The Chargé in the United Kingdom ( Johnson ) to the Secretary of State
[Received February 17—5:05 p.m.]
140. I gather from a conversation with an official of the Foreign Office directly concerned with Central Europe that the Foreign Office has not yet received sufficiently full or accurate information from either Berlin or Vienna to form a clear judgment regarding recent events in Austria. The British Minister at Vienna was informed on February 11, at the same time as the French and Italian Ministers, that Schuschnigg would meet Hitler. The Foreign Office, it was stated, has no information to indicate whether Mussolini did or did not have prior knowledge of Hitler’s intentions. The official frankly admitted that if Hitler had deceived Mussolini serious obstacles would have been removed to an Anglo-Italian rapprochement. If, however, [Page 400] Mussolini was privy to the action, he said that in the present views of the Foreign Office it was difficult to see what quid pro quo Hitler might have given him of sufficient importance to offset the appalling danger from Italy’s point of view of having Germany for an immediate neighbor. He suggested that Hitler’s surprise action may have been taken to offset diminished prestige as a result of the recent German Army purge. This loss of prestige he believed to be real.
I also gathered that the Foreign Office profoundly distrusts Schmidt whom they believe to be playing a double game and reporting everything to Hitler and the German Nazis. The situation is regarded here as most serious of course but no indication was given that the British are contemplating any form of intervention. My informant expressed as his personal opinion that this coup of Hitler’s was preliminary to some spectacular action in Central Europe in the economic sphere.