Polish-British Common Defence Pact
The Anglo-Polish military alliance refers to agreements reached between the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 and the Polish Second Republic for mutual assistance in case of military invasion by "a European Power". According to the secret protocol added to the treaty the phrase "a European Power" used in the Agreement was to be understood as Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

. It was signed in London on August 25, 1939. It was registered in League of Nations Treaty Series on January 3, 1940.

British Guarantee to Poland

On March 31, 1939, in response to Nazi Germany's defiance of the Munich Agreement
Munich Agreement
The Munich Pact was an agreement permitting the Nazi German annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland. The Sudetenland were areas along Czech borders, mainly inhabited by ethnic Germans. The agreement was negotiated at a conference held in Munich, Germany, among the major powers of Europe without...

 and occupation of Czechoslovakia, the United Kingdom pledged the support of itself and France
French Third Republic
The French Third Republic was the republican government of France from 1870, when the Second French Empire collapsed due to the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, to 1940, when France was overrun by Nazi Germany during World War II, resulting in the German and Italian occupations of France...

 to guarantee Polish independence.
On April 6, during a visit to London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 by the Polish foreign minister
Foreign minister
A Minister of Foreign Affairs, or foreign minister, is a cabinet minister who helps form the foreign policy of a sovereign state. The foreign minister is often regarded as the most senior ministerial position below that of the head of government . It is often granted to the deputy prime minister in...

, it was agreed to formalize the guarantee as an Anglo-Polish military alliance, pending negotiations.

This guarantee was extended on April 13 to Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 and Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

 following Italy's
Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946)
The Kingdom of Italy was a state forged in 1861 by the unification of Italy under the influence of the Kingdom of Sardinia, which was its legal predecessor state...

 invasion of Albania
Italian invasion of Albania
The Italian invasion of Albania was a brief military campaign by the Kingdom of Italy against the Albanian Kingdom. The conflict was a result of the imperialist policies of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini...


Polish-British Common Defence Pact

On August 25, two days after the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the Polish-British Common Defence Pact was signed. The treaty contained promises of mutual military assistance between the nations in the event either was attacked by another European country. The United Kingdom, sensing a dangerous trend of German expansionism
In general, expansionism consists of expansionist policies of governments and states. While some have linked the term to promoting economic growth , more commonly expansionism refers to the doctrine of a state expanding its territorial base usually, though not necessarily, by means of military...

, sought to prevent German aggression by this show of solidarity. In a secret protocol of the pact, the United Kingdom only actually offered assistance in the case of an attack on Poland specifically by Germany, though both the United Kingdom and Poland were bound not to enter agreements with any other third countries which were a threat to the other.

Because of the pact's signing, Hitler postponed his planned invasion of Poland
Invasion of Poland (1939)
The Invasion of Poland, also known as the September Campaign or 1939 Defensive War in Poland and the Poland Campaign in Germany, was an invasion of Poland by Germany, the Soviet Union, and a small Slovak contingent that marked the start of World War II in Europe...

 from August 26 until September 1.


At the time Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 was demanding the cession of the port of Danzig
Free City of Danzig
The Free City of Danzig was a semi-autonomous city-state that existed between 1920 and 1939, consisting of the Baltic Sea port of Danzig and surrounding areas....

, an extra-territorial highway (the Reichsautobahn Berlin-Königsberg) across the Polish Corridor
Polish Corridor
The Polish Corridor , also known as Danzig Corridor, Corridor to the Sea or Gdańsk Corridor, was a territory located in the region of Pomerelia , which provided the Second Republic of Poland with access to the Baltic Sea, thus dividing the bulk of Germany from the province of East...

, and special privileges for the 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. 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
Free City of Danzig
The Free City of Danzig was a semi-autonomous city-state that existed between 1920 and 1939, consisting of the Baltic Sea port of Danzig and surrounding areas....

. Fearing all-out German invasion no matter what, Poland rejected the German demands.

The British and French governments had plans other than fulfilling their treaties with Poland. On May 4, a meeting was held in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 at which it was decided that "the fate of Poland depends on the final outcome of the war, which will depend on our 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
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 were continued. Also in May 1939, Poland signed a secret protocol to the 1921 Franco-Polish Military Alliance
Franco-Polish Military Alliance
The Franco-Polish alliance was the military alliance between Poland and France that was active between 1921 and 1940.-Background:Already during the France-Habsburg rivalry that started in the 16th century, France had tried to find allies to the east of Austria, namely hoping to ally with Poland...


On September 17 the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 invaded Poland through the eastern Polish border. 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".
However, Poland did not engage the Soviet troops in hostilities, did not declare war on the USSR, and did not acknowledge the existence of a state of war with the USSR; the Polish troops were ordered to withdraw and avoid confrontations with the Soviet army.
The Polish ambassador in London, Raczyński, contacted the British Foreign Office demanding a declaration of war that Poland itself was not going to make. The Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax reminded him that it was Britain's decision whether to declare war on the Soviet Union. Additionally, the text of the treaty had been supplemented by a secret protocol which defined "a European power" as Germany, so the government of the United Kingdom did not have an obligation to help Poland fight the Soviet Union. It is unknown whether ambassador Raczyński was aware of the secret protocol's existence at the time when he contacted secretary Wood.

Further reading

  • Anita J. Prazmowska
    Anita J. Prazmowska
    Anita J. Prazmowska is a Professor in International History at the London School of Economics. Her main fields of research interests lie in the Cold War, communism, contemporary history, Eastern Europe, fascism and Poland. She has published several books, and journals...

    , Britain, Poland and the Eastern Front, 1939, Cambridge University Press, 1987, ISBN 0-521-33148-X
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