Part 4 of Close to the Enemy revealed, Foreign Office official, Harold Lindsay-Jones’ (Alfred Molina) secret knowledge of a planned coup to overthrow Hitler in 1938. Although Harold’s character is fictional the storyline is rooted in historical fact.
The build up to war and the rise of Hitler has long been attributed to the harshness of the Treaty of Versailles and the consequent backlash caused by the feeling of oppression that many of the German people felt. However this did not mean that the German people were in any way enthusiastic about the prospect of another war.
In fact, Hitler’s determination to risk conflict with Britain and France caused mounting opposition from the German military and, according to historian Professor David Reynolds, the German people had “no stomach for another European conflict”.
In August of 1938 Prussian aristocrat Ewald von Kleist met with Winston Churchill. Kleist claimed that with encouragement a number of German generals, led by General Beck, might refuse to march and appealed for some gesture ‘to crystallise the widespread and indeed, universal anti-war sentiment in Germany’. Theodor Kordt, who acted as Chargé d'Affaires at the German embassy in London, was considered a vital contact with the British on whom the success of the plot depended. The conspirators needed strong British opposition to Hitler's seizure of the Sudetenland.
Theodor Kordt conveyed the existence of a plan to mount a military coup against Hitler directly to Lord Halifax the Foreign Secretary. Churchill, who was merely a backbench MP at the time, also wrote to Halifax urging him to take the plot seriously.
However despite this intelligence detailing the date of the proposed attack and information about resistance to Hitler within the army, which reinforced information that the government had received from other sources, the Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain refused to take the plotters seriously. Churchill wrote to Chamberlain, urging him to support the conspirators, but he again refused and the Foreign Office was also deeply sceptical.
British diplomat Frank Roberts described the mind-set of the Foreign Office at that time; “By then General Beck and those sorts of people kept in touch with us by underground means and they used to come through me and it was a sort of thing of ‘if only you and the French would stand up to Hitler, so then we could do something about him'. And we were rather saying, 'hadn’t you better start doing something about him.... then perhaps we can help you.'”
The Foreign Office wanted the German military to act on their own and get rid of Hitler then the British would support the Generals after the fact. But the German military needed the British to lend them support in advance of the coup. If Britain and France had, at the crucial juncture of the Czechoslovakia crisis, mustered the will to draw a line in the sand it would have indicated their support for the proposed coup. However, Chamberlain's decision to appease Hitler and sign the Munich Agreement prevented the coup taking place.