106: The Hotter the Intensity


There was always the option of getting the band back together, the three amigos joining forces once again to fighter Germany.


  • The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer
  • The Rome-Berlin Axis, 1936-1940. Myth and Reality by D.C. Watt
  • France and the Nazi Threat by Jean-Baptiste Duroselle
  • Mussolini and the Origins of the Second World War, 1933-1940 by Robert Mallett
  • The Making of Strategy: Rulers, States, and War Edited by Williamson Murray, Macgregor Knox, Alvin Bernstein
  • The Balkan Pact and Its Immediate Implications for the Balkan States, 1930-34 by Mustafa Türkeş
  • La Grande Illusion: Belgian and Dutch Strategy Facing Germany, 1919-May 1940 (Part 1) by Jeffery A. Gunsburg
  • Depression Decade Crisis: Social Democracy and Planisme in Belgium and the Netherlands, 1929-1939 by Erik Hansen
  • Fascist Italy and the Middle East, 1933-40 by Nir Arielli
  • Geopolitics and Domestic Politics: Greece’s Policy Towards the Great Powers During the Unravelling of the Inter-War Order, 1934-1936 by Sotiris Rizas
  • The Reversal of Belgian Foreign Policy, 1936-1937 by Pierre Henri Laurent (1969)
  • The Shadows of Total War: Europe, East Asia, and the United States 1919-1939 Edited by Roger Chickering and Stig Forster
  • Rearmament and Economic Recovery in the Late 1930s by Mark Thomas
  • Preparing for War: Naval Education Between the World Wars by Professor Douglas V. Smith
  • Naval Radar by Norman Friedman
  • Regia Marina: Italian Battleships of World War Two by Erminio Bagnasco and Mark Grossman
  • A Century of Replenishment at Sea by Commander John A. Lukacs IV
  • When Dreams Confront Reality: Replenishment at Sea in the Era of Coal by Warwick Brown
  • Military Innovation in the Interwar Period Edited by Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett


Hello everyone and welcome to History of the Second World War Episode 106 - Highway to the Danger Zone Pt. 4 - The Hotter the Intensity. This week a big thank you goes out to new members Scott, Christopher, Bruce, and Other Scott. You can head over to historyofthesecondworldwar.com/members to find out more. While war would start with Germany invading Poland in September 1939, the period between March and September were very active for France and Britain as they tried to find their path forward after it was clear that their previous appeasement efforts were not having their intended effects. There were three main avenues that would be pursued, an increasing focus on rearmament, discussions with Poland that would make it far more dangerous for Germany to attack the Poles, and negotiations with Russia to form some kind of alliance. We will start with the Polish Guarantee, which would be provided by the British government to Poland in the spring of 1939, and would be the basis for an alliance that would be signed in the weeks before the German invasion. We will then close out this episode by looking at the efforts of the British and French to enter into an alliance with the Soviet Union, and alliance that both London and Paris would claim they wanted, but their actual actions would kind of prove otherwise. At the end of this episode will also be a full reading of the Agreement of Mutual Assistance between the United Kingdom and Poland which was signed in London in 1939. This episode features several quotes from public speeches given by various politicians, and quotes from diplomatic communications between various governments. I will give my standard disclaimer on all of these right here at the beginning, be careful with interpreting what is being said in such instances, especially public speeches. They are written for an audience and for a purpose, so just because somebody says something in a public speech it does not mean they actually feel that way or that they would actually pursue those policies. Such speeches can still be interesting as it can tell us what national leaders wanted or were forced to focus on throughout the period being discussed.

In the weeks after the final destruction of Czechoslovakia, discussions within the British government began to revolve around what concrete steps could be taken to prevent further German territorial revisions.There was still some resistance among some groups to just resort to creating some kind of grand alliance, mostly out of fear that it was such alliance systems, agreements that would compel Britain into a war, that had contributed to the start of the First World War. Here is the Prime Minister Nivelle Chamberlain from a speech before the House of Commons on March 23, 1939: “Nor is this Government anxious to set up in Europe opposing blocks of countries with different ideas about the forms of their internal administration. We are solely concerned here with the proposition that we cannot submit to a procedure under which independent States are subjected to such pressure under threat of force as to be obliged to yield up their independence, and we are resolved by all means in our power to oppose attempts, if they should be made, to put such a procedure into operation.” However, this line of argument would not stand up to the pressures that would be placed on the government to do something, to protect other nations that were surrounding Germany, primarily Poland. By the end of March discussions were occurring between the two governments to formulate some kind of agreement. The Polish Foreign Minister Beck was in London for these discussions, and they would actually be pushed forward quickly due to some intelligence, which would prove to be incorrect, that Germany was considering an immediately action against Poland on March 31st. This would prompt the British to ask Beck if he had any problems with some kind of public declaration based on an outline of an agreement, which could be made before the final details were fully ironed out. I don’t have a source on what Beck was thinking at this point, but I can’t imagine he was bummed out. This temporary agreement would be publicly acknowledged by Chamberlain on March 31, again before the Commons. “In order to make perfectly clear the position of His Majesty’s Government in the meantime before those consultations are concluded, I now have to inform the House that during that period, in the event of any action which clearly threatened Polish independence, and which the Polish Government accordingly considered it vital to resist with their national forces, His Majesty’s Government would feel themselves bound at once to lend the Polish Government all support in their power. They have given the Polish Government an assurance to this effect.” Immediately before the above quote, Chamberlain would still make it clear that the British government would always be open for further peaceful negotiations: “I am glad to take this opportunity of stating again the general policy of His Majesty’s Government. They have constantly advocated the adjustment, by way of free negotiation between the parties concerned, of any differences that may arise between them. They consider that this is the natural and proper course where differences exist. In their opinion there should be no question incapable of solution by peaceful means, and they would see no justification for the substitution of force or threats of force for the method of negotiation.” On April 6th the agreement would be officially announced to the world in a joint communique “It was agreed that the two countries were prepared to enter into an agreement of a permanent and reciprocal character to replace the present temporary and unilateral assurance given by His Majesty’s Government to the Polish Government.” The French government was in firm agreement with this line of development, and in fact had a long standing alliance with Poland. The German government was, even though not named in the agreements, not exactly thrilled with the developments that had occurred. In 1934 Germany and Poland had signed a non-aggression pact that was supposed to last for 10 years, and they would claim that the new agreement violated the spirit, if not the letter, of that agreement. On April 27th the German government would write to the Polish government “Irrespective of the manner in which its final formulation may be determined by both parties, the new Polish-British Agreement is intended a regular pact of alliance, which by reason of its general sense and of the present state of political relations is directed exclusively against Germany. From the obligation now accepted by the Polish Government it appears that Poland intends in certain circumstances to take an active part in any possible German-British conflict in the vent of aggression against Germany, even should this conflict not affect Poland and her interests. This is a direct and open blow against the renunciation of all use of force contained in the 1934 Declaration.” The rest of the communication goes on for thousands of words, which I won’t trouble you with, but it basically boils down to “how could you do this to us, we were such good friends” while of course Germany was rapidly reaching the point where it was planning for an invasion. The agreement in and of itself was important, but it would also in some ways open the flood gates for other agreements to be signed in the weeks that followed. After the Italian invasion of Albania, similar agreements would be given by the British government to Greece and Rumania, tying the British government to events in Eastern Europe in peacetime for at the very least the first time in a very long time.

The reasons for the Polish alliance, both with France in the 1920s, and then with Britain later, was as a warning to Germany against aggression, and to make it clear that any such aggression would result in Germany having to fight a war on two fronts. This had been the exact same reason that France had signed an alliance with the Russian Empire before before the First World War. There was also another nation that could be added to the alliance structure that was developing over the summer of 1939, the successor of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union. Before we look at the discussions that would occur between representatives of the British, French, and Soviet governments, we first have to talk about the overall relationship between the nations leading up to those discussions. I have mentioned this a few times over the course of this podcast, but it is absolutely vital to understand that there was a persistent and very strong anti-communist feeling within the British government, and anti-capitalist feelings in Moscow. This would not evaporate in 1939 or even after the Soviet Union joined in the war against Germany, the Soviet Union would become an ally of necessity, but that was all. In France there was also strong anti-Communist feelings not just for their concerns about communism, but also among the Conservative National governments that took power after the Popular Front, who were fearful of any kind of external socialist influence that might push the Popular Front back into power. There had actually been discussions between France and the Soviet until back in 1935 with the goal of signing a Pact between the two nations, it even got to the point of rough drafting, but then it sat in Paris without response until it was eventually considered abandoned. On the Soviet side, there were equal levels of distrust. In March 1939 Stalin would give a lengthy speech before the Eighteenth Party Congress discussing the fact that he would refuse to allow the Soviet Union to be used as a pawn in the games played by the capitalist powers, and he would not let the Soviet Union’s people be used as canon fodder. Or to quote that speech from Stalin when listing out the Foreign Policy goals of the Party “To be cautious and not allow our country to be drawn into conflicts by warmongers who are accustomed to have other pull the chestnuts out of the fire for them.” Or in another section when speaking of the actions of France and Britain who he was criticizing for what he called their policy of “non-intervention”: “But actually speaking, the policy of non-intervention means conniving at aggression, giving free rein to war, and, consequently, transforming the war into a world war. The policy of non-intervention reveals an eagerness, a desire, not to hinder the aggressors in their nefarious work: not to hinder Japan, say, from embroiling itself in a war with China, or better still, with the Soviet Union; not to hinder Germany, say, from enmeshing itself in European affairs, from embroiling itself in a war with the Soviet Union; to allow all the belligerents to sink deeply into the mire of war, to encourage them surreptitiously in this; to allow them to weaken and exhaust one another; and then, when they have become weak enough, to appear on the scene with fresh strength, to appear, of course, “in the interests of peace,” and to dictate conditions to the enfeebled belligerents.” The contents of this speech would be discussed among the governments of Europe, with Goering actually discussing it during a visit to Rome on April 16th. During March the idea of a larger conference was proposed by the Soviets which would have involved not just England and France but also Poland, Turkey, and Romania. However the British did not want to enter into such large negotiations, and preferred smaller and more focused agreements, which is one of the reasons that the Polish guarantee was given at the end of March. In mid-April the Soviet Foreign Commissar would suggest once again to the British Ambassador in Moscow that France, Britain, and the Soviets start discussions with the goal of creating a pact of mutual assistance. When this proposal was communicated to London and Paris there was some hesitancy to quickly answer, as the two nations were simply not ready to enter into military negotiations with the Soviets. They did not reject the proposal, they just would really slow-play the response, and would in fact not reply until May 8th. The response would not be a complete rejection, but it certainly was not an enthusiastic response. Even before it arrived the situation in Moscow was already beginning to shift drastically. Litvinov, a supporter of stronger relations with Britain and France and a supporter of general collective security, was removed from his position as Foreign Commissar, and was replaced by Molotov, who was far more open to discussions with Germany.

While the western governments had not been very receptive to Soviet advances in the spring, during the summer months starting in late May the tables turned and suddenly it was the British government pushing for talks with the Soviet and French governments to create some kind of tripartite mutual guarantee. In the wake of the Pact of Steel between Italy and Germany the British ambassador and French charge d’affaires would ask Molotov if the Soviet government was still interested. They did not get back what could be qualified as an enthusiastic answer, but on June 2nd a Soviet rough draft would be presented to the French and British as a basis for further discussions. This had some of the clauses you would expect, a mutual guarantee of all three nations, but it also Also would bring all three nations into a war with any nation that attacked one of eight nations in eastern Europe, Turkey, or Belgium. The real key is that the Soviets also wanted concrete agreements on the military arrangements should the alliance be activated by a war. This might seem like a simple request, but there was one major problem that had to be solved. Many of the nations of Eastern Europe were concerned about German actions and about their future actions, they did not want to be invaded by Germany. However, many of them were just as concerned about Soviet intentions. Nations like Poland, Romania, or the Baltic States saw the Soviet Union as at least an equal threat to their independence, and in some cases as a much graver threat than Germany. This made any military operations by the Soviet Union against Germany tricky, because the Red Army was going to have to move through somewhere to get to Germany. This had always been the major sticking point with Poland, who had fought a war with the Soviet Union less than two decades before. These were logistical problems that would have to be solved, but more importantly for why it was never signed were the political problems. It would take almost an entire month for the draft to be accepted as the basis for negotiation by the British government. On June 23 they would finally agree, by which point Soviet patience was already wearing thin. On June 29th an article appeared in Pravda with the headline “British and French Governments Do Not Want a Treaty on the Basis of Equality for the Soviet Union.” The two sides would always have a large gap between them and honestly to me it generally just feels like the British government did not really have its heart in the game during these discussions. The Soviets would agree with that assessment, especially after it would take until August for the British to agree to staff talks to try and work out the military side of the agreement, and then even after they did they broadcast their indifference to anybody who would listen. These negotiations could have major ramifications for both nations and for the future of Europe, it could win a war, a war that over the course of 1939 seemed to be a greater and greater possibility. And so to negotiate this critical agreement with the nation with, on paper, one of the most powerful militaries in the world the British sent some pretty low ranking diplomats without any power to make any actual agreements. And due to the time critical nature of the discussions they were sent to Moscow….on a slow chartered merchant ship that could not make more than 13 knots. It was basically the opposite of Chamberlain’s triumphant dash to Munich to meet with Hitler, and the Soviets took offense to what they saw as the British telegraphing that these conversations just were not important. When they did finally reach Russia, nothing really happened, there were discussions, but there was no sense of urgency, and the same sticking points remained. A military and political agreement, which the Soviets were insistent had to occur simultaneously, were never in the cards, and in late August the German government would sweep in and take advantage of the situation. And when they did they would not send some low level functionaries on the Slow Boat to Leningrad with instructions to take it nice and slow


What follows is the full text of the agreement signed between the British Government and Poland. One small note: In the Secret Protocol at the end of the treaty I have added a few phrases to remind the listener about which Articles are being referred to, because the text only refers to the number, these small additions are not in the original text, but I think are important for it to make sense in an audio podcast


Should one of the Contracting Parties become engaged in hostilities with a European Power in consequence of aggression by the latter against that Contracting Party, the other Contracting Party will at once give the Contracting Party engaged in hostilities all the support and assistance in its power.


(1) The provisions of Article I will also apply in the event of any action by a European Power which clearly threatened, directly or indirectly, the independence of one of the Contracting Parties, and was of such a nature that the Party in question considered it vital to resist it with its armed forces.

(2) Should one of the Contracting Parties become engaged in hostilities with a European Power in consequence of action by that Power which threatened the independence or neutrality of another European State in such a way as to constitute a clear menace to the security of that Contracting Party, the provisions of Article I will apply, without prejudice, however, to the rights of the other European State concerned.


Should a European Power attempt to undermine the independence of one of the Contracting Parties by processes of economic penetration or in any other way, the Contracting Parties will support each other in resistance to such attempts. Should the European Power concerned thereupon embark on hostilities against one of the Contracting Parties, the provisions of Article I will apply.


The methods of applying the undertakings of mutual assistance provided for by the present Agreement are established between the competent naval, military and air authorities of the Contracting Parties.


Without prejudice to the foregoing undertakings of the Contracting Parties to give each other mutual support and assistance immediately on the outbreak of hostilities, they will exchange complete and speedy information concerning any development which might threaten their independence and, in particular, concerning any development which threatened to call the said undertakings into operation.


(1) The Contracting Parties will communicate to each other the terms of any undertakings of assistance against aggression which they have already given or may in future give to other States.

(2) Should either of the Contracting Parties intend to give such an undertaking after the coming into force of the present Agreement, the other Contracting Party shall, in order to ensure the proper functioning of the Agreement, be informed thereof.

(3) Any new undertaking which the Contracting Parties may enter into in future shall neither limit their obligations under the present Agreement nor indirectly create new obligations between the Contracting Party not participating in these undertakings and the third State concerned.


Should the Contracting Parties be engaged in hostilities in consequence of the application of the present Agreement, they will not conclude an armistice or treaty of peace except by mutual agreement.


(1) The present Agreement shall remain in force for a period of five years.

(2) Unless denounced six months before the expiry of this period it shall continue in force, each Contracting Party having thereafter the right to denounce it at any time by giving six months’ notice to that effect.

(3) The present Agreement shall come into force on signature.

In faith whereof the above-named Plenipotentiaries have signed the present Agreement and have affixed thereto their seals.

Done in English in duplicate, at London, the 25th August, 1939. A Polish text shall subsequently be agreed upon between the Contracting Parties and both texts will then be authentic.


Secret Protocol attached to the Agreement of Mutual Assistance between the United Kingdom and Poland signed on the 25th August 1939

The Government of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and the Polish Government are agreed upon the following interpretation of the Agreement of Mutual Assistance signed this day as alone authentic and binding.

  1. (a) By the expression “a European Power” employed in the Agreement is to be understood Germany. (b) In the event of action within the meaning of Article 1 or 2 of the Agreement by a European Power other than Germany, the Contracting Parties will consult together on the measures to be taken in common.

  2. (a) The two Governments will from time to time determine by mutual agreement the hypothetical cases of action by Germany coming within the ambit of Article 2 of the Agreement. (b) Until such time as the two Governments have agreed to modify the following provisions of this paragraph, they will consider: that the case contemplated by paragraph (1) of the Article 2 of the Agreement [which discussed threats made against a nations vital interests] is that of the Free City of Danzig; and that the cases contemplated by paragraph (2) of Article 2 [which dealt with Germany attacking a neutral nation] are Belgium, Holland, Lithuania. (c) Latvia and Estonia shall be regarded by the two Governments as included in the list of countries contemplated by paragraph (2) of Article 2 from the moment that an undertaking of mutual assistance between the United Kingdom and a third State covering those two countries enters into force. (d) As regards Roumania, the Government of the United Kingdom refers to the guarantee which it has given to that country; and the Polish Government refers to the reciprocial undertakings of the Roumano-Polish alliance which Poland has never regarded as incompatible with her traditional friendship for Hungary.

  3. The undertakings mentioned in Article 6 of the Agreement, [which dealt with one of the nations entering into agreements with other nations], should they be entered into by one of the Contracting Parties with a third State, would of necessity be so framed that their execution should at no time prejudice either the sovereignty or territorial inviolability of the other Contracting Party.

  4. The present protocol constitutes an integral part of the Agreement signed this day, the scope of which it does not exceed.