The Magdeburg Sting 1936
Ribentrop and Molotov sign Soviet-Nazi pact
In the years following the end of World War I and the Polish-Soviet War, Poland had signed alliances with many European powers. The most important were the military alliance with France signed on February 19, 1921 and the defensive alliance with Romania of March 3, 1921. The alliance with France was a major factor in Polish inter-war foreign relations, and was seen as the main warrant of peace in Central Europe; Poland's military doctrine was heavily influenced by this alliance as well.
As World War II was nearing, both governments started to look for a renewal of the bilateral promises. This was accomplished in May 1939, when general Tadeusz Kasprzycki signed a secret protocol (later ratified by both governments) to the Franco-Polish Military Alliance with general Maurice Gamelin. It was agreed that France would grant her eastern ally a military credit as soon as possible. In case of war with Germany, France promised to start minor land and air military operations at once, and to start a major offensive (with the majority of its forces) not later than 15 days after the declaration of war.
On March 30, 1939, the government of the United Kingdom pledged to defend Poland, in the event of a German attack, and Romania in case of other threats. The reason for the British-issued "guarantee" of Romania and Poland was a panic-stricken ad hoc reaction to rumors (later proved to be false) of an imminent German descent on Romania in late March 1939. A German seizure of oil-rich Romania would ensure that in any future Anglo-German war, a British naval blockade would not starve Germany of oil. From London's point of view, it was imperative to keep the oil wells of Romania out of German hands. The British "guarantee" was primarily intended to block a German move against Romania; Poland was added to the "guarantee" almost as an after-thought. Only in April 1939 did it become evident that the next German target was Poland.
The British "guarantee" of Poland was only of Polish independence, and pointedly excluded Polish territorial integrity. "The reasons for the guarantee policy are nowhere more clearly stated than in a memorandum by the Foreign Office, composed in the summer of 1939, which submitted that it was essential to prevent Hitler from "expanding eastward, and obtaining control of the resources of Central and Eastern Europe," which would enable him "to turn upon the Western countries with overwhelming force. " (quotation from the book "The New Central Europe" by Stephen Borsody). The basic goal of British foreign policy between 1919-1939 was to prevent another world war by a mixture of "carrot and stick". The "stick" in this case was the "guarantee" of March 1939, which was intended to prevent Germany from attacking either Poland or Romania. At the same time, the Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax hoped to offer a "carrot" to Hitler in the form of another Munich type deal that would see the Free City of Danzig (modern Gdańsk, Poland) and the Polish Corridor returned to Germany in exchange for a promise by Hitler to leave the rest of Poland alone.
This declaration was further amended in April, when Poland's minister of foreign affairs Colonel Józef Beck met with Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax. In the aftermath of the talks, a mutual assistance treaty was signed. On August 25 the Polish-British Common Defense Pact was signed as an annex to Polish-French alliance. Like the "guarantee" of March 30, the Anglo-Polish alliance committed Britain only to the defense of Polish independence. It was clearly aimed against German aggression. In case of war, United Kingdom was to start hostilities as soon as possible; initially helping Poland with air raids against the German war industry, and joining the struggle on land as soon as the British Expeditionary Corps arrived in France. In addition, a military credit was granted and armament was to reach Polish or Romanian ports in early autumn.
However, both British and French governments had other plans than fulfilling the treaties with Poland. On May 4, 1939, a meeting was held in Paris, at which it was decided that the fate of Poland depends on the final outcome of the war, which will depend on British and French governments ability to defeat Germany rather than to aid Poland at the beginning. Poland's government was not notified of this decision, and the Polish-British talks in London were continued. A full military alliance treaty was ready to be signed on August 22, but His Majesty's government postponed the signing until August 25, 1939.
At the same time secret Nazi-Soviet talks were held in Moscow which resulted in signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on August 22. The full text of the treaty, including the secret protocol assuming a partition of Poland and Soviet military help to Germany in case of war, was known to the British government thanks to Hans von Herwarth, an American agent in the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Yet, Poland's government was not informed of this fact either.
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