France is correspondingly depressed.â€™ It was understandable, as Collier
suggested to Dodds, to believe that there was a direct connection
between the Purges and Tokyoâ€™s initiation of the Sino-Japanese War on
This latter event marked an end to one phase of British strategic defence
policy making and the way in which Soviet Russia affected it. Since
February 1936, increasing Soviet strength and the assertiveness of Soviet
foreign policy had alternately heartened and annoyed the British. For the
most part, Soviet strength was viewed favourably, since it seemed likely
to deter Japan in the Far East and to check German aspirations in
eastern Europe. What was not viewed favourably was the Soviet refusal
to play only an auxiliary role. The Soviets continued to press, through
the instrument of the Franco-Soviet Pact, for a more definite commit-
ment from the Western Powers. This threatened to embroil the British in
quarrels in eastern Europe where their direct interests were slight and
their ability to play a military role was non-existent â€“ at the same time as
weakening their ability to defend their substantial interests in the Far
East. It also gave the Germans a stick with which to beat the British. All
negotiations for a general settlement â€“ a new Locarno â€“ or for naval arms
control could be stalled by Berlinâ€™s constant contention that it was being
â€˜encircledâ€™ by the Franco-Soviet Pact. This not only made Anglo-Soviet
relations more difficult; it also complicated Anglo-French relations, as
the British often saw the Front populaire government as too much
affected by Soviet interests (as generated both officially in Moscow and
domestically by the French Communists inspired by Moscow).176
Collierâ€™s minute (6 Jul) on Dodds to FO, tel 204, FO 371/21104/N3447/461/38, and
enclosures, one of which is Lt-Col Hayes (MI2, WO) to Vereker, 9 Jul 1937 and a
memo, â€˜USSR. The â€śPurgeâ€ť in the Red Armyâ€™, nd, written by Hayes.
John E. Dreifort, â€˜The French Popular Front and the Franco-Soviet Pact, 1936â€“1937:
A Dilemma in Foreign Policyâ€™, JCH, 11 (1976), 217â€“36.
Soviet Russian assertiveness 211
The Purges and the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War meant that
British strategic foreign policy and the role of Soviet Russia in it would
have to be re-evaluated. Was Soviet Russia still strong enough to play, or
interested in playing, a deterrent role in Europe? Could British interests
in the Far East still shelter under the now-tattered red umbrella? What
changes in the international situation were likely to derive from the new
circumstances of July 1937?
6 Chamberlainâ€™s interlude:
May 1937â€“September 1938
When Neville Chamberlain became prime minister on 28 May 1937, he
ushered in a new phase of the â€˜deterrenceâ€™ period. As the British leader,
he was in a position to implement the changes in strategic foreign policy
that he had long advocated.1 Not for him the uncertainty of the previous
four years. He revelled in â€˜the wonderful power that the Premiership
gives youâ€™. â€˜As Ch[ancellor] of Ex[chequer]â€™, he boasted to his sister in a
typically hubristic letter, â€˜I could hardly have moved a pebble; now I
have only to raise a finger & the whole face of Europe is changed.â€™2 The
relative lull in events â€“ the German Anschluss with Austria on 13 March
1938 was the only major international occurrence until the
Czechoslovakian crisis in September of that same year â€“ should
have provided him with the opportunity to do major facial surgery.
However, circumstances were not entirely propitious for many of the
prime ministerâ€™s pet schemes.
In the Far East, the outbreak of Sino-Japanese hostilities was com-
pounded by the Japanese wounding of Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen, the
British ambassador to China, and the ensuing British pursuit of a Japan-
ese apology. This meant that Chamberlain could not overtly seek a
Anglo-Japanese rapprochement.3 Instead, he had to content himself with
an attempt to bring an end to hostilities while simultaneously ensuring
that British interests in China were not overrun by the Japanese.4 In
Europe, the Spanish Civil War meant that relations with the â€˜dictator
statesâ€™ were tense and public opinion was inflamed. And the actions of
Italian submarines in the Civil War, added to the Italian adherence to the
Anti-Comintern Pact on 6 November and Italyâ€™s leaving of the League a
N. Chamberlain diary entry, 19 Feb 1938, Chamberlain Papers, NC 2/24A; N.
Chamberlain to Halifax, 7 Aug 1937, Halifax Papers, FO 800/328.
N. Chamberlain to Ida, his sister, 8 Aug 1937, Chamberlain Papers, NC 18/1/1015.
Minutes, Cab 46(37), 8 Dec 1937, Cab 23/89A.
Greg Kennedy, Anglo-American Strategic Relations and the Far East 1933â€“1939 (London,
Chamberlainâ€™s interlude 213
month later, meant that any warming of Anglo-Italian relations had to be
attempted carefully, even clandestinely.
What was the place of Soviet Russia in all this? In the three years prior
to the Sino-Japanese War, Moscow had returned to Great Power politics.
Its insistence that its voice must be heard in international affairs had
been reinforced by its burgeoning military power, and the British had
been quick to recognize this fact. They were, however, reluctant to
abandon their interpretation of what collective security meant in favour
of the Soviet definition (which essentially meant a return to alliances
difficult to distinguish from old diplomacy). The Purges weakened
Moscowâ€™s bargaining position. The new-found British respect for Soviet
military power was temporarily shelved, and the slower pace of events
meant that Chamberlain was able to pursue British aims by the means
that he preferred, without any direct co-operation with Soviet Russia.
The tide of Soviet Russiaâ€™s influence receded, and Anglo-Soviet relations
again grew more distant.
But, before this can be examined, major changes in the British foreign-
policy making elite need to be considered. When Chamberlain formed
his Cabinet, he ensured that there would be little opposition to his
policies.5 Believing that he and Eden had a common view of foreign
policy (and knowing that Eden, despite his popularity, was still very
much a junior man), Chamberlain made no change at the Foreign
Office.6 Having found Sir John Simon a pliable, if incompetent, foreign
secretary (and knowing that â€˜Soapyâ€™ Simon would be an obedient and
loyal colleague), Chamberlain replaced himself as chancellor with
Simon, a man who would continue the prime ministerâ€™s policy of
treating finance as the determining factor in rearmament.7
Opponents were either eliminated or moved. Duff Cooper, who had
fought tenaciously at the War Office for an army capable of going to the
continent was, much to his surprise, moved to the Admiralty.8 Cooper at
the Admiralty would not be as annoying to Chamberlain as he had been
at the Horse Guards (or sniping from the back benches). Cooperâ€™s
For a judgement, see Amery to Buchan, 29 May 1937, Buchan Papers, Box 9.
David Dutton, Anthony Eden. A Life and Reputation (London and New York, 1997),
82â€“4; Harvey diary entry, 26 Mar 1937, Harvey Papers, Add MSS 56394.
Roy Jenkins, The Chancellors (Basingstoke and Oxford, 1998), 385â€“8.
Duff Cooper, Old Men Forget. The Autobiography of Duff Cooper (London, 1954), 205â€“6;
John Charmley, Duff Cooper. The Authorized Biography (London, 1986), 99â€“102; N.
Chamberlain to his sister, Hilda, 30 May 1937, Chamberlain Papers, NC 18/1006; J. P.
Harris, â€˜Two War Ministers: A Reassessment of Duff Cooper and Hore-Belishaâ€™, W&S,
6, 1 (1988), 66â€“9. For Chamberlainâ€™s dislike, see minutes, Cab 20(37), 5 May 1937,
214 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
successor at the War Office was Leslie Hore-Belisha, whose junior status
and party affiliation (National Liberal) ensured that he would be loyal to
and dependent on Chamberlain.9 Besides, Hore-Belisha was under the
influence of Basil Liddell Hart, a leading military theorist who believed
in a limited role for the British army on the continent, quite in line with
Chamberlainâ€™s own predilections.10 Cooperâ€™s predecessor at the Admir-
alty, Sir Samuel Hoare, could have retained that post. However, full of
what Chamberlain termed â€˜restless ambitionâ€™, Hoare was given the
Home Office, where he could thrust himself into the â€˜hurly burly of
every day politicsâ€™.11 None the less, Hoare remained both influential
and, as he was dependent on Chamberlain for office, subservient. With
two tame National Liberals (Simon and Hore-Belisha) in the Cabinet,
Chamberlain attempted to demote another, Walter Runciman, who was
not. This angered Runciman, who refused to become Lord Privy Seal.12
As a result, Runciman, who had been prominent in all economic aspects
of strategic foreign policy and had worked closely with Chamberlain, left
the government.13 Chamberlainâ€™s Cabinet was complete and servile.
The direction and implementation of Britainâ€™s strategic foreign policy
was also affected by changes in British representation abroad. In the first
half of 1937, new ambassadors were appointed at Berlin, Paris and
Tokyo.14 Their place in events needs to be considered in detail. The
new ambassador at Paris was Sir Eric Phipps.15 For Phipps, Paris
represented his heartâ€™s desire.16 He also had excellent connections in
Britain. He and Hankey were close friends, and Vansittart was his
brother-in-law. The latter link was not always helpful. While ambassador
to Berlin, Phipps had lobbied hard to succeed Sir William Tyrrell at Paris
in 1934, but Vansittart had blocked the move, claiming that Phipps was
J. P. Harris, â€˜The British General Staff and the Coming of War, 1933â€“1939â€™, in David
French and Brian Holden Reid, eds., The British General Staff. Reform and Innovation,
1890â€“1939 (London and Portland, OR, 2002), 186â€“7; Harris, â€˜Two War Ministersâ€™,
Michael Dockrill, British Establishment Perspectives on France, 1936â€“1940 (London,
N. Chamberlain to Hilda, his sister, 30 May 1937, Chamberlain Papers NC 18/1/1006.
Runciman to Chamberlain, 7 May 1937, N. Chamberlain to Runciman, 6 May 1937,
both Runciman Papers, WR 285.
David Wrench, â€˜â€śVery Peculiar Circumstancesâ€ť: Walter Runciman and the National
Government, 1931â€“1933â€™, TCBH, 11, 1 (2000), 61â€“82.
Donald Cameron Watt, â€˜Chamberlainâ€™s Ambassadorsâ€™, in Michael Dockrill and Brian
McKercher, eds., Diplomacy and World Power. Studies in British Foreign Policy, 1890â€“
1950 (Cambridge, 1996), 136â€“70. I do not share Wattâ€™s interpretations.
John Herman, The Embassy of Sir Eric Phipps. Anglo-French Relations and the Foreign
Office, 1937â€“1939 (Brighton, 1998), 7â€“31.
â€˜Diplomatic Light and Shadeâ€™, Phipps, 1942: Phipps Papers, PHPP 9/1.
Chamberlainâ€™s interlude 215
too valuable where he was.17 Phipps resented this, not realizing that his
own lobbying was aiding an attack by Fisher on both Vansittart and the
PUSâ€™s prerogative to help select ambassadors.18 In fact, Phippsâ€™s desire
for Paris was vital to his brother-in-lawâ€™s struggle to remain as PUS.
Vansittart had fended off Edenâ€™s efforts to remove him as PUS and make
him ambassador at Paris by arguing that Phipps deserved the post.
Thus, when Eden tried again in December 1936 and January 1937 to
induce Vansittart to go to Paris, the latter was only too happy to transfer
The appointment of Phipps was important for the impact of Soviet
Russia on British policy. Phipps had friends among the French Right,
and shared their view of the malign influence of the Communists on
French political life. While in Berlin, Phipps had seen how the Franco-
Soviet Pact had played on British policy, and, when he arrived in Paris,
he did so in the midst of the national unrest that has been termed the
â€˜guerrilla warâ€™ between labour and capital lasting from June 1936 to
November 1938.19 Phipps also tended to support the fascists in Spain,
although not too much should be made of this, for Phipps disliked
fascism and communism equally. As he put it in a typically witty remark:
â€˜With cholera on the Right and bubonic plague on the Left I prefer to
steer a middle course.â€™20 Even so, reports from Paris as to the role of
Soviet Russia in French life would not be favourable.
Phippsâ€™s successor in Berlin was Sir Nevile Henderson.21 There has
been much controversy over Hendersonâ€™s time as ambassador, and he
has been considered the arch-appeaser among British diplomatists.22
There is no satisfactory explanation for his appointment to Berlin, only
a contention that it was both a reward for his having done well at his
previous posts and a recognition of his ability to handle difficult per-
sonalities. Whatever the case, Henderson claimed in his memoirs that
he had been given a special mission by Neville Chamberlain, which
has led to speculation that somehow the latter was responsible for
Phipps to Simon, 4 Jan 1934, Vansittartâ€™s undated minute and Simon to Phipps, 8 Feb
1934, both FO 794/16.
Fisher to Vansittart, 8 Jan 1934, Vansittart to Simon, 13 Jan 1934, both FO 794/8.
Julian Jackson, The Popular Front in France. Defending Democracy, 1934â€“1938 (Cam-
bridge, 1988), 104â€“12.
Phipps to Duff Cooper, 8 Dec 1938, Phipps Papers, PHPP 3/2.
Peter Neville, Appeasing Hitler. The Diplomacy of Sir Nevile Henderson, 1937â€“1939
(Basingstoke and New York, 2000); Aaron Goldman, â€˜Two Views of Germany: Nevile
Henderson vs Vansittart and the Foreign Office, 1937â€“1939â€™, BJIS, 6 (1980), 247â€“77.
Watt, â€˜Chamberlainâ€™s Ambassadorsâ€™; Neville, Appeasing Hitler, xiâ€“xv and 20â€“47; Nev-
ille, â€˜The Appointment of Sir Nevile Henderson, 1937 â€“ Design or Blunderâ€™, JCH, 33,
4 (1998), 609â€“19.
216 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
the ambassadorâ€™s selection. It has been rightly pointed out that, as
Henderson was appointed before Chamberlain became prime minister,
and because ambassadorial posts were in the purview of the prime
minister (usually as advised by the PUS), it was Baldwin and Vansittart
who were responsible for choosing Henderson. However, given that
Warren Fisher wanted Vansittart removed, and, as head of the Civil
Service, attempted to wrest control of appointments from the PUS, it
is not implausible that Chamberlain was able to influence selection even
before he became prime minister, perhaps also through the agency of Sir
Horace Wilson, the governmentâ€™s chief industrial adviser.23
Such a back-door approach was typical of Chamberlain. And
Chamberlainâ€™s unhappiness with the Foreign Office was particularly
acute in the spring of 1937 due to that officeâ€™s opposition to the Treasuryâ€™s
desire to utilize discussions with Dr Hjalmar Schacht, the German minis-
ter of economics, as an unofficial conduit to Hitler.24 And, certainly, there
were those who pushed Chamberlain to take a more direct control of
foreign policy. Hoare, clearly angling for his own place in the new Cab-
inet, sent a sycophantic letter to Chamberlain, pleading with the latter to