Sir Thomas Inskip, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Mr R.G. Menzies, Prime Minister

Circular Cablegram B293 LONDON, 28 August 1939, 9.08 p.m.


It is especially desired that extreme secrecy should be observed with regard to this telegram.

Following is the reply to Herr Hitler’s communication (my most secret telegram B. 287 [1]) which is being taken by Sir Nevile Henderson [2] by air to Berlin this evening. The German Government has been informed that H. Majesty’s Ambassador will be ready to deliver this message at any time after 9 p.m. (Message begins) 1. His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom have received the message conveyed to them from the German Chancellor by His Majesty’s Ambassador in Berlin and have considered it with the care which it demands.

They note the Chancellor’s expression of his desire to make friendship the basis of relations between Germany and the British Empire and they fully share this desire. They believe, with him, that if a complete and lasting understanding between the two countries could be established it would bring untold blessings to both peoples.

2. The Chancellor’s message deals with two groups of questions:

those which are matters now in dispute between Germany and Poland, and those affecting the ultimate relations of Germany and the United Kingdom. In connection with these last, His Majesty’s Government observes that the German Chancellor has indicated certain proposals which, subject to one condition, he would be prepared to make to the British Government for an understanding.

These proposals are of course stated in very general form and would require closer definition, but His Majesty’s Government are fully prepared to take them with some additions as subjects for discussion and they would be ready, if differences between Germany and Poland are peacefully composed, to proceed so soon as practicable [to] such discussion with a sincere desire to reach agreement.

3. The condition which the German Chancellor lays down is that there must first be a settlement of differences between Germany and Poland. As to that, His Majesty’s Government entirely agree.

Everything however turns upon the nature of the settlement and the method by which it is to be reached. On these points, the importance of which cannot be absent from the Chancellor’s mind, his message is silent, and His Majesty’s Government feel compelled to point out that an understanding upon both these is essential to achieve further progress. The German Government will be aware that His Majesty’s Government have obligations to Poland by which they are bound and which they intend to honour. They could not, for any advantage offered to Great Britain, acquiesce in a settlement which put in jeopardy the independence of a state to whom they have given their guarantee.

4. In the opinion of His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom a reasonable solution of the differences between Germany and Poland could and should be effected by agreement between the two countries on lines which would include the safeguarding of Poland’s essential interests, and they recall that in his speech of 28th April last the German Chancellor recognised the importance of these interests to Poland.

But as was stated by the Prime Minister in his letter to the German Chancellor of 22nd August [3] His Majesty’s Government consider it essential for the success of the discussion which would precede the agreement that it should be understood beforehand that any settlement arrived at would be guaranteed by other powers. His Majesty’s Government would be ready if desired to make their contribution to the effective operation of such a guarantee.

In the view of His Majesty’s Government it follows that the next step should be the initiation of direct discussions between German and Polish Governments on a basis which would include the principles stated above, namely the safeguarding of Poland’s essential interests and the securing of settlement by an international guarantee.

They have already received a definite assurance from the Polish Government that they are prepared to enter into discussions on this basis and His Majesty’s Government hope that the German Government would for their part also be willing to agree to this course.

If, as His Majesty’s Government propose, such discussion led to agreement the way would be open to negotiation of that wider and more complete understanding between Great Britain and Germany which both countries deserve [sic].

5. His Majesty’s Government agree with the German Chancellor that one principal danger in the German-Polish situation arises from reports concerning the treatment of the minorities. The present state of tension with its concomitant frontier incidents, reports of maltreatment and inflammatory propaganda is a constant danger to peace. It is manifestly a matter of the utmost urgency that all incidents of the kind should be promptly and rigidly suppressed and that unverified reports should not be allowed to circulate, in order that time may be afforded, without provocation on either side, for a full examination of the possibilities of settlement.

His Majesty’s Government are confident both Governments concerned are fully alive to these considerations.

6. His Majesty’s Government have said enough to make their own attitude plain in the particular matters at issue between Germany and Poland. They trust that the German Chancellor will not think that, because His Majesty’s Government are scrupulous concerning their obligations to Poland, they are not anxious to use all their influence to assist the achievement of a solution which may commend itself both to Germany and to Poland.

That such a settlement should be achieved seems to His Majesty’s Government essential not only for reasons directly arising in regard to the settlement itself but also [for] wider considerations of which the German Chancellor has spoken with such conviction.

7. It is unnecessary in the present reply to stress the advantage of a peaceful settlement over a decision to revoke the question at issue by force of arms. The results of a decision to use force have been clearly set out in the Prime Minister’s letter to the Chancellor of August 22nd and His Majesty’s Government do not doubt that they are as fully recognised by the Chancellor as by themselves.

On the other hand His Majesty’s Government, noting [sic] with interest the German Chancellor’s reference in the message now under consideration to a limitation of armaments, and believe that, if a peaceful settlement can be obtained, the assistance of the world could confidently be anticipated for practical measures to enable transition from preparation for war to normal activities of peaceful trade to be safely and smoothly effected.

8. A just settlement of these questions between Germany and Poland may open the way to world peace. Failure to reach it would ruin the hopes of better understanding between Germany and Great Britain, would bring the two countries into conflict, and might well plunge the whole world into war. Such an outcome would be a calamity without parallel in history.


1 Document 153.

2 U.K. Ambassador to Germany.

3 See Document 149, note 3.


[AA: A981, GERMANY 67, ii]