Anglo-Polish military alliance

Events leading to World War II
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Corfu incident1923
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Locarno Treaties 1925
Chinese Civil War 19271936
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Great Depression 19291941
Japanese invasion of Manchuria1931
Nazis rise to power in Germany1933
Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual AssistanceMay 1935
Soviet–Czechoslovakia Treaty of Mutual AssistanceMay 1935
Second Italo-Ethiopian War193536
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Second Sino-Japanese War1937
AnschlussMar. 1938
Munich crisis Sep. 1938
German occupation of CzechoslovakiaMar. 1939
German ultimatum to LithuaniaMar. 1939
Slovak–Hungarian WarMar. 1939
British guarantee to PolandMar. 1939
Invasion of AlbaniaApr. 1939
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Soviet–British–French Moscow negotiationsApr.–Aug. 1939
Pact of SteelMay 1939
Danzig Corridor CrisisMay 1939
Molotov–Ribbentrop PactAug. 1939
Invasion of PolandSep. 1939

The military alliance between the United Kingdom and Poland was formalised by the Anglo-Polish Agreement in 1939 and subsequent addenda of 1940 and 1944,[1] for mutual assistance in case of military invasion from Germany, as specified in a secret protocol.[2][3][4]

Britain makes assurance to Poland

On 31 March 1939, in response to Nazi Germany's defiance of the Munich Agreement and occupation of Czechoslovakia,[5] the United Kingdom pledged the support of itself and France to assure Polish independence (probable statement).

... in the event of any action which clearly threatened Polish independence, and which the Polish Government accordingly considered it vital to resist with their national forces, His Majesty's Government would feel themselves bound at once to lend the Polish Government all support in their power. They have given the Polish Government an assurance to this effect.

I may add that the French Government have authorised me to make it plain that they stand in the same position in this matter as do His Majesty's Government.[6]

On 6 April, during a visit to London by the Polish foreign minister, it was agreed to formalise the assurance as an Anglo-Polish military alliance, pending negotiations.[7][8]

That assurance was extended on 13 April to Greece and Romania following Italy's invasion of Albania.[9]

Polish–British common defence pact

On 25 August, two days after the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, the Agreement of Mutual Assistance between the United Kingdom and Poland was signed. The agreement contained promises of mutual military assistance between the nations in the event either was attacked by some "European country". The United Kingdom, sensing a trend of German expansionism, sought to discourage German aggression by this show of solidarity. In a secret protocol of the pact, the United Kingdom offered assistance in the case of an attack on Poland specifically by Germany,[3] while in the case of attack by other countries the parties were required to "consult together on measures to be taken in common".[10] Both the United Kingdom and Poland were bound not to enter agreements with any other third countries which were a threat to the other.[11] Because of the pact's signing, Hitler postponed his planned invasion of Poland from 26 August until 1 September.[12]

Franco-British mission to Moscow, August—September 1939


Polish–British Naval Agreement, November 1939

After being sent to Britain in mid-1939 by General Sikorski, the Polish Navy had remained in British waters. In November 1939, after the Invasion of Poland, the Polish-British Naval agreement was signed. The agreement allowed for Polish sailors to wear their Polish uniforms and to have commanding officers on board who were Polish, though the ships were of British make.[16] The agreement would later be changed to fit a revised one on August 5, 1940, which encompassed all Polish units.

Anglo-Polish Agreement Respecting Polish Land and Air Forces

On August 5, 1940, an agreement was signed which stated that "the Polish Armed Forces (comprising Land, Sea, and Air Forces) shall be organized and employed under British Command," though they would be "subject to Polish military law and disciplinary ruling, and they [would] be tried in Polish military courts".[17] The only change came on 11 October 1940, when the Polish Air Force was made an exception, and would be subject to British discipline and laws.[18]


The alliance committed Britain, for the first time in history, to fight on behalf of a European country other than France or Belgium.[19] At the time Adolf Hitler was demanding the cession of the Free City of Danzig, an extraterritorial highway (the Reichsautobahn Berlin-Königsberg) across the Polish Corridor, and special privileges for the ethnic German minority within Poland. By the terms of the military alliance, each party (i.e. Poland and Britain) was free to decide whether to oppose with force any territorial encroachment, as the pact did not include any statement of either party's commitment to the defence of the other party's territorial integrity.[20] The Pact did contain provisions regarding "indirect threats" and attempts to undermine either party's independence by means of "economic penetration", a clear reference to the peculiar status of Danzig. Fearing all-out German invasion no matter what, Poland rejected the German demands.

In May 1939 Poland signed a secret protocol to the 1921 Franco-Polish Military Alliance, but it was not ratified by France until 4 September.

On 17 September the Soviet Union invaded Poland through the eastern Polish border. This was in keeping with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact's secret protocol specifying the division of Poland. According to the Polish-British Common Defence Pact, the United Kingdom should give Poland "all the support and assistance in its power" if Poland was "engaged in hostilities with a European Power in consequence of aggression by the latter". The Polish ambassador in London, Raczyński, contacted the British Foreign Office pointing out that clause 1(b) of the agreement which concerned an "aggression by a European power" on Poland, should apply to the Soviet invasion. The Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax responded that the obligation of British Government towards Poland arising out of the Anglo-Polish Agreement, was restricted to Germany, according to the first clause of the secret protocol.[3]


Polish historian Paweł Wieczorkiewicz wrote: "Polish leaders were not aware of the fact that England and France were not ready for war. They needed time to catch up with the Third Reich, and were determined to gain the time at any price." Publicist Stanisław Mackiewicz stated in the late 1940s: "To accept London's guarantees was one of the most tragic dates in the history of Poland. It was a mental aberration and madness." On the same day when Britain pledged her support of Poland, Lord Halifax stated: "We do not think this guarantee will be binding." Other British diplomat, Alexander Cadogan wrote in his diary: "Naturally, our guarantee does not give any help to Poland. It can be said that it was cruel to Poland, even cynical."

Polish - British military negotiations, carried out in London, ended up in fiasco. After lengthy talks, the British reluctantly pledged to bomb German military and installations if the Germans carried out attacks of this kind in Poland. Polish military leaders failed to obtain any more promises. At the same time, the Polish side negotiated a military loan. The Polish ambassador to Britain, Edward Raczyński, called these negotiations "a never-ending nightmare". Józef Beck in his memoirs wrote: "The negotiations, carried out in London by Colonel Adam Koc, immediately turned into theoretical discussion about our financial system. It was clear that Sir John Simon and Frederick Leith-Ross did not realize the gravity of the situation. They negotiated in purely financial terms, without consideration for the rules of the wartime alliance. As a result, the English offer gave us no grounds for quick reinforcement of our army."

On 2 August 1939 Great Britain finally agreed to grant Poland a military loan of £9 million, which was less than Turkey received at the same time. Poland had asked for a loan of £60 million.

See also


  1. Lerski, Jerzy Jan (1996). Historical Dictionary of Poland, 966-1945. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780313260070.
  2. Paul W. Doerr. 'Frigid but Unprovocative': British Policy towards the USSR from the Nazi-Soviet Pact to the Winter War, 1939. Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 36, No. 3 (Jul., 2001), pp. 423-439
  3. 1 2 3 Keith Sword. British Reactions to the Soviet Occupation of Eastern Poland in September 1939. The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 69, No. 1 (Jan., 1991), pp. 81-101.
  4. Weinberg, Gerhard L. (1954). Germany and the Soviet Union. Studies in East European history. Brill Archive. pp. 49–50.
  5. Martin Collier, Philip Pedley. Germany, 1919-45
  6. Statement by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons on March 31, 1939.
  7. Andrew J. Crozier. The Causes of the Second World War, pg. 151
  8. Anglo-Polish communiqué issued on April 6, 1939 (full text)
  9. Michael G. Fry, Erik Goldstein, Richard Langhorne. Guide to International Relations and Diplomacy
  10. Prazmowska, Anita J. (2004). Britain, Poland and the Eastern Front, 1939. Cambridge Russian, Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies Soviet and East European Studies. Volume 53. Cambridge University Press. p. 203. ISBN 9780521529389.
  11. Jerzy Jan Lerski. Historical Dictionary of Poland, 966-1945, pg. 49
  12. Frank McDonough. Neville Chamberlain, Appeasement and the British Road to War, pg. 86
  13. Michael Jabara Carley, 1939: The Alliance That Never Was and the Coming of World War II; Ivan R. Dee, 2009; ISBN 146169938X, 9781461699385
  15. Hugh Ragsdale, The Soviets, the Munich Crisis, and the Coming of World War II; Cambridge University Press, 2004; ISBN 1139450255, 9781139450256
  16. Peszke, Michael (2011). "The British-Polish Agreement". Journal of Slavic Military Studies: 654.
  17. Kacewicz, G.V. (1979). Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the Polish Government in Exile. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands. p. 61.
  18. Olson, Lynne, & Stanley Cloud (2003). A Question of Honour. New York: Alfred A Knopf. p. 98.
  19. Gunther, John (1940). Inside Europe. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. 133.
  20. "On 31 March 1939 the British government guaranteed the independence (though not the territorial integrity) of Poland, in which they were joined by France."
    Paul M. Hayes, 'Themes in Modern European History, 1890-1945', Routledge (1992), ISBN 0-415-07905-5

Further reading

  • Anita J. Prazmowska. (1987). Britain, Poland and the Eastern Front, 1939. Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-33148-X
  • Władysław W. Kulski. (1976). "The Anglo-Polish Agreement of August 25, 1939: Highlight of My Diplomatic Career," The Polish Review, 21 (1/2): 23–40.
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