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At the beginning of the conference the Fuehrer with the aid of maps explained to Count Ciano the present situation of Germany from the military standpoint. He emphasized particularly the strength of the German fortifications in the west. There are three break-through points in the west at which the French had in former times always attempted to break through for geographical and strategic reasons, which have now been protected with particular care, so that a break-through seems impossible here as well. Moreover, fortifications have also been built along the Luxemburg and Belgian borders up to the Dutch border, so that a violation of Belgian neutrality would no longer give France any military advantages, but would only involve the danger that Belgium would join the German side in order to defend her neutrality and under pressure from the Flemish part of the population. The only remaining possibility of attack is therefore theoretically through the Netherlands. But they too would, in the opinion of the Fuehrer, defend their neutrality energetically because they would know that if they should participate in a general conflict they would lose their East Asiatic colonies, which are almost undefended, to Japan. Moreover, the Netherlands are completely unsuitable as an assembly area for a large army because of the numerous rivers and the possibility of flooding large parts of the land which lies below sea level. In case of a breach of Dutch neutrality Germany would of course move into the country immediately and would have the possibility of reaching the Meuse in a few hours because of its proximity to the German border. Besides, the Rhine which is 1 to 11/2 km wide in Holland offers natural protection against attacks from this direction.
The third possibility of attacking Germany is a blockade by the British Navy. But it must be kept in mind the ships used for the blockade would be attacked from the air from Germany, since all of England is within the radius of attack of the German air force, because of the long range of the latest German bombers. There are no further possibilities of attack on Germany. The Nordic countries would no doubt remain neutral and are safe from air attack from any side, since there is hardly any question of occupying such large areas as Norway and Sweden. In the same way Switzerland would certainly defend her neutrality to the last against any invader.
Germany has likewise built strong fortifications in the East. The Fuehrer showed Count Ciano the various fortification systems of East Prussia (Koenigsberg, Heilsberg triangle, border fortifications). On the rest of the German frontier (Grenzmark, Silesia) strong fortifications are also being built, which have been developed, particularly on the Polish border opposite Berlin, into an impregnable system of lines lying one behind the other. Of course the capital is exposed to air attacks, since it lies only 150 km from the Polish border, particularly since because of its size (28 km north to south and 45 km east to west) the city could be bombed from a very great altitude (8 to 9,000 meters) without the possibility of attacking certain targets but with the certainty that the bombs would hit somewhere within the city.
Proceeding to the military situation of the western powers and Poland the Fuehrer again pointed out England's vulnerability from the air. Although some progress has been made in air craft production, the anti-aircraft defense is still quite backward. It is known that England decided on a certain type of anti-aircraft gun only last fall, and we have enough experience on the basis of our own 7 years of rearmament to know that mass production is possible only a long time after the choice of a prototype, so that effective anti-aircraft defense can be expected in England only after 1 to 2 years. Moreover, London and other great cities and industrial centers have the same disadvantage which characterizes Berlin's position in regard to Polish air attacks: from high altitude, out of range of the present English AA guns which are left from the war, bombing can be carried out in absolute safety, which would be successful in any case in the general target area.
At the present time England has no increase in sea power to record. The first units of the ships under construction cannot be put in service for some time. As for the land army, 60,000 men have been called up since the introduction of compulsory military service. If England keeps the necessary troops at home, she will be in a position to put at the disposal of France only two infantry divisions and one armored division. Furthermore she can transfer a few groups of bombers to France but hardly any groups of fighters, since the German air fleet would attack England immediately upon the outbreak of war, and the English fighter planes would be urgently needed for the protection of their own country.
In regard to France's situation-the Fuehrer said that in a general conflict after the expected conquest, within a short time, of Poland, Germany would be in a position to assemble 100 divisions at the Westwall, which would force France to assemble all available forces from the colonies, from the Italian border, and elsewhere at the Maginot line for the life and death struggle which would then begin. Moreover, it is his opinion that the French cannot overrun the Italian fortifications any more than the Westwall.
At this point Count Ciano showed signs of extreme doubt.
The Polish Army varies greatly in its value. Besides several crack divisions there are a number of inferior units. Poland is very weak in AA and anti-tank defense. At present France and England cannot supply her. If, however, Poland is supported economically for a considerable period of time by the West, she could acquire these weapons, and Germany's superiority would be reduced. The fanatics of Warsaw and Cracow are opposed by the indifferent peasant population of other districts. Besides, the composition of the population of the Polish state must be considered: out of 34 million inhabitants 11/2 million are German, about 4 million are Jews, and an estimated 9 million Ukrainians, so that there are considerably fewer real Poles than the total population, and even these, as mentioned before, have to be differently evaluated in regard to fighting power. Under these circumstances, Poland would be conquered by Germany in a very short time.
As Poland makes it clear by her whole attitude that in case of conflict she will in any event be on the side of the enemies of Germany and Italy, quick liquidation at this moment would only be of advantages for the unavoidable conflict with the western democracies. If a hostile Poland should remain on Germany's Eastern frontier, not only the 11 East Prussian Divisions, but also further contingents would be tied up in Pomerania and Silesia, which would not be the case in the event of previous liquidation. Generally speaking, it would be best to liquidate the pseudo-neutrals one after the other. This is fairly easily done, if one Axis partner protects the rear of the other, who is just finishing off one of the uncertain neutrals, and vice versa. Italy may consider Yugoslavia such an uncertain neutral. At the visit of Prince Regent Paul he (the Fuehrer) suggested, particularly in consideration of Italy that Prince Paul clarify his political attitude toward the Axis by a gesture. He had thought of a closer connection with the Axis and Yugoslavia's leaving the League of Nations. Prince Paul agreed to the matter. Recently the Prince Regent was in London and sought reinsurance from the western powers. The same thing was repeated that happened in the case of Gafencu, who was also very reasonable during his visit to Germany and who denied any interest in the aims of the western democracies. Afterwards it was learned that he had later assumed a contrary standpoint in England. Among the Balkan countries the Axis can completely rely on Bulgaria, which is in a sense a natural ally of Italy and Germany. That is why Germany has supported Bulgaria as much as possible with supplies of weapons and will continue to do so. Yugoslavia would stay neutral only as long as it would be dangerous to take the side of the western democracies openly. At the moment when there would be a turn to the worse for Germany and Italy, however, Yugoslavia would join the other side openly, hoping thereby to give matters a final turn to the disadvantage of the Axis. Rumania is afraid of Hungary and is militarily very weak and internally corrupt. King Carol would doubtless not give up his neutrality unless absolutely necessary.
Hungary is friendly and Slovakia is under German influence and even has German garrisons in some parts.
Returning to the question of Danzig, the Fuehrer explained to Count Ciano that it is impossible to yield on this point. He has agreed with Italy to withdraw the Germans from South Tyrol, but for that very reason he must carefully avoid everything that could give the impression that a precedent has been created by the withdrawal of the Germans from South Tyrol, which could be applied to other regions, too. Besides, his justification to the German people of the withdrawal of these Germans from Italy is the German policy, which is in general, directed toward the east and the north-east. The east and the north-east-i.e., the Baltic countries-have always been Germany's uncontested sphere of interest, just as the Mediterranean is Italy's own sphere. Germany needs the grain and wood-producing countries of these eastern regions for economic reasons as well. Danzig is not only a case of material interests, however, although this city is the biggest Baltic port. The turn-over amounts to 40% of the tonnage of Hamburg.
Danzig, the Nordic Nurnberg, is an old German city, which awakens sentimental feelings in every German, and just this psychological element forces the Fuehrer to respect public opinion. To make the situation easier to understand for an Italian, Count Ciano should imagine that Trieste is in the hands of Yugoslavia and a strong Italian minority on Yugoslavian territory is being treated with brutal force. It can hardly be supposed that Italy would look on calmly for very long.
Count Ciano replied to the Fuehrer's explanations by first pointing out the great surprise among the Italians at the absolutely unexpected seriousness of the situation. Neither in the Milan conversations nor in the talks on the occasion of his visit to Berlin was any indication given by the Germans that the situation with regard to Poland was so serious. On the contrary, the Reich foreign minister had declared that in his opinion the question of Danzig will be settled in the course of time. On the basis of this state of affairs, the Duce decided, true to his conviction that a conflict with the western democracies is unavoidable, to make his preparations for that eventuality and made his plans for a certain period of time of 2 to 3 years. If a conflict is unavoidable now, Italy would of course be on Germany's side, as the Duce re-emphasized just before Count Ciano's departure, but for various reasons, enumerated in detail, Italy would welcome a postponement of the general conflict.
Count Ciano then explained, with the aid of a map, the Italian position at the outbreak of a general conflict. Italy believes, he said, that a conflict with Poland would not be restricted to that country, but would grow into a general European war.
The Fuehrer remarked that opinions differ on that point. He personally is firmly convinced that the western democracies will in the end shy away from precipitating a general war.
Count Ciano replied that he hoped the Fuehrer was right, but he did not believe it. In any case, one should adapt one's reflections to the worst possibility, i.e., to general conflict. Since the Abyssinian conflict Italy has actually been constantly living in a state of war and therefore urgently needs a breathing spell. Count Ciano proved with the aid of figures how great Italy's material effort had been, especially in the Spanish conflict. Italy's stock of raw materials is now exhausted. She needs time to restock her warehouses.
She must also transfer her war industries, all of which are in an exposed location, to the south, in order to be better able to defend them. In the same way the Italian artillery, particularly the AA defense, is greatly in need of modernization. The long coast line and other exposed points are not sufficiently defended.
The strength of the fleet is also extremely unfavorable. At the moment Italy can put against the combined English and French 11 to 12 battleships only 2 of its own, while in a few years a total of 8 battleships will be available.
At this point the Fuehrer remarked that of course England and France will have additional battleships of 35,000 and 40,000 tons.
Count Ciano pointed out the long Italian coastline, which is hard to defend and the numerous bases at the disposal of the English and French fleets, giving particular attention to the Greek ports.
The Italian colonies are especially vulnerable at present. Lybia is hard to attack from Egypt, it is true, while from Lybia there is the possibility of advancing to Marsah Matru. The situation in regard to Tunisia is quite different. The proportion of the Italian and French Arab population is 1 to 20, while the strength of while troops is 1 to 5 to Italy's disadvantage. Besides, the Italian fortifications on the French frontier are quite inadequate. Only recently new armored bunkers were delivered.
Though Abyssinia is almost pacified, with the exception of certain regions along the border of the English territory, where the English create difficulties among the population with their money and propaganda, this pacification is only on the surface. It would be sufficient, in a general conflict for a few English airplanes to drop leaflets over Abyssinia, saying that the world had risen against Italy and that the Negus would return, to make the revolt of the Abyssinians flare up again. Besides, Abyssinia would be cut off completely from the motherland in case of a conflict, and the fate of the 200,000 Italians in Abyssinia would be very uncertain. In a few years there would be an army of 4 to 500,000 men in Abyssinia, and if a conflict should break out then it would be possible to attack the Sudan, Kenya, and French Somaliland successfully.
The islands of the Dodecanese would be in difficulties because of the attitude of Turkey. Of course Leros and Rhodes could defend themselves for years.
Albania is a completely undeveloped country and would make an effective base for operations against the Balkans only after several years. First roads have to be built and the natural resources (iron, copper, chromium, and petroleum) have to be exploited, and then one could consider, as the Fuehrer had indicated, advancing successfully on Saloniki and in other directions of the Balkans, as along the five fingers of an outstretched hand.
Italy has plans of economic autarchy which cannot be realized for several years and which would then put Italy in a position to withstand even a prolonged war without difficulties. Another reason for the Duce's desire to postpone the conflict is the Italians abroad, who were to be brought back to Italy according to plan. One million Italians live in France, of whom about 700,000 are definitely lost for Italy. The other 300,000, however, would be used by France as hostages in case of a conflict, as could be seen from some measures taken by France in September of last year.
Besides, the Duce personally attaches great importance to the orderly execution of the world's fair in 1942, for which Italy made big preparations and from which she hopes for good results in the economic field, especially as regards the inflow of foreign currency.
Besides these considerations, which are based on Italy's position, there are others of a general political nature which recommend postponement of a general conflict. The Duce is convinced that the encirclement system of the western democracies would doubtless work at the present time. But after a certain length of time the points of friction and the seeds of disunity would come to the fore among the partners of the encirclement front, and the front would gradually disintegrate.
Moreover, the Duce is convinced that the present enthusiasm in England and France will not last very long. Soon, particularly in France, the union sacree will once more be replaced by party discord, on condition that the Axis keeps quiet for a time. At the present time it is only due to the Axis keeps quiet for a time. At the present time it is only due to the Axis that internal differences have been buried in the respective countries.
Japan's position would also be much stronger after the termination of the China conflict, which is to be expected in two years, while Roosevelt's position in America would be seriously weakened after a period of calm in the field of foreign politics, so that he could not be elected president for a third time, which would certainly be the case if a conflict should break out soon.
Spain, which has just acquired government friendly to the Axis (Serano Suner, Beigbeder), needs peace after the civil war, but would stand at the side of the Axis in 2 to 3 years as a power not to be neglected. Thus, for example, within 2 years Spain would build 4 battleships of 35,000 tons each, the plans for which have just been taken to Spain by an Italian General. The construction is to take place in El Ferrol.
For these reasons the Duce wishes strongly (le Duce insiste) that the Axis powers should make a gesture which would emphasize anew the will of peace of Italy and Germany. This could be done by the publication of a communique which Count Ciano had given to the Reich foreign minister on the previous day and which he now presented again in the following English (and French version):
Count Ciano said in connection with this tentative communique that the Duce had at first contemplated a proposal for a conference, but conscious of the Fuehrer's misgivings, he now makes another suggestion in a milder form and is very much interested in its acceptance.
The Fuehrer declared concerning the conference plan that in future meetings of the powers it will not be possible to exclude Russia. In the German-Russian conversations the Russians made it plain, with reference to Munich and other occasions from which they had been excluded, that they would not tolerate this any more. Besides the 4 main powers, Poland and Spain would also have to be included in such a conference, besides Russia. This means, however, that Italy, Germany, and Spain would oppose England, France, Russia, and Poland, which certainly is an unfavorable position.
Count Ciano replied that the Duce is of the opinion that the one who wins at a conference is the one who is ready to let the conference fail if necessary and to accept war as a possible result. Moreover, the Duce took the Fuehrer's misgivings into consideration and modified his proposal. He sees in an Italian and German peace gesture, as suggested in this proposal, the advantage that the western powers, which are internally not at all ready for war-but would surely start it at the present moment, if they were, so to speak, forced to the wall by the Axis and saw no other way out, according to the conviction of the Duce, based on very reliable information from the democracies. [Translator's note: This sentence is incomplete-possibly something was omitted in copying]. The suggested gesture of Germany and Italy represents a face-saving way out for the western powers, which they will certainly use, for there are wide circles which warn against war and which would be backed up by a peace gesture. This means, however, that Poland, which would doubtless be abandoned by the western powers, would be isolated after a time and would have to agree to reasonable solutions of the existing difficulties.
The Fuehrer replied that there is no time to be lost in the solution of the Polish problem. The further we get into fall the harder military operations in the east of Europe will be. The air force could hardly be employed at all after the middle of September in those regions because of the weather conditions, while the motorized forces would also be unusable because of the condition of the roads, which are rapidly turned to mud by the rains which set in in the fall. From September to May Poland is one big swamp and absolutely unsuitable for any military operations. Thus Poland could simply occupy Danzig in October-and she probably intends to do so-without Germany's being able to do anything against it; for it is out of the question to shell and destroy Danzig.
Count Ciano asked by what time the question of Danzig will have to be settled, in the Fuehrer's opinion. The Fuehrer replied that this question will have to be settled one way or the other by the end of August. The Fuehrer replied to Ciano's question as to how the Fuehrer imagined the solution, that Poland will have to give up Danzig politically, whereby her economic interests will of course be preserved, and that she will have to contribute by her general attitude to a release of the tension. It is doubtful whether Poland will be willing to do so; for hitherto she had rejected the German proposals. The Fuehrer personally made these proposals to Beck on the occasion of his visit to Obersalzberg. They were very favorable for Poland. In exchange for the political return of Danzig to Germany, with complete preservation of Polish economic interests and the establishment of a connection between East Prussia and the Reich, Germany conceded a border guarantee, a 25-year friendship pact, and Polish participation in influence on Slovakia. At that time Beck acknowledged the proposal with the remark that he wanted to examine it. The sharp refusal was only the consequence of English intervention. Poland's aims can, moreover, be seen clearly in her press. All of East Prussia should be occupied, they want to advance to Berlin, etc. In the long run it is unbearable for a big power to tolerate such a hostile neighbor at a distance of only 150 km from its capital. The Fuehrer is therefore determined to use the opportunity of the next political provocation, in the form of an ultimatum, brutal mistreatment of Germans, an attempt to starve out Danzig, or something similar, to attack Poland within 48 hours and to solve the problem in this way. This would mean a considerable strengthening of the Axis, just as an Italian liquidation of Yugoslavia would mean a considerable increase of power for the Axis.
Count Ciano asked when such an undertaking against Poland is to be expected, since Italy must of course prepare for all eventualities. The Fuehrer replied that under the prevailing circumstances and attack on Poland is to be expected at any moment.
A telegram from Moscow and one from Tokyo were handed to the Fuehrer during this exchange of opinions. The conference was interrupted for a short time, and then Count Ciano was informed of the contents of the Moscow telegram. The Russians agreed to the sending of a German political mediator to Moscow. The Reich foreign minister added that the Russians were completely informed about Germany's intentions against Poland. He himself had informed the Russian charge d'affaires, by order of the Fuehrer.
The Fuehrer remarked that in his opinion Russia would not be willing to pull chestnuts out of the fire for the western powers. Stalin's position is endangered as much by a victorious Russian army as by a defeated Russian army. Russia is, at the most, interested in enlarging her access to the Baltic a little. Germany has no objection to that. Besides, Russia would hardly take the part of Poland, whom she hates from the bottom of her heart. The sending of the English-French military mission to Moscow has only the purpose of averting the catastrophic state of political negotiations.
After further discussion of the communique proposed by Count Ciano, the Fuehrer said that he wanted to think over for a day, this proposal as well as Count Ciano's explanation of the general situation, and he therefore suggested that the discussion be resumed the next day.Salzburg 12 August 1939
Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression Volume IV
Office of the United States Chief Counsel for Prosecution of Axis Criminality
Washington, DC : United States Government Printing Office, 1946