No. 149 NAI DFA 219/7

Confidential report from Francis T. Cremins to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(S.Gen.1/1) (Confidential)

Geneva, 10 April 1940

I have to forward, for the information of the Minister, the enclosed extracts from this morning's press1 indicating the first reactions here to the invasion of Denmark and Norway by Germany.2 The most profound interest is taken throughout this country regarding the new developments, and it will be seen that at Berne yesterday the members of the Conseil National manifested their lively interest as the news arrived. According to the note from Berne, the dominating impression in parliamentary circles was that the Reich had gained a point by its lightning stroke. The increasing tendency, on one side and the other, to disregard the rights of neutrals and the consequent danger to small peaceful States, was also remarked. Most of the comments, notably that from the 'Courier de Genève' do not hesitate to lay the responsibility on German shoulders, and to draw a clear distinction between action such as the laying of mines in territorial waters and the invasion of neutral countries, while several do not refrain from openly casting a gibe at the Danes for their passive acceptance of the situation. It is of course too early for the military writers to be other than guarded in their appreciation of the events. Col. Lecomte in 'La Suisse' thinks that if the allies succeeded in defeating the German navy, the position of German troops beyond the Skagerrak3 might become precarious. He suggests however that the Germans may avoid a naval battle, contenting themselves with a defensive attitude behind their mines, hydroavions and submarines. This is not quite borne out by events so far, as there have already been some naval actions. Also that they may, notwithstanding their statements to the contrary, occupy Sweden also, thus turning the whole of Scandinavia into a theatre of war.

The Danish Minister here is so far completely cut off from his capital, and I understand that that applies to other Danish Ministers also, for instance to those in Rome and London, to whom he has been able to telephone. The new developments certainly do not take him by surprise. He was practically a fatalist in regard to the invasion of his country by Germany, as I indicated in a report about a year ago,4 and he always maintained that, once invasion came, Denmark could only submit. I asked him a week ago if Denmark could, as in the last war, protest to the Germans that if they violated the country the allies would prevent the importation of oil cake and consequently there would be no cattle for the Reich. He replied in the negative. Denmark, he said, had in a large measure developed her own supplies of foodstuffs since 1919 in the struggle to attain a certain self-sufficiently. It is clear however that the loss of imported foodstuffs would be serious for Denmark and that great loss and reductions in cattle and dairy products must result. Meantime however the Germans would have the use of what was there, and they would no doubt endeavour to make up to some extent the shortage of foodstuffs, if possible from some other territories.

The Finnish Minister, with whom I have had a short conversation, thinks that it will not be an easy task for Germany to occupy Norway unless she is free to use the sea, as the principal communications in that country run from East to West and not from North to South. He mentioned that when he was Foreign Minister a couple of years ago he had proposed to Norway an improvement in the roads in the north making communications easier between the three countries, but Norway had refused on the ground that such an improvement might be regarded as a threat by Russia. Improved communications with Finland might have been useful to Norway in case help from Finland and Sweden were a probability, but their absence may render a little more difficult any possible moves against Norway or Sweden by the U.S.S.R.

As regards the Swiss here, I find that they have mixed feelings with regard to the invasion. There is naturally great sympathy with the Scandinavians as friends and fellow neutrals, but there is also a certain relief that the long expected opening up of the war in Spring should not have begun at either end of the Maginot line. At the same time there is general anxiety at the callous treatment to which neutral countries have been subjected, and the feeling is growing that the turn of Switzerland will come eventually. The Swiss continue, however, to feel fairly safe so long as Italy maintains her non-belligerency. Nevertheless, the possibility of a situation developing in the Balkans or in the near East somewhat analogous to that in Scandinavia is not absent from many minds, which increases the anxiety in view of its probable reactions on Italian policy. All accounts here agree that the Italian people do not desire war. It is freely stated in fact that many, especially in the north of Italy, are even hostile to Germany, but it is admitted that Mussolini remains firmly in the saddle, and that neither the popular feeling nor the influence of Ciano, Balbo, and others who are believed to be unfavourable to military action against the allies, nor even the influence of the Vatican, would prevent the position being worked up in order that the weight of Italy might if need be be thrown on the German side if at any time the allies found themselves in a disadvantageous position. Most people here consider that it would not be to Italy's advantage, no more than it would be to Russia's, to bring about a preponderating Germany. Nevertheless, the immediate claims of Italy are not against Germany but against Great Britain and France, and Mussolini is said to be determined to be in at the peace in order that he may regulate his position in the Mediterranean and his claims in Suez and North Africa, and in order that he may be in a position to impose his personality in the setting up of a new Europe. He would no doubt prefer to keep out of the war as long as possible in order to secure the balance of power as against weakened combatants. He may however find his plans precipitated by events arising out of the working of the blockade, and of the necessities of his partner in the axis. I received information very confidentially this afternoon from my Argentine colleague, who had it this morning from his Ambassador in Paris, that Mussolini is thought to be on the verge of taking a very grave decision indeed, a decision to throw Italy militarily on the German side. My informant added that the French Government are exceedingly worried about this position, and that they regard all hope of retaining Italy in a state of non-belligerency, or of attracting her to the side of the allies as being practically lost. My colleague is usually well-informed regarding events. If, however, there is a real success by the British in Norway, it might have, as one of its important by-products, the postponement of any precipitate action on the part of the Duce.

A few evenings ago I listened in private conversation to a discussion on the situation by the Press attaché of the Yugoslav delegation who had just returned from Belgrade. He seemed to me largely to be giving forth Yugoslav official views. Generally speaking, his line was that while admittedly the Germans had suffered greatly during the Winter, especially from cold, the Reich had now become militarily of such extra-ordinary power that she could not be beaten by the allies. He pointed out that there was no point at which the allies could strike at her effectively, and that the absence of a large coalition of small States acting with Britain and France, such as existed in the last war, might prove decisive. He said that he understood that these were also the Italian views and that Italian representatives abroad were propagating them. He discounted any idea of a break between the German people and the regime, stating that Hitler had succeeded in imposing on the Germans the view that 'the end of Hitler would be the end of Germany'. He regarded the Balkans as being in no danger of any immediate attack from any side, even from Russia. He was sure that the Balkan countries themselves would be against any attempt on the part of the allies to attack Germany through Roumania or elsewhere, and that Germany stood to gain more from Roumania at peace than from Roumania at war. He regarded Turkey as likely to remain neutral unless somebody else attacked a Balkan State. He is probably right in regard to the wishes of all those States, but he possibly did not attach sufficient importance to the incidence of the blockade – in the Balkans and the near East, as in Scandinavia – and to German and possibly Russian reactions. Moreover, if the information which I have mentioned above regarding Italy has foundation, his views regarding the unlikelihood of trouble in the Balkans or in the near East may be upset. His views regarding Italy were to the effect that Mussolini would remain loyal to Hitler, and that there was not the slightest possibility of detaching him from the German side. Italy, he said, was awaiting her chance to have her claims settled, and, in any case, Mussolini, from his earliest days, had looked forward to the downfall of the British Empire. The Duce was convinced that Germany would win, at least in the sense that she would retain her mastery in Eastern Europe, and he, as well as Hitler, believed that the French lacked stability and that they would eventually lose patience and agree to a plausible peace, with safeguards for Czech independence and the setting up of a restricted Poland. Further, Mussolini still adhered to the principles of his Four Power Pact.

As regards the suggestion that France might become unstable, there is no doubt some danger that a position of continued stalemate on the west might have a tendency to demoralise the French, but any opening up of the war in the north or the South-east would probably have the effect of dissipating this. In any case, the fear of Germany should go far to keep the French from losing confidence, and to maintain, or create, political stability.

The Attaché discussed the question of Italian preparedness and expressed the view that notwithstanding the improvement in the fortifications of Italy and in her armed forces during the past six months, she was not strong enough to wage war such as fully against Great Powers, although she would be effective in a restricted struggle in the Balkans. He did not believe that her entrance into the war was at all imminent, and he thought that Italy's plan, if she could succeed in carrying it out, was to bide her time as long as possible and see how the struggle developed. I asked what effect on Italy he thought an attack by Russia against Roumania would have, and he expressed the view that the U.S.S.R. would not attack Bessarabia, which might add Italy to the Roumanian side. This would not be a development agreeable to Germany.

As regards the situation on the West, I think that the view which prevails here at the moment, notwithstanding the sensational reports from America and elsewhere that immediate attacks by Germany against Holland and Belgium are in preparation, is that large-scale hostilities in the West are not imminent and that it will remain for some time, perhaps for months, a question of the accentuation of the blockade by the allies, with counter pressure on the neutrals by Germany, and any supporting or counteracting military action that the working of the blockade may bring. Greatly increased air and sea activity is also envisaged. It is a problem for the allies, in addition to restricting supplies to Germany, to force Germany to use what supplies she has. That is why they would probably be not at all averse from an extension of the conflict to some of the neutral countries close to Germany, if Germany decided to invade such countries. One of the great services rendered to the allies by the Finnish resistance was the use, and the waste, of war material of all sorts by Russia which could only be replaced from supplies which might otherwise have found their way to the Germans. The latter are of course at the moment so well provisioned in all sorts of materials that no blockade could have any early effect, but the moral effect should be crushing if it came home to the Germans that no matter what suffering they might be prepared to endure, the military and naval strength of the allies helped by the strangle-hold of the blockade would render their eventual defeat inevitable.

I should mention on that some friends of mine met at Easter at a Winter resort some German acquaintances who had come from Germany and the latter expressed to them the view that the Reich would find it difficult to sustain another Winter. On the other hand I met an Austrian not at all partial to Germany, who seemed well versed in the history of the war and the events which had led to it, and his view was that he was not at all sure that Germany could be beaten this time, and he thought that she would in any case succeed in retaining her mastery of Eastern Europe. An English writer whom I also met and who had just made a tour of the Balkans said that he could not see where the allies could make decisive contact with Germany outside the Siegfried line. The Balkans countries, he said, would be opposed to any extension of the conflict there, and he thought that Turkey would not at present be agreeable to opening the Straits to the allies.

It is I think the general opinion that such is the organisation in Germany that the blockade could not be made sufficiently effective to decide the issue, alone, and that it would require some great defeat, in addition, to affect seriously the German morale. The outcome of events in the north will be awaited anxiously by all neutral countries in proximity to the Reich. It will affect, and may possibly determine, their morale also.

[signed] F.T. Cremins

1 Not printed.

2 Denmark and Norway were invaded by Germany on 9 April 1940.

3 The Skagerrak Strait runs between Sweden, Norway and Denmark connecting the Kattegat Strait, which leads to the Baltic Sea, with the North Sea.

4 See DIFP V, No. 292.

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