Knatchbull-Hugessen to FO, tel 382, 23 Aug 1937, FO 371/21001/F5690/1098/10,
minutes; Gage to FO, tel 400, 30 Aug 1937, FO 371/21001/F5832/1098/10; Chilston
to FO, tel 133, 30 Aug 1937, FO 371/21001/F5924/1098/10, minute, Ronald (1 Sept).
Minute, Thyne Henderson (FED) on Ingram (charge dâ€™affaires, Rome) to Orde, 2 Aug
1937, FO 371/20952/F4852/9/10; Ogilvie-Forbes (Berlin) to Strang, 11 Aug 1937, FO
Minutes, Cab 24(37), 8 Sept 1937, Cab 23/89.
Martin Thomas, Britain, France and Appeasement. Anglo-French Relations in the Popular
Front Era (Oxford, 1996), 216â€“18; Peter Gretton, â€˜The Nyon Conference: The Naval
Aspectâ€™, EHR, 90 (1975), 103â€“12.
William C. Mills, â€˜The Nyon Conference: Neville Chamberlain, Anthony Eden, and
the Appeasement of Italy in 1937â€™, IHR, 15, 1 (1993), 1â€“22.
222 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
ambassador at London, Dino Grandi.52 While Chamberlain did not
comprehend that he had been gulled by Grandi (who had fabricated a
message from Mussolini to the prime minister in order to begin the
talks), by 1 August the British leader was convinced that his negotiations
had demonstrated the â€˜â€śChamberlain touchâ€ťâ€™ in foreign policy. He
believed that his talks would be successful â€˜if only the FO will play upâ€™,
and, with unintended irony, later accused the Foreign Office of â€˜seeing
Musso[lini] only as a sort of Machiavelli putting on a false mask of
friendship in order to further nefarious ambitionsâ€™.53 The FO was suspi-
cious of Mussoliniâ€™s motives, and were unwilling both to abandon the
French and to give de jure recognition of the Italian annexation of
Abyssinia in exchange for the uncertain promises of the Italian dictator.
All this played into Nyon.
When the French refused to attend the Nyon Conference unless
Soviet Russia also came, Eden extended an invitation to Moscow.54
While the Italians opposed this and Chamberlain argued that any Soviet
naval help was a â€˜dubious proposalâ€™, the Soviets did come to Switzer-
land. There, they insisted that Moscow be allocated a zone to patrol in
the Aegean despite their limited ability to effect such an action.55 Eden
managed to find a face-saving compromise. Somewhat to Edenâ€™s â€˜sur-
priseâ€™, Moscow accepted it. He was doubly pleased that no â€˜Anglo-
French-Soviet bloc on an ideological basisâ€™ had been â€˜create[d]â€™.56
All seemed promising. The way was still open for discussions with
Italy and Germany, despite the complications caused by the Franco-
Soviet relationship and the check to Chamberlainâ€™s Italian schemes.57
Cadogan, however, was still unhappy about Soviet involvement. He
worried about Soviet influence on the follow-up to Nyon (which was
Following based on N. Chamberlainâ€™s letters to his sisters: Hilda, 1 Aug 1937, Ida, 8
Aug 1937, and Hilda 29 Aug 1937, Chamberlain Papers, NC 18/1/1014, 1015, 1018;
Eden to Halifax, 11 Aug 1937, Avon Papers, AP 20/5/25A; Halifax to Eden, 12 Aug
1937, Avon Papers, AP 20/5/26; Peters, Eden, 278â€“92; H. James Burgwyn, Italian
Foreign Policy in the Inter-war Period 1918â€“1940 (Westport, CT, 1997), 160â€“2; William
C. Mills, â€˜The Chamberlainâ€“Grandi Conversations of Julyâ€“August 1937 and the Ap-
peasement of Italyâ€™, IHR, 19, 3 (1997), 594â€“619; Mills, â€˜Sir Joseph Ball, Adrian Dingli,
and Neville Chamberlainâ€™s â€śSecret Channelâ€ť to Italy, 1937â€“1940â€™, IHR, 24, 2 (2002),
N. Chamberlain to his sister, Hilda, 12 Sept 1937, Chamberlain Papers, NC 18/1/
Â¨ Â¨Â¸ Â¨
Minutes, Cab 34(37), 8 Sept 1937, Cab 23/89; see also Yucel Guclu, â€˜The Nyon
Arrangement of 1937 and Turkeyâ€™, MES, 38, 1 (2002), 53â€“70.
Following based on Eden to N. Chamberlain, 14 Sept 1937, Prem 1/360; minutes, Cab
35(37), 29 Sept 1937, Cab 23/89.
Diary entry, 9 Sept 1937, Cadogan Papers, ACAD 1/6.
N. Chamberlain to his sister, Ida, 19 Sept 1937, Chamberlain Papers, NC 18/1/1021.
Chamberlainâ€™s interlude 223
co-ordinated from Geneva): â€˜Trouble is that Geneva is a purely Franco-
Russian atmosphere, and the Russians can twist the French tail, so our
policy is dictated from Moscow.â€™58 But Soviet influence on France was
not necessarily permanent. Phipps noted that the Front populaire gov-
ernment was on shaky political ground and could be succeeded by a
national government in which men of the Right would be represented:
â€˜On these menâ€™, the ambassador noted, â€˜Russian torpedoes or Russian
blandishments may have less effect [than] upon certain members of the
In the autumn of 1937, British policy in the Far East marked time.
While the opening of the â€˜odiousâ€™ Japanese bombing campaign in China
prodded several to importune Eden to take action, he did not â€˜believe
we can do anything [in the Far East] because [the] US will not playâ€™.60
Eden would have welcomed co-operation with the Americans, but
Chamberlain preferred, following Craigie, that Britain offer its best
offices to end the conflict.61 The Admiralty were also wary. They felt
that, even if the Americans were willing to impose an embargo on both
China and Japan, there was â€˜little reason to hope that . . . they would be
prepared to afford us military supportâ€™.62 Given this, the Admiralty
counselled caution. This advice was easily accepted at the Foreign
Office.63 With the Japanese in a truculent mood, and the American
position unclarified by Rooseveltâ€™s famous â€˜quarantineâ€™ speech at Chicago
on 5 October (in which the American president spoke of the need to
â€˜quarantineâ€™ those states that threatened international peace), the British
would do as well to look to Moscow as to Washington for any immediate
assistance in the Far East.64
Diary entry, 22 Sept 1937, Cadogan Papers, ACAD 1/6.
Phipps to Eden, 30 Sept 1937, Phipps Papers, PHPP 1/19.
Halifax to Eden, 27 Sept 1937, Avon Papers, AP 20/5/28; Amery to Buchan, 29 Sept
1937, Buchan Papers, Box 8; Earl De La Warr to Eden, 28 Sept 1937, Avon Papers, AP
13/1/43E; Eden to De La Warr, 28 Sept 1937, Eden Papers, FO 954/6; Edenâ€™s minute
(30 Sept) on John Maynard Keynes to Gladwyn Jebb, 29 Sept 1937, FO 371/21015/
F7822/6799/10; minutes, Cab 36(37), 6 Oct 1937, Cab 23/89.
Untitled memo, ns [but N. Chamberlain], 27 Sept 1937, Prem 1/314; Harvey diary
entry, 2 Oct 1937, Harvey Papers, Add MSS 56394.
Adm to FO, 4 Oct 1937, FO 371/21014/F7372/6799/10, minutes.
â€˜Minutes of Inter-Departmental Meeting held at the Foreign Office on October 13â€™,
1937, ns, FO 371/21015/F8143/6799/10.
Cranborneâ€™s interviews with the Japanese minister at Berne, 22 and 30 Sept 1937, both
Cranborne Papers, FO 800/296; Greg Kennedy, Anglo-American Strategic Relations,
234â€“6; minutes, Cab 36(37), 6 Oct 1937, Cab 23/89; Mallet to FO, tel 324, 5 Oct
1937, minutes; FO to Mallet, tel 433, 12 Oct 1937, both FO 371/21019/F7477/7240/
10 and reply, tel 340, 12 Oct 1937, FO 371/21019/F7792/7240/10; N. Chamberlain to
Hilda, his sister, 9 Oct 1937, Chamberlain Papers, NC 18/1/1023; and N. Chamberlain
to Buchan, 19 Nov 1937, Buchan Papers, Box 9.
224 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
It was important, therefore, for Britain to know the state of Sovietâ€“
Japanese relations. By September, the British had come to suspect that
Japan had been preparing for war in China before the Marco Polo
incident in July. However, some also suspected that the preparations
had been â€˜for a war with Soviet Russiaâ€™.65 Craigie believed that the
warmth of Anglo-Japanese relations depended on two things: the
strength of Britain in the Far East and the Japanese need for Britainâ€™s
â€˜benevolent neutralityâ€™ in any future war with Soviet Russia.66 And there
were strong rumours that Japan planned to expand the war to Soviet
Russia (taking advantage of the disorganization caused by the Purges),
although opinion at the Foreign Office was sceptical.67 What, then, was
the state and nature of Anglo-Soviet relations themselves? The British
charge dâ€™affaires in Moscow analysed Litvinovâ€™s speech at Geneva on 21
September. MacKillop argued that the two states had common interests,
inasmuch as both â€˜favour[ed] the creation of a genuine collective system
of international securityâ€™. He sympathized with the Soviet idea that â€˜the
right policy to adopt is one of aggressiveness against the aggressorsâ€™,
given that the â€˜perfect collective systemâ€™ that both Britain and Soviet
Russia desired did not exist. But he then backed away from his analysis,
which pointed towards the possibility of a grouping of Britain, France
and (Soviet) Russia, on the grounds that such a grouping had resulted in
war in 1914. To Collier, this retreat from iron logic was unacceptable: â€˜Is
it maintained that the Anglo-Russian rapprochement before 1914 was a
bad thing because it brought us into the war? The alternative would
surely have been that we should have lain at the mercy of a Germany
victorious over France & Russia.â€™68
On the eve of the Brussels Conference, held to discuss the situation in
the Far East, Craigie sent disconcerting news about the possibility of
Italyâ€™s adherence to the Anti-Comintern Pact. This possibility engen-
dered some sarcasm at the Foreign Office. If Tokyo wished to argue that
it was still attempting to â€˜cultivateâ€™ good relations with Britain, Vansittart
noted dryly, â€˜the Japanese have strange notions of cultivationâ€™.69 As to
the pact itself, the Foreign Office believed that it was not only anti-Soviet
in a military sense, but also a diplomatic weapon designed to bring other
Memo, DOT, 7 Sept 1937, FO 371/21035/F6556/142/23, Ashton-Gwatkinâ€™s minute
Craigie to FO, disp 448, 9 Sept 1937, FO 371/21029/F7662/38/23.
Craigie to FO, tel 489, 5 Oct 1937, FO 371/20992/F7449/243/10, minutes; Craigie to
FO, tel 555, 19 Oct 1937, FO 371/21041/F8128/609/23, minutes.
MacKillop to FO, disp 483, 7 Oct 1937, FO 371/21243/W18952/250/98, Collierâ€™s
minute (23 Oct).
Craigie to FO, tel 605, 29 Oct 1937, FO 371/21040/F8754/414/23, Vansittartâ€™s minute
Chamberlainâ€™s interlude 225
nations into the anti-communist orbit.70 To prevent this, Craigie sug-
gested that Britain make an initiative to improve Anglo-Japanese rela-
tions. Such an idea found little support at the Foreign Office. There,
opinion was solid that the problems resulted from Japanâ€™s desire to
dominate China. â€˜Whilst they are in this expansionist and aggressive
mood it will be quite impossible for us to be on terms of friendship with
themâ€™, wrote one clerk in the Far Eastern Department, â€˜[t]hey are out to
plunder us if they can and a brigand is not the friend of his potential
victimâ€™.71 As Orde had noted in late October about the Japanese actions:
â€˜I fear nothing but defeat, exhaustion or Russian intervention will alter
Brussels again illustrated the impact of Soviet Russia on Britainâ€™s
attempt to orchestrate affairs. By mid-October, the British realized a
number of things: that the Americans were not planning to take any
action at Brussels, that they were anxious to avoid any suggestion that
they â€˜were being dragged along by the Britishâ€™ and that sanctions against
Japan might lead to precipitate action by Tokyo against British inter-
ests.73 The latter had to be avoided, the Admiralty emphasized, because
it would be impossible to send a large fleet to the Far East and dangerous
to send a smaller one.74 With respect to the United States, the British
needed to avoid â€˜giv[ing] the Yank the excuse of saying that, while
they were prepared to do anything, we were hanging backâ€™.75 Therefore,
it was not surprising that, when the British and American delegates
first met at Brussels, they agreed that the point of the conference was to
â€˜make peaceâ€™ if possible, to ensure close liaison and to avoid talking about
sanctions. The conference was to be an exercise in the confidence-build-
ing measures that were a feature of Anglo-American relations generally.76
Forbes (Lima) to FO, tel 46, 10 Nov 1937, FO 371/21828/F9369/25/23, minutes;
Eden to Lindsay, tel 644, 24 Nov 1937, FO 371/21828/F9655/26/23.
Craigie to Cadogan, 4 Nov 1937, FO 371/21030/F10445/28/23, minutes including
minute, W. W. Thomas (8 Dec).
Minute (27 Oct), Orde on Craigie to FO, tel 587, 26 Oct 1937, FO 371/21015/F8498/
Minutes, Cab 37(37), 13 Oct 1937, Cab 23/89; minute, Pratt (8 Oct) on Mallet to FO,
tel 332, 7 Oct 1937, FO 371/21014/F7574/6799/10.
â€˜Committee on British Shipping in the Far East. Reinforcement of British Naval Forces
in the Far East. Note by the First Lord of the Admiraltyâ€™, FES (37) 4, Chatfield,
23 Sept 1937, FO 371/20979/F8559/130/10; minutes, 218th meeting COS, 18 Oct
1937, Cab 53/8; Kelly (minister plenipotentiary, Cairo) to FO, tel 568, secret, 16
Oct 1937, FO 371/20911/J4324/244/16; commander-in-chief Mediterranean to Adm,
tel 127, COS, 16 Oct 1937, FO 371/20911/J4322/244/16.
Cadogan diary entries, 19 Oct and 2 Nov 1937, Cadogan Papers, ACAD 1/6, original
Clive (Brussels) to FO, tel 76, 2 Nov 1937, FO 371/21016/F9046/6799/10; Greg
Kennedy, Anglo-American Strategic Relations, 236â€“8; minutes, Cab 38(37), 20 Oct
226 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
The joker in the pack was the Soviet stance. The Soviets had come to
Brussels determined to see that â€˜the provisions of the Covenant should
be applied to the fullest extent in favour of Chinaâ€™.77 This cut across the
bows of the Anglo-American position. Unsurprisingly, Litvinov found
the conference frustrating. On 9 November he told Eden that he was
returning to Moscow to report the unsatisfactory nature of the discus-
sions. The Soviet commissar for foreign affairs then predicted the future
of the conference: â€˜no very definite reply from Japan for some time.
Germany and Italy would manoeuvre with hints and suggestionsâ€™ as
to Japanâ€™s willingness to negotiate, â€˜but nothing much would resultâ€™.
Litvinovâ€™s â€˜sincere convictionâ€™ was that the status quo Powers must either
â€˜combine their action or Germany, Italy and Japan would one day
virtually dominate the worldâ€™. He offered Moscowâ€™s co-operation â€˜pro-
vided that the necessary guarantees were given by all participantsâ€™. When
Eden pointed out that Anglo-Soviet relations were as good (â€˜fairly satis-
factoryâ€™) as could be expected given â€˜the feelings about Communism
held by many people in Great Britainâ€™, Litvinov replied â€˜that he could
not understand how anybody in Great Britain today could have any
reason to apprehend the intentions of the Soviet Unionâ€™.78
The Brussels Conference unfolded as Litvinov had predicted. But,
during it, two events complicated matters further. First, on 6 November
Italy announced its adherence to the Anti-Comintern Pact. Second, the
news that Lord Halifax would travel to Germany on 17 November
(despite Edenâ€™s objections) leaked out while Eden was in Brussels.79
The conjunction of these two events made it appear as if the British
were running after the dictators. Collier offered his opinion of what
British policy should be. He argued that Germany, Italy and Japan were
all pursuing aggressive, expansionist policies incompatible with British
interests and that the three would â€˜hang together until there are spoils to
divide, because their aims are such that if they do not hang together, they
may each hang separatelyâ€™. Thus, Collier criticized Craigie, Henderson
and Lord Perth, the British ambassador at Rome, for advocating con-