Anglo-German Naval Agreement

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The so-called Stresa front was short lived. Some members of the British government reacted to the evidence of German rearmament by drawing the moral that the nation should detach itself and avoid such enforced involvement in war as that of 1914. Finding the German government full of protestations of goodwill for Britain, members of this group reasoned that the course of prudence was to eliminate all potential Anglo-German issues. One that had embittered relations between the two countries in pre-World War I years had been naval rivalry, and when the Admiralty reported exchanges with the Germans that revealed the possibility of a bilateral compact on the relative size of the two fleets, considerable official sentiment developed in favor of following it up. This was done, though in the most closely guarded secrecy, and on June 18, 1935, a naval pact with Germany was signed. It provided that Germany could build a fleet of capital ships equal in tonnage to one third, and a fleet of submarines equal to 60 percent, of that of the Royal Navy. In view of the fact that the Treaty of Versailles had set other limits on German naval strength and had forbidden the construction of submarines, these terms constituted acceptance by Britain of Germany’s repudiation of those articles. Coming barely two months after the Stresa accords, this pact gave evidence that the nations apparently joined against Germany were in fact far from united.

Nor did the Franco-Soviet accord prove more durable. Laval had always doubted the wisdom of the Barthou policy and inclined toward the view that France might be better off in league with Germany than against her. On Jan. 13, 1935, the plebiscite promised by the Treaty of Versailles had taken place in the Saar, with more than 90 percent of the voters opting for reunion with Germany, and Laval not only accepted the verdict with good cheer but made the point to diplomats that France would not necessarily be intransigent in all matters that affected Germany. Instead of seeking prompt ratification of the Franco-Soviet Pact by the French Parliament, he held it over (it was carried through that body by his successor, Albert Sarraut, in February 1936), meanwhile evading all suggestions from the Soviet capital of a military convention to supplement it and to make clear how it might be carried out. The Soviets were pressing Laval onto delicate ground, it is true, for a military convention would involve such issues as whether or not Soviet troops could move across Poland or Rumania, and Laval, who had become premier on June 7, 1935, was looking forward uneasily to a national election and to the possibility that the opposition Popular Front, of which the Communists were part, might profit from a closer Franco-Soviet tie. Nevertheless, his hesitancies provided further evidence that the unity of Europe against Germany might be an illusion.

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