Concern about Soviet foreign policy was logically linked to concern
about Soviet strength.25 As seen above, an evaluation of Soviet strength
and intentions had been put off in 1931. It was not until October 1933
that the COS decided to prepare a joint report on the state of Soviet
armaments,26 and it was January 1934 when they finally delivered it.27
The chiefs were impressed by both the industrial effort put into the Soviet
armed forces and its results, but added that they lacked the information
â€˜to assess either the technical proficiency or the fighting value of this new
materialâ€™.28 At the Foreign Office this also reinforced views about the new
Soviet foreign policy. Soviet Russia was â€˜adequately equipped to sustain a
war on one front but not on two. Hence their anxiety to safeguard their
western frontier, in the event of a war against Japan, by concluding pacts
of non-aggression with all the border states in eastern Europe.â€™29
Throughout January, there were further reports about Soviet foreign
policy. From Berlin, Phipps reported that Constantin von Neurath, the
German foreign minister, had dismissed Soviet fears of Germany as â€˜a
bad attack of nervesâ€™.30 Reports of worsening Russo-German relations
also emanated from Geneva, where Eden reported Italian distress at this
occurrence.31 This gave Collier a certain amount of grim amusement.
And also to attempts to overcome German reluctance and re-vitalize the disarmament
talks; see the correspondence between Vansittart and Hankey, 29 Dec 1933â€“3 Jan
1934, and Vansittart and Montgomery-Massingberd, 28 Dec 1933â€“8 Jan 1934, all
Minutes, 114th meeting COS, 14 Oct 1933, Cab 53/4; Hodsoll to Hankey, 24 Oct
1933, Cab 21/404.
Chilston to FO, disp 7, 2 Jan 1934, FO 371/18322/N157/157/38; â€˜Russian Prepar-
ations for Warâ€™, CID 1127-B, COS, 17 Jan 1934, Cab 4/22.
E.g. â€˜The [Soviet] Armament Industry (including aircraft)â€™, ICF 313, 12 Sept 1933,
and â€˜Industrial Mobilisationâ€™, secret, D. Morton (IIC), 17 Nov 1933, both Cab 21/395;
â€˜Air Ministry Note on Russian Preparations for Warâ€™, ns, nd [c. mid-Oct 1933], Air 9/
58; â€˜Memorandum on Industrial Mobilisation in the USSR. Prepared at the Request of
the Chiefs of Staff Sub-Committeeâ€™, E. F. Crowe, 14 Dec 1933, Cab 48/4.
FO 371/18301/N489/4/38, Shoneâ€™s minute (25 Jan).
Phipps to FO, tel 7, 8 Jan 1934, FO 371/18315/N176/53/38, minutes, Howe and
Collier (9 Jan).
Patteson (consul, Geneva) to FO, tel 4 LN, 15 Jan 1934, FO 371/18315/N309/53/38,
minutes, Howe and Collier (16 Jan).
1933â€“1934: parallel interests? 97
He noted that â€˜the Italians have â€śrun with the hare and hunted with the
houndsâ€ť for so long that they are appalled at the prospect of having
to choose between the Germans and the Russians â€“ the revisionists and
the anti-revisionistsâ€™. The Italians were also concerned by talk of a
Franco-Soviet rapprochement, arguing that this could trigger German
fears of encirclement and some â€˜desperate actâ€™ by Berlin. They enquired
as to the British attitude.32 Collier saw no reason why the British should,
as the Italians seemed to imply by their enquiry, â€˜pull their [the Italiansâ€™]
chestnuts out of the fireâ€™ by making any effort to influence the course of
events. Vansittart dismissed the Italian concerns as merely part of their
attempt to keep a foot in â€˜not two camps but threeâ€™. It was clear that the
rumblings from Moscow had major implications for European politics.
All of this also was germane to the continued discussions in the
DRC on 30 January. Here, Vansittart, in light of the Germanâ€“Polish
agreement of 26 January, again aired his opinions about Germanyâ€™s
sinister intentions.33 He reiterated that Germany posed the major threat
to Britain, and added that â€˜it was notorious that the Germans were not
actuated by reason in their foreign relationsâ€™. As for the Japanese, he
doubted that they wanted to create bad relations with Britain, since the
former â€˜expected a show down with Russia before very long and they
were always afraid that, in that event, America would turn on themâ€™.
Fisher took this opportunity to interject that the present was a good time
to attempt to establish better relations with Japan, but Hankey headed
this off by bringing the meeting to a close.34
A first draft of the DRCâ€™s findings was ready on 19 February, and a
revised first draft was considered a week later.35 The final version was
not issued until 28 February.36 It is essential to consider the construction
of both the draft and the final report. First, Fisher wrote to Hankey
complaining strongly that the views of the permanent secretary to the
Treasury regarding the United States â€“ â€˜the worst of our defence deficiencies
is our entanglement with the USAâ€™ â€“ had been omitted.37 Subservience to
Drummond to Sargent, 13 Jan 1934, FO 371/18298/N478/2/38, minutes: Collier (nd,
but 26 Jan) and Vansittart (27 Jan).
For the Germanâ€“Polish agreement, see Gerhard L. Weinberg, The Foreign Policy of
Hitlerâ€™s Germany (2 vols.; Chicago and London, 1970â€“80), I, 57â€“73.
Minutes, 9th meeting DRC, 30 Jan 1934, Cab 16/109.
Minutes, 11th and 12th meetings DRC, 19 and 26 Feb 1934, Cab 16/109.
â€˜Committee of Imperial Defence. Defence Requirements Sub-Committee Reportâ€™,
DRC 14, Hankey, Chatfield, Ellington, Fisher, Montgomery-Massingberd and Vansit-
tart, 28 Feb 1934, Cab 16/109.
Fisher to Hankey, 17 Feb 1934, Cab 21/434; see â€˜Note by Sir Warren Fisher as an
addendum to the Defence Requirements Committee Reportâ€™, DRC 19, 17 Feb 1934,
Cab 16/109, for a fuller explanation.
98 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
the United States, Fisher argued, had prevented Britain from following
the logical policy of improving Anglo-Japanese relations (and, not inci-
dentally, being able to reduce naval spending). Hankey managed to
soothe Fisherâ€™s ruffled feelings by promising that there would be other
opportunities to raise the American question in future.38 Vansittart was
unhappy about a proposed last-second change by the chief of the Air
Staff, wherein the latter stated that he could not provide sufficient
aircraft for both home defence against Germany and an expeditionary
force to the continent. Vansittart felt that this threw everything â€˜into the
melting potâ€™ â€“ a clear indication of the emphasis that the PUS put on the
German menace.39 Only Chatfield, whose service interests were nearly
completely satisfied by the DRC Report, wrote to congratulate Hankey
for his efforts.40
The DRCâ€™s final report was a clear victory for Hankey and the service
chiefs, and not for Vansittart and Fisher, as is sometimes thought.41 This
latter, mistaken view comes from hindsight and Hankeyâ€™s clever drafting.
Vansittart and Fisherâ€™s obsession with the German menace was catered
to by adding the phrase that Germany was Britainâ€™s â€˜ultimate potential
enemyâ€™;42 Fisherâ€™s dislike of American influence, especially as it seem-
ingly blocked a rapprochement with Japan, was covered by a simple
mention of the difficulties caused by the United States and a commit-
ment to searching for an â€˜ultimate policy of accommodation and friend-
ship with Japanâ€™. This wording allowed the insertion of Vansittartâ€™s
remark that Japan would become hostile to Britain only if Britain were
involved elsewhere: â€˜And elsewhere meant Europe, and danger to us in
Europe will only come from Germany.â€™
However, the DRC was not meant primarily to deal with long-range
planning and speculation, but with the immediate reality of defence
deficiencies. Here, little had changed. The priorities of the Annual
Hankey to Fisher, 17 and 20 Feb 1934, and Fisherâ€™s reply Cab 21/434.
Norton (for Vansittart) to Hankey, 1 Mar 1934, Vansittart to Hankey, 6 Mar 1934, and
reply, 6 Mar 1934, all Cab 21/434.
Chatfield to Hankey, 28 Feb 1934, Cab 21/434.
D. C. Watt, â€˜Sir Warren Fisher and British Rearmament Against Germanyâ€™, in D. C.
Watt, Personalities and Policies. Studies in the Formulation of British Foreign Policy in the
Twentieth Century (South Bend, IN, 1965), 100â€“6. This argument is reiterated by G. C.
Peden, â€˜Sir Warren Fisher and British Rearmament Against Germanyâ€™, EHR, 94
(1979), esp. 32â€“3; Wark, Ultimate Enemy, 28â€“32; Charles Morrisey and R. A. Ramsay,
â€˜â€śGiving a Lead in the Right Directionâ€ť: Sir Robert Vansittart and the Defence
Requirements Sub-Committeeâ€™, D&S, 6, 1 (1995), 39â€“60; and B. J. C. McKercher,
Transition of Power. Britainâ€™s Loss of Global Pre-eminence to the United States 1930â€“1945
(Cambridge, 1999), 179. Neilson, â€˜Defence Requirements Committeeâ€™, rebuts.
The remainder of this paragraph and the following one, except where indicated, are
based on sources in n. 36.
1933â€“1934: parallel interests? 99
Review of 1933, now called â€˜contingenciesâ€™, remained the guiding prin-
ciples. The Far East was placed first and Germany second. The third
item, the defence of India, was subsumed in the second, since â€˜if the
deficiencies are made good to meet the German menace, the require-
ments for the defence of India can be metâ€™. Thus vanished one of the
long-standing issues of imperial defence, although it was raised sporad-
ically until the end of the decade.43 Despite this, one of Britainâ€™s princi-
pal concerns still remained Soviet Russia. This resulted from the fact
that Moscow potentially had a major impact on the policies of both
Tokyo and Berlin. Thus, to contain the Japanese and German threats,
Britain had to consider both Sovietâ€“Japanese and Germanâ€“Soviet rela-
tions. Anglo-Soviet relations could never be determined in isolation, but
rather as part of British policy generally.
Much thinking about this occurred at the Foreign Office. By January,
the studies on policy in the Far East that Vansittart had commissioned
earlier were ready.44 Orde asserted that British interests in the Far East
required a prosperous, but not strong China. He believed that Soviet
Russia â€˜is the power with which Japan is most likely to enter into armed
conflict and against which she must protect herselfâ€™, whereas Japan had
less to gain in a quarrel with either Britain or the United States. Besides,
â€˜the Russian strategic position north and east of Manchukuo will greatly
hamper her [ Japan] in undertaking warlike adventures against other
Great Powersâ€™. He recommended that increasing British strength in
the Far East was the best means of ensuring Britainâ€™s interests and that
to attempt to come to terms with Japan would encourage its aggressive
behaviour in China and worsen Anglo-American and Anglo-Chinese
Pratt echoed these assessments. He argued that there was â€˜bitter
enmityâ€™ between Moscow and Tokyo over such matters as the Chinese
Eastern Railway (CER).45 With â€˜a hostile Russia on her flankâ€™ and the
likelihood that in any Russo-Japanese struggle the United States would
â€˜back Soviet Russia by any means short of actually taking the fieldâ€™,
Japan was unlikely to attack British interests in the Far East. William
Connor Green, who had been posted successively to Tokyo and Peking
R. A. Johnson, â€˜â€śRussians at the Gates of Indiaâ€ť? Planning the Defence of India,
1885â€“1900â€™, JMilH, 67, 3 (2003), 697â€“744; Milan Hauner, â€˜The Soviet Threat to
Afghanistan and India 1938â€“1940â€™, MAS, 15, 2 (1982), 287â€“309.
â€˜The Situation in the Far East (Memoranda) 1933â€“34â€™, 16 Jan 1934, FO 371/18160/
F295/295/61; circulated to the DRC after 24 Feb 1934 as DRC 20, Cab 16/109, and to
the Cabinet as CP 77(34). Authors identified in the text.
Bruce A. Elleman, â€˜The Soviet Unionâ€™s Secret Diplomacy Concerning the Chinese
Eastern Railway, 1924â€“1925â€™, JAS, 53, 2 (1994), 459â€“86.
100 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
in the 1920s, argued that logic dictated that, since Japan and Soviet
Russia each â€˜had their hands fullâ€™, war between them â€˜ought therefore to
be unthinkableâ€™. However, logic did not necessarily enter into the matter,
as both Japanâ€™s sense of destiny and Soviet amour propre were involved.
Broadly, he felt that Japanâ€™s ambitions in the Far East would be satisfied
by the acquisition of Manchuria and that Soviet Russia could do little to
thwart this, something reflected by Soviet Russiaâ€™s making an offer in
June 1933 to sell the CER to Japan. Given this, he suggested that Britain
might do well not to prevent Tokyoâ€™s acquiring Manchuria, as that
acquisition might turn Japan into a satiated state and hence no longer
a threat to Soviet Russia.
By the beginning of February, the Far Eastern Department had also
decided whether a Russo-Japanese war was likely and what was the best
result for Britain of such a conflict.46 That department believed that a
Russo-Japanese war was not imminent. Only in the future, when Japanâ€™s
rearmament programme was finished, was an advance likely, although
the incompatibility of Japanese and communist â€˜imperialismsâ€™ meant
that there would be constant tension between the two. The benefit of
this â€˜mutual fearâ€™ was â€˜rather better behaviour in the international
sphereâ€™ from both states. As to war, the Far Eastern Department exam-
ined two possible outcomes: a decisive Japanese victory and a decisive
Soviet victory. The former was preferable. A Japanese victory would
result in Tokyoâ€™s â€˜aggressive powerâ€™ being reduced while it digested the
Soviet possessions in the Far East. Japan would have insufficient
strength to conquer China, and â€˜would not constitute a direct danger
to British interestsâ€™. A Soviet victory was viewed as disastrous. Defeated
Japan would suffer social upheaval, â€˜a desperate anarchic communismâ€™
would likely follow and â€˜Japan would sink for some considerable time to
the position of a third-class Power.â€™ The ensuing vacuum would be filled
by a triumphant Soviet Russia, which would be â€˜a serious menace to
British interests throughout Asiaâ€™.
Collier criticized this analysis. He contended that neither possibility
was likely. Collier argued that the best that Soviet Russia could manage
in a war with Japan was a â€˜successful defensiveâ€™ and that, therefore, any
war would likely be initiated by Japan.47 For Collier, that made Japan the
threat. Notwithstanding the efforts of the Comintern, â€˜the Soviet Gov-
ernment have made it clear that they wish no change in the existing
This paragraph is based on â€˜Memorandum on Russo-Japanese Tensionâ€™, A. W. G.
Randall (FED), 9 Feb 1934, FO 371/18176/F823/316/23, and minutes.
Compare the War Office views in â€˜A Review of the Far Eastern Situationâ€™, Lt-Col E. G.
Miles, GSO(1), MI 2(c), 31 Dec 1933, WO 106/5396.
1933â€“1934: parallel interests? 101
frontiersâ€™. Since Japan aimed at dominating China, Collier felt that
Britain should co-operate with Soviet Russia. As he concluded:
No one . . . could accuse me of any undue fondness for the Soviet Government as
such; but I feel that we must take the facts as we find them, and that, since we live
among a number of Powers, few of whom really wish us well but some of whom
have the same interests as ourselves, we should, whenever possible, encourage
the latter to join with us in defending the status quo against those whose interests
(in their own view) demand its overthrow.
This was a clear indication of Collierâ€™s position and his acceptance of the
new Soviet policy put forward by Litvinov.
Collierâ€™s analysis drew support from Ralph Wigram, who had just re-
placed Sargent as the head of the Central Department.48 Wigramâ€™s interest
in Russia was with regard to Europe. He pointed out that â€˜Russia â€“ during
the last 60 years at least â€“ has been one of the chief counterweights to
Germany in Europe.â€™ After 1918, â€˜common revisionist hopesâ€™ had seem-
ingly thrown Soviet Russia and Germany together, â€˜but already the
covetous eye which Germany turns on Russia, and French hopes to
use Russia against Germany . . . seem definitely to have checked this
tendencyâ€™. For these reasons, Soviet Russiaâ€™s role in Europe was the key
to the situation for Wigram. Thus, he rejected the Far Eastern Depart-
mentâ€™s contention that a Soviet defeat would be preferable to a Japanese
one, and favoured Collierâ€™s anticipation of a draw: â€˜I cannot see that â€“ by
a crushing defeat or indeed any defeat in the East â€“ we can hope to see