The French Yellow Book

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No. 80 :
M. Coulondre, French Ambassador in Berlin, to M. Georges Bonnet, Minister for Foreign Affairs. Berlin, March 19, 1939.

ON the morrow of the annexation of Bohemia and Moravia by the Reich, and the passing of Slovakia into German tutelage, I should like, after the violent changes wrought in the map of Europe, to try to determine in which directions German dynamism may turn, to see if we may still hold that it is aimed only at the east, and to draw certain practical conclusions for our guidance.

A direct challenge to world opinion by the treachery, the cynicism, and the brutality it shows, the "coup" by which Germany has just wiped Czechoslovakia off the map cannot simply be dismissed as a break in the general political line taken by Germany since last autumn, nor even as a deviation from this line. On the very morrow of the Munich Agreement, it was clear that beyond the Rhine this Agreement was taken to imply a free hand for Germany in Central and Eastern Europe, and, as a corollary, relative renunciation of their interests in these regions by the Western Powers. Germany had understood, or pretended to have understood, that at Munich France and England had wished above all to prevent recourse to force, but that for the rest they were resigned to Germany's will prevailing in countries in which neither Paris nor London could effectively intervene. The Munich Agreement, completed by the Anglo-German and Franco-German declarations, meant in Germany's eyes the right for the Reich to organize Central and South-Eastern Europe as she wished, with the tacit approval or at least the complaisance of the great Western Powers. For months this version found daily expression in the great German newspapers, officially inspired, as the reports from the Embassy have often shown. I myself have more than once noted the same state of mind in Herr von Ribbentrop and Herr von Weizsäcker, both of whom have expressed a certain astonishment whenever I have drawn their attention to the fact that France, as a great European Power, intends to be consulted in all that pertains to Europe, and that on this point there must be no mistake or misunderstanding. And yet, this misunderstanding did in fact exist. The Nazi leaders did not fail to stress on every occasion that, as the Führer said in his speech of January 30, "Central Europe was a region where the Western Powers had no concern."

In this respect, the German seizure of Bohemia and Moravia, with the subsequent inclusion of Slovakia within the German orbit, is in line with the policy of eastern expansion of which Germany has not only made no secret since last autumn but which she has openly proclaimed.

During the last six months, the tendencies of German foreign policy may be summed up as follows: a purely defensive attitude in the West and the orientation towards the East of Nazi aims and ambitions. The German attempt to occupy the whole of Slovakia and even Sub-Carpathian Russia shows even more clearly than the annexation of Bohemia and Moravia in which direction lie German thoughts and the German thrust.

Though we have no reason whatever to be surprised at this new advance of German influence in the East, on the other hand we have every right to condemn the unspeakable methods used by the Reich to achieve it. It is these methods which, properly speaking, constitute the break in the policy of appeasement begun at Munich, and which found expression in the declarations of September 30 and December 6. France and Britain were entitled to expect that in the event of fresh Central European difficulties they would be consulted by the Reich; the German Government, moreover, could not be unaware that the French and British Cabinets were ready for such an exchange of views. France and Great Britain also had the right to assume that Germany would not reject the racial principle which at Munich had guided the settlement of the German-Czech crisis, nor that, having invoked the rights of nationalities, Germany would violate them so wantonly. Paris and London could hope that having renounced the use of force at Munich, Germany would not again have recourse to threats of the wholesale massacre of civil populations by her air force in particularly odious circumstances. France and Britain were also entitled to expect that the rulers of the Reich would not treat as purely negligible the agreements reached at Munich and the declarations which followed them, and that they would not simply throw into the waste-paper basket documents on which the signature of the head of the German State was hardly dry.

But this is in fact what has happened. The Munich agreements no longer exist. The psychological grounds on which the potentialities of the declarations of September 30 and December 6 might have borne fruit have been destroyed. Various German papers are already interpreting as a denunciation of the Anglo-German and Franco-German declarations the démarche by which Britain and France made it known on March 18 that they could not recognize as legal the position in Central Europe which had been brought about by the Reich.

We find ourselves faced, therefore, with an entirely new situation. Germany has not been content to consolidate and extend her political influence over the nations living in the Reich's orbit. She has revealed her desire to absorb them, if not to annihilate them. From a policy of expansion she has gone on to a policy of conquest, the claims of common race giving way henceforth to military imperialism.

This brutal confession of a lust of conquest, which the Third Reich had hitherto been at pains to conceal, could not fail to arouse deep feeling throughout the world. Faced with the wave of hostile criticism which it has provoked, and after having absorbed in one year 18 million new subjects, of whom eight millions are aliens, will Germany find it necessary to mark time for a while? Or, taking advantage of its acquired momentum and of the stupor of the Central European States, will it continue its drive towards the East? Or, again, will it be tempted to face about and put an end to the opposition of the Western Powers which is interfering with the Reich's liberty of action in the East? In other words, will the Führer be tempted to return to the idea expressed by the author of Mein Kampf, which, be it said, is identical with the classic doctrine held by the German General Staff, according to which Germany cannot accomplish her high destiny in the East until France has been crushed and, as a consequence, Britain reduced to impotence on the Continent?

We must likewise examine whether there is still time to erect in the East a wall capable of stemming to a certain extent the German drive, and if to this end we should not take advantage of the favourable circumstances offered to us by the tension and anxiety which prevail in the Central European capitals, especially in Warsaw.

The renewed changes which the European map has undergone to Germany's advantage will mean from now on a great increase in her potential, if not her actual, war strength.

Germany, whose currency resources were completely exhausted, has just seized the greater part of the gold and currency reserves in the Czech National Bank. The sum so taken, about 50,000,000 dollars, will be of no small advantage to a nation almost completely without the means to make international payments.

Still more important is the passing into German hands of a large quantity of first-class war material, together with the Skoda works. These world-famous works supplied not only Czechoslovakia but Rumania and Jugoslavia, whose military positions are thus seriously impaired. I will mention only by way of reminder that the Skoda works are at present manufacturing aeroplane engines for us. Possessing both the Krupp and the Skoda works, the Reich is henceforth beyond all doubt the most advantageously placed supplier of war material for Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. Germany has, therefore, a means of bringing pressure to bear on policy and of controlling armaments, which must not be underestimated, as well as a possibility of obtaining substantial amounts of foreign currency by sales abroad.

Further, the seizure of Bohemia and Moravia is the first territorial operation, which, from the point of view of food supplies, has not caused a loss to the Reich. On the contrary it greatly improves the German food situation, not only on account of the relative fertility of Bohemia and Moravia but also and still more because the Reich now finds itself at the very door of the Hungarian and Rumanian granaries.

Again, the economic leaders of the Reich now have a considerable reserve of labour at their disposal. Autarchy, excessive re-armament, great public works require a labour strength above that which the Reich itself could provide. There was a shortage of a million and a half labourers in industry and agriculture. In these circumstances, it was hard to see how Germany could, in the event of general mobilization, meet the increased labour demands and fill the gaps left by the men called to the colours. The Czechs, considered unworthy to bear arms, will provide the 5,000,000 workers which Germany needed for such an emergency.

Finally and above all, the strategical position of Germany has vastly improved. In place of the winding frontier, several hundred miles long, which separated Germany from Czechoslovakia, is substituted the much shorter and more easily defended line joining Austria to Silesia. Germany thus saves the several divisions which would have had to watch the Czech frontier in the event of war. Further, the Bohemian and Moravian tableland provides an excellent base of operations, particularly for aircraft, whose effective range will henceforth cover the greater part of the Balkans, to say nothing of Hungary and Poland.

The first act of the German military authorities after the occupation of the Czech provinces was to make Vienna the centre of a new air fleet, the Fourth [1] (South-East), made up of units stationed in Austria, Sudetenland, Bohemia and Moravia. "The creation of this fourth fleet," the German papers have pointed out, "increases the power of our air force beyond all our expectations."

Besides the increase of material forces, we must also take into account the immense pride which, as a result of the prodigious successes secured in one year, [2] could not fail to swell the Nazi leaders' bosoms and inflame their minds. Without striking a blow, without any annoyance beyond a few gestures of protest, the Reich had swallowed 20 million men, turned the whole structure of Europe upside down and forged a military machine of such power that Europe was forced on more than one decisive occasion to bow to German demands; there indeed is an achievement to turn the most well-balanced head. But no operation had ever moved so smoothly as that which culminated in the Führer's entering the Castle of Hradschin. How can Herr Hitler do otherwise than believe that nothing can stand against his will? How could he fail to make capital out of the undoubted superiority that Germany has won for itself in the air? It is quite possible that tomorrow he will apply to Rumania or Poland the same means that had

[1] The German Air Force had hitherto been divided into three air fleets.

[2] The conquest of Austria occurred on March 12, 1938, that of Bohemia and Moravia on March 15, 1939.

been so successful against Austria and Czechoslovakia and place before them the alternatives of the massacre of civil populations and the destruction of open towns, or the acceptance of the German terms however onerous and humiliating they may be. One must not, however, exclude the possibility that the Reich, before carrying out its vast programme to the East, will first turn against the Western Powers.

There are three reasons for not ruling out at once such possibility. From the reactions of London and Paris to the annihilation of Czechoslovakia and the incorporation of the Czechs in the Reich, Nazi Germany must see-as she pretended not to see since Munich-that the Western Powers have not completely given up the whole of Europe beyond the Rhine.

Then, confronted by the re-armament of France, England and America, which is being watched here with more irritation and anxiety than is admitted, the Nazi leaders may be asking themselves how long they will enjoy the mastery of the air, which they have exploited so cynically for the past year, and if they too will not soon have to reckon with enemy air forces capable of shattering reprisals which would neutralize the threat of German air action, at present hanging over Europe.

It is true that up to the present, there is no indication that Germany has modified her line of policy and that she intends at least temporarily to turn her eyes and her ambitions away from the East with a view to a Western war.

On the contrary, one fact seems to indicate that when the Nazi leaders were planning the scheme against Bohemia and Moravia, they were already intending to go still farther eastward at a more or less early date. From information hitherto received, it certainly seems that the German Army tried to occupy the whole of Slovakia and even Sub-Carpathian Russia. It was on account of Poland's attitude, and the Hungarian decision to take no notice of German representations, that the German troops were withdrawn to the line of the Vaag.

Now, an occupation of Slovakia and Carpathian Ukraine, which would have brought the German Army right up to the Russian frontier, could have had political or military significance only if further operations were contemplated against either Rumania or Poland. In well-informed circles in Berlin it is regarded that these regions are the more immediately threatened.

Yet it does not seem that the direction of the next Nazi thrust has been decided upon or that plans for further action have been formulated.

An official of the Propaganda Ministry seems to have summed up accurately the state of mind of the Nazi leaders in a remark made to one of my compatriots: "We have before us so many open doors, so many possibilities, that we no longer know which way to turn or what direction to take."

We shall not go far wrong if we assume that the line of conduct to be adopted by the Reich, which now forms a block of 90 million inhabitants in the heart of Europe, will be influenced by the balance of forces in Europe.

As things are, the Nazi leaders consider that the lead they have established in armaments and the strategical position they have won protect them from attack. Their weak point is a shortage of stocks and a lack of raw materials and foodstuffs which would make it impossible for them to stand a long war. Given the material impossibility of challenging Britain's mastery of the sea, the Nazi leaders see two ways open to them.

Either to proceed without intermission to the subjugation of east and south-east Europe and perhaps to that of Scandinavia, thus securing for Germany in one way or another the resources of these countries, and enabling it to a certain extent to face a blockade.

Or to attack France and Britain, before these two Powers have, with American help, caught up with German armaments, and in particular, snatched from Germany the mastery of the air.

This second possibility is not at present the more probable. But we must reckon with the risk of seeing Germany engaged in such an undertaking. This risk may even be increased by the intensification and the speeding up of our rearmament.

However, as we have no choice save either to bow one day to Hitler's will or, by uniting our forces with those of Britain, to build a military machine, and especially an air force, strong enough to impress Germany, it is vital that we should without delay:

(a) Rearm to the maximum of our capacity.

(b) As far as possible, avoid all publicity about this intensive rearmament.

In any case, whatever new form German dynamism may take after the conquest of Bohemia and Moravia, we are always driven to the same conclusion: to the unavoidable necessity for concentrating the nation's energies towards as vast and as swift a development of its military strength as possible, especially with regard to its Air Force. In view of the impulsive character of the Nazi leaders, the state of mental intoxication in which the Führer must be at present and the irritation and alarm caused in Germany by the rearmament of the democracies and by the attitude of America, I consider that we must proceed without delay to the industrial mobilization of the country, as secretly and as intensively as possible.


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