worried that, if the British were to insist on the Eastern Pact as a sine qua
non for the air pact, this might lead the Germans to reject them both.
MacDonald warned that, while the Russians might believe that the
Eastern Pact was more important than Germanyâ€™s return to the League
or a disarmament agreement, â€˜we . . . must fight our own battlesâ€™.
Chamberlain took the same position, but Eden argued that the Eastern
Pact was â€˜the key to the whole question of a European arms agreementâ€™.
His, however, was the minority view, and it was agreed that any British
mission to Berlin should go without preconditions as to the Eastern Pact. 35
To allay Soviet fears, Simon told Maisky that the British unwillingness to
support the Eastern Pact did not represent any desire to encourage
German obstructiveness towards the agreement.36
At Simonâ€™s request, Vansittart took another tack.37 He recommended
that any trip to Berlin should be followed by a visit to Moscow to ease
Soviet concerns that a Western bloc was being formed against them.38
The PUS lobbied MacDonald to support this idea.39 By 22 February,
Vansittart was confident that the entire issue would be handled with
regard for all susceptibilities.40 However, when the matter was discussed
in Cabinet, on 25 February, Vansittartâ€™s solution was rejected. It was
agreed that Simon should go to Paris and then to Berlin, but the decision
as to whether to carry on to the Soviet capital, as the Soviets wished, was
At the Foreign Office, there was continued lobbying for the Moscow
trip, particularly in light of the German efforts to block it (although a
French suggestion that the British use the Moscow trip as a weapon to
blackmail the Germans into accepting the Anglo-French terms was
rejected).42 But this did not mean that there was agreement that, if an
Eastern Pact were blocked, a Franco-Soviet agreement should be signed.
For Sargent, any Franco-Soviet pact remained unacceptable; it would be
DC(M) 32, minutes 60th meeting, 19 Feb 1935, Cab 27/508.
Simon to Chilston, disp 98, 20 Feb 1935, FO 371/18827/C1429/55/18.
â€˜Relations with Soviet Russia. Note by Sir John Simon (Secretary of State for Foreign
Affairs) covering a memo by Sir Robert Vansittart (Permanent Under Secretary of State
for Foreign Affairsâ€™, CP 41(35), 22 Feb 1935, Cab 24/253.
Dutton, Simon, 196â€“7.
MacDonald diary entry, 20 Feb 1935, MacDonald Papers, PRO 30/69/1753/1.
Vansittart to Phipps, 22 Feb 1935, Phipps Papers, PHPP 2/17.
Minutes, Cab 11(35), 25 Feb 1935, Cab 23/81.
Phipps to FO, tel 74, 26 Feb 1935, FO 371/18827/C1557/55/18, minutes, Collier (nd,
but 27â€“28 Feb), Sargent (28 Feb) and Vansittart (28 Feb); Phipps to FO, tel 78, 27
Feb 1935, FO 371/18827/C1608/55/18.
130 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
the â€˜signal for an immediate re-grouping of the Powers under the pre-
war system of the balance of power, organised on the basis of exclusive
mutually antagonistic alliances. It would thus mean the final abandon-
ment of the collective peace system, and all that it stands for.â€™ Collier
disagreed. He argued that â€˜we are really already back in the days of the
â€śbalance of powerâ€ť and that it is hopeless to expect anything else in
dealing with such protagonists of â€śsacro egoismoâ€ť as Messrs. Hitler,
Mussolini, Pilsudski and Stalinâ€™.43 The disagreement that would char-
acterize the relationship between the two over the next several years was
manifest. But, until the Cabinet changed its mind, the trip to Moscow
was in limbo.
There was another aspect to British policy towards Soviet Russia, an
argument that Britain should base its foreign policy on friendship with
Japan.44 Sir Robert Clive, the British ambassador at Tokyo, contended
that Britainâ€™s interests could best be guaranteed by moving closer to
Tokyo and that this need not offend either the United States, China or
Soviet Russia. He also believed that Anglo-American co-operation in the
Far East was a chimera. As to possible Russo-American co-operation
against Japan, Clive was dismissive. Views in London were divided.
Orde was generally in agreement with Clive, but not with the ambas-
sadorâ€™s arguments concerning the United States. Craigie also wished for
an Anglo-Japanese rapprochement, but in the context of a tripartite ar-
rangement with the United States.45 Vansittartâ€™s minute of 2 March
highlighted the complexity of the situation:
We are all keenly concerned to keep on good terms with Japan. We have no
illusions whatever about her: she means to dominate the East as Germany means
to dominate Europe. We have to play for time, and to avoid clashes in our own
interests. After very careful examination we are united in finding that there is no
golden road in this policy. We have to feel our way carefully from day to day and
year to year.
Vansittart was intensely worried about the direction of policy and, par-
ticularly, about Simonâ€™s ability to carry it out. On 3 March, the PUS
took the highly unusual step of obtaining a private interview with Mac-
Donald and warning the prime minister that the Foreign Office lacked
Minutes, Sargent (28 Feb) and Collier (28 Feb) on Clerk to FO, tel 31, 26 Feb 1935,
The remainder of this paragraph, except where indicated, is based on Clive to FO, disp
8, 7 Jan 1935, FO 371/19359/F1090/483/23, minutes, Collier (nd, but c. 27 Feb),
Orde (28 Feb) and Vansittart (2 Mar); Clive to Wellesley, 16 Jan 1935, FO 371/19347/
â€˜Memorandumâ€™, Craigie, 14 Feb, covering Clive to FO, tel 43, 8 Feb 1935 FO 371/
A clash of sensibilities 131
confidence in Simon.46 Vansittart begged MacDonald to ensure that
Eden accompanied the foreign secretary on the latterâ€™s trip to Berlin in
order to ensure a proper defence of British interests. Clearly, at the
beginning of March 1935, British policy needed to proceed cautiously,
both in Europe and in the Far East.
That month was full of events. On 4 March the British published their
White Paper on defence, leading to Hitlerâ€™s diplomatic illness and the
delay of Simonâ€™s visit to Berlin.47 The Cabinetâ€™s response was firm. On 6
March, it was decided that Eden should accompany Simon to Berlin
when and if that visit took place and that the Privy Seal should continue
on from the German capital to Moscow.48 That same day, the Soviets
chided the British for, first, permitting German rearmament and then
allowing themselves to be bluffed into delaying their visit.49 â€˜Hitlerâ€™s
tantrumsâ€™, as Sargent described the German leaderâ€™s reaction to the
White Paper, were not to deflect the British from their visits.50 In the
meantime, the Foreign Office continued to discuss the nature of Franco-
Soviet relations and their impact on British policy. Clerk asserted that
the French were relying on Soviet resources and industrial power to
check German ambitions.51
But, from Moscow, Chilston held that Soviet Russiaâ€™s strength was less
than the French believed, and that, in any case, it was unlikely to be put at
their disposal. Collier argued simply that a Franco-Soviet combination
would â€˜check that [German expansion to the East] as nothing else couldâ€™.
Sargent did not accept this view. The assistant undersecretary was un-
happy with the way that Soviet policies seemed to be determining French
and, indirectly, British policy. He expressed â€˜surprise at the way the
French have let themselves be bluffed & dazed by Russian threats &
promisesâ€™. â€˜If Russia is allowedâ€™, he continued, â€˜to dictate to France â€“ &
ourselves â€“ the conditions on which we are to carry on the affairs of
western Europe â€“ for that is what it is rapidly coming to â€“ we may say
goodbye to any European settlement.â€™ â€˜We shall have all our time cut outâ€™,
he concluded, â€˜in pulling the chestnuts out of the fire for Mr. Litvinoff!â€™52
MacDonald diary entry, 3 Mar 1935, MacDonald Papers, PRO 30/69/1753/2.
MacDonald diary entry, 5 Mar 1935, MacDonald Papers, PRO 30/69/1753/2; Phipps
to FO, tels 88 and 92, 5 and 6 Mar 1935, FO 371/19928/C1774 and C1778/55/18.
Minutes, Cab 13(35), 6 Mar 1935, Cab 23/81.
Chilston to FO, tel 26, 6 Mar 1935, FO 371/18828/C1813/55/18.
Sargent to Phipps, 7 Mar 1935, Phipps Papers, PHPP 2/10; Hankey to Phipps, 8 Mar
1935, Phipps Papers, PHPP 3/3; N. Chamberlain to his sister, Hilda, 9 Mar 1935,
Chamberlain Papers, NC 18/1/908.
Clerk to FO, tel 31, 26 Feb 1935, FO 371/18827/C1558/55/18.
Chilston to FO, disp 110, 9 Mar 1935, FO 371/19456/N1313/53/38, minutes, Collier
(18 Mar) and Sargent (22 Mar).
132 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
In fact, Strang, now returned from Moscow and serving as the adviser
on League of Nations affairs, felt that Soviet Russiaâ€™s involvement made
any chance of an arms settlement slight. In his opinion, Germany was on
the verge of denouncing the disarmament clauses of the treaty of Ver-
sailles. The British had two choices: â€˜(in combination with the French
and such other Gov[ernmen]ts as will join us) to outbuild and encircle
Germany; or make a general arms agreement on the best terms we can
getâ€™. He hoped that the French would be satisfied with getting Germany
to agree to an air pact and to rejoin the League. He also felt that France
would abandon the Eastern Pact â€˜if their friends [Soviet Russia and the
Little Entente] will let themâ€™. Sargent put it bluntly: â€˜The entry of Russia
on the scene as the ally to all intents and purposes of France has, I am
afraid, wrecked the last chances there were of obtaining agreement for
limiting armaments at a reasonable figure.â€™53
Strangâ€™s fears were quickly realized. On 16 March, Hitler dropped a
bombshell, announcing that Germany would rearm.54 Despite pressure
from the French to cancel the trip to Berlin (which would have meant
also cancelling the Moscow leg), the British were determined to ensure
that â€˜if there is a break [to] let it be by the direct action of Germanyâ€™.55 In
Moscow, the Soviet press was savage in its denunciation of the British
response to Hitler, which continued to refer to the idea of a general
settlement. This, Collier noted, would complicate Edenâ€™s mission to
Moscow because of the â€˜suspicions of British policy which he [Litvinov]
now undoubtedly entertains â€“ and which, I venture to think, it is not
wholly unnatural for him to entertainâ€™.56 Vansittart concurred. â€˜I had
never contemplatedâ€™, he lamented on 19 March, â€˜that H[is] M[ajestyâ€™s]
G[overnment] were going to rush their fences in this tragic manner. The
results are plain for all to see. We have forfeited confidence all round.â€™
The consequences â€“ â€˜bad enoughâ€™ everywhere â€“ for Edenâ€™s trip to
Moscow would be profound: â€˜They will be worse in Russia â€“ given the
suspicious nature of the Soviet Govt . . . Eden will have a very bad start
for his Russian venture. He will have all his work cut out to recover lost
ground â€“ & I doubt if it can be recovered.â€™57
Strangâ€™s minute (13 Mar), Sargentâ€™s (13 Mar) on Phipps to FO, tel 64, 11 Mar 1935,
Phipps to FO, tel 110, 16 Mar 1935, FO 371/18829/C2121/55/18.
MacDonald diary entry, 17 Mar 1935, MacDonald Papers, PRO 30/57/1753/2.
Chilston to FO, tel 37, 18 Mar 1935, FO 371/19468/N1370/1167/38, minutes, Collier
(19 Mar) and Vansittart (19 Mar); minutes, Cab 15(35), 18 Mar 1935, Cab 23/81.
His minute (19 Mar) on Chilston to FO, disp 33, 21 Jan 1935, FO 371/19450/N524/
A clash of sensibilities 133
Despite this, preparations went on for the visit to Moscow.58 Before
the German announcements, Eden had been optimistic about the trip to
the Soviet capital, noting that the â€˜Russians seem to be really anxious to
play up and I have some faint hopes that we may be able to secure results
of some practical valueâ€™.59 His optimism resulted from two conversa-
tions with Maisky. The Soviet ambassador had laid emphasis on the
importance of the trip and had noted that he would join Eden at Berlin
for the trip to Moscow.60 However, in the aftermath of Hitlerâ€™s an-
nouncements, all the entrails were carefully examined, and the ominous
official silence from Moscow in the week preceding Edenâ€™s arrival
seemed â€˜not propitiousâ€™ for any progress in Anglo-Soviet talks.61
Nevertheless, in an attempt to prepare the way for both the Soviet and
German trips, Eden travelled to Paris on 23 March to meet with both the
French and the Italians.62 There, the French made it clear that, should
Germany reject the Eastern Pact, they intended to negotiate â€˜some
agreementâ€™ with Soviet Russia.63 The talks in Berlin made this likely.
On 25 March, Hitler rejected any form of an Eastern Pact that involved
mutual assistance â€“ Germany was â€˜more afraid of Russian protection
than of a French attackâ€™.64 In fact, Hitler dropped hints that Britain and
Germany had a common enemy in Bolshevism, hints that Simon and
Eden politely ignored.65 At the Foreign Office, given Hitlerâ€™s rejection of
the Eastern Pact, Sargent was concerned about possible unilateral
French action. He preferred that London and Paris not do anything
until both the final German reply was received and the two nations could
discuss matters at the forthcoming meeting at Stresa in April.
Eden spent the thirty-six hours on the train from Berlin to Moscow
pondering the question â€˜does a basis now exist for a general European
Minutes, Chilston to FO, disp 524, 21 Jan 1935, FO 371/19450/N524/17/38; Collierâ€™s
minute, 20 Mar 1935, FO 371/19468/N1480/1167/38; Collierâ€™s minute, 21 Mar 1935,
Eden to Cadogan, 15 Mar 1935, Avon Papers, AP 14/1/405B.
Edenâ€™s two conversations with Maisky, 12 and 14 Mar 1935, FO 371/19468/N1270
Minute, Dodds on Chilston to FO, tel 42, 26 Mar 1935, FO 371/19468/N1539/1167/
Peters, Eden, 87; Minutes, Cab 16(35), 20 Mar 1935, Cab 23/81.
Minutes of meeting, 23 Mar, in Clerk to FO, urgent disp 467, 23 Mar 1935, FO 371/
18832/C2456/55/18, minutes, Sargent (26 Mar) and Vansittart (26 Mar).
â€˜Note of Anglo-German Conversations . . . on 25 and 26 March 1935â€™, secret, CP 69
(35), Cab 24/254.
Soviet agents obtained the text of this meeting, and emended it to suit Stalinâ€™s preju-
dices, creating the impression there was an Anglo-German plot to drive the Germans
East; Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive. The KGB in
Europe and the West (London, 2000), 71â€“2.
134 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
settlement?â€™ His time in Berlin had raised the Privy Sealâ€™s doubts, and he
now wondered â€˜whether there may not be only one course of action open
to us: to join with those Powers who are members of the League of
Nations in re-affirming our faith in that institution and our determin-
ation to uphold the principles of the Covenantâ€™.66 When Eden arrived in
Moscow on 28 March, he immediately telegraphed for clarification on
two issues: first, would the government object to a modified Eastern Pact
consisting of Soviet Russia, the Baltic states, Czechoslovakia and