Paris Peace Conf. 180.03101/13

BC–7

Procès-verbal of the Meeting of the Supreme War Council, Held at M. Pichon’s Room at the Quai d’Orsay, on Wednesday, January 22, 1919, at 11 Hours

  • Present
    • America, United States of
      • President Wilson.
      • Mr. R. Lansing.
      • Mr. A. H. Frazier.
      • Colonel U. S. Grant.
      • Mr. L. Harrison.
    • British Empire
      • The Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd George.
      • The Rt. Hon. A. J. Balfour.
      • Maj.-Gen. P. P. de B. Radcliffe, C. B., D. S. O.
      • Lt.-Col. Sir M. P. A. Hankey, K. C. B.
      • Mr. H. Norman.
      • Captain E. Abraham.
    • France
      • M. Clemenceau.
      • Marshal Foch.
      • M. Pichon.
      • Gen. Weygand.
      • M. Dutasta.
      • M. Berthelot.
      • Captain A. Portier.
    • Italy
      • His Excellency M. Orlando.
      • His Excellency Baron Sonnino.
      • Count Aldrovandi.
      • Major A. Jones.
    • Japan
      • Baron Makino.
      • His Excellency M. Matsui.
      • M. Saburi.

Interpreter: Professor P. J. Mantoux.

1. Policy in Poland M. Clemenceau, in opening the meeting proposed that the plan suggested by Marshal Foch of sending Polish troops from France to Poland via Danzig and Thorn should be discussed. He had received a telegram that morning stating that the British Government had agreed to this operation.

President Wilson said that he was without advice from his military counsellors. The proposal, as he understood it, was that the Polish troops now under French command should be shipped to Dantzig, and that to facilitate their arrival in Poland an Allied control of the railway from that port to Thorn should be established. He asked by whom this control would be exercised, and whether the object of the expedition was exclusively to protect the Poles against external enemies.

M. Clemenceau said that Marshal Foch would give the requisite explanation.

Marshal Foch said that there were in France a number of Polish troops ready to start. One division was quite ready; another was forming; and a third was in an early stage of formation, but could [Page 671]count on 20,000 men. He thought they would be ready to embark as soon as transport could be assembled to convey them to Dantzig.

M. Orlando asked whether Marshal Foch was taking into account the Poles in Italy.

Marshal Foch replied that, taking these into account, there was a fourth possible division.

M. Clemenceau enquired whether Italy agreed to the incorporation of the Poles in that country.

M. Orlando said he agreed.

Marshal Foch (resuming) said that the troops therefore existed. The next question was ships to take them to Dantzig. Thenceforward these troops must use the Dantzig-Thorn railway line. This line, according to the terms of the Armistice, was at our disposal. But the Poles said that the Germans would not allow them to land at Dantzig or to use the railway to Thorn. They therefore suggested that the line should be held by Allied troops.

M. Clemenceau asked Marshal Foch to state his own opinion as to whether the Germans would resist the passage of Polish forces, and to give an estimate of the strength of the resistance, should it take place.

Marshal Foch said that, in his view, as long as the Polish programme remained as indeterminate as it now was, there would undoubtedly be German resistance. The Germans certainly intended to dispute the possession of Posen, and still more, of Dantzig. Possibly German consent to the passage of Polish troops might be obtained if the Poles agreed to a restricted programme. For instance, that these troops should only go to Russian Poland to defend it against the Bolsheviks, and that the Polish authorities should undertake not to occupy any debatable ground. The Germans had eighteen divisions near their eastern frontier. He therefore thought that the Polish army could only be safely sent to Poland under cover either of a definite policy which obtained consent of the Germans or of Allied troops in occupation of the railway. To occupy this line effectually two Allied divisions would be required.

In order to give a firmer basis to the contemplated operation, it would be necessary that all the Allied Missions in Poland should be reorganised. There was at present a British Military Mission under Colonel Wade attached to M. Paderewski at Posen; there was a French Mission under General Barthélemy at Lemberg; there were other Missions elsewhere. Their information and views varied. It was desirable to have a unified Mission to study in particular the means of landing forces and of conveying them to Poland.

Mr. Balfour pointed out that the policy of uniting all the Missions in order to obtain their collective advice would involve delay. If it [Page 672]were true that Poland was threatened by an imminent Bolshevik attack, this delay might be disastrous. He would like to know whether, in Marshal Foch’s opinion, a Bolshevik attack was really to be feared.

Marshal Foch said that he thought it was important to gather the scattered Missions into one, and to get the Poles to have a definite policy. Their actions at present were divergent and eccentric. They were facing the Bolsheviks on the east, invading Posen on the west, and Galicia in the south. Some of these actions were not in any way forced upon them. The result was that they were wasting their energies and would not be able to succeed anywhere.

M. Clemenceau enquired how much time would elapse, according to the Marshal’s programme, before the Poles from the west landed in Poland.

Marshal Foch pointed out that all his proposals could be carried out concurrently. The Missions could be unified; the Poles could be prevailed on to amend their policy; and the despatch of the troops could be prepared at the same time. If all these problems were tackled at once he thought the troops might begin to arrive in three weeks or a month.

Mr. Balfour expressed the opinion that among the many difficulties the greatest would be to get the Poles to accept a restricted programme. He felt that this would have to be imposed upon them. The Poles were using the interval between the cessation of war and the decisions of the Peace Congress to make good their claims to districts outside Russian Poland, to which in many cases they had little right, although in others their claims were amply justified. To Posen, no doubt, they were entitled. The case of Dantzig was of peculiar difficulty. Eastern Galicia, according to all the information at his disposal, did not desire to be Polish. He suggested that the Polish representatives should be gathered here and told that they must limit their actions to the protection of indisputable Polish territory against invasion from without. The ultimate frontiers of Poland should be left to the Peace Congress. He proposed that M. Clemenceau, President Wilson, Mr. Lloyd George and M. Orlando should tell them, in the name of the Powers exactly what their line of conduct should be before the final decision. Meanwhile, the Polish forces in France could be organised, transport could be made ready in Great Britain, and the missions in Poland could be unified.

President Wilson said that this policy raised many grave doubts in his mind. It would involve the Allies in very complicated matters. It was proposed not only to send Polish contingents from France, but also two Allied divisions to hold the railway against five German divisions. These Allied troops would be employed for a purpose [Page 673]that might be highly offensive to the German Government, which would undoubtedly raise objections. These objections might have to be admitted. Dantzig must remain an open question, yet its occupation was suggested. With the object of sending Polish troops into Poland we were going to prejudge the whole Polish question. This question, moreover, should not, he thought, be isolated from all others. Many other questions resembled it. The Roumanians, for instance, were taking action of a similar kind. The Serbians also were behaving towards Montenegro in what appeared to him to be a questionable manner. The Hungarians also were trying to bring about a fait accompli before the termination of the Peace Congress. If we were to say to the Poles, “You must hold your hand,” the same must be said to the rest. They must all be told that they prejudiced their case by premature action. If you had to take a thing by force, the inference was that it did not belong to you. It would not, therefore, be fair to segregate this case entirely. Further, it had previously been agreed upon in the case of Russia that, on condition all parties held their hand, the Allies would meet them. This alone would put an end to the threatened Bolshevik attack on Poland. M. Paderewski, in his letter, only suggested that the Allies should supply him with weapons. He said that he had at his disposal from 600,000 to 800,000 men ready to fight if they could obtain ammunition. If this were the case, why should the Allies do what the Poles could do for themselves? The question was whether, since the Armistice, the Allies had enough German rifles and ammunition to equip the Poles. These stores could be sent to them via the Dantzig-Thorn railway, the use of which was guaranteed by the Armistice.

Marshal Foch said that he had no objection to this proposal. He was unable to check M. Paderewski’s estimate of his forces, but he thought it was fair to assume that they had not a high military value. The supplies for these troops must go by the Dantzig-Thorn route, the free use of which could not be guaranteed. We must be able to explain the purpose of these arms. Failing that, the Germans might stop them. Paderewski’s programme was a vague one. He therefore suggested that the Allied Missions should get into touch with the Poles and arrange an agreement ensuring the passage of the supplies.

President Wilson pointed out that M. Paderewski, in his letter, had undertaken not to surprise the Powers by a fait accompli, or attempt to obtain one in Dantzig.

Mr. Lloyd George said that he had come to the meeting with certain views, but admitted that he was much shaken by the opinions expressed by President Wilson. His impression was that we did not know enough about the facts of the situation in Poland. Action undertaken [Page 674]without further knowledge might lead to a mess. What Marshal Foch had said had great force, and was not inconsistent with the President’s remarks. He could not see any great difference between conveying armed men and conveying arms over the Dantzig-Thorn railway. We could not expect the Germans to allow arms to go through if they were to equip a Polish army to attack them. This would be asking more than was laid down in the Armistice. Fairness was due even to the enemy. He was not prepared at the present moment to make any declaration concerning the rights to Posen, which the Poles were attempting to conquer by force, and thereby to prejudge what the Congress was assembled to do. He pointed out that, although the Roumanians were doing the same thing, they were not asking the Allies to assist them. The Poles, on the other hand, were asking for all kinds of help—transport, supplies, rifles, ammunition.

President Wilson observed that M. Paderewski asked for this help specifically for defence against the Bolsheviks.

Mr. Lloyd George replied that he had no doubt of the honourable character of M. Paderewski. But the Poles were not all united, and M. Paderewski was unlikely to maintain complete control of the situation. The arms might pass into other hands. He felt that the representatives of the Powers should see the Poles, or appoint a Committee to meet them in Paris.

President Wilson pointed out that in sending Polish troops to Poland we should not only be sending armed men, but strong partisans on Polish questions. These were burning questions, and great caution should be exercised in dealing with them.

Marshal Foch said that he wished again to draw attention to the danger that Poland might be suffocated before its birth. It had no bases, no outlets, no communications, no supplies, no army. The Poles were fighting the Bolsheviks who might be attacking them, the Ukrainians whom they chose to attack, and the Germans from whom they wished to wrest Posen. From a military point of view, the policy they were pursuing was likely to be fatal to them.

M. Clemenceau pointed out that the British Government could not settle the question of sea transport without reference to London. He wished, however, to draw attention to the suggestions made by M. Paderewski that an International Commission should be sent to Warsaw to report to the Congress on conditions in Poland. The Military Missions already in Poland might be utilised as a nucleus, and additional representatives might be deputed by the Supreme War Council.

Mr. Lloyd George said that he supported this proposal. He would suggest, however, that the Commission should not be entirely military, but that it should be fortified by a political element. There was an [Page 675]ancient quarrel in Poland between the feudal elements and the peasants. We should not take sides in this contest blindly. Men of political experience should therefore be sent with the Commission to enquire into the matter.

Baron Sonnino said that the Commission should try and induce the Poles to confine their activities to resisting the Bolsheviks.

Mr. Lloyd George agreed, provided that under this pretence they did not attempt to push their conquest eastwards and face the Congress with the capture of Kovno or Grodno.

M. Clemenceau suggested that the names of the delegates should be brought forward at the meeting on the following day. He asked the Japanese Representatives whether they desired to send delegates to this Commission.

Baron Makino replied that the Japanese Government did not desire to do so.

(It was decided that two Commissions should be appointed by the United States of America, the British Empire, France and Italy.)

(It was further decided that the question of furnishing sea transport should be investigated in London, in case Marshal Fochi’s scheme were adopted.)