(29 Apr) and Vansittart (29 Apr) yielding Vansittart to Maisky, 30 Apr, all FO 371/
Minute, Vansittart (25 Apr), on â€˜Action on the Stresa Resolution, More Particularly
with Regard to Germanyâ€™, Sargent, 24 Apr 1935, FO 371/18843/C4441/55/18.
FO to Clerk, tel 109 pink, 26 Apr 1935, and reply, tel 80, 27 Apr 1935, both FO 371/
Minutes, Sargent and Vansittart (both 27 Apr), on Phipps to FO, tel 106 saving, 25 Apr
1935, FO 371/18837/C3438/55/18.
Sargentâ€™s minute (1 May) on Clerk to FO, 30 Apr 1935, FO 371/18838/C3527/55/18.
This paragraph, except where indicated, is based on Clerk to FO, disp 684, 2 May
1935, FO 371/18838/C3613/55/18, minutes, Malkin and Wigram (9 May), Collier (9
May) and Vansittartâ€™s marginalia.
The view of the Soviet minister at Ankara, Loraine (minister, Angora) to Oliphant, 20
May 1935, Loraine Papers, FO 1001/37.
140 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
But, far from being displeased, the head of the Central Department
thought that the treaty might have a â€˜salutaryâ€™ effect on Germany.
And, although Soviet Russia might be able to dodge its commitment to
France, Wigram was convinced that the agreementâ€™s value to the French
â€˜is almost entirely negative; its object is to prevent Russia (despite
Hitlerâ€™s thunders against Bolshevism) falling again into the German
orbitâ€™. Vansittart and Collier agreed.91 The British were under no illu-
sion that the Franco-Soviet pact meant that Soviet Russia was becoming
pro-Western. Instead, they were convinced that Moscow had acted
solely from a desire to preserve its own security.92 Commenting on the
warm reception given to Laval on his visit to Soviet Russia in mid-May,
Collier noted that Soviet policy in this respect was like that of Germany
and Italy: â€˜each of them refrains from aggression and preaches peace so
long as it pays her, and no longer; and, for the next few years at least, this
is likely to pay Russia more than â€“ unfortunately â€“ it pays either of the
The Soviet attitude was typified by their opposition to any efforts at
arms control outside the context of a general settlement, an argument
based on their interpretation of the London communique of 3 February.
Sargent believed that the French should be told firmly that Britain
favoured some kind of agreement about air power, even if it appeared
to fall outside the February communique. However, he also believed
that, while Laval would not be â€˜unreasonable or obstructiveâ€™ on the
matter, â€˜the real opponent with whom we have to deal in this matter is
Litvinovâ€™, who would put pressure on the French to veto any deal that
did not provide for the â€˜principle of simultaneityâ€™ with regard to
Germanyâ€™s joining the Eastern Pact. Vansittart agreed, but not with
Sargentâ€™s tactics. The PUS wanted to go slowly and to initiate negoti-
ations before putting pressure on the French.94 However, both men
realized that the French and the Soviets believed that the issue was one
of policy, not procedure. Paris and Moscow feared, Sargent believed,
that piecemeal negotiation was â€˜the first step in the disintegration of the
united front and the beginning of the policy of independent action
Minutes, Wigram (14 May) and Collier (14 May) on Clerk to FO, tel 93, 10 May 1935,
Jonathan Haslam, â€˜The Comintern and the Origins of the Popular Front 1934â€“1935â€™,
HJ, 22, 3 (1979), 673â€“91.
Collierâ€™s minute (24 May) on Charles (charge dâ€™affaires, Moscow) to FO, disp 209, 21
May 1935, FO 371/19456/N2647/53/38.
This and the following paragraph are based on Sargentâ€™s untitled memo, 3 Jun 1935,
FO 371/18846/C4694/55/18, Vansittartâ€™s minute (3 Jun); further in minute, Sargent (5
Jun), FO 371/18845/C3424/55/18.
A clash of sensibilities 141
whereby each country secures its own immediate interests by reaching
an agreement with Germany on those matters with which it is itself
vitally concernedâ€™.95 The existence of this view was underlined by what
Sargent called a â€˜very cunningâ€™ Soviet note on 5 June. Here, Litvinov
enjoined the British not to give Hitler any reason to believe that â€˜Europe
can be divided into regions where peace must be secured and regions
where peace need not be securedâ€™, an argument that would prevent any
separation of arms control from Hitlerâ€™s willingness to accept the Eastern
Pact. Both Collier and Wigram rejected the Soviet interpretation of
â€˜simultaneityâ€™. And Sargent, Vansittart and, most significantly, the new
foreign secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, agreed that no formal reply should
be given to the note, which Hoare contended was part of â€˜Litvinovâ€™s
intrigues to torpedo the air pactâ€™.96 In the same vein, the British moved
unilaterally to conclude an Anglo-German Naval Agreement on 18
Not unexpectedly, the Soviets resented both these moves. Maisky had
called at the Foreign Office on 12 June to complain that the British were
â€˜isolating the Air Pact from the questions connected with the Eastern
Pactâ€™.98 But the Foreign Office was determined to pursue arms control
regardless of Soviet objections.99 This determination was reinforced by
the Admiraltyâ€™s anxiety that no â€˜interminable difficultiesâ€™ (such as Soviet
Russia was thought likely to cause) should be introduced at the present
stage of naval negotiations.100 Instead, the Soviets were merely kept
informed, and told that the Anglo-German talks were purely preliminary
to a more general naval conference (to which they would be invited).101
Sargentâ€™s minute (13 Jun 1935) on Clerk to FO, tel 120 saving, 8 Jun 1935 371/18845/
C4627/55/18, Vansittartâ€™s minute (13 Jun).
Soviet note, 5 Jun 1935, FO 371/18845/C4564/55/18, minutes, Wigram (with Collier,
13 Jun), Sargent (14 Jun), Hoare (14 Jun) and Vansittart (15 Jun).
The Admiraltyâ€™s perspective is in Joseph A. Maiolo, The Royal Navy and Nazi Germany,
1933â€“1939. A Study in Appeasement and the Origins of the Second World War (London,
1998), 11â€“37; Claire M. Scammell, â€˜The Royal Navy and the Strategic Origins of the
Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935â€™, JSS, 20, 2 (1997), 92â€“118. For diplomatic
aspects, see D. C. Watt, â€˜The Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935: An Interim
Judgementâ€™, JMH, 28, 2 (1956), 155â€“75; Hines H. Hall III, â€˜The Foreign Policy-
Making Process in Great Britain, 1934â€“1935, and the Origins of the Anglo-German
Naval Agreementâ€™, HJ, 19 (1976), 477â€“99; Wesley K. Wark, The Ultimate Enemy.
British Intelligence and Nazi Germany 1933â€“1939 (Ithaca, 1985), 130â€“9.
Hoareâ€™s conversation with Maisky, 12 Jun 1935, FO 371/19451/N3187/17/38; Charles
(charge dâ€™affaires, Moscow) to FO, tel 80, 11 Jun 1935, FO 371/18845/C4660/55/18.
â€˜Memorandum on Air Pact and Limitation of Air Strengthâ€™, Wigram and Sargent, 13
Jun 1935, FO 371/18846/C4903/55/18.
Chatfield to Vansittart, 13 Jun 1935, FO 371/18734/A5414/22/45, Craigieâ€™s minute
FO to Chilston, tel 80, 18 Jun 1935, FO 371/18734/A5439/22/45.
142 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
Such a suggestion was rejected in Moscow. When informed about the
Anglo-German agreement, Litvinov â€˜more sorrowfully than cynically
[said] â€śHerr Hitler has now a great diplomatic victoryâ€ťâ€™. The Soviet
minister argued that it â€˜implied the end of Anglo-French cooperation . . .
[and] that Germany would now hasten to build as quickly as possible up
to the limit which afterwards she would no longer observeâ€™. While
Chilston had attempted to counter such assertions, at the Foreign Office
Collier noted dispiritedly, â€˜It is not only M. Litvinov who is saying such
The Anglo-German agreement had ramifications for Soviet naval
defences, which played into Moscowâ€™s resentment generally. At the
beginning of July, there was a pointed article in Pravda outlining the
dangers to Leningrad and the Gulf of Finland caused by the naval
agreement. This article was couched in terms of â€˜resentment and
dismayâ€™, and the fact that the British had â€˜taken him [Hitler] at his wordâ€™
was felt to be capable of explanation only by assuming that â€˜the British
Empire, tottering on the verge of collapse, is clutching at strawsâ€™. But
Collier was perhaps the most perceptive about the greater significance of
The Soviet Gov[ernmen]t dislike the Anglo-German agreement, not because it
makes any difference to the actual ratios of naval strength in the Baltic, but
because it seems to them to imply that H[is] M[ajestyâ€™s] Government have
disinterested themselves in these regions and formally conceded to the Germans
the right to do what they like there.103
The British had achieved their short-term goal to limit German naval
armaments, but the potential cost to finding common ground with
Soviet Russia to contain Germanyâ€™s and Japanâ€™s revisionist tendencies
was yet to be determined.
The first six months of 1935 had demonstrated the difficulties for
any true Anglo-Soviet co-operation. The two nations were not only
ideologically poles apart, but also widely separated in their appreciation
of how to maintain the status quo. The British adhered to the concepts of
collective security, and wished to bring Germany back into the comity
of nations by acceding to what were felt to be its legitimate demands for
Chilston to FO, tel 85, 20 Jun 1935, FO 371/18734/A5538/22/45, Collierâ€™s minute (25
Jun); Soviet press reaction, Chilston to FO, tel 86, 20 Jun 1935, FO 371/18734/A5545/
Chilston to FO, tel 96, 2 Jul 1935, FO 371/19460/N3338/76/38, minute, Collier (3
Jul); Chilston to FO, disp 288, 2 Jul 1935, FO 371/18735/A5966/22/45. Quotations
A clash of sensibilities 143
equality, while limiting and controlling its rearmament. For the Soviets,
British policy was, at best, weak and naive; at worst, it was designed to
drive the Germans to the East against Soviet Russia. Moscow was willing
to pursue arms control only in the context of wider agreements that
promised to curb German revisionism generally. The Anglo-German
Naval Agreement was resented as something that broke the connection
between these two aims. The Soviets were convinced that Hitler, like the
Japanese, could be controlled only by force, and were determined to
create the mechanisms to do so. To the British, this smacked of pre-1914
attitudes. They were reluctant to join in agreements in areas where they
had no particular interests (such as eastern Europe) and fearful that
Soviet Russia would lead France into arrangements that would also
commit Britain. For this reason, many of the British policy makers came
to resent Soviet initiatives and to see them as selfish, opportunistic and
potentially dangerous for Britain. Others, however, disagreed and, to
some extent, shared the Soviet view. The next few years would deter-
mine which view would prevail, and whether either could provide a new
basis for British strategic foreign policy in the era of â€˜deterrenceâ€™.
4 Complications and choices:
July 1935â€“February 1936
The period from the signing of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement
until the middle of February 1936 was difficult. In Europe, the Abyssi-
nian crisis complicated matters for British defence planning. In the Far
East, tensions remained high between Britain and Japan. These circum-
stances confronted Britain with difficult choices about the direction of its
strategic foreign policy. The â€˜deterrenceâ€™ period had not yet produced
any neat answers for British policy makers. Soviet Russia was important
in both Europe and the Far East. In Europe, the major discussions
centred round whether German desires could (or should) be accommo-
dated (possibly at the indirect expense of Moscow) or whether they
could (or should) be opposed (possibly by means of an alliance with
Moscow). In the Far East, the contentious point was whether British
interests would best be protected by means of an Anglo-Japanese agree-
ment (at the risk of alienating Soviet Russia, the United States and
China) or by the more tenuous means of utilizing the common interest
shared by London, Moscow and Washington to check Japan.1 These sets
of decisions were linked: first, by the facts that both Soviet Russia and
Britain had interests in both regions, and that the two decisions thus had
to be consonant with one another; second, by the fact that Soviet Russia
had strategic foreign-policy options, and was by no means a passive
player in this process.
It is important to note that major political changes had occurred in
London. Early in June, MacDonald resigned and was succeeded by
Baldwin. Simon was replaced as foreign secretary by Sir Samuel Hoare.
The changes affected strategic foreign policy, particularly as concerned
Soviet Russia. In some ways, the impact was direct.2 MacDonaldâ€™s first
Greg Kennedy, â€˜1935: A Snapshot of British Imperial Defence in the Far Eastâ€™, in Greg
Kennedy and Keith Neilson, eds., Far-Flung Lines. Essays in Imperial Defence in Honour
of Donald Mackenzie Schurman (Portland, OR, and London, 1997), 190â€“216.
Philip Williamson, Stanley Baldwin. Conservative Leadership and National Values
(Cambridge, 1999), 294â€“335; analysis in Williamson, â€˜Baldwinâ€™s Reputation: Politics
and History, 1937â€“1967â€™, HJ, 47, 1 (2004), 127â€“68.
Complications and choices 145
government had recognized Russia in 1924; Baldwinâ€™s second govern-
ment had broken relations in 1927. MacDonald believed that Soviet
Russia needed to be considered in all affairs; Baldwin had a visceral
dislike of communism, seeing it as an even greater scourge than fascism.
In other ways, the impact was indirect. MacDonald had always taken an
interest in foreign relations. Baldwin was less engaged and preferred to
delegate that authority. The two prime ministers also differed in their
attitudes towards the United States and Japan. MacDonald had always
placed a major emphasis on the role of the United States in all naval
matters.3 This checked those who wished to give a higher priority to
improving Anglo-Japanese relations. Under Baldwin, this restraint was
lessened. Indeed, despite his understanding of the importance of the
United States for British strategic defence policy, Baldwinâ€™s own experi-
ences led him to believe that reliance on Washington was dangerous.
MacDonald advocated disarmament and the League; Baldwin was to
oversee rearmament and was dubious about the Leagueâ€™s value.
The change at the Foreign Office was even more dramatic. Hoare had
vast experience concerning Soviet Russia. During the First World War,
he spent nine months in charge of the British intelligence mission in
Russia.4 In late 1921 and early 1922 he had been the League of Nationsâ€™s
deputy high commissioner for Russian refugees in Asia Minor. Hoare
despised the Bolsheviks. â€˜For the last six monthsâ€™, he wrote to Churchill
on 31 May 1919, â€˜I have been convinced that the whole future of Europe,
and indeed of the world, depends upon the Russian settlement and the
destruction of Bolshevism.â€™5 While in Russia, he had become friends
with F. O. Lindley, the counsellor at the British embassy in Petrograd.6
Lindley also was a fervid opponent of the Bolsheviks. From 1923 to 1929,
he had provided the Foreign Office with strongly anti-Bolshevik missives