The French Yellow Book

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No. 171 :
M. DE SAINT-HARDOUIN, French Chargé d'Affaires in Berlin, to M. Georges Bonnet, Minister for Foreign Affairs. Berlin, July 25, 1939.

THE impression prevails that August 1939 is bound to bring about a recrudescence of international tension, and, more especially, of dangerous German initiatives in the Danzig question. The statement is repeatedly made that the end of the harvest-namely, the period August 15-20-will coincide with the beginning of a crisis so grave that European peace may not be able to survive it. It is estimated that this critical period will end towards the early days of October, when the autumn rains begin to make it difficult to handle large bodies of mechanised troops on the Polish plains.

It is true that during the last few days it has been possible to notice among observers of the international situation a tendency to regard the future in a less gloomy light. There have even been a few who, prematurely and altogether ill-advisedly, have thought themselves justified in talking of a "German retreat."

The truth is that arguments for both optimism and pessimism can be drawn from an examination of the situation as it exists in Germany today. Symptoms of two kinds may be observed: some of them appear to indicate that Germany is making her preparations with a view to war; others permit the belief that the Reich will not push the German-Polish struggle to the length of armed conflict.

The purpose of the present report is to set down and compare the evidence that can be collected in either sense, in order to deduce from it, not conclusions that it is in present circumstances impossible to form, but at least a few indications of a practical kind.

Broadly speaking, symptoms of a military character are disturbing whereas certain evidence of a more reassuring nature can be found in happenings in the political sphere.


Since the end of June we have witnessed in Germany preparations that, to a certain extent, recall those of last autumn.

It should be noted that the beginning of this period of military activity was marked by an inspection tour by the Führer in the western fortified zone from May 14-20, 1939.

Since that time Germany's military effort has taken the following forms:

(1) Strengthening of the western fortification system, deemed to be inadequate or faulty; creation of a third line of defence, with the equipping of works calculated to make the anti-aircraft defences more efficient.

(2) Hasty construction of a series of defensive works on the German-Polish frontiers.

(3) Progressive occupation, dating from June 20, of the western fortifed zone.

(4) Masked mobilisation achieved in stages by means of:

(a) The retention with the colours of men who have served their time.

(b) The calling up of reservists.

These reservists have been drafted from every military class (covering men between the ages of 22 and 55) and from every category coming under military law. They have been called up for periods, varying in length from a fortnight to three months-periods that are often extended on the date of expiry. It is, therefore, extremely hard to estimate, even approximately, the number of reservists at present with the colours. Judging by such outward signs as the appearance of the streets, stations, barracks, and the various calling-up notices, several hundred thousand reservists have now been ordered back to their units. The estimate, already reported, of our Military Attaché (600,000 men up to date and a million by about August 15) appears to be a most probable one. On about August 15, then, Germany would have altogether about two million men under arms.

(5) Numerous movements of men and materials in various and, so to speak, opposite directions. Because these movements are cleverly camouflaged-in particular, such precautions are taken as the removal of regimental numbers from shoulder-straps and of number-plates from cars-it is exceedingly difficult to follow them. It is equally hard to infer from them any general plan. The definite information so far collected makes it possible to assert, however, that troop movements of varying importance are taking place in the following directions:

(a) Towards the western fortified zone, the occupation, organisation and equipment of which are all in progress.

(b) Towards the southern frontier of Poland. According to information received from Prague on July 18, 25,000 men went through that city by rail and were reported to have been concentrated between Morawska-Ostrawa and the Tatra Mountains. On July 12 many troop trains (250 wagons in all) are said to have passed through Lundenburg station (Austria) going eastwards; at the same time the movement of large forces in the direction of Beuthen was observed in Silesia.

(c) Towards the boundary between the Corridor and Pomerania, whither, it was reported, that three infantry regiments of the 20th mechanised division, normally stationed at Hamburg, had been sent.

(d) Towards East Prussia (embarking of reservists was observed at Stettin).

As opposed to this, no abnormal military activity had been observed, up to July 22, at any point upon the Hungarian and Yugoslav frontiers.

(6) Militarisation of Danzig, by the organisation of a Volunteer Corps (of 20,000 men, recruited between the end of June and the beginning of July), the secret arrival of soldiers and men of Nazi militia organizations from the Reich, the smuggling in of large quantities of munitions and other war material, the reconditioning of existing and the construction of new defence works.

(7) Speeding up of production in every branch of industry concerned with national defence. Combined with mobilisation, this intensified production (which in the case of Ruhr coal has reached record figures) has increased the shortage of German labour. On July 11 Field-Marshal Goering was forced to put severe restrictions upon the right to requisition labour for works of public utility. Various instances have been reported in which the army has been compelled to release young miners who had been mobilised.

(8) Arrangements made to use female labour in order to replace in war-time factory operatives who might be mobilised.

(9) Requisitioning of motor vehicles (private cars and lorries), horses and motor fuels. In many districts the owners of motor vehicles or of horses have been invited to keep them at the disposal of the military authorities, in some instances from the first week in August, and, in others, on dates between August 15 and August 20. Highclass fuels like "aral" (benzine, benzol and motor spirit), which in times of crisis are always reserved for the army, have been requisitioned in Bohemia and Moravia.

(10) Measures taken to organise the medical services for war-time needs. In Berlin premises have been requisitioned for the establishment of a hospital containing 600 beds. In the Dresden area doctors have received orders to place themselves at the disposal of the military authorities as from August 3 or August 5.

(11) Restrictions placed upon the granting of leave and on travellers' facilities. It has been reported that in many military units leave had been cancelled as from July 15 or August 1. Again, in various factories holidays are reported to have been cancelled if they fell due in the second week of August and onwards. At Dresden the police have stamped passports, valid for long periods, "valid until August 20."

(12) Order given to aircraft factories to discontinue the adaptation of plant to the needs of the newest types of aircraft and to proceed with the production, at war-time speed, of aircraft of types already in use.

(13) Placing at the disposal of the naval authorities of North Sea fishing-boats capable of being transformed into mine-layers.

At Hamburg the majority of trawlers have already been equipped with mine-laying apparatus; and stocks of mines have been accumulated in the docks. This step had already been taken in September 1938.

(14) Organisation in many areas of the Reich of civilian defence drill-an arrangement which had already been planned during last autumn, when the German-Czech crisis was entering upon its most acute phase.

We can therefore consider that everything is proceeding as though the Reich were aiming at reaching an advanced state of mobilisation by the middle of August.

Though, in many respects, the military activities at the moment being pursued in the Reich are similar to those which took place in Germany last summer, there are certain material differences:

Last summer the preparations were made openly with the obvious design of making a display.

This year the desire for concealment has outweighed the wish to make an impressive show of military measures.

So far, the preparations and the movements of troops which have taken place give no evidence of a general plan, so much so that it has proved impossible to determine whether the German menace would be aimed at the east or the south-east.

The German-Polish quarrel over Danzig and the Corridor broke out immediately after the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia by German troops. In the development of this quarrel the following stages can be distinguished:

On March 26 the Warsaw Government rejected the proposals made to it by Germany, and informed the Berlin Government that Poland would acquiesce neither in the return of Danzig to the Reich nor in the establishment of an extra-territorial passage across the Corridor.

Since then the Polish Government has not changed its attitude.

In his speech on April 28 the Führer disclosed the proposal which had been made to the Warsaw Government, and laid stress on this offer as being "of unparalleled generosity" and never to be repeated. However, he declared himself ready to negotiate "provided that the matter was settled in an unequivocal manner"; he added that no one could possibly think that Danzig would ever be a Polish city, but he did not actually demand the return of Danzig to the Reich. Since then the Führer has never broached the question again.

Some of his lieutenants, in particular Dr. Goebbels in his speech on June 17, appeared to have gone further than the Chancellor. Their tone was, in fact, more truculent. But fundamentally they did not go beyond the Führer's own declarations. "Danzig wants to be German," Dr. Goebbels reiterated. "Its population must be aware that the Reich is very amicably disposed towards them." But the Minister of Propaganda did not actually demand the return of Danzig to the Reich.

On several occasions the Nazis in the Reich and in the Free City seem to have contemplated establishing a fait accompli in Danzig. But they refrained from doing so in the face of the resolute attitude of Poland and of its French and British allies, and also probably because they hoped for a weakening in the attitude of either Poland or the Western Powers.

Similar information obtained from various sources during the last week seems to make it clear that the Führer himself, about the middle of this month, had arrived at the conclusion that on this occasion Germany was faced with extremely serious resistance, and that, if he attempted to ignore it, the Reich was running the risk of precipitating a general conflict. This reversal of opinion seems to be due to the reports which the Chancellor has received direct from agents sent to Britain and France.

According to certain reports the recent visit to London early in July of Lieutenant-Colonel Gerhardt Schwerin, Chief of the British Section of the German General Staff, and the reports of the officers who were present in Paris at the review of July 14 have not been without influence in affecting such a change in the Chancellor's mind. But he seems to have been struck above all by the revival of the French Air Force, which in 1938 had completely disappeared as a factor in European politics, by the way in which the air power of Great Britain asserted itself, and by the active military cooperation between Britain, France and their allies. Thenceforward, being convinced that the Western Powers were determined to honour their obligations to Poland, the Führer is said to have become uncertain as to the course to be pursued.

The statements made by Dr. Bömer on July 21 to the correspondents of the foreign Press, the commentary on these statements given on the same day by a spokesman of the Wilhelmstrasse, the article published in the Danziger Vorposten of July 23, and the pronouncements which Herr Forster, the Gauleiter of Danzig, has caused to appear in the German Press of today-all these seem to be inspired by the one motive: ways of retreat must be kept clear for the Reich Government, should they decide in the present circumstances not to press the matter of Danzig further.

The spokesmen of the Minister of Propaganda and of the Wilhelmstrasse asserted that at no time had Germany contemplated war as a solution of the Danzig problem, and that it clung to the hope of reaching it by peaceful means. "To regain Danzig by peaceful methods is the political fact from which Germany will not depart," the Danziger Vorposten printed for its part. As to Herr Forster, he took up a defensive attitude: he protested that he had at no time planned a Putsch; he claimed that the military preparations made by the Free City were merely precautions taken against the possibilities of an attack by the Poles.

In adopting this attitude the Danzig Government has made it possible for itself to demobilise without having to admit a retreat. Like Dr. Bömer, Herr Forster had moreover allowed it to be understood that there was no urgency about the problem of Danzig.

Nevertheless, one fact cannot be overlooked: it remains the avowed aim of the Nazi parties both in Danzig and in Germany to secure the return of the Free City to the Reich. Upon this essential point there has been no question of the slightest compromise. The conflicting position between Warsaw and Berlin remains therefore unaltered. This fact, taken in conjunction with the military preparations now being made in Germany, demands the most vigilant attention. This is true, whatever reason for confidence may be derived from the developments which have taken place in France and Britain during the past months, and from the impression they have made upon the leaders of the Third Reich.

From information received during the past few days from various high-placed Germans, it follows that the leaders of the Reich are at present in a state of extreme embarrassment, that once again pressure in opposite directions is being brought to bear on the Führer by his advisers, and that he inclines first to one group and then to another. Moreover, he is said to be the more perplexed since, behind the Danzig question, there looms the more general problem of the relations between the Reich and the other European Powers, as the present state of tension cannot go on indefinitely.

In no case, then, can we consider that the master of the Third Reich has given up for good the idea of a solution by force. Undoubtedly, the best means to deflect him from this is for the democracies to continue to show themselves resolute, strong and hardworking. In existing circumstances, any sign that Germany might interpret as an offer to begin conversations-premature so long as the Reich continues to ignore the Polish point of view-runs the risk of being regarded as a sign of physical weariness or of moral weakening.

It would seem that it is by silently demonstrating their renewed forces and their energies that the Western Powers will most effectively contribute to prevent Nazi Germany from seeking a solution of her dispute with Poland by methods that might prove fatal to peace.


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