740.00/322: Telegram

The Chargé in France ( Wilson ) to the Secretary of State

387. Following message from Ambassador Biddle.56

My several conversations with authoritative Polish and Italian circles in London and Paris bring to light the following essential points which have an important bearing on conceivable developments in Central Europe in terms of the immediate and long range outlook: (1) The following set of circumstances have caused Chamberlain to shift temporarily at least his aim from a four power conference to bringing about a revised Stresa front;57 (2) British Ambassador to Berlin, Henderson, had reported to London Hitler’s insistence on (a) Germany’s claims in colonial domain; (b) a free hand for Germany in Austria and Sudeten Deutsch.

Moreover during recent Halifax-Ribbentrop conversations58 Ribbentrop in outlining his envisaged foreign policy stated his intention to attach himself closely to a Nazi foreign policy which dealt with two fundamental questions: (a) unity of Germanic peoples; (b) colonial expansion having regard for raw materials, population problems, shipping, et cetera.

In connection with colonial demands British perceive that an underlying factor contributing to Germany’s desire for colonies is Germany’s aim to make them a reason for a larger navy, on grounds her sea traffic requires protection. Hence a condition British would demand of Germans in return for colonial concessions would be that the naval increase question not be raised. Ribbentrop moreover emphasized Hitler’s insistence on the return of former colonies and his refusal to accept any compromise or diminution of claims. In emphasizing his aim for unity of Germanic peoples Ribbentrop stressed Hitler’s conviction that the Germans of Central Europe should be granted the right to establish racial, cultural, and economic connections with the Reich.

3. Halifax had replied in effect that Ribbentrop’s representations had put a new complexion on the problem as a whole. Halifax would have to take up the matter with the Cabinet. Moreover Halifax pointed out emphatically that he considered the colonial question a part of a general settlement and involving other powers.

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Moreover Halifax, realizing that Hitler’s insistence on above described three points would prove too much for British public opinion to stomach at the time and that it would only alienate democratic public opinion in general, had told Ribbentrop that if Hitler did anything precipitous which might serve to alienate British public opinion Hitler might conceivably torpedo jointly Chamberlain’s efforts to bring about a general settlement of grievances without resort to war. Halifax moreover cautioned against the risk of precipitating fresh anxiety on the part of British public opinion over any sudden attempt to deal with minority questions by short-cut methods.

4. The result of the foregoing conversations leads the Poles to expect Britain to concentrate on negotiations with Rome, shoving German negotiations into background for the moment for Halifax realizes Hitler’s insistence on the three above-mentioned points would make it difficult to come to grips and to find a common ground for Anglo-German negotiations. Poles also feel that British current tactics envisage bringing Italy into line at the earliest possible moment. Also the British hope an Anglo-Italian agreement will serve to hold Hitler down and make Hitler eventually more amenable to trading on a more reasonable basis.

In this connection British Ambassador to Rome, Perth, when recently in London had informed his Government that Mussolini had urged Great Britain to hasten the negotiations and try to have an Anglo-Italian agreement a fait accompli before Hitler’s May visit to Rome. Mussolini had given as his reason therefor that he was concerned over evidences of Hitler’s increasingly leaning more in the direction of the more radical Nazi element. Moreover at outset of current negotiations Mussolini had made it clear he was not to be expected to break or endanger his arrangements with Germany and stated that during the Anglo-Italian negotiations it would be helpful if the British Government could prevent the British press from attacking Hitler and Germany for the absence of such attacks would help negotiations in view of Hitler’s Rome May visit.

According to my informants, both British and Polish reports from Berlin indicated Hitler very cocky and that he means (a) to do business in connection with Czechoslovakia and (b) consolidate German position in Austria. Poles moreover feel Hitler is now in the mood wherein he feels “there is nothing he can get from Britain at this time”. (Besides previous to Eden’s resignation French had been urging him for British cooperation in event of German move against Czechoslovaks. Eden had not been able to acquire Chamberlain’s approval thereon before resignation.)

Poles moreover are of the opinion that if Germany succeeded in confusing the issue in the event of a move vis-à-vis Sudeten Deutsch [Page 35] neither Great Britain nor France would march. Great Britain at the moment was neither in position nor mood to risk war through active intervention, and France would not initiate independent military action. Vigorous diplomatic protests and a tense period might be expected to be met by immediate German assurances of guarantees in respect to integrity of Czechoslovak territory which would contribute toward serving as face saver for protestants, but there would be no war, for Poles feel that a “Sudeten annexation” would not in the final analysis be considered by the British Government and consequently the French Government as the question over which democracy should go to war.

Indeed the Poles feel Great Britain would succeed in persuading France that they both should raise their sights to a longer range objective and keep their powder dry for the day within the next two years when according to British apprehension both Great Britain and France might conceivably be challenged by an ambitious Germany for the control of the whole of Europe.

Judging the reality of events and from the substance of my various conversations I do not look for a general conflict to result from the current situation. Nor do I look for a war to result from a German move vis-à-vis Sudeten Deutsch providing the Germans succeed in confusing the issue, for Great Britain is neither in position nor mood to engage in war over a German move in Sudeten Deutsch at this time and I do not believe France would initiate independent military action. As for Poland I look for her (a) to sit tight in the event of the aforementioned move (b) and believe she might conceivably demand autonomous administration for the Polish minority in the Teschen District. [Biddle.]

  1. Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, Jr., American Ambassador in Poland.
  2. Effected at Stresa, Italy, April 11–14, 1935, between France, Italy, and the United Kingdom; see Foreign Relations, 1935, vol. i, pp. 170 ff.
  3. London, March 1938.