7601D 61/919: Telegram

The Chargé in the United Kingdom ( Johnson ) to the Secretary of State


26. For the Secretary and the Under Secretary. I had a talk this afternoon with Lord Halifax.5 He referred to information which [Page 270] he said had been communicated to Department by Lord Lothian6 regarding the British and French approach to Sweden and Norway with respect to assistance to Finland. The Swedish Minister7 delivered the Swedish reply this morning and had indicated the willingness of his Government to give every facility to the despatch of necessary material through Sweden to the Finns from both Great Britain and France. The Swedish Government is not, however, prepared to allow the passage of foreign troops through Sweden to join up with the Finnish forces. The Swedish Minister also informed Lord Halifax that his Government was not replying to the Anglo-French offer of assistance to Sweden in case she got into trouble through facilitating Allied aid to Finland. The Swedish point of view is that they would rather not discuss at the present time any question of Allied assistance, and Lord Halifax is not critical of this attitude. Aid to Finland he said will proceed along the lines of the “non-intervention” policy during the Spanish Civil War. The British are going to send everything they can spare and have just consented to meet a Finnish request for the despatch of 20,000,000 rounds of small arms ammunition. This will cut the British and French ratio but Lord Halifax says that they have decided it would be much better to send this ammunition where it is needed and can be used at once than simply to hold it in reserve in France where no battles are now taking place. The talk in France, reported freely in the press, of the possibility of sending 10,000 Alpine Chasseurs to fight with the Finnish Army, Lord Halifax thinks, is largely due to political motivation and pressure from the anti-Communist groups. There could be no question of its realization in any case at present in view of the expressed attitude of the Swedish Government. There are spectacular stories in today’s press of direct German threats against Sweden if she cooperates in any way with the Allied Powers in bringing assistance to Finland. The Swedish Minister, however, told Lord Halifax this morning that he had no official confirmation of any pressure being brought to bear on Sweden either by Germany or by Russia.8

There is no intention here of declaring war on Russia and Lord Halifax said he knew that was the view of the French Government also, however much anti-Communist elements might advocate it.

[Page 271]

A blue book is to be published next week of the Anglo-French-Russian negotiations at Moscow giving the full story of the breakdown.9

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  1. Another portion of this telegram is quoted in telegram No. 11, January 6, 5 p.m., to the Ambassador in Japan, p. 635.
  2. Edward Wood, Viscount Halifax, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
  3. Philip Henry Kerr, the Marquess of Lothian, British Ambassador in the United States.
  4. Bjorn Gustaf Prytz.
  5. The Soviet Union sent notes on January 6, 1940, to Norway and Sweden complaining about their attitude toward the war between Finland and the Soviet Union. Norway replied on January 6, 1940, and Sweden on January 10, 1940.
  6. The Counselor of Embassy, Herschel V. Johnson, explained in his despatch No. 4890, March 16, 1940, the reversal of the decision to publish these documents at this time. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced in the House of Commons on March 6, 1940, that this decision followed further consultation with the French, who had raised objections. The Counselor had learned from a reliable source that the French had been disposed “at the time of the Moscow negotiations to adopt a more lenient attitude than the British with regard to measures that Russia might take, particularly in the Baltic States, to protect herself against ‘indirect aggression.’” It therefore seemed inadvisable to publish a version favorable to the British, “if the Soviets could subsequently make public documents showing a striking divergence of view on the part of the French.” (741.61/888) A large collection of papers on this matter has now been printed in the United Kingdom, Foreign Office (B. L. Woodward and Rohan Butler, editors), Documents on British Foreign Policy, 1919–1939, 3d ser., vols. v and vi (London, H. M. Stationery Office, 1952, 1953).