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rapprochement, even if it goes much further than this, is not likely, as far
as I can see, to save the Poles from the consequences of their past
follies™.36 This line of thought flowed from his view of Soviet“German
relations. Collier did not feel that the rumours of a rapprochement
between Berlin and Moscow could
mean very much, as I do not see how they could fit in with Germany™s general
policy, nor how they could be explained to the Japanese, for example; but I
suppose it is just conceivable that Hitler may have authorised these approaches
as a means of keeping the Russians quiet while he deals with Poland.37

It was time to consider how such a dismal future either could be avoided
or be shaped to Britain™s advantage.
This took place early in 1939 and centred on a memorandum pre-
pared by Harold Caccia, one of Halifax™s assistant private secretaries.38
The future PUS stated that Britain™s attitude towards Soviet Russia
during the Munich crisis had been based on ˜a desire not to exacerbate

35
Collier™s minute (30 Nov) on Sir G. Werner (Berne) to Collier, 23 Nov 1938, FO 371/
22301/N5797/5433/38.
36
´
Collier™s minute (28 Nov) on Vereker (charge d™affaires, Moscow) to FO, tel 194, 27
Nov 1938, FO 371/22294/N5802/209/38.
37
Collier to Lt-Col N. C. D. Brownjohn (MI2, WO), 2 Jan 1938, FO 371/371/22299/
N6201/924/38.
38
This and the following four paragraphs are based on untitled memo, Caccia, 3 Jan
1939, FO 371/23677/N57/57/38, minutes.
264 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order

the Germans and make a peaceful solution of our difficulties harder, if
not impossible™. That policy had collapsed, and it was now time to
reconsider Anglo-Soviet relations. He suggested that Hitler would now
pursue one of two policies: first, he might attack Ukraine; second, he
might attack Britain and France. In the first instance, Hitler would
endeavour to use the Anti-Comintern Pact to keep Britain and France
˜fully occupied (e.g. in Palestine, the Mediterranean and the Far East)™.
In the second, Britain and France™s full attention would be engaged by
events. In both instances, however, ˜we should naturally have much to
gain by having clarified our relations with Russia before Hitler moved™.
The replacement of Chilston as ambassador by Sir William Seeds,
Caccia asserted, might prove a useful opportunity to begin such a
determination.
Opinions varied at the Foreign Office. Opposition was found in a
perceptive minute by Lascelles. He argued that Caccia™s suggestion
could lead to no practical end, particularly as Britain was not in a
position to offer concrete assistance to Moscow:
Essentially, these [Anglo-Soviet] relations are based on a mutual and inevitable
antipathy and on the realisation that the other party, in attempting to cope with
the German menace, will act empirically and solely with an eye to its own
interests.

In such circumstances, approaching Stalin would result either in his
asserting that Soviet Russia was ˜an invincible fortress™ or in his
threatening that, if Britain stayed aloof when Soviet Russia was attacked
by Germany, Moscow would ˜have to come to terms with the Nazis™.
Neither reply would offer an opening for discussions, and Stalin ˜would
not be such a fool™ as to admit that he might envisage an arrangement
with Germany.
Collier agreed in broad terms, but struck a more subtle note. Caccia™s
proposals were aimed at finding out Stalin™s views and making the
Germans ˜think twice™ before attacking British interests. Collier felt that
the British policy of ˜keeping the Russians at arms™ [sic] length™ during
the Munich crisis had ˜gratuitously advertised to Hitler and Mussolini &
the Japanese that they can deal with each of us in isolation™. He then
added:
I think there is something to be said for giving Stalin at least a negative assurance
that we will do nothing directly or indirectly to assist Hitler™s eastern plans.
Although this may seem superfluous to us, who are conscious of the rectitude
of our intentions, and although M. Litvinov with his experience of foreign
politicians may know the facts well enough, it is by no means certain that the
Soviet Government as a whole, and Stalin in particular, do not really share the
Chamberlain as Buridan™s ass 265

suspicions of our present policy which are so often expressed in the Soviet press;
and, if they do, the declaration might have some value in their eyes and might
even help to some small extent to stiffen their attitude towards the Japanese, for
example, which would be obviously to our advantage.

Collier proposed to link such talks with Stalin to negotiations for a new
Anglo-Soviet commercial agreement.
Other members of the Foreign Office took sides. Ashton-Gwatkin,
noted that ˜Russia is no friend of ours™, and criticized its foreign policy of
the past years, but concluded that ˜she remains a very important make-
weight in the uncertain balance of Europe™. Strang was brief: ˜I am in full
agreement with Mr Collier™s minute.™ Lascelles was supported in oppos-
ition by Oliphant, who reiterated the former™s points. Cadogan feared
that, if the British initiated conversations, ˜we sh[oul]d very soon have to
disclose the emptiness of our cupboard™ as to what Britain could offer
Soviet Russia. It was easy to say that Britain would not give any ˜direct™
help to Hitler, but Stalin might ask ˜as [to] whether “no indirect assist-
ance” means standing out and giving Germany a free hand. And that is
not an easy question to answer “ at least I do not think we c[oul]d give
Stalin the answer he wants.™ Thus, Cadogan came down on the side of
Oliphant.
This divergence of opinion was too much for Halifax. On 18 January, he
asked Vansittart to adjudicate. Vansittart, as always, used the opportunity
to ventilate his own views:
Anglo-Russian relations are in a most unsatisfactory state. It is not only regret-
table but dangerous that they should be in this state, and a continuance of it will
become a great deal more dangerous very shortly. They are in a bad state because
the Russians feel, and I think it is an incontestable fact (at any rate it is a very
widely stated one), that we practically boycotted them during 1938. We never
took them into our confidence or endeavoured to establish close contact with
them, and this fact accounts for the gradual drift towards isolation that is going
on in Russia. That fact and that tendency we ought to correct and correct soon.
This put Vansittart firmly in Caccia and Collier™s camp, but Vansittart
felt that Seeds™s appointment was not the opportune moment to try to
implement a new policy. Instead, for tactical reasons, he suggested that a
high-ranking politician should go to Soviet Russia. ˜The visit would then
be a gesture of good will™, Vansittart wrote, ˜and would be overtly
connected with the trade agreement.™ Such an approach would eliminate
˜awkward political questions and at the same time (and this, I think, is the
most important consideration of all and by a very long way) it might and
probably would have some deterrent effect on Germany, the aggressor of
tomorrow™.
266 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order

This was connected with the Far East. Early in January, Craigie
reported rumours that Japan might attack Soviet Russia in April. Collier
doubted whether this would occur, for Japan would then have a war on
two fronts. ˜[T]o make the scheme really worth embarking on™, he noted,
˜one of two conditions seem necessary: (1) the end of the war in China or
(2) a simultaneous attack on Russia in Europe; & April seems too soon
for either of these conditions to have been established™.39 Craigie, sup-
ported by Clark Kerr, also called for an increase in Britain™s naval
presence in the Far East, arguing that it would deter Japan from any
adventures against British interests to the south and make it clear to
Tokyo that Britain was not entirely dependent on the United States.40
This spoke to the issue of the defence of the Far East. In the immediate
aftermath of Munich, the CID had called upon all branches of the
services to outline the weaknesses revealed by the crisis.41 By 19 Octo-
ber, the Admiralty had come to the conclusion that, due to the ˜weakness
of our position in the Eastern Mediterranean, Red Sea and Middle East
. . . The emergency has in fact made it more clear than ever that we are at
present quite unable to undertake hostilities simultaneously against
Germany, Italy and Japan.™42
This meant that plans for sending a naval unit (Force Z) to Singapore
in the event of hostilities in the Far East were necessarily on hold. In the
words of the First Sea Lord, ˜[a]t the present time we have none to spare,
nor shall we have any in 1939™, but this was never announced officially.43

39
Craigie to FO, tel 26, 10 Jan 1939, FO 371/23558/F347/347/23, minute, Collier (13
Jan).
40
Craigie to Howe, 15 Dec 1938, Craigie to FO, disp 1016, 14 Dec 1938, both FO 371/
23544/F471/471/61, minutes; Clark Kerr to FO, tel 14, 6 Jan 1939, FO 371/23544/
F478/471/61, minutes; see also Sir John Crosby (minister, Bangkok), disp 485, 7 Nov
1938, FO 371/22216/F12115/12115/40.
41
Minutes, 333rd meeting CID, 6 Oct 1938, Cab 2/8.
42
Untitled and unsigned discussion, 19 Oct 1938, Adm 116/3637; ˜Mediterranean,
Middle East and North-East Africa Appreciation™, COS, 21 Feb 1938, Cab 53/57.
43
Admiral Sir Roger Backhouse to Vice Admiral Sir Ragnar M. Colvin (First Naval
Member, Australian Naval Board), secret, 9 Jan 1939, Adm 205/3. Older literature is
introduced in Malcolm H. Murfett, ˜Living in the Past: A Critical Re-examination of
the Singapore Naval Strategy, 1918“1941™, W&S, 11, 1 (1993), 73“103; useful subse-
quent work includes Galen Roger Perras, ˜“Our Position in the Far East would be
Stronger without this Unsatisfactory Commitment”: Britain and the Reinforcement of
Hong Kong, 1941™, CJH, 30, 2 (1995), 231“59; Ian Cowman, ˜Defence of the Malay
Barrier? The Place of the Philippines in Admiralty Naval War Planning, 1925“1941™,
WH, 3, 4 (1996), 398“417; Cowman, ˜Main Fleet to Singapore? Churchill, the Admir-
alty, and Force Z™, JSS, 18, 1 (1995), 79“93; Christopher Bell, ˜“Our Most Exposed
Outpost”: Hong Kong and British Far Eastern Strategy, 1921“1941™, JMilH, 60, 1
(1996), 61“88; and, most recently, Bell, ˜The “Singapore Strategy” and the Deterrence
of Japan: Winston Churchill, the Admiralty and the Dispatch of Force Z™, EHR, 116,
467 (2001), 604“34: A useful recent survey can be found in Malcolm H. Murfett,
Chamberlain as Buridan™s ass 267

The Admiralty™s contention that a fleet should not be sent out to the Far
East until Japanese aggression occurred and that such a fleet had to be
˜equal in size to that of the Japanese fleet™ was challenged at the Foreign
Office on strategic political grounds, and the Admiralty was asked to
reconsider the matter. The reasoning behind the Foreign Office™s de-
murral was that ˜latent threats from Soviet Russia and the United States
might well suffice to compel the Japanese to retain a certain proportion
of their Fleet at home™.44 Thus, a smaller British fleet would serve to
check Japan.45 The Admiralty™s reply had to wait until March, but the
issue was clear. Was Britain wholly dependent on Soviet Russia and the
United States to defend its interests in the Far East?
While the Admiralty pondered, Craigie™s ongoing attempts to per-
suade London that moderate opinion in Japan favoured a realignment
with Britain continued to fall on deaf ears.46 The belief in London was
that a drive to the south by Tokyo was prevented only by ˜Japan™s
increasing commitments in China together with the deterioration of
her relations with Soviet Russia™. In fact, southward expansion was felt
likely ˜only after a successful war with the Soviet Union . . . always
provided, of course, that the British Empire and the other Powers
concerned remain in a position to oppose a resolute front to Japanese
adventure in these regions™.47 Thus, it was not surprising that Craigie™s
reports that prominent Japanese favoured improved Anglo-Japanese
relations were increasingly discounted. The minutes on one of these “
˜personally, I find these reports with Japanese officials lacking, on
the part of the narrator [that is, Craigie], in that quality which the
Americans would describe as “hard boiled”™ and, more succinctly,


˜Reflections on an Enduring Theme: The “Singapore Strategy” at Sixty™, in Brian
Farrell and Sandy Hunter, eds., Sixty Years On. The Fall of Singapore Revisited (Singa-
pore, 2002), 3“28, along with an overview in Malcolm H. Murfett, John N. Miksic,
Brian P. Farrell and Chiang Ming Shun, Between Two Oceans. A Military History of
Singapore from First Settlement to Final British Withdrawal (Oxford, 1999), 145“74. Bell™s
book, The Royal Navy and Seapower and Strategy Between the Wars (London, 2000), and
Ong Chit Chung, Operation Matador. Britain™s War Plans Against the Japanese 1918“
1941 (Singapore, 1997), are essential for context.
44
˜Memorandum respecting the proposal to station a British Battle Squadron Perman-
ently at Singapore™, Fitzmaurice, 27 Jan 1939, Howe to Adm, 13 Feb 1939, both FO
371/23544/F478/471/61.
45
See also ˜Appreciation of the Situation in the Event of War in April 1939™, annex to ˜A
Combined Intelligence Bureau for the Middle East™, JIC 77, WO, 26 Oct 1938, Cab
56/4.
46
Craigie to FO, tel 26, 10 Jan 1939, FO 371/23558/F347/347/23.
47
˜Notes on Japanese Southward Expansion™, M.E. Dening (FED), nd (but c. 16 Jan
1939), FO 371/23560/F4194/419/23. This was a definitive statement of the FO™s
views.
268 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order

˜More chloroform!™ “ indicated the ambassador™s lack of credibility at the
Foreign Office.48
Early in 1939, both Soviet Russia™s relations with France and Mos-
cow™s role in British strategic foreign policy continued to be analysed.
The War Office believed that, while the Franco-Soviet Pact might be of
dubious actual value, Soviet Russia still had value as a ˜bogey™, especially
in the Far East. And, in any case, the author thought, ˜it seems . . . better
to have a bogey up your sleeve than nothing at all! ™ Opinion at the Horse
Guards also believed that ˜the Japanese would hesitate to embroil them-
selves in hostilities with us unless they were quite certain that they could
count on the inactivity of the Soviets™. The Foreign Office felt that this
˜bogey value™ was slight, but what else was available? Even the Franco-
Soviet Pact, Collier argued, ˜had chiefly a negative value, as keeping the
Soviet Union from falling out of the “French system”, so to speak™ and
into isolation.49 Certainly, some conversations with Maisky made this
latter concern one to be taken seriously.50
In February, the Soviet press criticized both the fascist states and the
˜so-called democracies™. There were two interpretations at the Foreign
Office. The first was that the Soviets were considering warming relations
with Germany; the second was that Moscow was trying to ˜frighten™
Britain in order to gain advantage in the trade negotiations.51 This
reflected the fact that the Cabinet had decided to reconsider the 1934
Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement despite the lurking hornet™s nest of
disgruntled bond holders.52 Collier believed, as he had in 1936, that
trade discussions might pave the way for improved political relations.53
But, no matter what the British did, the legacy of 1938 was difficult to
dispel.54 In interviews with Leith-Ross and Treasury officials in mid-
February, and, later, with R. Hudson, the parliamentary secretary at the

48
Minutes, Brenan (23 Jan 1939) and Howe (27 Jan) on Craigie to FO, disp 1013, 13
Dec 1938, FO 371/23555/F579/176/23.
49
Lt-Col Brownjohn to Collier, 30 Jan 1939, FO 371/23684/N559/190/38, minutes,
Lascelles, Collier (both 2 Feb).
50
Butler™s conversation with Maisky, 3 Feb 1939, FO 371/23677/N669/57/38.
51
Vereker to Collier, 21 Feb 1939, FO 371/23677/N1029/38, minutes, Lascelles (28
Feb), Collier (1 Mar).
52
Minutes, Cab 6(39), 8 Feb 1939, Cab 23/97; ˜Commercial Relations with the Soviet
Union™, CP 32(39), Stanley, 1 Feb 1939, Cab 24/283. For the politics, see the
minutes on Halifax™s conversation with Maisky, 27 Jan 1939, FO 371/23680/N511/92/

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