740.0011 European War 1939/12030: Telegram

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

2435. For the Secretary and the Under Secretary. My 2394, June 11, 8 p.m. Mr. Eden asked me to see him this afternoon to [Page 171] inform me of his interview earlier today with the Russian Ambassador. Last night the Prime Minister, Mr. Eden and Sir Stafford Cripps, the British Ambassador at Moscow now in London, had a long discussion about Russian and Russian-German relations in particular. It was finally decided that the Foreign Secretary should send for the Russian Ambassador today and make certain proposals to him of which the following is in substance the account given me by Mr. Eden.

He reminded Mr. Maisky again of the formidable German military concentrations on the Russian-German frontier and said that the British Government could not ignore the possibility that Germany is planning an early military attack on Russia. He told the Ambassador that based on this hypothesis, once hostilities had actually broken out between the two countries, the British Government would be willing to assist the Russian Government in the following ways: (1) by such air action in the west as might be practicable to divert in some measure German air attack from Russia; (2) the despatch to Moscow of a military mission of first class quality composed of men who had actual experience in all branches of land and air operations in the present war and (3) economic assistance within the limits practicable. On this point Mr. Eden suggested that unless Japan entered the conflict on the side of Germany, which did not appear probable, this economic assistance might be got to Russia over the Trans-Siberian Railway, but that other ways of getting economic assistance to Russia would be explored.

Mr. Maisky said “yes” and that he would be glad to transmit the proposal to his Government. He then for the first time indirectly admitted that there were German military concentrations on the Russian frontier by asking Mr. Eden if he could not furnish him in detail the information possessed by the British Government as to the location and numbers of these concentrations saying that it was always helpful to check information derived from different sources. Mr. Maisky also asked Mr. Eden if he meant that his offer of economic assistance would be available at once or only after armed conflict had broken out between Russia and Germany. Mr. Eden told him that it was clearly contingent on an actual state of war existing between Germany and Russia and asked the Ambassador how he could expect Great Britain, fighting such a struggle as she is now engaged in, to denude herself of precious materials to send Russia if Russia were not at war with Germany. Mr. Maisky also said that the proposals would have, he thought, a more sympathetic reception at Moscow if they could be preceded by general negotiations to improve relations between the two countries. Mr. Eden said “I suppose you [Page 172] mean questions concerning the Baltic States and related problems” and Mr. Maisky said “Yes.” Mr. Eden replied that both Great Britain and Russia were now faced with an immediate military emergency and that it was no time to be discussing political and general relations between the two countries as preliminary to agreed action in the military field.

Mr. Eden told me that he had some doubts whether Moscow will even reply to this communication but he said that he and the Prime Minister and Sir Stafford Cripps, after weighing the pros and cons of making such an offer to Russia, had decided that it ought to be done and felt there was little likelihood that any harm might come of it even if Stalin told the Germans. Mr. Eden expressed the view even more strongly than he did when I saw him the other day that a German attack on Russia is imminent and he said that the Prime Minister was of the same opinion and felt that Hitler would have to make the Russian attack for a number of reasons. Sir Stafford Cripps is also said to be of this opinion.

If the Russians accept these proposals Mr. Eden said that the British Government will undertake to use its influence for what it may be worth with the Finns to hold them in line and to get an engagement from them that they will not join in the war against Russia,40 promising them such assistance from Great Britain as may be possible. Inasmuch as there are considerable German forces, presumably with armament, reliably reported already to be in Finland I cannot personally see how any British assistance could be given to the Finns which would not be of almost direct benefit to Germany in the event of that country being at war with Russia. I think Mr. Eden realizes this too but he believes that Marshal Mannerheim41 and other Finnish leaders have not been taken into the German camp and that they are aware a tieup with Germany now would seriously jeopardize Finland’s position at the conclusion of the war and British and Allied victory. British assurances might therefore be of some moral value if not of immediate utility. Mr. Eden does not think, however, that the Finns could be expected to resist a German demand for passage of troops through that country to Russia nor to take any active steps of opposition against Germany. They would rather expect Finland at best to be in the position of a neutral Hungary.

  1. See the correspondence on relations between Finland and the Soviet Union, pp. 1 ff.
  2. Carl Gustaf, Baron Mannerheim, Head of the State, December 11, 1918, to July 25, 1919; Chairman of the National Defence Council; Commander in Chief of the Finnish Army in the Winter War, 1939–40.