6 Dec 2017

Britain's Last Efforts To Avert War

Historic Documents. I

In this, the first of a series comprising the most important speeches, communications, statements and other documents relating to the Second Great War, are included extracts from the exchanges between London and Berlin during the ten days which ended with Germany’s invasion of Poland.

Following the publication of the news that Herr von Ribbentrop was proceeding to Moscow to sign a non-aggression pact with the U.S.S.R., Mr. Chamberlain wrote to Herr Hitler (August 22, 1939)  Whatever may prove to be the nature of the German Soviet Agreement, it cannot alter Great Britain’s obligation to Poland which his Majesty’s Government have stated in public repeatedly and plainly, and which they are determined to fulfil

It has been alleged that, if his Majesty’s Government had made their position more clear in 1914, the great catastrophe would have been avoided. Whether or not there is any force in that allegation, his Majesty’s Government are resolved that on this occasion there shall be no such tragic misunderstanding.

If the case should arise, they are resolved, and prepared, to employ without delay all the forces at their command, and it is impossible to foresee the end of hostilities once engaged. It would be a dangerous illusion to think that, if war once starts, it will come to an early end, even if a success on any one of the several fronts on which it will be engaged should have been secured.

Having thus made our position perfectly clear, I wish to repeat to you my conviction that war between our two peoples would be the greatest calamity that could occur. I am certain that it is desired neither by our people nor by yours, and I cannot see that there is anything in the questions arising between Germany and Poland which could not and should not be resolved without the use of force. if only a situation of confidence could be restored to enable discussions to be carried on in an atmosphere different from that which prevails today.

HERR Hitler TO MR. CHAMBERLAIN, August 23, 1939.  Germany has never sought conflict with England and has never interfered in English interests. On the contrary, she has for years endeavoured although unfortunately in vain to win England’s friendship.

The German Reich, however, like every other State possesses certain definite interests which it is impossible to renounce. To these questions belong the German City of Danzig and the connected problem of the Corridor.

Your Excellency informs me in the name of the British Government that you will be obliged to render assistance to Poland in any such case of intervention on the part of Germany take note of this statement of yours and assure you that it can make no change in the determination of the Reich Government to safeguard the interests of the Reich. Your assurance to the effect that in such an event you anticipate a long war is shared by myself. Germany if attacked by England will be found prepared and determined. I have already more than once declared before the German people and the world that there can be no doubt concerning the determination of the new German Reich rather to accept, for however long it might be, every sort of misery and tribulation than to sacrifice its national interests, let alone its honour.

H.M. GOVERNMENT TO THE GERMAN CHANCELLOR on, August 28. His Majesty’s Government note the Chancellor’s expression of his desire to make friendship the basis of the relations between Germany and the British Empire, and they fully share this desire. They believe with him that if a complete and lasting understanding between the two countries could be established it would bring untold blessings to both peoples.

A just settlement of these questions between Germany and Poland may open the way to world peace. Failure to reach it would ruin the hopes of better understanding between Germany and Great Britain, would bring the two countries into conflict and might well plunge the whole world into war. Such an outcome would be a calamity without parallel in history. 

HERR Hitler TO  H.M. GOVERNMENT, August 29, 1939. Though sceptical as to the prospects of a successful outcome, the German Government are prepared to accept the English proposal and to enter into direct discussions [with Poland]. They do so, as has already been emphasized, solely as the result of the impression made upon them by the written statement received from the British Government that they, too, desire a pact of friendship in accordance with the general lines indicated to the British Ambassador.

For the rest, in making these proposals the German Government have never had any intention of touching Poland’s vital interests or questioning the existence of an independent Polish State. The German Government accordingly, in these circumstances agree to accept the British Government’s offer of their good offices in securing the despatch to Berlin of a Polish Emissary with full powers. They count on the arrival of this Emissary on Wednesday, August 30, 1939.

H.M. GOVERNMENT TO THE GERMAN CHANCELLOR, August 30. His Majesty’s Government note that the German Government accept the British proposal and are prepared to enter into direct discussions with the Polish Government.

His Majesty’s Government also note that the German Government accepts the position of the British Government as to Poland’s vital interests and independence. His Majesty’s Government are at once informing the Polish Government off the German Government's reply.

His Majesty’s Government fully recognize the need for speed in the initiation of discussion, and they share the apprehensions of the Chancellor arising from the proximity of two mobilized armies standing face to face. They would accordingly most, strongly urge that both parties should undertake that during the negotiations no aggressive military movements will take place.

His Majesty’s Government feel confident that they could obtain such an undertaking from the Polish. Government if the German Government would give similar assurances.

 HERR Hitler TO  H.M. GOVERNMENT, August 31. On August 29 the German Government, in spite of being sceptical as to the desire of the Polish Government to come to an understanding, declared themselves ready in the interests of peace to accept the British mediation or suggestion.

In this sense they declared themselves ready to receive a personage appointed by the Polish Government upto the evening of August 30, with the proviso that the latter was, in fact, empowered not only to discuss but to conduct and conclude negotiations. 

The German Government Have Waited in Vain 
Instead of a statement regarding the arrival of an authorized Polish personage, the first answer the Government of the Reich received to their readiness for an understanding was the news of the Polish mobilization, and only towards 12 o’clock’ on the night of August 30, 1939, did they receive at somewhat general assurance of British readiness to help towards the commencement of negotiations.

It has once more been made clear, as a result of a dérnarche which has meanwhile been made by the Polish Ambassador. that the latter himself has no plenary powers either to enter into any discussion or even to negotiate.

The Fuehrer and the German Government have thus waited two days in vain for the arrival of a Polish negotiator with plenary powers.

In these circumstances, the German Government regard their proposals as having this time, too, been to all intents and purposes rejected, although they considered that these proposals, in the form in which they were made known to the British Government also, were more than loyal, fair and practicable.

H.M. GOVERNMENT TO SIR NEVILE HENDERSON, 11 p.m. August 31. Please inform German Government that we understand that Polish Government are taking steps to establish contact with them through Polish Ambassador in Berlin. Please also ask them whether they agree to the necessity for securing an immediate provisional modus vivendi as regards Danzig. 

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