UK diplomat sought deal with Nazis

Newly revealed MI5 files tell tale of amateur diplomat who wanted to divide world between UK, Germany.

James Lonsdale-Bryans 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
James Lonsdale-Bryans 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A British amateur diplomat tried to make a peace deal with Germany during WWII by offering Germany free reign in Europe in exchange for British rule over the rest of the world, according to previously unreleased documents. MI5 Security Service files released under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 show the amateur diplomat and fascist sympathizer James Lonsdale-Bryans travelled to Italy for covert discussions with the German ambassador, Ulrich von Hassell, in an attempt to negotiate a deal with the Germans in the early days of the war. The Foreign Office were aware of his activities and hadn't tried to stop him, but the level of official backing remains unclear. A handwritten note from the security service stated: "He went to Italy with the knowledge of the FO in order to develop his contacts. He greatly exceeded his instructions." The file includes letters to the then-foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, wherein Lonsdale-Bryans explained his views. The summary of his activities captures the uncertainty in the security service as to the degree of official backing Lonsdale-Bryans had: "There is no doubt that Lonsdale-Bryans, with or without authority from Lord Halifax, endeavoured to go to Germany to contact Ribbentrop and, if possible, Hitler himself." It also revealed the level of unease about Lonsdale-Bryans's actions. It read: "It would appear that Bryans may be taking part in unofficial discussions for the benefit of troops under the auspices of education officer. Lonsdale-Bryans's idea was that the world ought to be divided into two parts. "That Germany should be given a free hand in Europe and that the British Empire should run the rest of the world. I am not sure that this is a very desirable point of view to publish at the present time." Further problems ensued when it was revealed that Lonsdale-Bryans had tried to discuss his plans with senior American officials, including Dwight D. Eisenhower, then the supreme commander of the allied forces in Europe. This prompted the British to reassure the US that he was merely "unreliable, though not disloyal." Lonsdale-Bryans first came to MI5's attention in 1939, following pro-German comments he made in Singapore. An old Etonian [Eton college graduate] short of funds, he seems to have made his way in life by associating with powerful, titled Nazi sympathizers, including the Duke of Buccleuch and Lord Brocket. The security services were acutely aware of the embarrassment which could be caused by any government association with him. A letter from 1941 said: "Although there seems to be a good deal to be said for locking him up to prevent him airing his views, if this is done it will inevitably involve his bringing up the question of his contacts with the Foreign Office."