Showing posts from July, 2019

Eighty years ago, Britain offers the Germans (secretly) an immense loan and the Soviets (publicly) a visit by a man with a silly name

Clandestine contacts between a junior British minister, a senior British civil servant and Goering’s economic adviser, Helmut Wohlthat, were leaked in the newspapers. The most eye-catching feature was the supposed offer to Germany of a loan of £1bn, an immense sum for the day, to fund its disarmament. Other inducements were offered to encourage Germany to reach a negotiated settlement of its demands. Fortunately for Neville Chamberlain, the civil servant involved, Sir Horace Wilson his principal adviser on all topics notably foreign policy, could just claim that he was still the government’s Chief Economic Adviser, which sustained the fiction that he was merely discussing economic matters with Wohlthat rather than a political settlement. The Foreign Office had known nothing of the contacts, which were an attempt by Downing Street to pursue the appeasement of Germany by unofficial channels. A delegation of British senior officers under Admiral the Honourable Sir Regi

Eighty years ago, deceptive gymnastics on Red Square

The Soviet Union’s Physical Culture day featured a political tableau along with the more usual athletic displays. Under the slogan “Ready for labour and defence" gymnasts in blue silk pants routed “German invaders" who goose-stepped on to Red Square in long field-grey overcoats. Soviet military skiers added another unseasonal touch. This affirmation of ideological dislike of Nazism might have helped mask the importance of the negotiations between Germany and the Soviet Union on a commercial agreement. With talks between Britain and the Soviet Union on an alliance against Germany still stalled, the danger that Stalin might seek an alternative had not registered. William Ironside, a senior British general, was sent to Poland. The precise reason why he went is uncertain: informing the government of Polish side of the military situation that the guarantee to Poland had created was certainly part of it, but it might have been desirable to remove him from the London sce

Eighty years ago, Chamberlain nudges Warsaw towards talks with Hitler

Neville Chamberlain set out the British government’s policy towards the dispute between German and Poland over the status of Danzig. It was a sustained exercise in weasel vocabulary. At first glance it appeared to be a forthright declaration that the British guarantee to Poland would protect the country from Nazi aggression, but on closer examination, Chamberlain was clearly holding the door wide open for Germany to push it demands. The key giveaway was Chamberlain’s insistence that Britain had “guaranteed to give our assistance to Poland in the case of a clear threat to her independence.” Chamberlain implied that a unilateral German move on Danzig, which Poland decided to resist by force, would pose such a threat but stopped short of saying that Britain would apply the same logic. Chamberlain repeated that the existing settlement over Danzig could be improved upon, even if it was neither illogical nor unjust. He reminded his listeners that Colonel Beck, the Polish strongman him