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"The Polish question" in foreign policy of Great Britain on the eve of and at the beginning of World War II

11. Bohr Century. Foreign policy of Poland//World economy and world politics. 1928. No. 8 — 9. Page 80 — 94.

12. PUsudski J. Mysli, mowy i rozkazy. Warszawa, 1989.
13. Yu.V. Ivanov. Reaction in Moscow to Yu. Pilsudsky's revolution in Poland in May, 1926//Modern and contemporary history. 2006. No. 1. Page 33 — 41.

About the author

R.V. Molchanov — asp., RGU of I. Kant,

UDC 940.2 (410)

E.Yu. Chernyshev



The role of the Polish factor in foreign policy of Great Britain in 1939 is considered. Positions of the British political elite in an issue of interaction with Poland are analyzed.

The publication is devoted to the role of the Polish factor in the foreign policy of the United Kingdom in 1939. Points of view of the British political elite on the Poland issue are examined.

Since the Vienna congress Poland, thanks to the considerable territory and a special geographical location, took the important place in foreign policy of Great Britain which competed for influence in east part of Europe at first to Russia, then with France, and during the interwar period — with Germany and the USSR. By the end of the 1930th the crisis of policy of collective security in Europe was sharply shown. In February, 1934 the English government realized that Nazi Germany can soon become for Great Britain long-term threat. Nearly an every year after that the United committee of planning of the Ministry of Defence made completion of plans of war with Germany. Feeling the weakness, British made several attempts to agree with Germany about spheres of influence, however all of them were rejected by Hitler.

The anti-Hitlerite union with Poland and the Soviet Union could become the best combination, but the last was considered in England as the unreliable partner. In these conditions of a guarantee to Poland and, therefore, the union with it had to constrain Germany or, at least, delay its attack on the east neighbor. Other — negative — scenario of succession of events which was implemented in practice was based that steps of Great Britain on rapprochement with Poland could push Hitler to the fastest actions against


The RGU bulletin of I. Kant. 2007. Issue 12. Humanities. Page 61 — 64.


it. As the British foreign minister Eduard Halifax in November, 1938, "wrote by consideration of available means to interfere with Germany to realize its ambitions in Central Europe, strong-arm tactics, that is the unions, military agreements, etc. — possible policy, but it almost for certain leads directly to war" [6, river 219]. London well realized probable consequences of the allied relations with Poland.

The union with Poland obviously did not reduce military threat and this despite the fact that the aspiration to avoid war became in pre-war years nearly main goal of foreign policy of the English government. In the spring of 1939 the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Kadogan wrote: "The question is in whether we will decide to throw down a challenge to Hitler. I think that we have to make it, but it is awful gambling". In turn, the prime minister Nevill Chamberlain said: "If we do not take any actions, there is a risk that we will lose Poland. On the other hand, if we make a warning which we intend to carry out now, we will have to fulfill the obligations if Germany decides on aggression" [9, river 165].

It is known that the Anglo-Polish political and military cooperation in the years of war were based on conditions of guarantees of Chamberlain to Poland of March 31 and the contract on mutual aid of August 25, 1939. They meant radical withdrawal from traditional British policy: Great Britain undertook to come to the rescue in case of open aggression and even threat of independence of Poland.

The first hours after Hitler's attack on Poland passed in London in rough political polemic. Ruling circles of Great Britain experienced escalating pressing of the public demanding to declare war on Germany. After Chamberlain's performances on September 1 and 2 in the House of Commons to him accusation that the government tries to avoid war with Germany was hurled. Meanwhile diplomats and military met in a thought that really it is impossible to help Poland. Still on April 24, 1939 the British and French General Staffs in common recognized that "in an initial stage of war the only weapon which allies can effectively use will be economic" [1, river 11]. They also agreed that "Poland most likely will be conquered within two-three months" [9, river 165]. And when at the beginning of September the Polish ambassador in France Lukashevich made efforts to involve the English air forces in actions against Germany, from London the answer followed that such bombing will cause big losses of the civilian population [2, river 370].

Great Britain planned to avoid broad confrontation with Germany to win time for strengthening of own armed forces. She intended to apply naval blockade which showed the efficiency in the years of World War I. In other words, Great Britain was ready to wage "war with Germany on exhaustion" [1, river 12]. There was open a question of how long resistance will be possible. American ambassador in France

The bullet in the letter to the president Roosevelt introduced the idea that Hitler will be able to inflict defeat over England quicker, than transatlantic supply will be adjusted [2, river 369].

So, the vast majority of representatives of the British political elite agreed with the opinion expressed on September 14 by the president Franklin Roosevelt that "the fate of Poland will depend on final result of war and from our ability to inflict defeat over Germany, but not from our attempts to reduce pressure upon Poland at the moment" [9, river 207].

The invasion of the Red Army into Poland which followed on September 17 did not become a serious reason for change of the British course against Poland for two reasons. First, in the confidential protocol attached to guarantees to Poland as an aggressor only Germany, and secondly was defined, the Soviet invasion was not a surprise for London. The English Embassy in Moscow informed the government on the conducted preparations, and Halifax reported to the Office on September 12 that, quite perhaps, the USSR would like "to protect" a part of the Polish territory [7, river 84]. On the twentieth of September the prime minister Chamberlain said in the House of Commons: "I cannot tell that actions of the Soviet government were unexpected. For some time the Soviet troops were mobilized and concentrated on the western border of the Soviet Union, and in the Soviet press and radio there were statements relating to position of Belarusians and Ukrainians in Poland that demonstrated that the Soviet government was preparing for intervention" [7, river 85].

The policy of London did not change, even despite suspicion that between Stalin and Hitler the conspiracy concerning the followed partition of Poland took place. Officials agreed with assessment of the English ambassador in the USSR sir William Sids that Germany and Russia liquidated the buffer among themselves and future germanosoviet opposition — only a matter of time. A wide resonance article Lloyd had George in Sandi Express under the heading "What Does Stalin Aspire to?" in which he criticized "the class Polish government" and admired the Soviet government for "release of the brothers from the Polish yoke" [5]. The British Office also sought to convince the Polish government and its supporters to treat the USSR is more realistic even if it assumes curtailment of some of their political and territorial goals. The Minister of Foreign Affairs A. Eden was very disturbed by the fact that Poles as he said, "are very keen on the expectations" which seemed to him "absolutely unrealistic" [3, river 14].

Many influential representatives of the English public considered that Poland will be more viable state without the majority of the Polish east territories inhabited by mainly ethnic minorities. Such look came true also the fact that "more or less ethnographic" borders were recommended still by the Kerzona line in 1919 [7, page 84]. Among diplomats there were also other opinions. So, the ambassador of Great Britain at Polish the governor -


a stvo in emigration Kennard wrote to the MFA: "As Poland is between two materialistic tyrannies — Nazism and the Bolshevism — it seems to me that it has to stand as an outpost and a symbol of those cultural and moral values which were swept temporarily away in Eastern Europe" [7, p. 101]. The American ambassador in London Kennedy, having summarized the British position, wrote down on October 2, 1939: "It seems to me that the dispute is conducted concerning what of the territories occupied by Russians, really Russian. Churchill does not consider that distribution in the world of the Russian influence is as dangerous how German" [4, p. 79].

The British government had no desire to release the nation if only this nation was not a part of the empire or was not connected with her vital interests. Unfortunately for Poles, in the English government and diplomatic circles the stereotype was created: was considered that British have the God-given right to manage with Poland how there will be circumstances. England was ready to pay the interests of the countries of Central and Southeast Europe for a possibility of the union with the USSR in war with Hitler especially as it was talked of the region in which the British traditionally preferred not to undertake serious obligations. It does not mean at all that England consciously intended to be discharged and leave completely to the mercy of fate the East European allies, but it is obvious that it had other strategic and political priorities, than independence and integrity of Poland. The British policy was in concentrating all efforts on defeat of Germany, including as much as possible using the Polish resources which included considerable material and human supplies [8, p. 90]. At the same time permission of the Polish and Soviet conflict was postponed for the future.

List of sources and literature

1. Butler J. The grand strategy, September 1939 — June 1941. L., 1957.
2. For the President personal and secret. Correspondence between Franklin D. Roosevelt and William C. Bullitt. L., 1973.
3. Foreign relations of the United States: Diplomatic papers. Vol. 3: The British commonwealth and Europe. Washington, 1963.
4. Kacewicz G. Great Britain, Soviet Union and the Polish government in exile. Hague, 1979.
5. Lloyd George D. What is Stalin up to?//Sunday Express. 1939. 24 Sept.
6. Newman S. March 1939: British guarantee to Poland. Oxford, 1976.
7. Sword K. British reactions to the Soviet occupation of Eastern Poland in September 1939//Slavonic and European review. 1991. N 1.
8. Sword K. The formation of the Polish community in Great Britain 1939 — 1950. L., 1989.
9. The diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan 1938 — 1945. L., 1971.

About the author

E. Yu. Chernyshev — asp., RGU of I. Kant,

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