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Automotive History

This site has been established in order to publish various Working Papers for general study and comment on automotive history.


Sir Robert Vansittart
Guy Nichoals Vansittart
I set out below a short genealogical chart of the Vansittart family. The three important members are respectively, Sir Robert Vansittart, later Lord Vansittart of Bexley; Guy Nicholas Vansittart, his younger brother, and their brother-in-law, Sir Eric Phipps.

It is my contention as a result of considerable research worldwide, that the three gentlemen had, in varying degrees, a pronounced effect on foreign policies, and as a result, influence on the conduct of the war.
The British are always too late-two days too late to save Gordon, two years too late in arms to avert two world wars-and their heroes are those who make the best of it.[1] Lord Vansittart of Bexley, 1956
Sir Robert Vansittart [“Sir Robert” but in the Foreign Office and elsewhere known as “Van”] was born on 25 June 1881, the eldest son of Captain Robert Arnold Vansittart [a Cavalry Officer] and a Miss Blanc, and was married for the first time in 1921 to Gladys, who died in 1928, the only daughter of General William C. Heppenheimer, of the U.S.A., by whom he had one daughter. He was educated at Eton and spent a full 7 years there before leaving Britain and spending a season in Homburg, Germany. He then took the train to Vienna, with the Boer War still raging, and stayed there for some time, repeated between periods in Germany and France. Sir Robert’s two brothers were also educated at Eton, incidentally. With considerable experience of the foreign scene under his belt, Sir Robert had to decide on a career with either the Foreign Office or the Diplomatic Service, which were entirely separate and hardly contacted each other. Sir Robert thought that he would like to see the world, and so elected for the latter. He was appointed Attaché in 1902, and had appointments overseas virtually immediately, namely Paris in 1903; Tehran, 1907; Cairo, 1909; and then in 1911 was established in the Foreign Office “as a favour and on the ground of ill-health I was temporarily received into the Eastern Department of the senior service” he said.[2]

Arthur Vansittart was the younger brother of Sir Robert, and more like a son in fact.[3] He was educated at Eton, and then Oxford. He was commissioned in 1914 into the Hussars, just as Sir Robert himself had asked to be released so that he could join the Army, which was refused. After war broke out, Sir Robert was appointed joint head of the contraband department. In mid-May 1915, Sir Robert was ordered to sail to Sweden to a diplomatic mission in Stockholm: his brief was to be responsible for trying to keep Sweden out of the war, ensure supplies could be sent through to Russia safely and also that the blockades against German shipping were maintained. Sir Robert was packing his baggage read for the trip when the telegram came through that Arthur had been killed at Ypres.[4] On the Cruiser en route for Sweden, Sir Robert genuflected, and I suggest that at that point his mind became coloured forever. He wrote “Grudges, public or private, are a weakness of intellect; yet, thinking in my cabin of the havoc, I could see no reason why Germans and moralists take it for granted that we will always forgive deliberate offenders for all that they have done, especially when they mean to do it again. The personal element should not affect policy, but one cannot prevent experience from confirming conclusions already reached Why ask for strength to reverse them?”.[5] When in Stockholm, he was lodged next door to a spy school run by a German whom he had known at the London Embassy. He passed him “most mornings on his jaunty way to send young sailors to their doom”, which must have been galling beyond belief: these student-spies were then sent to the U.K., and became easy meat for M.I.5, Sir Robert said.[6]

Sir Robert subsequently he was promoted of sorts, and switched to be Head of the Prisoners of War Department, under the chief, Lord Newton. As such, he later became aware all too well of “German sadism” in their P.O.W. camps. Here is a classical quote “Yet we British assume too lightly that, on grounds of dignity, we must put up with evil till it ceases. I have thought that we should rage till we uproot it. That stance is alien to our nature, but I still believe that we should never look the other way.”[7] He then goes on to say, justifiably, that it was fortuitous that the Germans forced a rupture which mitigated Anglo-American tensions, by fomenting Mexican uprising in an alliance against the U.S. in exchange for Arizona, New Mexico and Texas being given back to Mexico. He said that the Americans hated our hovering cruisers, which pounced on neutral ships. We hated American firms which span money out of our misery.”[8] Britain was at that stage running out of money: by the summer of 1916, the U.K. had spent £5,000 million and the war was costing £7 million a day! Sir Robert’s first experience with spying and intelligence was of course in Stockholm, and yet he states that the British had exposed many minor German Agents in the U.S., including von Papen, the Military Attaché. He also mentions that Lloyd-George sent Lord Northcliffe to co-ordinate the War Mission in the U.S., who was tireless in boosting the British war effort. However, the French under Tardieu and the Italians “ran us down in order to get more supplies for themselves”.[9] This is the apparent hypocrisy, that the British war effort required supplied from the U.S., for example magnetos for machinery which could not be produced in sufficient quantities for Government demands. F.R. Simms, whose company in London was producing as many magnetos as possible, stepped in and arranged for the requirements to be supplied from the Simms’ plant in New York instead. By 1917, the British Government had placed huge orders for four-wheel drive F.W.D. trucks that could not be supplied by the F.W.D. Company itself, and so the company had to sub-contract production to other truck companies in order to satisfy the British orders, as well as arrange for British licence production. Further, in order to ensure as near self-sufficiency as possible in foodstuffs, the Government ordered large numbers of tractors from the U.S. of varying designs and capabilities to mechanise crop cultivation.

The War dragged on: the Generals reputedly believed that the end would come in July 1919[10] and yet Sir Robert comments that “the prisoners pointed to an earlier conclusion…I felt my hands on the collars of those German camp-commanders and the brutes who had sunk our hospital ships, yet doubted whether any account would be settled.”[11]


Although the War ended with the signing of an Armistice in the famous railway carriage on 11 November 1918, no formal treaty had been agreed. Electioneering in Britain and other causes resulted in the Versailles Peace Conference not starting its first full session until 18 January 1919. Sir Robert was suddenly asked to attend the Peace Conference himself, and was ensconced in Paris. At the Paris Peace Conference, Sir Robert met and saw in action representatives of the American and French Governments and their respective diplomatic corps: the machinations and failures in Paris tainted his perspective for life and he acquired a distaste for the U.S. and Americans, which affected his later dealings with their Government.

Sir Robert emerged in 1920 as an assistant secretary in the Foreign Office. After Paris, his appointments in London brought him into contact with politicians who were, in my opinion, to have a profound influence on him as well. He was Secretary to Earl Curzon, the Foreign Secretary from 1920-24 [who replaced Arthur Balfour]; then Assistant Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 1924-28, Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin 1928-29; and then was appointed Principal Private Secretary by the new Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald for a short while, from the 1929 Election into the following year. In 1930, Esmé Howard, Ambassador in Washington, died, and in his place MacDonald sent Robert Lindsay, who had succeeded “Willie” Tyrrell as head of the Foreign Office, and appointed Sir Robert in Lindsay’s place, namely Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office. Sir Robert was continuously Permanent Under-Secretary at the F.O. until November 1937, having seen Baldwin replace MacDonald, and then Chamberlain succeed Baldwin in turn. Sir Robert served under various Foreign Secretaries, but his career ended as a result of a falling-out with Neville Chamberlain.

Sir Robert was offered first the Berlin and then Paris Embassies to manage, but he declined the offers. As there was nowhere else for him to move to, Chamberlain appointed him to an ad hoc position created for him as “Chief Diplomatic Adviser to H.M. Government”, until he retired in the spring of 1941.

Sir Robert enjoyed an excellent relationship in his opinion with Stanley Baldwin, and for a time MacDonald. Conservative Party M.P. Stanley Baldwin had inherited his safe Conservative seat in Bewdley, Worcestershire from his father. After almost ten years his political career took an upward turn. Backed by Andrew Bonar Law, and old friend of Baldwin’s father, Baldwin became a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the wartime Government, under Prime Minister David Lloyd-George [Liberal Party]. Six years after being elevated, Bonar Law resigned as Prime Minister because of his ill health. Baldwin had given a speech at the Carlton Club in 1922 which had helped crush Lloyd-George’s coalition [Liberal and Labour coalition?]. Bonar Law became Prime Minister in 1922 in succession, and then the following year, Baldwin was asked to form a Government. He then held office as Prime Minister in 1923. The 22 May 1923 election was won by Stanley Baldwin (Conservative Party). The 22 January 1924 election won by James Ramsay MacDonald (Labour Party).

However, the Liberals had had extracted a price for supporting Labour, the Liberals under Lloyd George still favouring the principle of Free Trade. As a consequence, the Labour Government scrapped the 33 1/3rd % “McKenna Duties” as of 2 August 1924 [under the Finance Act 1924], thus providing that all passenger cars and chassis were duty-free, and therefore on the same basis as commercial vehicles, and immediately the economies of scale meant that the U.S. imports were far cheaper to deliver, landed, than Canadian: the 1/3rd reduction for the Imperial Preference as applied by S.8 of the Finance Act 1919, no longer applied and therefore there was no benefit financially in sourcing from Canada.

The abandonment of duties did not satisfy certain vociferous sections of British industry and agriculture, who then complained of unfair competition, especially from the U.S. Worries had been expressed in Canada that their preferential duty status was affecting their valuable export business as well. The 4 November 1924 election won by the Conservative Party again. Many M.P’s were elected in the 1924 General Election after the MacDonald Government fell, on the strength of their opposition to Free-Trade, and belief in Protectionism. Thus, the Conservatives were able to form a new Government under Stanley Baldwin, again, who in turn appointed Winston Churchill as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he who had at one time been a Liberal himself! Thus, Baldwin became Prime Minister for the second time and continued until 1929, but lost the premiership to MacDonald again after swelling the electorate by 5 million in 1928, 2 million more than men as a consequence of the Representation of the People Act, and the effects of the decline in support of his weak government from 1928. MacDonald was head of a Labour administration until 1931, and then headed the new National Government until June 1935 when he resigned. Baldwin took over again, and succeeded in the November 1935 General Election.

Arthur Neville Chamberlain replaced Stanley Baldwin when he retired in the spring of 1937, with Chamberlain succeeding 31 May. Sir Robert had served with Anthony Eden as Foreign Secretary from 1936 to November 1937, although Eden himself resigned in February 1938. The new Permanent Under-Secretary, Sir Alexander Cadogan, was a very different animal to his predecessor, although Sir Robert still had a part to play in Government policy. However, although he pleaded to Chamberlain to remain head of the Intelligence Services, the Prime Minister insisted that the job went with the Permanent Secretaryship of the F.O., and therefore Sir Robert had to rely on his own intelligence sources which he had set up in 1930.


The Committee of Imperial Defence [C.I.D.], which reported to the Cabinet, struck the Defence Requirements Sub-Committee [D.R.C.] in October 1933 as “conditions became increasingly difficult to implement a British foreign policy based on minimum expenditure on armaments and a maximum of international amity”.[12] A meeting of the C.I.D. confirmed the setting up of the D.R.C. on 9 November 1933, under pressure from Sir Maurice Hankey, the secretary to the Cabinet and also the C.I.D., Sir Norman Fisher, Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, and Sir Robert. The other members were the three service chiefs.

By the autumn of 1933, Neville Chamberlain, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer and Fisher had become concerned that the international situation had deteriorated to the point where some remedial defence measures would have to be considered by the Cabinet. In October 1933, Fisher, Sir Robert and Hankey co-authored a memorandum to both the Cabinet and the C.I.D. to the effect that Germany would soon pose a grave threat to British security. In November, Chamberlain admitted to the C.I.D. that the strategic deficiencies outlined in the 1933 Chiefs of Staff Review could no longer be regarded as subordinate to the then continuing financial crisis. [13] At the D.R.C. meeting of 19 February 1934, Vansittart made clear that in his opinion a major role of the D.R.C. report was to provide instruction, a programme of education on a fundamental issue for the survival of Britain and the Empire.[14] Taken literally, this could arguably have set the precedent for “educational orders” which were put into motion the following year, but it n fact meant that Sir Robert and Hankey wished to express to the Cabinet and the nation their concerns over the international situation and the need for rearming.

There were two Reports of the D.R.C., the first was dated 28 February 1934, [which became a White paper] marking the end of the first series of D.R.C. meetings, whilst the second seems to have mainly referred to the first: the 13th meeting of the second series was held 11 July 1935. Regrettably, with hindsight, the recommendations of the first report were drastically altered and the Cabinet’s Ministerial Committee on Disarmament of 18 and 31 July 1934 under the influence of Chamberlain reduced the increase in defence estimates to £59 million over five years [Chamberlain’s cuts were discussed by the D.R.C. 20 June 1934]. It appears by the Autumn of 1933, running into the winter of 1933/34, Chamberlain was concerned that any drastic increase in defence spending would have an adverse effect on the recovering economy, and he held the purse-strings.[15] Charmley contends that no one in the cabinet wanted to see an increase in taxation, and no-one particularly liked the Baldwin suggestion of a defence loan. Chamberlain contended that defence spending on the Army should be cut in favour of the RAF. [16]

Vansittart was involved in the issue of the White Paper on re-armament around 1 March 1935.[17] Sir Robert maintained that he had been pressing for a paper to be published throughout the winter of 1934/5, however Baldwin “still felt unable to risk a landslide on arms”. It appears that the claim was for another £11 million to be spent, and opponents such as Attlee who claimed that we were “rattling back to war”. The 1935 Defence White paper was succeeded by yet another of March 1936. Sir Robert subsequently headed of a Committee on Re-armament.

One argument in 1936, for the placing of feelers in Canada for military production in Canada was because the Johnson Act of 1934 precluded military supplies from the U.S.A. whilst the W.W.1 Debts were still outstanding. On 20 April 1936, Colonel N.O. Carr returned from London with photographs of British trucks that could be adapted for use in Canada. I have to say that the Canadians made initial overtures to London, not the other way around, as there was still a feeling that the British industry could provide all of the British requirements [well there was in some quarters, others realised that we needed the Canadians!].

It is also interesting that Vansittart says that the Dominions would not have gone to war before 1939, and yet Canadian Army Lt. General H.D.G. Crerar, was writing in 1936 that Hitler would go to war, unless the Japanese got in there first!


The years from 1934 to 1937 were a time during which the British Empire was confronted with the emergence of the triple threat of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Fascist Italy. The goal of British policy was easily defined: the protection and promotion of Britain’s vast interests. While Neville Chamberlain and Sir Robert Vansittart agreed on the goal, they disagreed on the means to achieve it. Their disagreement stemmed partly from their different understandings of the nature of the Third Reich; Vansittart understood better than Chamberlain the implications of Hitler’s Weltanschauung. But their different strategies also reflected the fact that Chamberlain did not share Vansittart’s belief in the necessity of pursuing alliance diplomacy to protect the world-wide security and interests of the British Empire. While the Prime Minister realised that Britain’s problems were global in scope, he thought Britain could solve each problem on a bilateral basis. In other words, Britain should approach Germany, Japan, and Italy directly to settle outstanding disputes. Vansittart did not believe, however, that Britain’s problems could be solved on a bilateral basis, for the interdependence of events in every region of the globe militated against bilateral solutions.

Alvin Finkel and Clement Leibovitz[18]argued strongly against the notion that British governments from 1933 to 1939 intended to “appease” Hitler by letting him have bits and pieces of territory in eastern Europe where German-speaking groups could be found. Instead, they worked assiduously to inform Hitler that he had a “free hand” in the east, signed the Naval Agreement in 1935 in recognition of the free hand, and finally, in three meetings in September 1938, produced an “Anglo-German understanding” which confirmed the terms of the “free hand”. Hitler could do what he wished in the east in return for guarantees to leave both the west and the British Empire alone. The Chamberlain-Hitler Collusion details the actions taken by the British Cabinet and Foreign Office from Hitler’s accession to power until the fall of the Chamberlain government.

The discussions leading to the establishment of the Anglo-German Naval Accord of 1935, for example, are presented in detail in the book. Most countries, including Germany and France, regarded the accord at the time it was passed as constituting a British agreement to a “free hand” for Germany in central and eastern Europe. Of course, British politicians, recognising the unpopularity of the Nazi regime with the British public, denied that it represented anything of the sort. But Sir Robert Vansittart as the Permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, had heard all the discussions leading to the treaty and wrote to King George V about his concerns regarding the policy of a “free hand”. Sir Robert, like Winston Churchill, regarded a rearmed Germany as a potential threat to the British Empire. But only a small section of the political elite took seriously warnings from either Vansittart or Churchill that an alliance with Germany against the Soviet Union was a dangerous course to consider for the preservation of the Empire.

At Berchtesgaden Hitler indicated that, from Germany’s point of view, the Naval Agreement, which limited Germany’s naval armament to 35 percent of Britain’s, made sense only if Britain and Germany agreed that they would never make war on one another. He wanted Chamberlain to make such a commitment or he would tear up the Naval Agreement. Chamberlain, though anxious for an “Anglo-German understanding”, wanted Hitler to be less vague. He clumsily but clearly put forth the offer of the “free hand” in the east, assuring Hitler, who had not directly broached the issue, that Britain would pressure Czechoslovakia not to respond if Hitler attacked the Soviet Union. In other words, not only would Britain not oppose German belligerence against the Soviets, but it would also attempt to dissuade others from opposing German aims in the east. But Hitler would not offer the assurance that the Nazis’ expansionist aims were limited to the east. Late in their second meeting at Godesberg, Hitler did offer the assurance that Chamberlain wanted”. They note, citing the diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan, Vansittart’s successor, that Chamberlain told Cabinet that Hitler was “extremely anxious to secure the friendship of Great Britain... it would be a great tragedy if we lost an opportunity of reaching an understanding with Germany.” The official Cabinet minutes add: “He thought he had established some degree of personal influence over Herr Hitler.... Herr Hitler had said that if we got this question [Czechoslovakia] out of the way without conflict, it would be a turning point in Anglo-German relations. That to the Prime Minister, was the big thing of the present issue. He was also satisfied that Herr Hitler would not go back on his word once he gave it.” Having offered Hitler carte blanche in the east and having heard Hitler promise that he would, in return, leave the west and the British Empire alone, Chamberlain dissembled to Cabinet. “Did Hitler mean to go further? The Prime Minister was satisfied that Herr Hitler was speaking the truth when he said that he regarded this as a racial question.”

There is other evidence between Godesberg and Munich that Chamberlain believed he was in the process of achieving the broader international policy deal with Hitler, which had been his real purpose in going to Germany in the first place. He opened up secret contacts with Hitler which by-passed the Foreign Office. The character of the messages he sent made clear his view that he and Hitler were co-conspirators. Such contacts would continue for many months. The Friendship Declaration signed after Munich was, in Chamberlain’s mind, the formal “Anglo-German understanding” which he sought. It stated in part: “We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.” Though Chamberlain penned these words, they simply replicated Hitler’s thoughts at Berchtesgaden. The Godesberg promise from Hitler had encouraged Chamberlain, who now felt the two countries could sign a mutual friendship pact that signalled their agreement on international issues. In the period following Munich, Chamberlain gave ample evidence of his view that he had a deal with Hitler, rather than an empty Friendship Declaration. “I’ve got it,” he said, patting his breast-pocket, as he sat down to lunch with Foreign Affairs officials after signing the Friendship Declaration. He sent envoys to Germany whose purpose was to show Hitler what accommodations on Germany’s part were necessary to insure that Chamberlain remained in office. He took comfort from bullying speeches by Hitler, which mixed pledges of friendship to France and the British Empire with otherwise bellicose language. Should this evidence convince us that Chamberlain believed he had a deal with Hitler?

Finkel and Liebovitz refer to the elites in Britain and France as the “rich idle classes.” Its author, as they note, is Oliver Harvey, secretary to Lord Halifax. Commenting on a meeting he had had with William Strang, a Foreign Office official who was growing uncomfortable with the direction of his government’s foreign policy, Harvey wrote that “Strang and I agree that the real opposition to rearming comes from the rich classes in the Party... any war, whether we win or not, would destroy the rich idle classes and so they are for peace at any price”.

Finkel comments that Sir Robert’s positions on Hitler and the Nazis pre-Munich were consistent. He believed that Hitler represented a threat to the British Empire, and those letting him have a free hand in central and eastern Europe were “treasonous”. He believed quite strongly that the government he represented was indeed giving Hitler that free hand, and worked tirelessly to change their mind. His position was similar to Churchill’s but he was far more consistent than Churchill who waffled in the hope of being re-invited to Cabinet. Those in the government and the Foreign Service who favoured co-operation with Hitler labelled Vansittart a “Germanophobe” pretending that his critique of Hitler was aimed at Germany rather than at Nazism. This was patently false, but allowed those who would collude with Hitler to ignore the specifics of what Vansittart argued. By the time of Munich, Vansittart had lost all real influence on government policy, and his fancy-sounding post was only ceremonial.

Finkel adds that Sir Robert was dropped, ironically by Eden, as permanent secretary, and kicked upstairs to an honorific position to keep him out of harm’s way. Cadogan, not Vansittart, was permanent secretary from 1937, and Halifax’s confidant. Cadogan viewed Vansittart as a Cassandra, and it is quite clear from government members’ behaviour that they did not take Sir Robert too seriously. He is barely mentioned in anyone’s correspondence from 1937 to 1939. The exception is Churchill, who shared Sir Robert’s views and met with Sir Robert and Ivan Maisky, the Soviet ambassador, on regular occasions. Vansittart was, as far as is known to date, the earliest individual of high rank in the government or civil service to see through the Nazis and was quite consistent in his position that Britain should follow a policy of firmness with Hitler.

One of the things that Sir Robert’s enemies did at the time [and he had a number!] was to paint him as Germanophobic. This was an effort to equate Hitler with the German people. There was, in fact, no evidence that Sir Robert’s views regarding the Nazis had a racial basis. Sir Robert did share information with his successor Cadogan, who always believed that he was exaggerating-Cadogan was not an admirer of Hitler like Chamberlain but he was an isolationist who wanted to keep Britain from getting involved in another European war. He did not care much for Austrians, Czechs, and
Poles who might fall under Hitler’s control.

Halifax, who replaced Eden in February 1938 as Foreign Secretary, was quite sycophantic at his meeting with Hitler in late 1937. But after the Godesberg meeting that preceded Munich, he seemed to lose the stomach for the alliance with Hitler that Chamberlain so assiduously pursued. Chamberlain got him to change his mind, however Chamberlain never entirely trusted Halifax or the Foreign Office. He used personal agents to contact Hitler, causing consternation at the Foreign Office (he was, in fact, violating both law and precedent regarding dealings with foreign countries). Even Cadogan was quite miffed.

Michael Carley’s The Alliance That Never Was and the Coming of World War Two treats Sir Robert quite favourably and suggests that in 1938 and 1939, he was working along with Churchill and Soviet ambassador Ivan Maisky to create conditions for a British alliance with the Soviets against Hitler. It is probably correct in
to suggest that Sir Robert was involved in some subterfuge. But, since he was also fairly closely associated with all the key anti-Nazi individuals within the elite, he would have had access to lots of information about what was happening in Germany that he did not have to personally gather. Also, his continued access to all the officials in Foreign Affairs mean that he would have had access to information that was collected abroad on the Nazis. The Foreign Office was pretty split on how to deal with Hitler; Sir Robert was not alone.


Sir Robert makes his mark above all as a Germanophobe, warning of the looming danger of Nazi Germany and calling for immediate British rearmament among diplomats bent on appeasing Hitler. Sir Robert’s militant outlook was eventually dubbed Vansittartism: a belief that the conduct of German foreign policy ever since modern Germany’s inception in 1870 was inherently inclined to aggression. He believed that European peace could only be guaranteed if Germany was permanently demilitarised.

Despite having been one of the few British diplomats of the 1930’s to protest his government’s policy of appeasing Hitler, he was nevertheless no friend to the German conspirators. His anti-German attitude was so extreme that he no more trusted the German Resistance emissaries of chief conspirator General Ludwig Beck than he did the Nazis. Sir Robert comments that in 1935 he began to meet Karl Goerdeler, one-time Mayor of Leipzig: Sir Robert thought him the “only genuine German conspirator”, and admired him for his later convictions.[19]

Two men who seem to have been overlooked in Sir Robert’s memoirs, who have since been accused of being traitors were the brothers Erich and Theo Kordt, Staatssecretariat [Secretary of State] Weizsäcker’s ‘right-hand men’. Prior to the events of Munich, the conclusion of the German-Russian Pact, and the outbreak of the war with Poland, the Kordt brothers had taken it upon themselves to appraise Halifax and Sir Robert of all those important secrets of state which they had learned through their activities in the Foreign Office and through carefully sounding out those men closest to Hitler. The brothers, who were acquainted with Sir Robert, had managed to escape with their lives in the “Night of the Long Knives”, and were lucky enough dependent on whose point-of-view you follow, to carry on to serve Hitler[20]. Dr. Theodor Kordt (1893-1962) was German Ambassador to Britain (1938-39). He was a Lawyer and then a career diplomat. He entered the German Foreign Service in 1923, and presumably came into contact with Sir Robert at this juncture. In 1938, Theodor Kordt succeeded the former Champagne salesman, Joachim “von” Ribbentrop as German Ambassador in London. Dr. Kordt, with his brother, Erich who served as diplomatic chargé d’Affaires, to persuade the British government to end the policy of appeasement and actively confront Hitler over the Czech-Sudetenland crisis. The Ambassador then informed British officials of Hitler’s desire to go to war but encountered no change of attitude from Whitehall as by then Sir Robert was largely ignored and his attitudes were at odds with Chamberlain’s and Halifax’s. In 1939, Kordt even volunteered to assassinate Hitler by smuggling a gun into the Chancellery, but on the planned occasion, Hitler cancelled his appointment! On 31 August 1939, Sir Robert reputedly said to the German Ambassador: “England will wage this war right to the end, and like Samson in the Bible we will tear down the pillars of the palace and bury everything beneath the rubble!” Dr. Kordt was subsequently appointed Ambassador to Switzerland where he sought to establish contact with the Allies.[21]

Sir Robert had no time for the German Resistance, who seemed to have promised the elimination of Hitler, because they “all wanted illicit rewards for fictitious exploits”. However, he thought Goerdeler the genuine article though, and the only man with such a past [as a right-wing Nationalist, and in 1933 a Nazi co-operator] that he ever liked as Goerdeler wanted the assassination of Hitler, and although Sir Robert thought that his acquaintance would never go through with it he tried to persuade Sir Robert that one of the Generals or similar would carry out the deed. Sir Robert says that he never found a Resistance Movement worthy of mention in either the German Foreign Office or Wehrmacht. Sir Robert says that Goerdeler was prepared to die for his principles and died, horribly and bravely.[22]


Sir Robert was party to official intelligence even after his movement sideways, to become Chief Diplomatic Adviser. However, he also benefited from any intelligence from his brother, and various other private sources. The chief source of information was through his relationship with Malcolm Graham Christie, whom Sir Robert had first heard of in 1924-26 when he oversaw the American Department and Christie was Air Attaché in Washington. Christie began to make air intelligence his main task in the U.S. and then from 1927-30 as Air Attaché in Berlin until he retired from the R.A.F. Sir Robert took advantage of Christie’s positions and his contacts as an international businessman who was well connected in Britain and Germany. In the following three years, Christie developed extraordinary access to material on German politics and air strength and to the decision makers. He was acted as a freelance amateur, but after 1933 Sir Robert cam to regard Christie as Britain’s best source on the inner workings of the Reich. The two men gradually formed a joint view on Germany and thus Christie’s connections became the basis for Sir Robert’s private intelligence service. [23]

Suggestions have been made that Sir Robert and Malcolm Christie cemented their relationship in the incorporation of a private company, VANSITTART & CHRISTIE LIMITED of 1932 or thereabouts. This was in reality Sir Robert’s “private detective agency”, and the information gathered through the Christie network was supplemented by information gathered through Sir Robert’s position as Permanent Under-Secretary until he was moved. However, Companies House can find no record of such a company nor of anything similar, and therefore either it was never a limited company or all trace was removed at some stage.

It might be thought that Sir Robert’s relationship with Christie waned by the immediate pre-war period, but this was not the case. The evidence shows that even shortly before Sir Robert was appointed to the S.O.E., he was involved with collecting vital information from Christie who was at the time in Switzerland. After war had broken out, another Old Etonian Lonsdale Bryans left for Rome and after a time made contact with a junior Italian official who was engaged to the daughter of Ulrich von Hassell. He then found out about the planned coup that involved his future father-in-law, and various German Generals. Lonsdale Bryans then returned to the U.K. and met fellow Old Etonian Halifax, etc. He then travelled to Switzerland where he met von Hassell himself on 22 February 1940. On return to the U.K. with a message from von Hassell concerning the ant-Hitler plot, he met various Foreign Office officials including Sir Robert Vansittart. Evidently, Lonsdale Bryans’s amateur mission seemed not only pointless but positively dangerous. Sir Robert sent a Memorandum to Lord Halifax, as Foreign Secretary on 11 March insisting that neither the Generals “nor anybody else can or will deliver the goods or revolution”. In support of this he cited soundings taken by Christie who had been in communication from Switzerland with members of the anti-Hitler opposition inside Germany. Sir Robert thought that it was a “doomed experiment” to negotiate with the Germans “whether the Will o’the Wisp dances in the name of phantom Generals or of a fat Field Marshal with a neutral go between”. The latter referred to feelers from Göering through a Shell-Mex oil executive, Baldwin Reaper. [24]


Guy Nicholas Vansittart [Although Sir Robert referred to him as “Guy”, General Motors always called him “Nick”] was Sir Robert’s youngest brother, and was born on 8 September 1893 in Foots Cray, Kent. He was educated at Eton, from 1905 to 1910, and then entered Oxford where he obtained a 3rd Class Honours in History. He was then commissioned, presumably after a spell at Sandhurst, into the Central India Horse, a Lancers regiment, in 1913, and spent his time in India. Nick wrote to Sir Robert that the whole garrison of the Indian town where he was stationed had come to condole him on the loss of his brother. Whether the loss of Arthur had any pronounced effect on Nick, I can only speculate that it did. His final rank was as a Captain. He received the Belgian Ordre de la Couronne. He married a Belgian, Marguerite Good, and died post-1981. His address in the war was Chorley Grange, Ibstone , Bucks.

There were three sisters, one of whom married Sir Eric Phipps. Phipps was British Ambassador in Berlin (1933-37) and at Paris (1937-39) - two key ambassadorships which spanned the crucial period between Hitler’s advent to power and the outbreak of the Second World War. However, Phipps and his brother-in-law were at odds completely regarding the Nazis and their intentions, something that seems to have boiled for some years until mid-way through Phipps’s time in Paris.

The Paris Embassy of Sir Eric Phipps: Anglo-French Relations and the Foreign Office, 1937-193” by John Herman is relevant here. His painstaking depiction of Phipps’s zeal for Chamberlain’s policies and consequent flouting of views of the Chief Diplomatic Adviser, throws the internal tensions of British foreign policy-making into startling relief. Herman’s sensitivity to the fact that Phipps and Vansittart were brothers-in-law adds a dimension of human drama to what is already a compellingly readable study. His examination of Phipps’s machinations helps explain the extent to which the Spanish Civil War was resolved in the capitals of Europe as much as on the battlefields of Spain. Not the least of this book’s merits is the way in which it illuminates the uncertainties of French foreign policy. John Herman’s book provides a richly delineated portrait of one Ambassador and manages at the same time to cast its light far beyond the Paris Embassy.[25]

Sir Eric Phipps was British Ambassador in Berlin (1933-37) and at Paris (1937-39) - two key ambassadorships that spanned the crucial period between Hitler’s advent to power and the outbreak of the Second World War. This book explains the striking contrast between his reputation as a staunch anti-Nazi and an ‘anti-appeaser’ in Berlin, and as a ‘defeatist-appeaser’ in Paris. This book explains the striking contrast between his reputation as a staunch anti-Nazi and an ‘anti-appeaser’ in Berlin, and as a ‘defeatist-appeaser’ in Paris.

Nick Vansittart left the Army in 1922, and immediately took up a position with Lloyd’s [Bank] and National Provincial Foreign Bank. He then spent three years in various banking departments, in France and Belgium, but then resigned in 1925. He joined the Sales Department of General Motors International in Antwerp in April 1925, just as the new plant got into production, and then in October of the same year decided to capitalise on his financial experience and left to become Assistant Branch Manager for General Motors Acceptance Corporation in Antwerp.

It may seem incomprehensible why an Eton-educated former officer with family connections might seek a career with General Motors, and yet the Corporation and its overseas subsidiaries and operations, including the Export Company, attracted and took on numerous former Great War veterans, and Yale- and Harvard-educated men. They were then sent around the world with often-considerable success and rose to high positions.

However, there was a more serious and secret side of Nick’s life that must have been influenced by his brother’s career. Sir Robert was Secretary to Earl Curzon, the Foreign Secretary from 1920 to 1924 and “about 1923”, attempted to get a job with the Secret Intelligence Service. Sir Robert was a close friend of Stewart, later Sir Stewart, Menzies, who was at the time either chief of the military secret intelligence section, or, after the death on 14 June 1923 of the then head of S.I.S., Captain Sir Mansfield Cumming, the first “C”, in effect personal assistant to the replacement chief, “Quex”, Admiral Sir Hugh Sinclair. Nick does not make it clear whether he was working for Lloyd’s at the time, or was straight out of the Army, which pins it down to 1922. Nick relates that he was in White’s billiard room when Menzies came in. He asked him if he could have a word with Menzies, and advised him that he wanted a job in the secret service. He said that he would see what he could do for him, and was told to be there at White’s the next day at 5 p.m. When Nick turned up at the appointed time, he was collected by a car with blinds drawn and was taken from White’s for about an hour with blinds drawn to a large Victorian house in an area that he did not know. Two men interviewed him about his politics, money, whether he was “queer”, etc. and then said that they would be in touch with him. He was then taken back to White’s in the same car. Menzies told Nick the following day that everyone was impressed, but they were tight for money and it might be some time before they could take him on. He then states, “So I went off and got a job as European representative of General Motors”. However, if this event took place two years later, in 1925, Sir Robert was Assistant Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, a post which he held from 1924 to 1928, and Nick perhaps had had a fill of working for Lloyd’s and National Provincial and sought something more challenging through his brother. The query about the actual year is because Nick stated that “sixteen years later”, Menzies asked him to come into the billiard room and asked him what he knew about explosives and Rumania. Nick said that he knew nothing about either, but later learned that a group had gone out to the Baku oil fields to blow up the powerhouses to stop the pumping of oil to Germany.[26] However, Mr Duncan Stuart, the S.O.E. Adviser, comments “With regard to your question about the Rumanian and Baku oil fields, a great deal of work was done by both Section D and MI(R) before the formation of S.O.E. on projects to deny Rumanian oil to the Germans, both by blocking the Danube and/or commandeering or sabotaging the barges which conveyed the oil, and by sabotaging the oil-fields themselves. In the event, though detailed plans were prepared, no sabotage was carried out. In the summer/autumn of 1941, following the invasion of the U.S.S.R. by the Germans, consideration was given by S.O.E. to mounting an operation from Iran to infiltrate a team clandestinely into the U.S.S.R. in order to destroy the Baku oilfields. This, unsurprisingly since the Russians were by then our allies, ran into political objections and it was decided to try to interest the Russians (with whom S.O.E. were by then in liaison) in carrying out the operation jointly. Equally unsurprisingly, the Russians did not warm to the idea and it therefore came to nothing”.

Stewart Menzies was promoted a full Colonel, and “Quex’s” deputy, in 1932, a position he held until 27 November 1939, after Sinclair died on 4 November.

There is no evidence as to whether Sir Robert was also a member of White’s, but as Nick evidently was, it must be assumed that he was. Menzies had joined White’s, the most exclusive club in London, in 1921 or 1922. The club did not serve as the secret service club, which was Boodles, just down the road in St. James’s Street, but Menzies and the executive of the S.I.S. used it. White’s was closely connected with Eton and the Life Guards, and a very political place. Menzies often read the newspapers by the fire in the billiards room, which was almost always empty. Whenever anyone wanted to see Menzies, he would speak to them in the billiards room where he could talk without lowering his voice. [27]

Menzies was born in January 1890. He then entered Eton College in 1903 at the age of 13. In 1910, he was commissioned into firstly the foot Guards, and then after a year the Life Guards, until he joined the intelligence section of the Grand Staff in December 1915. Sir Robert was several years older than Menzies, but also an old-Etonian, but Menzies was probably a contemporary of Arthur Vansittart, and three or so years senior to Nick, though the younger three were at Eton together for some time. The query is whether Menzies and Nick had known of each other, if not actually friends, for many years before the request at White’s?

As to how Nick secured a position in Antwerp, this can only be educated speculation. James D. Mooney was in England at various times in 1924 and 1925, occupied with the opening of the British Empire Exhibition, the attempted acquisition of Austin Motors, and finally in the Autumn of 1925, the acquisition of Vauxhall Motors. General Motors International B.V. opened the first G.M. overseas assembly plant outside England in Københaven/Copenhagen in January 1924, but General Motors Continental S.A. opened an assembly plant in Antwerp in March 1925. Until then, Belgium was under the control of the Paris sales office of G.M. Export Company, headed by a Norwegian, Christian Lie, from mid-1922 to mid-1925. Lie was also a director of G.M. Limited in this period. However, another director of Limited, Charles Giovanni Stradella, the manager of General Motors Acceptance Corporation in London by 1924 is another possibility. Stradella. Finally, the Export Company Operating Manager, William Harvey, Junior, visited the Antwerp, Copenhagen and London Plants between March and May 1925. Mooney was in the habit of taking on promising young men at the time, and his appointments proved to have been excellent choices in several cases. The European G.M. managers would have thus treated an approach to G.M. Limited or G.M.A.C. in London with great interest. We have no evidence that Nick was in fact recruited by S.I.S. on an unpaid basis, but if this was the case then being located in Belgium, and receiving a salary would have enabled him to provide information as early as 1925.

In May 1927, Nick rejoined General Motors Continental as Sales Manager, and was then promoted Assistant Managing Director in March 1929. In July of the following year, he was promoted again Managing Director of General Motors Continental. On 8 March 1937, Vansittart was appointed Regional Director [for Northern Europe] responsible for General Motors Continental, General Motors (France), General Motors Suisse and General Motors Limited and their territories, with headquarters in Antwerp [as well as General Motors G.m.b.H., Wiesbaden; Adam Opel A.G.; General Motors International, Copenhagen; General Motors Nørdiska, Stockholm].[28] He was also responsible for the Balkan countries.[29] From 1 January 1938, the North European Region covering Denmark and Sweden was placed under David F. “Dave” Ladin; the Mediterranean Region covering Egypt, North Africa, Spain, Portugal and India, was placed under G.D. Riedel; and Nick Vansittart was appointed to Regional Director for Central Europe, covering Belgium, France, Switzerland, the U.K.[30], although his resume in 1943 stated that he was also responsible for Germany and Central European countries. Nick. Vansittart was transferred from being Regional Director for Central Europe to becoming Regional Director for the British Isles, based in London. General Motors World confirmed that Nick was appointed to London in November 1938[31], though he retained a substantial house near Antwerp until May 1940. Incidentally, the same magazine’s June 1940 issue mentions that Jan Engles, the G.M. Continental Plant Chauffeur went to Guy Vansittart’s Antwerp home and rescued the family silver, and took it Bordeaux.

General Motors World state that after his new appointment in November 1938, Nick was placed in charge of the H.Q. office of General Motors Limited in St. James’s Square, which was correct, and figured importantly in the building of the assembly plant at Southampton that was destroyed during World War II bombing. During the war it was claimed that he played an important role in arranging contracts for military vehicles and in planning war production.

In 1938, Guy was also appointed a Director of DELCO-REMY & HYATT LIMITED and then subsequently FRIGIDAIRE LIMITED. On 16 May 1939 Guy, whose address was quoted as 8, Stanhope Terrace, London W.2, was appointed Director of AC-SPHINX SPARK PLUG COMPANY LIMITED, as well as being a Director of VAUXHALL MOTORS LIMITED, General Motors Limited, Southampton and ASSOCIATED ETHYL COMPANY LIMITED [Company Number 344539, later Associated Octel Company Limited], the British licensee of the U.S. Ethyl Gasoline Corporation, owned 50% each by General Motors and Standard Oil] that held the rights to tetraethyl lead “anti-knock” compound: this was essential in the high octane petrols used in military aircraft. However, by June 1940, he was living at 42 Upper Brook Street, London W.1, and then by December 1946, 55 Park Lane, London W.1, where he was still living in 1955. Until May 1940, Nick also had a large house near Antwerp as well. However, in 1943 his address was Chorley Grange, Ibstone, Buckinghamshire, and he had married a Belgian, Mlle. Marguerite Good.

Nick was appointed Director of Adam Opel A.G. in 1938/9 but not of General Motors G.m.b.H. He was also a Director of GENERAL MOTORS CONTINENTAL S.A., and possibly also of GENERAL MOTORS INTERNATIONAL, Copenhagen; GENERAL MOTORS SUISSE S.A. Bienne; and GENERAL MOTORS NØRDISKA, Stockholm, but it has not been possible to check.

Nick was elected Chairman of the Board of Vauxhall Motors Limited in July 1948, and then at a meeting of the Board on 22 April 1953, he relinquished his office in favour of Sir Charles Bartlett. On 23 April 1953, the Board of Directors of General Motors Limited elected Nick Chairman of the Board succeeding the American, Walter E. Hill.[32] Hill then resigned and returned to the U.S. in February 1955, and Nick succeeded him.

On 9 November 1950, Nick was appointed Director and Chairman of AC-Sphinx, also being Chairman of Vauxhall Motors Limited. His address was 55 Park Lane, London W1. The company was finally wound-up 15 December 1953.

Nick Vansittart finally retired as Director and Chairman of the Boards of General Motors Limited and Vauxhall Motors Limited 30 September 1958. He was evidently still alive in 1984, living in Mayfair, London: possibly 55 Park Lane still?


Dr Hugh Dalton and Sir Robert Vansittart, Hon. D.Litt. (Reading); Hon LL.D. (Aberdeen) had a long relationship together. Sir Robert’s first impression of Hugh Dalton was acquired after Dalton’s father had been assigned as a tutor to the young Sir Robert, and it appears that Sir Robert and the young Hugh were introduced to each other as a consequence. However, their relationship was evidently one of respect even though they probably had different political views. Dalton was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, between 1929-1931 by MacDonald, and then whilst in opposition, Labour’s leading spokesman on Foreign Affairs, between 1935 and 1937. As Sir Robert had been born into the elite it is suggested that he was a Tory at heart, and yet he owed his appointment as Permanent Under-Secretary to a Labour Prime Minister!

The Labour Party pre-war advocated pacifism: Clement Attlee in a speech said that the country was “rattling back to war”, and “The world must disarm and join in a system of collective security”. To this Sir Robert comments that “This time the Germans laughed”. Sir Robert comments “At our measured revelation of German preparations and or measured need to take care of ourselves Conservatives winced, Liberals and Socialists raged. Month after month, year after year, on went the chorus”.[33] Further, some of his friends in Parliament, and others thought that self-protection was “a horrible nightmare”, “the beginning of the end of the British Empire”, national madness”, “national suicide”, a policy never heard out of Bedlam”, and “a madhouse policy”. Sir Robert commented that “Public servants have no importance, but they may have human feelings. Except in my home I was miserable, confronted with an Opposition is blind, while knowing myself to be in the bad books of the Government”. However, Sir Robert claims that Hugh Dalton “was the most prescient of the Socialists”, and he “tried to bring his side to earth again” [34]. The impression that Sir Robert gives is that Dalton was one of a small handful of Labour men whom he thought saw the situation for what it was, and non-hypocritical.

Alvin Finkel says that he is not surprised that Sir Robert would have liked Dalton. Sir Robert came from the elite and was probably a Tory. But Sir Robert got his appointment as Permanent Secretary from a Labour government that included Dalton, and Labour, rather than the Tories, provided the support for his and Churchill’s views in the dark days of the late 1930’s. Dalton continued to hold high office and had access to Halifax and all the Foreign Ministry officials [as Labour spokesman 1935-37]. Within the Foreign Office, there was a range of opinions, and Sir Robert had influence with many officials, though not with Cadogan, the isolationist, or Halifax, the admirer of Hitler. Just the fact that Sir Robert had been kicked upstairs in 1937 rather than removed demonstrates that the government was unprepared to have a showdown with opponents of appeasement. Instead it maintained a facade of dealing with each situation as it arose, and being committed to pragmatism rather than a fixed ideology.

The next time that Sir Robert and Dalton actually worked together was after Churchill had replaced Chamberlain in May 1940. On 12 May 1940, Herbert Morrison was appointed Minister of Supply, and Dr. Hugh Dalton was made Minister for Economic Warfare, the only other labour M.P. given Cabinet rank being Sir William Jowett as Solicitor General [and of course Clement Attlee]. Morrison had a short term of office as Minister of Supply as the Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew Rae Duncan G.B.E. succeeded him, he was appointed to the post in October 1940.

In June 1940 Sir Robert Vansittart became head of the Foreign (Overseas) Resistance Committee, a largely F.O.-dominated body that disbursed Treasury funding to resistance groups, but principally to the governments in exile in London and to the
Free French.

As Minister for Economic Warfare, Dalton had a very short period of pure ministerial responsibility, as on 16 July, Churchill invited Dalton to take charge of subversion. Neville Chamberlain arranged the details; from his hospital bed he formulated the S.O.E. charter. The paper also laid down that S.O.E. was to be under Dalton’s Chairmanship as Controller of the S.O.E. and that Sir Robert Vansittart was to assist as an adviser. S.O.E. in effect took over the “D Section” of S.I.S., which had been created in 1937, “D” for “Destroy”. According to an S.O.E. circular dated 22 March 1941, Sir Robert was Chief Adviser to Hugh Dalton, “who advises him direct and exercises no administrative functions in S.O.E.”. Dalton then appointed Sir Charles Hambro, an old Etonian banker as his second-in-command. Sir Robert appears to have faded out of the S.O.E. in the spring of 1941, and retired completely, being ennobled for his career. Dalton himself left the Ministry of Economic Warfare in February 1942, and was appointed President of the Board of Trade.

In a reference in book on Churchill & Roosevelt, Sir Robert was mentioned as having been at Church at Chartwell in 1942, and was then lunched. Churchill commented that “Van actually likes Dr. Dalton!”.

Admiral Sinclair, “Quex”, and Colonel Menzies concentrated on a main preliminary operation in the immediate post-war period, namely to establish whether the anti-Hitler group in Germany, with whom Sir Robert had made contact of sorts, was powerful enough to establish an alternative government to that of the NSDAP. Sinclair believed that the Secret Intelligence Service, S.I.S., had been penetrated by the Germans, and thus he established a third new secret service in 1938, Section “Z”. Lt.-Colonel Claude Dansey was recalled from Rome where he was the “Passport Control Officer”, a post held in Embassies by S.I.S. officers. Dansey was put in charge of Section Z with instructions to operate throughout Europe in parallel to S.I.S. but with neither organisation being aware of the existence of each other until the outbreak of war. Dansey was headquartered in Bush House, The Strand, in London, and not in Broadway where the S.I.S. had been located since 1924. Z Section possessed a structure independent of that of the Broadway, and it existed not only to conduct espionage but also to undertake “higher political tasks”. Dansey then set about establishing his “Z Network”: this was an unofficial and informal “natural cover” branch of the Secret Service composed mainly of businessmen who reported information to Dansey. At the beginning of the War, it was wrapped up, and all Z Agents overseas reported to their nearest Passport Control Officer and thus reported to the S.I.S. itself. However, some members of it became regular members of S.I.S. and Dansey became a Vice-Chief of the S.I.S. There is strong evidence, other than the request by Menzies as mentioned above, that Nick Vansittart was recruited into the “Z Network”. Nick’s recruitment by Dansey was clearly a considerable advantage, though Cadogan had by then replaced Sir Robert as the ultimate head of British Intelligence: Sir Robert cannot therefore have been said to have recruited his brother directly. Nick was of course, Eton-educated, and a former officer of impeccable background and a fluent French-speaker. He was also extremely well placed in his positions in General Motors to pass on information of all categories. What we cannot prove is whether Nick had previously been an agent of the S.I.S., and if so whether as it is conjected, he had been continually for some years.

Alvin Finkel agrees that Sir Robert probably did get information privately from his brother, avoiding the official intelligence methods. Given his single-mindedness in trying to get the degree of dirt on the Nazis needed to shake up the Chamberlainites, he would not have resisted involving a family member who might conceivably be able to help: the challenge would be to figure out what and how much. It cannot be assumed that much or most of his info came from there. Vansittart was in a strange position. The top men in government did not want to hear Sir Robert’s point of view, but they knew that his complete removal from a position of apparent responsibility would rouse the anti-Nazis to fever pitch and undermine the government’s credibility. So they put him in a position where he had every access to whomever and probably whatever documents he might like to see, but little chance to affect the course of events.

Possible further proofs of Nick’s connections with S.I.S. are revealed in Anthony Cave Brown’s book. Colonel Menzies, then deputy to Admiral Sinclair, had a country house, Bridges Court, in Luckington, a small village in west Wiltshire: a working farm of about 40 acres, acquired in 1923 and completely restored in 1924. In 1936, a German Agent, Baron Robert Treeck, possibly one of the pre-war German dissident group that included Admiral Canaris of the Abwehr, leased a house, Luckington Manor immediately adjacent to Menzies’s house, Bridge’s Court.[35]In September 1939, Treeck vanished, and the house and its contents that were left were placed under the control of the Custodian of Enemy Property. In the early part of 1941, Menzies’s wife was ill and had to remain at their Luckington home whilst her husband, by then “C”, head of the S.I.S., was fully occupied in London until a scrambler telephone was able to be installed in the house. It appears that Nick Vansittart, cited as a “friend” of the Menzies, was living nearby in “Luckington Court”, which was and is a short distance away in Church Street.

According to the Kelly`s Directories from 1923-1939, Luckington Court was occupied by Col. Sir Edward Alexander Johnson-Ferguson. The next reference is in the electoral register for 1945 when John Christopher Brinton occupied Luckington Court. During his wife’s illness, Menzies used to come regularly to the Vansittart’s house seeking, what Nick thought was respite, because he could not find contentment when he got home to his wife.[36] Nick refers to Menzies as “Stewart” in his recollection of the meeting in White’s, and also with regard to Mrs. Menzies. That would be interesting enough, but when the head of the counter foreign counterespionage section of the Sicherheitsdients, or SD, Brigadeführer der SS, Walther Schellenburg was captured after the war and interrogated, he claimed that he had knowledge of ten suspected companies or individuals that worked in the British interest in Berlin, other than the “Black Orchestra” that centred on Canaris. He quotes, amongst others, “Opel Limited”, an automobile manufacturer which had close connections with General Motors whose “European representative, a certain Hartmann” was Menzies’s neighbour at Luckington Manor, the house which Treeck had leased until he fled. Schellenburg said that he was particularly suspicious of one of the Opel directors, “Winter”, who was arrested on suspicion of espionage but released through lack of evidence. Professor Henry Turner, Yale University, states that "Winter" was Eduard Winter, who had headed G.M.'s German car assembly operation in Berlin in the 1920’s [General Motors G.m.b.H.] before the purchase of Opel, and then owned the Opel dealership in Berlin until he was bought out in 1939. After the conquest of France and the Low Countries, he was appointed custodian of GM’s operations in France and Belgium. After the war he became the biggest VW dealer in Berlin, where one still sees his name prominently displayed: see Albert Speer's memoirs on E.W.'s problems with the Gestapo during the war.

We also know Mooney’s record of an earlier occasion when Nick and Geheimrat Opel notified Mooney in London of the arrests of Opel engineers. Mooney seems to imply genuine concern at the arrests, and if that Mooney and Nick were both agents of the British, and that these arrests were as a consequence of suspicion by the SD, there would have been a pressing need to secure the release of their “men” from the clutches of the Gestapo. This is an extract from my notes taken from Mooney’s unpublished biography:

“Mooney was in London on or about the 27th March, and he thus probably arrived on the 26th or 27th. Mooney says that he met Guy Nicholas “Nick” Vansittart, Regional Director for the British Isles, and Geheimrat Wilhelm von Opel, Chairman of the Board of Adam Opel A.G. in London. Vansittart and von Opel had disturbing news about several engineering executives who had been taken into German police custody on a charge of alleged activities inimical to Germany’s national economy in general, and its automotive industry in particular. It was agreed that Mooney would proceed to Berlin to investigate. Together with Edward C. Riley, then Assistant General Manager of G.M. Overseas Operations, who was also travelling in Europe, Mooney left for Berlin 29 March 1939 [with von Opel?] arriving in the morning of 30 March. Mooney spent the following week strenuously trying to expedite the official investigation of the charges against the engineers, which Mooney said the company knew were unfounded. Two men proved very co-operative and helpful in securing clearance for the men: Raymond H. Geist, American Chargé d’Affaires in Berlin and Joachim “von” Ribbentrop, the Reich Foreign Minister. By 6 April, the men were released with a “clean bill of health”.[37] One of the men was executive engineer Karl Stief who was in fact a member of the Committee of Management of Adam Opel A.G. from 1937 to 1940 at least. Mooney wrote to Geist who was then Counsellor at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, on 11 July 1947 and stated that he head heard two weeks previously from Stief, whom Geist had helped Mooney get out of the clutches of the Gestapo[38]”.

Schellenburg also stated that another representative of G.M., “an American called Mooney”, alias “Stallforth”, was found to have had secret connections with dissidents within the German General Staff and with von Hassell, the German Ambassador at Rome, who was later executed for high treason. This latter reference appears to be in connection with an alleged visit by Mooney to Germany on official business as a director of Opel in the spring of 1941. This is completely bogus and confusion between James D. Mooney and one Frederico or Federico Stallforth, a German-born Mexican citizen who was apparently a banker in New York. Further, the reference to “Hartmann” is also a misnomer: it in fact referred to Captain Frederick William HARTMAN, RNVR. Hartman was a founder director with Captain Ernest Samuel Lendrum, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, both apparently having being Great War Naval pilots. Their company, Lendrum’s Motors Limited, later Lendrum & Hartman Limited, were Buick distributors until 1932 when they became Buick, Cadillac, and La Salle Concessionaires, being supplied with Canadian and a few U.S.-sourced Buicks as well as U.S.-sourced Cadillac and La Salle cars. However, the General Motors Export Company in New York supplied them direct, and Lendrum and Harman had in theory nothing to do with General Motors Limited although by 1937 the same ships that imported cars and trucks for Limited via Southampton brought in cars for Lendrum & Hartman. In 1931, Lendrum resigned as a director, [dying in South Africa in spring 1939] and then on 20 July 1934, Lendrum and Hartman Limited completely reorganised, with an increased share capital, and a new director was appointed, Mrs. Dorothy Mirabelle Cynthia Hartman, F.W. Hartman’s wife, formerly Lady Dalrymple. Hartman, by then a Captain in the Royal Engineers, died on 5 September 1942, and his widow took over the running of the company. The Luckington directory shows that Captain F.W. Hartman was listed as “occupier” of Luckington Court although he must have been the freehold owner from at least 1935 to 1939. In 1945, according to the Electoral Register for 1945, one Olive E. Allen occupied Luckington Manor. It is suggested that Schellenburg was confusing Capt. Hartmann, from whom Treeck was renting, with Guy Vansittart.

On the above evidence Nick must have rented Luckington Court during the war from Colonel Johnson-Ferguson, although this seems to be contradicted by the address quoted by S.O.E. in 1943 save for the latter being an “operational address”.[39] Schellenburg stated that he believed Mooney was also a spy for the British in 1940, and seems to have referred to Captain Hartman in the same breath. There is no known connection between Treeck, who was allegedly a member of Admiral Canaris’s circle, and Hartman. However, during the Autumn of 1935, the then Prince of Wales paid a visit to the Albemarle Street showrooms of Lendrum and Hartman, and Captain Hartman himself was called from a local hairdressers to personally attend on his Royal client. The works manager, Ted Taylor, who had been recruited by Hartman from the Buick Company, then had an appointment to visit the Prince at York House to take instructions on the requirements of the client. Taylor was then sent to Oshawa to supervise the building of two cars ordered: one the main car, the other a back-up. The choice of these Buicks was said to have been made by Mrs. Simpson. James D. Mooney had known the Prince of Wales since 1924, and as President of the Export Company, these special orders [for three cars in the end], would have been sent through the Export Company New York City office. The Prince had been given a British-assembled but Canadian-sourced [McLaughlin-]Buick in 1925, and had been driven in a special lizardskin trim car, one of two specially built in Oshawa in 1928 for the Prince’s tour of Canada. That year the Prince had toured the Vauxhall works in Luton and been driven in a Vauxhall limousine to and from his special train. Stewart Menzies had known the Prince since 1911, which created a dilemma for him in 1935 when the Prince was seeing Mrs. Wallis Simpson, who was herself allegedly being manipulated by von Ribbentrop. On 1 January 1936, the Prince had dinner with Rex Benson, the other guests including Mrs. Simpson, Sir Duff and Lady Diana Cooper, Sir Duff being the new Minister for War, and Sir Robert and Lady Vansittart.

Mrs Dorothy Rylands, then Miss Brook, a lady who is now aged 93 years, remembers Nick Vansittart very well, and suggests that he was in a world of his own, since he had overall responsibility for the G.M. operations in the British Isles. She worked in G.M. Detroit until 1936 then moved back to England, and went to work for GM in London, and then Southampton. The lady was the Treasurer's secretary until the plant was bombed. She initially went to Bamber Bridge, near Preston, with G.M. Limited, but then came back to London. In 1941 she was working in the H.Q. offices in central London, when a gentleman came in and asked to speak to Nick Vansittart. After an hour and a half, he left. Subsequently, he asked Miss Brook if she would like to work in the War Office, in theory in a typing pool. She did not fancy that at all, and he
personally arranged for her to be sent up to Lancashire to work for her old boss
again. However, Miss Brook’s American citizenship, her sex, and her age would presumably have been of interest in the Intelligence spheres.

This story fits in with the information that we have that Guy Nicholas
Vansittart was heavily involved with the War Office, and British Military
Intelligence. It is not thought that she was intended for the
typing pool to drown in, rather to be responsible for G.M.-acquired material and
its dissemination, etc. which would have required someone of impeccable
credentials. She was also an American citizen as well as a Briton, which
must have helped.

Nick is also the subject of a very thin surviving wartime S.O.E. Personal File. This states that the aforesaid Sir Charles Hambro, by then the Chief of S.O.E., recruited him in March 1943 to be an adviser on France and the Low Countries, being given the SOE Personal No. 10504, and Symbol D/R.V., working for the Directorate for the Low Countries, France, etc., Symbol D/R. At that time Nick was Regional Director for the British Isles [correct]. This might well have been full-time. He seems to have ceased working for S.O.E. in March 1945 when he is recorded as having “proceeded overseas”. This was the same month that Captain James D. Mooney, U.S.N.R., retired from his intelligence work and joined General Motors again.

On 13 November 1944, a German officer named Karl Marcus, alias Carlsen, arrived in France apparently as a deserter from the German army. He said he had been sent to get in touch with Lord Vansittart, and he was eventually brought to England. It turned out that he was the secretary to and the emissary of, Hurt Jahnke, former head of Hitler’s personal intelligence office under the control of Rudolph Hess. The Gestapo had suspected Marcus of being a British informant, but was political adviser to Walter Schellenburg. Sir Robert had evidently retained his private intelligence connections with highly-placed Germans, and Marcus was one of them.[40]


“Mine is a story of failure, but it throws light on my time which failed too, partly because one good may oppose another, whereas evils unite. I have achieved little but seen much. I can recall no major issue on which my advice was taken…..After events had vindicated my premonitions, I hoped that I might be occasionally consulted, but that was not to be. Before the war I was called obstinate, prejudiced, unbalanced; during and after it the epithets grew”.[41] Indeed, Neville Chamberlain regarded him as a hindrance to his effort to reach an understanding with Hitler.

Sir Robert was proven right all along, but as James D. Mooney was to find out post-war, those who were proven wrong had very short memories and were only too anxious to prove that they were anti-appeasement, and that nothing should be said or published to prove that they were not.

“Democracy does well to forgive and forget, but what might have befallen us if the forgiven had held power in the Thirties?” Sir Robert claims that at that time “they” [the forgiven Socialists/Liberals and Tories] still had behind, and well behind them, the “People” whom they had convinced that the “the danger from Germany in the air is at present wholly unreal”. Sir Robert does not clarify which year he was referring to, but it seems that he was talking of 1935.[42]

In 1936 the Labour Party were all for disarmament and relying on Geneva to settle differences. By 1937, Labour resolved “we must, through the League [of Nations], confront aggressors with an emphatic superiority of force”. Slowly, Sir Robert claims too slowly, these ravings abated and by 1939 members of the Labour Party Conference were “pretending that they had been zealous for arms all along, critical of ‘delays and deficiencies in the provision of defence requirements’. By wartime they were frightened and urging impossible speed in preparations that they had impeded. In due course the main opponents of our salvation became Ministers, and deserved their posts”. This included Archibald, later Sir Archibald, Sinclair who claimed as late as 1938 that it would be a disastrous blunder for Britain to organise an army for operations on the Continent, and in 1939 opposed, with other, compulsory military training. Sinclair was appointed Minister for the Air Force, and “at last saw truth”. [43]His name lived on post-war as a memorial to his efforts as one of the Southern Railway/British Railways “Battle of Britain” Class steam locomotives, alongside Winston Churchill’s and Sir Keith Park’s, Hugh Dowding’s, and others.

Nick, however, had a distinguished post-war career with General Motors in the U.K. Vauxhall Motors became a major government contractor post-war for the supply of Bedford trucks to Ministry specifications. By the time of his retirement, Nick had had a life every bit as remarkable as his elder brother’s, and for a time their professional careers touched each other for the betterment of the country.


CAROLINE EDEN + ARTHUR VANSITTART of Shottesbrooke 1775-1829

Parents of:

MARTHA LOUISA VANSITTART d. 1889 + WILLIAM CHAPMAN [Grandparents of T.E. Lawrence]

And ROBERT VANSITTART of Driffield 1811-1872 father of:

ROBERT ARNOLD VANSITTART of Roxley 1851-1938, of Foots Cray Place, Kent, a Captain in the 7th Dragoon Guards + SUSAN (ALICE) BLANE daughter of Foliejon Park, Berkshire

Sir ROBERT GILBERT VANSITTART [1st Baron Vansittart of Bexley created 7 March 1941] [born Wilton House, Farnham, Surrey, 25 June 1881- 14 February 1957, Denham Place, Denham, Buckinghamshire] + GLADYS HEPPENHEIMER 1921, daughter of William C. Heppenheimer, US Army (died 1928) then SARITA ENRIQUETA BARCLAY, daughter of Herbert Ward of Paris 1931 widow of colleague Sir Colville Barclay

GUY NICHOLAS VANSITTART, born 8 September 1893 died post-1984

ARNOLD VANSITTART, born ? died 1916?

? VANSITTART + Sir ERIC PHIPPS Ambassador to France, 1937-9

and two other sisters


[1] Lord Vansittart “The Mist Procession”, P.194 Hutchinson & Co. (Publishers) Limited, London, 1957

[2] “The Mist Procession”P.98, ibid.

[3] “The Mist Procession”P.98, ibid.

[4]“The Mist Procession” P.146, ibid.

[5] “The Mist Procession”P.147, ibid.

[6] “The Mist Procession”P.149, ibid.

[7] “The Mist Procession”P.157, ibid.

[8] “The Mist Procession”P.167, ibid.

[9] “The Mist Procession”P.168, ibid.

[10] “The Mist Procession”P.186, ibid.

[11]“The Mist Procession” P.186, ibid.

[12] “Diplomacy & Statecraft” Volume 6 March 1995: “Sir Robert Vansittart and the D.R.C.” Charles Morrissey and M.A. Ramsey, P.40.

[13] D&S Volume 6 “Vansittart and the Treasury”: Simon Bourette-Knowles, p.53.

[14] “Vansittart and the D.R.C.”, P.52.

[15] D&S Volume 6: “Vansittart and the Treasury”, P.94.

[16] Churchill, “The End of Glory”, John Charmley, P.284.

[17] “The Mist Procession”, P.507, ibid.

[18] Alvin Finkel and Clement Leibovitz, “The Chamberlain-Hitler Collusion”, Athabasca University, Canada

[19] “The Mist Procession”, P.512, ibid.

[20] “The Mist Procession”, P.495, ibid.

[21] Per Internet.

[22] “The Mist Procession”, P.513, ibid.

[23] Diplomacy & Statecraft” Volume 6 March 1995: “Indulged in All Too Little?: Vansittart, Intelligence and Appeasement”: John R. Ferris, Pp.141-3.

[24]John Costello, “Ten Days That Saved The West” , Pp.470-472, Bantam Press, 1991

[25] From the Foreword by Professor Paul Preston, London School of Economics

[26] “C: The Secret Life of Sir Stewart Menzies, Spymaster to Winston Churchill”, Anthony Cave Brown, Pp.140-141, Macmillan 1987. This refers to an interview with Guy N. Vansittart himself in Mayfair, London, in 1984!

[27] Anthony Cave Brown, Pp.148-149, ibid.

[28] General Motors World, April 1937.

[29] General Motors World, October 1958.

[30] 8 March 1937: General Motors World April 1937.

[31] General Motors World, November 1958.

[32] General Motors World, May 1953

[33] “The Mist Procession”, Pp. 508-509, ibid.

[34] “The Mist Procession”, P.510, ibid.

[35] Anthony Cave Brown, P.177, ibid.

[36] Anthony Cave Brown, P.314, ibid.

[37] Mooney, P.21, ibid.

[38] Mooney papers, ibid.

[39] Anthony Cave Brown, P.279-280, ibid.

[40] Anthony Cave Brown, P.652, ibid.

[41] “The Mist Procession”, P.549-550, ibid.

[42] “The Mist Procession”, P.510-511, ibid.

[43] “The Mist Procession”, P.510-511, ibid.