The military alliance between the United Kingdom and Poland was formalised by the Anglo-Polish Agreement in 1939, with subsequent addenda of 1940 and 1944, for mutual assistance in case of a military invasion from Germany, as specified in a secret protocol.
British assurance to Poland
On 31 March 1939, in response to Nazi Germany's defiance of the Munich Agreement and its occupation of Czechoslovakia, in Parliament, the United Kingdom pledged the support of itself and France to assure Polish independence:
...in the event of any action which clearly threatened Polish independence, and which the Polish Government accordingly considered it vital to resist with their national forces, His Majesty's Government would feel themselves bound at once to lend the Polish Government all support in their power. They have given the Polish Government an assurance to this effect.
I may add that the French Government have authorised me to make it plain that they stand in the same position in this matter as do His Majesty's Government.
The British Chiefs of Staff at the time however noted that "we could give no direct help by land, sea or air."
On 6 April, during a visit to London by the Polish foreign minister, it was agreed to formalise the assurance as an Anglo-Polish military alliance, pending negotiations. The text of the "Anglo-Polish Communiqué" stated that the two governments were "in complete agreement on certain general principles" and that it was "agreed that the two countries were prepared to enter into an agreement of permanent and reciprocal character...". The British Blue Book for 1939 indicates that formal agreement was not signed until 25 August.
That assurance was extended on 13 April to Greece and Romania, after Italy's invasion of Albania.
Agreement of Mutual Assistance
On 25 August, two days after the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, the Agreement of Mutual Assistance between the United Kingdom and Poland was signed. The agreement contained promises of mutual military assistance between the nations if either was attacked by some "European country". The United Kingdom, sensing a trend of German expansionism, sought to discourage German aggression by this show of solidarity. In a secret protocol of the pact, the United Kingdom offered assistance in the case of an attack on Poland specifically by Germany, but in the case of attack by other countries, the parties were required only to "consult together on measures to be taken in common". Both the United Kingdom and Poland were bound not to enter agreements with any other third countries that were a threat to the other. Because of the pact's signing, Hitler postponed his planned invasion of Poland from 26 August until 1 September.
Failed Soviet-Franco-British alliance
After the German occupation of Prague in March 1939 in violation of the Munich agreement, the Chamberlain government in Britain sought Soviet and French support for a Peace Front. The goal was to deter further German aggression by guaranteeing the independence of Poland and Romania. However, Stalin refused to pledge Soviet support for the guarantees unless Britain and France first concluded a military alliance with the Soviet Union. Although the British cabinet decided to seek such an alliance, the western negotiators in Moscow in August 1939 lacked urgency. The talks were conducted poorly and slowly by diplomats with little authority, such as William Strang, an assistant under-secretary. Stalin also insisted on British and French guarantees to Finland, the Baltic states, Poland and Romania against indirect German aggression. Those countries, however, became fearful that Moscow wanted to control them. Although Hitler was escalating threats against Poland, which refused to allow Soviet troops to cross its borders for fear that they would never leave. Historian Michael Jabara Carley argues that the British were too committed to anticommunism to trust Stalin.
Meanwhile, both Great Britain and USSR were separately involved into secret negotiations with Germany. Eventually Stalin was attracted to a much better deal by Hitler, the control of most of Eastern Europe, and decided to sign the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
Ever since it had been sent to Britain in mid-1939 in Operation Peking, the Polish Navy remained in British waters. In November 1939, after the Invasion of Poland, the Polish-British Naval Agreement allowed Polish sailors to wear their Polish uniforms and to have Polish commanding officers on board even though the ships were of British make. The agreement would later be revised on August 5, 1940 to encompass all Polish units.
Anglo-Polish Agreement Respecting Polish Land and Air Forces
On August 5, 1940, an agreement was signed that "the Polish Armed Forces (comprising Land, Sea, and Air Forces) shall be organized and employed under British Command" but would be "subject to Polish military law and disciplinary ruling, and they [would] be tried in Polish military courts". The only change came on 11 October 1940, when the Polish Air Force was made an exception and became subject to British discipline and laws.
The alliance committed Britain, for the first time in history, to fight on behalf of a European country other than France or Belgium. Hitler was then demanding the cession of the Free City of Danzig, an extraterritorial highway (the Reichsautobahn Berlin-Königsberg) across the Polish Corridor and special privileges for the ethnic German minority within Poland. By the terms of the military alliance, Poland and Britain were both free to decide whether to oppose with force any territorial encroachment, as the pact did not include any statement of either party's commitment to the defence of the other party's territorial integrity. However, there were provisions regarding "indirect threats" and attempts to undermine either party's independence by means of "economic penetration", a clear reference to the German demands.
In May 1939, Poland signed a secret protocol to the 1921 Franco-Polish Military Alliance, but it was not ratified by France until 4 September.
On 17 September, the Soviet Union invaded Poland through the eastern Polish border, in keeping with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact's secret protocol specifying the division of Poland. According to the Polish-British Common Defence Pact, the United Kingdom should give Poland "all the support and assistance in its power" if Poland was "engaged in hostilities with a European Power in consequence of aggression by the latter". The Polish ambassador in London, Edward Bernard Raczyński, contacted the British Foreign Office to point out that clause 1(b) of the agreement, which concerned an "aggression by a European power" on Poland, should apply to the Soviet invasion. Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax responded that the obligation of British Government towards Poland arising out of the Anglo-Polish Agreement was restricted to Germany, according to the first clause of the secret protocol.
The Polish historian Paweł Wieczorkiewicz wrote, "Polish leaders were not aware of the fact that England and France were not ready for war. They needed time to catch up with the Third Reich, and were determined to gain the time at any price". The publicist Stanisław Mackiewicz stated in the late 1940s, "To accept London's guarantees was one of the most tragic dates in the history of Poland. It was a mental aberration and madness". On the same day that Britain pledged its support of Poland, Lord Halifax stated, "We do not think this guarantee will be binding". Another British diplomat, Alexander Cadogan, wrote in his diary: "Naturally, our guarantee does not give any help to Poland. It can be said that it was cruel to Poland, even cynical".
Polish-British military negotiations were carried out in London but ended up in a fiasco. After lengthy talks, the British reluctantly pledged to bomb German military and installations if the Germans carried out attacks of that kind in Poland. Polish military leaders failed to obtain any other promises. At the same time, the Polish side negotiated a military loan. The Polish ambassador to Britain, Edward Raczyński, called the negotiations "a never-ending nightmare". Józef Beck wrote in his memoirs, "The negotiations, carried out in London by Colonel Adam Koc, immediately turned into theoretical discussion about our financial system. It was clear that Sir John Simon and Frederick Leith-Ross did not realize the gravity of the situation. They negotiated in purely financial terms, without consideration for the rules of the wartime alliance. As a result, the English offer gave us no grounds for quick reinforcement of our army".
On 2 August 1939, Britain finally agreed to grant Poland a military loan of £9 million, which was less than Turkey received at the same time. Poland had asked for a loan of £60 million.
- ^ Lerski, Jerzy Jan (1996). Historical Dictionary of Poland, 966-1945. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780313260070.
- ^ Paul W. Doerr. 'Frigid but Unprovocative': British Policy towards the USSR from the Nazi-Soviet Pact to the Winter War, 1939. Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 36, No. 3 (Jul., 2001), pp. 423-439
- ^ a b c Keith Sword. "British Reactions to the Soviet Occupation of Eastern Poland in September 1939". The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 69, No. 1 (Jan., 1991), pp. 81-101.
- ^ Weinberg, Gerhard L. (1954). Germany and the Soviet Union. Studies in East European history. Brill Archive. pp. 49–50.
- ^ Martin Collier, Philip Pedley. Germany, 1919-45
- ^ "European Situation", House of Commons Debates, UK Parliament, 345, cc2415-20, 31 March 1939
- ^ Henderson, Nicholas (October 1997). "A Fatal Guarantee: Poland, 1939". History Today. 47 (10).
- ^ Andrew J. Crozier. The Causes of the Second World War, p. 151
- ^ Anglo-Polish communiqué issued on April 6, 1939 (full text)
- ^ "Anglo-Polish Agreement", British War Blue Book Miscellaneous No. 9 (1939) – via Hyperwar Foundation
- ^ Michael G. Fry, Erik Goldstein, Richard Langhorne. Guide to International Relations and Diplomacy
- ^ Prazmowska, Anita J. (2004). Britain, Poland and the Eastern Front, 1939. Cambridge Russian, Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies Soviet and East European Studies. Volume 53. Cambridge University Press. p. 203. ISBN 9780521529389.
- ^ Jerzy Jan Lerski. Historical Dictionary of Poland, 966-1945, p. 49
- ^ Frank McDonough. Neville Chamberlain, Appeasement and the British Road to War, p. 86
- ^ Donald Cameron Watt, How War Came: The Immediate Origins of the Second World War, 1938-1939 (1989) pp 362-84.
- ^ G. Bruce Strang, "John Bull in Search of a Suitable Russia: British Foreign Policy and the Failure of the Anglo-French-Soviet Alliance Negotiations, 1939." Canadian Journal of History 41.1 (2006): 47-84.
- ^ Michael Jabara Carley, 1939: The Alliance That Never Was and the Coming of World War II (2009)
- ^ Peszke, Michael (2011). "The British-Polish Agreement". Journal of Slavic Military Studies: 654.
- ^ Kacewicz, G.V. (1979). Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the Polish Government in Exile. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands. p. 61.
- ^ Olson, Lynne, & Stanley Cloud (2003). A Question of Honour. New York: Alfred A Knopf. p. 98.
- ^ Gunther, John (1940). Inside Europe. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. 133.
- ^ Though see also Anglo-Portuguese Alliance and Treaty of Windsor (1899) in which Britain agreed to defend Portugal from "future and present" enemies.
- ^ "On 31 March 1939 the British government guaranteed the independence (though not the territorial integrity) of Poland, in which they were joined by France."
Paul M. Hayes, 'Themes in Modern European History, 1890-1945', Routledge (1992), ISBN 0-415-07905-5