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No. 57-59, 69, 75, 76, 79-83, 87, 88, 91, 92, 99, 102, 103, 109-111, 114, 118: Messages Between Henderson and Halifax on Potential War

23 Aug 1939

ww2dbase----- The British War Bluebook No. 57 -----
From: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany
Sent: Wednesday, 23 Aug 1939
Received: Thursday, 24 Aug 1939
To: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs

(Telegraphic.) Berlin, August 23, 1939.

Two difficulties were raised last night before visit to Herr Hitler was actually arranged. In first place it was asked whether I would not be ready to wait until Herr von Ribbentrop's return. I said that I could not wait as my instructions were to hand letter myself as soon as possible. An hour or so later I was rung up again by State Secretary on the telephone asking for gist of letter and referring to publication of some private letter addressed to Herr Hitler last year. I told Baron von Weizsäcker that I had no recollection of publication of any private letter last year and assured him that there was no intention of publishing this one. As regards Prime Minister's letter I said that its three main points were (1) that His Majesty's Government was determined to fulfil their obligations to Poland, (2) that they were prepared, provided a peace atmosphere was created, to discuss all problems affecting our two countries, and (3) that during period of truce they would welcome direct discussions between Poland and Germany in regard to minorities.

State Secretary appeared to regard these replies as likely to be satisfactory, but deferred a final answer to 8 a. m. this morning. At that hour he telephoned me to say that arrangements made had been confirmed and that he would accompany me to Berchtesgaden, leaving Berlin at 9:30 a. m.

We arrived Salzburg soon after 11 a. m. and motored to Berchtesgaden, where I was received by Herr Hitler shortly after 1 p. m. I had derived impression that atmosphere was likely to be most unfriendly and that probability was that interview would be exceedingly brief.

In order to forestall this I began conversation by stating that I had been instructed to hand to Chancellor personally a letter from Prime Minister on behalf of His Majesty's Government, but before doing so I wished to make some preliminary remarks. I was grateful to his Excellency for receiving me so promptly as it would have been impossible for me to wait for Herr von Ribbentrop's return inasmuch as the fact was that His Majesty's Government were afraid that the situation brooked no delay. I asked his Excellency to read the letter, not from the point of view of the past, but from that of the present and the future. What had been done could not now be undone, and there could be no peace in Europe without Anglo-German co-operation. We had guaranteed Poland against attack and we would keep our word. Throughout the centuries of history we had never, so far as I knew, broken our word. We could not do so now and remain Britain.

During the whole of this first conversation Herr Hitler was excitable and uncompromising. He made no long speeches but his language was violent and exaggerated both as regards England and Poland. He began by asserting that the Polish question would have been settled on the most generous terms if it had not been for England's unwarranted support. I drew attention to the inaccuracies of this statement, our guarantee having been given on 31st March and Polish reply on 26th March. He retorted by saying that the latter had been inspired by a British press campaign, which had invented a German threat to Poland the week before. Germany had not moved a man any more than she had done during the similar fallacious press campaign about Czecho-Slovakia on the 20th May last year.

He then violently attacked the Poles, talked of 100,000 German refugees from Poland, excesses against Germans, closing of German institutions and Polish systematic persecution of German nationals generally. He said that he was receiving hundreds of telegrams daily from his persecuted compatriots. He would stand it no longer, &c. I interrupted by remarking that while I did not wish to try to deny that persecutions occurred (of Poles also in Germany) the German press accounts were highly exaggerated. He had mentioned the castration of Germans. I happened to be aware of one case. The German in question was a sex-maniac, who had been treated as he deserved. Herr Hitler's retort was that there had not been one case but six.

His next tirade was against British support of Czechs and Poles. He asserted that the former would have been independent to-day if England had not encouraged them in a policy hostile to Germany. He insinuated that the Poles would be to-morrow if Britain ceased to encourage them to-day. He followed this by a tirade against England, whose friendship he had sought for twenty years only to see every offer turned down with contempt. The British press was also vehemently abused. I contested every point and kept calling his statements inaccurate but the only effect was to launch him on some fresh tirade.

Throughout the conversation I stuck firmly to point (1) namely our determination to honour our obligations to Poland; Herr Hitler on the other hand kept harping on point (3), the Polish persecution of German nationals. Point (2) was not referred to at all and apparently did not interest him. (I had been warned that it would not.)

Most of the conversation was recrimination, the real points being those stressed in his reply in regard to the threat to Poland if persecutions continue and to England and France if they mobilise to such an extent as to constitute a danger to Germany.

At the end of this first conversation Herr Hitler observed, in reply to my repeated warnings that direct action by Germany would mean war, that Germany had nothing to lose and Great Britain much; that he did not desire war but would not shrink from it if it was necessary; and that his people were much more behind him than last September.

I replied that I hoped and was convinced that some solution was still possible without war and asked why contact with the Poles could not be renewed. Herr Hitler's retort was that, so long as England gave Poland a blank cheque, Polish unreasonableness would render any negotiation impossible. I denied the "blank cheque" but this only started Herr Hitler off again and finally it was agreed that he would send or hand me his reply in two hours' time.

----- The British War Bluebook No. 58 -----
From: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany
Sent: Thursday, 24 Aug 1939
To: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs

(Telegraphic.) Berlin, August 24, 1939.

FOLLOWING is continuation of my telegram of the 23rd August.

After my first talk yesterday I returned to Salzburg on understanding that if Herr Hitler wished to see me again I would be at his disposal, or, if he had nothing new to say, he could merely send me his reply to Prime Minister by hand.

As in the event he asked to see me, I went back to Berchtesgaden. He was quite calm the second time and never raised his voice once. Conversation lasted from 20 minutes to half an hour but produced little new, except that verbally he was far more categoric than in written reply as to his determination to attack Poland if "another German were ill-treated in Poland."

I spoke of tragedy of war and of his immense responsibility but his answer was that it would be all England's fault. I refuted this only to learn from him that England was determined to destroy and exterminate Germany. He was, he said, 50 years old: he preferred war now to when he would be 55 or 60. I told him that it was absurd to talk of extermination. Nations could not be exterminated and peaceful and prosperous Germany was a British interest. His answer was that it was England who was fighting for lesser races whereas he was fighting only for Germany: the Germans would this time fight to the last man: it would have been different in 1914 if he had been Chancellor then.

He spoke several times of his repeated offers of friendship to England and their invariable and contemptuous rejection. I referred to Prime Minister's efforts of last year and his desire for co-operation with Germany. He said that he had believed in Mr. Chamberlain's good will at the time, but, and especially since encirclement efforts of last few months, he did so no longer. I pointed out fallacy of this view but his answer was that he was now finally convinced of the rightness of views held formerly to him by others that England and Germany could never agree.

In referring to Russian non-aggression pact he observed that it was England which had forced him into agreement with Russia. He did not seem enthusiastic over it but added that once he made agreement it would be for a long period. (Text of agreement signed to-day confirms this and I shall be surprised if it is not supplemented later by something more than mere non-aggression).

I took line at end that war seemed to me quite inevitable if Herr Hitler persisted in direct action against Poland and expressed regret at failure of my mission in general to Berlin and of my visit to him. Herr Hitler's attitude was that it was England's fault and that nothing short of complete change of her policy towards Germany could now ever convince him of British desire for good relations.

----- The British War Bluebook No. 59 -----
From: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany
Sent: Thursday, 24 Aug 1939
To: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs

(Telegraphic.) Berlin, August 24, 1939.

I HAVE hitherto not made particular reference to the underlined portion in Herr Hitler's reply to the Prime Minister in regard to German general mobilisation as a counter to British and French mobilisations.

2. When Herr Hitler gave me his reply, readjusted, I asked him what exactly was intended by this sentence, as I would, I said, regard a general German mobilisation as the equivalent to war. The answer I got was confused, as was the actual German text. But the gist was that if the French and British mobilisations convinced Herr Hitler that the Western Powers meant to attack him he would mobilise in self-defence. I pointed out that any British military mobilisation would in any case fall far short of what already existed in Germany. Herr Hitler's reply was that this sentence was more particularly intended as a warning to France, and that, as I gathered, the French Government was being or would be so informed.

3. I feel that the main objects of inserting this underlined passage in his letter was (a) to indicate that Germany could not be intimidated; and (b) to serve as an excuse for general mobilisation if and when Herr Hitler decides on it.

----- The British War Bluebook No. 69 -----
From: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany
Sent: Friday, 25 Aug 1939
To: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs

(Telegraphic.) Berlin, August 25, 1939.

IN my immediately preceding telegram I give text of a verbal communication which Chancellor made to me this morning. He was absolutely calm and normal and spoke with great earnestness and apparent sincerity. Minister for Foreign Affairs was present but took practically no part in the conversation.

2. Herr Hitler began by saying that he had always and still desired good relations with Great Britain, and his conscience compelled him to make this final effort to secure them. It was his last attempt. He suggested that I should fly to England myself in order to put the case to His Majesty's Government.

3. Conversation lasted an hour, my attitude being that Russian Pact in no way altered standpoint of His Majesty's Government, and that I must tell him quite honestly that Britain could not go back on her word to Poland and that I knew his offer would not be considered unless it meant a negotiated settlement of the Polish question. Herr Hitler refused to guarantee this on grounds that Polish provocation might at any moment render German intervention to protect German nationals inevitable. I again and again returned to this point but always got the same answer.

4. I told Herr Hitler that I could not discuss rights and wrongs of mutual provocation and incidents: that was for the Polish Ambassador to discuss with Herr von Ribbentrop and I suggested that he should do so. Herr Hitler's reply was that M. Lipski had seen Field-Marshal Goring, but had not been able to propose anything new.

5. I told Herr Hitler that we could not abandon Poland to her fate, but I made the entirely personal suggestion that M. Beck and Herr von Ribbentrop should meet somewhere and discuss the way out which alone might save Europe from war. Herr Hitler's reply was that he had invited M. Beck to come and talk the matter over last March only to have his invitation flatly refused. Only intervention by Herr von Ribbentrop in the discussion was to confirm this and to say that M. Lipski, who had had to convey this message, was obliged to put it in other words to soften the abruptness of it.

6. When I kept saying that His Majesty's Government could not in my opinion consider his offer unless it meant at the same time a peaceful settlement with Poland, Herr Hitler said: "If you think it useless then do not send my offer at all." He admitted the good intentions of M. Beck and M. Lipski, but said they had no control over what was happening in Poland. Only signs of excitement on Herr Hitler's part were when he referred to Polish persecutions. He mentioned that Herr von Ribbentrop on his return to Germany from Russia had had to fly from Konigsberg over the sea to avoid being shot at by the Poles, who fired at every German aeroplane that flew over normal routes across Polish territory. He also said that there had been another case of castration.

7. Among various points mentioned by Herr Hitler were: that the only winner of another European war would be Japan; that he was by nature an artist not a politician, and that once the Polish question was settled he would end his life as an artist and not as a war-monger; he did not want to turn Germany into nothing but a military barracks and he would only do so if forced to do so; that once the Polish question was settled he himself would settle down; that he had no interest in making Britain break her word to Poland; that he had no wish to be small-minded in any settlement with Poland and that all he required for an agreement with her was a gesture from Britain to indicate that she would not be unreasonable.

8. After I had left, Herr von Ribbentrop sent Dr. Schmidt to the Embassy with text of verbal statement and also a message from him to the effect that Herr Hitler had always and still wished for an agreement with Britain and begging me to urge His Majesty's Government to take the offer very seriously.

----- The British War Bluebook No. 75 -----
From: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany
Sent: Monday, 28 Aug 1939
Received: Tuesday, 29 Aug 1939
To: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs

(Telegraphic.) Berlin, August 28, 1939.

I SAW the Chancellor at 10:30 this evening. He asked me to come at 10 p. m., but I sent word that I could not have the translation ready before the later hour. Herr von Ribbentrop was present, also Dr. Schmidt. Interview lasted one and a quarter hours.

2. Herr Hitler began by reading the German translation.

When he had finished, I said that I wished to make certain observations from notes which I had made in the conversations with the Prime Minister and His Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. In the first place I wished to say that we in England regarded it as absurd that Britain should be supposed by the German Government to consider the crushing of Germany as a settled policy. We held it to be no less astonishing that anyone in Germany should doubt for a moment that we would not fight for Poland if her independence or vital interests were menaced.

3. Our word was our word, and we had never and would never break it. In the old days Germany's word had the same value, and I quoted a passage from a German book (which Herr Hitler had read) about Marshal Blucher's exhortation to his troops when hurrying to the support of Wellington at Waterloo: "Forward, my children, I have given my word to my brother Wellington, and you cannot wish me to break it."

4. Herr Hitler at once intervened to observe that things were different 125 years ago. I said not so far as England was concerned. He wanted, I said, Britain's friendship. What value would he place on our friendship if we began it by disloyalty to a friend? Whatever some people might say, the British people sincerely desired an understanding with Germany, and no one more so than the Prime Minister (Herr von Ribbentrop remarked that Mr. Chamberlain had once said to him that it was his dearest wish). To-day the whole British public was behind the Prime Minister. The recent vote in the House of Commons was an unmistakable proof of that fact. The Prime Minister could carry through his policy of an understanding if, but only if, Herr Hitler were prepared to co-operate. There was absolutely no truth in the idea sometimes held in Germany that the British Cabinet was disunited or that the country was not unanimous. It was now or never, and it rested with Herr Hitler. If he was prepared to sacrifice that understanding in order to make war or immoderate demands on Poland, the responsibility was his. We offered friendship but only on the basis of a peaceful and freely negotiated solution of the Polish question.

5. Herr Hitler replied that he would be willing to negotiate, if there was a Polish Government which was prepared to be reasonable and which really controlled the country. He expatiated on misdoings of the Poles, referred to his generous offer of March last, said that it could not be repeated and asserted that nothing else than the return of Danzig and the whole of the Corridor would satisfy him, together with a rectification in Silesia, where 90 per cent. of the population had voted for Germany at the post-war plebiscite but where, as a result of Haller-Korfanti coup, what the Plebiscite Commission had allotted had nevertheless been grabbed by Poland.

6. I told Herr Hitler that he must choose between England and Poland. If he put forward immoderate demands there was no hope of a peaceful solution. Corridor was inhabited almost entirely by Poles. Herr Hitler interrupted me here by observing that this was only true because a million Germans had been driven out of that district since the war. I again said the choice lay with him. He had offered a Corridor over the Corridor in March, and I must honestly tell him that anything more than that, if that, would have no hope of acceptance. I begged him very earnestly to reflect before raising his price. He said his original offer had been contemptuously refused and he would not make it again. I observed that it had been made in the form of a dictate and therein lay the whole difference.

7. Herr Hitler continued to argue that Poland could never be reasonable: she had England and France behind her, and imagined that even if she were beaten she would later recover, thanks to their help, more than she might lose. He spoke of annihilating Poland. I said that reminded me of similar talk last year of annihilation of the Czechs. He retorted that we were incapable of inducing Poland to be reasonable. I said that it was just because we remembered the experience of Czecho-Slovakia last year that we hesitated to press Poland too far to-day. Nevertheless, we reserved to ourselves the right to form our own judgment as to what was or what was not reasonable so far as Poland or Germany were concerned. We kept our hands free in that respect.

8. Generally speaking, Herr Hitler kept harping on Poland, and I kept on just as consistently telling Herr Hitler that he had to choose between friendship with England which we offered him and excessive demands on Poland which would put an end to all hope of British friendship. If we were to come to an understanding it would entail sacrifices on our part. If he was not prepared to make sacrifices on his part there was nothing to be done. Herr Hitler said that he had to satisfy the demands of his people, his army was ready and eager for battle, his people were united behind him, and he could not tolerate further ill-treatment of Germans in Poland, &c.

9. It is unnecessary to recall the details of a long and earnest conversation in the course of which the only occasion in which Herr Hitler became at all excited was when I observed that it was not a question of Danzig and the Corridor, but one of our determination to resist force by force. This evoked a tirade about the Rhineland, Austria and Sudeten and their peaceful reacquisition by Germany. He also resented my references to 15th March.

10. In the end I asked him two straight questions. Was he willing to negotiate direct with the Poles and was he ready to discuss the question of an exchange of populations? He replied in the affirmative as regards the latter (though I have no doubt that he was thinking at the same time of a rectification of frontiers). As regards the first, he said he could not give me an answer until after he had given reply of His Majesty's Government the careful consideration which such a document deserved. In this connexion he turned to Herr von Ribbentrop and said: "We must summon Field-Marshal Goring to discuss it with him."

11. I finally repeated to him very solemnly the main note of the whole conversation so far as I was concerned, namely, that it lay with him as to whether he preferred a unilateral solution which would mean war as regards Poland, or British friendship. If he were prepared to pay the price of the latter by a generous gesture as regards Poland, he could at a stroke change in his favour the whole of public opinion not only in England but in the world. I left no doubt in his mind as to what the alternative would be, nor did he dispute the point.

12. At the end Herr von Ribbentrop asked me whether I could guarantee that the Prime Minister could carry the country with him in a policy of friendship with Germany. I said there was no possible doubt whatever that he could and would, provided Germany co-operated with him. Herr Hitler asked whether England would be willing to accept an alliance with Germany.

I said, speaking personally, I did not exclude such a possibility provided the developments of events justified it.

13. Conversation was conducted in quite a friendly atmosphere, in spite of absolute firmness on both sides. Herr Hitler's general attitude was that he could give me no real reply until he had carefully studied the answer of His Majesty's Government. He said that he would give me a written reply to-morrow, Tuesday. I told him that I would await it, but was quite prepared to wait. Herr Hitler's answer was that there was no time to wait.

14. I did not refer to the question of a truce. I shall raise that point to-morrow if his answer affords any real ground for hope that he is prepared to abandon war for the sake of British understanding.

----- The British War Bluebook No. 76 -----
From: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany
Sent: Tuesday, 29 Aug 1939
To: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs

(Telegraphic) Berlin, August 29, 1939.

Following are additional points in amplification of my telegram of 28th August:-

Herr Hitler insisted that he was not bluffing, and that people would make a great mistake if they believed that he was. I replied that I was fully aware of the fact and that we were not bluffing either. Herr Hitler stated that he fully realised that that was the case. In answer to a suggestion by him that Great Britain might offer something at once in the way of colonies as evidence of her good intentions, I retorted that concessions were easier of realisation in a good rather than a bad atmosphere.

----- The British War Bluebook No. 79 -----
From: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany
Sent: Tuesday, 29 Aug 1939
To: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs

(Telegraphic.) Berlin, August 29, 1939.

HERR HITLER handed me German reply at 7.15 this evening. Translation of full text will follow as soon as possible.

2. In reply to two British proposals, namely, for direct German-Polish negotiations and international guarantee of any settlement, German Government declares:-

(1) That, in spite of its scepticism as to the prospect of their success, it accepts direct negotiation solely out of desire to ensure lasting friendship with Britain, and

(2) In the case of any modifications of territory German Government cannot undertake or participate in any guarantees without consulting the U.S.S.R.

3. Note observes that German proposals have never had for their object any diminution of Polish vital interests, and declares that German Government accepts mediation of Great Britain with a view to visit to Berlin of some Polish plenipotentiary. German Government, note adds, counts on arrival of such plenipotentiary to-morrow, Wednesday, 30th August.

4. I remarked that this phrase sounded like an ultimatum, but after some heated remarks both Herr Hitler and Herr von Ribbentrop assured me that it was only intended to stress urgency of the moment when the two fully mobilised armies were standing face to face.

5. I said that I would transmit this suggestion immediately to His Majesty's Government, and asked whether, if such Polish plenipotentiary did come, we could assume that he would be well received and that discussions would be conducted on footing of complete equality. Herr Hitler's reply was "of course."

6. German demands are declared to be revision of Versailles Treaty; namely, return of Danzig and the Corridor to Germany, security for lives of German national minorities in the rest of Poland; note concludes with statement that the German Government will immediately elaborate proposals for an acceptable solution, and inform British Government, if possible, before arrival of Polish plentipotentiary.

----- The British War Bluebook No. 80 -----
From: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany
Sent: Tuesday, 29 Aug 1939
To: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs

(Telegraphic.) Berlin, August 29, 1939.

INTERVIEW this evening was of a stormy character and Herr Hitler far less reasonable than yesterday. Press announcement this evening that five more Germans had been killed in Poland and news of Polish mobilisation had obviously excited him.

2. He kept saying that he wanted British friendship more than anything in the world, but he could not sacrifice Germany's vital interests therefor, and that for His Majesty's Government to make a bargain over such a matter was an unendurable proposition. All my attempts to correct this complete misrepresentation of the case did not seem to impress him.

3. In reply to his reiterated statement that direct negotiations with Poland, though accepted by him, would be bound to fail, I told his Excellency that their success or failure depended on his goodwill or the reverse, and that the choice lay with him. It was, however, my bounden duty to leave him in no doubt that an attempt to impose his will on Poland by force would inevitably bring him into direct conflict with us.

4. It would have been useless to talk of a truce, since that can only depend on whether M. Beck or some other Polish representative came to Berlin or not.

----- The British War Bluebook No. 81 -----
From: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
Sent: Wednesday, 30 Aug 1939
To: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany

(Telegraphic.) Foreign Office, August 30, 1939, 2 a. m.

WE shall give careful consideration to German Government's reply, but it is, of course, unreasonable to expect that we can produce a Polish representative in Berlin to-day, and German Government must not expect this.

It might be well for you at once to let this be known in proper quarters through appropriate channels. We hope you may receive our reply this afternoon.

----- The British War Bluebook No. 82 -----
From: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany
Sent: Wednesday, 30 Aug 1939
To: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs

(Telegraphic.) Berlin, August 30, 1939.

YOUR message was conveyed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs at 4 a. m. this morning. I had made similar observation to Herr Hitler yesterday evening, his reply being that one could fly from Warsaw to Berlin in one and a half hours.

2. I repeated the message this morning by telephone to State Secretary, who said that it had already been conveyed to Herr Hitler. He added that something must be done as soon as possible.

3. While I still recommend that the Polish Government should swallow this eleventh-hour effort to establish direct contact with Herr Hitler, even if it be only to convince the world that they were prepared to make their own sacrifice for preservation of peace, one can only conclude from the German reply that Herr Hitler is determined to achieve his ends by so-called peaceful fair means if he can, but by force if he cannot. Much, of course, may also depend on detailed plan referred to in the last paragraph of the German reply.

4. Nevertheless, if Herr Hitler is allowed to continue to have the initiative, it seems to me that result can only be either war or once again victory for him by a display of force and encouragement thereby to pursue the same course again next year or the year after.

----- The British War Bluebook No. 83 -----
From: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany
Sent: Wednesday, 30 Aug 1939
To: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs

(Telegraphic) Foreign Office, August 30, 1939, 2:45 p. m.

WE are considering German note with all urgency and shall send official reply later in afternoon.

We are representing at Warsaw how vital it is to reinforce all instructions for avoidance of frontier incidents, and I would beg you to confirm similar instructions on German side.

I welcome the evidence in the exchanges of views, which are taking place, of that desire for Anglo-German understanding of which I spoke yesterday in Parliament.

----- The British War Bluebook No. 87 -----
From: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
Sent: Wednesday, 30 Aug 1939
To: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany

(Telegraphic.) Foreign Office, August 30, 1939, 5-30 p. m.

IN informing German Government of the renewed representations which have been made in Warsaw, please make it clear that Polish Government can only be expected to maintain an attitude of complete restraint if German Government reciprocate on their side of frontier and if no provocation is offered by members of German minority in Poland. Reports are current that Germans have committed acts of sabotage which would justify the sternest measures.

----- The British War Bluebook No. 88 -----
From: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany
Sent: Wednesday, 30 Aug 1939
To: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs

(Telegraphic.) Foreign Office, August 30, 1939, 6:50 p. m.

WE understand that German Government are insisting that a Polish representative with full powers must come to Berlin to receive German proposals.

2. We cannot advise Polish Government to comply with this procedure, which is wholly unreasonable.

3. Could you not suggest to German Government that they adopt the normal procedure, when their proposals are ready, of inviting Polish Ambassador to call and handing proposals to him for transmission to Warsaw and inviting suggestions as to conduct of negotiations.

4. German Government have been good enough to promise they will communicate proposals also to His Majesty's Government. If latter think they offer reasonable basis they can be counted on to do their best in Warsaw to facilitate negotiations.

----- The British War Bluebook No. 91 -----
From: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany
Sent: Wednesday, 30 Aug 1939
To: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs

(Telegraphic.) Berlin, August 30, 1939.

I INFORMED Herr von Ribbentrop to-night of the advice given to the Polish Government in your telegram of 30th August to Warsaw.

2. Practically his only comment was that all provocation came from the side of Poland. I observed that His Majesty's Government had constantly warned the Polish Government that all provocative action should be vigorously discouraged and that I had reason to believe that the German press accounts were greatly exaggerated. Herr von Ribbentrop replied that His Majesty's Government's advice had had cursed ("verflucht") little effect. I mildly retorted that I was surprised to hear such language from a Minister for Foreign Affairs.

----- The British War Bluebook No. 92 -----
From: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany
Sent: Wednesday, 30 Aug 1939
Received: Thursday, 31 Aug 1939
To: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs

(Telegraphic.) Berlin, August 30, 1939.

I TOLD Herr von Ribbentrop this evening that His Majesty's Government found it difficult to advise Polish Government to accept procedure adumbrated in German reply, and suggested that he should adopt normal contact, i.e., that when German proposals were ready to invite Polish Ambassador to call and to hand him proposals for transmission to his Government with a view to immediate opening of negotiations. I added that if basis afforded prospect of settlement His Majesty's Government could be counted upon to do their best in Warsaw to temporize negotiations.

2. Herr von Ribbentrop's reply was to produce a lengthy document which he read out in German aloud at top speed. Imagining that he would eventually hand it to me I did not attempt to follow too closely the sixteen or more articles which it contained. Though I cannot therefore guarantee accuracy the main points were: restoration of Danzig to Germany; southern boundary of Corridor to be line Marienwerder, Graudenz, Bromberg, Schönlanke; plebiscite to be held in the Corridor on basis of population on 1st January, 1919, absolute majority to decide; international commission of British, French, Italian and Russian members to police the Corridor and guarantee reciprocal communications with Danzig and Gdynia pending result of the plebiscite; Gydnia to be reserved to Poland; Danzig to be purely commercial city and demilitarised.

3. When I asked Herr von Ribbentrop for text of these proposals in accordance with undertaking in the German reply of yesterday, he asserted that it was now too late as Polish representative had not arrived in Berlin by midnight.

4. I observed that to treat matter in this way meant that request for Polish representative to arrive in Berlin on 30th August constituted, in fact, an ultimatum in spite of what he and Herr Hitler had assured me yesterday. This he denied, saying that idea of an ultimatum was figment of my imagination. Why then I asked could he not adopt normal procedure and give me copy of proposals and ask Polish Ambassador to call on him, just as Herr Hitler had summoned me a few days ago, and hand them to him for communication to Polish Government? In the most violent terms Herr von Ribbentrop said that he would never ask the Ambassador to visit him. He hinted that if Polish Ambassador asked him for interview it might be different. I said that I would naturally inform my Government so at once. Whereupon he said while those were his personal views he would bring all that I had said to Herr Hitler's notice. It was for Chancellor to decide.

5. We parted on that note, but I must tell you that Herr von Ribbentrop's whole demeanour during an unpleasant interview was aping Herr Hitler at his worst. He inveighed incidentally against Polish mobilisation, but I retorted that it was hardly surprising since Germany had also mobilised as Herr Hitler himself had admitted to me yesterday.

----- The British War Bluebook No. 99 -----
From: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
Sent: Thursday, 31 Aug 1939
To: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany

(Telegraphic.) Foreign Office, August 31, 1939, 11 p. m.

PLEASE inform German Government that we understand that Polish Government are taking steps to establish contact with them through Polish Ambassador in Berlin.

2. Please also ask them whether they agree to the necessity for securing an immediate provisional modus vivendi as regards Danzig. (We have already put this point to German Government.) Would they agree that M. Burckhardt might be employed for this purpose if it were possible to secure his services?

----- The British War Bluebook No. 102 -----
From: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany
Sent: Thursday, 31 Aug 1939
Received: Friday, 1 Sep 1939
To: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs

(Telegraphic.) Berlin, August 31, 1939.

FOLLOWING is translation from text of communication handed by Polish Ambassador to German Minister for Foreign Affairs this evening:-

"During the course of the night the Polish Government received from the British Government news of the exchange of information with the German Government regarding the possibility of direct discussion between the Government of the Reich and the Polish Government.

"The Polish Government are weighing favourably the British Government's suggestion; a formal answer in this matter will be communicated to them in the immediate future." I understand that no discussion took place.

----- The British War Bluebook No. 103 -----
From: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany
Sent: Friday, 1 Sep 1939
To: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs

(Telegraphic.) Berlin, September 1, 1939.

WRITTEN communication was made to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs early this morning in the sense of paragraph 2 of your telegram of 31st August.

----- The British War Bluebook No. 109 -----
From: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
Sent: Friday, 1 Sep 1939
To: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany

(Telegraphic.) Foreign Office, September 1, 1939, 4:45 p. m.

MY immediately following telegram contains the text of a communication that you should, in conjunction with your French colleague, make at once to the German Government.

2. You should ask for immediate reply and report result of your interview. I shall then send you further instructions.

3. In reply to any question you may explain that the present communication is in the nature of warning and is not to be considered as an ultimatum.

4. For your own information. If the German reply is unsatisfactory the next stage will be either an ultimatum with time limit or an immediate declaration of war.

----- The British War Bluebook No. 110 -----
From: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
Sent: Friday, 1 Sep 1939
To: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany

(Telegraphic.) Foreign Office, September 1, 1939, 5:45 p. m.

FOLLOWING is text referred to in my immediately preceding telegram:-

On the instructions of His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, I have the honour to make the following communication:-

Early this morning the German Chancellor issued a proclamation to the German army which indicated clearly that he was about to attack Poland.

Information which has reached His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and the French Government indicates that German troops have crossed the Polish frontier and that attacks upon Polish towns are proceeding.

In these circumstances, it appears to the Governments of the United Kingdom and France that by their action the German Government have created conditions (viz., an aggressive act of force against Poland threatening the independence of Poland) which call for the implementation by the Governments of the United Kingdom and France of the undertaking to Poland to come to her assistance.

I am accordingly to inform your Excellency that unless the German Government are prepared to give His Majesty's Government satisfactory assurances that the German Government have suspended all aggressive action against Poland and are prepared promptly to withdraw their forces from Polish territory, His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom will without hesitation fulfil their obligations to Poland.

----- The British War Bluebook No. 111 -----
From: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany
Sent: Friday, 1 Sep 1939
To: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs

(Telegraphic.) Berlin, September 1, 1939.

YOUR telegrams of 1st September. (Nos. 109 and 110)

I was received by Herr von Ribbentrop at 9:30 this evening, and handed him the communication from His Majesty's Government. After reading it, he said that he wished to state that it was not Germany who had aggressed Poland, that on the contrary it was Poland who had provoked Germany for a long time past; that it was the Poles who had first mobilised and that yesterday it was Poland that had invaded German territory with troops of the regular army.

I said that I was instructed to ask for immediate answer. The Minister replied that he would submit the British communication to the Head of the State.

I replied that I realised that this would be necessary, and that I was at his disposal at whatever time he might be in a position to give the Chancellor's answer.

Herr von Ribbentrop then remarked that if His Majesty's Government had been as active, vis-à-vis Poland, as they had been vis-à-vis Germany, a settlement would have been reached at an early stage.

French Ambassador saw Herr von Ribbentrop immediately after and received an identic reply.

As I was leaving Herr von Ribbentrop gave me long explanation of why he had been unable to give me text of German proposals two nights ago. I told him that his attitude on that occasion had been most unhelpful and had effectively prevented me from making a last effort for peace, and that I greatly deplored it.

He was courteous and polite this evening. I am inclined to believe that Herr Hitler's answer will be an attempt to avoid war with Great Britain and France, but not likely to be one which we can accept.

----- The British War Bluebook No. 114 -----
From: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
Sent: Friday, 1 Sep 1939
To: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany

Sir, Foreign Office, September 1, 1939.

I ASKED the German Charge d'Affaires to call on me at 10, Downing Street at 10:50 this morning, and informed him that I had done this because we had received a good many reports to the effect that German forces had crossed the Polish frontier at several points. Dr. Kordt interrupted me to ask whether I meant the Polish frontier or that of the Danzig Free State. I replied that the Polish Ambassador had mentioned four points, but that I did not know which points these were. We also had information that several Polish towns, including Warsaw, had been bombed.

2. I asked Dr. Kordt whether he had any information which would enable him to cast any light upon these reports. He replied that he had no information whatsoever. I then said that I assumed, therefore, that he had no communication to make to us from his Government. Dr. Kordt replied that he had none with the exception of two notes which he had sent in earlier in the morning relating to the limitation of shipping and of the passage of aircraft in the Gulf of Danzig. Dr. Kordt explained that this related to the whole gulf and not only to the port of Danzig. I informed Dr. Kordt that I had not yet seen these notes.

3. I went on to inform Dr. Kordt that the reports to which I had drawn his attention created a very serious situation. It was not necessary for me to say anything more at the present except to let him know that the Cabinet would meet later in the morning and that any further communication which we might have to make would be addressed to his Government in Berlin, but we should inform him of the character of that communication.

4. Before he left, Dr. Kordt stated that he had just listened on the wireless to the beginning of the F√ľhrer's speech in the Reichstag. He had not heard the latter mention any of the points to which I have drawn attention. The F√ľhrer had said, however, that the situation was intolerable and that he was obliged to draw the necessary consequences.

5. Dr. Kordt subsequently telephoned at 11:30 a. m. to say that he had received a telephone message from the News Department in the German Ministry for Foreign Affairs to the effect that the news that Warsaw and other towns were being bombed was untrue. He also repeated to me a sentence from the F√ľhrer's speech to the effect that since this morning shooting was taking place from the Polish side, and the Germans were shooting back.

I am, etc.


----- The British War Bluebook No. 118 -----
From: Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
Sent: Sunday, 3 Sep 1939
To: Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany

(Telegraphic.) Foreign Office, September 3, 1939, 5 a. m.

PLEASE seek interview with Minister for Foreign Affairs at 9 a. m. to-day, Sunday or, if he cannot see you then, arrange to convey at that time to representative of German Government the following communication:-

"In the communication which I had the honour to make to you on 1st September I informed you, on the instructions of His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, that, unless the German Government were prepared to give His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom satisfactory assurances that the German Government had suspended all aggressive action against Poland and were prepared promptly to withdraw their forces from Polish territory, His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom would, without hesitation, fulfil their obligations to Poland.

"Although this communication was made more than twenty-four hours ago, no reply has been received but German attacks upon Poland have been continued and intensified. I have accordingly the honour to inform you that, unless not later than 11 a. m., British Summer Time, to-day 3rd September, satisfactory assurances to the above effect have been given by the German Government and have reached His Majesty's Government in London, a state of war will exist between the two countries as from that hour."

If the assurance referred to in the above communication is received, you should inform me by any means at your disposal before 11 a. m. to-day, 3rd September. If no such assurance is received here by 11 a. m. , we shall inform the German representative that a state of war exists as from that hour.

The British War Bluebook; courtesy of Yale Law School Avalon Project

Added By:
C. Peter Chen

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Alex&Ugo says:
26 Oct 2011 05:08:02 AM

It is of greatest importance to let the world know,that A.Hitler had been no sheer agressor,that his intentions were peasful[see his last (Aug.30,1939) Marienwerder Proposals,which had been kept secret for a long time].The image of Hitler appeares, at last, in a new perspective, to the benefit of really thinking men.No thanks!

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More on No. 57-59, 69, 75, 76, 79-83, 87, 88, 91, 92, 99, 102, 103, 109-111, 114, 118: Messages Between Henderson and Halifax on Potential War
Associated Figure(s):
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» Edward Wood

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» Invasion of Poland

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