Carlton House Terrace, in the heart of London, has had a major impact on the city’s environment and on world history. Soul City Wanderer invites you to read more of its fascinating story in the fourth instalment of a five-part article running this week.
In February 1938, Joachim von Ribbentrop was officially recalled to Germany from his role as ambassador to the UK. The new incumbent at Carlton House Terrace was announced as Herbert von Dirksen.
Dirksen had previously been the German ambassador to Poland, Japan and the Soviet Union. The London post was his reward for supporting Ribbentrop’s Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan. Like Ribbentrop, Dirksen was a wannabe nobleman. Like Ribbentrop, he had won the Iron Cross during World War One. Like Ribbentrop, he became a hate-stirring fanatical Nazi.
Unlike Ribbentrop, he was at least a professional diplomat. Indeed, his appointment was very much welcomed in London, where he initially made a respectable, favourable impression.
He repeatedly assured the anxious Chamberlain government that things would work out just fine. He constantly talked up the possibility of an Anglo-German détente. And he diligently passed on British offers of negotiations (which he knew would fall on deaf ears). He even played a role in setting up the Munich Agreement of September 1938.
However, it may have been a case of ‘better the devil you know’. At least with Ribbentrop, you were aware of where you stood. Dirksen was saying one thing to London and another to Berlin.
He reported to his superiors that the British people were ‘psychotic’ warmongers. He also warned them to be aware of Churchill and Eden. He then teamed up with that other great snake of St James’s, US ambassador Joseph Kennedy, reporting to Berlin (with some truth) that Kennedy was possibly a bigger ally of Germany than he was of Britain.
Eventually, Dirksen’s true nature began to be exposed. At a dinner for the German News Agency in London in December 1938, Dirksen interpreted Chamberlain’s speech as a criticism of Hitler, and led all the German journalists in a walk-out.
In March 1939, Dirksen arranged for the Nazi Women’s League to hold a conference in London. It was fronted by Gertrude Scholtz-Klink, the most senior female in the Nazi party. The welcome dinner at Claridge’s was attended by several influential British high society women and representatives of the National Women’s Citizens Association, the National Council of Women of Great Britain, and the National Council for Maternity and Child Welfare.
However, the visit prompted protests by groups of British women who were not so easily manipulated. Outside the Carlton House Terrace embassy, the demonstrators carried banners with slogans such as ‘Freedom for the women of Hitler’s concentration camps’. Dirksen complained bitterly and encouraged Berlin to issue threats to the British government.
In July 1939, Robert Hudson, a high-ranking British civil servant visited Dirksen at Carlton House Terrace to offer the Third Reich a new ‘deal’. Hudson was working on behalf of some powerful British and American financiers who were desperate to head off the threat of war as it was bad for business. Effectively, the deal was that Britain and the USA would arrange a low-interest multimillion-pound loan to be paid to the Third Reich in exchange for Germany not attacking Poland. When he left Carlton House Terrace, Hudson boasted to the journalists gathered outside that he had prevented a world war. However, when the story broke, the public reaction was highly negative. The proposal was seen as akin to the ‘Danegeld’ that the Anglo-Saxons had paid to prevent Viking raids in dark-age England: essentially a cowardly bribe. The whole plan backfired. The British government insisted that no such idea was being entertained and that Hudson had acted independently. Dirksen used the affair to highlight to Ribbentrop the desperate lengths the British would go to in order to avoid war.
From Berlin, Ribbentrop was still pulling the strings at Carlton House Terrace. He was working on his masterplan to wipe-out the British Empire, which was to lure it into war, isolate it, and destroy it. His chicanery went into overdrive as he played a key role in brokering pacts to achieve this.
Contemptuously violating the worthless Munich Agreement, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939. Britain immediately offered Poland a guarantee of support if Germany invaded. Dirksen protested vociferously to Lord Halifax, but the British government, smarting from being duped in Munich, were now adamant. However, by the time their direct response had been filtered through the channels at Carlton House Terrace and Ribbentrop’s office in Berlin, it had been softened enough to convince Hitler that Britain would not go to war on behalf of Poland.
Ribbentrop knew full well from his communications with Carlton House Terrace that the invasion of Poland would be an absolute ‘line in the sand’ for Britain to declare war, which is, of course, what he wanted. However, Germany couldn’t invade Poland without provoking the Russians. Hence the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. This Nazi–Soviet non-aggression agreement effectively allowed Germany and Russia to carve up Poland between them.
The Russians played their duplicitous part. Every week, from April to August 1939, the embassy at Carlton House Terrace was anonymously mailed top secret communications which has taken place between the Foreign Office and the British Embassy in Moscow. (The Soviet secret service had access to all British Foreign Office’s cables throughout the 1930s. The codes had been bought from inside the Foreign Office itself. Not from one British mole, but from two, working independently!)
These cables had been carefully edited by the Soviets to make it appear that the British were angling for their own alliance with the Russians, in an attempt to force Germany’s hand into signing the pact. Dirksen passed them onto Ribbentrop who made it clear to Hitler the perfidious nature of the British ‘deceit’.
In August 1939, to prevent any further British offers or alliances that might prevent a war, Ribbentrop ordered the Carlton House Terrace embassy staff in London to avoid their official duties, and not to engage in any communications with the British government. On August 3rd, Dirksen had his final meeting in the embassy. He was then ordered back to Berlin with instructions never to return to London. The embassy was effectively abandoned by the Germany on August 14th.
The final points of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact were signed off on August 23rd 1939. Ribbentrop was actively involved in planning the invasion of Poland which occurred a week later. The following day, Britain declared war. Seen in this light, the outbreak was down to Ribbentrop’s machinations, not Hitler’s.
Ribbentrop continued with his anti-British strategy. In September 1940, after most of central and northern Europe had been conquered by Germany, the Tripartite Pact was signed by Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Albania and Slovakia. Yugoslavia and Croatia joined a few months later, harnessing most of eastern Europe to the Nazi yoke. Italy and Spain, of course, were already under Axis-friendly regimes.
June 21st 1941: as dawn broke on the mid-summer solstice, the entire continental mainland was either under the Nazi jackboot, part of the Nazi Axis, or neutralised. In Europe, Britain stood alone, in darkness, and well and truly isolated. It seemed as if Ribbentrop’s masterplan had seen the light of day.
On June 22nd, however, Germany invaded Russia and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was dissolved. For Nazi Europe, the night would begin to close in. Winter for Hitler and Germany.
Final part of Soul City Wanderer’s ‘The Carlton Conspiracy’ tomorrow.
Blakeway, Denys. The Last Dance. John Murray, 2010
Clow, Don. ‘From Macadam to Asphalt’ (part 1). Accessed online May 2018: glias.org.uk/journals/8-a.html
Lukacs, John. Five Days in London – May 1940. Yale, 1999.
Shepley, Nick. Hitler, Ribbentrop and Britain. Andrews UK, 2013.