Fisher, Montgomery-Massingberd and Vansittart, 21 Nov 1935, Cab 16/112.
Minutes, 271st meeting CID, 14 Oct 1935, Cab 2/6; â€˜Strategical Situation in the Far
East with particular reference to Hong Kongâ€™, CID 410-C, Chatfield, Montgomery-
Massingberd and Ellington, 10 Oct 1935, Cab 5/8.
Minute, Ismay (MI2), 1 Jan 1936, WO 106/5509, referring to Clive to FO, tel 350, 27
Dec 1935, FO 371/19357/F8065/376/23.
â€˜The Importance of Anglo-Japanese Friendship â€“ Memorandum by Mr Duff Cooper
(Secretary of State for War) covering a memorandum prepared by the Chief of the
Imperial General Staffâ€™, CP 12(36), 17 Jan 1936, Cab 24/259. WO 106/5509 shows
that the author was Brevet Lt-Col G. E. Grimsdale of MI2(c).
The remainder of this and the following two paragraphs are based on his untitled
memo, 22 Jan 1936, FO 371/20279/F701/89/23; minutes.
168 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
China and that, to achieve this, Tokyo would have â€˜to remove the
ultimate check . . . which Russiaâ€™s strategical position and strength
affordâ€™. Japan thus wanted British friendship only in order to â€˜cover her
rearâ€™ while dealing with Soviet Russia. What would be the return for
Britain? At most Japan might respect Britainâ€™s interests in China. This
was not worth the diplomatic repercussions. If Britain improved rela-
tions with Japan, China would believe that Britain had connived at its
â€˜spoliationâ€™, the United States â€˜would look on us as selfish opportunistsâ€™
and â€˜League circles . . . would regard us in the same light and as traitors
to the cause of international moralityâ€™.
Most of all, Orde noted, such an action would be fatal to Anglo-Soviet
relations. An Anglo-Japanese agreement would be a â€˜bombshellâ€™ in
Moscow. He tied together European and Far Eastern concerns:
we must weigh the consequences very carefully before we do anything to alienate
the Soviet Government and weaken her as a counter-poise either against Japan in
the Far East, or perhaps still more important, against Germany in Europe. While
uneasy relations between Japan and Russia are to our advantage as a check on
Japanese aggression, it would not be to our advantage to do anything to encour-
age hostilities between them, and this could hardly fail to be the result of making
Japan feel that she had made the initial step to securing her rear.
Without an understanding with Britain, Japan was unlikely to attack
Soviet Russia until Tokyo was stronger. If Soviet Russia were to get
more powerful in the interim, Tokyo would then wait â€˜until Germany is
ready to strike at her endâ€™. Orde suggested that this was why the German
ambassador at Tokyo favoured an Anglo-Japanese rapprochement.
As to the rumoured Germanâ€“Japanese agreement, an Anglo-Japanese
settlement would not deter it. Japan would continue to seek any and all
aid for its â€˜possible struggle with Russiaâ€™. From a British perspective,
Japanese friendship was too expensive: â€˜We could not agree to naval
parity, nor can we agree to offend China, Russia, the United States
and League opinion.â€™ Vansittart agreed. He noted on 25 January that
â€˜[p]erhaps the situation can be summed up still more tersely. Germany
wants to attack Russia. Japan wants to attack Russia and China, when
Germany is ready. So long as these wholly immoral and wholly unlea-
guely ambitions are entertained, it is of no use to expect any permanent
or real settlement with either . . . These remarks apply equally to
Germany and Japan.â€™ The solution was not diplomacy, but to â€˜repair
At the Cabinet on 29 January, the War Office failed to make its case.
While the First Lord of the Admiralty, Bolton Eyres Monsell, agreed that
the â€˜real dangerâ€™ for Britain was a Germanâ€“Japanese agreement, Eden
Soviet Russian assertiveness 169
pointed out that it was â€˜easier to desireâ€™ good Anglo-Japanese relations
than to bring them about. It was noted that Leith-Ross was at present
trying to improve the general situation in the Far East, and the Cabinet
concluded â€“ in what was a rebuff to the War Office â€“ that â€˜better
opportunitiesâ€™ than a Cabinet discussion should be found to resolve
the difference of opinion between the Foreign and War Offices.10 The
latter department was annoyed and disappointed by the Cabinetâ€™s deci-
sion. However, Ismay noted that there was â€˜clearly nothing to be done
but wait and seeâ€™. He pointed out that there was a â€˜gulf . . . apparently
unalterably â€“ between the Foreign Office and ourselvesâ€™. The Foreign
Office had found another opponent for its Far Eastern policy.11
There remained issues within that office itself. Collierâ€™s quarrels with
Orme Sargent and the Central Department did not end with the loan
debate. In early February, during a debate about the strength of the
Soviet armed forces, Collier and the Far Eastern Department combined
against the Central Departmentâ€™s trumpeting of the need not to â€˜encir-
cleâ€™ Germany.12 Another quarrel surfaced on 11 February when Maisky
suggested a visit to Soviet Russia by either Duff Cooper, the secretary of
state for war, or by a parliamentary delegation.13 When Collier proposed
writing to Chilston about such a visit, Sargent objected. Until British
policy in Europe had been finalized (a Cabinet committee had been
struck on 12 February at Edenâ€™s behest to discuss whether a policy of
accommodation with Germany could be initiated),14 Sargent believed
that nothing should be done to antagonize the Germans. A visit by Duff
Cooper would be seen â€˜as concrete evidence of an Anglo-Russian rap-
prochement to the exclusion of an Anglo-German oneâ€™. Sargent argued
that Soviet foreign policy was implacably hostile to Britain and only â€˜fear
of Germany drives them to seek an ally among the mammon of capital-
ismâ€™. Collierâ€™s letter was sent, but the differences of opinion were plain.
They surfaced again in mid-February. Chilston wrote from Moscow
about Sovietâ€“German relations. He asserted that the Soviets had little
desire to improve relations with Berlin, except at an economic level, so
Minutes, Cabinet 3(36), 29 Jan 1936, Cab 23/83.
Minutes and correspondence, WO 106/5509.
Minutes on Maj. C. R. Hayes (MI2, WO) to Collier, 6 Feb 1936, FO 371/20348/N751/
287/38; Keith Neilson, â€˜â€śPursued by a Bearâ€ť: British Estimates of Soviet Military
Strength and Anglo-Soviet Relations, 1922â€“1939â€™, CJH, 28, 2 (1993), 210â€“12.
The remainder of this paragraph, except where indicated, is based on memo by Collier
of discussions with Maisky by both Eden and himself, 11 Feb 1936, minutes, FO 371/
A. R. Peters, Anthony Eden at the Foreign Office 1931â€“1938 (New York, 1986), 170â€“3;
minutes, Cabinet 6(36), 12 Feb 1936, Cab 23/83.
170 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
long as collective security seemed to work. Collier interpreted this to
mean â€˜that the assumption sometimes made in this office . . . [by
Sargent] that the Soviet Government are so anxious for an understand-
ing with the Germans that we cannot hope to keep them in the anti-
German front if Herr Hitler chose to reverse his present policyâ€™ was
wrong. Collier contended that â€˜if we fail them [the Soviets] they will
turn to the Germans, but not otherwiseâ€™. Sargent was biting: he was
â€˜delightedâ€™ that the â€˜bogey of a Germanâ€“Russian entente with which
we and the French are being continually frightenedâ€™ was false. But he
completely rejected Collierâ€™s contention â€˜that only by a policy of collab-
oration with the Soviets can we be sure of warding off the menace of a
Sovietâ€“German rapprochement, and that if we fail them (whatever that
may mean) they will turn to the Germansâ€™.15
During the next few weeks, as the Cabinet committee deliberated over
finding an accommodation with Germany, bickering continued. How-
ever, while Hitlerâ€™s reoccupation of the Rhineland on 7 March under-
mined Sargentâ€™s arguments, it did not lead to an effort to improve
relations with Moscow. At the end of February, Chilston stated that,
were Duff Cooper to go to Soviet Russia, the latter should not attend the
May Day parade, as this would be read as confirming Anglo-Soviet
military co-operation against Germany. Writing on 7 March, Collier
contended that the dayâ€™s events had made such niceties superfluous.
He noted that Hitlerâ€™s actions made the May Day issue moot:
I presume that by May we shall either have brought about such a rapprochement
between the European Powers, including Germany and Russia, that visits of this
sort can take place without creating any great stir, as in times of peace, or (more
probably, perhaps) find ourselves in a position where we shall need to give every
possible encouragement to the forces working for the preservation of the Euro-
pean status quo.
Eden saw the situation as a justification of his being â€˜waryâ€™ of Maiskyâ€™s
suggestion. When Phipps seconded Chilstonâ€™s argument that a May Day
visit would â€˜confirm him [Hitler] in his belief that â€ścollective securityâ€ť
and â€śencirclementâ€ť are synonymousâ€™, Eden was confirmed in his judge-
ment. â€˜So far as our relations with the Soviet are concernedâ€™, he wrote, â€˜I
want the footing to be friendly as befits two fellow-members of the
League but I have no intention of hugging the bear too closely for I am
fully conscious of what happens to people who hug bears. I have no
illusions as to the real feelings of the Soviet Government towards the
Chilston to Collier, 11 February 1936, FO 371/20346/N911/187/38, minutes, original
Soviet Russian assertiveness 171
capitalist State.â€™16 When Maisky pushed for Britain, France and Soviet
Russia to â€˜get closely together and strengthen their armamentsâ€™ before
considering having Germany re-join the League, the British response
was bland and non-committal.17
While the ramifications of the remilitarization of the Rhineland were
being assessed, the Far East intruded. In January, the Foreign Office had
begun to make progress against the Treasuryâ€™s attempt to control Far
Eastern policy.18 Unlike Hoare, Eden was not willing to give the Treas-
ury a free hand. While Eden wrote, on 6 January, that Britain should not
forget about providing a loan to China just â€˜because the Japanese frownâ€™,
this was a remark in keeping with Vansittartâ€™s view that there was â€˜only
one remedy for . . . recovering Japanese respect; and that is a rearmed
Englandâ€™. But, until that could be done, British policy was â€˜to promote a
detente in the Far East and foster co-operation rather than join battle
By February, the Japanese began to moderate their opposition to
Leith-Ross.20 This change of heart was not thought due to any genuine
desire to participate in the loan to China or to find an acceptable
compromise with the British. Rather, it was believed to be due to the
Japanese desire not to annoy Britain at a time when Japanese relations
with Soviet Russia were strained.21 The British, too, did not want to
appear to snub the Japanese, because London wished to maintain the
improved Anglo-Japanese naval relations that had resulted from letting
Tokyo withdraw from the London Naval Conference without censure.22
J. T. Emmerson, The Rhineland Crisis. 7 March 1936 (London, 1977); Chilston to
Collier, 27 Feb 1936, FO 371/20339/N1254/20/38; Phipps to Eden, 25 Feb 1936,
and reply 28 Feb, FO 371/20339/N1693/20/38, minutes and enclosures.
Cranborneâ€™s conversation with Maisky, 9 Mar 1936, FO 371/19889/C1602/4/18.
Cadogan to FO, tel 3, 16 Jan 1936, FO 371/20215/F320/1/10, minutes, Orde (21 Jan),
Wellesley (22 Jan) and Vansittart (23 Jan) and Eden to Chamberlain (7 Feb); Clive to
FO, tel 25, 21 Jan 1936, FO 371/20215/F364/1/10. Cliveâ€™s views had changed: Clive
to Vansittart, 5 Dec 1935 and reply, 14 Jan 1936, both FO 371/29241/F156/96/10.
Minutes, Eden (6 Jan 1936) and Vansittart (6 Jan), both on Clive to Vansittart, 5 Dec
1935, and reply, 14 Jan 1936, both FO 371/292H/F156/96/10.
Leith-Ross to FO, tel 17, 3 Feb 1936, FO 371/20215/F637/1/10; Leith-Ross to FO, tel
18, 3 Feb 1936, FO 371/20215/F638/1/10; Clive to FO, tel 40, 7 Feb 1936, FO 371/
20215/F720/1/10; FO 371/20215/F727/1/10; minutes on the above.
Jameson (consul-general, Harbin), disp 13, 13 Jan 1936, FO 371/20263/F673/573/10;
Chilston to FO, disp 82, 6 Feb 1936, FO 371/20263/F751/573/10; Howe to FO, tel 71,
17 Feb 1936, FO 371/20234/F881/54/10. The Japanese also professed themselves
worried that Britain might be drawing closer to Soviet Russia via the Franco-Soviet
Pact, to the detriment of Tokyoâ€™s position vis-a-vis Moscow: Drummond (ambassador,
Rome) to Vansittart, 21 Feb 1936, Eden Papers, FO 954/6.
Minute, Craigie (20 Feb) on Clive to FO, tels 51 and 52, 19 Feb 1936, FO 371/20215/
172 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
A compromise resulted. The Treasury agreed that Leith-Ross should
not take the action of â€˜threatening or pilloryingâ€™ the Japanese over the
loan, and accepted that, if the Japanese â€˜remain hostileâ€™, any talk of a
loan should be dropped altogether. The Foreign Office agreed that
Leith-Ross should go to Tokyo.23 Although the Treasury, and particu-
larly Fisher, wriggled, after much inter-departmental haggling, Leith-
Ross went to Tokyo in June.24 The Foreign Office had regained control
The Far Eastern Department continued to believe that little could be
done to improve Anglo-Japanese relations without British economic
interests in China performing â€˜a sort of economic hara-kiri [sic]â€™.25
The room for Anglo-Japanese co-operation was felt to be â€˜uncommonly
narrowâ€™, and Britain by itself â€˜helplessâ€™ to stop Japanâ€™s push in China.26
One means of checking Japan was to utilize Tokyoâ€™s fears of Soviet
Russia. But such a policy would have European repercussions. Orde
noted that France would object to Soviet Russiaâ€™s expending its military
strength in a war with Japan, and argued that
the Russian decision would depend ultimately on how much they are afraid of
Germany & their estimate of tempi, i.e. their own recovery from a war with Japan
& the readiness of Germany to attack them. It would be a hazardous game & I
doubt the Russians deciding to play it.27
While a war in the Far East was not a favourable prospect, ongoing
Sovietâ€“Japanese tension was. In this light, one member of the Far
Eastern Department went so far as to suggest that Japanâ€™s interests
should deliberately be kept focused on the Chinese mainland â€˜by a policy
of [British] pin-pricksâ€™ and away from British interests in the south.28
Minute, O. Harvey (Edenâ€™s private secretary), 21 Feb 1936, on N. Chamberlain to
Eden, 19 Feb 1936, FO 371/20216/F1210/1/10.
Squabbling in Eden to N. Chamberlain, 23 Mar 1936, FO 371/20216/F1355/1/10; N.
Chamberlain to Eden, 27 Mar 1936 and reply, 7 Apr, FO 371/20216/F1702/1/10;
N. Chamberlain to Eden, 28 Apr 1936, and reply 8 May, FO 371/20216/F2359/1/10,
minutes, Vansittart (3 May) and Cadogan (7 May); N. Chamberlain to Stanhope, 13
May 1936, and Edenâ€™s reply, 20 May, FO 371/20216/F2715/1/10.
Minute (16 Mar) by J. Thyne Henderson, on Clive to FO, very confidential tel, 16 Mar
1936, FO 371/20279/F1431/89/23.
Minute, Orde (18 Mar) on Clive to FO, tel 100, 16 Mar 1936, F 371/20287/F1489/
Minute, Harcourt-Smith (20 Apr) on Ismay (MI2, WO) to Collier, 3 Apr 1936, FO
371/20349/N1895/307/38, Ordeâ€™s minute (22 Apr); Howe to FO, tel 86, 22 Feb 1936,
FO 371/20242/F1048/96/10; Chilstonâ€™s report of Stalinâ€™s remarks, disp 53, 9 Mar
1936, FO 371/20234/F1429/54/10.
Thyne Hendersonâ€™s minute (13 May), FO 371/20285/F2678/273/23, Ordeâ€™s minute