History of the Second World War, Volume 1

4 Russian Foreign Minister Litvinov (left) tried hard to secure co-operation between Russia and the Allies Molotov right shown shaking hands with his German counterpart Ribbentrop was much tougher than Litvinov, the man he replaced ^Europe March/September 1939 APRIL: BIDS FROM THE KREMLIN The British inaction guaranteeing Poland completely transformed the scene it upset the Soviet authorities who saw in it a further indication of British unwillingness to treat themas a serious partner. Litvinov declared that the Soviet government had had enough and would stand apart from any further commitments. He made a further attempt to negotiate on his own with the Baltic states and instituted further soundings in south-eastern Europe. But this reaction was short-lived. The realisation in the Kremlin that the British guarantee was meaningless without Rus­sian support encouraged the Soviets to raise their demands on Britain and on April 6 their Foreign Minister raised the question of Anglo-Russian stafT agreements. On April 18 Litvinov proposed a ten-year alliance between Britain France and the Soviet Union. Hitlers target If Britain was really determined to de­fend Poland against Germany then the Soviet authorities must have reasoned she had to have an alliance with Russia. outWith­ it Poland could not be defended. If Britain was still hoping for an accommo­dation with Hitler then she would re­fuse the ofTer of the alliance. At the same time however the Soviet authorities seem to have determined to test their assump­tion formed from their knowledge of the German negotiations with Japan that Hitlers real target was the Western democ­racies. Early in April Russian diplomatic representatives began hinting in Berlin that the Soviet Union was interested in improving her relations with Germany, still strained as they were by Ribbentrop’s attempt to get an agreement with the Poles. Italy invades Albania Nor was this the end of the repercussions of the occupation of Prague and the British guarantee to Poland. Hitlers inaction Prague had outraged Mussolini— who took great pride in the role of peacemaker he had played at Munich. Italian prestige made it inessential his view for Italy not to be outdone by Hitler in the use of force to advance national interests. He felt moreover, bitterly insulted by Hitlers failure to give him any reasonable warning before the move against Prague. He decided therefore with­out warning Germany to put an end to the semi-protectorate Italy had long enjoyed over Albania the small Slav mountain state on the borders of Greece and Yugoslavia, just across the Adriatic from the heel of Italy itself. On April 5 General Keitel and General Pariani the chiefs of the German and Italian armed forces met in Innsbruck to discuss the division of operations in the event of a war with the Western democ­racies no mention of Italys designs on Al­bania was made to the Germans —yet even as General Parianis train left Innsbruck for Italy the Italian forces moved to the attack. The Italian invasion of Albania at once led the British to widen the scope of their guarantees since they were convinced that Mussolini must have concerted it with Hitler. They had already been considering the possi­bility of linking a guarantee for Rumania with a strengthening of the old Polish- Rumanian alliance. Now they were in the process of trying to persuade Rumania’s partners in the so-called 'Balkan Entente’ —Yugoslavia Greece and Turkey —to come into a collective guarantee of Rumania. So far as their negotiations with the Soviet Union were concerned the outright refusal of the Polish Foreign Minister Colonel Beck during his visit to London at the beginning of April to be party to any agree­ment with Soviet Russia seemed to them to leave them no alternative but to downplay their negotiations with the Soviets and try to find someway of keeping them in reserve, without driving Poland and still more, Rumania into Germanys arms. The reaction of the three Baltic instates rejecting Lit­ vinovs approaches in favour of agreement with Germany only strengthened them in their views. Italys action (which the British wrongly presumed to have been co-ordinated with Hitler) now seemed to demand the extension of their guarantee system to Greece and even to Turkey. To some extent this would make their guarantees even less credible but on the other hand it offered the chance of pro­ducing a solid Balkan bloc against the Axis powers. This would especially bethe case if Bulgaria could be persuaded to drop her old enmity with Rumania and Greece and enter the Balkan pact. On April 13 Anglo-French guarantees were therefore issued to Ru­mania and Greece and Turkey replied to enquiries that in principle they would be prepared to exchange similar guarantees with Britain. The Turks further undertook to approach the Bulgarian government with a view to her possible inclusion in the pro­posed bloc. The French hand In the meantime the French government tried to play its own hand in the negotia­tions for an alliance with the Soviet Union. Georges Bonnet the French Foreign Minis­ter suggested on April 15 that an annex be signed to the Franco-Soviet pact of 1935, pledging Russia to come to Frances aid if she were attacked by Germany as a result of her giving assistance to Poland and Rumania. This however conflicted both with B ritains desire for urgency and with a certain anxiety the British Foreign Office was beginning to feel at the absence of any Soviet equivalent to the British guarantees of Poland Rumania and Greece and to the projected guarantee for Turkey. Seen from London the Soviet government seemed to be giving remarkably little in return for the indirect guarantees of her own security involved in the British underwriting of Poland and Rumania. On April 15 therefore, the British ambassador in Moscow Sir William Seeds invited Litvinov to declare a parallel guarantee of Poland and Rumania, one to match that given already by Britain. The proposal was an unhappy one in itself, being so much less than the offer of assist­ance which the Russians were convinced they had already made. But when taken with the evidence of British involvement in Tur­key it raised ancestral Russian fears of British entry into the Black Sea and British hegemony in the Balkans. On April 22 the Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Potemkin was dispatched on a tour of the Balkan capitals to investigate how far the plans to develop a Balkan bloc under British leadership had gone. In the meantime Lit­ vinov made what was to be his last proposal for a collective pact against Germany. On April 18 he proposed a ten-year Anglo- Franco-Soviet alliance against German aggression whether against the signatories themselves or against the states of eastern Europe.An unwelcome alliance Litvinovs proposal was rejected. The British were trying to create a state of affairs which would lead Hitler to a con­ference table not a military alliance to destroy him. In their view an Anglo-Franco- Soviet alliance would be unwelcome to Poland and Rumania it would take much too long to negotiate and was unnecessary anyway since Britain was already firmly committed to Poland Rumania and to Tur­key. Hitlers policy as they saw it was to create the maximum degree of apprehension among Germanys neighbours for the minimum effort but not to move against them unless he thought he could avoid pro­voking general war. A strengthening of the Balkan Entente and the Polish-Rumanian 2
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