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Winterton, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and Oliver Stanley,
president of the Board of Trade, both argued that no pressure should be
put on France not to support the Czechs. All would depend on Hitler™s
speech at the Nuremberg rally on 12 September.
When the latter did not clarify things, Chamberlain was able to launch
˜Plan Z™, his visit to Hitler.197 This plan was, indeed, as ˜unconventional
and daring™ as the prime minister had termed it.198 More significantly, it
was completely in line with his thinking about foreign policy generally.
Chamberlain did not want to put the decision for ˜peace or war™ into
other hands.199 ˜Plan Z™ kept matters securely under his control, and
avoided the possibility that Britain could be dragged into war via France™s
east European connections. It also did not leave the decision of peace
or war to Hitler alone. Chamberlain went to Berchtesgaden on 15
September.
Two days later, he reported to the Cabinet. Before Chamberlain
spoke, Runciman made it evident that Czechoslovakia was unlikely
to continue in its present state no matter what the British decided and
that the French were unlikely to help. Chamberlain then outlined
Hitler™s demands: the Sudeten Germans must join the Reich and the

194
˜Soviet Russia and Germany™, Hadow, 17 Sept 1938, FO 371/22276/N4602/533/63,
minute, Cadogan (21 Sept).
195
Minutes, unnumbered meeting, Cab 23/94.
196
Vansittart™s memo, 7 Sept 1938, FO 371/21735/C9384/1941/18; Dalton diary entry, 5
Sept 1938, in Pimlott, Dalton Diary, 236; W. B. Brown (B of T) to Runciman, 6 Sept
1938, Runciman Papers, WR 293.
197
Minutes, Cab 38(38), 14 Sept 1938, Cab 23/95.
198
Charmley, Chamberlain and the Lost Peace, 94“5; N. Chamberlain to Ida, his sister, 3
Sept 1938, Chamberlain Papers, NC 18/1/1066.
199
N. Chamberlain to Ida, his sister, 11 Sept 1938, Chamberlain Papers, NC 18/1/1068.
248 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order

Czech“Soviet alliance must go. Neither was objectionable to most in the
Cabinet. What the debate turned on was two views of foreign policy. The
Lord Chancellor, Maugham, claimed that Britain should not interfere
except for its interests and then only if it could with ˜overwhelming
force™. Duff Cooper opposed this, and argued Eyre Crowe™s point that
Britain™s policy had always been based on not permitting ˜any single
power dominating Europe™. Both arguments depended upon the attitude
of potential allies. That Soviet Russia was not likely to be considered one
of these was underlined by two facts: first, that it was not discussed in
this context, and, second, as noted, that a European war might destroy
Hitler, but also could result in ˜changes in the state of Europe which
might be satisfactory to no one except Moscow and the Bolsheviks™. All
agreed that what was required was to determine the attitude of the
French.200
However, this did not mean that Soviet Russia was of no account. For
one thing, Maisky™s lobbying had produced, particularly among the
Labour MPs, a popular belief that Moscow both could and would
support Prague. Chamberlain moved to debunk this conviction. After
the Cabinet on 17 September, he told a Labour delegation of French
weakness, which they found a ˜profound shock™, and followed up this
unpleasant news by stating that Soviet Russia would take action only
after France did so and ˜then . . . [only] take the matter up at Geneva™,
which they found ˜an even greater shock™.201 For its part, the Soviet
government was quick to denounce Chamberlain™s trip to Berchtes-
gaden. The British were accused of making ˜a deal at the expense of
Czechoslovakia™ and of ˜abandon[ing] the principle of collective security
and of collective action against aggression™. What the Foreign Office
found significant about this charge was that it was not accompanied by
any statement of Soviet policy, leading to the remark that the Soviet
complaint was simply ˜the pot calling the kettle black™.202 This suspicion
of Soviet attitudes and a belief in Moscow™s tendency towards isolation
were underlined on 19 September, when the Soviet government warned
the French that any revision of the Czech“Soviet treaty would necessi-
tate Moscow™s also having to reconsider its treaty relations with France.


200
Minutes, Cab 39(38), 17 Sept 1938, Cab 23/95; Charmley, Chamberlain and the Lost
Peace, 109“13.
201
Minutes, Cab 40(38), 19 Sept 1938, Cab 23/95; Harvey diary entry, 20 Sept 1938,
Harvey Papers, Add MSS 56395; Dalton diary entry, 17 Sept 1938, in Pimlott, Dalton
Diary, 240.
202
Chilston to FO, tel 174, 17 Sept 1938, FO 371/21776/C10076/5302/18, minute,
Speaight (19 Sept).
Chamberlain™s interlude 249

˜Russia will also™, it was noted at the Foreign Office, ˜reconsider, no
doubt, her whole position towards the Western Powers.™203
Discussions with the French on 18 September made it evident that
neither London nor Paris was willing to make the first move to resolve
the Czech crisis. However, for the same military reasons that they had
always professed, the French rejected the idea of Czech neutrality;
instead they put forward the idea of a joint guarantee of Czechoslovakia
as a replacement for the Czech“Soviet treaty. The Cabinet accepted this
idea. Discussion centred on two matters: the need to consult the Czechs
and who would serve as the guarantors. As to the latter, opinion favoured
a triumvirate of Britain, France and Soviet Russia. Simon made the
point that it would be ˜a mistake to take action which tended to put
Russia out of Europe™, significantly adding that to include it would help
˜with sections of public opinion™.204 Vansittart had made Simon™s point
earlier to Halifax, and the latter in turn asserted at Cabinet that forcing
the Czechs to get rid of their Russian alliance would be ˜grossly
unfair™.205 On 22 September, with no solution in sight, Chamberlain
again flew to Germany to put forward these proposals to Hitler.206
While the prime minister was in Germany, efforts were made to clarify
the Soviet position. On 23 September, Halifax reported that Litvinov
had promised ˜effective aid™ to the Czechs the previous week.207 R. A.
Butler, the parliamentary undersecretary at the Foreign Office, was
asked to make a further sounding.208 But Litvinov™s reply did not make
matters clearer:
He said he could say no more than if French came to the assistance of the
Czechs, Russians would take action. We asked him whether he intended to raise
the matter at the League and if so whether he would wait to take action while the
League was discussing the question. He said that they might desire to raise the
matter in the League; this would not alter the proposition that he had stated
namely that Czechoslovak“Soviet pact would come into force . . . He could not
. . . tell us to what extent Russian army was mobilised or Air Force ready to assist
Czechoslovakia.


203
Phipps to FO, tel 260, 19 Sept 1938, FO 371/21777/C10105/5302/18, minute, Mallet
(20 Sept).
204
Minutes, Cab 40(38), 19 Sept 1938, Cab 23/95; minutes, Cab 41(38), 21 Sept 1938,
Cab 23/95.
205
Vansittart to Halifax, 16 Sept 1938, Halifax Papers, FO 800/314; untitled memo,
Vansittart, 20 Sept 1938, FO 371/21739/C10324/1941/18.
206
Minutes, Cab 42(38), 24 September 1938, Cab 23/95; Charmley, Chamberlain and the
Lost Peace, 119“23.
207
Minutes, Cab(38) 11, 23 Sept 1938, Cab 27/646; Nicolson diary entry, 23 Sept 1938,
in Nicolson, Diaries and Letters, 365“6.
208
FO to Butler, tel 54, 23 Sept 1938, FO 371/21777/C10667/5302/18.
250 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order

At the Foreign Office, this added little to what was known. What seemed
clear, as Roberts noted, was that ˜in these circumstances little confidence
can be placed in effective Russian support™.209
Other efforts were made at clarification. From Moscow, Chilston
reiterated that the Czech minister had been assured that the pact be-
tween Moscow and Prague ˜remained fully in force™.210 Phipps was
pressed to discover whether the French had any intimations of possible
Soviet action.211 The ambassador™s reply was substantially the same as
Butler™s report from Geneva, but Phipps added that ˜Bonnet is not much
impressed by this prospective late and limited Russian help.™212 On 24
September, Phipps followed up this report by noting that General
Maurice Gamelin, the French commander-in-Chief, had stated that
Soviet aid could come only in the air, and, in a remark that drew fire
from Vansittart and Sargent (who hoped for a strong French attitude in
order to stiffen their own government), Phipps contended that ˜[a]ll that
is best in France is against war, almost [doubly underlined] at any
price™.213 The always-observant Thomas Jones caught the situation
nicely on 23 September: ˜no one seemed to be able to state with any
certainty what Russia was prepared to do, or what the result of the
slaughter of the [Soviet] generals would be™.214 Much depended on
Chamberlain™s visit to Bad Godesberg.
There, Hitler rejected the entire idea of a guarantee, and Chamberlain
returned to Britain. On 24 September, Chamberlain told the Cabinet
that he had found Hitler™s attitude a ˜considerable shock™ and argued
that the German chancellor™s demand for an immediate transfer of
territory must be accepted.215 The Cabinet decided to consult the
French. This transpired the following day, but overnight key changes
occurred. Pushed by Cadogan, that evening Halifax underwent a con-
version.216 On Sunday morning, 25 September, Halifax declared that his

209
Butler to FO, tel 42 immediate, 23 Sept 1938, FO 371/21777/C10585/5302/18,
minutes, Roberts (24 Sept), Mallet (25 Sept).
210
Chilston to FO, tel 183, 23 Sept 1938, FO 371/21777/C10500/5302/18.
211
FO to Phipps, tel 321/23 Sept 1938, FO 371/21740/C10665/1941/18.
212
Phipps to FO, tel 286, 23 Sept 1938, FO 371/21777/C10586/5302/18.
213
Phipps to FO, tel 290, 24 Sept 1938, FO 371/21740/C10589/1941/18; Phipps to FO,
unnumbered tel, 24 Sept 1938, FO 371/21740/C10602/1941/18, minutes; Herman,
Phipps Embassy, 110“22.
214
T. Jones to Abraham Flexner, 23 Sept 1938, in T. Jones, A Diary with Letters 1931“1950
(London, 1954), 409.
215
Minutes, Cab 42(38), 24 Sept 1938, Cab 23/95.
216
Cadogan diary entry, 24 Sept 1938, in David Dilks, ed., The Diaries of Sir Alexander
Cadogan 1938“1945 (New York, 1971), 103“5; Peter Neville, ˜Sir Alexander Cadogan
and Lord Halifax™s “Damascus Road” Conversion over the Godesberg Terms 1938™,
D&S, 11, 3 (2000), 81“90.
Chamberlain™s interlude 251

views and those of the prime minister were no longer ˜at one™.217 This
defection “ what Chamberlain termed a ˜horrible blow to me™ “ allowed
others to voice their concerns.218 A rejection of Hitler™s terms carried
with it the threat of war. Maugham pointed out that it now all came
down to ˜power™. What was needed was a consideration of how the
British could save the Czechs. Here, Soviet Russia was an important
consideration. It was evident that there was little confidence in Soviet
capabilities. Maugham termed Soviet Russia ˜useless™, and Sir Kingsley
Wood, the secretary of state for air, said that Britain would be supported
by ˜a weak Russia and a doubtful France™. Those in favour of a stronger
line thus found themselves required to argue, as Cooper did, that in
˜great moral issues™ there was ˜no time to weigh out one™s strength too
carefully™. This allowed Chamberlain to push the Cabinet into making
no decision until the French were consulted that afternoon.
In the late evening of 25 September, the Cabinet reconvened.219 At
the afternoon meetings, the French had been resolute both in their
rejection of Hitler™s plan and in their determination to resort to force
of arms if necessary. Both had been contested by Chamberlain at every
turn. The prime minister wished instead to send Hitler a letter, albeit
one that did not ˜threaten™ any action by Britain should Hitler reject its
terms. Over the objections of Cooper, this was agreed to at the evening
session, and the letter duly sent. All would await the reply. By 27
September, Hitler had refused to accept any compromise, trenches were
being dug in Hyde Park and war seemed imminent, setting the stage for
frantic last-minute bargaining on 28 September and Chamberlain™s
dramatic flight to Munich. By 30 September, the deal was done, and
Chamberlain returned home to a euphoric reception.
The principal issue of historical debate in Anglo-Soviet affairs con-
cerning the Munich crisis is whether Soviet Russia would have honoured
its commitment to Prague had the Western Powers taken a firm stand.220


217
The remainder of this paragraph, except where indicated, is based on Minutes, Cab 43
(38), 25 Sept 1938 in the morning, Cab 23/95.
218
Halifax™s undated note at the Cabinet meeting and N. Chamberlain™s reply, Halifax
Papers A4.410.3.7.
219
Cab 44(38), minutes, 25 Sept 1938, Cab 23/95.
220
Igor Lukes, ˜Did Stalin Desire War in 1938? A New Look at Soviet Behaviour During
the May and September Crises™, D&S, 2, 1 (1991), 3“54; G. Jukes, ˜The Red Army
ˇ
and the Munich Crisis™, JCH, 26 (1991), 195“214; Igor Lukes, ˜Stalin and Benes at the
End of September 1938: New Evidence from the Prague Archives™, SR, 52, 1 (1993),
28“48; Lukes, ˜Stalin and Czechoslovakia in 1938“1939: An Autopsy of a Myth™, D&S,
10, 2“3 (1999), 13“47; Hugh Ragsdale, ˜Soviet Military Preparations and Policy in the
Munich Crisis: New Evidence™, JbfGOE, 47, 2 (1999), 210“26; Zara Steiner, ˜The
Soviet Commissariat of Foreign Affairs and the Czechoslovakian Crisis in 1938: New
252 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order

What is clear, however, is that most of the British did not believe that it
would (or could) do so. The impact of the Purges had eliminated the
British belief, which had been built up in the period from 1933 to 1937,
in Soviet strength, and had replaced it with a conviction that Soviet
Russia was unable to do anything concrete to aid the Czechs. This
attitude was evident not just at Munich, but earlier, during the May
crisis. This combined nicely with British suspicions about Moscow™s
intentions to use the crisis for its own ends and ensured that Maisky™s
and Litvinov™s professions of support were discounted. The British
attitude was encapsulated in a minute in the aftermath of the Munich
settlement. Commenting on remarks made by the Turkish minister for
foreign affairs that ˜Soviet Russia desired nothing better than to stand
aloof, if a European conflagration broke out, and to watch the European
nations destroying each other™ and that the Soviets had ˜given no intim-
ation that Soviet Russia would come to Czechoslovakia™s aid, unless
France had first done so™, Frank Roberts noted: ˜The Turks seem to
have summed up the Russian attitude correctly & confirm our previous
estimates.™221
The Munich crisis produced a vicious circle of contingency. The
Soviets claimed that they would come in if the French did; the French
claimed they would come in if the British supported them; and the
British claimed that they would have aided the Czechs if the Soviets
and French had been willing to save and capable of saving Prague.222
But no one was willing to bell the German cat. To use a phrase often

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