The Chargé in Germany ( Gilbert ) to the Secretary of State
[Received February 18—4:25 p.m.]
63. The British Counselor discussed with me this morning the British Embassy’s views on the Austrian development and brought me up to date on the matter of current Anglo-German relationships. The following is thus largely in continuation of my 56, February 14, 7 p.m.29
He said that the British Ambassador30 on his recent visit to London was himself “commissioned” to “continue the Hitler-Halifax conversations”31 and had brought back with him detailed instructions to this effect. The Counselor said that he regretted that he could not tell me the nature of these instructions inasmuch as they were being kept absolutely secret, the Ambassador in fact being empowered to reveal them only to the Chancellor. He characterized them nevertheless as being specific rather than general and designed to be “a step forward”.
It had been the intention of the Ambassador to see the Chancellor prior to the latter’s Reichstag speech in order to work out if possible some “adjustment” in the terms of the speech.
It appears to be uncertain whether the Chancellor was personally aware of this British intention. In any event the unexpected intervention of the Austrian development produced at least a changed and presumably a less auspicious situation for the contemplated conversations with the Chancellor.
On the occasion of the Chancellor’s dinner to the Diplomatic Corps on February 15 the second German communiqué having just been issued (my 59, February 16, 3 p.m.29), Henderson informally expressed to the Chancellor Great Britain’s “interest in Austria”. The Chancellor responded in no uncertain terms to the effect that “Austria was solely a German concern”.
In respect of the foregoing I commented that this German position is based on the principle of “Germans being solely a German concern”. [Page 404] It thus under certain conditions might be applied to the Czechoslovak, the Danzig and the Corridor questions. The British Counselor agreed with me in this but did not believe that Germany would adopt a similar position respecting other Eastern European matters.
Henderson is now under instruction from London formally to express Great Britain’s interest in Austria. He feels however these instructions are awkward to fulfill inasmuch as he had already received a “rebuff” on the same point. He must however carry out these instructions in view of certain pertinent announcements having been made in London.
The Counselor said that the French Ambassador had received similar instructions and that he understood that Poncet had seen Ribbentrop last evening on that score. The British Embassy was not as yet informed as to what took place. The Counselor stated that while he understood the British and French action in this respect was parallel it was definitely not joint action.
The Counselor expressed his belief that what had taken place was undoubtedly a first step to complete Anschluss. Commenting on the Italian angle he said that he understood from Rome that the Italians were given advance notification of the German action respecting Austria but that he was inclined to feel that the Italians are now somewhat disconcerted by the lengths to which Germany has gone. He felt that the Rome–Berlin Axis was as strong as ever if not stronger but agreed with me that the long range effect of Germany at the Brenner might be a different matter.
The Counselor stated that from the British point of view there were three courses which could be followed at this juncture, vis-à-vis, Germany, (a) Germany could be told that Great Britain would defend Austrian independence by arms if necessary; (b) Germany could be told that Great Britain did not approve of Germany’s action and would reserve its position—in other words London could take the position that Austria was an issue between the two Governments; (c) the British could express their “interest” in Austria. He said that the latter course had evidently been chosen as presumably the only feasible one but that it was in effect meaningless.
The British Embassy is completely at a loss as to what line Hitler may take in his February 20 speech.
The Counselor and I speculated respecting the effects of the developments on Austria’s international position and were inclined to believe that Austria would in due course be compelled to become a party to the Anti-Comintern Pact. Whether Austria could be a party to that pact and retain membership in the League or whether in any event Austria would be permitted to remain in the League was felt to be problematical.