The French Yellow Book

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No. 164 :
M. Coulondre, French Ambassador in Berlin, to M. Georges Bonnet, Minister for Foreign Affairs. Berlin, July 13, 1939.

THIS Embassy has recently reported to the Ministry numerous signs of abnormal activity in the German army and of Germany's obvious preparations for the possibility of an impending war.

The time seems to have come, by coordinating these reports, to attempt to take bearings in order to determine what measures remain to be taken by Germany to make it ready to go to war; what delay the execution of these measures may demand; and, especially, how and how long before an act of aggression we can ascertain that the execution of last minute measures has begun. In other words, in the present state of affairs, do we run the risk of finding ourselves surprised by a war suddenly begun before we have been able to learn of the German Government's decision to take such a risk?

The most significant information obtained by us so far bears upon the following points:

(1) Units of the German Army are changing their stations constantly. Given the direction of these changes, apparently somewhat haphazard, it seems to be a question of manoeuvres rather than of a concentration leading to an imminent conflict. In any case, the military activity, the intensity of the instruction and training of units, and their bringing up to strength with reservists, are perfecting the instrument which may some day be used. On the other hand, the ceaseless coming and going of these units, the secrecy maintained about their movements, and the increasingly frequent summons to reservists, are of such a nature as to facilitate operations of concentration, which at the outset would not arouse attention because they would not present symptoms very different from those actually in existence today.

It may, therefore, be asked whether this military activity and the precautions taken, as much to conceal the operations effected (the numbers of the regiments on the move have in most cases been taken off their uniforms) as to let it be known that such operations are in progress (some reservists are called up long in advance, and the Press keeps on referring to fortification works being effected in the East), are at least not partly intended to render it more difficult to recognise the transition from this state of semi-mobilisation to a state of war.

(2) The departure of troops on manoeuvres leaves in the garrison towns the impression that it will be a long while before the regiments return to their quarters. In fact, it is reported that some units have set off after making arrangements like those taken before leaving for the front. For instance, identity discs have been issued to the men and they have been instructed to make a note of the addresses of their families in the individual bundles in which their personal effects are assembled.

(3) The calling-up of the classes of reservists who would normally have been summoned in October has been advanced. The reservists who should have been discharged have been kept with the colours. One may anticipate that by the month of August the German Army, in addition to its normal effectives, will muster nearly a million mobilised reservists.

(4) The gathering of the harvest has been accelerated. With this object in view, the Minister for Education has decided this year to fix July 14, instead of August 1, as the end of the term in places of higher education and technical schools. The students who benefit by this earlier release must, until August 1, devote to harvest work the fortnight thus deducted from their studies.

In addition, one may note the haste with which supplies are being accumulated.

(5) This anxiety to be rapidly provided with every essential for war, often leads to the preference for what is quickly obtainable over something better. For instance, the aircraft factories are said to have received orders to carry on the building of planes, despite the fact that they will soon be out of date, rather than lose the time necessary; to adapt their workshops to the construction of the latest models.

(6) With the accomplishment of the partial occupation of the Western fortifications, which, thanks incidentally to these ceaseless changes of garrison, could be progressively occupied without appreciably modifying the plan of the manoeuvres now in progress, the construction of fortifications in the East is being pressed forward, especially in Silesia. Both military and civilian labour is employed upon it, and this task takes precedence of all other public works, which are being slowed down.

These various facts allow one to conclude that all the measures preparatory to war are now being taken. The German General Staff is acting as though it had to be ready by a date which has been set out for it, and this date, according to all appearance, will fall in the course of the month of August, at which period the harvest will be gathered, the fortifications will be ready, and the reservists will be assembled in large numbers in the camps.

But even were all the measures now in process of being carried out fully executed would it then be possible to launch an offensive, overnight? It seems, in the opinion of the officials of this Embassy, that there will remain certain measures preparatory to immediate action which can only be taken at the last moment. From the military point of view these measures will mainly consist in bringing into position the covering and shock units; from the naval point of view in the recall of ships now on the high seas; from the point of view of the air force in the putting into effect of the arrangements for air defence.

In respect of operations on land, the rapidity of the final preparations and the greater or lesser facility with which we may become aware of them will depend first of all on the extent of the operations contemplated. It is certain that the existing camouflaging and the fact that the population is accustomed to the sight of manoeuvres of which in any case they no longer dare to speak, since they know that any indiscretion will be severely punished, will make it possible to pass without very much difficulty, if the extent of the operations in view is limited, from the stage of manoeuvres to that of concentration. This, however, can only be the case if we assume that Germany will decide on a defensive war in the West and that any attack which might be launched at some other point will require only a small number of effectives.

In respect of naval operations, the necessity of giving instructions to German ships to change their route sufficiently in advance will undoubtedly compel the competent authorities to acquaint the commanders of these units of the risk of war several days beforehand. By following carefully the movements of the German war and merchant ships, we may be able to obtain the most definite and probably the earliest possible indications of any final decision of the Chancellor.

In respect of the air force plans, it seems certain that, particularly in view of the dread of air raids which exists here, the German Government will not risk entering on war without having protected its towns against retaliatory raids. The placing and making effective of the anti-aircraft defences and the instructions given to the civilian population for protective measures cannot pass unnoticed. Last September and last March it was possible to foresee several days in advance, through the preparations for anti-aircraft gunnery, that some action was imminent. The experience gained by the German authorities in that respect will undoubtedly enable them to devote less time to such preparations on the next occasion. In any case, however, it seems impossible that they should be postponed until the very last day.

From these different considerations it follows that, though Germany is able to put her army on a war footing very rapidly, the circumstances are nevertheless not such as to expose us to a surprise attack, as far as operations of any real importance are concerned.

Everything that has been done up to the present moment seems to have a twofold object:

(1) To be prepared for any eventuality from August onwards.

(2) Most likely also to impress international opinion by behaving as though the possibility of war were accepted.


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