gunboat, USS Panay,103 and with Soviet Russia acting only indirectly
against the Japanese by providing supplies to China, there remained only
a policy of â€˜stalemateâ€™ in the Far East and Chamberlainâ€™s pursuit of an
Italian (or German) settlement in Europe. This was not satisfactory to
some. From Tokyo, Craigie continued to advocate an Anglo-Japanese
rapprochement. He claimed that this was necessary to avoid any Japanese
settlement with Soviet Russia that would turn Tokyo southward, endan-
gering British interests.104 In a letter combining personal pique (â€˜if you
would sometimes listen to my suggestionsâ€™) with a plea for friendship
towards Japan, Craigie pushed hard for London to change its views.
Craigieâ€™s supplications were to no avail. As Cadogan informed him on 3
January 1938, the British government preferred to work with the United
States to limit Japanâ€™s actions.105 And any Japanese offers to protect
British interests in China created only suspicion. The Foreign Office felt
that these offers were both designed to persuade the British to close
down Hong Kong as a source of supplies for China and due to a
realization that â€˜the deterioration in relations [of Japan] with the Soviets,
together with Japanâ€™s growing unpopularity with the United States, calls
for an attempt to improve relations with Great Britainâ€™.106 Despite
Craigieâ€™s views, British interests would be based on utilizing the delicate
balance provided by Soviet military strength, continuing support for
China and a veiled suggestion of Anglo-American co-operation.
What, then, of Soviet Russia? During the events of December 1937,
Maisky had spent his time attempting to divine the implications of
Halifaxâ€™s visit to Berlin. He also stressed to the War Office that the
Purges had not weakened the Soviet armed forces. Collier worried that
Soviet foreign policy might become â€˜increasingly passiveâ€™, but he was
optimistic that it would not lapse either into â€˜an open declaration of
â€śisolationismâ€ť or a departure from the League of Nationsâ€™.107 None the
Best, Britain, Japan and Pearl Harbor, 46â€“8; L. Pratt, â€˜Anglo-American Naval Conver-
sations on the Far East of January 1938â€™, Journal of the RIIA, 47 (1971), 745â€“63; David
Reynolds, The Creation of the Anglo-American Alliance 1937â€“1941. A Study in Competitive
Co-operation (London, 1981), 60; minute, Orde (1 Jan) of meeting with Ingersoll, 1
January 1938, and â€˜Memorandum of Meeting with Captain Ingersoll (3 January
1938)â€™, Chatfield, both FO 371/22106/F95/84/10; Lindsay to FO, tel 27, 7 Jan 1938,
Craigie to FO, tel 853, 20 Dec 1937, FO 371/21040/F11314/414/23.
Craigie to Cadogan, 2 Dec 1937, and FO to Craigie, cipher tel 3, 3 Jan 1938, both FO
Minute, Brenan (1 Apr) on Craigie to FO, tel 389, 30 Mar 1938, FO 371/22180/
F3468/71/23; see also Cranborneâ€™s interview with Amau ( Japanese minister, Berne), 1
Feb 1938, Cranborne Papers, FO 800/296.
Vansittartâ€™s talk with Maisky, 1 Dec 1937, FO 371/20737/C8352/270/18; Hayes (MI2)
to Collier, 20 Dec 1937, and reply, 5 Jan 1938, both FO 371/21102/N6317/250/38.
Chamberlainâ€™s interlude 233
less, Collier worried that â€˜any sign of Russian weakness or passivity is
likely to encourage the Germans and the Japaneseâ€™.108 Chilston sup-
ported this analysis.109 The ambassador contended that the Soviet gov-
ernment hoped to see all of its enemies involved elsewhere. Soviet
newspapers, in fact, argued that the â€˜capitalist Powersâ€™ had, since the
time of the Brussels Conference, attempted â€˜to embroil the Soviet Union
with Japan for their own entirely selfish and aggressive endsâ€™.110
With respect to Europe, rumours abounded. The possibility of a
Sovietâ€“German rapprochement, accompanied by a parallel diminution
in the Franco-Soviet Pact, was carefully dissected. However, British
opinion in Moscow, London and Berlin was unanimous in believing that
ideological differences between Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany made
this unlikely. This circumstance was not necessarily permanent. Nevile
Henderson noted that, should Hitler make changes in Central Europe,
this would weaken the Romeâ€“Berlin Axis and a Russo-German rap-
prochement would be made more likely.111 From Geneva, there were
reports that only Hitler was opposed to improved Germanâ€“Soviet rela-
tions.112 But improved relations between Moscow and Berlin was not
the only possibility. The French ambassador at Berlin even claimed that
Neville Chamberlain desired closer Franco-Soviet relations.113 In
Moscow, there were public attacks on the French government for giving
support to White Russian organizations within France.114
However, before this, in February, the composition of the British
foreign-policy making elite was altered again. Edenâ€™s resignation on
20 February, over his myriad points of difference â€“ the recognition of
Abyssinia, Chamberlainâ€™s handling of Rooseveltâ€™s initiative of January
and policy towards the dictators generally â€“ with the prime minister,
meant that another advocate of closer Anglo-French relations (and,
indirectly or otherwise, more dealings with Soviet Russia) had
departed.115 This Soviet connection had been evident earlier, when
Hankey had remarked that the foreign secretary had been â€˜much criticised
Collier to Hayes (WO), 14 Jan 1938, FO 371/22288/N97/97/38.
Chilston to Collier, 19 Jan 1938, FO 371/22288/N488/97/38.
Chilston to FO, disp 40, 25 Jan 1938, FO 371/22106/F1139/84/10.
Chilston to Collier, 24 Jan 1938, FO 371/22288/N499/97/38, minutes; Chilston to
Strang, 24 Jan 1938, FO 371/22288/N524/97/38; Nevile Henderson to Strang, 26 Jan
1938, FO 371/22288/N565/97/38, minutes.
UK delegation (Geneva) to FO, tel 3, 27 Jan 1938, FO 371/21660/C621/62/18.
Nevile Henderson to N. Chamberlain, 7 Feb 1938, and Eden to N. Chamberlain, 14
Feb 1938, both Prem 1/258.
Chilston to FO, tel 17, 21 Jan 1938, FO 371/21598/C435/55/17; Chilston to FO, disp
84, 7 Feb 1938, FO 371/21598/C998/55/17.
Norman Rose, â€˜The Resignation of Anthony Edenâ€™, HJ, 25, 4 (1982), 911â€“31; Ritchie
Ovendale, â€˜Appeasementâ€™ and the English Speaking World. Britain, the United States, the
234 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
in inner circles [by which Hankey doubtless meant by Chamberlain]
owing to the coolness of his references to Germany and Italy . . . in
contrast to his warmth for France and to some extent those foul Rus-
siansâ€™.116 Hankeyâ€™s relief at seeing Edenâ€™s resignation was based on the
formerâ€™s hard-headed appreciation of the military circumstances and
the advantages to be gained by eliminating Rome as an enemy.117
However, there was also little doubt that Hankey, like Chamberlain,
did not favour containing the revisionist Powers through possible co-
operation with Soviet Russia. Nor was Hankey the only one who felt
that Edenâ€™s leaving opened new possibilities for British strategic foreign
policy. From Berlin, Nevile Henderson noted after the resignation
that â€˜it must be admitted that it was unlikely any understanding with
Germany was possible so long as Eden was Secretary of State . . . Eden
and Hitler could never have agreed.â€™ While Henderson noted that
â€˜everybody here is at heart profoundly relieved at Edenâ€™s departureâ€™,118
in Paris everyone was â€˜gravely perturbedâ€™ by this event.119 So, too,
was Maisky, who believed that Eden â€˜really was working up to a
London-Paris-Moscow triangleâ€™, something that Chamberlain could
Edenâ€™s successor was Lord Halifax.121 He had not sought the Foreign
Office; in fact, when Chamberlain asked him whether he would like the
office, Halifax told Oliver Harvey, who had been Edenâ€™s private secre-
tary, that â€˜he was very lazy and disliked work. Could he hunt on Satur-
dayâ€™s [sic]?â€™122 This did not mean that Halifax had no interest in the
position. During his time as Privy Seal, he had acted as Edenâ€™s under-
study at the Foreign Office. And, as Lord President under Chamberlain,
Halifax had continued in this role. When Halifax came to office, he was a
supporter of the Chamberlain strategy of coming to terms with the
dictators, and viewed Edenâ€™s abhorrence of doing so as being too fastidi-
ous for practical politics. Halifax contrasted this with his own approach
to foreign policy: the â€˜world is a strangely mixed grill of good and evil,
Dominions and the Policy of Appeasement, 1937â€“1939 (Cardiff, 1975), 66â€“116; and Greg
Kennedy, Anglo-American Strategic Relations, 239â€“40.
Hankey to Robin, his son, 31 Jan 1937, Hankey Papers, HNKY 3/42.
See Hankey to Robin, his son, 1 Mar 1938, Hankey Papers, HNKY 3/43.
Henderson to Halifax, 27 Feb 1938, Halifax Papers, FO 800/313.
Phipps, telephone message, nd (but c. 20 Feb 1938), Halifax Papers, FO 800/311.
Nicolson diary entry, 7 Mar 1938, in N. Nicolson, ed., Harold Nicolson. Diaries and
Letters 1930â€“1939 (London, 1966), 329.
Andrew Roberts, â€˜The Holy Foxâ€™. A Biography of Lord Halifax (London, 1991), 4â€“87.
Harvey diary entry, 23 Feb 1938, Harvey Papers, Add MSS 56394; Headlam diary
entry, 10 Mar 1938, in Ball, Headlam Diaries, 125.
Chamberlainâ€™s interlude 235
and for good or ill we have got to do our best to live in itâ€™.123 However,
this willingness to work with dictators did not mean that Halifax was
Chamberlainâ€™s creature, nor that he was dependent on the prime minis-
ter. As Oliver Harvey noted a few months into Halifaxâ€™s tenure as foreign
secretary: â€˜if a real divergence occurred between the PM and H[alifax],
the latter would resign as A[nthony] E[den] did. The PM cannot afford
to lose another Foreign Secretary so that H. is in a stronger position than
A.E.â€™124 As one observer wryly noted, Halifaxâ€™s â€˜acceptance [of the
foreign secretaryship] has done much to convince people that Edenâ€™s
resignation is not so great a tragedy as Eden thinksâ€™.125
As to Halifaxâ€™s views of Soviet Russia, it is impossible to believe that
he, as a high churchman and a moral conservative, could have found
much to like about the Bolsheviks. While he had been viceroy of India,
the Soviet threat to India had been a major issue.126 However, that had
not turned Halifax into an anti-Soviet. In 1927, during the discussions of
whether to break with Moscow, Halifax had indicated that, like dicta-
tors, Soviet Russia could not be either ignored or ostracized. As he wrote
to Robert Cecil:
Do not let the Cabinet break with the Soviet if you can help it. I cannot see that it
would do the slightest good . . . It may be that you will never alter Russia by
appeals to a correct theory of international relation[s], but that the process will
be much slower and will only come about through Russia herself no longer
wanting to be a bother to everybody, and that this in turn will only come about
when she has been, by trade or otherwise, drawn out of her isolation. If you stand
sufficiently far away from a single horse he can give a very effective kick; but if
you are among a dozen horses in a railway-truck, they cannot hurt you.127
Only time would tell whether the Soviet â€˜horseâ€™ could be harnessed to
British purposes, but Halifax was not unwilling to try to bridle the beast.
While these changes of personnel were going on, there was much
speculation about the strength of the Red Army. From Tokyo, Craigie
was certain that the Japanese no longer regarded Soviet Russia as their
principal enemy â€“ that spot now being occupied by Great Britain â€“
because of the perceived weakness of the Soviet armed forces. He
anticipated a deterioration in Russo-Japanese relations. Some at the
Halifax to Roger Lumley (governor, Bombay), 31 Mar 1938, Halifax Papers, FO 800/
328. For a similar estimation of Edenâ€™s shortcomings, see Headlam diary entries, 22
Dec 1935, 7 Mar 1937, 20 and 22 Feb 1938, in Ball, Headlam Diaries, 81, 108, 123â€“4.
Harvey diary entry, 1 Jun 1938, Harvey Papers, Add MSS 56394.
Earl of Crawford and Balcarres to Buchan, 27 Feb 1938, Buchan Papers, Box 9.
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), 197â€“206; â€˜Soviet Activities in
Central and Eastern Asiaâ€™, CID B-732, Milne (CIGS), 15 Mar 1927, Cab 4/16.
Lord Irwin [Halifax] to Cecil, 6 Apr 1927, Cecil Papers, Add MSS 51084.
236 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
Foreign Office accepted this contention.128 But this was a minority view.
Others doubted that Japanâ€™s behaviour stemmed either from a belief in
Soviet weakness or from the ramifications of Soviet policy. Instead, it
was felt that the shape of the international situation generally would
Our information goes to show that the USSR are not disposed to pick a quarrel
with Japan, though they are keeping their powder dry on the Manchuria frontier,
and I believe that they will not show fight so long as the situation in Europe is in a
state of flux. They would not wish to be embroiled in Europe & the Far East
simultaneously. On the other hand there is always the danger that disturbances in
Eastern Europe would encourage the Japanese Army to try their strength against
This latter fear was particularly acute in March, when the Anschluss was
followed hard by a border dispute between Lithuania and Poland.130
What of Soviet military capabilities? It was not just the Red Army
Purges that were thought to affect Soviet prowess. The ongoing trials of
the so-called rightâ€“Trotskyite bloc were also dissected for their military
significance. There was little doubt at the Foreign Office that the trials
augured ill for Soviet Russia.131 In a widely circulated and highly lauded
dispatch, Chilston contended that the â€˜outlook for this country must be
blackâ€™.132 While it was believed in London that in the short term the
Purges had strengthened Stalinâ€™s grip on Soviet Russia, it was equally felt
that they would have a disastrous effect on the countryâ€™s long-term
strength. They would also have implications for foreign policy. This
reinforced the earlier thoughts that Soviet foreign policy might enter
into an isolationist phase. It also diminished any belief in the military
value of Soviet Russia. â€˜It will be a terrible dayâ€™, Oliphant noted on 13
April, â€˜if ever we have to rely on Russia.â€™133
What did all this mean for British strategic defence policy and Soviet
Russia? The impact of the Anschluss was not felt just in Europe. It was
also evident in matters of imperial defence, as the CIDâ€™s discussions of
Craigie to FO, disp 72, 12 Feb 1938, FO 371/22185/F2844/152/23, minutes.
Minute, Davis, 2 Mar 1938, FO 371/22298/N1042/725/38; Dalton diary entry, 12 Apr
1938, in Ben Pimlott, ed., The Political Diary of Hugh Dalton 1918â€“1940, 1945â€“1960,
(London, 1986) 232.
Chilston to FO, tel 74, 19 Mar 1938, FO 371/22288/N1411/97/38; Lampson (ambas-
sador, Cairo) to FO, tel 163, 18 Mar 1938, FO 371/22299/N1479/924/38.
Minute, Falla (29 Mar) on Chilston to FO, disp 140, 21 Mar 1938, FO 371/22286/
Chilston to FO, disp 141, 21 Mar 1938, FO 371/22286/N1507/26/38, minutes.
Oliphantâ€™s minute on Chilston to FO, disp 153, 31 Mar 1938, FO 371/22286/N1758/
Chamberlainâ€™s interlude 237
possible staff conversations with France and Belgium indicated.134 Here,
it was decided to exclude Italy from the list of possible British antagon-