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Robert Vansittart

Robert Vansittart

Robert Vansittart, he eldest of three sons among the six children of Captain Robert Arnold Vansittart (1851–1938), army officer, and his wife, Alice Blane Vansittart (1854–1919), was born at Wilton House, Farnham, on 25th June 1881. Five years after Vansittart's birth, his father unexpectedly inherited an estate of some 2,000 acres at Foots Cray.

At the age of seven Vansittart was sent to St Neot's, a preparatory school near Winchfield. In 1893 he arrived at Eton College. He had a special talent for foreign languages and in 1899 he was awarded both the French and German prince consort prizes. He was a keen member of the debating society and according to the Eton College Chronicle, he "held the audience spellbound by the vibrating earnestness of his voice".

According to Norman Rose, the author of Vansittart: Study of a Diplomat (1978) : "Bent on a diplomatic career, Vansittart travelled the continent for over two years improving his proficiency in French and German. In Germany he encountered an intense anti-British hysteria, engendered by the ramifications of the South African War. On one occasion he was challenged to a duel, a predicament from which he escaped by revealing an admirable diplomatic technique. His early experiences in Germany perhaps laid the foundation for his subsequent attitude towards the Germans, and that led him, eventually, with growing experience, to promulgate the doctrine of ‘original German sin’ in international relations; conversely, the warmth of his reception in Paris won him over as an inveterate Francophile. These were to be the twin leitmotifs of his future European policy."

In March 1903 Vansittart sat for the diplomatic examination and passed out top of the list. Later that year he was appointed to the Paris embassy, where he was promoted third secretary in March 1905, passed on examination in public law in December 1905, and was appointed Member of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO) in April 1906. In April 1907 he was transferred to Tehran. He was promoted second secretary in December 1908, and transferred to Cairo in January 1909.

In August 1911 he was sent to the Foreign Office, where he was to spend the remainder of his career. He greatly admired his immediate boss, Eyre Crowe. He was greatly influenced by his ideas on the German menace and urged resistance to this fast-growing power. Crowe argued that the government should never give in to Germany's demands: "To give way to the blackmailer's menaces enriches him, but it has long been proved by uniform experience that, although this may secure for the victim temporary peace, it is certain to lead to renewed molestation and higher demands after ever-shortening periods of amicable forbearance.... The blackmailer's trade is generally ruined by the first resolute stand made against his exactions and the determination rather to face all risks of a possibly disagreeable situation than to continue in the path of endless concessions."

Charles Higham has described Vansittart as: "Tall, broad-shouldered, ruggedly athletic, exuding decency and warm common sense, Vansittart succeeded the very able Sir Ronald Lindsay as permanent undersecretary at the Foreign Office in 1930. He was arguably the most daring, free-thinking, brilliant and piercingly perceptive political figure of his time. John Connell, the author of The Office: A study of British Foreign Policy and its Makers (1958) has pointed out: "He was capable of swiftness of analysis... linked indissolubly to an equivalent swiftness in his desire for action. He was impatient if the action which he believed to be obviously necessary did not immediately and resolutely follow upon the assessment of a situation which he had made or the advice which he had offered. This caused more timorous and less decisive men to regard him as imprudent and injudicious."

Vansittart's biographer, Norman Rose, has argued: "Incisive of thought, diligent, and energetic, possessed of a forceful character and the necessary social graces, Vansittart was soon earmarked as a high-flyer. But not only his routine work brought Vansittart to the attention of his peers and masters. Since his days at Eton, Vansittart had harboured literary ambitions. Occasionally, he contemplated abandoning diplomacy for the profession of a full-time writer. While in Paris he wrote a play in French, Les parias, that ran for six weeks at the Théâtre Molière, a singular feat for a young unpaid attaché, and one that augmented his reputation for brilliance. It marked the beginning of a parallel calling as a dramatist, poet, and novelist."

On the outbreak of the First World War he was appointed head of the Swedish section of the contraband department. In 1916 he was assigned to direct the prisoners of war department under Thomas Legh. This work provided him with conclusive proof of German barbarism. He believed that the Germans were committing atrocities on a massive scale. His attitude towards the Germans got worse after the death of his younger brother, Arnold Vansittart at Ypres. He later wrote: "The personal element should not affect policy, but one cannot prevent experience from confirming conclusions already reached. Why ask for strength to reverse them?"

Robert Vansittart was the first secretary, in the British delegation to the Versailles Peace Conference. At the conference Vansittart dealt mainly with the Turkish settlement. Impressed with Vansittart's competence and diplomatic skills, George Curzon appointed him as his private secretary in December 1920. Now holding the rank of assistant secretary, Vansittart worked under Curzon until he lost office in January 1924.

Vansittart returned to the Foreign Office as head of the American department. In February 1928 he was promoted to assistant under-secretary and joined the staff at 10 Downing Street, where he acted as private secretary to prime ministers Stanley Baldwin and Ramsay MacDonald. At the age of only forty-eight, Vansittart was appointed permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office.

On 29th July, 1931, he married for a second time. His first wife, Gladys Heppenheimer had had tragically died in July 1928. A daughter, Cynthia, had been born in 1922. His bride, Sarita Enriqueta, was the widow of Vansittart's late colleague, Sir Colville Adrian de Rune Barclay. Vansittart himself had little private income, but Sarita was a considerable heiress (her income at the time was estimated at £40,000 per annum) and her money enabled them to live in splendour. They acquired Denham Place, a magnificent manor house in Buckinghamshire, standing in almost 100 acres of gardens, where they employed a staff of twelve servants and five gardeners. When in London, they lived at 44 Park Street, Grosvenor Square. His biographer states that their union was one of "conjugal bliss".

When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor on 30th January 1933, Vansittart became his leading opponent in the Foreign Office. He wrote on 6th May: "The present regime in Germany will, on past and present form, loose off another European war just so soon as it feels strong enough … we are considering very crude people, who have very few ideas in their noddles but brute force and militarism." Norman Rose, the author of Vansittart: Study of a Diplomat (1978) has argued: "But how would he combat the German menace? First, by redefining the aims of British strategy, by isolating Germany as Britain's most immediate danger, and then by boosting the British defence programme to meet this changed order of priorities. Well out of the public eye as a member of high-powered government committees, Vansittart laboured ceaselessly to realize these aims."

Vansittart worked very closely with Admiral Hugh Sinclair, the head of MI6, and Vernon Kell, the head of MI5. According to Christopher Andrew, the author of The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009): "Robert Vansittart, permanent under secretary at the Foreign Office, was much more interested in intelligence than his political masters were... He dined regularly with Sinclair, was also in (less frequent) touch with Kell, and built up what became known as his own private detective agency collecting German intelligence. More than any other Whitehall mandarin, Vansittart stood for rearmament and opposition to appeasement."

Vansittart arranged for Nicholas Elliott to join MI6. Elliott worked closely with another of Vansittart's recruits, Wolfgang zu Putlitz, First Secretary at the German Embassy and Jona von Ustinov, a journalist to work for MI5. Putlitz later recalled: "I would unburden myself of all the dirty schemes and secrets which I encountered as part of my daily routine at the Embassy. By this means I was able to lighten my conscience by the feeling that I was really helping to damage the Nazi cause for I knew Ustinov was in touch with Vansittart, who could use these facts to influence British policy." Putlitz insisted that the only way to deal with Adolf Hitler was to stand firm.

Charles Higham argues that Vansittart received information from the Russian secret agent Anatoly Baykalov, that Wallis Simpson was was a Nazi collaborator. Baykalov had obtained this information, while posing as a White Russian, in the group that included Anna Wolkoff (she was Wallis's dressmaker). Vansittart had two reliable plants in the German embassy who could inform him when any material arrived for transmission to Germany in the diplomatic bags.

Vansittart was also concerned about the political views of the Prince of Wales. In July 1933 Vansittart recounted in his diary that at a party where there was much discussion about the implications of Hitler's rise to power. "The Prince of Wales was quite pro-Hitler and said it was no business of ours to interfere in Germany's internal affairs either re- the Jews or anyone else, and added that dictators are very popular these days and we might want one in England."

In April 1936 Joachim von Ribbentrop, arrived as the new German ambassador in Germany. Ribbentrop soon identified Robert Vansittart as the major problem and told Berlin that his mission in London would be very difficult. He later commented: "Never was a conversation so barren, never did I find so little response... One thing was clear, an Anglo-German understanding with Vansittart in office was out of the question." He then talked to Geoffrey Dawson about the possibility of meeting Stanley Baldwin. Dawson told him that he saw no prospect of a meeting with Baldwin before July or August. When the ambassador did meet Baldwin he stated that the "old fool does not know what he is talking about".

Putlitz reported that Ribbentrop's arrival transformed the previously staid atmosphere on the London embassy into a "complete madhouse". Ribbentrop had brought with him a team of SS officers who carried out searches in the desks of officials every night. He also informed MI5 that Ribbentrop had said that an invasion of the Soviet Union as being "as certain as the Amen in church" and that he was confident that the British government "would not lift a finger" to prevent this. Chapman Pincher, the author of Their Trade is Treachery (1981) Putlitz was also passing information to Winston Churchill: "It was through Putlitz that Winston Churchill, when outside the government, obtained his accurate information about the true strength of the Luftwaffe, which he used to attack Neville Chamberlain in Parliament."

Neville Chamberlain became prime minister in May 1937. Vansittart strongly disagreed with his policy of appeasement. According to Norman Rose: "Vansittart's techniques also worked against him. His memoranda, drafted in a convoluted, epigrammatic style, faintly condescending in tone, warning of terrible dangers if his advice went unheeded, all too often irritated his political masters... In some quarters, his anti-Germanism was viewed as excessive, even paranoid.... In January 1938 Vansittart was 'kicked upstairs', assuming the high-sounding, but politically meaningless, title of chief diplomatic adviser to the government".

Vansittart was angry when Chamberlain appointed Nevile Henderson, as the British ambassador to Berlin. On 1st June, 1937, Henderson attended a banquet arranged by the German-English Society of Berlin. A large number of leading Nazis were in attendance when he made a speech where he defended Adolf Hitler and urged the British people to "lay less stress on Nazi dictatorship and much more emphasis on the great social experiment which is being tried out in this country."

This speech provoked an uproar and some left-wing journalists described him as "our Nazi ambassador at Berlin". However, some newspaper editors, including Geoffrey Dawson, the editor of The Times, who supported this approach to Nazi Germany. In the House of Commons the Conservative Party MP, Alfred Knox offered congratulations "to HM Ambassador in Berlin on having made a real contribution to the cause of peace". Richard Griffiths, the author of Fellow Travellers of the Right (1979), has pointed out that "Henderson was not just an eccentric individual, as has been suggested; he stands as an example of a whole trend in British thought at the time."

Nevile Henderson also received support from the House of Lords and Henry Wilson, Bishop of Chelmsford, the fervant anti-Communist, who praised Henderson's attempt to develop a better relationship with Germany: "I am perfectly certain that it is only an insignificant minority of our people who do not long for friendship and goodwill between ourselves and the German people, and I can truthfully say, I do not number among my friends any person who does not regard with horror and dismay the possibility of any serious misunderstanding between ourselves and the Germans. The whole world lies under a great debt to the German people; it is quite true to say their achievements are regarded with admiration in this country."

Nevile Henderson developed a good relationship with Hitler: "In democratic England the Nazis, with their disregard of personal freedom and their persecution of religion, Jews, and trade unions alike, were naturally far from popular. But they were the Government of the country, and an ambassador is not sent abroad to criticise in that country the government which it chooses or to whom it submits. It was just as much my duty honourably to try to co-operate with the Nazi Government to the best of my ability as it would be for a foreign ambassador in London to work with a Conservative Government, if it happened to be in power, rather than with the Liberal or Labour opposition."

Robert Vansittart was furious when Henderson decided to attend the annual Nuremberg Rally and objected to a memorandum written in May 1937 that suggested that Britain should not object to Germany's desire to take action against countries in Eastern Europe.

Wolfgang zu Putlitz reported that Joachim von Ribbentrop was pleased when Chamberlain became prime minister. "He (Ribbentrop) regarded Mr Chamberlain as pro-German and said he would be his own Foreign Minister. While he would not dismiss Mr Eden he would deprive him of his influence at the Foreign Office. Mr Eden was regarded as an enemy of Germany." Chamberlain did indeed dominate the making of British foreign policy and Anthony Eden eventually resigned in February 1938, exasperated by the Prime Minister's interference in diplomatic business. He was succeeded as foreign secretary Lord Halifax, who strongly supported Chamberlain's appeasement policy. Putlitz constantly warned MI5 that "Britain was letting the trump cards fall out of her hands. If she had adopted, or even now adopted, a firm attitude and threatened war, Hitler would not succeed in this kind of bluff. The German army was not ready for war."

In February 1938, Adolf Hitler appointed Ribbentrop as his foreign minister. Jona von Ustinov summed up Putlitz's view of this appointment: "The German Army will in future be the obedient instrument of Nazi foreign policy. Under Ribbentrop this foreign policy will be an aggressive, forward policy. Its first aim - Austria - has been partly achieved... Austria falls to Hitler like a ripe fruit. After consolidating the position in Austria the next step will be against Czechoslovakia."

International tension increased when Hitler began demanding that the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia should be under the control of the German government. In an attempt to to solve the crisis, the heads of the governments of Germany, Britain, France and Italy met in Munich. On 29th September, 1938, Neville Chamberlain, Adolf Hitler, Edouard Daladier and Benito Mussolini signed the Munich Agreement which transferred to Germany the Sudetenland, a fortified frontier region that contained a large German-speaking population. When Eduard Benes, Czechoslovakia's head of state, who had not been invited to Munich, protested at this decision, Chamberlain told him that Britain would be unwilling to go to war over the issue of the Sudetenland.

Guy Liddell of MI5 passed an updated digest of Putlitz's intelligence to John Curry, a member of B Branch, who was asked to give it to the Home Secretary, Samuel Hoare, who was part of Chamberlain's inner circle of foreign policy advisers. Hoare was the first former MI5 officer to become a cabinet minister. According to Curry: "As Hoare read it, the colour faded from his cheeks. He made a few brief comments, showed no desire to have the matter discussed or elaborated, and dismissed us." Curry believed that Hoare had been shocked by Putlitz's insistence that "if we had stood firm at Munich, Hitler might have lost the initiative".

Jona von Ustinov reported that Wolfgang zu Putlitz was extremely disconcerted by the Munich agreement, complaining that, in passing on, at great personal risk, intelligence about Hitler's plans and intentions, he was "sacrificing himself to no purpose". In January 1939, Ustinov arranged for a secret meeting between Putlitz and Robert Vansittart. Putlitz later recalled that Vansittart said: "Well, Putlitz, I understand you are not too pleased with us. I know Munich was a disgraceful business, but I can assure you that this sort of thing is over and done with. Even our English forbearance has its limits. Next time it will be impossible for Chamberlain to allow himself to be bamboozled by a scrap of paper on which Hitler has scribbled a few words expressing his ardent desire for peace." Vansittart also promised Putlitz asylum if he ever decided to defect.

Vansittart passed information to the anti-appeasement M.P. Robert Boothby: "In 1938 I took Vansittart, who had been kicked upstairs at the Foreign Office by Chamberlain, to lunch... He came down the steps of his hotel to greet us, a picturesque figure in a black cape, with the wind blowing through his white locks, his face wreathed in smiles. At lunch he was highly critical of President Roosevelt for his failure to check the economic recession in the United States, and for his failure to rearm... He was far more critical of the British government." Vansittart told Boothby: "They (the British government) have now succeeded in quarrelling simultaneously with Germany, Japan and Italy; in alienating Russia; and in being at least two years behindhand with armaments."

On 20th February, 1939, Vansittart sent Lord Halifax a report, based chiefly on intelligence from Putlitz that Hitler had decided to "liquidate" Czechoslovakia. Vansittart predicted a German coup in Prague during the week of the 12th to the 19th March. Vansittart passed this information to Vernon Kell who told the Foreign Office on 11th March that "Germany was going into Czechoslovakia in the next 48 hours". Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax were both unconvinced by the intelligence warnings. Halifax said he saw no evidence that the Germans were "planning mischief in any particular quarter".

On 15th March Hitler's troops occupied Prague and announced the annexation of the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia. Vansittart was bitter about the rejection of his warnings. He wrote in his diary: "Nothing seems any good, it seems as if nobody will listen to or believe me." On 18th March Chamberlain finally acknowledged to the cabinet that: "No reliance could be placed on any of the assurances given by the Nazi leaders." As Christopher Andrew, the author of The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) has pointed out: "a conclusion which the Security Service had put formally to the cabinet secretary almost three years earlier."

In early April, 1939, Dick White visited the Foreign Office to deliver a warning from Putlitz that Italy was preparing to invade Albania. At a cabinet meeting on 5th April Lord Halifax discounted reports of an impending Italian invasion. Two days later Italy occupied Albania. Chamberlain took the invasion as a personal affront. He wrote to his sister: "It cannot be denied that Mussolini has behaved to me like a sneak and a cad."

Putlitz discovered that a agent working for the British, Folkert van Koutrik, had been turned by Abwehr and that it would only be a matter of time before he was arrested. On 15th September, 1939, Putlitz and his partner and valet, Willy Schneider, fled to London. MI5 officer, Guy Liddell, wrote that "the whole situation had rather got on his nerves and that he felt he could not go on."

Vansittart caused considerable controversy when he published Black Record: Germans Past and Present (1941). Hostile questions were raised in parliament. His critics suggested that a civil servant should not be allowed to air such controversial issues in public. In July 1941 Vansittart decided to resign from the service. In recognition of his long public service, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Vansittart of Denham. In the House of Lords, he continuing his campaign against Nazi Germany. He also published an autobiography, Lessons of My Life (1943).

Robert Vansittart died on 14th February 1957. His autobiography, The Mist Procession: The Autobiography of Lord Vansittart, was published posthumously in 1958. Vansittart's final sentence in the book was striking: "Mine is a story of failure, but it throws light on my time which failed too".

Sir Robert Vansittart, the controversial eminence rise of British intelligence, took charge. Tall, broad-shouldered, ruggedly athletic, exuding decency and warm common sense, Vansittart succeeded the very able Sir Ronald Lindsay as permanent undersecretary at the Foreign Office in 1930. He was arguably the most daring, free-thinking, brilliant and piercingly perceptive political figure of his time apart from his close friend and neighbour Winston Churchill.

Poet, gambler and bon vivant, Vansittart was a close friend and partner of Alexander Korda's; in the late 1930s, as his associate and boss in London Films, he hired Korda for the Secret Intelligence Service along with other German-speaking Hungarian employees of that company. Vansittart had been in the foreign service in Paris, Teheran, Cairo and Stockholrn, and he had the clearest head in London where the German menace was concerned. He was the unofficial head of MI6, which was nominally run by - Admiral Sir Hugh Sinclair - until 1939.... He was Wallis's implacable enemy from the day that he was convinced she was a Nazi collaborator.

How did Vansittart reach the conclusion that Wallis was responsible for leaking crucial documentary information to the German government? According to the late historian John Costello, the Russian secret agent Anatoly Baykalov was the source of this intelligence...

Posing as a White Russian, Baykalov was part of the same set that included Wallis's dressmaker Anna Wolkoff, which would explain his knowledge of the matter. He appears to have acted as a double agent for the British. He took the information about the leak to the Russians and also in February 1936 to J. C. Davidson, who was now Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Davidson in turn took the information to Vansittart, who then conveyed it, to Stanley Baldwin.

Vansittart had two reliable plants in the German embassy who could inform him when any material arrived for transmission to Germany in the diplomatic bags. Wolfgang zu Putlitz was one of these spies; later, when posted at The Hague, he would reveal the Duke of Windsor's leakage of important information on a British War Council meeting. Putlitz worked in association with another British spy, the German press attaché Jona von Ustinov, father of the actor and playwright Peter Ustinov.

He was capable of swiftness of analysis... This caused more timorous and less decisive men to regard him as imprudent and injudicious.

Baykalov had a trump card up his sleeve, one which he played very skilfully during the later years of the Baldwin government and which paved the way towards the abdication... Baykalov reported to MI5 that Mrs Simpson was a secret agent of the Germans. He noted that she was very frequently at the German embassy... The information was passed to Baldwin by his Secret Service Liaison Minister, J. Davidson.

About Mrs Simpson, greater suspicions existed. She was believed to have close contact with German monarchists circles... she was under close scrutiny by Sir Robert Vansittart and both she and the King would not have been pleased to realize that the Security Services were keeping a watching brief on her and some of her friends. The red boxes sent down to Fort Belvedere were carefully screened in the Foreign Office to ensure that nothing highly secret should go astray. Behind the public facade, behind the King's popularity, the Government had awakened to a danger that had nothing to do with any question of marriage.

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He was born on 10 February 1958 in Cranleigh, Surrey, England. His birth name is Rupert Nicholas Vansittart. He was born to parents of Dutch and English origin. Also, he has not disclosed the names of his parents and has not mentioned anything about his siblings and childhood.

Caption: Rupert Vansittart and Lucy Robinson (Source: Whosdatedwho)

Rupert holds American citizenship but his ethnicity is unknown.


Tag Archives: History

Dying tragically at the age of 46, Ralph Wigram was one of the Foreign Office’s most industrious workers. He succeeded Sir Orme Sargent as Head of the Central Department in 1936 and watched as Nazi Germany began to show her dominance in Europe. A crucial ally of Sir Robert Vansittart’s, Wigram’s death left a hole in running of the Foreign Office.

Having gained recognition in Paris (where he had been Head of Chancery from 1924), Wigram moved back to Whitehall at a crucial period in international relations. Hitler had come to power in Germany and was slowly working away at the Peace Treaties. He was an opponent to appeasement for appeasement’s sake, but believed that if something could be got from Hitler, a bargain might be worthwhile. Wigram did not believe in concessions for concessions sake. He believed – like Vansittart – that if a settlement could be made, then to make relevant concessions was legitimate.

Along with Sargent, Wigram argued in 1935 that Britain’s “traditional policy” – that of coming to terms with Germany supplemented with British rearmament – was the correct policy to take. They described this policy as ‘the only constructive policy open to Europe’ whilst attacking the Versailles Treaty as ‘untenable and indefensible’ and highlighting the necessity of revision. Hoping that an air pact and air limitation agreement could be signed, Wigram and Sargent believed that “a policy of coming to terms with Germany in Western Europe might enable Britain and France to moderate the development of German aims in the Centre and East”.

Wigram shared the frustrations of many of his colleagues in the 1930s Foreign Office the main one being the British Government’s seeming inability to listen to Foreign Office warnings on Nazi Germany. One of Wigram’s main areas of argument was Germany’s rearmament. Writing in November 1935, Wigram argued: “The Central Dept at least have been intimately associated with the campaign which has, for months past, been waged from the Foreign Office 1) to show the tremendous danger which threatened from Germany and that in the distant future and 2) to expose the myth that it was equality that Germany sought when her aim was so clearly superiority.”

Wigram’s death is something that has caused some debate. The main consensus was that Wigram, a very sick man since the late 1920s, died of a pulmonary embolism on December 1936. However, in the HBO drama The Gathering Storm it is heavily intimated that Wigram committed suicide due to what Wigram believed was the inevitable war with Germany.

It is argued by his contemporaries that following the German reoccupation of the Rhineland in March 1936, Wigram was a broken man who was destined to die. Valentine Lawford, a Secretary in Wigram’s Central Department, eulogised the man. Winston Churchill, a man who became a close friend of the Wigram family in the 1930s, wrote how the remilitarisation was the final straw for Wigram, after which his friend declined. However, records show that Wigram was active until almost the end of his life, pushing for an Eastern Locarno in the first half of 1936 before realising, months before his death, that an agreement was unlikely.

His death changed the Foreign Office. To replace Wigram came William Strang, who had different views on policy to Wigram and who didn’t chime in policy as much with Vansittart as Wigram did. It can be argued that Wigram’s death coincided with the period that was the beginning of the end as Permanent Under-Secretary for Vansittart. While the two aren’t concretely linked, it is an interesting point of reference. Eden was actively trying to remove Vansittart, and Wigram’s death removed an official who agreed strongly with the PUS. Vansittart recalled in later years that on hearing from Wigram’s widow of Wigram’s death, he dropped the phone before uttering: “I don’t think I have the strength to go on without him – alone”

Lord Gladwyn wrote in his memoirs that Wigram’s premature death was “a tragedy for the office, of which, had he lived, he might well have become the head soon after the war.” Whether Gladwyn’s comment about Wigram becoming Permanent Under-secretary is true or a favourable final portrait of a colleague, Wigram was a man whose achievements were secured against a backdrop of adversity. It is on individuals like Wigram that the historical investigation of the 1930s must turn to.


Sir Robert Vansittart

Sir Robert Vansittart was Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office during the crucial period of 1930 – 1937. This senior civil servant was one of the most powerful men in Whitehall, combining his intelligence with the political patronage of Prime Minister’s. A controversial figure, Vansittart was one of the leading anti-appeaser’s in the 1930s.

Robert Gilbert Vansittart was born in 1881 and came to typify in many ways the quintessential Edwardian diplomat. Educated at Eton, he joined the diplomatic service in 1903. He was Head of the American Department in the Foreign Office before becoming Private Secretary to Prime Minister’s Stanley Baldwin and Ramsay MacDonald in 1928. In 1930 he was appointed Permanent Under-Secretary (PUS) of the Foreign Office. Aged just 48, he had reached the top of his profession and was one of the youngest men to occupy the post.

Almost immediately upon becoming PUS, Vansittart noticed that foreign relations were beginning to follow similar lines to those before World War One. By 1933 and Hitler’s accession to power, he was writing that “The present regime in Germany will, on past and present form, loose off another European war just so soon as it feels strong enough.” His views on Germany have coloured a lot of the literature on Van (as he was known to his colleagues). He never missed the chance to show German militarism and was a critic of Hitler. His views on Germany led him to become known, in later years, as the Foreign Office Cassandra.

It is this author’s view that whilst Vansittart was undoubtedly suspicious of Germany, he was not –during his time as PUS – the rabid anti-German that he is accused of being or the anti-German that he later became. Whilst he warned against granting pointless concessions to Germany, he did believe that if a settlement could be made, it should have been.

His views on Germany were only one part of Vansittart’s character. Unlike many of his colleagues (not Foreign Office colleagues), he did not view Japan as the primary threat to Britain in the early to mid 1930s – he saw it as Germany. His reasoning was that Japan would not risk attacking Britain first. They would wait to “take advantage” of the situation if war broke out in Europe. Therefore for Van, Germany was the primary threat.

Vansittart was a keen believer in relations with Italy. Following the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, Vansittart advocated coming to terms with Italy in order to prevent the Italians from joining with Germany. Even before the Abyssinain dispute he was prepared for concessions: “…Ethiopia will undergo erosion at the least. We shall then have to steer a course compatible with our own position as a member of the League of Nations & own necessity, in the name of far greater issues than Ethiopia, of not breaking with Italy.” The December 1935 negotations led to the calamitous Hoare-Laval Pact (British Foreign Secretary Samuel Hoare was force to resign), which some has renamed the Vansittart-Laval Pact.

Following the Hoare-Laval debacle, Vansittart never regained the power he had previously. Despite attempts by new Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden to send him to Paris as Ambassador, Van refused and Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin stuck by him. However, when Neville Chamberlain became Prime Minister Vansittart’s days were numbered. The two had clashed over policy since the mid 1930s and Chamberlain removed Van at the end of 1937, replacing him with the calmer Alec Cadogan. Vansittart became “the office pest”, or Chief Diplomatic Advisor the Government, a irrelevant post that was created for him and ceased when he resigned in 1941.

Vansittart was accused by a colleague of being “too clever by half”. This is in some ways a fair assessment of Van. Whilst he was castigated as anti-German by many during the 1930s, his warnings of another war were correct. However, he was perhaps part of his own downfall. His writing style i not always impress some – it was considered too literary – and he was obstinate in his views. Vansittart has become an industry in terms of historical comment I hope the debate continues over a deeply interesting individual.


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About Sir Robert Gilbert Vansittart

Robert Gilbert Vansittart, 1st Baron Vansittart GCB GCMG MVO PC, known as Sir Robert Vansittart between 1929 and 1941, was a senior British diplomat in the period before and during the Second World War. He was Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister from 1928 to 1930 and Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office from 1930 to 1938 and later served as Chief Diplomatic Adviser to the British Government. He is best remembered for his opposition to appeasement and his strong stance against Germany during and after the Second World War. Vansittart was also a published poet, novelist and playwright.

Vansittart was born at Wilton House, Farnham, Surrey, the eldest of the three sons of Robert Arnold Vansittart, of Foots Cray Place, Kent, a Captain in the 7th Dragoon Guards, by his wife Susan Alice Blane, daughter of Gilbert James Blane of Foliejon Park, co. Berks. His younger brother Guy Nicholas (Nick) Vansittart had a successful career with General Motors before and after the war. He was recruited into “Z” Network during the 1930s and served in Special Operations Executive during World War Two. The Vansittart family was of Dutch descent: ancestors included Arthur Vansittart, Member of Parliament for Windsor, and Colonel Arthur Vansittart, Member of Parliament for Berkshire. Henry Vansittart, Robert Vansittart and Lord Bexley were members of other branches of the family. A female-line ancestor was Lord Auckland.

Vansittart was also a second cousin of T. E. Lawrence (better known as Lawrence of Arabia). He was educated at Eton College.

Vansittart entered the Foreign Office in 1902, starting as a clerk in the Eastern Department, where he was a specialist on Aegean Islands affairs. He was an attaché at the British Embassy in Paris between 1903 and 1905, when he became Third Secretary. He then served at the embassies in Tehran between 1907 and 1909 and Cairo between 1909 and 1911. From 1911, he was attached to the Foreign Office. During the First World War, he was joint head of the contraband department and then head of the Prisoner of War Department under Lord Newton. He took part in the Paris Peace Conference and became an Assistant Secretary at the Foreign Office in 1920. From that year to 1924, he was private secretary to the Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon.

From 1928 to 1930, he was Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin and then Ramsay MacDonald. In January 1930 he was appointed Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, where he supervised the work of Britain's diplomatic service.

Vansittart was suspicious of Adolf Hitler from the start and claimed that which Hitler said was "for foreign consumption". He thought Hitler would start another European war as soon as he "felt strong enough".

Vansittart supported revising the Versailles Treaty in Germany's favour but only after Hitler was no longer in power. Vansittart believed that Britain should be firm with Germany, with an alliance between France and the Soviet Union against Germany essential. Vansittart also urgently advocated rearmament.

In the summer of 1936, Vansittart visited Germany and claimed that he found a climate that "the ghost of Barthou would hardly have recognised" and that Britain should negotiate with Germany. He thought that satisfying Hitler's "land hunger" at Soviet expense would be immoral and regarded the Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance as non-negotiable. It was because he believed that Germany had gained equality in Europe that Vansittart favoured facilitating German expansion in Africa. He thought that Hitler was exploiting fears of a "Bolshevist menace" as a cover for "expansion in Central and South-Eastern Europe".

Like Sir Maurice Hankey, Vansittart thought in power politics terms. He thought Hitler could not decide whether to follow Josef Goebbels and Alfred von Tirpitz in viewing Britain as "the ultimate enemy" or on the other hand adopting the Joachim von Ribbentrop policy of appeasing Britain in order to engage in military expansion in the East.

Vansittart thought that in either case time should be "bought for rearmament" by an economic agreement with Germany and by appeasing every "genuine grievance" about colonies.[8] Vansittart wanted to detach Benito Mussolini from Hitler and thought that the British Empire was an "Incubus" and that Continental Europe was the central British national interest, but he doubted whether agreement could be had there. That was because he feared that German attention, if turned eastwards, would result in a military empire between the Baltic Sea, the Adriatic Sea and the Black Sea.

At the Foreign Office in the 1930s, Vansittart was a major figure in the loose group of officials and politicians opposed to appeasement of Germany. In spite of his harsh opposition to appeasement with Germany, Vansittart had been on "very friendly terms with Herr (Konrad) Henlein". Henlein was the Nazi leader of the "separatist" Sudeten German Party, which secretly wanted annexation of the Sudetenland by Germany. He was plotting with Hitler the partition of Czechoslovakia, which would be agreed at the Munich Agreement (1938).

Vansittart told Henlein that "no serious intervention in favour of the Czechs was to be feared from Great Britain and probably also from France." That reached Hitler in the second half of 1937, when he was deciding about his plan to overthrow Austria and Czechoslovakia his decisions were not proof of high intuition or intellect but were based on information received from Vansittart, among other well-placed politicians and officers in Britain, like Lord Lothian, Lord Mount Temple, Oliver Vaughan Gurney Hoare (Sir Samuel Hoare's younger brother) and others. It is not known how much that encouraged Hitler, but he later stated very similar views: "the Führer believed that almost certainly Britain and probably France as well, had already tacitly written off the Czechs and were reconciled to the fact that this question would be cleared up in due course by Germany."

After the war, an effort was made to cover up Vansittart's embarrassing "real friendship" with Henlein.[14] In the late 1930s, Vansittart together with Reginald Leeper, the Foreign Office's Press Secretary often leaked information to a private newspaper, The Whitehall Letter, edited by Victor Gordon Lennox, the anti-appeasement diplomatic editor of the Daily Telegraph.

That brought him into conflict with the political leadership at the time, and he was removed as Permanent Under-Secretary in 1938. A new post as "Chief Diplomatic Adviser to His Majesty's Government" was instead created ad hoc for him in which he served until 1941.

Vansittart was also involved in intelligence work. In 1940, Vansittart sued the American historian Harry Elmer Barnes for libel for an article, written by Barnes in 1939, accusing him of then plotting aggression against Germany.

During the war, Vansittart became a prominent advocate of a very anti-German line. His earlier worries about Germany were reformulated into an argument that Germany was intrinsically militaristic and aggressive. In Black Record: Germans Past and Present (1941), Vansittart portrayed Nazism as just the latest manifestation of Germany's continuous record of aggression from the time of the Roman Empire. Therefore, after Germany was defeated, it must be stripped of all military capacity, including its heavy industries. The German people enthusiastically supported Hitler's wars of aggression, just as they supported the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and World War I in 1914. They must be thoroughly re-educated under strict Allied supervision for at least a generation. De-Nazification was not enough. The German military elite was the real cause of war, especially the "Prussianist" officer corps and the German General Staff: both must be destroyed. In 1943 he wrote:

In the opinion of the author, it is an illusion to differentiate between the German right, centre, or left, or the German Catholics or Protestants, or the German workers or capitalists. They are all alike, and the only hope for a peaceful Europe is a crushing and violent military defeat followed by a couple of generations of re-education controlled by the United Nations.

He also wrote that "the other Germany has never existed save in a small and ineffective minority". On other occasions, he made similar remarks:

We didn't go to war in 1939 to save Germany from Hitler. or the continent from fascism. Like in 1914 we went to war for the not lesser noble cause that we couldn't accept a German hegemony over Europe.

The British historian R. B. McCallum wrote in 1944: "To some, such as Lord Vansittart, the main problem of policy was to watch Germany and prevent her power reviving. No one can refuse him a tribute for his foresight in this matter."

Vansittart was appointed a Member of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO) in 1906, a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in 1920, a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 1927, a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in 1929, a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) in 1931 and a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB) in 1938. He was sworn into the Privy Council in 1940 and raised to the peerage as Baron Vansittart, of Denham in the County of Buckingham, in 1941.

Robert Gilbert Vansittart, 1st Baron Vansittart GCB GCMG MVO PC (25 June 1881 – 14 February 1957), known as Sir Robert Vansittart between 1929 and 1941, was a senior British diplomat in the period before and during the Second World War. He was Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister from 1928 to 1930 and Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office from 1930 to 1938 and later served as Chief Diplomatic Adviser to the British Government. He is best remembered for his opposition to appeasement and his strong stance against Germany during and after the Second World War. Vansittart was also a published poet, novelist and playwright.


Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Vansittart, Robert

VANSITTART, ROBERT (1728–1789), regius professor of civil law at Oxford University, born on 28 Dec. 1728 in London at Great Ormond Street, was the second son of Arthur van Sittart of Shottesbrook, Berkshire, by his wife Martha, eldest daughter of Sir John Stonhouse, bart., of Radley, Berkshire, comptroller of the household to Queen Anne. Henry Vansittart [q. v.], governor of Bengal, was his younger brother.

Robert was educated at Reading and at Winchester. He matriculated from Trinity College, Oxford, on 3 April 1745, was elected a fellow of All Souls' College, and graduated B.C.L. in 1751 and D.C.L. in 1757. In 1753 he was called to the bar by the society of the Inner Temple. On 17 May 1760 he was nominated high steward of Monmouth, in 1763 recorder of Maidenhead, in 1764 recorder of Newbury, and in 1770 recorder of Windsor. In 1767 he was appointed by the crown regius professor of civil law in the university of Oxford, a post which he held till his death. For some years previous to his appointment he performed the duties of public orator for his predecessor, Robert Jenner.

Vansittart was on intimate terms with the painters George Knapton and Hogarth, as well as with the poets Paul Whitehead and Cowper. In Italy he met Goethe, who named a character in one of his comedies after him. He was a friend of Dr. Johnson, who regarded him with much affection, and who was invited to visit India with him by his brother Henry. In 1759, in a festive moment, Dr. Johnson, while on a visit to Oxford, proposed that they should scale the walls of All Souls' together. On another occasion, while Vansittart was edifying Boswell with a lengthy story of a flea, Johnson burst in with ‘It is a pity, sir, that you have not seen a lion for a flea has taken you such a time that a lion must have served you for a twelve-month.’

Vansittart, who was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries on 4 June 1767, amused his leisure with antiquarian studies. In the year of his election he edited ‘Certain Ancient Tracts concerning the Management of Landed Property’ (London, 8vo), which consisted of reprints of Gentian Hervet's translation of ‘Xenophon's Treatise of the Householde,’ 1534 Sir Anthony Fitzherbert's ‘Boke of Husbandry,’ 1534 and Sir Anthony Fitzherbert's ‘Surveyinge,’ 1539.

Vansittart was a man of licentious and debauched habits, and, like his brother Henry, ​ was a member of the ‘Franciscans of Medmenham,’ otherwise known as the ‘Hell-fire Club.’ To this society he presented with great pomp a baboon sent from India by Henry, to which Sir Francis Dashwood was accustomed to administer the eucharist at their meetings. Vansittart died at Oxford, unmarried, on 31 Jan. 1789, and was buried in a vault in the chapel of All Souls' College. In person he was tall and very thin, and the members of the Oxford bar gave the name of ‘Counsellor Van’ to a sharp-pointed rock on the river Wye from a fancied resemblance (see Bloomfield , Banks of Wye, 1823, p. 23).

Two portraits of Vansittart exist: one by Hogarth representing him as a young man, with a kerchief in the colours of the ‘Franciscans,’ wound in turban fashion over the head, embroidered with the motto ‘Love and Friendship’ the other, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, depicting him in later life. Both were formerly in the Shottesbrook collection.

[Manuscript memoir kindly furnished by Mr. C. N. Vansittart Vansittart Papers Boswell's Life of Johnson, ed. Hill, i. 348, ii. 194, v. 460 Piozzi Letters, i. 191, 197 Letters of Samuel Johnson, ed. G. B. Hill, i. 389 Hill's Johnsonian Miscellanies, ii. 380–1 St. James's Chronicle, 17 Sept. 1768 Autobiography of Mrs. Piozzi, i. 143–4 Boswelliana, p. 270 Leslie and Taylor's Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds, ii. 27, 28 Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886 Gent. Mag. 1789, i. 182.]


The Foreign Office, 1930�: Strategy, Permanent Interests and National Security

Under the Permanent Under-Secretary, Robert Vansittart, the Foreign Office was finally returned to conducting British foreign policy on the basis of ‘old diplomacy’. This changed, however, when Neville Chamberlain removed Vansittart in 1937 and took direct personal charge of the conduct of foreign policy. The latter strategy fundamentally undermined British interests abroad. One of the strengths of Foreign Office modus operandi is a belief in a continuity of approach to foreign policy – that the Office worked best when allowed to evolve gradually to meet the challenges of post-First World War diplomacy, rather than when its position was usurped by the Prime Minister of the day. Vansittart's views on this matter were also consistent with others who had held the post of Permanent Under-Secretary.

Notes

All references to Cabinet (CAB) or Foreign Office (FO) documents relate to materials held at the National Archives, London (formerly the Public Record Office) unless otherwise stated.

Notes

1. C. Finke, The Genoa Conference: European Diplomacy, 1921–1922 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984) S. Salzmann, Great Britain, Germany, and the Soviet Union: Rapallo and After, 1922–1934 (London: Royal Historical Society, 2003), Chapter I A.J. Sharp, ‘The Foreign Office in Eclipse 1919–22’, History, 61/2 (1976), pp.198–218 R. Warman, ‘The Erosion of Foreign Office Influence in the Making of Foreign Policy, 1916–1918’, The Historical Journal, 15/1 (1972), pp.133–59. See also K.O. Morgan ‘Lloyd George's Premiership: A Study in “Prime Ministerial Government”’, The Historical Journal, 13/1 (1970), pp.130–57.

2. See G.H. Bennett, ‘Lloyd George, Curzon and the Control of British Foreign Policy 1919–22’, Australian Journal of Politics and History, 45/3 (1999), pp.467–82 G. Johnson, ‘Curzon, Lloyd George and the Control of British Foreign Policy, 1919–22: A Reassessment’, Diplomacy and Statecraft, 11/3 (2000), pp.49–71.

3. See G.H. Bennett, British Foreign Policy During the Curzon Period, 1919–24 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1995) D. Marquand, Ramsay MacDonald (London: Jonathan Cape, 1977), pp.329–56 B.J.C. McKercher, ‘Austen Chamberlain and the Continental Balance of Power: Strategy, Stability, and the League of Nations, 1924–29’, in E. Goldstein and B.J.C. McKercher, (eds), Power and Stability: British Foreign Policy, 1865–1965 (London: Frank Cass, 2003), pp.207–36.

4. E. Maisel, The Foreign Office and Foreign Policy 1919–1926 (Brighton: Sussex University Press, 1994), pp.48–54 B.J.C. McKercher, ‘Old Diplomacy and New: The Foreign Office in the Interwar Period’, in M.L. Dockrill and B.J.C. McKercher (eds), Diplomacy and World Power: Studies in British Foreign Policy, 1890–1951 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp.79–114. See also S. Crowe and E.T. Corp, Our Ablest Public Servant: Sir Eyre Crowe, GCB, GCMG, KCB, KCMG, 1864–1925 (Braunton: Merlin, 1993), Chapter 17.

5. See B.J.C. McKercher, ‘The Last Old Diplomat: Sir Robert Vansittart and the Verities of British Foreign Policy, 1903–1930’, Diplomacy and Statecraft, 6/1 (1995), pp.1–38 N. Rose, Vansittart: Portrait of a Diplomat (London: Heinemann, 1977), pp.17–60.

6. This derived from Crowe's influence. See R. Vansittart, The Mist Procession, (London: Hutchinson, 1958).

7. Vansittart, Mist Procession, pp.130–31 G. Campbell, Of True Experience (New York: Hutchinson, 1947) H. Knatchbull-Hugessen, Diplomat in Peace and War (London: John Murray, 1949) M.D. Peterson, Both Sides of the Curtain An Autobiography (London: Constable, 1950).

8. R. Vansittart, ‘The Decline of Diplomacy’, Foreign Affairs, 28/4 (1950), p.186.

9. B.J.C. McKercher, ‘A British View of American Foreign Policy: The Settlement of Blockade Claims, 1924–1927’, International History Review, 3/1 (1981), pp.358–84.

10. B.J.C. McKercher, ‘From Enmity to Cooperation: the Second Baldwin Government and the Improvement of Anglo-American Relations, November 1928–June 1929’, Albion, 24/1 (1992), pp.64–87.

11. An observation made when he secured Sir Esme Howard the Washington embassy in 1924. See Howard Papers, Cumbria Record Office, DHW 9/39, Crowe to Howard, 9 Jan. 1924.

12. Vansittart Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge, VNST II 6/9, MacDonald to Vansittart, 26 Dec. 1929.

13. MacDonald Papers (UK National Archives), 30/69/1767, Vansittart to MacDonald, n.d. (probably Jan. 1934).

14. See P. Neville, ‘The Appointment of Sir Neville Henderson, 1937: Design or Blunder?’, Journal of Contemporary History, 33/2 (1998), pp.609–19.

15. See J. Herman, The Paris Embassy of Sir Eric Phipps: Anglo-French Relations and the Foreign Office, 1937–1939 (Brighton: Sussex University Press, 1998).

16. See M. Gilbert, Sir Horace Rumbold: Portrait of a Diplomat, 1869–1941 (London: Heinemann, 1973).

17. In contradistinction to the earlier ‘Victorians’, who believed that Britain should have a ‘free hand’ to maintain the balances of power in Europe and the wider world and, thus, avoid formal alliances and agreements with other powers, the ‘Edwardians’ held that international circumstances had changed by the late 1890s so as to make a completely independent foreign policy impractical and dangerous. See the first essay in this collection, Zara Steiner, ‘The Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Resistance and Adaptation to Changing Times’.

18. Fifth Report of the Royal Commission on the Civil Service, 1914, quoted in Z.S. Steiner, The Foreign Office and Foreign Policy, 1898–1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), p.19. Also Z.S. Steiner, ‘Elitism and Foreign Policy: The Foreign Office Before the Great War’, in B.J.C. McKercher and D.J. Moss, (eds), Shadow and Substance in British Foreign Policy, 1895–1939: Memorial Essays Honouring C.J. Lowe (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1984), pp.19–55.

19. Vansittart, Mist Procession.

20. This was not retrospective criticism. See Hardinge's disdain for ‘amateur diplomacy and illicit bargains’ in Hardinge Papers, Cambridge University Library, Vol.32, Hardinge to Rodd, 26 May 1917.

21. See J.B. Crowley, Japan's Quest for Autonomy: National Security and Foreign Policy, 1930–1938 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966), pp.82–183 I.H. Nish, Japan's Struggle With Internationalism: Japan, China, and the League of Nations, 1931–3 (London: Kegan and Paul, 1993), pp.23–43.

22. C. Kitching, Britain and the Problem of International Disarmament, 1919–1934 (London: Routledge, 1999) B.J.C. McKercher, ‘Of Horns and Teeth: The Preparatory Commission and the World Disarmament Conference, 1926–1934’, in B.J.C. McKercher, (ed.), Arms Limitation and Disarmament, 1899–1939: Restraints on War (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1992), pp.173–201.

23. C. Hall, Britain, America and Arms Control, 1921–37 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1987), pp.88–115 S.W. Roskill, Naval Policy Between the Wars, Volume II: The Period Of Reluctant Rearmament (London: Collins, 1976), pp.37–70.

24. For an example of German policy at the Disarmament Conference see Neurath to Nadolny, Documents on German Foreign Policy, Series C, Vol. I, pp.42–4.

25. FO 800/258 (Chamberlain Papers), Chamberlain to Crewe, 2 Apr. 1925. See also P.G. Edwards, ‘The Austen Chamberlain–Mussolini Meetings’, The Historical Journal, 14/2 (1972), pp.153–64 B.J.C. McKercher, ‘A Sane and Sensible Diplomacy: Austen Chamberlain, Japan, and the Naval Balance of Power in the Pacific Ocean, 1924–1929’, Canadian Journal of History, 21/1 (1986), pp.187–213.

26. FO 371/14261/2283/1, Vansittart minute to Henderson, n.d., enclosing Sargent memorandum, 18 Mar. 1930.

27. See FO 800/281(Henderson Papers), Tyrrell to Henderson, 1 and 24 Feb. 1930 FO 371/14259/1463/1, minute by Vansittart, 21 Feb. 1930 CAB 27/476, CP(32)4, ‘The United Kingdom and Europe’, 1 Jan. 1932.

28. E. L. Woodward and R. Butler, Documents on British Foreign Policy (Second Series, Volume 1, London: HMSO, 1946), pp.400–02, Henderson despatches to Tyrrell and Graham, both 1 Oct. 1930.

29. For typical examples see E. L. Woodward and R. Butler, Documents on British Foreign Policy (Second Series, Volume 1, London: HMSO, 1946), pp.422–8, Vansittart to Tyrrell, 4 Nov. 1930, Tyrrell to Henderson, 6 Nov. 1930, Henderson to Graham, 7 Nov. 1930, Graham to Henderson, 7 Nov. 1930.

30. CAB 4/21, CID 1082-B, Chiefs of Staff Annual Review of Defence Policy, 11 Mar. 1932. See also CAB 53/22, COS 294 (DC), report by the Deputies of the Chiefs of Staff Sub-Committee on the Situation in the Far East, 22 Feb. 1932.

31. CAB 23/70, CC(32)19, 23 Mar. 1932.

32. The ultimate failure was the World Economic Conference, held in London in June–July 1933.

33. CAB 53/23, COS papers on Imperial Defence Policy [COS 306], 24 Apr. 1933, and COS papers on Imperial Defence Policy [COS 307], 20 May 1933, enclosing Foreign Office memorandum on the Foreign Policy of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, 19 May 1933.

34. CAB 4/22, CID 1113-B, COS Annual Review for 1933, 12 Oct. 1933.

35. CAB 2/6, CID Meeting 261, 9 Nov. 1933 CAB 23/77, CC(33)62, 15 Nov. 1933.

36. Most recently B.J.C. McKercher, ‘From Disarmament to Rearmament: British Civil–Military Relations and Policy-Making, 1933–1934’, Defence Studies, 1/2 (2002), pp.21–48 C. Morrisey and M.A. Ramsay, ‘“Giving a Lead in the Right Direction”: Sir Robert Vansittart and the Defence Requirements Sub-Committee’, Diplomacy and Statecraft, 6/3 (1995), pp.39–60. See also K. Neilson, ‘The Defence Requirements Sub-Committee, British Strategic Foreign Policy, Neville Chamberlain, and the Path to Appeasement’, English Historical Review, 118/3 (2003), pp.651–84.

37. CAB 16/109, DRC Report, 28 Feb. 1934, Table A(1), Deficiencies over a Five-Year Programme.

38. CAB 16/109, DRC Report, 28 Feb. 1934, Table A(1), Deficiencies over a Five-Year Programme.

39. CAB 16/109, DRC 1, Note on ‘Defence Requirements Sub-Committee: Composition and Terms of Reference’, 10 Nov. 1933.

40. CAB 16/109, DRC 4, Hankey to DRC members, 23 Nov. 1933.

41. CAB 16/109, DRC meeting 3, 4 Dec. 1933.

42. CAB 16/109, DRC 9, Warren Fisher note, 12 Jan. 1934.

43. CAB 16/109, DRC 9, Warren Fisher note, 12 Jan. 1934.

44. See for example Vansittart Papers, VNST I 2/2, Vansittart memorandum, 26 Feb. 1933 E.L. Woodward and R. Butler, Documents on British Foreign Policy (Second Series, Volume 5, London: HMSO, 1956), pp.421–8, Vansittart memorandum ‘German Rearmament’, 14 Jul. 1933.

45. For example, Rose, Vansittart, pp.13–14, 41.

46. McKercher, ‘Last Old Diplomat’ M. Roi, Alternative to Appeasement: Sir Robert Vansittart and Alliance Diplomacy, 1934–1937 (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997), Chapter 1.

47. CAB 16/109, DRC Meeting 3, 4 Dec. 1933.

48. B. Bond (ed.),Chief of Staff: The Diaries of Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Pownall, Vol. I (London: Leo Cooper, 1972), p. 38, diary entry, 28 Feb. 1934.

49. CAB 16/109, DRC Meeting 1, 14 Nov. 1933.

50. The total for the RAF was £10,265,000, and the Royal Navy £21,067,600.

51. Vansittart Papers, VNST I 2/14, Vansittart to Simon, 10 Feb. 1934.

52. CAB 16/109, DRC Meeting 3, 4 Dec. 1933. He later circulated these views in ‘Situation in the Far East 1933–34’. See CAB 16/109, DRC 20.

53. CAB 21/434, Hankey to Vansittart, 8 Mar. 1934.

54. CAB 16/110, DC(M)(32) Meetings 41–55, and its Report, 31 Jul. 1934.

55. See CAB 24/248, CP(34)104, Vansittart memorandum, ‘The Future of Germany’, 7 Apr. 1934 CAB 21/388, Vansittart to Simon, 14 May 1934 CAB 27/510, DC(M)(32) 118, Simon memorandum, 14 Jun. 1934 CAB 27/511, DC(M)(32)119, Simon memorandum, 14 Jun. 1934. See also MacDonald and Baldwin's comments in CAB 16/110, DC(M)(32) meeting 50, 25 Jun. 1934.

56. CAB 16/109, DC(M) Meeting 51, 26 Jun. 1934.

57. CAB 16/110, DC(M) Report, 31 Jul. 1934.

58. CAB 27/510, DC(M)(32) 117, minute by Vansittart, 2 Jun. 1934.

59. For example, Hailsham's comments in CAB 27/510, DC(M)(32) meeting 50, 25 Jun. 1934.

60. Clive to Simon, 5 Jul.1934, British Documents on Foreign Affairs, Part II, Series E, Vol.13, pp.229–31.

61. FO 371/17599/7695/1938, minute by Orde, 28 Aug. 1934.

62. FO 371/17599/7695/1938, minute by Craigie, 23 Aug. 1934.

63. FO/371/17599/7695/1938, minute by Vansittart, 25 Aug. 1934, and Vansittart minute to Simon, 29 Aug. 1934.

64. Neville Chamberlain Papers, University of Birmingham Library, NC/8/19/1, Chamberlain memorandum, ‘The Naval Conference and Our Relations with Japan’, n.d. [but early Aug. 1934].

65. Neville Chamberlain Papers, University of Birmingham Library, NC/8/19/1, Chamberlain minutes (2), both n.d.

66. FO 800/291, Chamberlain to Simon, 10 Sep. 1934, and Simon to MacDonald, 3 Oct. 1934 Simon Papers, Bodleian Library, Oxford, SP79, Simon to Chamberlain, 7 Sep. 1934.

67. CAB/24/250, CP(34)223, Simon-Chamberlain memorandum, 16 Oct. 1934.

68. The suggestion that Simon yielded to Chamberlain on this matter made by D. Dutton, Simon: A Political Biography (London: Aurum, 1992), pp.192–3, is misplaced. See Orde memorandum, 4 Sep. 1934, Documents on British Foreign Policy, Second Series, Vol. XIII, pp.31–4 FO 371/18184/5846/591, minutes by Craigie and Vansittart, 2 Oct. 1934 FO 371/18184/5859/591, minutes by Allen and Randall, 3 Oct. 1934 FO/371/18184/6192/591, minutes by Craigie and Wellesley, 5 Oct. 1934.

69. FO 371/18184/5846/591, Clive to Simon, 29 Sep.1934.

70. See J. Haslam, The Soviet Union and the Struggle for Collective Security in Europe 1933–1939 (London: Macmillan, 1984), pp.15–26, 41–42 J. Hochman, The Soviet Union and the Failure of Collective Security 1934–1938 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984).

71. FO 371/18297/140/2, minute by Vansittart, 13 Jan. 1934.

72. FO 371/17707/4205/29, minute by Vansittart 2 Jul. 1934 FO 371/17707/4391/29, minute by Vansittart, 11 Jul. 1934 CAB 24/260, CP(36)42, memorandum, ‘Britain, France, and Germany’, 3 Feb. 1936. See also S. Bourette-Knowles, ‘The Global Micawber: Sir Robert Vansittart, the Treasury and the Global Balance of Power 1933–1935’, Diplomacy and Statecraft, 6/1 (1995), pp.91–121.

73. See B. Lee, Britain and the Sino-Japanese War 1937–1939: A Study in the Dilemmas of British Decline (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1973), pp.23–49.

74. FO 371/18527/5693/1, minute by Leeper, 23 May 1934.

75. FO 371/18527/5693/1, minute by Craigie, 24 May 1934.

76. FO 371/18527/5693/1, minute by Wigram, 24 May 1934.

77. FO 371/18526/5206/1, minute by Vansittart, 1 Jun. 1934.

78. FO 371/18524/4153/1, minute by Vansittart, 2 May 1934.

79. Simon to Baldwin, 18 Apr. 1935, Documents on British Foreign Policy, Second Series, Vol. 12, pp.927–28.

80. See A.L. Goldman, ‘Sir Robert Vansittart's Search for Italian Cooperation against Hitler, 1933–1936’, Journal of Contemporary History, 9/2 (1974), pp.93–130.

81. FO 371/18830/2214/55, minute by Vansittart, 19 Mar. 1935 FO 371/19106/1139/1, minute by Vansittart, 29 Mar. 1935 FO 371/18833/2656/55, minute by Vansittart 1 Apr. 1935.

82. N. Rostow, Anglo-French Relations, 1934–1936 (London: Macmillan, 1984), p.81.

83. Bourette-Knowles, ‘The Global Micawber’ M. Roi, ‘From the Stresa Front to the Triple Entente: Sir Robert Vansittart, the Abyssinian Crisis, and the Containment of Germany’, Diplomacy and Statecraft, 6/3 (1995), pp.61–90.

84. See R.A. Best, ‘The Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935: An Aspect of Appeasement’, Naval War College Review, 34/2 (1981), pp.68–85 E. Haraszti, Treaty-Breakers or “Realpolitiker”? The Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935 (Boppard am Rhein: Boldt, 1974) D.C. Watt, ‘The Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935: An Interim Judgement’, Journal of Modern History, 28/1 (1956), pp.155–76.

85. CAB 24/55, CP(35)98, Simon memorandum, 11 May 1935 CAB 23/81, CC(35)27, 15 May 1935, and CC(35)28, 17 May 1935.

86. Goldman, ‘Vansittart's Search’, p.114.

87. See R.A.C. Parker, ‘Great Britain, France and the Ethiopian Crisis’, English Historical Review, 89/1 (1974), pp.293–332 J.C. Robertson, ‘The Hoare–Laval Plan’, Journal of Contemporary History, 10/3 (1975), pp.433–65.

88. For instance, Eden's comments in CAB 23/83, CC(36)8, 14 Feb. 1936.

89. J.T. Emmerson, The Rhineland Crisis, 7 March 1936: A Study in Multilateral Diplomacy (London: Temple Smith, 1977).

90. See CAB 16/112, Pownall memorandum, 9 Jul. 1935, DRC meetings 13–14, Interim Report (DRC 25), 24 Jul. 1935, DRC meetings 15–26 (3 Oct.–14 Nov. 1935), DRC Third Report (DRC 37), 21 Nov. 1935.

91. CAB 24/259, DPR(DR) Report, CP(36)26, 12 Feb. 1936. These funds would be added to the totals projected in a 1935 White Paper on defence spending. The 1936 budget was already established at £124 million. Cmd. 5114.

92. I. Colvin, Vansittart in Office (London: Gollancz, 1965).

93. CAB 16/112, DRC Meeting 14, 19 Jul. 1935.

94. CAB 16/112, DRC Meetings, 15–18, 20, 22–24. FO 800/295, Vansittart to Hoare, 19 Aug. 1935, uses the ‘bricks without straw’ metaphor.

95. See FO 371/19905/3677/4 minute by Wigram, 16 May 1936 FO 371/19906/3879/4, minutes by Sargent and Vansittart. Also FO 371/19906/3879/4, minute by Eden, 3 Jun. 1936.

96. See CAB 23/85, CC(36)50, Eden's comments, 6 Jul. 1936.

97. On the League see A. Eden, Foreign Affairs 17/4 (1939), pp.54–61 on Russia, see Phipps Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge, PHPP/II/1/16, Eden to Phipps, 28 Feb. 1936.

98. FO 371/19898/2487/4, minute by Vansittart, 15 Apr. 1936.

99. FO 371/20354/6289/6289, ‘The World Situation and British Rearmament’, 16 Dec. 1936.

100. Chamberlain Papers (Birmingham), NC/18/1/942, 18/1/1020, 18/1/1028, Chamberlain to Hilda Chamberlain, 15 Dec. 1935, 12 Sep. 1937, and 14 Nov. 1937 NC/7/11/29/19, Warren Fisher to Chamberlain, 15 Sep. 1936.

102. Vansittart Papers, VNST II, 1/5, Baldwin to Vansittart, 7 Jan. 1937.

103. Chamberlain Papers (Birmingham), NC 7/11/29/16, Eden to Chamberlain, 9 Nov. 1936 NC/7/11/30/74, Hoare to Chamberlain, 17 Mar. 1937.

104. See D.C. Watt, How War Came: The Immediate Origins of the Second World War, 1938–1939 (London: Heinemann, 1989).

105. CAB 24/273, CP(37)316, Inskip ‘Interim Report on Defence Expenditure in Future Years’, 15 Dec. 1937 CAB 24/274, CP(38)24, Inskip ‘Report on Defence Expenditure in Future Years’, 8 Feb. 1938 CAB 23/92, CC5(38)9, 16 Feb. 1938.


Vansittart was born at Wilton House, Farnham, Surrey, the eldest of the three sons of Robert Arnold Vansittart, of Foots Cray Place, Kent, a Captain in the 7th Dragoon Guards, by his wife Susan Alice Blane, daughter of Gilbert James Blane. [1] His younger brother Guy Nicholas (Nick) Vansittart had a successful career with General Motors before and after the war. He was recruited into “Z” Network during the 1930's and served in Special Operations Executive during World War Two. [2] The Vansittart family was of Dutch descent - ancestors included Arthur Vansittart, Member of Parliament for Windsor, and Colonel Arthur Vansittart, Member of Parliament for Berkshire, while Henry Vansittart, Robert Vansittart and Lord Bexley were members of other branches of the family. A female line ancestor was Lord Auckland. [3] Vansittart was also a second cousin of T. E. Lawrence (better known as Lawrence of Arabia). [3] [4] He was educated at Eton. [1]

Vansittart entered the Lord Curzon. From 1928 to 1930, he was Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, firstly Stanley Baldwin and then Ramsay MacDonald. In January 1930 he was appointed Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, where he supervised the work of Britain's diplomatic service. [1]

Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 1930-1938

Vansittart was suspicious of Hitler from the start anything Hitler said, he claimed, was "for foreign consumption". He thought Hitler would start another European war as soon as he "felt strong enough". [5] Vansittart supported revising the Versailles Treaty in Germany's favour but not while Hitler was in power. In Vansittart's view, Britain should be firm with Germany, and an alliance between France and the Soviet Union against Germany was essential. Vansittart also urgently advocated rearmament. [6] In the summer of 1936 Vansittart visited Germany and claimed that he found a climate that "the ghost of Barthou would hardly have recognised" and that Britain should negotiate with Germany. [7] He thought that satisfying Hitler's "land hunger" at Russia's expense would be immoral and regarded the Franco-Russian alliance as non-negotiable. It was because he believed Germany had gained equality in Europe that Vansittart favoured facilitating German expansion in Africa. [7] He thought that Hitler was exploiting fears of a "Bolshevist menace" as a cover for "expansion in Central and South-Eastern Europe". [8]

Like Sir Maurice Hankey, Vansittart thought in power politics terms. He thought Hitler could not decide whether to follow Goebbels and Tirpitz in viewing Britain as "the ultimate enemy" or on the other hand adopting the Ribbentrop policy of appeasing Britain in order to engage in military expansion in the East. [8] Vansittart thought that in either case time should be "bought for rearmament" by an economic agreement with Germany and by appeasing "genuine grievance[s]" about colonies. [8] Vansittart wanted to detach Mussolini from Hitler. He thought that the British Empire was an "Incubus" and that the Continent was the central British national interest, but he doubted whether agreement could be had there. [9] This doubt rested on his fear that German attention, if turned eastwards, would result in a military empire between the Baltic, the Adriatic Sea and the Black Sea. [10]

At the Foreign Office in the 1930s, Vansittart was a major figure in the loose group of officials and politicians opposed to appeasement of Germany. In spite of his harsh opposition to appeasement with Germany, Vansittart had been on "very friendly terms with Herr (Konrad) Henlein". [11] Konrad Henlein was the Nazi leader of the separatist Sudeten German Party, who was plotting with Adolf Hitler the partition of Czechoslovakia, which would be agreed at the Munich Agreement (1938). Vansittart told Henlein that "no serious intervention in favour of the Czechs was to be feared from Great Britain and probably also from France." [12] This information reached Hitler in the second half of 1937, when he was deciding about his plan to overthrow the Austrian and Czechoslovak republics his decisions were not proof of high intuition or intellect but were based on information received from Vansittart, among other well placed politicians and officers in Britain, like Lord Lothian, Lord Mount Temple, Oliver Vaughan Gurney Hoare (Sir Samuel Hoare's younger brother) and others. It is not known how much this encouraged Hitler, but he later stated very similar views: "the Führer believed that almost certainly Britain and probably France as well, had already tacitly written off the Czechs and were reconciled to the fact that this question would be cleared up in due course by Germany." [13] After the war an effort was made to cover up Vansittart's embarrassing "real friendship" with Henlein. [14] In the late 1930s, Vansittart together with Reginald Leeper, the Foreign Office's Press Secretary often leaked information to a private newspaper The Whitehall Letter edited by Victor Gordon Lennox, the Daily Telegraph's diplomatic editor opposed to appeasement. [15] This brought him into conflict with the political leadership at the time and he was removed as Permanent Under-Secretary in 1938. A new post as "Chief Diplomatic Adviser to His Majesty's Government" was instead created ad hoc for him. He continued in this role until 1941. [1]

Strong opposition to Germany

Vansittart was also involved in intelligence work. In 1940, Vansittart sued the American historian Harry Elmer Barnes for libel for an article Barnes had written in 1939 accusing him of plotting aggression against Germany in 1939. [16] During the war, Vansittart became a prominent advocate of an extremely hard line with Germany. His earlier worries about Germany were reformulated into an argument that Germany was intrinsically militaristic and aggressive. In Black Record: Germans Past and Present (1941), Vansittart portrayed Nazism as just the latest manifestation of Germany's continuous record of aggression from the time of ancient Rome. Therefore, after Germany was defeated, it must be stripped of all military capacity, including its heavy industries. The German people enthusiastically supported Hitler's wars of aggression, just as they supported the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and the First World War in 1914. So they must be thoroughly re-educated under strict Allied supervision for at least a generation. De-Nazification was not enough. The German military elite was the real cause of war, especially the "Prussianist" officer corps and the General Staff: both must be destroyed. In 1943 he wrote:

He also wrote "the other Germany has never existed save in a small and ineffective minority". [18] In other occasions he has also made similar sayings:

The British historian R. B. McCallum wrote in 1944: "To some, such as Lord Vansittart, the main problem of policy was to watch Germany and prevent her power reviving. No one can refuse him a tribute for his foresight in this matter". [20]


AllMovie

Robert Vansittart's service to motion pictures was but a footnote to his life, which was mostly given over to service to the British government, primarily in the realm of diplomacy. Born in 1881, Robert Gilbert Vansittart was educated at Eton College, and beginning in 1902, at the age of 21, joined the diplomatic service. Among his numerous posts, he was the Permanent Under-Secretary to the Diplomatic Service from 1930 to 1938 and, subsequent to that, Chief Diplomatic Adviser to the government. As is now known, he was also responsible for starting a "shadow" intelligence service to monitor foreign events, especially in Germany, at the outset of Adolf Hitler's rise to power, and he was one of the British government's most vociferous voices in opposition to Hitler, at a time when appeasement was considered a preferable policy.

Vansittart was a close friend of film producer Alexander Korda, and their contact led to Korda's work -- revealed 60 years later -- providing intelligence information to the British government. Vansittart was also a writer of some skill and worked on the screenplay for one of the earliest London Films productions, Wedding Rehearsal. In addition, he was credited with the dialogue in Miles Malleson's screenplay for Sixty Glorious Years, an opulent cinematic depiction of the reign of Queen Victoria. Vansittart also contributed the lyrics (credited to the pseudonym Robert Denham) for the songs used in Korda's production of The Thief of Bagdad (1940), to music by Miklos Rozsa. Vansittart's friendship with Korda, and the government's interest in fostering the latter's international film contacts, also led to his playing a key role in securing the financing for Korda's London Films, both at its original incorporation and at various crisis points in the company's history.