difficult if not impossible. Once war had begun in Europe, Anglo-Soviet
relations were at their nadir.
These representatives reported on Soviet Russia to the Foreign Office.
At the top of that department was the permanent undersecretary (PUS).
Five men served as PUS from 1920 to 1939: Sir Eyre Crowe (1920‚Ä“5), Sir
William Tyrrell (1925‚Ä“8), Sir Ronald Lindsay (1928‚Ä“30), Sir Robert
Vansittart (1930‚Ä“7) and Sir Alexander Cadogan (1938‚Ä“46). For Crowe,
Tyrrell and Lindsay, Anglo-Soviet matters were episodic. While Crowe,
who opposed treating with the Bolsheviks generally, was in office, there
were two significant aspects to Anglo-Soviet relations.107 The first was
the threat that Bolshevism posed to Britain and the empire; the second
was the negotiation of the Anglo-Soviet trade agreements in 1921 and
1924. With regard to the former, Crowe wished to keep Soviet Russia
contained by a barrier ‚Ä“ a cordon sanitaire of newly created states that
would keep Bolshevism at bay.108 As to the second, Crowe opposed
establishing economic relations with Soviet Russia entirely, but found
that successive prime ministers favoured such a move. In general, Crowe
was a devout believer in the balance of power and in maintaining it by
As reported in Collier‚Ä™s minute, 10 Mar 1941, on Mallet (Stockholm) to FO, 24 Jan
1941, FO 371/29475/N941/29/38.
Seeds to FO, disp 40, 28 Jan 1939, FO 371/23683/N751/105/38.
Sibyl Crowe and Edward Corp, Our Ablest Public Servant. Sir Eyre Crowe, GCB,
GCMG, KCB, KCMG 1864‚Ä“1925 (Braunton, Devon, 1993), 457; Ephraim Maisel,
The Foreign Office and Foreign Policy 1919‚Ä“1926 (Brighton, 1994), 146‚Ä“7.
Maisel, Foreign Office, 51‚Ä“2. For examples, see John Fisher, ‚Ä˜ ‚ÄúOn The Glacis of India‚ÄĚ:
Lord Curzon and British Policy in the Caucasus, 1919‚Ä™, D&S, 8, 2 (1997), 50‚Ä“82; and
Esa Sundback, ‚Ä˜ ‚ÄúA Convenient Buffer between Scandinavia and Russia‚ÄĚ: Great Brit-
ain, Scandinavia and the Birth of Finland After the First World War‚Ä™, JbfGOE, 42, 3
28 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
Britain‚Ä™s own strength. In 1907, he had written a memorandum that,
after the war, had become famous as a definitive expression of both his
espousal of the balance of power and his ambivalence towards
Germany.109 This guided his policy towards all states, including Soviet
Tyrrell had long experience of Russia. As private secretary to the last
Liberal foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, Tyrrell had opposed a
policy of accommodation with St Petersburg.110 In 1913 and 1914,
Crowe and Tyrrell had agreed that Russia must be dealt with firmly,
although the two had differed over German policy. During the war,
Tyrrell had done general work in the Foreign Office before being put
in charge in 1918 of another wartime innovation, the Political Intelli-
gence Department (PID).111 After the war, Tyrrell was part of the
British delegation to Paris, and then served as an assistant undersecre-
tary while Crowe was PUS.112 However, he had some dealings with
Soviet Russia, serving as head of the Inter-Departmental Committee
on Bolshevism as a Menace to the British Empire, which gathered and
collated evidence of Bolshevik subversion.113 As PUS when Austen
Chamberlain was foreign secretary, Tyrrell was the author of a clear
statement of British policy with respect to Soviet Russia.114 For Tyrrell,
Soviet Russia was ‚Ä˜the enemy‚Ä™. This was due to the fact that ‚Ä˜ever since
the Bolshevist regime was established in Russia its activities have been
mainly directed against this country, and that in every part of the world
we have been met by its persistent and consistent hostility‚Ä™. Soviet
threats worldwide would be checked by diplomacy: supporting Chinese
nationalism in the Far East and promoting the ‚Ä˜reconciliation‚Ä™ of
Europe via Locarno. But the important thing for Tyrrell was that ‚Ä˜we
Keith Wilson, ‚Ä˜Sir Eyre Crowe on the Origin of the Crowe Memorandum of 1 January
1907‚Ä™, BIHR, 55 (1983), 238‚Ä“41; Crowe and Corp, Our Ablest Public Servant, 114‚Ä“19.
Neilson, Britain and the Last Tsar, 32‚Ä“4.
Erik Goldstein, Winning the Peace. British Diplomatic Strategy, Peace Planning, and the
Paris Peace Conference 1916‚Ä“1920 (Oxford, 1991), 57‚Ä“89; Goldstein, ‚Ä˜British Peace
Aims and the Eastern Question: The Political Intelligence Department and the Eastern
Committee, 1918‚Ä™, MES, 23, 4 (1987), 419‚Ä“36; Goldstein, ‚Ä˜The Foreign Office and
Political Intelligence 1918‚Ä“1920‚Ä™, RIS, 14 (1988), 275‚Ä“88, and Alan Sharp, ‚Ä˜Some
Relevant Historians ‚Ä“ the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office,
1918‚Ä“1920‚Ä™, AJPH, 34, 3 (1988), 359‚Ä“68.
My account of Tyrrell is based on Maisel, Foreign Office, 44‚Ä“5, 54‚Ä“6.
John Fisher, ‚Ä˜The Interdepartmental Committee on Eastern Unrest and British Re-
sponses to Bolshevik and Other Intrigues Against the Empire During the 1920s‚Ä™,
Journal of Asian History, 34, 1 (2000), 2‚Ä“3.
‚Ä˜Foreign Policy in Relation to Russia and Japan‚Ä™, CID 710-B, Tyrrell, 26 Jul 1926, Cab
should clear our minds on the subject of Russia and face the fact that
we are virtually at war‚Ä™.115
When Tyrrell became ambassador to Paris in 1928, he was succeeded
in Moscow by Sir Ronald Lindsay. Lindsay had joined the diplomatic
service in 1899 and spent most of his career abroad, including an early
posting in St Petersburg. Returning to the Foreign Office in 1908, he
was Grey‚Ä™s assistant private secretary until late 1909, at which time he
joined the Eastern Department, which then dealt with Russia. He spent
six years, from 1913 to 1919, as undersecretary to the Egyptian Ministry
of Finance, in which post he gained extensive administrative experience.
In 1919, he reverted to the diplomatic service. Lindsay was in the
Foreign Office from 1921 to 1924. There he got a taste of Bolshevik
subversion, replacing Tyrrell as the chairman of the Inter-Departmental
Committee on Bolshevism as a Menace to the British Empire. In the
autumn of 1926, Lindsay became ambassador at Berlin where he
remained until returning to London to become PUS in July 1928. Due
to circumstances, Lindsay‚Ä™s impact on Anglo-Soviet relations as PUS was
slight. He came to office after the diplomatic break with Moscow caused
by the Arcos raid. When Labour came to power in 1929, determined to
renew relations with Soviet Russia, both the new foreign secretary, Arthur
Henderson and his parliamentary undersecretary, Hugh Dalton, found
Lindsay uncongenial on this and other issues.116 The result was that
Lindsay became ambassador at Washington in 1931, a post he held with
distinction until 1939. Thus, ‚Ä˜one of the wisest and best balanced‚Ä™ men in
the Foreign Office was removed from the centre of power in London.117
Lindsay‚Ä™s successor was Sir Robert Vansittart.118 When he became
PUS at the age of forty-eight, Vansittart was the youngest man to hold
that post since Sir Charles Hardinge. Vansittart brought many qualities
to his new office.119 Described as ‚Ä˜brilliant and fiery‚Ä™ by a colleague, he
Tyrrell‚Ä™s minute, 4 Dec 1926, FO 371/11787/N5425/398/38.
Hugh Dalton, Call Back Yesterday. Memoirs 1887‚Ä“1931 (London, 1953), 218‚Ä“19, and
Ben Pimlott, Hugh Dalton (London, 1985), 192‚Ä“3.
Sir Frederick Leith-Ross, Money Talks. Fifty Years of International Finance (London,
Norman Rose, Vansittart. Study of a Diplomat (London, 1978); for the early period, see
B. J. C. McKercher, ‚Ä˜The Last Old Diplomat: Sir Robert Vansittart and the Verities of
British Foreign Policy, 1903‚Ä“1930‚Ä™, D&S, 6, 1 (1995), 1‚Ä“38; Ian Colvin, Vansittart in
Office (London, 1965), is impressionistic, but valuable. My account of Vansittart is
based on these sources and on Vansittart‚Ä™s own memoirs, The Mist Procession (London,
In addition to Rose, Vansittart, see Michael L. Roi, Alternative to Appeasement. Sir Robert
Vansittart and Alliance Diplomacy, 1934‚Ä“1937 (Westport, CT, 1997), and the articles in
D&S, 6, 1 (1995), devoted to Vansittart.
30 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
was an impressive intellectual, gifted in discussion. He possessed a certain
literary flair and, like his friend Hankey, believed in the importance of a
nation‚Ä™s virility through the possession of armed strength.120 He also had
his weak points. His pugnacity sometimes led, as someone who knew him
well believed, to his being ‚Ä˜very apt to strike attitudes on the spur of the
moment, sometimes regardless of the practical difficulty experienced by
the man at the other end of the wire in giving effect to them‚Ä™.121 And, while
he insisted on a clarity and freshness of expression from his subordinates,
his own memoranda too often seemed to be ‚Ä˜dancing literary horn-
pipes‚Ä™.122 In fact, Vansittart had a weakness for writing lengthy memo-
randa and minutes of a didactic sort that irritated, in particular, Eden.
This, along with his espousal of an anti-German policy, with all that it
entailed for British defence policy, led to his removal as PUS and his
appointment as chief diplomatic adviser in 1938.
With respect to policy, Vansittart was a true descendant of Eyre
Crowe: a firm believer in the balance of power. This should have placed
him among those who favoured co-operation (or even an alliance) with
Soviet Russia. However, on this point, he was ambivalent.123 In his first
years as PUS, Vansittart was willing to compromise with both Berlin and
Rome in the hope of finding solutions, all the while calling for an
increase in British military strength. While the latter was being built
up, he was an active supporter of using Moscow to help check Germany
and Japan; however, at the crucial discussions in early 1936 over a loan
to Moscow, Vansittart opposed it and, instead, threw his weight behind
exploring a comprehensive settlement with the ‚Ä˜dictator states‚Ä™. And, by
the time that Munich and the 1939 alliance talks occurred, Vansittart
could only hope to affect events by means of personal influence, utilizing
his private sources of intelligence.124
Vansittart‚Ä™s successor as PUS was Sir Alexander Cadogan.125 Cado-
gan, the son of the fifth earl, entered the diplomatic service in 1908.
Before the war he served primarily abroad. He was at the Foreign Office
Kelly, Ruling Few, 210.
Lampson diary entry, 31 Jan 1936, in M. E. Yapp, ed., Politics and Diplomacy in Egypt.
The Diaries of Sir Miles Lampson 1935‚Ä“1937 (Oxford, 1997), 446.
David Dilks, ed., The Diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan 1938‚Ä“1945 (London, 1971), 13.
His ambivalence lasted into retirement; see Lord Vansittart, Events and Shadows. A
Policy for the Remnants of a Century (London, 1947), 42‚Ä“68. The complexity of Vansit-
tart‚Ä™s thought about foreign relations can be found in an unpublished chapter of
memoirs, ‚Ä˜Somme Toute‚Ä™, Vansittart Papers, VNST II 3/10.
John R. Ferris, ‚Ä˜ ‚ÄúIndulged In All Too Little‚ÄĚ?: Vansittart, Intelligence and Appease-
ment‚Ä™, D&S, 6, 1 (1995), 122‚Ä“75.
My account of Cadogan‚Ä™s early career is based on the introduction in Dilks, Cadogan
from 1915 to 1924, but it was at Geneva, from 1924 to 1934, that he
made his mark, spending his last four years there as adviser on League of
Nations affairs. In 1934 he was appointed, first, minister (1934) and,
then, ambassador (1935) at Peking. In February 1936, the foreign
secretary, Anthony Eden, with whom Cadogan had worked closely at
Geneva, brought him back to London. In the summer of 1936, Cadogan
acted as the British delegate to the Montreux Conference, and became a
deputy undersecretary at the Foreign Office in October. For the next
fifteen months, while Eden attempted to remove Vansittart from office,
Cadogan was given particular responsibility for Far Eastern matters. He
became PUS on 1 January 1938.
Cadogan was the antithesis of Vansittart, in that he was not flamboyant
or prone to lengthy minutes and memoranda. Instead, he focused on
giving careful advice and ensuring that the Foreign Office worked effect-
ively. His career had given him ample experience of Soviet matters. At
Geneva, Soviet Russia had been a difficult player in the deliberations of
the Preparatory Commission, which the League Council had created in
1925 to begin the process of disarmament. In 1927 and 1928, the Soviets
had put forward ‚Ä˜totally unrealistic proposals for immediate and universal
disarmament‚Ä™ that had delayed the entire process.126 In China, Cadogan
had gained an appreciation of the tangled nature of relations between that
country, Japan and Soviet Russia. And, at Montreux, Cadogan had
experienced the dubious pleasure of working with Litvinov directly.127
At the Nyon Conference in September 1937, Cadogan was convinced
that Soviet Russia was working to block any solution by means of its
malign influence in French domestic politics.128 Cadogan‚Ä™s dislike of
the Russians, however, did not mean that he refused to do business with
them. While Soviet bargaining methods annoyed him, Cadogan worked
hard in 1939 to attempt to effect an Anglo-Soviet alliance.
The PUS did not determine the views of the Foreign Office by
himself. Beneath him were the assistant undersecretaries of state,
who each supervised several of the departments within the Foreign
Office. In May 1925, a layer was added between the PUS and the
assistants with the appointment of a deputy undersecretary (beginning
in October 1936 there were two such deputies) who oversaw a cluster of
assistant undersecretaries and, on occasion, acted in the stead of the
Andrew Webster, ‚Ä˜An Argument Without End: Britain, France and the Disarmament
Process, 1925‚Ä“1934‚Ä™, in Martin Alexander and William J. Philpott, eds., Anglo-French
Defence Relations Between the Wars (Basingstoke and New York, 2002), 66 n4.
Cadogan diary entry, 11 Jul 1936, Cadogan Papers, ACAD 1/4.
Cadogan diary entry, 16 Sept 1937, Cadogan Papers, ACAD 1/6.
32 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
PUS.129 These men, and the heads of departments, were a key element
in the foreign-policy making elite at the Foreign Office.
When considering British strategic foreign policy and Anglo-Soviet
affairs, three departments are vital: the Northern (which dealt with
Soviet Russia), the Central (which dealt with Germany) and the Far
Eastern (which dealt with China and Japan).130 At first glance the three
were equal, but there was a sharp difference in their relative prestige and
real power. The Central Department was the lineal descendant of the
War Department created at the outbreak of hostilities in 1914 by the
amalgamation of the pre-war Western and Eastern Departments that
had dealt with, respectively, France and Russia.131 After the war, the
Central Department was the most important and busiest department
in the Foreign Office, and it and those who served in it ‚Ä“ and their
suggestions ‚Ä“ were often favoured over the other departments, particu-
larly by Austen Chamberlain.132 In contrast, the Northern Department
was a backwater. In 1928, its prestige and influence were weakened
when one of the assistant undersecretaries, J. D. Gregory, a former head
of the Northern Department and a leading authority on Soviet Russia,
was forced to resign due to a financial scandal.133 Nor were its members
generally considered the best and the brightest, even by its long-time
head, Laurence Collier.134 As for the Far Eastern Department, it was
often the target of abuse. In February 1926, its head, Sydney Waterlow,
was removed; Austen Chamberlain‚Ä™s having ‚Ä˜lost all confidence‚Ä™ in
him.135 This did not end the foreign secretary‚Ä™s problems with the Far