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is in Maiolo, Royal Navy and Nazi Germany, 47“56; David K. Varey, ˜The Politics
of Naval Aid: The Foreign Office, the Admiralty, and Anglo-Soviet Technical Co-
¨
operation, 1936“1937™, D&S, 14, 4 (2003), 50“68. Jurgen Rohwer and Mikhail S.
Monakov, Stalin™s Ocean-Going Fleet. Soviet Naval Strategy and Shipbuilding Programmes
1935“1953 (London, 2001), 221“4; Lennart Samuelson, ˜The Naval Dimensions of
the Soviet Five-Year Plans, 1925“1941™, in William M. McBride, ed., New Interpret-
ations in Naval History (Annapolis, MD, 1998), 221“4; Samuelson, Plans for Stalin™s
War Machine. Tukhachevskii and Military“Economic Planning, 1925“1941 (Basingstoke
and New York, 2000), 176“83.
Soviet Russian assertiveness 205

What did this naval incident demonstrate? First, but least significantly,
it served as another in the series of irritants between London and
Moscow that made co-operation between the two difficult. The British
found the Soviets difficult negotiators, inconsistent in their positions and
often unwilling to consider what the British felt were the wider aspects of
the discussions. Second, and related to this last matter, the Anglo-Soviet
naval discussions showed that, since Soviet Russia had decided to end its
self-imposed exclusion from Great Power relations and to put its actual
and potential military strength in the scales of the international balance
of power, it could not be ignored in the formulation of British strategic
foreign policy. No policy with respect to Germany or Japan could be
made without considering Moscow, and the latter was unwilling to act as
a British puppet in any way.
This was evident in the Far East. While the British had dealt with the
naval negotiations and pondered the significance of the Franco-Soviet
Pact, other matters also had moved on. By the beginning of March 1937,
with the end of the Keelung incident in sight and the appointment of
¯
Sato Naotake as Japanese foreign minister, there was optimism that
Anglo-Japanese relations could improve.162 From China, Sir Hughe
Knatchbull-Hugessen, the British ambassador to China, outlined a plan
whereby this could come about.163 As ˜no Sino-Japanese understanding
is possible without Russian participation™, Knatchbull-Hugessen sug-
gested that a Sino-Soviet-Japanese arrangement might be worked out.
China would be relieved of Japanese pressure, Japan could have its fears
about Soviet Russia diminished and Moscow ˜might regard settlement of
the more acute Far-Eastern problems as a desirable set off to [the] recent
German“Japanese agreement™. And, of course, British interests would
also be met.
Response at the Foreign Office emphasized the complexity of the
situation, the role of Soviet Russia and its links to Europe. Pratt argued
that the Kwantung army would not agree to any frontier settlements in
the north acceptable to the Soviets. Soviet Russia had ˜very little to gain™
from any such agreement, since its ˜military position in Eastern Siberia is


162
Clive to FO, disp 151, 17 Mar 1937, FO 371/21040/F2116/414/23, minutes; Ian Nish,
Japanese Foreign Policy, 1869“1942 (London, 1977), 216“17.
163
The remainder of this and the following four paragraphs, except where indicated, are
based on Knatchbull-Hugessen to Cadogan, tel 59, 2 Mar 1937, FO 371/21024/
F1325/597/61, minutes, Pratt (8 Mar), Orde (9 Mar), Collier (10 Mar), Baxter (11
Mar), Strang (12 Mar), Sargent (15 Mar), Cadogan (17 Mar) and Eden (21 Mar).
A memo (by Orde) outlining the results of these minutes was sent to Clive and
Chilston for their comments; see also Knatchbull-Hugessen to Cadogan, 3 Mar
1937, Knatchbull-Hugessen Papers, KNAT 2/51.
206 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order

now very strong . . . and the frontier squabbles do not worry her unduly™.
´
Orde put the focus squarely on ˜whether the suggested detente would really
be advantageous to ourselves™. He argued that it would not. If Japan were
secure in the north, it might attack in the south. ˜I am inclined to
´
suggest, therefore, that it is undesirable to promote a real detente unless
it covers Russia and unless the situation vis-a-vis Germany makes it of
real importance that Russia should be enabled, and in fact brought, to
transfer considerable forces from the Far East to the West.™
This introduction of Europe moved discussion to the Northern
Department, where Collier contended that such an agreement might
be of value to Moscow, but only if Japan removed the bulk of its troops
from North China. This would allow the Soviets to shift their forces to
Europe, which would be ˜well worth while from the point of view of our
interests™ there. In the Central Department, Baxter doubted that an
increase in Soviet strength in Europe ˜would really make for peace and
security . . . or that it would necessarily act as a deterrent to German
ambitions™. For him, in a remark that spoke directly to the concurrent
imbroglio in the naval arms control talks, the principal advantage to any
agreement in the Far East was that ˜it is in that direction, in that
direction alone, that we can hope to bring about any world-wide agree-
ment for the limitation of armaments™. Everything was connected. ˜We
can hardly hope that Germany would agree to any effective measure of
arms limitation unless Russia would agree to some similar limitation,
and Russia would not agree without Japan.™
Others were more Machiavellian. Strang struck an icy note of Real-
´
politik, arguing that promoting such a detente was antithetical to British
interests:
Placed as we are, with pledges in all parts of the world, we fare best, it seems to
me, when our potential enemies are in a state of mild friction with other Powers;
when relations between them are bad enough for them to keep an eye on each
other, but not bad enough to threaten a disturbance of the peace. In particular, it
is surely a mercy that in our present state of weakness, both Germany and Japan
are on bad terms with Russia.
Sargent ˜fully agree[d]™ with Strang, and, in a statement that cut across
the grain of those who believed in the style of international relations
promoted by the League, contended that ˜[i]t can just as well be argued
that, in the long view, a nicely constructed system of checks and balances
is equally more likely to serve the cause of peace™. Could a return to old
diplomacy be far behind? Cadogan also concurred. He preferred
´
working for a Sino-Japanese detente on grounds acceptable to Britain.
As to Soviet Russia, he echoed Strang: ˜I share the views of those who
Soviet Russian assertiveness 207

think it all to the good that Japan should not be freed of her apprehen-
sions as regards Russia.™ And, in a passage that Eden underlined in red
to indicate his approval, Cadogan noted that he was not ˜quite con-
vinced™ that any increase in Soviet power in Europe ˜would be
altogether desirable™.
Eden preferred a different constellation of Powers in the Far East. ˜I
had rather detach Tokyo from Berlin™, the foreign secretary wrote, ˜as a
result of improved Anglo-Japanese relations than seek to improve Russo-
Japanese relations which might not in the end result in separating Tokyo
from Berlin, but in freeing Tokyo to work with Berlin against us in a new
sphere.™ ˜The triangle for us to work™, he concluded, ˜is ourselves, Japan
& China, with USA constantly in touch.™ In Tokyo, Clive also dis-
agreed.164 Events, combined with previous Japanese rebuffs of Soviet
offers of a non-aggression pact, had ˜obligingly relegated into the back-
ground the nightmare, for British interests of a German“Russian or
Japanese“Russian understanding™. In fact, he ˜believe[d] that the fatuity
of alienating the British Empire, the Soviet Union, and the United States
of America simultaneously has now dawned on the Japanese Army™.
Moscow was not in favour of improved relations between Britain and
Japan. Their position was a mirror image of that which Strang had
contended should be Britain™s: ˜naturally . . . [the Soviets] desire the
worst possible relations between the British Empire and the Japanese;
they would like us to fight their battles for them by restraining Japan
economically and they dread the possibility of an Anglo-Japanese en-
tente™. This view was widespread. Eden in fact told the newly created
Defence Plans (Policy) Committee on 19 April that Soviet Russia would
˜probably not be adverse to seeing other Powers at loggerheads™.165
The assumption of Soviet strength was battered in the late spring and
early summer of 1937, as purges swept through the Red Army.166
Initially, the rumours of arrests and executions were not viewed un-
favourably in London. Also, it was hard to determine what was
happening in the Red Army, for in mid-May there were a number of
appointments that seemed to indicate that a number of high-ranking

164
The remainder of this paragraph, except where indicated, is based on Clive to FO, disp
152, 17 Mar 1937, FO 371/21040/F2117/414/23 and Clive to FO, disp 165, 25 Mar
1937, FO 371/21024/F2368/597/61. See also ˜Appreciation of the probable plans of
Operations and initial deployment in a Russo-Japanese War™, secret, MI2(c), 23 Apr
1937, WO 106/5499; Chilston, disp 232, 11 May 1937, FO 371/21025/F2970/597/61.
165
DP(P), minutes 1st meeting, 19 Apr 1937, Cab 16/181.
166
John Erickson, The Soviet High Command. A Military-Political History 1918“1941
(London, 1962), 440“73 504“9 and David R. Jones, ˜Motives and Consequences of
the Red Army Purges, 1937“1938™, Soviet Armed Forces Review Annual, 3 (1979),
256“64.
208 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order

officers (including M. N. Tukhachevsky) who had been previously
thought to be under suspicion, had been exonerated. But, at the same
time, there was evidence of increased control of the military by the
Communist Party. Military councils had been set up in the various
Soviet military districts, and military commissars had been appointed
in all units. ˜It is very hard to estimate the effect of these measures™,
Vereker noted in London, ˜one can but hope that the Red Army discip-
line will not be adversely affected™.167
By the beginning of June, however, it was becoming clear that Stalin
and the Communist Party were determined to ensure that ˜the prospects
of the Red Army becoming the master instead of the Servant of the
Soviet State are now even more remote than they were™. Collier quickly
saw the political significance of this: ˜it seems clear that, in the army at
least, it is not “Trotskism” which Stalin fears, so much as independence
of any sort™.168 By the middle of the month, the Foreign Office was fully
aware of the arrests, trials and executions (roughly in that order) of a
number of high-ranking generals, including Tukhachevsky.169 When
reflecting on why these ˜strange and horrible proceedings™ had occurred,
the British were blunt.170 From Moscow, the British charge d™affaires
´
sarcastically noted that the rumours of the past year about dealings
between the Red Army and the Reichswehr (with the attendant political
assumptions) had no doubt been used to fabricate ˜the local speciality™, a
charge of ˜high treason by inference™. This became the justification for
´
what the British military attache, Colonel R. C. W. G. Firebrace, termed
˜juridical murder™. For Collier, this could be explained only by equating
˜the mind of Stalin™ to that of another ruthless ruler, Reza Shah. ˜The
only serious difference™, Collier noted perspicaciously, ˜is that in Persia
one doesn™t have to pretend to justify one™s treatment of “traitors” and in
Russia one still does “ for the present™.171



167
´
Firebrace (military attache, Moscow), disp 12, 18 May, in Chilston to FO, disp 246, 19
May 1937, FO 371/21104/N2700/461/38, Vereker™s minute (25 May).
168
MacKillop to FO, disp 269, 1 Jun 1937, FO 371/21104/N2921/451/38 and enclosures,
minute, Collier (11 Jun).
169
MacKillop to FO, tel 91, 9 Jun 1937, FO 371/21104/N3010/461/38; MacKillop to FO,
tel 94, 11 Jun 1937, FO 371/21104/N3075/461/38; MacKillop to FO, tel 95, 12 Jun
1937, FO 371/21104/N3076/461/38.
170
MacKillop to FO, disp 291, 15 Jun 1937, FO 371/21104/N3177/461/38 enclosing
Firebrace™s disp (14 Jun), minutes, Collier and Oliphant (both 22 Jun).
171
Aided by fabrications; Donald Cameron Watt, ˜Who Plotted Against Whom? Stalin™s
Purge of the Soviet High Command Revisited™, JSMS, 3, 1 (1990), 46“65; Steven
J. Main, ˜The Arrest and “Testimony” of Marshal of the Soviet Union M. N.
Tukhachevsky (May“June 1937)™, JSMS, 10, 1 (1997), 151“95.
Soviet Russian assertiveness 209

Of greater importance for British strategic foreign policy, of course,
was what evaluation was made of the impact of the Purges on the
fighting capabilities of the Red Army. In February 1937, the COS had
argued that the Red Army was becoming a formidable instrument, one
that needed to be considered seriously in both Europe and the Far
East.172 Firebrace™s initial evaluation of the impact of the Purges was
both accurate and observant:
The main effect of this trial on the Red Army will be felt from the actual loss of
experienced and competent officers, who will be difficult to replace . . . Initiative
and originality of thought, essential qualities in a high commander, are likely to
be conspicuously absent, being qualities too dangerous to be considered desir-
able in a Red Army Commander. . . I do not consider that there will be much
effect on the rank and file.173

These views were accepted at the Foreign Office as definitive.
The Purges had an immediate impact on the situation in the Far East.
On 30 June, the first secretary of the Japanese embassy in London called
at the Foreign Office. There, he attempted to discover the British opin-
ion of the effect of the Purges on the fighting capacity of Soviet Russia.
The British had no intention of telling the Japanese anything that might
encourage them to strike harder at China (or at British interests) as a
result of believing Soviet Russia weak, and thus informed Hachiya that,
˜[a]s to whether Stalin™s position and that of the regime had been
strengthened or weakened, one could not at present say™. The Japanese,
in the person of the counsellor at the embassy, made a second enquiry,
this time attempting to draw Collier on the subject. True to his earlier
remark on Hachiya™s probings “ ˜he won™t get much out of me!™174 “
Collier obfuscated. He emphasized that Stalin™s actions had been taken
to secure his own position and that this should ˜strengthen™ the ability of
the Soviet state to resist ˜foreign attack™. And, when the Japanese made
another attempt at information gathering, this time in Tokyo, Collier
´
advised J. L. Dodds, the British charge d™affaires, to be similarly disin-
genuous. The true British view “ the War Office™s ˜general conclusion™ “
of the impact of the Purges was too sombre and too dangerous to give to
the Japanese:


172
˜Review of Imperial Defence by the Chiefs of Staff Sub-Committee™, CID 1305-B,
Chatfield, Ellington and Deverell, 22 Feb 1937, Cab 4/25; Neilson, ˜“Pursued by a
Bear”™, 214“15.
173
Firebrace™s disp (14 Jun) in MacKillop to FO, disp 291, 15 Jun 1937, FO 371/21104/
N3177/461/38.
174
Minute, E. A. Walker (ND), 30 Jun 1937, FO 371/21104/N3412/461/38, Collier™s
minute (5 Jul).
210 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
in an effort to ensure the loyalty of the Red Army and its devotion to his person,
Stalin has dealt a direct blow to its moral[e] and an indirect one to its efficiency,
from which it will require considerable time, if not years, to recover. Indeed, if
the ˜purge™ continues the Army may become completely demoralized.

This meant, the War Office suggested, that ˜the value of the Soviet
Union as an ally of France has decreased to a corresponding extent;
and, conversely, her danger to Germany as an enemy has also declined™.
The ramifications were evident. ˜In these circumstances, it is not sur-

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