed the intended policy. Once more, it is the context that can show the real policies and motivations.
It is helpful, therefore, to put Halifax’s visit to Hitler in its time perspective.
w Twenty months earlier, in March 1936, Germany denounced the Locarno Agreement and sent troops into the Rhineland in violation of its status of demilitarised zone. At the time Britain exerted pressure on France to prevent her from restoring by force the demilitarised status of the Rhineland. Baldwin, in a Cabinet meeting, expressed the fear that such a French move could lead to the Bolshevisation of Germany.
It was clear to all political leaders in Europe that the British stand in this occasion indicated that Britain, not only would not intervene in the defence of Central and Eastern Europe, but would not mind much to see Germany expand in these directions. It is evident from Baldwin’s statement in the Cabinet that the continuance of the Hitler regime in Germany was more important to him, and to his Cabinet, then the fate of Central and Eastern Europe. It is obvious that, were Britain to have thought it desirable that France be in a position to protect the smaller nations, in Central and Eastern Europe, from a German aggression, Britain would have supported a French move to have the demilitarisation of the Rhineland respected.
w The Stressa meeting was supposed to face Germany with a front of countries determined to have Germany respect her international obligations. This front was destroyed by the subsequent Anglo-German Naval Agreement which blatantly violated the clauses of the Versailles Peace Treaty. It was clear that Britain was not much interested in a powerful front to restrain Hitler. However, having followed policies which helped the resurgence of German military force, Britain let the world know that, as long as she retained a naval superiority she did not care about Eastern Europe.
w Short of restoring the status quo ante, Britain and France informed Germany they expected from her a move in the direction of consolidation of the peace in Europe. This move, it was suggested, could be a new Western Pact to replace Locarno, the return of Germany to the League and some agreement on disarmament. The ball was in Hitler’s hands. Next move was expected to be his. Instead, Britain proceeded with arrangements for a Baldwin-Hitler meeting to discuss an alliance against Russia.
It was not made clear to Hitler that he was responsible for the present sense of insecurity in Europe. It was mutually recognised that the Press, in each country, should be requested to be less critical of the other country. It was also stressed that the Peace in Europe depended on a ‘settlement’ between Germany and England to which France and Italy would be later associated.
For a long time the stated policy of England was to favour the independence of Austria. Nonetheless, Halifax told Hitler that, as long as the Anschluss occurred by methods which did not disturb much the public opinion, England did not care for the fate of Austria (and that of Czechoslovakia).
w Nine months before Halifax’s visit, the CID (Committee of Imperial Defence) was convened. Parts of its conclusions were quoted in Chapter 1. It put itself on record that no accord was possible with Germany unless it was in a form that gives Germany a free hand in Central and Eastern Europe, regions in which Britain had, it was said, no vital interests. It was also mentioned that it would be impossible for Germany to achieve her ambitions in this region by peaceful means.
With regard to a possible clash between Germany and the Soviet Union, the CID thought it was very likely and Germany’s expected victory would not hurt British vital interests. The problem was not the German attack on the Soviet Union but the possibility of France’s involvement due to her obligations under the Franco-Soviet pact.
Nothing had occurred during the last nine months justifying a modification to the CID conclusions which were approved by the Cabinet.
In particular, the CID stated that Germany’s domination of Austria and Czechoslovakia would be the first steps in her expansion towards the East and towards a clash with the Soviet Union. Halifax let Hitler know that Britain was not against these first steps, provided that the methods used were not too disturbing.
w On July 20, 1937, only four months before Halifax’s visit to Hitler, Henderson, the British ambassador to Berlin, reported to Eden a conversation he had with Goering on Eden’s instruction. Goering told him that Germany “had to be militarily strong and now that she had abandoned all idea of expansion in the West.. she had to look Eastward. The Slavs were her natural enemies..” He then criticised the idea of peaceful evolution and reminded Henderson that, in the case of the Rhineland Germany had to act on her own. This would be the same with Czechoslovakia. Goering then added:
Two months ago he had himself felt that there was only one course open to Germany, namely to make herself so overwhelmingly strong that she would be certain of victory if she had all the world against her again. Now he was prepared once again to hope in the possibility of that Anglo-German understanding..
Goering had specified the terms of a possible ‘understanding’ with Germany
w Also on July 20, Henderson sent to Sargent a memo stating his views on Germany. In it he urges Britain to accept Germany’s dominance in Eastern and Central Europe and states that, in view of the superiority of the German civilisation over that of the Slavs, it would be unjust on the part of Britain to oppose German aggression against the Soviet Union. This document is the most blatant and brazen one advocating a free hand to Germany (we quoted largely from it in the first chapter).
w On November 12, 1937, one week before Halifax’s meeting with Hitler, a report by the Chiefs of Staff Subcommittee of the C.I.D. was circulated. We quote from it the following :
25. Conclusion. If, early in 1938, Germany was faced by a sudden emergency in which the possibility of going to war on her western frontier had seriously to be considered, her military position on land would be a factor tending to dissuade, whereas
her military position in the air and in relation to industry would be factors which might encourage her. Economically, however, she must seek a quick decision; and so long as she expects to meet the combined strength of France and Great Britain she must doubt whether her advantage in air power will be sufficient to promise a quick result. We therefore conclude that, even if assured of the co-operation of Italy, Germany would hesitate to embark, early in 1938, on hostilities against us.
At the time, British military authorities believed that, in a conflict against Germany, the military balance of power was still in favour of the West. The situation would become less favourable to the West after the annexation of Austria, with the correspondent increase in Germany’s population, and with the elimination of Czechoslovakia’s military power (and the correspondent improvement of Germany’s strategical position). Could such a deterioration of the West’s relative military power make no impact on Britain’s vital interests? Reservations as to the manner in which these changes would occur do not prevent the harm inherent in these changes. Besides, these reservations were known to be unrealistic since the changes Germany intended to make could not take place without resorting to force or threatening to resort to force.
w At about the same time, on February 13, 1937, Strang sent a note to Halifax to which he annexed Henderson’s report of July 20th. He adds his own comments. In particular he states:
It would be unwise to assume too confidently that any considerable territorial change in Central and Eastern Europe.. could in fact be effected without resort to force, that is to say without war or threat of war by the stronger Power..
General settlements usually only follow wars; peace settlements.. have limited objectives.. dictated by the changing balance of forces. Germany is likely to use the existence of her military strength.. as a diplomatic instrument for the attainment, by peace if possible, of those aims.. There is, in fact, no stated limit to those aims; and the principles upon which Germany’s foreign policy would be based have been set out with brutal clarity in ‘Mein Kampf’
A ‘naive’ politician, in possession of all these facts, would have come to the conclusion that every step should be taken to prevent Germany from unsettling the military balance of power. That was not what Halifax intended to do.
The Invasion And Annexation Of Austria
The Versailles Peace Treaty forbade the political unification of Germany and Austria. This had been done to reduce the manpower potential of Germany and, consequently, the number of divisions she could have on the field, were she to become, once more, rearmed and ready to go to war.
Though this had been the main reason for preventing the Anschluss, there were more reasons for preventing the unification of the two German nations. In particular, the Anschluss would allow Germany to obtain common frontiers with Italy, Yugoslavia and Hungary. In addition, by lengthening the Czechoslovakian boundary with Germany, it would make the defence of Czechoslovakia against a German aggression, that much more difficult. Moreover, Czechoslovakia did not fortify her frontier with Austria as much as the one she had with Germany. The Anschluss would therefore considerably increase Czechoslovakia’s vulnerability.
For these reasons, Britain proclaimed several times that she had an essential interest in the maintenance of Austria’s independence. Later she weakened her stand by saying that she would not approve a forced annexation of Austria by Germany against the will of the Austrians.
A new dimension was added to the Austrian problem after Hitler assumed power in January 1933. The Social-Democrat Party had a large following. In addition there was a notable Jewish population in Austria. Were Austria to be annexed by Germany, they would all suffer political or racial discrimination and oppression. There was no doubt that many of them would end in concentration camps or be summarily executed.
In 1918, when Germany was beaten and disarmed, when there was some hope that she would be ruled by a democratic Government, Britain considered it essential that Austria be independent. In 1937, when the Rhineland had been remilitarised by Germany, when her rearmament was proceeding at great speed and when she was ruled by an aggressive dictatorship, making no secret of her insatiable ambitions, Britain took the stand that Austria’s independence was none of her vital concern.
This was a ‘mistake’, said people who would have decided otherwise, but a mistake it was not. It was a policy that corresponded to a change of perspective. It corresponded to the perception that in a world where a Popular Front could win in Spain and in France (though not for long in that country) and where a country, the Soviet Union, could maintain a socialist regime where the factories could run without being privately owned, a Germany ‘looking to the East’ was not to be considered the greatest enemy, especially if it was possible to reach with her a reasonable ‘understanding’.
On June 1,1937, Von Papen, German ambassador to Austria, reported to Hitler on a meeting he had with Henderson the newly appointed British ambassador to Germany. Papen wrote :
..Sir Neville.. entirely agreed with the Fuhrer that the first and greatest danger to the existence of Europe was Bolshevism, and all other viewpoints had to be subordinated to this view
Henderson defended such views in reports he sent to the Foreign Office. He was not authorised to make such statements in public or to foreign diplomats. The Foreign Office often complained that Henderson was too loquacious and should learn to keep his opinions to himself.
In view, however, of the high regard Chamberlain had for him, and in view of the report by Conwell-Evans concerning Henderson’s receiving direct instructions from Chamberlain, it is likely that whatever in his behaviour was not in the good graces of the Foreign Office, was well appreciated by Chamberlain. The Prime Minister rated Henderson’s advice as more important than any other. It is true that Henderson was ‘the man on the spot’, but so had been Phipps and Rumbold whose advises were neglected.
Von Papen continued:
When.. I developed for the Ambassador the German-Austrian problem as we see it, he said he was convinced that England fully understood the historical need for solution of this question in the Reich-German sense.. When I told him further that the British Minister to Vienna took an entirely different stand.., he admitted that he was cognizant of these views of Sir Walford Selby. “But I am of an entirely different opinion and am convinced that my view will prevail in London, only you must not rush the solution of this problem. It is a problem that concerns France rather than us and in which we must have time in order to correct the French standpoint” “But please,” continued the British Ambassador, “do not betray to my Vienna colleague that I entertain this opinion”
The behaviour of the British Ambassador was deplorable. The degree of confidence he had that his view will prevail in London is remarkable. He must have had sufficient backing in the highest quarters for disregarding the position of the Foreign Office.
Henderson should not have revealed to a German source the differences between Britain and France. Papen was entitled to reach some conclusions from such an attitude. He could have taken it as an indication that the official position of Britain did not weigh too much with Henderson. That Britain chose to appoint a man who could disregard the official British position, and who sympathised with Germany’s aspirations could have well meant that Germany had nothing to fear in aggressive pursuit of her ambitions. This was reinforced by Henderson’s underlining the prime importance of subordinating all viewpoints to the fact that Bolshevism is the greatest danger in Europe.
On January 26,1938, Henderson reported on a conversation he had with Ribbentrop over lunch. He described the line which guided him :
Speaking generally, the line which I took throughout our conversation was the following: the biggest problem of the twentieth century was whether the British Empire and an unstatic Germany could live side by side without resorting to war. Personally I believed it, though difficult, to be possible in view of the geographical positions of the two countries. Yet though difficult, another war between us would, whatever its result, be absolutely disastrous — I could not imagine and would be unwilling to survive the defeat of the British Empire. At the same time I would view with dismay another defeat of Germany which would merely serve the purposes of inferior races.
The reference to the Geographical position of the two countries, Britain and an ‘unstatic’ Germany, sounds like giving a free hand to Germany to the East. Accepting the unstaticity of Germany and stating that geographical conditions make him believe in the possibility of living side by side without war, cannot have any other meaning.
Speaking of ‘inferior races’ in conjunction with dismay at the possibility of another German defeat, would mean literally, and superficially, that the German race is superior to the British and the French races. In reality it reflects Henderson’s racist belief in the superiority of the German and Anglo-Saxon races over the ‘inferior’ slave races. This derives from previous statements expressing a belief in the inferiority of the slave races and the fear that Europe will turn communist whoever would win a war between Germany and the West.
On December 1937, Eden told Ribbentrop in London of the conversations between France and Britain concerning the results of Halifax’s visit to Hitler. Ribbentrop reports :
He [Eden] had told the French that the question of Austria was of much greater interest to Italy than to England. Furthermore, people in England recognized that a closer connection between Germany and Austria would have to come about sometime. They wished, however, that a solution by force be avoided.
In June Henderson informed Papen that Austria was of interest to France rather than to Britain. Now Eden does better. He informs Ribbentrop that Austria is of “much greater interest” to Italy than to Britain and France.
This information is most important to Germany:
w With Henderson’s indiscretion in June, Germany had still to contend with France and, through her, possibly with England too. Now Germany was informed that she had to contend with Italy much more than with any other country. Eden passed this information though it was public knowledge that Italy’s interest in Austria was, at the time, practically of no effect, specially in view of her excellent relations with Germany
w To crown it all, Eden expressed his pious wish that force be avoided. This was not said as a warning. It was the weakest possible expression against the use of force by Germany.
The last act of the Austrian drama started to unfold on February 12, 1938, with the Austrian Chancellor’s visit to Hitler. On February 19th 1938 Chamberlain wrote in his diary :
..Schuschnigg the Austrian Chancellor was suddenly summoned to Berchtesgaden, where he was outrageously bullied by Hitler and faced with a series of demands to which he was obliged to yield, since on this occasion Mussolini gave him no support
However, on March 2, 1938, Chamberlain, speaking to the House, described the meeting between Hitler and Schuschning in these terms :
..what happened was merely that two statesmen had agreed upon certain measures for the improvement of relations between their two countries.. It appears hardly likely to insist that just because two statesmen have agreed on certain domestic changes in one of the two countries — changes desirable in the interest of relations between them — that one country renounced its independence in favour of the other
Austria and Germany are here not named, likewise, neither Hitler nor Schushnigg. In this way Chamberlain can give the illusion of a situation in which two equals are negotiating according to rules respected by both. He speaks of ‘changes in one of the two countries’. This had less impact than when one knows that the country is small and happens to be threatened by a much more powerful one.. The facts would have been evident if he had named the countries. The matter is reduced to a problem of semantics. What if ‘x’ and ‘y’ want to improve their relations!
Halifax had said to Hitler that no change in Europe was precluded, provided it was brought about without recourse to disturbing methods. Now, by demoralising the small nations, by facing them with their isolation and helplessness, Chamberlain makes it that much easier for Nazi Germany to bring about changes ‘by peaceful means’. Implied threats could be understood as leaving to the small nations no other alternative but to surrender ‘peacefully’.
Chamberlain endorsed the point of view that the changes were desirable, while knowing so well, from so many sources, that they were outrageously imposed on Austria. There is no doubt that Chamberlain lied to the House.
On February 15, 1938, Cadogan, who was to replace Vansittart within a week, entered in his diary:
Was summoned early to F.O. as there was a flap about Austria. Personally, I almost wish Germany would swallow Austria and get it over. She is probably going to do so anyhow — anyhow we can’t stop her. What is all this fuss about
On February 22, two days after Eden’s resignation as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and while Austria ‘bullied’ by Germany was struggling for her independence, Chamberlain stated at the House of Commons :
..If I am right, as I am confident I am, in saying that the League as constituted to-day is unable to provide collective security for anybody, then I say we must not try to delude small weak nations, into thinking that they will be protected by the League against aggression and acting accordingly, when we know that nothing of the kind can be expected
Chamberlain, while denying to the small and weak nations the hope of being protected by the League of Nations, did not offer them an alternative protection. The message was clear. To the small nations, Chamberlain was saying that they better not resist Germany’s demands. To Germany, Chamberlain was saying that she was safe, not only from Britain but from all the world, in the realisation of her ambitions. These messages would have been more significant had they really corresponded to the mood of the public opinion. In this respect Chamberlain would face his main difficulties .
On February 25, 1938, Butler, a friend of Chamberlain and the new Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Foreign Office had a conversation with a German official at the Embassy who wrote a memorandum about it saying :
2, He was furthermore at pains to state repeatedly that he hoped for a close and trusting cooperation with Germany. He would certainly do all he could to promote this goal.
Butler mentioned the existence of two groups in the Foreign office. There was, a new group free of French influence and a pro-French group about which he says:
3, ..But this group in the Foreign Office had never really made much headway, and the first real break in the French line had come with Sir Neville Henderson. It had been perfectly plain, however, to all intelligent observers that there would have to be a showdown between these two groups after Baldwin left, and the first indication of this had been the sidetracking of Sir Robert Vansittart.
Judging by the information volunteered by Butler, it would be hard to believe that France was actually Britain’s main ally, and Germany the prospective enemy.
On March 3, 1938, Henderson met Hitler in the presence of Ribbentrop. The minutes of the conversation were conveyed to Henderson by Ribbentrop. We quote from it :
..the British Ambassador stressed the confidential nature of the conversation. No information would be given the French, much less the Belgians, Portuguese, or Italians, concerning the subject of the discussion
..Without underestimating the difficulties to be overcome, the British Government did, however, believe that the present moment was propitious for such an attempt to improve mutual relations.
Britain contemplated pressuring Belgium, France and Portugal into giving colonies to Germany. It was essential that these three countries should remain in the dark until the completion of the deal. As to Italy, she may feel that, if so much is being made in favour of Germany, something should also be done for her.
That the ‘present moment was propitious’ sounds cynical. The present moment was that of the recent application of strong pressures on Austria, pressures incompatible with her independence.
The document goes on:
Lord Halifax had already admitted that changes in Europe could be considered quite possible, provided they were made in accordance with the above-mentioned higher reasons. The aim of the British proposal was to collaborate in such a settlement based on reason.
Britain, now, offers the collaboration to such a settlement based on reason. Reason, obviously dictates that since it is useless to count on the League, or on anything else, small nations should submit. Such higher reason was later displayed and demonstrated at Munich, a few months later.
The document continues saying that the British Ambassador started reading instructions from his government which he later presented in writing. These stated
In our view appeasement would be dependent, amongst other things, on the measures taken to inspire confidence in Austria and Czechoslovakia. His Majesty’s Government at present cannot estimate the effect of the recent arrangement between Germany and Austria which must depend upon the manner in which the several understandings or arrangements made are implemented by the two parties to them. They are therefore at present doubtful as to the effects which these arrangements are likely to have on the situation in Central Europe and cannot conceal from themselves that recent events have aroused apprehension in many quarters which must inevitably render more difficult the negotiation of a general settlement .
Appeasement obviously meant appeasement of Germany. Britain was careful not to condemn, or even mildly protest, the recent bullying of Austria. Britain just noted the apprehension in ‘many quarters’. The trouble is not that Germany’s behaviour is reprehensible. The problem is that it will render more difficult the negotiation of a general settlement. It is an old refrain: go slowly, do not make waves, and everything will turn out as you want.
Hitler arrogantly answered that:
Germany would not tolerate any interference by third powers in the settlement of her relations with kindred countries or with countries having large German elements in their population.. In this attempt at a settlement Germany would have to declare most seriously that she was not willing to be influenced in any way by other parties in this settlement. It was impossible that freedom of nations and democratic rights should always be described as elements of the European order, but the very opposite be maintained when it came to improving the lot of the Germans in Austria.. and if England continued to resist German attempts to achieve a just and reasonable settlement, then the time would come when one would have to fight
..whoever proceeded by force against reason and justice would invite violence
Britain is here put on notice not to meddle in what is not her business. Hitler, responding to Henderson about a plebiscite in Austria, said that Germany demands to secure the legitimate interests of the Germans in Austria, and an end of oppression, by evolutionary means.
That Hitler should say he was against oppression and for evolutionary means should have made Henderson smile. The document goes on:
The British Ambassador pointed out that the present British Government had considerable understanding of realities. Chamberlain had himself assumed the leadership of the people, instead of being lead by them. He had shown great courage by ruthlessly exposing international slogans, such as collective security and the like. In history it was often most difficult to find two men who not only wanted the same thing, but also intended to carry it out at the same time. Therefore England was declaring her willingness to eliminate the difficulties and inquired of Germany whether she on her part was also prepared to do so
Never previously had a British Ambassador answered with such servility to an arrogant chief of state threatening his country with war. Hitler then warned Henderson that:
..he must emphasize very strongly that once Germans were fired upon in Austria or Czechoslovakia, the German Reich would intervene.. If internal explosions occurred in Austria or in Czechoslovakia, Germany would not remain neutral, but would act with lightning speed
This give the measure in which Hitler believed in peaceful evolution. Incidents in which Germans are shot at are easily created. Hitler added that the British Minister in Vienna complained against the pressure Germany ‘allegedly’ exerted upon Austria. The document goes on:
The British Ambassador pointed out that these statements by the ministers did not represent the opinion of the British Government and declared that he, Sir Neville Henderson, has himself often advocated the Anschluss
If the British Ambassador supports the Anschluss, and if the British Minister in Vienna is wrong when he protests against Germany’s pressure, the likelihood is indeed great that Britain would not cause too much trouble should Germany annex Austria.
Dr. Erich Kordt wrote a memorandum on a conversation he had with Sir Horace Wilson on March 10, 1938 from which we quote part of what Wilson said :
The Prime Minister was being accused by circles associated with Eden and with leftist organizations as well as by the League of Nations Union of betraying democracy and of seeking an understanding with Fascism. He was even accused of seeking to introduce a dictatorial system into England. The Prime Minister would prevail over such attacks and persist in his policy of bringing about an understanding with Germany and Italy.. Some time ago the Fuhrer — in a conversation with Lord Lothian, he believed — had compared England and Germany to two pillars upon which the European social order could rest. This comparison had particularly pleased the Prime Minister. If this ideal was constantly kept in mind and one went at things in a generous spirit, it would be possible to overcome the lesser difficulties. After all, it was only a question of erecting an arch of cooperation upon these two pillars. Naturally, one would have to proceed carefully; and so long as the goal was kept firmly in mind, it need not always be mentioned
Imperial Britain and Nazi Germany are the two pillars of social order in Europe. This theme will be repeated by Chamberlain in a letter to his King in which he will say that Britain and Germany are the two pillars against communism. The two countries are expected to be the protectors of Europe. With such a view, it must be possible to accommodate Germany’s ambitions. It must be noted that Wilson was aware that his opinions were not popular in Britain, thus the need to ‘proceed carefully’, and the advice ‘it need not always be mentioned.’ Not to mention a goal obviously does not preclude its existence. The document goes on:
We were expressly not being asked to give up our concern for Germany outside our borders. When we proceeded to the solution of questions of this kind, however, it would be well not “to upset other peoples” too much.. He hoped very much that we would succeed as much as possible vis-a-vis Czechoslovakia and Austria without the use of force. The perquisite for this was, of course, that the other side also played “fair.” When I interrupted to say that the plebiscite of the Austrian Government did not seem to me to be “fair,” Sir Horace replied that in his opinion, too, this plan created difficulties
Britain is not very demanding. ‘It would be well’ is much weaker than ‘it is essential’ or ‘Britain would not tolerate it otherwise’. Similarly ‘as much as possible’ indicates that there are acceptable cases in which matters just turned out to be impossible. The need to avoid the use of violence is conditioned to “fairness” by the other party. A plebiscite would not be fair and would therefore justify the use of violence.
With Britain so eager to build “an arch” on the two pillars of Germany and Britain, Hitler could have trusted reports telling him that Britain would not move if he annexed Austria.
The news of the last act of the Austrian tragedy reached Chamberlain and Halifax just after a luncheon they were having with Ribbentrop. Ribbentrop reported what occurred between them :
After today’s luncheon with Prime Minister Chamberlain, he at first spoke to me in private, and very emphatically requested that I inform the Fuhrer of his most sincere wish for an understanding with Germany
When I was about to leave, several telegrams were transmitted to Chamberlain through Halifax.. The first one stated that Glaise-Horstnau had demanded that the Federal Chancellor postpone the plebiscite and hold it under different conditions at a later date. The second telegram stated that Schuschning had called off the plebiscite, provided “that there was a guarantee that the Nazi would remain quiet”. Thereupon Seyss-Inquart, by order of the Fuhrer, had called on Schuschnigg and presented an ultimatum with a one hour time-limit demanding that Schuschnigg resign and that the Minister of the Interior succeed him.
Chamberlain and Halifax reacted differently to the news. Halifax said that the threat of force was intolerable. He wanted to discuss the possibility of postponing the plebiscite. Chamberlain interrupted him to say that this was not required since the second telegram mentioned only a cancellation. Obviously, Chamberlain did not want to advance a proposal contradicting a German stand. The Ribbentrop document goes on:
Lord Halifax said he considered exceedingly serious that Schuschning had been threatened with invasion. I replied that the telegrams which were read here did not say that at all. Chamberlain immediately admitted this. However, Lord Halifax expressed the opinion that the exertion of pressure implied such a threat. Chamberlain again stated that personally he understood the situation. British public opinion, however, would hardly accept a settlement of the question under pressure or in effect by force.. The form of our leave-taking was entirely amiable, and even Halifax was calm again
On March 14, 1938, Chamberlain made a long statement in the House of Commons describing the events which ended in the annexation of Austria by Germany. He underlined the fact that the annexation was the result of the use of violence by Germany.
Under-Secretary Butler stated in the House that Britain made strong representations to Germany including a request for the withdrawal of the German troops. The German Foreign Office was not aware of such representations. Kirckpatrick, of the British Embassy in Berlin, was convoked at the German Foreign Office to discuss the matter. He recognised the fact that the Embassy records do not show that such representation had been made to Berlin. Britain had indeed protested but not at all in the form mentioned by Butler in the Parliament . Apparently, there was an effort to conceal from the public, and therefore from the House, the weakness of the British protest.
On April 2, 1938 in a conversation with Henderson, Ribbentrop mentioned that Chamberlain stated in the House of Commons that the present moment did not appear favourable for negotiations with Germany. We quote Ribbentrop’s report, on April 18, 1938, on Henderson’s reply to him :
Sir Neville Henderson replied that it was, of course, necessary to reckon with public opinion and democracy in England
It seems that, were it not for the public opinion, Chamberlain would have been ready to negotiate immediately with Germany.
Woermann , in the presence of the German Embassy Counsellor Kordt, had a long conversation with British Under Secretary Butler concerning German-British relations. He reported to the German Foreign Ministry :
Mr Butler said that he knew from close association with Chamberlain and Lord Halifax that both, now as in the past, held fast to the idea of a real understanding with Germany and that the events in Austria had not altered this in any way.
Once more, any public demonstration to the contrary is just a façade. The document goes on:
He made himself the spokesman, as it were, of the younger generation in England — that is, a spokesman, as he said, of the intelligent, not the intellectual class.
Butler, apparently, had this in common with the Nazis: he despised intellectuals. The document goes on:
In contrast with the actual intellectuals, among whom there was now as in the past a strong antipathy to the authoritarian states, the circle close to him fully understood that Germany had to pursue her national aims in her own way. The German and the British peoples were of the same blood — which in itself meant a bond of unity To the circle close to him it was inconceivable that Germany and England should meet again on the battlefield.
Butler then tried discreetly to direct the conversation to Czechoslovakia but immediately inserted the remark himself that we probably could not yet speak frankly about certain subjects. But immediately thereafter he said that England was aware that Germany would attain “her next goal”. The manner in which this was done was, however, decisive for the reaction in England.
Butler and Woermann were speaking together like two accomplices. Butler said he knew that Germany will attain her next goal concerning Czechoslovakia. He therefore acknowledges in April, before the trouble with Czechoslovakia became very serious, that England would not stand in Germany’s way.
Britain’s only request was that Germany should use methods which take into account British public reaction. The fact that he knew that Germany cannot speak frankly about it reveals his deep knowledge of Germany’s strategy. It consist of advancing a claim while affirming that it is the last. After attaining the aim, Germany’s strategy is to remain quiet for some short time in order to digest the victory and prepare a new claim.
With this strategy, and at the time of Butler’s conversation, it was a little too early ‘to speak frankly’. Germany could mention the need of better treatment for the Sudeten in Czechoslovakia. The time for claiming the annexation of the Sudeten region would come in a couple of months. Butler understood Germany’s attitude. He recognised as natural the lack of frankness as part of German diplomacy. The document goes on:
Mr, Butler, who, incidentally, knows Germany and speaks some German too, has always expressed his views on Germany frankly, even before he was appointed to his post by Chamberlain and Lord Halifax. His appointment as Parliamentary Under Secretary in the Foreign Office may therefore be regarded as a certain indication of the plans of the British Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary.
Butler had been appointed Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs before the Austrian events. His conversation proves how little the events affected his political viewpoint. It may be an indication that, similarly, Chamberlain and Halifax, were just waiting for the possibility of resuming negotiations with Germany, whenever the public opinion would have calmed down.