If diplomatic history consisted of scrutinising treaties and public statements then Michael Mills would be up there with Thucydides, Edward Gibbon, Fernand Braudel and Fritz Fischer as a first rate historian. However diplomatic history is more complicated – and more interesting – than Michael’s analysis suggests. I have already provided a large number of other references (from primary and secondary sources) demonstrating why Michael’s view is faulty for over two years now, and anyone who is interested can look over these forums: viewtopic.php?f=55&t=162600 viewtopic.php?f=55&t=165141 viewtopic.php?f=111&t=186299&start=30
However in this post, Michael misinterprets the Agreement, which is the first problem with it. Consider the following:
In the event of other action by Germany which clearly threatened Polish independence, and was of such a nature that the Polish Government considered it vital to resist it with their national forces, His Majesty’s Government would at once come to the help of Poland.
Michael then makes an unwarranted leap by stating that because “clearly threatened” was not defined, it was obviously left up to the Poles! The problem with that is that there isn’t anything in the document to suggest Britain had abdicated all choice in determining what threatened Poland’s independence. Just because the definitions aren’t laid out here doesn’t mean Britain is surrendering to Poland its capacity to decided over what cause it will declare war. If Britain had wanted to do that, it could have worded the document a bit differently or just flat out told Poland’s envoys that ‘His Majesty’s government agree fully with Poland’s policy and Poland can count on the full support of His Majesty’s government in whatever circumstances’. My last suggestion shouldn’t be regarded as fanciful; consider what the Kaiser told the Austrian ambassador in Berlin, Count von Szogyeny-March on the 5th of July 1914:
…the [Kaiser] authorised me to inform our gracious Majesty that we might in this case, as in all others, rely on Germany’s full support...we might be convinced that Germany, our old faithful ally, would stand at our side.
Source: The Austrian Red Book, pp.18-19, quoted in G. Martel’s ‘Origins of the First World War’, p.112
So the fact that there isn’t some diplomatic taboo on being blunt when effectively writing blank cheques to potential allies does beg the question that Michael refuses to answer: if the British were willing to sacrifice their choice in deciding when to enter the war, why the heck were they obtuse about it? My answer is that they never did desire to write Poland a blank cheque. This is what Neville Chamberlain wrote to his sister in early April 1939:
I refused to be rushed into making a statement [the guarantee of March 31st] at 11.00 am on Friday in spite of suggestions that everyone would get the jitters if they were not told everything at once. This gave a little time to redraft the statement in the light of the latest information and after further reflection. It was of course mostly my own and when it was finished I was very well satisfied with it. It was unprovocative in tone, but firm, clear but stressing the important point (perceived alone by The Times) that what we were concerned with is not the boundaries of states but attacks upon their independence. And it is we who will judge whether this independence is threatened or not
Source: Alan J. Foster, ‘An Unequivocal Guarantee? Fleet Street and the British Guarantee to Poland, 31 March 1939’, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Jan., 1991), p.43
Chamberlain previously aired these sentiments during a Cabinet Meeting on March 31st 1939:
The operative part of the Statement was in the third paragraph, and it would be seen that two conditions must be fulfilled before His Majesty's Government felt bound to lend all support in their power to Poland. These conditions were, first, that the action taken must clearly threaten Polish independence. It would, of course, be for us to determine what action threatened Polish independence, and this left us some freedom for manoeuvre. The second condition was that the threat to Polish independence was one which the Polish Government considered it vital to resist with her national forces. This would prevent us becoming embroiled as the result of a mere frontier incident.
Source: Cabinet Minutes, 31st March 1939, CAB 17(39)
And what did the Foreign Office, the architects of Britain’s new found boldness, hope to achieve in their relations with Poland?
The Foreign Policy Committee had a further item of business before them that morning. They considered a suggestion by Sir Howard Kennard that the guarantee should be limited to cases of ‘unprovoked’ aggression against Poland. They rejected it, because ‘the German technique of aggression is so varied and so insidious…that Poland might in certain circumstances be driven in self defence to commit a technical act of provocation’. Instead they agreed to instruct Kennard to warn the Poles that two conditions attached to the guarantee: ‘(i) that Poland would resist a threat to her independence, and (ii) that she would not indulge in provocative or stupid obstinacy either generally or in particular as regards Danzig’.
The British Foreign Secretary was in favour of greater latitude to Poland, even going so far as to state that whether or not Poland resisted should be regarded as a litmus test of whether or not Poland’s independence was threatened. However this was based on the (correct) understanding that Beck wanted to avoid war, and so would only resort to force in exceptional circumstances, as the following makes clear:
There was some discussion on the final paragraph, which, it was suggested, might put us too much in the hands of the Polish Government. THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS said that he came back to the point that the ultimate test was action which the Polish Government regarded as a threat to their independence. THE PRIME MINISTER agreed. The real test was a threat to their independence which the Poles were prepared to resist. Reference was again made in this connection to the question of Danzig. THE PRIME MINISTER said that if the Poles regarded the Danzig issue as constituting a threat to their independence, and were prepared to resist by force, then we should have to come to their help. THE SECRETARY OP STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS added, however, that it was clear that Colonel Beck was most anxious to avoid war with Germany if he could possibly ' do so.
Source: Cabinet Minutes, 30 March 1939, CAB 16(39)
Viscount Halifax to Sir H. Kennard (Warsaw) FOREIGN OFFICE, August 25, 1939 2. We then had a short conversation upon immediate probabilities and prospects. The Ambassador agreed upon the importance of avoidance from the Polish side of allowing themselves to be provoked into any undesirable reaction, and said that if Polish territory was flagrantly invaded, that was, of course, in one way a very much easier proposition for the Poles than if German action was confined to and internal to Danzig, in regard to which the Poles were in a necessarily much weaker position, and where it would be much easier to represent them as responsible, through counter action they might take, for what ever might ensue. I told the Ambassador that we fully recognise this, and that I thought it essential at this juncture to keep clearly in our minds the distinction between Danzig and Polish territory itself. I fully recognise how vital to Poland was the position in Danzig, but I couldn’t feel that, if there were ever any opportunity of conversations being held about Danzig, the Polish government would be right or wise to reject it. If I was in the position of the Polish Government, I had no doubt that I should feel, apart from the vital interest that my country had in Danzig, the greatest doubt about any assurances made by Herr Hitler. I should there certainly feel it impossible to discuss modifications in the status of Danzig unless I could feel reasonably certain that my own vital interests would be fairly recognised. Those, indeed, I thought were reasonable conditions, but on the other and, if anything like that was obtainable, I thought the Polish Government would make a great mistake if they sought to adopt a position in which discussion of peaceful modifications of the status of Danzig was ruled out.
Source: Documents on British Foreign Policy, Third Series, vol. VII, No. 309
It is also clear that Halifax was anxious to avoid landing Britain in a war, a point he made a few days prior to the April 6 agreement, when he dismissed hypothetical problems people would have to the guarantee of March 31st 1939:
The second objection was that there was some risk of upsetting the prospects of direct agreement between Germany and Poland. Negotiations were in progress but we did not know how they were proceeding. The third objection was that a declaration on these lines would be very provocative to Germany, and somewhat reminiscent of the action taken on the 21st May, 1938. The Foreign Secretary said that he had no particular objection to a provocative statement, provided that it did not land us in an unpleasant situation.
Source: Cabinet Minutes, 30 March 1939, CAB 16(39)
Anna Cienciala has written an essay which provides considerable evidence showing that the British placed some pressure on the Poles to reach a settlement with Germany that would include Danzig. The essay can be found in the following book, which is definitely worth checking out of your local library if one desires to research Anglo-French-Polish diplomacy in 1939 further: http://www.amazon.com/Origins-Second-Ar ... 034067640X
Furthermore, Michael completely ignores the significance of another article in the April 6th Agreement:
(d) It is understood that the Polish Government and His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom will keep each other fully and promptly informed of any developments threatening the independence of either country.
Now, this might strike some as pettifogging but it isn’t, because the clause that Poland had to keep Britain involved of any developments threatening independence was used by Britain as a threat throughout 1939 to convince, shall we say, the Poles to not jump the gun on Danzig. I quote the following extract regarding the aftermath of the August dispute over Danzig Customs officers from Anita Prazmowska’s book on Britain, Poland and the Eastern Front in 1939:
Initially, at least, the British appeared not to have been too worried about Polish action over Danzig. In his conversation with Raczynski on 10 August, Halifax once more expressed himself as having been 'assured that in any situation which might develop, M. beck would realise that he was deciding not only for Poland but that his action might also vitally affect ourselves'. Halifax did, however, have second thoughts about the Polish handling of the crisis. In a letter to Cadogan summarising the conversation with Raczynski, Halifax gave vent to his fears concerning Beck's earlier plan to threaten the Senate. He suspected that Raczynski's communication was made in the hope of obtaining consent for Polish action against Danzig. Thus Halifax stressed that 'the conditions of our guarantee to Poland are not such as to bear independent extension'. Cadogan was instructed to inform Kennard of the conversation Halifax had with Raczynski and it was to be impressed upon him that 'we must make it plain that our guarantee was not a blank cheque...... consultations before instead of after'.
Michael could argue that this wouldn’t matter as much if the Poles had thought they now had the decision to trigger a European war. However, we also know that this wasn’t the case. Beck was quite nervous about Britain and France’s willingness to stand by Poland even after the April 6th Agreement. In fact, in 1939 Beck followed a policy of appeasing Britain to prevent it from cutting Poland off. Lubienski informed Kennard that German reports of Polish intransigence were simply a German tactic to split Poland and the West (Sir H. Kennard, 19 April 1939, C5675/54/18, FO 371/23017*); the contents of Beck’s speech of May 5th was delivered to the British three days before he made it (Sir H. Kennard, 2 May 1939, C6453/54/18 FO371/23017); on August 31st the Polish ambassador in Paris telegrammed Warsaw warning that France and Britain were getting ready to sacrifice Poland in another Munich style conference (‘Diplomat in Paris’, pp.269-271); on the 28th of August, when Halifax asked the Poles if he could tell the Germans that the Poles were willing to sit down and talk with Germany, Beck promptly gathered a group of officials in his home to choose a Polish envoy for talks with Germany and instructed the Polish ambassador in London to tell the British that the Poles were willing to negotiate (Polish White Book, Nos. 95-96); prior to announcing a full mobilisation of Polish forces in late August, Beck informed the British ahead of time, and in response to pressure from them he agree to postpone the order.
[ *I am paraphrasing here from my Bachelor in Laws dissertation, and if anyone desires I could over the next few days try and post longer extracts from these documents but I do not have my copies at hand ]
Another big problem with Michael’s post here is its premise: if Germany did something that jeopardised Polish independence, and Poland reacts to this, then Poland hasn’t committed an aggression against Germany. So far, the scenario that Michael paints of Danzig reunifying with the Reich and Poland then responding with force to this, is a defensive act and was within Poland’s rights as stipulated in the Versailles treaty (hat tip to WM there). There is no reason why Michael would try to expand the concept of aggression to include reactions to German conduct which threatens Polish independence. Danzig was not an issue in 1939, what was the issue was what Danzig represented – Poland’s independence. This was certainly in German minds before they demanded Danzig, as Weiszaecker noted in a memo in February 1939 to Hitler and Ribbentrop:
The foreign policy move which would be the most popular within Germany, and the most acceptable to foreign nations would be the re-taking of Memel and Danzig, as well as the creation of a broader and firm land bridge through the Corridor to east Prussia. Poland has, at present, few sympathizers and scarcely any help can be expected from third parties. In our hands alone would rest the decision to reduce Poland to a size acceptable to us as a cushion against Russia. (I gave this same advice in December 1938 to Herr von Ribbentrop).
It was also a consensus shared by Poland’s diplomats (as proven by an affidavit submitted by Lipskito the International Military Tribunal (and cited by Roman Dębicki's Foreign Policy of Poland, 1919-39: From the Rebirth of the Polish Republic to World War II(1962) page 125)) but also French and British diplomats:
Extract from Record of Conversation between the Secretary of State and MM. Daladier and Bonnet at the Ministry of War, in Paris, May 20, 1939 MM. Daladier observed that if Germany mounted guns at Danzig, Gyndia would be commanded and Poland would be finished. Poland would be a German protectorate.
Source: Documents on British Foreign Policy, Third Series, Vol., no.569.
The third problem with Michael’s arguments is his speculative timeline. I don’t think historians should deal with conjecture, because regardless of whatever might have happened, we do know that in 1939 Poland was a victim of German aggression, not the other way around. However, even granting it as a possible course of events there are problems with it. His time is as follows:
1) Danzig declares itself reunited with the Reich
2) Germany sends troops in ‘for protection and to maintain order’
3) Poland sends its own troops into Danzig
4) Britain declares war on Germany.
Unfortunately he ignores a few things. Firstly, if there is such an Anschluss then the Germans have completely undercut the Polish position, as the Danzig Nazis more or less took orders from Berlin this can be interpreted as a clear case of German aggression against Poland. Secondly, Poland wouldn’t send its troops into Danzig initially, but it would treat the matter as a diplomatic incident, and register protests in Danzig and Poland and its response would be proportionate (we know this from discussions Polish envoys had with British and French diplomats as well as the records of a Conference at Beck’s Office. Thirdly, Poland would only send its troops into Danzig if Germany recognised the actions of the Danzig Nazis, if Germany sincerely desired to avoid war, then all it has to do is disown the coup in Danzig and call on all parties involved to chillax. Fourthly, Britain would not declare war on Poland, but would in all likelihood first deliver an ultimatum to Germany in an attempt to deflate the situation, perhaps this would call for German troops to withdraw or maybe it would be for German troops to allow a Polish military occupation as well but either way Britain won’t jump the gun.
The fourth problem is this hilarious attempt to argue that German policy in 1939 made some kind of strategic sense:
It therefore made strategic sense for Germany to seek to knock out Poland quickly with one gigantic blow and then deploy its forces to defend against an Anglo-French attack, if those states then decided on war with Germany. That was better for Germany than moving against Danzig only and then facing an inevitable gradual escalation of hostilities, leading perhaps to a situation where Germany was engaged in fighting on both its western and eastern frontiers
Which ignores a couple of things: (a) that if Germany desired to avoid a war on two fronts then it would have made more sense not to invade Poland in the first place, as that was a guaranteed action that would provoke a Franco-British declaration of war; (b) an escalation of hostilities would only be ‘inevitable’ if Germany continued to raise the stakes and to disregard the interests and independence of other European countries; (c) a quick knock out of Poland did not guarantee German safety from a two front war; had the French attacked Germany in 1939 then it is probable that the German military would have been swiftly defeated and the Nazi regime would have fallen.