143 Mr S.M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, to Mr R.G. Menzies, Prime Minister

Cablegram 346 LONDON, 23 August 1939, 1.20 a.m.

MOST IMMEDIATE SECRET FOR PRIME MINISTER

News of German-Russian Agreement was a complete surprise in all quarters and impossible yet to appreciate full significance and effect. Cabinet sat all afternoon [1] and cabled press statement was approved. On advice of Ambassador at Berlin [2] supported by Ambassador Rome [3], statement down the lines of that issued had been contemplated prior to German Russian development, as the method most likely to steady Hitler [4] in respect to forceful action which was believed contemplated in near future. After Cabinet I saw Prime Minister [5] and urged that the statement be delayed at least 24 hours on grounds (a) world would regard statement as a reply to press announcement informing Russian Agreement at a stage when no neutral country has confirmation of the Agreement available and would also regard it as recognition of the impossibility of Anglo-Soviet Agreement being reached at time when Soviet circles are maintaining that the Agreement includes a clause determining agreement in the event of aggression and constitutes no reason why the Anglo-Soviet negotiations for agreement should not continue. (b) That as German-Soviet Agreement would reduce the value of assistance the United Kingdom could give Poland by way of blockade owing to supplies of oil, timber, food, etc., the Soviet could provide, it was imperative that Poland should recognise the position and be prepared to negotiate a settlement if a reasonable opportunity created. (c) That a specific and robust reaffirmation of the United Kingdom's pledge would tend to render Beck [6] intransigent. (d) That before making such statement position down the lines of (b) should be put forcefully to Beck.

Unfortunately too late to postpone statement but Prime Minister agreed to send strongly worded instructions to the Ambassador at Warsaw [7] to see Beck and put the position forcefully to him, stressing our loyalty, vide statement but making clear the necessity of negotiation with Germany.

My view of the position most serious, the only encouraging feature Japanese reactions to German-Soviet Agreement and Italian distaste to be dragged into an unpopular war for a German objective.

BRUCE

1 22 August 1939. Although this cablegram was sent on 23 August it must have been drafted the previous night.

2 Sir Nevile Henderson.

3 Sir Percy Loraine.

4 Adolf Hitler, German Chancellor.

5 Neville Chamberlain.

6 Colonel Joseph Beck, Polish Foreign Minister.

7 Sir Howard Kennard.

[AA: A981, GREAT BRITAIN 8B, v]