Admiral the Hon. Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, KCB, DSO, JP, DL was the
splendidly named British half of the Anglo-French delegation sent to Moscow in August 1939 to discuss with Stalin a possible anti-Nazi alliance. This was before the outbreak of war between Britain and Germany in September 1939.
Many historians have argued that Drax was a blimpish member of the naval hierarchy, when sending a general would be more appropriate, and that the delegation was deliberately lowly. The delegation was also sent by sea in an elderly passenger ship The City of Exeter, which took five days to get to Leningrad, arriving on 10 August. It was also said that the British Embassy in Moscow was appalled at the low status of the delegation, which ought to have been headed by Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, himself, as had been previously requested by the Soviet Ambassador in London, Ivan Maisky. However before he left, Drax had been told by Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, and Halifax, to try and spin the negotiations out until October when winter conditions would make a Nazi invasion of Poland difficult. Maisky also found out from intelligence reports that the delegation would not be able to make any decisions on the spot. Negotiations dragged on for ten days despite an invasion of Poland by Germany becoming more and more likely.
This lackadaisical approach of the British Government reflected a view that their policy of appeasement with Hitler would prevent war, and that a friendly relationship with Germany was of more value than an accommodation with the Soviet Union. There were also concerns that permission would have to be given to the Soviet Union to invade Poland so as to engage the Nazis, should Germany attack, and this Poland would never agree to. Finally, when the Soviet Marshall Voroshilov asked Britain and France directly on 14 August if they would agree to this, the delegation would not reply. Consequently, Stalin, who was as ideologically opposed to Britain and France as to Nazi Germany, signed a non-aggression pact with Germany on 23 August, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, believing it would avoid the Soviet Union being dragged into war. The pact lasted until 22 June 1941, when Germany launched the invasion of the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa.
Back to Reginald Drax. In fact Drax was not the obscure admiral as he has often been portrayed. As a result of naval action in WWI, he was highly decorated. Drax served as Head of the Naval College in Greenwich, he held numerous appointments as a fleet commander up to 1939, and he went on to distinguish himself in WWII. It is unfortunate that his quadruple-barrelled name paints the wrong picture. It was not Drax’s fault that the British government wanted him to play for time, and that time ran out. Incidentally, Drax was a friend of Ian Fleming, and Fleming named the villain in his novel Moonraker, Sir Hugo Drax, after him.