49 Note by Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, of Conversation with General Sir Edmund Ironside, Chief of the U.K. Imperial General Staff

LONDON, 7 February 1940

Saw Ironside who handed to me the appreciat[ion] prepared by the Chiefs of the General Staff [1] in response to the Prime Minister's cable of the 26th January. [2]

After I had read it we hid a considerable discussion on it paragraph by paragraph.

As I propose to include the result of that discussion in a cablegram which I will send to the Prime Minister there is no need for me to deal with it in detail.

In addition to the points raised by the Memorandum I had some considerable discussion with Ironside with regard to the possibility of a move in Scandinavia. I put to him that quite apart from the prestige and sentimental considerations in aiding the Finns, the real objective would be to ensure the Northern Iron Ore Fields in Sweden. He quite agreed that that was so and indicated that the real base line of the Allies in Scandinavia would be Narvik, the Iron Ore fields, Lulea. On this base line he suggested we would be able to sit and that nothing the Germans could do would be able to shift us. He pointed out that this line would cover any attempt to attack via the Gulf of Bothnia.

We also covered the question of the assistance which could be given to Sweden in the event of a German attack and he confirmed that the strategy would be to support Sweden in holding the line of the Lakes.

I raised with him the point that even if we could hold that line it would be very difficult for us to do anything to save the Swedes from intensive air bombardments of their principal centres of population, including Stockholm, as the Germans would be able to operate from their own bases.

This, he said, was perfectly true, but so soon as the Germans started bombing civilian populations from the air in Stockholm, we would retaliate on Germany and particularly the Ruhr.

I then put to him that that would mean a starting of the reciprocal bombing between the Allies and Germany and I asked him what the military appreciation of that development was.

He said without hesitation that it would suit us.

I then asked him why if that was so we had not already started that form of warfare, to which he replied the reason was that the Prime Minister [3] would not permit our taking the initiative in commencing this type of warfare. He was, however, quite definite that from a military point of view our position was sound should indiscriminate bombing from the air be commenced.

This at least is an interesting point to have established. I am not at all certain that he is right, as while I think from the point of view of the effect on the morale of the two nations the balance would be in our favour, I have some doubts in my mind as to whether the material damage and the restriction of production that would result would not be more severe in the restricted area of the British Isles than in Germany.

We also had some discussion on the Narvik proposal which he quite obviously thought was an utterly impracticable adventure and which he described as being entirely Winston's. [4]

We also had some discussion as to how the talks with the Swedes and Norwegians were to be conducted when the time arrived for them, and having [sic] agreed that they would have to be conducted with the Governments in these two countries and not by the Foreign Secretary with the Ministers here. He showed in the openest way a complete contempt for Sam Hoare [5] when his name was mentioned as a possible person to be sent to Scandinavia.

I also pressed him very strongly as to the position in which we would find ourselves if following our committal to a Scandinavia adventure a new front was created by an attack by Germany in the Danubian and Balkan countries.

On this he was not very convincing, merely reiterating his conviction that Germany would not attack there because of the difficulty of the operation and the number of men that it would be necessary to employ in it.

On the point of the possibility of Russia definitely joining in the hostilities he was very emphatic that that need cause us no great apprehension, and stressed the damage it would be possible to do by air action against Baku.

On the whole my impressions were that he is rather too breezily optimistic and inclined to ignore possibilities such as an attack in South-Eastern Europe if he feels that it is unlikely a situation will arise.

1 See Document 56.

2 Document 31.

3 Neville Chamberlain.

4 U.K. First Lord of the Admiralty.

5 U.K. Lord Privy Seal.

[AA: M100, FEBRUARY 1940]