Newsweek - 22 May 1939

ismet inönü newsweek

Hitler Outfoxed by the British as Coalition Draws in Turkey

Former Ally of Germany Now in Role Italy Held in War; Russia Still Bargaining

Nearly everybody in Europe who makes speeches or writes for newspapers has adopted the phrase "battle of nerves" invented by the Nazi propaganda bureau —to describe the current jousting for new allies in the crisis. Each side brags that the nerves of its statesmen and ordinary citizens alike will hold out longest under the strain. Last week the main engage-ments in the battle were:

1—Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced addition of Turkey to the non-aggression coalition, thus fitting a British key to the twin Straits of the Dardanelles and Bosporus.

That virtually sealed the eastern end of the Mediterranean inside the British bloc, since Britain has a military alliance with Egypt and Chamberlain guaranteed Greece against attack five weeks ago. However, there still were gaps on this flank of the coalition. Turkish-French negotiations had not been. finished. And British efforts to get Russia into the group were making slow headway against mutual suspicions and misunderstandings. Consequently, the Brit-ish-Turkish agreement was left as an indefinitely worded pledge of mutual aid against attack until it can be expanded into a four-angled tie-up by the addition of France and the Soviet Union.

2—Vladimir Potemkin, Soviet Vice Commissar of Foreign Affairs, had a long talk at Warsaw with Col. Joseph Beck, Polish Foreign Minister. They discussed Russian aid for Poland in case of attack by Ger-many and put none too friendly Polish-Soviet relations on a better basis than they had been for several years.
Potemkin was on the way home from Turkey and before going to Warsaw had stopped for similar talks with Russia's other politically estranged Slav cousins in Bulgaria and Rumania. He is due at Geneva on May 22 to bargain with the British and French Foreign Ministers. The meeting of the League Council was postponed from May 15 so Potemkin could get there.

3—The Duce, having just agreed to turn the Rome-Berlin axis into a full-fledged military alliance, started a tour of Northern Italy by making a "no war" speech at Turin. He recognized the fear that weighed on the minds of hundreds of millions all over the world and said: "I answer this question by declaring that, according to a cold, objective examination of the situation, there are not at present in Europe problems big enough or acute enough to justify a war that by logical development would spread from Europe and become a universal event." This sounded as if Hitler had promised him there would be no war over Danzig. But Mussolini's phrase did not rule out a "little war," and that is an idea which Nazi leaders have toyed with—just as Austria and Germany thought they could fight one against Serbia in 1914.

Expecting Mussolini to press his claims against France, Premier Edouard Daladier had rushed extra units of the French Fleet to Tunisia as a sort of Bronx cheer from the side lines. The Turin crowd shouted the usual "Nice, Tunisia, Savoy" war cry, but Mussolini double-crossed Daladier and did not mention the subject.

4—The Foreign Ministers of Norway Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, meeting at Stockholm, reaffirmed their wish for neutrality. But this usually harmonious group could not agree on an answer to Hitler's offer of nonaggression pacts with each of them. They decided to give separate answers this week. Denmark, the only one with a German frontier and an acute Nazi problem, showed signs of accepting the offer.

5—Soundings by Pope Pius XII on prospects of mediating the German-Polish quarrel over Danzig uncovered nothing hopeful. The Pope's omission of the Bolsheviks from a proposed conference was a drawback for the coalition which is courting Russia; Poland interpreted conference" as a synonym for sacrifice on part, and Hitler is equally prejudiced against conferences and "political Catholicism."

While the Pope's efforts were failing, Japan cautiously hinted that it might fill the role of mediator. The Japanese Cabinet is split over the question of turning the Anti-Comintern Pact into a military alliance with Germany and Italy. Army leaders would like to do so. Navy men., seeing the British and French Fleets, and possibly the American, ranged on the other side disliked the idea. In this dilemma, a Tokyo newspaper reported that Japanese diplomats in Berlin and Warsaw had offered to help mediate over Danzig. 

This far-flung diplomatic activity affected almost every place except the city which is the center of trouble for the moment. Danzig's surface calm cracked here and there, however, showing the tension beneath. The Senate, made up almost entirely of local Nazis, refused to let Polish citizens commemorate the fourth anniversary of Marshal Joseph Pilsudski'a death on May 12.

Polish sentinels on the border of the Free City fired at a couple of Danzigers who ran when challenged. And everybody noticed the arrival of unusual numbers of "tourists" from East Prussia—nearly all able-bodied young men who could easily be imagined doing their sight-seeing through machine-gun sights in case Berlin gave the order for a coup. 

Poland also showed good nerves. The Polish population of Danzig-20,000 among 385,000 Germans—sent $94,400 for the emergency loan Poland is raising to feed its mobilized army. The Lithuanian Army Commander-in-Chief, General Stasys Rastikis, came to visit Marshal Edward Smigly-Rydz, which inspired newspapers to recall that Poland and Lithuania once resoundingly whipped an ambitious Germany. They referred to the victory over the Teutonic Knights at Tannenberg .500 years ago.

Neither Germany nor Poland took any diplomatic initiative to resolve the im-passe. Instead, the Fiihrer started a tour of the powerful new fortifications on the French-Belgian-Netherlands frontier, called the "Limes." 


Nearly every home in Australia and New Zealand has sorrowful reason to know the name Gallipoli. The 130,000 men killed or wounded in boats and on the beach during the assault on the Dardanelles in 1915 were the pick of the Anzac expeditionary forces. On Apr. 25 veterans in the two Dominions, and those who now live in Lon-don, put on their old uniforms to com-memorate the 24th anniversary of the day the first landing parties tried to go ashore beneath the Turkish guns. And the announcement that Chamberlain made in Commons on May 12 could have borne the label "no more Gallipolis." 

The pact pledged Turkey and Britain to mutual assistance against aggression "in the Mediterranean area." On the map, it was a check to possible Italian moves in North Africa or the Balkans. Diplomatically, it was the first time since Chamberlain started the coalition move that he scored directly at the expense of Germany.

Within a week after the Munich conference had opened Hitler's road to the east, Reich Economics Minister Walter Funk arrived at Angora and put over a sizable trade and credits deal. The Krupp works already had supplied material for refortification of the Dardanelles, and German shipyards were turning out submarines for Turkey. Funk's success seemed to restore the relationship that existed before 1914. 

But Hitler delayed pressing the advantage. Not until Chamberlain's coalition was well under way did the Führer rush Franz von Papen to Angora as Ambassador. Von Papen's diplomatic wiles had ripened Austria for the Anschluss, and he had done a military tour of duty in Tur-key during the war. This time he dangled before President Ismet Inonu the vision of a solid bloc of Turkey and all the Balkans welded to the Rome-Berlin axis.

İnönü, who was a capable General before becoming an extraordinary statesman, accepted instead the judgment of his own army men. He turned von Papen down. 

That surprised Germany, which had counted at least on Turkish neutrality—and it surprised Britain a little, too. For Inonu has been inscrutable since he succeeded to power after Kemal Atatürk's death last November. The new President is a quiet little man, slightly deaf, wile substitutes irony for Atatürk's iron methods, and a notably tranquil home life for the late dictator's roistering. His hand guided Atatürk's diplomacy during the thirteen years they worked together. But the main feature of that diplomacy has been the ability to get things peaceably for Turkey.

İnönu took his name from the town where he defeated a Grecian army. He was far from gentle with the defeated foe. Yet within a few years Turkey made an ally out of Greece. Then Europe's former "Sick Man" became healthy enough to weld the Balkan Entente of Turkey, Greece. Yugoslavia, and Rumania to try to cure this politically fevered peninsula's ailments. In 1936 Turkey asked permission to refortify the Dardanelles and the Bosporus, demilitarized as penalty for its supporting of Germany in the World War. By that time the other powers were impressed with the fact that Turkey negotiated to get changes in treaties instead of tearing them up. They called the Montreux Conference and agreed to the refortification. The agreement gave Turkey control of the Straits in case it went to war, or even felt threatened by the danger of war, and also the right to limit passage of belligerent vessels if it remained a noncombatant. 

Prewar Turkey feared nearly everybody, since all Europe was united in a common ambition to despoil the Ottoman Empire. But it was haunted worst of all by Czarist Russia's desire for the Dardanelles. Since the Soviet Union that succeeded Czarism foreswore the urge to own a passageway to break out of the Black Sea, however, Atatürk and Inönü willingly collaborated diplomatically with the Bolshevik state—although any Turk caught with Bolshevik ideas went to the gallows.

Thus Turkey has had a pivotal position in Chamberlain's coalition plans. British-Soviet cooperation would be hampered without free passage of both fleets from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean; and, on the other hand, Turkey hesitated to sign with Britain unless certain that Russia would not object, even if the Bolsheviks later decided to stay out of the coalition. Potemkin's visit assured Inönü of that. 

However, the biggest question of a British-Soviet pact remained unsettled. Maxim Litvinoff made the first Soviet proposal on Apr. 16, three weeks before Stalin removed him from the job of Foreign Commissar. And the effect of the substitution of Vyacheslaff Molotoff for Litvinoff has been to strengthen Soviet insistence on its terms.

Chamberlain said last week there had been a "misunderstanding": that he did not want Russia to assist a victim of armed attack unless Britain and France gave aid first. But a statement in the government newspaper lzvestia on May 11 showed that this was not the main Soviet objection. The editorial demanded a clear-cut mutual - assistance pact between Britain, France. and Russia—with Poland added if possible—and said: 

"Not having a pact of mutual assistance with Britain and France, nor with Poland,the U.S.S.R. is to undertake to assist these states without receiving any assist-ance from them and, moreover, in the event of aggression directly aimed at the U.S.S.R., the latter would have to rely solely upon its own resources." On Monday of this week the formal Soviet reply- was delivered in London, thus putting it up to Chamberlain to accept a major failure or think up new terms be-fore Foreign Minister Viscount Halifax meets with Potemkin and French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet at Geneva. 


The addition of Turkey showed that the British coalition has more life in it than the two dictators have professed to believe. And Turkey was equipped to take the place that Italy had filled in the wartime line-up for more reasons than its control of the Dardanelles and possession of a good little army of 200,000 men and more than 500 planes. Inonü has extraordinary influence in the Balkans and can try to patch up to Britain's advantage the local quarrels which hamper the efforts of democracies and dictators alike to sew up that region definitely in one or the other of the rival blocs. 

Mutual suspicions made Stalin determined to bind Chamberlain in an "appeasement"-proof pact and made Chamberlain want to stay as far away as possible from obligations to the Bolsheviks. France urged both London and Moscow to agree, but others were busy feeding the suspicions. On one side German diplomacy tried to discredit British sincerity and per-suade Rusia that a neutral stand would be safer. On the other, Spain, Portugal, and Japan—all important in British diplomacy —were hostile to an alliance between Britain and the Soviets. But while these conflicting currents crippled the British-Russian negotiations, the rival Berlin-Rome axis also was showing itself to be less vigorously militant than its leaders claimed it to be For the note which Mussolini struck at the start of his northern tour was intended to re-assure the skeptical Italian public that he would not let the Führer drag them into a war for his own interests.