Adolf Hitler took power in Germany in 1933, and by 1935 he had already begun formuling his designs on Europe. That year, he negotiated the Anglo-German Naval Agreement which practically eliminated the British naval presence in the Baltic Sea on Germanyâ€™s northeast flank. Then his ally, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, invaded Ethiopia....
Adolf Hitler took power in Germany in 1933, and by 1935 he had already begun formuling his designs on Europe. That year, he negotiated the Anglo-German Naval Agreement which practically eliminated the British naval presence in the Baltic Sea on Germanyâ€™s northeast flank. Then his ally, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, invaded Ethiopia. The League of Nations, led by Britain and France, labeled him an aggressor but did nothing. Hitler observed this and now he was ready for his own first military action.
The Treaty of Versailles required the de-militarization of the German Rhineland to provide a buffer between Germany on one side and France, Belgium and Luxembourg on the other, which meant that no German forces were allowed there. On March 7, 1936, unilaterally scrapping the Treaty, Hitler sent his troops into the Rhineland and reoccupied it. Britain and France made no effort to stop the action and instead adopted a policy of appeasement. France was lost in a fog of pacifism, and many in Britain actually supported the German action, feeling with Lord Lothian that â€œthe Germans are after all only going into their own back garden.â€
In Britain, however, Winston Churchill had been watching Germany and Italy with a wary eye. He immediately recognized the threat posed by this overt German action and on March 26 took the floor in the House of Commons to ask which nation would be Hitlerâ€™s next invasion target (speculating perhaps Austria). He also pointedly asked the government and the House whether Britain would take the lead in establishing an â€œeffective unionâ€ of those states threatened by Germany. He knew that the answer was no, as neither Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin nor the government leadership had the stomach to take on Germany. So, as Martin Gilbert relates in his book, â€œWinston Churchill:?A?Lifeâ€, he determined to take on the task of trying to create such a union himself. Gilbert writes of the first action Churchill took, saying, â€œTo help such a union forward, he invited the Soviet Ambassador, Ivan Maisky, to lunch with him at the beginning of April.â€
Typed Letter Signed on his letterhead, London, April 1, 1936, to Maisky, being the very letter referenced by Gilbert and Churchillâ€™s first outreach to create an alliance of nations against Nazi Germany. â€œIt would give me great pleasure if you would lunch here with me at 1:15 on Friday. We should be a deux [meaning they should dine alone, just the two of them].â€ Friday was April 3, so the meeting took place that day.
What was discussed at the meeting? The purpose was to pursue the possibility of Russian-British cooperation, but it seems that Churchill came armed with specifics. On April 20, states Gilbert, Neville Chamberlain adviser Maurice Hankey told Defence Minister Sir Thomas Inskip of a â€˜fantastic planâ€™ which Churchill had explained to him in detail for sending part of the British Fleet to the Baltic â€˜to ensure superiority over Germany in that sea. It would stay there permanently, based on a Russian port of which we should obtain the use under this plan….He has buried his violent anti-Russian complex of former days and is apparently a bosom friend of M. Maisky.â€ Other authors of books on the subect link the Maisky meeting with the Baltic plan; one of these is â€œChurchill and Strategic Dilemmas Before the World Warsâ€ by Handel. In the book â€œChurchill and Finlandâ€ by Ruotsila the author is even more specific, relating that Churchill approached the Russians about stationing a British naval squadron in the Baltic on the Russian island of Kronstadt.
Thus did Churchill unveil his first initiative to form an alliance against Nazi Germany. Although Maisky was interested, the effort was not successful, as at that time few were ready to face the reality. Yet just five years later, Churchill had his alliance, one that won the war.
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