The French warned in 1939: “If we don’t make an alliance now, USSR will make a pact with Germany!”

Embassy of France in Moscow

Military Attaché

No 599/S

Copy No. 1

Moscow, July 13, 1939


Strategic situation on the European eastern front, its possible repercussions on the attitude of the Soviet government during talks on the signing of a trilateral pact between England, France and the USSR

Considering the current strategic situation on the eastern front, one cannot fail to be surprised by how similar it is to what we saw in September 1938.

Just as Czechoslovakia, Poland is completely isolated from its allies, France and England. It has refrained until now, by its own free will, from accepting effective Soviet military assistance, and rejected any passage of troops through its territory.

Today, just as in 1938, Russia will be able to fight Germany on the ground only in East Prussia, thanks to the passage it negotiated with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania or demanded from them at the right moment.

Considering the current circumstances, the Soviet Union could eventually contribute to an engagement against Germany only in the following ways:

a)    by providing material support to Poland (raw materials, armaments…).

b)    through actions of the Soviet fleet in the Baltic Sea; although any action would be quite precarious since in this sea the USSR’s coastline is very limited, while there is only one military port in Leningrad − Kronstadt, the accessibility of which largely depends on the good will of Estonia and Finland.

c)    through the actions of its air force, mainly in East Prussia, subject to an agreement with Poland.

d)    by concentrating Soviet troops in appropriate locations along the western border so as to be able to rapidly intervene at any moment on the side of Poland, which, in view of its interests and obligations towards its Allies, would finally agree to accept help.

It is clear that there is a risk that actions of this kind will be too late once Poland is defeated.

On the other hand, looking at the conquests Germany has already achieved … peacefully since Munich (September 1938), we can see that it has started to encircle Poland through the now accomplished annexation of Czechia and Slovakia, just as it started to encircle Czechoslovakia through the Anschluss of Austria.

The only favourable element is that England showed more understanding and adopted a firmer attitude, enabling Poland to display the same kind of firmness, at least as long as it actually faces the reality of combat. Also, it has to be admitted that within a year France, England and the USSR made substantial progress in their war preparations.

A glimpse at an updated map (attached) makes it clear that strategy-wise Poland has found itself in an adverse situation, facing threats along a considerable portion of its borders and outflanked on the right by East Prussia and the threat coming from Memel’s fortifications in view of Lithuania’s weakness.

In effect:

In the north, it is unlikely that Poland stands a chance in the corridor, since Danzig is already on the side of the Germans. They will definitely go to great lengths here to reunite Pomerania with East Prussia.

Since Germany enjoys almost total freedom of action in the Baltic Sea, it can deliver by sea to East Prussia all the reinforcements it needs.

Even if we gloss over its intimidation efforts in the Baltic states, it has to be pointed out that by occupying the port and city of Memel with its fortifications Germany has already extended its reach beyond East Prussia.

Warsaw, the Polish capital, can thus face an immediate threat of attacks from East Prussia and Silesia along the following directions:

Soldau – Warsaw and

Breslau – Warsaw.

By the same token, an offensive from Slovakia targeting Lwow (Lemberg) would split the Polish army from Romania, its ally.

If we consider the question from an opposite perspective, it is hard to imagine a hypothesis of a Polish offensive in Germany, for example towards Berlin, as long as the question of East Prussia, Memel and Baltic states as described above is not resolved.

Therefore, we risk seeing Poland isolated and dominated by Germany, which would have secured its western front at little or no cost. Poland would be defeated before France and England are able to provide it with any meaningful assistance, having been retained for too long at the Siegfried Line, and then at the Rheine.

It is becoming increasingly apparent to me that the Soviet military and Mr Stalin, whose foreign policy is becoming steadily more focused on Russian national policy, have taken note of these various considerations. Having seen that in 1938 its mutual assistance pacts with France and Czechoslovakia remained dead letters, since they were not supported by military accords, and also since we have always avoided even simple conversations between the military staffs of the three countries, the USSR is clearly indisposed to make the same mistakes this time around.

Just as the USSR has stated on numerous occasions, even before the current talks opened, if it agrees to risk confrontation with Germany, this would only be possible in case of a satisfactory resolution of the military problem, and if it considers the initiative sufficiently well prepared and backed by accords to expect success and deem to have secured sufficient guarantees.

Sensitive points and mistrust that may arise during the talks can only be addressed by drafting precise accords and designating each other’s responsibilities in case of aggression.

I do not think that the USSR, which seems to be currently up-to-date on the military problem, will agree to sign and implement a political agreement unless it is assured of the possibility to reach military agreement that would provide for a solid defence of the eastern front, despite the complexity of this matter, as mentioned above.

Therefore, I believe it to be essential to focus as quickly as possible on what the Soviet government and General Staff think about this. I think that contacts have to be established promptly so as to hold the first consultations between French and English military experts and the Soviet General Staff.

I am absolutely unaware of the intentions of the Soviet General Staff, since I have never been invited to discuss precise questions on this topic.

However, during talks, Mr Molotov said that the Soviet government estimated that 100 divisions would be available as part of the obligations under the pact in preparation.

It is obvious that this effort is completely disproportionate compared to the assistance to Poland as described above.

Russian engagement should be of a different kind.

Personally, I believe that the USSR could be of considerable help to the Allies, if independently from the assistance described above we ensure that the USSR covers Poland’s right flank, which faces such a great menace.

There are a number of options in this regard, and I will list them only briefly:

A – An offensive in the Baltic states without any action in the Polish territory

The axis for this offensive would be Ostrov – Daugavpils – Kaunas – Konigsberg, covered from the north along the axis Pskov – Riga – Memel.

B – An offensive with a limited incursion into the Polish territory, as well as into small parts of Latvia and Lithuania.

Offensive axis: Minsk – Kaunas – Konigsberg, covered from the north by action along the axis Polotsk – Daugavpils – Memel.

It is obvious that an offensive of this kind should be carried out in close contact with the Polish army, operating to the south.

To sum up, I believe that if we want to sign a pact with Russia in order to form a military grouping that is actually capable of stopping the aggression and maybe avoiding war, we have to:

-        immediately establish contact with the Soviet General Staff

-        lay the groundwork for Poland to accept this idea, considering that Poland has become more open to our proposals

-        possibly lay the groundwork in our contacts with the Baltic states by reassuring them and making them believe in our strength.

Finally, I should also add that in my view should we fail to promptly reach an agreement, it is still possible that the USSR will isolate itself, at first by retreating into anticipatory neutrality, and then by securing an agreement with Germany on the basis of the division of Poland and the Baltic states.

General Palasse
Military Attaché


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