760F.62/645: Telegram

The Ambassador in France (Bullitt) to the Secretary of State

1384. For the Secretary and the President. The British Ambassador Sir Eric Phipps, who returned from London last night, called on me this morning and inter alia said that Henderson, British Ambassador [Page 570] in Berlin, had been instructed to inform the German Government that the British Government hoped the German Government would be under no illusions as to the hardening of British public opinion against Germany.

Weizsaecker, Undersecretary of the German Foreign Office, dined with Henderson the night of his arrival in Berlin and Henderson attempted to make clear to Weizsaecker without saying so flatly that if German troops should enter Czechoslovakia and France should declare war on Germany it would be almost impossible for Great Britain to avoid fighting on the side of France. Weizsaecker said to Henderson that he hoped he would repeat what he had said to Ribbentrop since Ribbentrop was still absolutely convinced that Great Britain would not go to war on the issue of Czechoslovakia. Henderson had seen Ribbentrop at the latter’s country place yesterday and had unquestionably repeated to Ribbentrop what he had said to Weizsaecker.

The British Ambassador went on to say that it was Henderson’s opinion that some agreement must be reached before the Nuremberg Congress and that the Czechs must be compelled to offer a compromise acceptable to the Sudeten and the Germans.

I inquired if Henderson and Runciman did not consider the latest proposal for division of Czechoslovakia into 23 cantons, each canton to have the right to elect its own prefect, an acceptable settlement. The British Ambassador replied that on the contrary Runciman had been most disappointed by the proposal. Runciman was finding it extremely difficult to deal with Beneš. Beneš would make him promises of concessions in general terms which would be nullified by the wording of the proposals.

The British and French Governments today were making intense efforts to persuade Beneš to make further concessions. If it should be impossible to get Beneš to do this it was conceivable that before the Nazi Congress Runciman himself would put forward publicly a proposal for settlement of the dispute.

The British Ambassador said that Chamberlain and the other members of the British Government took an extremely grave view of the present situation. The chances of preserving peace seemed to be about 50–50. If France should go to war on behalf of Czechoslovakia after the Czechs had accepted what appeared to British and world public opinion a just proposal it was inconceivable that Great Britain should remain out of the war.