Olympics, Vansittart made this point clear to Alexis Leger, the secretary-
general at the French foreign ministry. Leger agreed, but noted that no
French government could abandon its existing pacts with Poland, the
Little Entente and Soviet Russia. Vansittart found himself â€˜relievedâ€™ that
Leger did not wish to push Hitler where he would not go:
for English opinion wished to try out, with wide-open eyes, the policy of autant
croire [here: â€˜for want of better, we may as well believeâ€™], and if France, at Russian
instigation, blocked it, M. Blum would lose at the British swings more than he
could win at the Russian roundabouts . . . the British government was upheld by
a very large Conservative majority, who were never prepared, and now probably
less than ever, to make much sacrifice for red eyes.81
T. Jones diary entry, 27 Jul 1936, in T. Jones, Diary with Letters, 231.
Based on the account of meeting in Prem 1/193, attached to a secret letter from Hankey
to Baldwin, 24 Jul 1936.
Clerk to FO, disp 1164, 8 Sept 1936, FO 371/19859/C6328/1/17, minutes; Michael
Dockrill, British Establishment Perspectives on France, 1936â€“1940 (London, 1999), 47â€“8.
Oliphant to Loraine, 6 Aug 1936, Loraine Papers, FO 1011/38; Vansittartâ€™s untitled
memo, 17 Sept 1936, FO 371/19912/C6528/4/18 translation by Professor Mark
184 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
There were other manifestations of the continued Soviet attempts to
bind France and other states into an anti-German front.
On 22 September, the Foreign Office received a report that the Czechs
were attempting to get a military convention with Soviet Russia, and that
the latter was attempting to push the French into a similar arrangement.
While Wigram felt it understandable that the French wished for the
â€˜greater certainty of a military convention with Russiaâ€™, he noted that
â€˜its conclusion would clearly be a dangerous move and its effect on
public opinion in this country would surely be very badâ€™. Sargent advo-
cated â€˜put[ting] a spoke in their [the Sovietsâ€™] wheelâ€™. For him, any
Franco-Russian military convention would be a disaster for British dip-
If we still have any belief in the possibility of a Western settlement or the Five
Power Conference we must realise that this possibility would be completely
destroyed if, during the preliminary exchange of views, it emerged that France
had not merely refused to modify her Pact with Russia, but had strengthened and
supplemented it by a military agreement.82
With such attitudes current, it was no wonder that the Soviets believed
that â€˜France and Britain lack a definite policy of action and the will to
repel an aggressorâ€™ and that London was relieved when reports from
Paris discounted the likelihood of any Franco-Soviet military pact.83
These concerns carried on into October. Phipps reported from Berlin
that there was as yet little movement in favour of the proposed five-
power conference. Wigram did not wish to press the Germans, but was
concerned about France. Sargent saw the fine hand of Soviet Russia
everywhere: â€˜The other consideration which we ought to bear in mind is
that Russia is working as hard as she can to prevent the conclusion of a
new Locarno.â€™ Sargent felt that this alone â€˜would have been sufficientâ€™ to
make Hitler wish for a conference, but contended that Hitler â€˜does not
want . . . a Conference in which he feels that Russia, even though absent,
would exercise . . . a very strong anti-German influenceâ€™. Vansittartâ€™s and
Edenâ€™s comments were contradictory, and reflected their differing atti-
tudes about Germany. The PUS did not want to press the Germans
about a five-power pact, but added that â€˜I hope we shall pay nothing for
an agreement that is problematical both as to signature & value: it will be
Benson; for Leger, see Peter Jackson, France and the Nazi Menace. Intelligence and Policy
Making 1933â€“1939 (Oxford, 2000), 74â€“5 and, esp. in 1936, 200â€“1, 243.
R. Campbell (minister, Belgrade) to FO, tel 97, 22 Sept 1936, FO 371/19880/C6630/
92/62, minutes, Wigram, Sargent (both 24 Sept).
MacKillop (Moscow) to FO, tel 150, 29 Sept 1936, FO 371/19880/C6811/92/62;
Clerk to FO, tel 361, 30 Sept 1936, FO 371/19880/C6814/92/62, minutes.
Soviet Russian assertiveness 185
worthless until it has proved its worth in practice. And I hope that we
shall insist on a settlement in Central Europe.â€™ Edenâ€™s minute was
pointed. Government â€˜policyâ€™ was reflected in the earlier communiques
that supported a five-power pact.
This exchange highlighted the fact that the foreign secretary had lost
faith in his PUS. In fact, Eden had been attempting to remove Vansittart
from office for some time. In March, the foreign secretary had recalled
Cadogan, with whom he previously had worked closely in Geneva, from
China.85 When Cadogan arrived in London, Eden asked his former
colleague to outline his â€˜ideasâ€™ about world affairs. Cadogan argued that
the Covenant was â€˜unworkable and should be reconsideredâ€™.86 Vansittart
was opposed to this, and tried to hold his ground. He told Eden that
Cadoganâ€™s â€˜remedy . . . would prove to be too heroicâ€™ and warned the
latter that he was â€˜staying on indefinitelyâ€™ as PUS.87 After acting as the
British delegate at Montreux in July, Cadogan found himself sidetracked
at the Foreign Office.88 In mid-September, Eden tried to persuade
Vansittart to accept the Paris embassy, but the PUS argued that this
would â€˜create the wrong impressionâ€™ about the direction of British
policy.89 Vansittart also continued to attempt to limit Cadoganâ€™s influ-
ence on Eden, and Cadogan found himself with â€˜nothing to doâ€™. â€˜Wellâ€™,
he lamented to his diary on 21 September, â€˜Iâ€™m not going to butt in, but
what did they bring me back for? Van of course wonâ€™t say & does nothing
about it. A[nthony Eden] doesnâ€™t say.â€™90 By mid-October a modus vivendi
had been worked out, wherein Cadogan â€˜retain[ed] the Far East, &
[kept] a watch on the restâ€™, but this was only a temporary patch.91
Vansittart and, by extension his policy towards Germany in particular,
did not have firm backing at the top.92
The concern about the impact of Soviet Russia on both Germany and
Japan carried on into October. In that month, considerations of Anglo-
Japanese relations, rumours of a possible Germanâ€“Japanese agreement
Phipps to FO, tel 264, 30 Sept 1936, FO 371/19913/C6815/4/18, minutes, Wigram
(1 Oct), Sargent (2 Oct), Vansittart (6 Oct) and Eden (8 Oct) original emphasis.
Peters, Eden, 148.
Cadogan diary entry, 7 May 1936, Cadogan Papers, ACAD 1/4; Cadoganâ€™s remarks in
his undated letter to Eden, FO 371/20473/W4508/79/98, with a covering letter from
Vansittart, 15 May 1936.
Cadogan diary entry, 4 May 1936, Cadogan Papers, ACAD 1/4.
Cadogan diary entries, 13 Aug, 28 Aug and 8 Sept 1936, Cadogan Papers, ACAD 1/4.
Vansittart to Eden, 14 Sept 1936, Avon Papers, AP 14/1/631. For Cadoganâ€™s discovery
of Edenâ€™s intentions see Cadogan diary entry, 14 Oct 1936, Cadogan Papers, ACAD 1/5.
Cadogan diary entries, 18, 20 and 21 Sept 1936, Cadogan Papers, ACAD 1/5 original
Cadogan diary entry, 15 Oct 1936, Cadogan Papers, ACAD 1/5.
Peters, Eden, 256.
186 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
and the results of the British Military Delegationâ€™s (BMD) visit to Soviet
Russia in September percolated together to create a heady brew.93 The
BMD formed a favourable impression of Soviet capabilities, especially
on the defensive, an impression later reinforced with respect to the
Soviet military-industrial capacity. Soviet military strength was welcome.
As Collier noted: â€˜A Russian army strong enough to discourage adven-
tures by Hitler or the Japanese but not strong enough to indulge in
adventures of its own, seems to me just what suits us!â€™94 So, too, did
its political orientation. In discussions with Voroshilov, the head of the
BMD found the Soviet commissar profoundly anti-German.95 The
BMDâ€™s visit also had its effect in the Far East. Reflecting their preoccu-
pation with Soviet Russia, the Japanese were anxious about the portents
of the visit. The new Japanese ambassador at London, Yoshida Shigeru,
told Vansittart that the Japanese military had found Soviet Russia
â€˜stronger than they expectedâ€™ as a result of the Franco-Soviet (and, by
extension, any possible future Anglo-Soviet) military collaboration.
He also emphasized the Japanese desire for better Anglo-Japanese
What did this mean for Anglo-Soviet relations? One possibility origin-
ated from a report from Berlin that many German military officers would
prefer Soviet Russia as an ally. This led to contentious analysis. Wigram
argued that such an event would â€˜present very great dangers for Europe
and ourselvesâ€™, but comforted himself by noting that even Bismarck had
been unable to do more than achieve a â€˜stabilisationâ€™ of Russo-German
relations. Wigram saw the Franco-Soviet Treaty as an â€˜obstacleâ€™ to such
a rapprochement and, as such, a â€˜considerable advantageâ€™ to Britain.
Collier agreed, arguing, in the fashion of Wigram, that the Franco-Soviet
and Czechâ€“Soviet Treaties â€˜are of real use in stabilising the European
situation, though they work indirectly rather than directlyâ€™. This was
anathema to Sargent. â€˜The disadvantages of the Franco-Soviet Pact are
British Library of Information, New York to Far Eastern Department, 16 Sept 1936,
FO 371/20285/F5797/303/23; Clive to FO, disp 513, 24 Sept 1936, FO 371/20285/
F6483/303/23; â€˜Progress Towards a Germanâ€“Japanese Pactâ€™, ns (but MI3, WO), 29
Sept 1936, WO 190/461.
Wavellâ€™s report (dated 10 Sept) attached to Maj. Hayes (MI2, WO) to Collier, 9 Oct
1936, FO 371/20352/N5048/1298/38, Collierâ€™s minute (16 Oct); â€˜Report on Visit to
USSR Red Army Manoeuvres in the White Russian Military District â€“ Minskâ€™, secret,
Wing Commander [illegible], Sept 1936, Air 9/58; Hankey to Vansittart, 14 Oct 1936,
enclosing â€˜Conditions in Russiaâ€™ Maj.-Gen. Haining (MI2, WO) to Hankey, 20 Oct
1936 and 31 Oct 1936, secret Vansittart to Hankey, 26 Oct 1936, all Cab 21/418.
Collierâ€™s minute (30 Sept) on MacKillop to FO, disp 551, 21 Sept 1936, FO 371/
Vansittartâ€™s conversation with the Japanese ambassador, 23 Sept 1936, FO 371/29279/
Soviet Russian assertiveness 187
so manifest, and we suffer from them so often and in so many waysâ€™, he
minuted sarcastically, â€˜that I am always glad to hear that there may be
hidden & hypothetical benefits to be derived indirectly from this instru-
ment.â€™97 Sargentâ€™s antipathy stemmed from a long chain of conse-
quences that he saw resulting from the Franco-Soviet Pact.98 He
feared that the French, under political pressure from Moscow, might
agree to military conversations, which in turn would torpedo the five-
power conference and, conceivably, lead to Franco-German hostilities
that would inevitably draw in Britain. Despite soothing remarks from the
French, persistent reports from Berlin about the possibility of improved
Germanâ€“Soviet relations prompted the Foreign Office to take soundings
Meanwhile, the Moscow embassy suggested that, in case of war,
Britain and Soviet Russia would find themselves allies. The Foreign
Office was again divided. Some felt that this would be unacceptable to
British public opinion except in particular circumstances. Collier not
only rejected this, but also pointed out that such considerations were
if war once breaks out in Europe, it is likely sooner or later to involve all the Great
Powers, including this country and the Soviet Union, and . . . in that case it is
more probable than not that these two Powers will find themselves fighting on
the same side, for reasons quite unconnected with their relations with each
This was prescient, but there were other speculations, stemming from
the Tokyo embassy and from an initiative by Yoshida in London. One
conjecture was that a Russo-Japanese rapprochement was likely, some-
thing felt â€˜by no means comfortable for usâ€™. If Soviet Russia were felt by
Japan to be â€˜too strong to be attackedâ€™, Japan would turn southwards
against Britainâ€™s interests. Orde did not share this apprehension: â€˜Unless
Russia decides to liquidate her interests in the Far East, of which there is
no sign at all, her presence there in strength & her occupation of
Vladivostok are permanent factors which will always influence Japan
and keep her uneasyâ€™. Cadogan, too, believed that it was only Soviet
Phipps to FO, tel 274 saving, 8 Oct 1936, FO 371/19913/C7072/4/18, minutes,
Wigram (9 Oct), Collier (10 Oct) and Sargent (12 Oct).
His minute (20 Oct) on Lloyd Thomas (Paris) to FO, disp 1310, 14 Oct 1936, FO 371/
Lloyd Thomas (Paris) to Vansittart, 14 Oct 1936, FO 371/19860/C7983/1/17; Lloyd
Thomas to FO, disp 1326, 16 Oct 1936, FO 371/19880/C7389/92/62; Phipps to FO,
disp 1097, 12 Oct 1936, FO 371/19880/C7272/92/62, minutes.
MacKillop to FO, disp 577, 5 October 1936, FO 371/20341/N5005/20/38, minutes by
Labouchere, Vereker (both 14 Oct), Collier (15 Oct) and Vansittart (17 Oct).
188 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
military strength that had checked Japan; thus, a Russo-Japanese rap-
prochement was unlikely from Moscowâ€™s perspective. However, his
speculations about various possibilities in the Far East were instructive:
But I agree that a Japaneseâ€“Soviet rapprochement may have serious implica-
tions. If it arises from recognition by Japan that she cannot fight Russia, Japanese
ambitions may . . . be directed Southward. Would Japan be able to buy off the
Soviet and receive a free hand for dealing with China? Hitherto bad Sovietâ€“
Japanese relations have certainly acted as a brake in some measure on the
Japanese. On the other hand, half of the motive for the policy of encroachment
in N. China has been strategic â€“ aimed against Russia. If there is a real Sovietâ€“
Japanese detente, might that bring to an end Japanâ€™s continual adventures in the
north? It is very difficult to answer any of these questions.
It was particularly difficult to do so as a result of Yoshidaâ€™s initiative.
The Japanese ambassador put forward the idea of an Anglo-Japanese
condominium in China, one in which, while British interests were re-
spected, China would be a â€˜vassal State of Japanâ€™. Orde pointed out its
flaws: it would offend public opinion in both Britain and the United
States, â€˜it would be a mistake to bank on Japan respecting British
interests in Chinaâ€™, China would be â€˜too big a nut for Japan to crackâ€™,
and â€˜a policy of cooperation with Japan which takes the form of looking
like encouragement of Japan against Russia will antagonise the latter,
weaken her as against Germany and correspondingly strengthen Ger-
manyâ€™.101 These arguments proved decisive, and the British adopted a
policy that committed them to nothing that would upset the balance in
the Far East.102 Despite the efforts of Yoshida to invigorate the talks,
there was no possibility of his initiative going further in the aftermath of
the Keelung affair.103
There were other matters. Spain was a major one. After the outbreak
of the civil war, the British had attempted to avoid becoming