Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseAmidst all the appeasement policies by the western Allies, it was obviously German aggression must be contained before it led to war. To that end, on 13 Apr 1939, Josef Stalin of the Soviet Union dispatched Soviet ambassador Maxim Litvinov to engage the British in talks toward a military alliance to contain Germany and protect Polish and Romanian borders. Surprisingly, the British and the French, more so the former, rejected the offer; British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was much more interested in the preference of his allies in Poland, which was heavily anti-Soviet, than recognizing the fact that the only power east of Germany that could serve as a deterrent to war was the Soviet Union. Collectively, the United Kingdom and France both viewed communism with suspicion.
ww2dbaseProposing the military alliance for the final time in early May 1939, and again being rejected, Stalin began to work with Germany as an alternate means to secure Soviet interests. Between Jun and Jul 1939, many meetings were held between German and Soviet diplomats. Through these meetings, German diplomats slowly convinced that, should the Soviet Union ally itself with the aggressive western powers, the Soviets would undoubtedly be dragged into another war, which was something Stalin wished to avoid, at least at this time. Stalin slowly began to shift his position. Originally he had wanted to ally with Poland (along with the United Kingdom and France) as a means to keep German eastward expansion in check; slowly, he began to think that he might be recover the territory lost in the 1919-1921 Polish-Soviet War should he choose to befriend Germany instead. To eliminate any potential difficulties in the negotiations, Stain removed Litvinov, who was Jewish, and replaced him with Vyacheslav Molotov.
ww2dbaseHaving learned that the Germans were now in the talks with the Soviets, Chamberlain finally decided to make an effort to negotiate with the Soviets in late Jul, but his unwillingness was exhibited by the lack of diligence. Having decided to take this course on 23 Jul 1939, it took him days to engage the German embassy, and he did not announce this effort to the British Parliament until 31 Jul. In fact, the new Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov did attempt to reach out to him on 24 Jul, but Chamberlain's lack of enthusiasm turned him away. When it came time to dispatch a joint Anglo-French delegation to Russia, the delegation curiously chose to travel by sea via the slow passenger liner City of Exeter rather than by air, thus wasting an entire week. Had it been possible for the British and the French to dissuade the Soviet Union from befriending Germany in the first week of Aug, the opportunity was now lost.
ww2dbaseIt would not take long before German ambassador to Moscow Fritz-Dietlof Graf von der Schulenburg would victoriously cable Berlin "[t]he Soviet Government agree to the Reich Foreign Minister coming to Moscow" to enter talks for a non-aggression pact. In the evening of 21 Aug 1939, Berlin radio interrupted a musical program to announce the upcoming nonaggression agreement. In Moscow, Ribbentrop was able to convince that the western Allies were dragging the Soviet Union into war. He also promised the Soviet Union an opportunity to regain the Russian territories lost after Versailles Treaty: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania. In the very late hours of 23 Aug 1939, Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed in Moscow, Russia. On the surface, the pact was a ten-year agreement between the two nations to maintain a peaceful status quo, and should conflict arise neutral arbitration was to be employed instead of any act of war. However, within this document was a hidden protocol that would not be revealed until the German defeat in 1945. This hidden protocol detailed the division of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania under each nation's sphere of influence.
ww2dbaseThe pact shocked the western Allies. Germany now had security on her eastern border in the case of war. However, the failure to avoid this agreement fell squarely on the political leadership of Britain and France. Chamberlain was later noted to bear much of the burden of the failure to prevent the Russo-German agreement; his critics pointed out his appointment of an incapable and not-empowered diplomat in the Jul 1939 discussions. Unknowingly, the British and French alliance with Poland would soon turn into a liability.
ww2dbaseThis pact was also called the Stalin-Hitler Pact and the Nazi-Soviet Pact.
William Manchester, The Last Lion
William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
Last Major Update: Jul 2006
Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact Timeline
|8 May 1939||The United Kingdom rejected what would be the last Soviet request to form a British-French-Soviet pact to contain German aggression.|
|27 May 1939||British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain finally agreed to hold a talk with the Soviet Union. Later on the same day, British and French ambassadors in Moscow, Russia presented a draft agreement for Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov to review, who received the wording coolly.|
|14 Jun 1939||The United Kingdom dispatched a relatively low-level diplomat to engage in talks with Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov instead of sending Lord Halifax. Molotov took this as a sign that Britain was not seriously interested in forming friendly relations with the Soviet Union.|
|28 Jun 1939||The German ambassador in Moscow, Russia met with a very friendly Vyacheslav Molotov.|
|29 Jun 1939||Adolf Hitler suddenly ordered a pause to Soviet-German trade talks for unknown reason.|
|18 Jul 1939||The Soviet Union proposed a trade agreement to Germany.|
|22 Jul 1939||Soviet newspapers announced that the Soviet Union and Germany had resumed trade agreement talks. It was a cover for the secret negotiations that would ultimately result in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.|
|23 Jul 1939||Alerted that Germany and the Soviet Union were engaged in talks once again, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain began preparations to engage with the Soviets as well.|
|26 Jul 1939||Low level German and Soviet diplomats had a friendly dinner together in Berlin, Germany, their discussions lasting a little after midnight. They concluded that a treaty between Germany and Soviet would mean peace in Eastern Europe, and that the Soviet Union should be aware of the United Kingdom, whose aggressiveness would undoubtedly drag the Soviet Union into a war should the two countries sign any military agreement with each other.|
|28 Jul 1939||The German embassy in London, England, United Kingdom reported to the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, Germany that the British was attempting to start talks with the Soviet Union.|
|31 Jul 1939||Neville Chamberlain spoke before the House of Commons of the British Parliament, noting that he was engaging in talks with the Soviet Union as a means to contain German aggression.|
|1 Aug 1939||German Ambassador to Britain Herbert von Dirksen reported to the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, Germany that the British-Soviet talks did not seem to be proceeding well.|
|3 Aug 1939||Vyacheslav Molotov informed Joseph Stalin that Germany was requesting the Soviet Union to engage in talks over the future of Eastern Europe. While he did request permission to speak to the Germans on this topic, he expressed skeptism as Germany was concurrently pushing Poland to sign the Anti-Comintern Pact.|
|5 Aug 1939||The United Kingdom and France dispatched a joint delegation by passenger ship to the Soviet Union for talks. The ship was not scheduled to arrive at Leningrad, Russia until 11 Aug. It was unknown why the delegation traveled by ship rather than by air, which would be much faster.|
|12 Aug 1939||The Soviet Union expressed to Germany that it was willing to host a visit by a high-level German diplomat in Moscow, Russia for talks.|
|14 Aug 1939||Germany sent a message to its embassy in Moscow, Russia, ordering the ambassador to push Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to make a quick decision on the future of Soviet-German relationship. In Russia, the British-French delegation negotiated with Kliment Voroshilov for a potential treaty to contain German aggression; Voroshilov wanted the western powers to convince Poland to agree to allow Soviet troops to move into Polish territory to counterattack a potential German invasion, but the British and the French knew it was something the Polish leadership was adamantly against.|
|15 Aug 1939||German Ambassador to the Soviet Union Friedrich-Werner von der Schulenburg read a mesage from German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop to Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov regarding Germany's request to send a high-level diplomat to Soviet Union for talks. Meanwhile, French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier ordered his representatives in Russia to quickly conclude the negotiations with the Soviet Union.|
|16 Aug 1939||The US Ambassador in Moscow, Russia warned Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov that the United States believed Germany would betray the Soviet Union even if the two country engaged in an alliance.|
|17 Aug 1939||American diplomat Sumner Welles warned the British that the Soviet Union was likely to make an offer to Germany. In the evening, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov contacted Germany in response to the 15 Aug 1939 request for a meeting; he noted skepticism due to the Anti-Comintern Pact backed by Germany, but also noted happily that, unlike Britain, Germany was willing to send a high-level diplomat.|
|18 Aug 1939||German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop pushed for his visit to the Soviet Union, offering Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov favorable terms in terms of spheres of influence in Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union's negotiation with the western powers stalled again as Polish Foreign Minister Józef Beck continued to resist allowing Soviet entry into Polish territory even in the face of a German invasion.|
|19 Aug 1939||At 1910 hours, Berlin, Germany received the official response from the Soviet Union, via the German embassy in Moscow, Russia, for Joachim von Ribbentrop's visit; the proposed date of the conference was set for 26 Aug, but Ribbentrop would soon attempt to move up the date of the meeting. Shortly before Berlin received the message, Joseph Stalin announced to the Politburo his intention to befriend Germany.|
|20 Aug 1939||German leader Adolf Hitler personally asked Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to move up the date for the meeting of the respective foreign ministers, preferably to 22 Aug or 23 Aug from the originally-proposed 26 Aug. Meanwhile, Polish Foreign Minister Józef Beck formally rejected British and French request for Poland to allow Soviet troops to enter Poland in case of a German invasion.|
|21 Aug 1939||French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier ordered his representatives in Russia to speed up negotiations with the Soviet Union; since Poland would not agree to Soviet troops within its borders, the French representatives were given the authority to accept a miltiary treaty excluding Poland. Soviet representative Kliment Voroshilov noted to the British and the French that if Poland was unwilling to allow Soviet troops to cross its borders, then there was little point for the Soviet Union to be a part of this military alliance. At 2100 hours, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin responded to the request from German leader Adolf Hitler to move the date of the meeting between the respective foreign ministers to 22 or 23 Aug 1939; with the two sides having agreed on a draft of a German-Soviet non-aggression agreement, the radio in Berlin, Germany interrupted a musical program to announce the upcoming signing of such a treaty between the two countries.|
|22 Aug 1939||Joachim von Ribbentrop and the German delegation departed Berlin, Germany aboard two Condor aircraft for Königsberg, East Prussia, Germany.|
|23 Aug 1939||Joachim von Ribbentrop and the German delegation arrived aboard two Condor aircraft at Moscow, Russia and met Joseph Stalin and Vyacheslav Molotov in two sessions, with the second session going late into the night and resulting in the signing of the German-Soviet non-aggression pact. It eliminated the possibility of Soviet Union allying with the western powers; in addition, a secret clause effectively set the plans for a partition of Poland.|
|24 Aug 1939||The British and the French delegation in Soviet Union requested further meetings with Kliment Voroshilov, who was slow to respond.|
|25 Aug 1939||Kliment Voroshilov rejected the request from the British and French delegation, noting that since Germany and the Soviet Union had just signed a non-aggression pact, a military treaty with the western powers was no longer possible. In light of this new development, a renewed mutual defense agreement was signed between the United Kingdom and Poland.|
|22 May 1946||The secret clauses of the Molotov-Robbentrop Pact were published by newspaper to Soviet dismay.|
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945