The Reoccupation of the Rhineland 1936

“What fools these dictators are” – Neville Chamberlain

I did this to inform myself before tutoring a British A Level History candidate who has to write 3000 word piece to answer this question: “What is your view about the appropriateness of appeasement as the basis of British foreign policy“. I had judged that the Rhineland episode was a perfect example of Appeasement in action. Only after a fortnight’s delay did the candidate add that the question confined itself to the period 1937-9, which makes this piece less helpful, but by no means useless. The whole point of History is that it hangs over the present and influences it. It is sad that past computer crashes appear to have deprived me of detailed studies of the Spanish Civil War and the Phoney War. I have also used only one font (Garamond) to make insertion in the website simpler, so corroborated facts are simply in the Black Bold version of that font.

Contents

Definition of Appeasement

When was Appeasement?

Background to the Rhineland Episode

Versailles

International Relations after Versailles

Locarno

Kellogg Pact

The Slump

Manchuria, 1931

Hitler

Foreign Policy Aims

Historiography: Globalists

Historiography: Continentalists

Historiography: A.J.P.Taylor

Aims

1: Make Germany Great Again

2: destroy the Treaty of Versailles

3: Create a Greater Germany

4: to destroy the Locarno Pact

5: Lebensraum

6: to destroy the Communist USSR

Withdrawal from the League

Germany leaves the Disarmament Conference 23rd October 1933

Rearmament

Anglo-German Naval Pact June 1935

British Rearmament

German-Polish Pact 28th January 1934

Austria 1: 25th July 1934

Saar January 1935

Repudiation of Versailles March 1935

The Stresa Front, April 1935

Russo-French Pact May 1935

Abyssinia 3rd October 1935

The Rhineland invaded

Status Quo

Planning

Operation Winter Exercise March 7th

Significance

Responses to the German re-occupation

General

Specific to Britain

General attitudes to Germany

The Rhineland in particular

After the fact

Specific to France

French general policies

French Foreign Policy: Laval 1934-6

After the Event

Specific to Germany

After the Re-occupation

Spanish Civil War

Appeasement 1937-9

Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland

Was Appeasement reprehensible?

Unused source material

Bibliography

Appendix 1 – Bibliographical Notes

Definition of Appeasement

Appeasement is (1,3) the name for the foreign policy of the Western European countries of Britain and France towards Germany. (13) It refers to compromising with acts of aggression, sacrificing some nations in order to protect the world from war. (11) [OR] a foreign (1,3) or any (5) policy of pacifying [OR] giving into the demands of (13) an aggrieved nation through negotiation (1,3) an aggressive country in the hopes that the aggression could be contained (13) [OR] they would be satiated (3) and avoid war. (1,3) [OR] the fall-back position when it was impossible to make a major decision: (12) Allowing direct violation of the Treaty of Versailles without doing anything to stop Hitler was appeasing him. (17) Nations like Britain and France were unprepared for war and so they did not want to create greater conflicts with Germany. (17)

When was Appeasement?

Appeasement refers to the foreign policy of England and France (18) in the years after World War I but before World War II (13,18) in 1919 after the Treaty of Versailles. (18) It predates Chamberlain’s premiership. (18) [OR] in the years prior to WWII. (5,18) between 1937 and 1939, (5)

Background to the Rhineland Episode

World War I finished with Russia paralysed by revolution, Germany defeated and France and Britain bankrupt. (8a)

Versailles

The Treaty of Versailles, signed in July 1919–eight months after the guns fell silent in World War I–called for stiff war reparation payments and other punishing peace terms for defeated Germany. (7) Having been forced to sign the treaty, the German delegation to the peace conference indicated its attitude by breaking the ceremonial pen. (7) As dictated by the Treaty of Versailles, (7,17) Germany’s military forces were reduced to insignificance (7) and the Rhineland was demilitarized. (7,10) Woodrow Wilson intended all problems to be settled by negotiations at the League of Nations, but he was soon dead and the US became isolationist. (8a) All sides tried to resume normal business. (8a)

International Relations after Versailles

The British refused to allow the French to enforce reparations on the Germans, and the Americans finally agreed to pay themselves back via the Dawes and Young Plans. (8a) During the 1920s Britain had control. (18) OR Both British and French struggled to control their empires. (8a) The French official ruling Indo-China was bombed several times, and the British massacred a crowd of Indians at Amritsar. (8a) The Germans and the Russians, both refused a role in the peace settlement, made an alliance which allowed German troops to be trained in Russia in return for Russian supplies. (8a)

Locarno

The British and French had no confidence in the League controlling Germany. (8a) During the 1920s pacts and treaties of assistance and friendships provided encouragement for the French to engage in disarmament and step down from aggressive policies against the Germans. (9) The most important of these was the Locarno Pact, (7,9) signed in 1925, (7) [OR] 1925 (25) at the conclusion of a European peace conference held in Switzerland. (7) It ignored the League (8a) and reaffirmed the national boundaries decided by the Treaty of Versailles (7) [OR] Germany’s western borders’ (8a) and approved Germany’s entry into the League of Nations. (7,8a) The so-called “spirit of Locarno” symbolized (7) hopes for an era of European peace and goodwill. (7,9) Sir Austen Chamberlain called the Locarno Pact as “the real dividing line between the years of war and the years of peace.” (25) The “Locarno Spirit” from 1924 caused the search for security to lose its imperative character under the influence of growing confidence. (25) The Germans had revealed their eastern wish list at Brest-Litovsk, and had it snatched from them at Versailles. (8a) Keen observers now noted the Locarno Treaty’s invitation to the Germans to expand east, but most people thought things were settling down nicely. (8a)

Kellogg Pact

The Kellogg-Briand Pact, signed in 1928 by French foreign minister Aristide Briand and American Secretary of State Frank Kellogg, (9) [OR] ‘by all countries’ (8a) provided ‘for the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy’. (9) By 1930 (7) [OR] in 1928, 5 years earlier than scheduled in the Treaty of Versailles (9) German Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann had negotiated (7) the removal of the last Allied troops in the demilitarized Rhineland. (7,9) In 1930 the last French troops left occupied Germany. (6) A challenge to peace came from dictators, first Benito Mussolini of Italy, then (3,6) in January 1933 (4) Adolf Hitler of (3,6) a much more powerful Nazi Germany. (3) When the Nazis took over in Germany and Italy’s Mussolini announced his intention to annex territory (6) the League of Nations proved disappointing to its supporters; it was unable to resolve any of the threats posed by the dictators. (3) 

The Slump

The Slump changed things. (8a) Communist Russia seemed to have avoided it, so Communism seemed a good idea to many, which provoked right wing ‘fascist’ opposition to it, particularly in Italy, Germany, Spain and Portugal. (8a) Many governments were lacking money due to the Great Depression. (11)

Manchuria, 1931

Japan intended to gain influence, territory and power in mainland Asia. (11) [OR] The Japanese needed raw materials, and (8a) was unhappy with what it had received from the peace process in WWI (8a) in 1931 Japan invaded Manchuria in order to expand its Empire. (11) It took Manchuria in spite of the League’s protests, leaving the League in the process. (8a) The world did nothing, as it was the start of the Great Depression and few nations had money to save poor Manchuria. (11) Every time there was some sort of aggression by a nation like Italy, Germany or Japan the world largely ignored it or tried to negotiate with them to take what they had gained and stop. (11)

Hitler

Foreign Policy Aims

Historiography: Globalists

In the 1960s Gunter Moltman and Andreas Hillgruber who, in their respective works, claim that it was Hitler’s dream to create ‘Eutopia’ and eventually challenge the United States. (24) This thesis puts these two historians in the ‘Globalists’ category, with opposition labelled ‘Continentalists’. (24) Evidence for these claims comes from Germany’s preparation for war in the years 1933–39 with increased interest in naval building, and Hitler’s decision to declare war on the U.S. after the attack on Pearl Harbor, which shows Hitler’s determination. (24) The Globalists use this as an argument for how Hitler’s ideology was shaped; i.e. the US could only be defeated if Germany conquered Europe and allied with Britain. (24) It is said with general agreement that this viewpoint expressed by Hitler was written with the mindset that the USA was of little interest to Germany, and did not pose a threat to her existence. (24) However, noted through speeches and recorded conversations, after 1930, Hitler viewed the United States as a “mongrel state”, incapable of unleashing war and competing economically with Germany due the extreme effects of the Great Depression. (24) Even in the late 1930s, as Continentalists argue against world conquest, Hitler seems to still disregard the US’s power in the world, and believes that only through German-American citizens can the USA revive and prosper. (24) This may shed light as to why Hitler made the decision to declare war on the United States after Pearl Harbor, and continued to focus on European expansion in the late 1930s. (24) However, while Hildebrand believes Hitler had a carefully premeditated Stufenplan (step-by-step) for Lebensraum, Hillgruber claims he intended intercontinental conquest afterwards. (24) Likewise, Noakes and Pridham believe that taking Mein Kampf and the Zweites Buch together, Hitler had a five-stage plan; rearmament and Rhineland re-militarisation, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland to become German satellites, defeat France or neutralise her through a British alliance, Lebensraum in Russia and finally world domination. (24) Goda agrees, believing that his ultimate aim was the defeat and overthrow of the United States, against whose threat he would guarantee the British Empire in return for a free hand to pursue Lebensraum in the East. (24) Hitler had long term plans for French North Africa and in 1941 begun to prepare a base for a transatlantic attack on the United States. (24) David Cameron Watt, who in 1990 believed that Hitler had no long terms plans, now agrees with Goda and believes that Hitler refused to make concessions to Spanish and Italian leaders Francisco Franco and Benito Mussolini in order to conciliate a defeated France so that such preparations could proceed. (24) Jochen Thies There are other arguments for the case of the Globalists; Jochen Thies has been noted to say that plans for world domination can be seen in Hitler’s ideology of displaying power. (24) The creation of magnificent buildings and the use of propaganda to demonstrate German strength, along with the message to create a Reich to last a thousand years, clearly show Hitler’s aspirations for the future. (24) Although this seems a weak argument to make; clearly these messages are a result of Nazi Ideology intent on creating followers and boosting morale, what stems from this is the idea of ‘global character’ in reference to war. (24) There is no doubt that Hitler dreamed about the future of his Homeland, and in preparations for war, must have thought about the consequences of victory over the USSR. (24) His struggle, as he would reference in his book Mein Kampf, would and eventually did take on a global character, as he found his country fighting wars on many fronts across the world. (24) The Globalist mindset for Hitler’s foreign policy can be supported by the spiraling events of World War II, along with his second book and the debatable meaning of Lebensraum; although the Continentalists can use Lebensraum as evidence to counter. (24)

Historiography: Continentalists

Fritz Fischer Fritz Fischer, a continentalist historian who has done extensive work on German history, claims in his book From Kaiserreich to Third Reich: Elements of Continuity in German History, 1871-1945 that foreign policy was just a continuous trend from Otto von Bismarck’s imperialistic policies; that Hitler wanted an empire to protect German interests at a time of economic instability and pressure from competing global empires. (24) Other views Martin Broszat Martin Broszat, a functionalist historian, has been noted many times to point towards an ideological foreign policy fuelled by antisemitism, anti-Communism and Lebensraum. (24) He says that Hitler acted towards these three ideals to inspire popularity in his regime and to carry on the amazing transformation he ignited upon coming to power. (24) In relation to foreign policy, this meant the destruction of the Treaty of Versailles and the reuniting of German territories lost after World War I, along with the eradication of Jews and communists around the world. (24) He provides evidence with preparations made in 1938 to take land in the East of Europe, which fits in with the ideology of colonization, economic independency, and the creation of the Third Reich. (24) Broszat offers a Continentalist case in declaring that Hitler was still dreaming of Eutopia when he did not include Poland in his plans before 1939, and focused upon Czechoslovakia and Austria instead; easily attainable territories. (24) Broszat argues against world conquest in this respect, and notes that the escalating ideological radicalism of the Nazi’s anti-Semitic views prevented them from being able to launch a truly serious attempt to take over the world. (24) Germany found itself unwillingly in a world war, not a European one. (24)

Historiography: A.J.P.Taylor

In 1961, A.J.P.Taylor produced a book entitled The Origins of the Second World War, which paints a completely different picture of how Nazi foreign policy was shaped and executed. (24) Taylor’s thesis was that Hitler was not the demoniacal figure of popular imagination but in foreign affairs a normal German leader, and compared the foreign policy of the Weimar Republic to that of Hitler, i.e., wanting the destruction of the Treaty of Versailles and wanting her former territories back but by peaceful means, not aggressive. (24) His argument was that Hitler wished to make Germany the strongest power in Europe but he did not want or plan war. (24) The outbreak of war in 1939 was an unfortunate accident caused by mistakes on everyone’s part. (24) In addition, Taylor portrayed Hitler as a grasping opportunist with no beliefs other than the pursuit of power and to rid himself of the Jewish question. (24) He argued that Hitler did not possess any sort of long-term plan and his foreign policy was one of drift and seizing chances as they offered themselves. (24) He assigns blame on the harsh restrictions of Versailles, which created animosity amongst Germans, and when Hitler preached of a greater Germany, the public believed in his words and was ready to accept. (24) However, the idea put forward that he was a gifted opportunist that, although Taylor completely rules out long term planning, Hitler was shrewd enough to seize upon when presented has a lot of evidence. (24) For example, he used the appeasement policies of Britain and France to deliberately defy them in March 1935 when he announced conscription into the army and creation of the Luftwaffe. (24) He gambled upon the Austrian government to not oppose him when he invaded Vienna in March 1938 after realizing Britain and France would never intervene. (24) He used the opportunity of the September 1938 Munich conference to make Britain and France accept his demands for Lebensraum in Czechoslovakia. (24) He used the breakdown in relations between Britain-France and the Soviet Union to sign the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact to solidify his future actions against Poland and the Netherlands-Belgium. (24) Taylor’s point on this debate sparked uproar and widespread rebuttal, but the whole argument on the nature of Nazi foreign policy was created from his work. (24)

Aims

Just four years after the removal of the Allied forces in the Rhineland, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party seized full power in Germany, promising vengeance against the Allied nations that had forced the Treaty of Versailles on the German people. (7) [OR] declaring that their main enemies were Communists and the Soviet Union, along with the Jews. (4) He had already set out his ideas in a book called Mein Kampf (My Struggle) (20,24) that he had written in prison in 1924. (20) and added to this in his ‘Zweites Buch’. (24) His Foreign Policy had four (15) [OR] three (16) [OR] six (HN from list after book 16) (15) [OR] five (after book 19) aims. (20) These amounted to (2,4) a revisionist (2) policy aimed at overcoming the (2,7) humiliating (14) restrictions imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles (2,7) 

1: Make Germany Great Again

When Hitler came to power he was determined to make Germany a great power again (17,20) to this end he intended to stir up nationalistic feelings of the Germans to gain revenge for Germany being humiliated in World War I; Hitler promised that he would bring back the glory and redemption that Germany had lost. (17) To achieve his foreign aims he needed to crush internal opposition, which he did using the SA, and the Gestapo secret police, and passing the Enabling Act, and gaining control of the army after death of Hindenburg. (21) He needed to win over the German people to his policies through education, censorship and propaganda. (21) In particular he needed to prepare German youth for future war. (21) His policies would involve re-arming Germany (15,16) removing limitations on German armaments. (14) He planned to overcome the depression (17,21) by a new economic plan to satisfy the middle and working class. (21) This would lay the foundations for a stronger Germany. (21) His ‘Four Year Plan’ (implemented by Schacht 1936 – 1940) would revive the German economy by limiting imports, as Germany depended on imports for 1/3 of their raw materials. (21) It would strengthen the currency and increase government spending. (21) It proposed to reduce unemployment by public works projects, by filling the jobs of Jews and political opponents with unemployed people (21) and by conscription into the army. (17,21) This plan prepared for a short term blitzkrieg rather than bettering people: not much was produced in the way of consumer goods, and not everyone received their promised Volkswagen. (21) He would strengthen Germany’s borders (16) by recovering its lost lands (14,15) such as the demilitarized Rhineland (14,17) [OR] He did not attempt to recover the lost colonies outside Europe. (4) If he achieved the foregoing, Germany would dominate Europe. (20) By seizing the diplomatic initiative from Britain and France, (2) he would give Germany economic and political domination across central Europe. (4,20) He should in the end rule all Europe because otherwise it would fall apart as a nation, (21) and by doing so he would re-establish Germany’s position in world affairs. (14)

2: destroy the Treaty of Versailles

To make Germany Great he would have to destroy (2,7) [OR] revise (21) the Treaty of Versailles. (2,7) He said that the chains of that treaty needed to ‘fall with a loud clang’. (14) The treaty had reduced the army to 100,000 men, and the navy to six warships of over 10,000 tonnes. (21) No submarines or air force were permitted. (21) Hitler felt the Treaty was unfair and most Germans supported this view (20) and the modern historian John Clare says that ‘there can be some sympathy for them’ because ‘they had been the only ones to disarm under the Treaty of Versailles’. (21) Hitler’s aims could not be obtained without armed forces so he worked to make them suitable for war. (21) Hitler had to rearm to be able to succeed. (21)  He would weaken the international system set up at Versailles by rearming, at first secretly, and then openly. (21) He would withdraw from the Geneva Disarmament Conference and League of Nations. (21) He wanted to recover the Sudetenland because it had coal and copper mines, power stations, good farming land, the Skoda arms works, the biggest in Europe, and frontier protection, from the Bohemian Alps and its chain of fortresses. (21)

3: Create a Greater Germany

An aspect of this was to bring all German-speaking people everywhere under German control; (15,16) After World War One there were Germans living in (20,21) many countries in Europe e.g. Austria, (20,21) the Sudetenland in (21) Czechoslovakia, (20,21) Poland. (20) Hitler hoped that by uniting them together in one country he would create a powerful Germany or Grossdeutschland. (20,21)

4: to destroy the Locarno Pact

To destroy the Locarno Pact. (17)

5: Lebensraum

The 4-Year economic plan could only provide for a short war; (21) so Hitler was an expansionist like Napoleon Bonaparte. (17) He wanted to expand eastwards to gain Lebensraum (‘living space’) for the German people. (14,15) Hitler believed that for Germany’s growing population to be independent (21) this space (14,20) as far as the Caucasus and Iran (21) needed to be acquired (14,20) [OR] it did need to be acquired (17) in the east, at the expense of the Soviets, (14,20) and Poland (20) so as to secure for Germany the Ukrainian “breadbasket”, opening up vast territories for German colonization. (14) [OR] Hitler reoccupying the Rhineland is an example of expansionism. (17) Beyond the Rhineland he also aimed at acquiring Flanders ( Belgium ) and Holland. (21) He needed Sweden to give Germany access to the open sea sufficient to become a colonial power. (21) Germany took the Rhineland but started expanding East later on, (17) finding justification for such conquests in his notions of German racial superiority over the Slavic (14,21) and Jewish (21) peoples who inhabited the lands he coveted. (14,21) 

6: to destroy the Communist USSR 

To destroy the Communist USSR: (14,15) Hitler saw the Bolsheviks who now controlled the Soviet Union as the vanguard of the world Jewish conspiracy, (14) He would have to defeat Russia to get hold of the Ukraine. (14)

There were three stages to his foreign policy. (16) A moderate policy up to 1935. (16) Increased activity between 1935 and 1937. (16) A more confident foreign policy after 1937, certain that there would be little opposition to his plans. (16) From 1933–1938, Konstantin von Neurath, a conservative career diplomat, served as German foreign minister. (2) Policy was not down to him, as Hitler kept tight control over foreign affairs, formulating himself both the strategy and the tactics calculated to achieve his goals. (14) Control of this territory was to become the foundation for Germany’s economic and military domination of Europe and eventually, perhaps, of the world. (14) Hitler’s diplomatic strategy in the 1930s was to make seemingly reasonable demands, (4) threatening war if they were not met. (4,20) He began to carry out aggression (4,13) towards other nation-states in Europe and (13) carried out actions that went against the general terms of the Treaty of Versailles (13,15) to see if anybody would challenge him. (15) [OR] He realised that his potential foes, France and Britain, were reluctant to go to war and were prepared to compromise to avoid a repeat of World War One. (20) A J P Taylor argued that Hitler did not deliberately set out for a destructive war: Hitler was an opportunist and made gains in his foreign policy by direct action and audacity. (16) Hugh Trevor-Roper, on the other hand, argued that Hitler had a long term plan – a programme of colonisation of Eastern Europe and a war of conquest in the West. (16) This Stufenplan, step-by-step policy, led to war. (16) Probably the most convincing argument is that Hitler had consistency of aims, (16) but was also an opportunist that was flexible in his strategy. (16,20)

Withdrawal from the League

Germany withdrew from the League of Nations; (2,4) on October 14th (Google) 1933. (4,20) 

Germany leaves the Disarmament Conference 23rd October 1933

Nine days after leaving the League, (Google) Hitler left the disarmament conference, (15,20) claiming that the Allies had not disarmed (20) and were not prepared to disarm. (15) He claimed that he wanted peace and to disarm fully with his neighbours. (15) 21 disagrees: “everything was good internationally up to 1935. (21) The Disarmament Conference ceased to function after January 1934. Britain ironically drew the conclusion that disarmament had become more important than ever. (25) The affiliation of the British Government with the German became so close that the anti-Semitic movements and eugenic craze in Nazi Germany were, by official British authorities, treated as unfounded, exaggerated, or were simply ignored. (25) The British press instead concentrated on the suppression by Stalin and the secretive system of the Soviet Union. (25) Although Germany after Hitler’s control had boosted up its armaments, the British administration responded with further disarmament, and Stanley Baldwin, then prime minister, regarding a possible German invasion, “did not consider such an attack likely”. (25)

Rearmament

No such domination or expansion as Hitler intended was possible without war, of course, and Hitler did not shrink from its implications. (14) Using the pretext that the other powers had not disarmed, (15,20) he rebuilt the military and blazingly showed it to the world. (11,14) In a secret meeting (21) he ordered Germany into (11,16) rapid (2,16) rearmament (2,4) in March (14,20) 1935. (4,14) [OR] 1933. (11,21) [OR] His rearming of Germany, begun in secret in 1933, was made public in 1935. (14,21) after the Saar plebiscite result (21) [OR] In 1933 he intensified the programme of secret rearmament. (20)  He started building planes, tanks, submarines and weapons. (11) In 1935, (16) Hitler said that Germany was going to expand her navy. (20) He announced the creation of an air force (14,16) (the Luftwaffe) (20,21) which would have 1000 aircraft with secretly trained pilots, plus barracks, airfields and fortifications. (21) He announced that Germany considered itself no longer bound by Part V of the Treaty of Versailles (25) The reintroduction of general military (14) conscription, (14,15) which was banned by (15,20) Part V of  (25) the Treaty of Versailles (15,20) to provide the manpower for 36 new divisions in the army. (14,20) All young men spent six months in the RAD and then (16)  they were conscripted into the army. (16,25) The German army would be enlarged from 100,000 to 300,000 (21) [OR] 600,000 [OR] 500,000 (21) men (25) The British Government immediately protested to Berlin against this independent action which rendered an agreement well-nigh impossible. (25) Nothing could alter the fact, however, that Germany had rebelled against the imposition of the Treaty. (25) By 1939, 1.4 million men were in the army, so they were not counted as unemployed. (16) This created jobs in the armaments industry pushing the idea of ‘guns before butter’. (16) These measures were very popular in Germany. (20)

Anglo-German Naval Pact June 1935

A factor that helped Hitler was the attitude of the English. (20) Protecting their own interests, (20,25) and even though Germany was forbidden to rearm, (15) Britain agreed a (14,15) separate (25) deal with Hitler (14,15) in June of that same year, (14,21) that allowed a German naval build-up of up to 35 percent of Britain’s (14,15) surface naval strength (14,25) and up to 45 percent of its tonnage in (14) [OR] an equal tonnage of (21) submarines (14,21) [OR] No limit was placed on the number of submarines that Germany could develop. (20) Britain let this happen because it was to happen anyway and this way, Germany would have a limitation. (21)  It also avoided the bother of collective security. (25) To conclude, there was no desire, born of fear, as there was in France, to keep Germany permanently weak and harmless. (25)

British Rearmament

The state of British defences was, in Baldwin’s own words, disquieting, and a greater British defence effort might indeed have seemed to be in order. (25) Yet, following upon Hitler’s rejection of both the League and the Disarmament Conference, Baldwin took exactly the opposite approach. (25) He continued a freeze in the production of military aircraft, which had been instituted in 1932. (25) The gesture was intended “as a further earnest of His Majesty’s Government’s desire to promote the work of the Disarmament Conference.”

German-Polish Pact 28th January 1934

In 1934 (15,20) Hitler signed a nonaggression pact with Poland, (2,15) by which the two countries promised not to attack each other for 10 years. (15,20) It was the first of his infamous ten year non-aggression pacts. (20) This caused a surprise in Europe at the time. (20) The alliance broke Germany’s diplomatic isolation while also weakening France’s series of anti-German alliances in Eastern Europe. (20) For the next five years Poland and Germany were to enjoy cordial relations. (20) However like many of his agreements, this was a tactical move. (20) Hitler wanted the Danzig Corridor because it divided the country in two and was inhabited by German speaking people (21) and he had no intention of honouring the agreement in the long term. (20)

Austria 1: 25th July 1934

Hitler himself was Austrian and Austria contained 8 million German speaking people. (21) Joining it with Germany (‘Anschluss’) was banned by treaty of Versailles. (21) In July 1934 an attempt by Austrian Nazis to overthrow the government in their country was crushed. (20) The Austrian Prime Minister Dollfuss was killed in the attempt. (20) Hitler at first supported the attempted coup but disowned the action when it was clear it would fail. (20) Italy reacted with great hostility to the prospect of Austria falling into Nazi hands and rushed troops to the border with Austria. (20)

Saar January 1935

Hitler started to undo part of the Treaty of Versailles in a slow and clever way. (15) At first he did things he was allowed to and this included returning the Saar back to Germany. (15) The Saar (2,4) [OR] Saargebiet (6) was an industrial area (15,21) with iron (21) and a coalfield. (16,21) It had been taken away from Germany in the Treaty of Versailles (10,16) to reduce the industrial capabilities of Germany. (10) It was important to regain it for the German economy. (21)  It was put under the control of the League of Nations (15,20) and had been administered by the French since 1919. (6,15) This allowed the French to exploit its coalfields for 15 years. (20) It was included in the French economic sphere (using the Franc as its currency). (6) A Plebiscite (vote) or referendum was to be held after 15 years: (15) [OR] In 1935 the people of the Saar were allowed a plebiscite (16) to decide if they wanted to return to Germany. (15,16) The Nazis launched a propaganda campaign (15,21) to convince Saarlanders to vote to be reunited with Germany. (15) In January (16) 1935 (4,6) the population of the area voted to rejoin Germany (2,6) by an overwhelming majority, (6,16) of 90% (15,21) [OR] over 90 %. (16,20) The Nazis celebrated and claimed this was the start of removing the Treaty of Versailles piece by piece. (15,16) The decision was a big step forward for Hitler (15,20) in his campaign to reunite all German-speaking people. (21) The Plebiscite result was a major propaganda boost enabling Hitler to claim that his policies had the backing of the German people. (20) It gave Hitler the courage do admit to conscription. (21)

Repudiation of Versailles March 1935

In  March 1935, Hitler (7,17) unilaterally (7) rejected the Versailles Treaty (4,17) and cancelled its military clauses. (7,17) believing that the western powers would not intercede. (19) His actions brought immediate condemnation from France and Great Britain, but (19) When they did nothing (10) [OR] took no military action (19) in reaction to this, Hitler was emboldened to reoccupy the Rhineland and reunify Germany. (10) [OR] figured that if he changed his efforts to the eastern areas of Europe, then France might be less willing to get involved militarily. (19)

The Stresa Front, April 1935

Britain, Italy and France formed the Stresa front (20) to reaffirm the Locarno Treaty (25) and protest at German rearmament (20) and conscription. (21) They guaranteed to protect Austrian independence. (21) but took no further measures (20) against rearmament. (21) Britain did not want to spend on armed forces. (21) French did not stop because instead they put their money in building forts to defend from Germany Maginot Line. (21) Italy was closest to taking action. (21) Mussolini would not allow Anschluss, and placed his men in threatening positions to warn Germans. (21) This united front against Germany was further weakened when Italy invaded Ethiopia. (20) Even after the Stresa Front reaffirmed the “spirit of Locarno,” Hitler would not stop any of his pursuits, and became more confident. (25)

Russo-French Pact May 1935

In May (10,22) 1935, France and the USSR signed a treaty of friendship and mutual support. (10,17) Hitler resented this and argued that it was a hostile move against Germany: (10,17) he said it was a violation of the Locarno Pact. (19) He used this as an excuse to send German troops into the Rhineland in March 1936, contrary to the terms of the treaties of Versailles and Locarno. (22) The Chimaera of a coalition between the French and the Soviet Union that would threaten British security intimidated the Foreign Office into the misjudgment. (25) By 1936, Laval sought rapprochement with Germany, relied heavily on cooperation with Fascist Italy, and dealt in personal diplomacy. (12)

Abyssinia 3rd October 1935

The same year Italy invaded Ethiopia. (6,20) the League of Nations called upon her members to boycott Italy economically. (6) France, Italy’s foremost trading partner, joined the boycott (6) [OR] appeased Italy on the Ethiopia question because it could not afford to risk an alliance between Italy and Germany. (12) Hitler ignored international protests and supported Mussolini. (20) This ended Germany’s international isolation and the Italians signalled their acceptance of German influence in Austria and the eventual remilitarisation of the Rhineland. (20)

The Rhineland invaded

Status Quo

The Rhineland had been part of France during the Napoleonic wars (late 1790s). (17) It became part of the German state of Prussia in 1815. (17) Under the terms of the Versailles settlement (11,15) and the Locarno Pact (7,23) Germany had political control over the area (17) but was not allowed (11,13) to erect fortifications (20) or have troops (11,13) forces in a 50 km stretch of (16) the Rhineland, (11,13) a strip of German land (10,15) that lies along (17,20) the right bank of (20) the Rhine River, (17,20) bordering France, Belgium, the Netherlands (10,17) and Luxembourg, (17) German troops stationed there would be too close to France’s borders. (11,23) and excluding them was to increase the security of France, Belgium, and the Netherlands against future German aggression, (10) It is a key industrial region (16) producing coal, steel (11,16) and iron. (10) It is rich in mineral resources. (17) The location of the Rhineland contributed to the growth of the Ruhr coal-mining district. (17) The Re-occupation of the Rhineland would probably lead to the Germans constructing defences which would make French pledges to Eastern European nations harder to fulfil should the need arise. (23) Demilitarizing was regarded as an insult to German self-respect. (21) It bordered France, (11,13) and in the event of a war, the River Rhine, if properly defended, would be a difficult obstacle for an invading force to cross; not defending it, Hitler said, made Germany vulnerable to invasion (16) as it could be used by France to invade Germany (10,17) via Belgium , Holland and France. (21) [OR] It DID leave Germany thus vulnerable. (21) Most people expected the Germans to send troops into the Rhineland. (20)

Planning

In March 1933, Werner von Bloomberg, Germany’s Defense Minister, had plans drafted for the remilitarization of the Rhineland. (19) Many of Germany’s leaders felt that remilitarization should only occur if it was diplomatically acceptable and firmly believed that it would not be possible to reinstate military force before 1937. (19) By January 1936, Hitler had made the decision to reoccupy and militarize the Rhineland. (19) He had originally planned to remilitarize this area in 1937, (19) but decided to change his plans to early 1936 because of the ratification of the 1935 Franco-Soviet pact. (10,19) Hitler also thought that France would have more military armed forces by 1937. (19) On February 12, 1936, Hitler told his Marshal Werner von Bloomberg (his Field Marshall), of his intentions. (19) He met with General Werner von Fritsch, to find out how much time would be needed to move several infantry battalions and one artillery battery to the Rhineland area. (19) Fritsch responded that it would most likely take at least three days to organize the plan. (19) He also told Hitler that Germany should negotiate the remilitarization of the Rhineland because he thought that Germany’s military forces were not ready for military action with French armed forces. (19) General Ludwig Beck (Hitler’s Chief of the General Staff) also cautioned Hitler that their military forces would not be able to successfully defend the country if France attacked them in the Rhineland. (19) Hitler told Fritsch that he would order all German armed forces out of the area if France intervened militarily. (19) The Rhineland remilitarization operation was given the code name Operation Winter Exercise. (19) It was a test to see how far France would go to secure the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. (17) He said “The forty-eight hours after the march into the Rhineland were the most nerve-racking in my life…. (20)

Operation Winter Exercise March 7th

Most people expected the Germans to send troops into the Rhineland, the question was when? (20) This question was answered when, shortly after daybreak (19) on March (7,10) 7th, (10,13) 1936, (7,10) Hitler, in one of his many Saturday surprises, (20) denounced the Locarno Pact (7,19) announced that his troops had entered the Rhineland. (20) He had remilitarized the Rhineland (2,4) by sending in a small force (20) of nearly twenty German infantry battalions, along with a small number of planes (19) more than 20,000 troops, (10,15) specifically 32,000. (15) [OR] about 32,000 armed policemen and soldiers. (19) They were significantly outnumbered by the French military force that was close to the border. (19) This was the first time that German armed forces had been in this area since the last part of World War I. (19) They were ordered to reoccupy the demilitarized zone which included Saarbrucken, Aachen, and Trier. (19) By 11:00 a.m., they had reached the Rhine River, after which three battalions crossed over to the Rhine’s west bank area. (19) Soon after, German reconnaissance forces discovered that several thousand French troops had congregated very close to the Franco-German border. (19) German re-armament had not yet reached a point where they felt ready to take on a well-armed nation like France. (22) At this point, General Bloomberg pleaded with Hitler to evacuate all of their armed German forces from the Rhineland territory. (19) Hitler then asked if the French military forces had in fact crossed the border area, and when he was told they had not, he informed Bloomberg that they should stay the course unless the French Army crossed the border. (19) It has been reported that even though Bloomberg was extremely nervous during the course of Operation Winter Exercise, (19) Baron Konstantin von Neurath (Hitler’s foreign minister) (2,19) remained calm and told Hitler not to withdraw the Germany Army. (19) Hitler commented that the Rhineland military operation was an extremely nerve-racking time for him. (19,20) “If the French had marched into the Rhineland, we would have had to withdraw (20,21) with our tails between our legs, for the military resources at our disposal would have been wholly inadequate for even moderate resistance.” (20) This move was (8a,10) therefore (11) the first (8a,10 [OR] one of the first (13) of many (8a,10) direct violations of the Treaty of Versailles by Adolf Hitler. (10) [OR] Germany had begun rearmament in 1935. (2,4)

Significance

The reoccupation and fortification of the Rhineland was the most significant turning point of the inter-wars. (17) The Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno treaties had been broken. (21) Hitler offered France and Britain a 25 year non-aggression pact and claimed ‘Germany had no territorial demands to make in Europe’. (16)

Responses to the German re-occupation

General

The occupation of the Rhineland, in terms of foreign relations, threw the European allies, especially France and Britain, into confusion. (22) The French viewed the de-militarised zone as a crucial part of their security. (23) It enabled them to easily occupy the Ruhr Valley in the case of probable German aggression and was, to them, one of the most important clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. (23) No nation wanted to risk another world war, and the Great Depression had reduced countries’ ability to afford war (11) but Britain and France could have stopped Hitler when he was too weak for war. (15) Hitler feared that Britain and France would try to stop him (15,17) and had ordered that troops should be withdrawn if France decided to attack or take action, (17) but again, like with the Saar region, (10) Great Britain and France, (8a,10) who were supposed to be the guardians of the Treaty of Versailles through the League, (8a) did nothing (8a,12) [OR] nothing substantial in reaction to (10) this breach of the treaty. (10,17) Neither Paris nor London would risk war, (12) No nation felt that they had sufficient money (8a,11) or troops to stop Hitler. (11) [OR] There was a lot of sympathy in Britain for the German action. (20) The British were therefore not prepared to take any action, and without British support the French would not act. (20) Versailles was dead. (14,17) Hitler had gambled and won. (20) The League of Nations also did nothing except condemn Hitler. (15) They were more concerned with Mussolini in Abyssinia. (15) Thus global collective security was threatened. (17) Britain and France chose instead to sign agreements expressly negating the terms of Versailles. (14) After March of 1936, they could no longer take forceful action against Hitler except by provoking the total war they feared. (17) There was, therefore, an escalation of tensions between Germany and other European countries. (17) Germany was rebuilding its army again and more armaments. (17) Nations feared that war would soon break out and so they began to try and appease Hitler. (17)

Specific to Britain

General attitudes to Germany

All the key issues relating to Appeasement are present in the Rhineland event. (22) Memories of the horrors and deaths of the World War (3,11) inclined many Britons (3,18) – and their leaders in all parties (3) – to pacifism in the interwar era. (3,18) Appeasement was popular : in the early 1930s people voted against war and in favour of collective security. (18) Britain was (and is) a democracy, and fighting a major war without broad support would have been foolish. (18) The Treasury had wanted to address high unemployment rather than pay for armaments, (18) so the armed forces were inadequate. (18,22) British people were also very anti-communist (20,22) believing that communism was an evil to be avoided an any cost; mistrust of our key allies; weakness of the League of Nations. (22) The British press concentrated on the repression by Stalin and the secretive system of the Soviet Union. (20,25) Although Germany after Hitler’s control had boosted up its armaments, the British administration responded with further disarmament, and Stanley Baldwin, then prime minister, regarding a possible German invasion, “did not consider such an attack likely”. (25) Some in Britain (11) [OR]  ‘many’ (20) agreed that the Treaty of Versailles was too hard on Germany. (11,18) They were ready to revise it, (1822) and there was a lot of sympathy for the German actions: (18,20) Since the early 1920s many British politicians (18) [OR] People who thought like that were, in principle, willing to make adjustments in favour of Germany. (18)  The affiliation of the British Government with the German became so close that the anti-Semitic movements and eugenic craze in Nazi Germany were, by official British authorities, treated as unfounded, exaggerated, or were simply ignored. (25) The same attitude was displayed by the American government to such reports. (Akshay book) Many Tories feared bolshevism, and stupid ones thought of Hitler as a sort of guarantee against future encroachments westward on the part of Russia. England and Germany should be allies against Russia, the great communist enemy. Moreover, Russia has always been a “traditional” foe; communism serves to make it doubly dangerous. (25) The city of London, with enormous investment in Germany, allowed itself to be dazzled by the spurious brilliance of Dr. Schacht. (25) A great many powerful persons in Britain hated France and the French, and therefore tended to be pro-German. (25) A group of personalities around Lord Lothian (formerly Philip Kerr, Lloyd George’s alter ego at the Peace Conference, and now British Ambassador to the United States), for a considerable time thought that a stable Germany, under Hitler, would insure peace. Lothian was a Christian Scientist and Christian Scientists, who do not believe in death or evil, found it easier than members of other religions to accept at face value Hitler’s promises. (25) The London Times (Lothian and Geoffrey Dawson, its editor, were close friends) was, of course, irrefragably independent; its Berlin correspondents had performed noble service in revealing Nazi brutality and prejudice; but it disliked the communists more than the Nazis, and sometimes it gave Hitler more than the benefit of the doubt in matters of foreign policy. (25) A tendency existed in England to be sorry for Germany in its role of conquered but honorable foe. (25) (By contrast, the French will never forgive Germany for the injustices of the Treaty of Versailles.) (25) Oddly enough, some forces in the Labour party were pro-German. It is obvious that British socialist and trade unionists under Nazism would suffer even as their German colleagues, but labour foreign policy in Great Britain was erected on dislike of the Versailles Treaty and plea for fair play to Germany, and even outrages performed upon labour by Hitler did not much modify pro-Germanism in some circles of the British Left.

 “…the feeling in the House [of Commons] is terribly pro-German, which means afraid of war.”

H Nicholson, British MP. (23)

The Rhineland in particular

A study of the Rhineland crisis is an excellent case study of British appeasement policy. (22) The British leadership (19) did not think the Rhineland was a big problem. (11) They thought that in this particular case Nazi Germany was just ‘entering their own backyard’ (19,21) (Lord Lothian (23)) and that there was no need to enforce this part of the Treaty of Versailles. (19,21) The Foreign Office expressed frustration over Hitler’s unilateral move because they had been proposing a negotiation for Germany to remilitarize the Rhineland territory. (19) The Foreign Office complained that Hitler had deprived them of the possibility of a concession which could have been very useful to Great Britain. (19) It’s not clear how well informed Baldwin and Chamberlain really were about the intentions of the Nazi regime. (18) Some still assumed that Hitler was a reasonable politician with reasonable demands and should be dealt with as such. (18,22 The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was Anthony Eden, the Prime Minister was Stanley Baldwin. (22) He met with the French, Belgian and Italian governments. (22) Partly because of this, the British government decided to do nothing. (22) [OR] to propose talks with Hitler over the Rhineland region: something they had already proposed to hold in any case. (23)

After the fact

There was dismay at the fact that Hitler had chosen to act, in breach of Treaty requirements, but no desire to go to war over the issue. (23) Two days after the event , Foreign Secretary Eden issued a Policy Memoradum:

“We must discourage any military action by France against Germany. A possible course which might have its advocates would be for the Locarno signatories to call upon Germany to evacuate the Rhineland. It is difficult now to suppose that Herr Hitler could agree to such a demand, and it certainly should not be made unless the Powers, who made it, were prepared to enforce it by military action. Fortunately, M. Flandin [French Foreign Minister]has said that France will not act alone but will take the matter to the Council [of the League of Nations]. This he must be encouraged to do. But we must beware lest the French public, if further irritated or frightened, get restless at such a slow and indecisive action and demand retaliatory action of a military character such, for instance, as the reoccupation of the Saar [German territory ceded to France by the Treaty of Versailles and returned to Germany in 1935]. Such a development must be avoided if possible. While we obviously cannot object to the Council adopting  … a ‘finding’ that Germany has violated the demilitarized zone provisions, this ought to be on the distinct understanding that it is not to be followed by a French attack on Germany and a request for our armed assistance under that article … We must be ready at the Council to offer the French some satisfaction in return for their acquiescence in this tearing up of articles 42 and 43 of Versailles [i.e. demilitarization of the Rhineland] and of the whole of Locarno … In the face of this fresh and gross insult to the sanctity of treaties, it will be difficult to persuade the French to sign any fresh agreement with Germany in present circumstances … We might agree to [M. Flandin’s suggestion of a formal condemnation by the Council of Germany’s action], but we ought to resist [measures that could include economic and financial boycott]  … The essential thing will be to induce or cajole France to accept [negotiations with Germany]. The trouble is that we are in a bad position to browbeat her into what we think reasonableness, because, if she wishes to do so, she can always hold us to our Locarno obligations and call upon us to join with her in turning the German forces out of the Rhineland. The strength of our position lies in the fact that France is not in the mood for a military adventure of this sort.” (23)

Following the discussions described in the documents, the British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, did indeed meet the German ambassador and make his proposals. (22) which were to netotiate with the Germans over the size of any force which could be deployed in the Rhineland. (23) Hitler refused to withdraw his troops, and put pressure on the League of Nations to act. (22)

Specific to France

French general policies

A few minutes with a good atlas of Europe should make it clear that Britain would have had to act *through France*. (18) In the 1920s France had continued her (6,9) military (9) alliances with Eastern European countries (6,9) (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Yugoslavia) (6) countries which were too weak to help it. (9) Its weakness (8a,9) had been compounded by the Great Depression that plagued the 1930s. (9,11) By that time France became a deeply conservative, defensive society, split by social conflict, undermined by failing and un-modernized economy and an empire in crisis. (12) All these things explain the loss of will and direction in the 1930s. (12) In the mid and late 1930s France was bitterly divided into Left and Right and not well placed to take decisive action, (18,21) as the events of 1940 made very clear. (18)

French Foreign Policy: Laval 1934-6

The foreign policy of right-wing Prime Minister Pierre Laval (1934–1936) was based on a distrust of Britain. (12) Appeasement was increasingly adopted as Germany grew stronger, for (12) France was increasingly weakened (8a,12) by a stagnant economy, (11,12) unrest in its colonies, (8a,12) and bitter internal political fighting. (12) Martin Thomas says it was not a coherent diplomatic strategy nor a copying of the British. (12) French military strategy was entirely defensive, and it had no intention whatever of invading Germany if war broke out. (12) Even worse, on February 3, 1935, the French and British Government issued a communique recognizing Germany’s right to rearm, but not without consulting the other Powers, and asking for a direct exchange of views. (25) in May (10) 1935, (10,12) Laval’s government made a political alliance (9,10) [OR] defence agreement (12) with the Soviet Union (10,12) signed by Laval in (12) but it dared not cooperate militarily with the USSR, (9) so the agreement was not implemented by him or by his left-wing successors. (12) France was strategically dependent on Great Britain, which flatly refused to consider any military commitment: (9) [OR] Great Britain’s leaders had consented to talks with France about remilitarization negotiations. (19) The only figure that seemed to grasp the danger of this kind of thinking was Winston Churchill. (25) He said: (25)

“The awful danger of our present foreign policy is that we go on perpetually asking the French to weaken themselves.  And what do we say is the inducement? We say, weaken yourselves, and we always hold out the hope that if they do it and get into trouble, we will then in some way or other go to their aid, although we have nothing with which to go to their aid.  I cannot imagine a more dangerous policy.  There is something to be said for isolation; there is something to be said for alliances.  But there is nothing to be said for weakening the Power on the Continent with whom you would be in alliance, and then involving yourself more [deeply] in Continental tangles in order to make it up to them.”

Without the deterrence of a united Anglo-French resistance, France was militarily helpless (12) and did not want to risk war. (21) [OR] French forces in the area were much bigger and Germans had ordered that troops should be withdrawn if France decided to attack or take action, (17,19) Several British ministers were unsatisfied with the direction of the negotiation talks. (19) This arrangement was a prescription for a nervous breakdown, not a grand strategy, says Kissinger. (9) British historian Richard Overy says that the country that had dominated Europe for three centuries wanted one last extension of power, but failed in its resolve. (12)

After the Event

France was angered by the occupation of the Rhineland but (13) without a viable strategy (13) France could not respond. (12,13) France was on the verge of a general election (22) and would not act without Britain’s support. (13,22) Eden was right to say that ‘France is not in the mood for a military adventure of this sort’. (23)  Britain did not fully denounce the move. (13) France’s failure to send even a single unit into Rhineland signalled that strategy to all of Europe. (12) Four days after the incursion, the French Foreign Minister said:

 “…what has been violated is a treaty into which Germany freely entered. (23) It is a violation of a territorial character, a violation following upon repeated assurances by the German Chancellor [Hitler] that he would respect the Locarno Treaty and the demilitarized zone on condition that the other parties did the same. (23) It was a violation committed in the very middle of negotiations … If such violations are tolerated by members of the League as a whole, and in particular by the Locarno Powers, there is no basis for the establishment of international order, and no chance for the organization of peace through a system of collective security under the Covenant (of the League of Nations). France will therefore ask the Council of the League to declare that there has been a breach of articles 42 and 43 of the Treaty of Versailles [decreeing demilitarization of the Rhineland] As to the fact of this breach, there can be no possibility of doubt. Once the breach has been declared by the Council, the French Government will put at the disposal of the Council all their moral and material resources (including military, naval and air forces) in order to repress what they regard as an attempt upon international peace. The French Government expects that the Locarno Powers, in virtue of their formal obligations, will render assistance, and the other members of the League … will act with the French Government in exercising pressure upon the author of this action. (23) The French Government does not by this mean to indicate that they will refuse in the future to pursue negotiations with Germany on questions interesting Germany and the Locarno Powers; but that such negotiations will only be possible when international law has been re-established in its full value…” M Flandin, March 10th, 1936. (23)  

Coming up with such tempting bargains such as a non-aggression treaty with France and claiming to have technically occupied its own territory, Nazi Germany tormented the Allies with doubt of whether Hitler was actually up for peace. (9) While the Allies were troubling themselves in the fatal bewilderment, France acceded to (9) the constant British call for appeasing Germany, (9,24) and thus the French lost their ultimate defence line against Germany. (9) French credibility in standing against German expansion or aggression was left in doubt. (12) because Germany could now protect the Ruhr with troops situated on the border with France. (21) Potential allies in Eastern Europe could no longer trust in an alliance with a France that could not be trusted to deter Germany through threat of an invasion. (12) The ‘little entente’ was weakened. (21) Belgium dropped its defensive alliance with France and relied on neutrality. (12)

Specific to Germany

By the 1930s Hitler had seized the initiative from Britain. (18) [OR] Hitler’s remilitarization of the Rhineland changed the balance of power decisively in favour of the Reich. (12) Germany was able to build a line of forts there (known as the ‘West Wall’), so if Hitler broke treaty of Versailles again, no military action could go against them. (21) It stirred up the nationalistic feelings of the German people, (17) assisting him in his aim to win over the German people through education, censorship and propaganda. (21) His foreign policy successes in the 1930s were to make him a very popular figure in Germany. (20) As one German political opponent described: “Everybody thought that there was some justification in Hitler’s demands. (20) All Germans hated Versailles. (20) Hitler tore up this hateful treaty and forced France to its knees…. (20) people said, “he’s got courage to take risks”. (20)  It secured Hitler’s popularity with not only his army generals, (19) but also with the German people. (15,17) who were pleased (15,17) by the lack of a response by both Britain and France, and the evidence that he would not be challenged as he expanded his aggression; (13,17) it encouraged Hitler to continue to go against the treaty and pursue his Foreign Policy aims. (15,17) Hitler moved on from the occupation of the Rhineland in 1936, to the annexation of Austria and the seizure of the Sudetenland in 1938, to the take-over of the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 and then Poland in September 1939. (22) We know that those men sitting round the Cabinet table in Downing Street in March 1936 had no idea that they were only three and a half years away from war. (22) We must not judge them with hindsight. (22) Appeasement is an important phase in British foreign policy; it helps to explain why the Second World War broke out when and how it did. (22) It also traumatised a generation of British politicians into trying to redeem themselves, from Suez in 1956 to the Falklands in 1982. (22) The extracts from the Cabinet minutes show how little room for manoeuvre British politicians actually had. (22) It was going to be re-played again over Czechoslovakia in 1938. (22)

After the Re-occupation

The rise of fascism had provoked a coming together of centre and left groups in ‘Popular Fronts’, as a result of which Communist Russia was admitted to the League. (8a) The election victory of the Popular Front in France in May, 1936 served as a major irritation in Europe’s political landscape, as Britain, for a brief moment, toyed with the idea of an Anglo-German-Italian alliance versus the communist powers (USSR and France). (6) Following the remilitarization of the Rhineland, Hitler spoke in public about his wish to have peace throughout all of Europe. (19) He even wanted to engage in talks with France and Belgium about agreeing to new non-aggression pacts. (19) While doing so, Germany was very rapidly constructing defensive fortifications along the Belgium and French borders. (19)

Spanish Civil War

Germany militarily assisted the supporters of Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War, (2,8a) starting in July (2) 1936. (2,8a) Mussolini also helped Franco, while Stalin helped his enemies. (8a) As with the Rhineland, Britain and France did nothing: neither trusted the other to cooperate. (8a) Both governments were sympathetic to Franco, but both had populations who were pacifist or sympathetic to communism. (8a) Both were militarily weak and feared the cost of a new war. (8a)

Appeasement 1937-9

Britain and France did not want to enter into a military conflict with Germany at this time as both had been reducing their armies and ability to wage war. (13) This lack of will to fight pushed (13) both countries towards the policy of appeasement. (5,13) [OR] France prepared herself for another war. (6,20) The main element of that preparation was the Maginot Line, (6,12) a chain of fortresses along the Franco-German border – France believed it to be impregnable. (6,20) This was an entirely defensive strategy. (12) The British government, headed largely by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, (5,13) appeased (1,3) Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany in the 1930s. (1) Chamberlain had become Prime Minister in May 1937 and inherited a very difficult situation. (18) Neville Chamberlain proposed it as the best means of containing Nazi aggression and avoiding a world war. (13) When opponents tried to appease him, Hitler accepted the gains that were offered, then went to the next target. (4) Hitler took advantage of Chamberlain’s naivety from the remilitarization of the Rhineland up to the Munich Conference. (18) Historians say that Chamberlain appeased Hitler in order to avoid war, others say that he was propelling Europe into war by basically allowing Hitler to do as he pleased. (18) Britain never had much influence in Eastern Central Europe. (18) It was an area where Britain could only have acted by proxy. (18) There’s a widespread belief that all Britain needed was to “do something”, but very few are realistic about what that something should have been. (18) A thunderous roar of condemnation (for example, in 1935 or 1936) might well have strengthened, not weakened Hitler, as Germans would have rallied round. (18)

Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland

Due in part to the lack of reaction to the reoccupation of the Rhineland, (10) Hitler began to take over other lands throughout Western Europe. (8,10) Two years after the reoccupation of the Rhineland, Nazi Germany burst out of its territories, absorbing Austria and portions of Czechoslovakia. (8) At the time, all the concessions made towards Adolf Hitler and his government, such as allowing the annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia, were believed to be positive moves by the British politicians and the general public. (5) After the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain finalized the Munich Agreement, a wide-scale anti-appeasement campaign began, which included several prominent members of the British public. (5) As Hitler prepared for invasion of Poland, Chamberlain had no choice but to issue an ultimatum to Hitler over Poland – invade Poland and risk war with Britain or step back from Poland and reintroduce peace? (18) In 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, leading to the outbreak of World War II in Europe. (8,18) Britain and an even more reluctant France declared war on Germany supposedly in order to uphold Polish sovereignty – but did absolutely nothing to give any practical assistance to Poland. (18) Appeasement continued well into WWII. (18) Among some British grandees there was talk of making peace – until the Nazis bombed civilian areas of London in September 1940. (18)

Was Appeasement reprehensible?

Had Britain and France resisted German aggression world war II might not have broken out. (18) The policy of appeasement is often considered to be one of the main causes of World War II. (13) A book named ‘Guilty Men’ was published by a few anonymous journalists, who accused pro-appeasement politicians of deliberately surrendering to the open bullying of Adolf Hitler, and called for their immediate removal from office. (5) They let Hitler rebuild the German army and navy, occupy the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia. (18) Chamberlain persisted with appeasement well after the Czech Crisis, whilst stepping up rearmament to give him more time. (18) Hitler did not think that Britain would go through with its ‘ultimatum’ so invaded Poland sept 1939. (18) Viewed coldly, the declaration of war in 1939 bears the hallmarks of grandstanding, of an empty gesture. (18) In many ways it was a barely rational act. (18) If they had put up a fight at the beginning, perhaps Hitler would not have kept pushing until the situation turned into a World War. (18) Or maybe not. (18) Although Britain had a vast empire at the time it was rather weak in Europe. (18) As for Chamberlain being ‘naive’, people seem to think that politicians operate in a vacuum, which is not the case. (18) Appeasement gave Germany and other Axis powers an opportunity to build strength before attacking the rest of Europe. (18) It also gave Britain more time, too. (18)

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The British reply to Hitler’s program of aggression was a typical compromise; first, the British bought off competition at sea by the famous Anglo-German naval pact; second, the cabinet announced measures to triple the British Air Force, and the great rearmament program got-slowly-under way. (25) The sympathy for Germany in England produced a certain paradox. (25) It was that they were pro-German and (many of them) anti-Fascist at the same time, which was tantamount to eating an orange, say with one half of the mouth, and spitting it out at the same time with the other half. (25) In policy it was that Britain was rearming against Germany, the only conceivable enemy, while a powerful share of opinion did what it could to strengthen the putative enemy’s mind. (25) Britain was, of course, waiting, playing for time, until its own tremendous rearmament plans should be complete. (25) On factor a), Russia, under the Bolshevik regime, was beginning to evolve some order out of the chaos of the war and so long as she would let other nations go their own way, the bulk of British opinion wished her well. (25) However, the Labour Government went rather further than most people approved in making a commercial treaty that also provided, under not very clearly defined conditions, for a loan. (25) This was in any case one of the issues of the election of 1924 (though the voters were at first chiefly concerned with their own social problems); it became the dominant one after the publication of the Zinovieff letter. (25) The Russian Government, while anxious for the overthrow of all capitalist administrations, was in no way averse to borrowing their money. (25) The labour administration disclaimed all connection with the third international (Comintern), but the opinion of the public was still suspicious and the incumbent government was heavily defeated in the next election. (25) The Conservatives came into power with Stanley Baldwin as premier and Austen Chamberlain at the foreign office. (25) The treaty was of course dropped. (25) Similar to the relations with the United States, domestic politics in Great Britain tended to become more and more isolationist. (25) If Britain were to join hands with the Soviet Union, Hitler would have found less and less leeway in his aggression against the Eastern province, or, for that matter, the Polish Corridor. (25) On the contrary, British foreign policy from 1930 onwards was focused on a highly conservative stance. (25) Quite a number of speculations can be made on the cause of such anti-socialist stance of the government. (25) Still adhering to their traditional policy of balance of powers, Britain traditionally gave a hand to the seemingly weaker coalition in the continent. (25) The judgment of the power dynamics within the continent, nonetheless, seems to have been utterly mistaken when it came to the post war decades following the First World War. (25) There indeed are a myriad of reasons and speculations that might try to explain the matter, yet the most concrete and principal explanation lies on the macroscopic power balance the British perceived in the 1920s and 1930s. (25) That is, the capitalist forces versus the Socialist and Communist coalition. (25) This might have been based on the belief that a Socialist coalition might overcome the capitalist forces in Europe. (25)

26. As soon as November 1918, appears the contradiction that will dominate the diplomatic history of Europe during the twenty years that follow, a contradiction between, on the one hand, the appearance of a victory, and on the other, the reality of the power. (26) The French armies had borne the brunt of the burden on the Western front where the war was won; a French Field Marshall was commanding in 1918, the Allied forces. (26) Germany had asked for an armistice but what about the reality of power in Europe? A France of 40 million of inhabitants, with a declining population and an economy already upgraded in 1914, exhausted (1.4 million deaths!) and heavily indebted; 40,000 km2 of its territory devastated; 700,000 veterans permanently crippled; swathes of its industry destroyed by the fighting and by the Germans when retreating. (26) A Germany of 65 million people, which has not known the invasion, is liberated from the local dynasties that weakened its unity and is strong of an industry whose production is double that of its enemy. (26) At Versailles, Germany has lost some provinces but the French, Polish and Danish minorities were sources of conflict. (26) Its actual loss is in the mineral resources of Lorraine and Silesia and in its overseas investments which were seized. (26) As for its geopolitical environment, it has changed for the better: Poland has replaced the Russian Empire and to the south, Austria-Hungary, less docile than often asserted, has been replaced by fragile states as artificial as the old Empire. (26) Mittel Europa is awaiting its master. (26) In other words, in 1918, everything figure predicts that the power which can exercise its hegemony in Europe is Germany, the country defeated on the battlefield! The French had understood it but the British and the Americans refused the solution they proposed, i.e the dismantling of Germany. (26) Anyway, it is doubtful that such a goal was achievable. (26) From there stems the tragedy of the foreign policy of France from 1919 to 1939. (26) Winner of the greatest war of all time, France is paradoxically led by fears because she is aware of her intrinsic weakness. (26) This fear requires the full implementation of the Treaty of Versailles, the occupation of the Ruhr in 1923 and the refusal to disarm as was asked by the Americans and the British. (26) In this context, from Stresemann to Hitler, the goal of the foreign policy of Germany remains the same: to give to their country a role in Europe commensurate to its power. (26) The means to achieve this goal are different between the two men and it is not a detail as the history will prove but the logic remains the same, to repair a ’injustice’ of history, to erase the defeat and thus the victory of France. (26) Given the horror that will follow, it seems impossible to avoid moral judgment and yet, the logic that led the young democracy of Weimar to condone the violations of the Treaty of Versailles by the Reichswehr has its logic: international relations are based on the competition and the cooperation of states on the basis of their relative power; Germany wanted to occupy its rightful place in the international life. (26) France, during the negotiation of the peace treaty, attempted to obtain guarantees for her safety. (26) Clemenceau gave up his claim to the annexation of the Rhineland, politically untenable, in exchange for an alliance with the United States and the United Kingdom but the refusal of the US Congress to ratify the treaty left France isolated, which will have no other choice that to cling to the full implementation of the treaty and to build alliances with the new states of Eastern Europe (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Romania). (26) B/ THE BRITISH REFUSAL TO SEE THE EUROPEAN REALITY. (26) Unlike France, which has carried out the war with the conviction of defending its territory and its existence, the United Kingdom, after 1919, horrified by its human cost, nurtures doubts about its decision in August 1914. (26) Some argue that it has been dragged into a war that was not necessary, as a result of a continental system of alliances in which it should not have been engaged. (26) In this context, the ‘’wilsonism’’ with its good intentions and its Protestant ethic of transparency and sincerity, has a profound echo in the public opinion. (26) The British and the French are pacifists, after the carnage, but the first ones are so with more conviction because they feel no direct threat to their security and because they do not see what profit they got from the war. (26) It was not before 1938-1939 that the British public will begin to wake up from this stubborn refusal to see the German danger. (26) Moreover, the British diplomatic tradition reasserts itself in 1919; it dictates that no continental power should exercise hegemony; a risk that only France represents with her victorious army occupying the left bank of the Rhine and her allies-satellites in Eastern and Central Europe, facing an unarmed and prostrate Germany and a Russia sent back to its steppes. (26) For a large part of the British ruling class, France, either, does not deserve any attention since its ostensible power denies her concerns for her safety or even is a source of worries at the time of a revived colonial competition. (26) In the Middle East, come to light the contradictions between the promises made by London during the war, to the Arabs, to the Jews and to the French. (26) Furthermore, Paris does not follow Lloyd George in his crusade against the Kemalist Turkey where he leads Greece for its biggest misfortune. (26) The tone turns sour between the two allies. (26) The Secretary of Foreign Office, Curzon cannot stand Poincarré. (26) In London, the philo-germanism of a part of the ruling class, relayed by the press, is coupled with an equally strong anti-French sentiment which will run until 1936 and beyond. (26) The fact is that, in 1920, the instinct of British diplomacy leads London to seek to limit the power of France. (26) This reflex, which is the result of two centuries of history, is compounded by the mixed feelings awakened in the United Kingdom by the Treaty of Versailles which would be too tough for Germany and, anyway, doomed to be reviewed. (26) The success of Keynes’s book, ’The Economic Consequences of the Peace’ which announced the collapse of Germany because of the treaty of Versailles is an illustration of this analysis. (26) No matter that it is easy to show, in retrospect, that it was not only biased and blind to the destruction suffered by France but factually wrong, as was proven by the rapid growth of the German economy after 1924, its influence was huge. (26) From being the aggressor, Germany became a victim; from victim, France the executioner. (26) What is at stake is less the blinding of Keynes but the speed with which the British elite, for regret or even remorse for having been drawn into the war, by fear of the possible victory of Bolshevism in Germany and by prejudice against France, was ready to believe that the Treaty of Versailles was unfair. (26) No one noticed in London that the UK had just got its bounty before signing the treaty, with the delivery of the German fleet and the takeover of the colonies of the enemy; that generosity was easy while the country remained safe from the immense devastation of the fighting and while the Channel ensured safety. (26) It is therefore Paris which has the bad role, that of the beggar and of the bailiff. (26) London and Washington may stand with the principles and contain the supposed intransigence of their ally. (26) Hard in the eyes of the British, the treaty is therefore reviewable. (26) This is also a tradition of a country that does not believe in permanent solutions and sustainable architectures to solve the world’s problems. (26) There are partial and temporary responses whose quality lies in their correspondence with the reality of the moment. (26) Foreign policy is conceived as an endless task where pragmatism should dictate flexibility to serve the interests of the UK. (26) In this context, the Foreign Office feels no recoil to the need to revise the Treaty of Versailles if experience teaches that it is unsatisfactory or does not found a stable order in Europe. (26) Therefore, the British policy showed a great consistency from 1923 to the spring of 1939: its aim was to leave Germany peacefully regain its rightful place in the European society. (26) Conversely, it sought to convince France to accept it by persuasion, by addressing her security concerns, by pressure and finally by a de facto trusteeship. (26) In September 1938, after Munich, Britain could argue to have successfully managed the revision of the Treaty of Versailles, without a new war and without compromising the security of the French ally, sheltered behind the Maginot Line, strong of a powerful army and assured of the British guarantee. (26) It is in this context that the ’peace for a generation’ promised by Chamberlain before an ecstatic people had its logic. (26) The German demands were met; nothing precluded a new agreement between London and Berlin. (26) On December 6th, 1938, France and Germany signed a joint statement affirming their intention to develop their relations ’in a peaceful way’, while considering the question of their borders finally settled their borders (that is to say that of Alsace-Lorraine). (26) Germany was not anymore a dissatisfied state and could be integrated in a new European order that would see the Continental divided between the West under the British leadership and the East where sooner or later, Germany and the USSR should fight. (26) In 1923, during the Rhur crisis, the British foreign policy might have returned to its roots by opposing the supposed French hegemony on the continent. (26) The collision with France would have been unavoidable; the rapprochement with Germany necessary. (26) Disagreements were not wanting, quarrels and disappointments either till 1939 but they never went to a rupture. (26) Indeed, the United Kingdom had noticed the speed of the German offensive of 1914 which reached the North Sea in a few days. (26) It had concluded that its security should be ensured on the eastern border of France and of Belgium. (26) If Clemenceau does not get that the Anglo-Saxon allies fulfill their promise to give their formal guarantee to France, London hiding behind the defection of Washington, the reality is that of a de facto British commitment to the French eastern border that took a multilateral form in 1925, with the agreement of Locarno and was reiterated in Berlin in 1936 and in 1938. (26) But this guarantee is not an alliance: Britain sees the France as a buffer state but not as an ally whose initiatives it supports. (26) On the contrary, British diplomacy will do anything to avoid unwanted approaches of Paris, particularly in Eastern Europe, which may lead to a conflict in which the UK would itself be dragged. (26) Alliances that France has tied with the eastern new states create in London distrust and concern: that unstable countries, weak and intransigent, benefit from a guarantee of France is not seen as a force of an ally but as a weight that can lead her not only to refuse any review of a bad treaty but to initiate hostilities to defend it. (26) In the eyes of London, the policy of France should renounce any ambition beyond the Rhine; only, western Europe matters for British security; and if Germany moves eastward, it would be reassuring. (26) Finally, the British have to defend a vast empire whose existence is beginning to be challenged less by the claims of the peoples than by potentially threatening military powers. (26) London knows it is unable to protect its extensive possessions against Japan or even Italy but it cannot abdicate its status as a world power. (26) It must therefore arbitrate permanently between Europe and the overseas, the former being seen as an unpleasant duty and the latter as a vocation to preserve. (26) The reality was of a fundamental disagreement on the conduct of foreign policy in the post-war between the former allies, more or less acrimonious and more or less hidden. (26) It faded only when France followed, after 1936, its neighbor to become its quasi-satellite after Munich. (26) C/ THE 1919-1936 FRANCE LEADS AN INDEPENDENT POLICY. (26) From 1919 to 1932, La France successively followed two seemingly antagonistic policies, the first one until 1924 based on the rigorous implementation of the treaties that led to the Franco-Belgian occupation of the Ruhr in January 1923, despite the opposition of London, and the other, illustrated by the face-to-face between Stresemann and Briand based on the reintegration of Germany into the European mainstream after the Locarno Agreement. (26) The former makes possible the latter: in fact, the crisis of 1923 showed in Berlin, that a frontal resistance to the Treaty of Versailles was costly and, in Paris, that the use of force was equally so. (26) Galloping inflation on one side and the crisis of the franc, on the other, led the two adversaries to compromise in 1924, Britain and the US siding with Germany for settling the issue of the reparations. (26) The economic prosperity between 1925 and 1929 reduced the political and social tensions in both countries. (26) Stresemann did not give up the goal of the revision of the Treaty of Versailles, but he chose a peaceful and progressive approach; with Briand, France did not disarm but understood that there would be no lasting peace without the return to normal international relations in Europe, that was to say with a German actor in its own right. (26) Britain, for its part, had admitted it has to answer in one way or another to the security concerns of France if it wanted to avoid the recurrence of such a crisis. (26) Finally, Belgium was moving away from France, after following her in the Ruhr and seeing its own currency dragged into the turmoil, and was getting closer to London. (26) The foundations were thus laid for a modus vivendi symbolized by the Locarno agreement (16 October 1925) in its strength and in its ambiguities. (26) Indeed, if it first, recognizes the western borders of Germany and, secondly, adds a guarantee of them by the United Kingdom and Italy, it leaves aside the eastern borders of the Reich because of the German determination to refuse to give up getting their revision, revision which can only be achieved at the expense of allies of France. (26) No surprise that this text has been considered as a success in London as it marked the renunciation by France to a policy of force and initiated her dissociation from her eastern allies. (26) Then came the Briand/Stresemann years, years of European economic prosperity where the latter wanted to obtain the recognition of equality between European states, which started with the entry of Germany into the League of Nations, but might lead to the end of the limitations of armaments imposed by the Treaty of Versailles or, failing that, by the disarmament of France. (26) The German chancellor knew that he was assured of the American and British support, to the outrage of Paris.. (26) The crisis of 1929, which hit Germany first, was to sweep away this fragile upturn. (26) After the death of Stresemann, the political success of the Nazis but also of the communists who both campaigned on the theme of rejection of the Treaty of Versailles signaled the end of this Franco-German rapprochement. (26) In France, 1930/31 appears in retrospect as the beautiful twilight of a great power. (26) The gold reserves of the Bank of France had never reached such a high at the moment when the British Pound was devalued. (26) The country could celebrate the greatness of the colonial empire during the triumphant exhibition of 1931. (26) In this year, France was still able to block successfully a project of Austro-German customs union (September 3) supported by The US and the UK. (26) In 1932, the French Prime Minister Tardieu resisted to an US-British pressure to disarm. (26) But, 1932 is also the moment when the crisis starts to hit France. (26) This pas de deux vis-à-vis Germany where the British recommended conciliation and the French remained more or less suspicious, took a different look with the coming to power of Hitler. (26) We see it today as a turning point but in a Europe where authoritarian regimes were common and seemed to many preferable to Bolshevism, the Austrian corporal, blessed by Hindenburg, could appear as a Germanic incarnation of this model. (26) The conservative elites who govern the United Kingdom were, in this respect, particularly benevolent. (26) In addition, the Führer knew how to accompany its threatening public speeches by reassuring private conversations. (26) At first glance, Nazi Germany is a country which overcomes the chaos, revitalizes its economy and defeats communism. (26) The anti-Semitism of the regime in a period when this prejudice is so widespread in Europe and in the US is hardly shocking, at least until the Kristallnacht (Nov 9th. (26) 1938). (26) From 1919 to 1932, the Franco-British entente had gone through storms but has survived. (26) Each side was convinced it needed the other to ensure its security and the stability of Europe. (26) Far from changing this unstable state of affairs, the arrival to power of Hitler, at first, accentuated the contradictions between the two allies. (26) Indeed, on the one hand, the British saw in it a new episode of a German revisionism that was not unjustified while on the other hand, the French concluded they were facing the eternal German militarism. (26) The former reserved their judgment; the latter wanted to put together a European coalition able to oppose the resurgence of the danger. (26) Germany left the League of Nations (October 14th 1933), tried to destabilize Austria and made public its rearmament (March 16th 1935). (26) Facing this challenge, Barthou, the forceful and active French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, not only refused any disarmament of his country but reaffirmed her alliances with the eastern European countries and initiated a rapprochement with Italy and the USSR. (26) When Austrian Nazis murdered Chancellor Dollfuss (July 25th 1934), Mussolini mobilized on the Brenner and obliged Hitler to retreat. (26) On April 14th, 1935, at Stresa, France, Italy and the United Kingdom could reiterate their determination to oppose ’any unilateral repudiation of treaties’ and on May 2nd, 1935, was signed the ‘’Franco-Soviet pact’’ in which each party agreed to assist the other in the event of unprovoked aggression. (26) The USSR and Czechoslovakia did the same on May 16th. (26) As for the United Kingdom, it signed, on June 18th, 1935, the anniversary of Waterloo … (26) a bilateral naval agreement with Germany, contrary to the Treaty of Versailles, without consulting or even notifying France. (26) D/ THE POLITICAL COLLAPSE OF FRANCE. (26) In the summer of 1935, the France seemed to have responded effectively to the Nazi threat despite the British reservations. (26) In fact, this house of cards was to collapse within months. (26) Mussolini dreamed of building an ’Italian Empire’ the cornerstone of which being Ethiopia. (26) He believed, or pretended to believe that France had given him carte blanche during the negotiation of the bilateral January 1935 agreement that had settled colonial disputes between the two countries. (26) He noted that the United Kingdom had always remained evasive on this issue. (26) So he attacked Ethiopia on October 2nd 1935. (26) This aggression embarrassed London and Paris which had to face the wrath of their public opinion in front of such a blatant case of a brutal and unjustified assault against a member of the League of Nations. (26) But, neither wanted to alienate a country that, for the British, could threaten their lines of communication with their Empire and, for French was seen as a potential ally against Germany. (26) As it often happens in such situations, by trying to reconcile the irreconcilable, the two countries failed all along the line: they got the indignity of abandoning Ethiopia but still managed to pop the Stresa Front. (26) In any case, this break appears in retrospect inevitable: after Ethiopia, came Spain (July 18th 1936). (26) The two democracies, especially the French Popular front government, could have hardly remained close to a country which supported wholeheartedly Franco, side by side with Germany. (26) In fact, the international relations in Europe, under the dual pressure from Germany and the USSR, with the twin shadows of fascism and communism, were becoming more and more ideological, with, as a consequence, an irresistible movement of Mussolini towards Hitler. (26) With regard to the relations with the USSR, the responsibility for the deadlock lies in France. (26) The Laval government made the activation of the Franco-Soviet Pact subject to the agreement of the other guarantor powers of Locarno and, in July 1935, refused to respond to the Soviet proposal of conversations between the military Staffs. (26) The pact had lost any political and military significance. (26) Anti-communism had won in Paris. (26) However, here again, the question remains of the potential relevance of this alliance, even in the absence of French obfuscation. (26) Indeed, geography made difficult maybe impossible a military agreement, as was proven in the spring of 1939, when neither Poland nor Romania wanted to open their territory to the Soviet troops, which therefore, could not, in any event, defend Czechoslovakia. (26) Finally, hit late by the economic crisis, France is sinking, from February 1934, into a lasting political crisis. (26) The Republic seemed unable to respond to the political and economic challenges of the times while Italy, Germany and the USSR seemed to offer new ways to make politics. (26) The country is torn apart; scandals abound; Far Right and Far Left prosper; governments fall one after the other. (26) It is in this context, when the French government has just resigned, that Germany announced the reoccupation of the Rhineland (March 7, 1936). (26) This event is a turning point. (26) In London, it is seen as the end of the Versailles system, a system in which nobody believed any more. (26) The Germans ’go home’; it is not a big deal. (26) For France, it is a strategic disaster not so much as an advance of the German army towards its borders than because it closes off an advance of the French army towards the east. (26) In other words, the reoccupation of the Rhineland means that the alliances with Poland and Czechoslovakia are now obsolete since France, stopped by the predictable enemy fortifications, cannot come to the aid of its allies. (26) Still worse, Belgium denounces its military convention with France to declare its neutrality (14 October 1936). (26) The French northern border is open. (26) In March 1936, the masks have fallen. (26) France which, since 1919, had tried to reconcile the reality of a devastated country and her aspirations for security is powerless in front of the ascent of Germany. (26) That day of March 1936, the France gives up her status as a great power. (26) Indeed, distraught by the German rearmament, unable to find in herself the strength to react and weakened by her enduring political crisis, she abandons the responsibility of her foreign policy to the UK. (26) This is not to displease London. (26) Now, French and British policies have the same goal, the defense of the Rhine. (26) Conservative governments (Baldwin and Chamberlain) consider that their main adversary is the Soviet Union and, as such, are expecting (and hoping) a confrontation between the two totalitarian enemies. (26) To guide the ambitions of Germany eastward could contribute to this outcome. (26)

27. Under Articles 42, 43 and 44 of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles—imposed on Germany by the Allies after the Great War—Germany was “forbidden to maintain or construct any fortification either on the Left bank of the Rhine or on the Right bank to the west of a line drawn fifty kilometers to the East of the Rhine”. (27) If a violation “in any manner whatsoever” of this Article took place, this “shall be regarded as committing a hostile act…and as calculated to disturb the peace of the world”. (27) The Locarno Treaties, signed in October 1925 by Germany, France, Italy and Britain, stated that the Rhineland should continue its demilitarized status permanently. (27) Locarno was regarded as important as it was a voluntary German acceptance of the Rhineland’s demilitarized status as opposed to the diktat (dictate) of Versailles. (27) Under the terms of Locarno, Britain and Italy guaranteed the Franco-German border and the continued demilitarized status of the Rhineland against a “flagrant violation” without however defining what constituted a “flagrant violation”. (27) Under the terms of Locarno, if Germany should attempt to attack France, then Britain and Italy were obliged to go to France’s aid and likewise, if France should attack Germany, then Britain and Italy would be obliged to Germany’s aid. (27) The American historian Gerhard Weinberg called the demilitarized status of the Rhineland the “single most important guarantee of peace in Europe” as it made it impossible for Germany to attack its neighbors in the West and as the demilitarized zone rendered Germany defenseless in the West, impossible to attack its neighbors in the East as it left Germany open to a devastating French offensive if the Reich tried to invade any of the states guaranteed by the French alliance system in Eastern Europe, the so-called Cordon sanitaire. (27) The Versailles Treaty also stipulated that Allied military forces would withdraw from the Rhineland by 1935. (27) However, the German Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann announced in 1929 that Germany would not ratify the 1928 Young Plan for continuing to pay reparations unless the Allies agreed to leave the Rhineland in 1930. (27) The British delegation at the Hague Conference on German reparations in 1929 proposed that reparations paid by Germany be reduced and that British and French forces should evacuate the Rhineland. (27) The last British soldiers left in late 1929 and the last French soldiers left in June 1930. (27) As long as the French continued to occupy the Rhineland, the Rhineland functioned as a form of “collateral” under which the French could respond to any German attempt at overt rearmament by annexing the Rhineland. (27) Once the last French soldiers left the Rhineland in June 1930, it could no longer play its “collateral” role, thus opening the door for German rearmament. (27) The French decision to build the Maginot Line in 1929 was a tacit French admission that it was only a matter of time before German rearmament on a massive scale would begin sometime in the 1930s and that the Rhineland was going to be remilitarized sooner or later. (27) Intelligence from the Deuxième Bureau indicated that Germany had been violating Versailles continuously all through the 1920s with the considerable help of the Soviet Union, and with the French troops out of the Rhineland, it could only be expected that Germany would become more open about violating Versailles. (27) The Maginot Line in its turn lessened the importance of the Rhineland’s demilitarized status from a French security viewpoint. (27) The foreign policies of the interested powers The foreign policy of Fascist Italy was to maintain an “equidistant” stance from all the major powers in order to exercise “determinant weight”, which by whatever power Italy chose to align with would decisively change the balance of power in Europe, and the price of such an alignment would be support for Italian ambitions in Europe and/or Africa. (27) The foreign policy goal of the Soviet Union was set forth by Joseph Stalin in a speech on 19 January 1925 that if another world war broke out between the capitalist states that: “We will enter the fray at the end, throwing our critical weight onto the scale, a weight that should prove to be decisive”. (27) To promote this goal which would lead to the global triumph of Communism, the Soviet Union tended to support German efforts to challenge the Versailles system by assisting German secret rearmament, a policy that caused much tension with France. (27) An additional problem in Franco-Soviet relations was the Russian debt issue. (27) Before 1917, the French had been by far the largest investors in Imperial Russia, and the largest buyers of Russian debt, so the decision by Lenin in 1918 to repudiate all debts and to confiscate all private property, whether it be owned by Russians or by foreigners, had hurt the world of French business and finance quite badly. (27) The question of the Russian debt repudiation and compensation for French businesses affected by Soviet nationalisation policies poisoned Franco-Soviet relations until the early 1930s. (27) The centerpiece of interwar French diplomacy had been the cordon sanitaire in Eastern Europe, which was intended to keep both the Soviet Union and Germany out of Eastern Europe. (27) To this end, France had signed treaties of alliance with Poland in 1921, Czechoslovakia in 1924, Romania in 1926 and Yugoslavia in 1927. (27) The cordon sanitaire states were intended as a collective replacement for Imperial Russia as France’s chief eastern ally. (27) The states of the cordon sanitaire emerged as an area of French political, military, economic and cultural influence. (27) As regards Germany, it had always been assumed by the states of the cordon sanitaire that if Germany should attack any of them, France would respond by beginning an offensive into western Germany. (27) Long before 1933, German military and diplomatic elites had regarded the Rhineland’s demilitarized status as only temporary, and planned to remilitarize the Rhineland at the first favorable diplomatic opportunity. (27) In December 1918, at a meeting of Germany’s leading generals (the German Army functioned as a “state within the state”), it had decided that the chief aim would be to rebuild German military power to launch a new world war to win the “world power status” that the Reich had sought, but failed to win in the last war. (27) All through the 1920s and the early 1930s, the Reichswehr had been developing plans for a war to destroy France and its ally Poland, which necessarily presumed remilitarization of the Rhineland. (27) Steps were taken by the German government to prepare for the remilitarization, such as keeping former barracks in a good state of repair, hiding military materials in secret depots, and building customs and fire watch towers that could be easily converted into observation and machine gun posts along the frontier. (27) From 1919 to 1932, British defense spending was based upon the Ten Year Rule, which assumed that there was to be no major war for the next ten years, a policy that led to the British military being cut to the bone. (27) Amongst British decision-makers, the idea of the “continental commitment” of sending a large army to fight on the European mainland against Germany was never explicitly rejected, but was not favored. (27) The memory of the heavy losses taken in the Great War had led many to see the “continental commitment” of 1914 as a serious mistake. (27) For most of the inter-war period, the British were extremely reluctant to make security commitments in Eastern Europe, regarding the region as too unstable and likely to embroil Britain in unwanted wars. (27) At most, Britain was willing to make only limited security commitments in Western Europe, and even then tried to avoid the “continental commitment” as much as possible. (27) In 1925, the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Austen Chamberlain had famously stated in public at the Locarno conference that the Polish Corridor was “not worth the bones of a single British grenadier”. (27) As such, Chamberlain declared that Britain would not guarantee the German-Polish border on the grounds that the Polish Corridor should be returned to Germany. (27) That the British did not take even their Locarno commitments seriously could be seen in Whitehall’s prohibition of the British military chiefs’ holding staff talks with German, French and Italian militaries about what to do if a “flagrant violation” of Locarno occurred. (27) In general, for most of the 1920s–30s, British foreign policy was based upon appeasement, under which the international system established by Versailles would be revised in Germany’s favor, within limits in order to win German acceptance of that international order, and thereby ensure the peace. (27) One of the main British aims at Locarno was to create a situation where Germany could pursue territorial revisionism in Eastern Europe peacefully. (27) The British viewpoint was that if Franco-German relations improved, France would gradually abandon the cordon sanitaire. (27) Once France had abandoned its allies in Eastern Europe as the price of better relations with the Reich, the Poles and Czechoslovaks would be forced to adjust to German demands, and would peacefully hand over the territories claimed by Germany such as the Sudetenland, the Polish Corridor and the Free City of Danzig (modern Gdańsk, Poland). (27) British policy-makers tended to exaggerate French power with the normally Francophile Sir Robert “Van” Vansittart, the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office writing in 1931 that Britain was faced with an “unbearable” French domination of Europe, and what was needed was a revival of German power to counterbalance French power. (27) French economic and demographic weaknesses in the face of Germany’s strengths such as the Reich’s far larger population and economy together with the fact that much of France had been devastated by World War I while Germany had escaped mostly undamaged were little appreciated in Whitehall. (27) The European Situation, 1933–36 The diplomatic maneuvers In March 1933, the German Defence Minister, General Werner von Blomberg had plans drawn up for remilitarization. (27) Blomberg starting in the fall of 1933 had a number of the para-military Landspolizei units in the Rhineland given secret military training and equipped with military weapons in order to prepare for remilitarization. (27) General Ludwig Beck’s memo of March 1935 on the need for Germany to secure Lebensraum (living space) in Eastern Europe had accepted that remilitarization should take place as soon it was diplomatically possible. (27) In general, it was believed by German military, diplomatic and political elites that it would not be possible to remiltarize before 1937. (27) The change of regime in Germany in 1933 did cause alarm in London, but there was considerable uncertainty about what Hitler’s long term intentions were. (27) This uncertainty over what Hitler’s ultimate intentions in foreign policy were was to color much of British policy towards Germany until 1939. (27) British decision-makers could never quite decide if Hitler was merely seeking the acceptable goal (to the British) of revising Versailles or the unacceptable goal of seeking to dominate Europe. (27) British policy towards Germany was a dual-track policy of seeking a “general settlement” with the Reich in which the “legitimate” German complaints about the Versailles treaty would be addressed in Germany’s favor while at the same time pursuing rearmament to negotiate with Germany from a position of strength, to deter Hitler from choosing war as an option, and in a worst-case scenario ensure that Britain was prepared if Hitler really did want to conquer Europe. (27) In February 1934, a secret report by the Defence Requirements Committee identified Germany as the “ultimate potential enemy”, which British rearmament was to be directed against. (27) Although the possibility of German bombing attacks against British cities increased the importance of having a friendly power on the other side of the English Channel, many British decision-makers were cool, if not downright hostile, towards the idea of the “continental commitment”. (27) When British rearmament began in 1934, the Army received the lowest priority in terms of funding after the air force and the navy, in part to rule out the “continental commitment” as an option. (27) Increasingly, decision-makers came to favor the idea of “limited liability”, under which if the “continental commitment” were to be made, Britain should only send the smallest possible expeditionary force to Europe, and reserve its main efforts towards the war in the air and on the sea. (27) Britain’s refusal to make the “continental commitment” on the same scale as World War I caused tensions with the French, who believed that it would be impossible to defeat Germany without another large-scale “continental commitment”, and deeply disliked the idea that they should do the bulk of the fighting on the land. (27) Starting in 1934, the French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou decided to put an end to any potential German aggression by building a network of alliances intended to encircle Germany, and made overtures to the Soviet Union and Italy. (27) Until 1933, the Soviet Union had supported German efforts to challenge the Versailles system, but the strident anti-communism of the National Socialist regime together with its claim for Lebensraum led the Soviets change positions on the question of maintaining the Versailles system. (27) In September 1933, the Soviet Union ended its secret support for German rearmament, which had started in 1921. (27) Under the guise of collective security, the Soviet Foreign Commissar Maxim Litvinov started to praise the Versailles system, which until then the Soviet leaders had denounced as a capitalist plot to “enslave” Germany. (27) Starting in the 1920s, Benito Mussolini had subsidized the right-wing Heimwehr (“Home Defense”) movement in Austria, and after the ultra-conservative Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss had seized dictatorial power in March 1933, Austria had fallen within the Italian sphere of influence. (27) The terrorist campaign mounted by Austrian Nazis with the open support of Germany against the Dollfuss regime with the aim of overthrowing Dollfuss to achieve an Anschluss caused considerable tensions between Rome and Berlin. (27) Mussolini had warned Hitler several times that Austria was within the Italian sphere of influence, not the German, and to cease trying to overthrow his protégé Dollfuss. (27) On 25 July 1934 there had occurred the July Putsch in Vienna that saw Dollfuss assassinated by the Austrian SS, and an announcement by the Austrian Nazis that the Anschluss was at hand. (27) At the same time that Austrian Nazis attempted to seize power all over Austria, the SS Austrian Legion based in Bavaria began to attack frontier posts along the German-Austrian border in what looked like the beginning of an invasion. (27) In response, Mussolini had mobilized the Italian Army, concentrated several divisions at the Brenner Pass, and warned Hitler that Italy would go to war with Germany if he tried to follow up the putsch by invading Austria. (27) The Austrian-born Hitler, although deeply offended by Mussolini’s blunt assertions that his birthplace was within the sphere of influence of any power other than Germany, nevertheless realized he was in no position to do anything except to beat a humiliating retreat. (27) To his disgust, the German Fuhrer had to disallow the Putsch he had ordered and not follow it up by invading Austria while the Austrian government crushed the Putsch by the Austrian Nazis. (27) After Barthou was killed on 9 October 1934, his work in trying to build anti-German alliances with the Soviet Union and Italy was continued by Pierre Laval. (27) On 7 January 1935 during a summit in Rome, Laval essentially told Mussolini that he had a “free hand” in the Horn of Africa, and France would not oppose an Italian invasion of Ethiopia. (27) On 14 April 1935, Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald of Great Britain, Premier Pierre Laval of France and Prime Minister Benito Mussolini met in Stresa to form the Stresa Front to oppose any further German violations of Versailles following the German statement in March 1935 that Germany would no longer abide by Parts V or VI of the Treaty of Versailles. (27) In the spring of 1935, joint staff talks had begun between France and Italy with the aim of forming an anti-German military alliance. (27) On 2 May 1935, Laval travelled to Moscow, where he a signed a treaty of alliance with Soviet Union. (27) At once, the German government began a violent press campaign against the Franco-Soviet pact, claiming it was a violation of Locarno that was an immense danger for the Reich. (27) In his “peace speech” of May 21, 1935, Adolf Hitler stated “In particular, they [the Germans] will uphold and fulfill all obligations arising out of the Locarno Treaty, so long as the other parties are on their side ready to stand by that pact”. (27) That line in Hitler’s speech was written by his foreign minister, Baron Konstantin von Neurath who wished to reassure foreign leaders who felt threatened by Germany’s denunciation in March 1935 of Part V of the Treaty of Versailles, which had disarmed Germany. (27) At the same time, Neurath wanted to provide an opening for the eventual remilitarization of the Rhineland, hence the conditional hedging of the promise to obey Locarno only as long as other powers did. (27) Hitler always took the line that Germany did not consider itself bound by the Diktat of Versailles, but that Germany would respect any treaty that it willingly signed such as Locarno, under which Germany had promised to keep the Rhineland demilitarized forever; hence Hitler always promised during his “peace speeches” to obey Locarno as opposed to Versailles. (27) The Abyssinia Crisis Main article: Abyssinia Crisis On 7 June 1935, MacDonald resigned as British Prime Minister due to ailing health and was replaced by Stanley Baldwin of the Conservative Party; the leadership change did not affect British foreign policy in any meaningful way. (27) On October 3, 1935, Italy invaded Ethiopia, and thus began the Abyssinia Crisis. (27) Under strong pressure from a British public opinion, which was very much in favor of collective security, the British government took the lead in pressing the League of Nations for sanctions against Italy. (27) The decision of the British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin to take a strong line in favor of collective security was mostly motivated by domestic politics. (27) Having just won an election on 14 November 1935 on the platform of upholding collective security, the Baldwin government pressed very strongly for sanctions against Italy for invading Ethiopia. (27) The League Assembly voted for a British motion to impose sanctions on Italy with immediate effect on 18 November 1935. (27) The British line that collective security must be upheld with regard to Ethiopia caused considerable tensions between Paris and London, with the French taking the viewpoint that Hitler, not Mussolini, was the real danger to the peace, and that if the price of continuing Stresa Front was accepting the conquest of Ethiopia, it was worth paying. (27) The British historian Correlli Barnett wrote for Laval: “…all that really mattered was Nazi Germany. (27) His eyes were on the demilitarised zone of the Rhineland; his thoughts on the Locarno guarantees. (27) To estrange Italy, one of the Locarno powers, over such a question as Abyssinia did not appeal to Laval’s Auvergnat peasant mind”. (27) With Paris and London openly at loggerheads over the correct response to Italian invasion of Ethiopia, to say nothing of the very public rift between Rome and London, an opening was seen in Germany for remilitarization of the Rhineland. (27) The Anglo-Italian dispute placed the French in an uncomfortable position. (27) On one hand, Britain’s repeated refusal to make the “continental commitment” increased the value to the French of Italy as the only other nation in Western Europe capable of fielding a large army against Germany. (27) But on the other hand, the British economy was far larger than the Italian economy, which thus meant from the long-term French perspective, Britain was a much better ally as Britain had vastly more economic staying power than Italy for what was assumed would be another guerre de la longue durée (“war of the long duration”, i.e. (27) a long war against Germany). (27) The American historian Zach Shore wrote that: “…French leaders found themselves in the awkward position of seeking the military co-operation of two incompatible allies. (27) Since Italy and Britain had clashing interests in the Mediterranean, France could not ally with one without alienating the other”. (27) To avoid a total rupture with Britain, France did not use its veto power as a member of the League Council, and instead voted for the sanctions. (27) But Laval did use the threat of a French veto to water down the sanctions, and to have such items such as oil and coal, which might have crippled Italy, removed from the sanctions list. (27) Nonetheless, Mussolini felt betrayed by his French friends, and next to Britain, France was the nation that he was most angry with for the sanctions. (27) Despite all of Mussolini’s outrage about the sanctions, they were largely ineffective. (27) The United States and Germany-both of which were not members of the League-chose not to abide by the sanctions, and as result, American and German businesses supplied Italy with all of the goods that League had placed on the sanctions list, making the sanctions more of an annoyance than a problem for the Italians. (27) Italian cryptographers had broken the British naval and diplomatic codes in the early 1930s; consequently, Mussolini knew very well that although Britain might threaten war through such moves like reinforcing the Mediterranean Fleet in September 1935, the British had already decided in advance that they would never go to war for Ethiopia. (27) Armed with this knowledge, Mussolini felt free to engage in all sorts of wild threats of war against Britain from late 1935 onwards, declaring at one point that he rather see the entire world “go up in a blaze” than stop his invasion of Ethiopia. (27) Mussolini’s frequent threats to destroy the British Empire if the British continued to oppose his Ethiopian war had created the impression in late 1935-early 1936 that Britain and Italy were on the verge of war. (27) In late 1935, Neurath started rumours that Germany was considering remilitarizing the Rhineland in response to the Franco-Soviet pact of May 1935, which Neurath insisted was a violation of Locarno that menaced Germany. (27) At the same time, Neurath ordered German diplomats to start drawing up legal briefs justifying remilitarization of the Rhineland under the grounds that the Franco-Soviet pact violated Locarno. (27) In doing so, Neurath was acting without orders from Hitler, but in the expectation that time was ripe for remilitarization due to the crisis in Anglo-Italian relations caused by the Italo-Ethiopian War. (27) To resolve the Abyssinia Crisis, Robert Vansittart, the Permanent Undersecretary at the British Foreign Office proposed to the Foreign Secretary Samuel Hoare what came to be known as the Hoare–Laval plan under which half of Ethiopia would be given to Italy with the rest nominally independent under the Emperor Haile Selassie. (27) Vansittart who was a passionate Francophile and an equally ardent Germanophobe saw Germany as the real danger, and wanted to sacrifice Ethiopia for the sake of maintaining the Stresa Front. (27) Vansittart had a powerful ally in Hankey, a proponent of realpolitik who saw the entire idea of imposing sanctions on Italy as so much folly. (27) Persuaded of the merits of Vansittart’s approach, Hoare travelled to Paris to meet with Laval, who agreed to the plan. (27) However, Alexis St. (27) Leger, the General Secretary at the Quai d’Orsay-who unusually amongst the generally pro-Italian French officials, happened to have a visceral dislike of Fascist Italy-and he decided to sabotage the Hoare-Laval plan by leaking it to the French press. (27) St. (27) Leger was by all accounts a “rather strange” character who sometimes chose to undercut policy initiatives that he disapproved of. (27) In a strange asymmetry, the Francophile Vansittart at the Foreign Office was in favor the French approach that it was worth letting Italy conquer Ethiopia in order to continue the Stresa Front, whereas the Anglophile St. (27) Leger at the Quai d’Orsay was in favor of the British approach of upholding collective security, even at the risk of damaging the Stresa Front. (27) When the news of the Hoare-Laval plan to essentially reward Mussolini reached Britain, it caused such an uproar that Hoare had to resign in disgrace (to be replaced by Anthony Eden) and the newly elected Baldwin government was almost toppled by a backbenchers’ revolt. (27) Baldwin lied to the House of Commons by claiming quite falsely that the cabinet was unaware of the Hoare-Laval plan, and that Hoare was a rogue minister acting on his own. (27) In France, public opinion was just as outraged by the Hoare-Laval plan as British public opinion was. (27) Laval’s policy of internal devaluation of forcing deflation on the French economy in order to increase French exports to combat the Great Depression had already made him extremely unpopular, and the Hoare-Laval plan further damaged his reputation. (27) The Chamber of Deputies debated the plan on 27 and 28 December, the Popular Front condemned it, with Léon Blum telling Laval: “You have tried to give and to keep. (27) You wanted to have your cake and eat it. (27) You cancelled your words by your deeds and your deeds by your words. (27) You have debased everything by fixing, intrigue and slickness … Not sensitive enough to the importance of great moral issues, you have reduced everything to the level of your petty methods”. (27) Mussolini for his part rejected the Hoare-Laval plan, saying he wanted to subject all of Ethiopia, not just half. (27) Following the fiasco of the Hoare-Laval plan, the British government resumed its previous policy of imposing sanctions against Italy in a half-hearted way, which in turn imposed serious strains on relations with both Paris and especially Rome. (27) Given the provocative Italian attitude, Britain wanted to begin staff talks with France for a possible war with Italy. (27) On 13 December 1935, Neurath told the British ambassador Sir Eric Phipps that Berlin regarded any Anglo-French staff talks without Germany – even if directed only against Italy – as a violation of Locarno that would force Germany to remilitarize the Rhineland. (27) Through Italo-German relations were quite unfriendly in 1935, Germany had been an outspoken supporter of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, and offered Mussolini a benevolent neutrality. (27) Under the banner of white supremacy and fascism, Hitler came out strongly for the Italian invasion, and he made a point of shipping the Italians various raw materials and weapons, which the League of Nations sanctions had forbidden Italy. (27) Hitler’s support for the Italian aggression won him much goodwill in Rome. (27) By contrast, Laval’s pro-Italian intrigues and his efforts to sabotage the British-led effort to impose sanctions on Italy created a lasting climate of distrust between the British and the French. (27) German remilitarisation Neurath and secret intelligence The British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden anticipated that by 1940 Germany might be persuaded to return to the League of Nations, accept arms limitations, and renounce her territorial claims in Europe in exchange for remilitarization of the Rhineland, return of the former German African colonies and German “economic priority along the Danube” The Foreign Office’s Ralph Wigram advised that Germany should be permitted to remilitarise the Rhineland in exchange for an “air pact” outlawing bombing and a German promise not to use force to change their borders. (27) However, ‘Wigram did not succeed in convincing his colleagues or cabinet ministers’. (27) Eden’s goal has been defined as that of a “general settlement”, which sought “a return to the normality of the twenties and the creation of conditions in which Hitler could behave like Stresemann.” (Gustav Stresemann German chancellor, foreign minister and democrat during the Weimar Republic) On 16 January 1936, the French Premier Pierre Laval submitted the Franco-Soviet Pact to the Chamber of Deputies for ratification. (27) In January 1936, during his visit to London to attend the funeral of King George V, Neurath told Eden: “If, however, the other signatories or guarantors of the Locarno Pact should conclude bilateral agreements contrary to the spirit of Locarno Pact, we should be compelled to reconsider our attitude.” Eden’s response to Neurath’s veiled threat that Germany would remilitarize the Rhineland if the French National Assembly ratified the Franco-Soviet pact convinced Neurath that if Germany remilitarized, then Britain would take Germany’s side against France. (27) There was a clause in the Locarno treaty calling for binding international arbitration if the one of the signatory powers signed a treaty that the other powers considered to be incompatible with Locarno. (27) Both Neurath and his State Secretary Prince Bernhard von Bülow professed to every foreign diplomat with whom they spoke that the Franco-Soviet Pact was a violation of Locarno, but at the same time both strongly advised Hitler not to seek international arbitration in order to determine whether the Franco-Soviet pact really was a violation of Locarno. (27) Seeking international arbitration was a “lose-lose” situation for Germany: on the one hand, if it were ruled that the Franco-Soviet pact was incompatible with Locarno, then the French would have to abandon the pact, thereby depriving Germany of an excuse to remilitarize; on the other hand, if it were ruled that Franco-Soviet pact was compatible with Locarno, Germany would likewise have no excuse for remilitarization. (27) Although Neurath indicated several times in press conferences in early 1936 that Germany was planning on using the arbitration clause in Locarno in order to help convince public opinion abroad that the Franco-Soviet pact was a violation of Locarno, the German government never invoked the arbitration clause. (27) At the same time, Neurath received an intelligence report on 10 January 1936 from Gottfried Aschmann, the Chief of the Auswärtiges Amt’s Press Division, who during a visit to Paris in early January 1936 had talked to a minor French politician named Jean Montiny who was a close friend of Premier Laval, who had frankly mentioned that France’s economic problems had retarded French military modernization and that France would do nothing if Germany remilitarized the Rhineland. (27) Neurath did not pass on Aschmann’s report to Hitler, but he placed a high value upon it. (27) Neurath was seeking to improve his position within the Nazi regime; by repeatedly assuring Hitler during the Rhineland crisis that the French would do nothing without telling Hitler the source of his self-assurance, Neurath came across as a diplomat blessed with an uncanny intuition, something that improved his standing with Hitler. (27) Traditionally in Germany the conduct of foreign policy had been the work of the Auswärtiges Amt (Foreign Office), but starting in 1933 Neurath had been faced with the threat of Nazi “interlopers in diplomacy” as various NSDAP agencies started to conduct their own foreign policies independent of and often against the Auswärtiges Amt. (27) The most serious of the “interlopers in diplomacy” was the Dienststelle Ribbentrop, a sort of alternative foreign ministry loosely linked to the NSDAP headed by Joachim von Ribbentrop which aggressively sought to undercut the work of the Auswärtiges Amt at every turn. (27) Further exacerbating the rivalry between the Dienststelle Ribbentrop and the Auswärtiges Amt was the fact that Neurath and Ribbentrop utterly hated one another, with Ribbentrop making no secret of his belief that he would be a much better foreign minister than Neurath, whereas Neurath viewed Ribbentrop as a hopelessly inept amateur diplomat meddling in matters that did not concern him. (27) Baron Konstantin von Neurath in 1939. (27) As Foreign Minister in 1936, Neurath played a decisive role in German decision-making that led to the remilitarization. (27) The decision to remilitarize During January 1936, the German Chancellor and Führer Adolf Hitler decided to remilitarize the Rhineland. (27) Originally Hitler had planned to remilitarize the Rhineland in 1937, but chose in early 1936 to move re-militarization forward by a year for several reasons, namely: the ratification by the French National Assembly of the Franco-Soviet pact of 1935 allowed him to present his coup both at home and abroad as a defensive move against Franco-Soviet “encirclement”; the expectation that France would be better armed in 1937; the government in Paris had just fallen and a caretaker government was in charge; economic problems at home required a foreign policy success to restore the regime’s popularity; the Italo-Ethiopian War, which had set Britain against Italy, had effectively broken up the Stresa Front; and apparently because Hitler simply did not feel like waiting an extra year. (27) In his biography of Hitler, the British historian Sir Ian Kershaw argued that the primary reasons for the decision to remilitarize in 1936 as opposed to 1937 were Hitler’s preference for dramatic unilateral coups to obtain what could easily be achieved via quiet talks, and Hitler’s need for a foreign policy triumph to distract public attention from the major economic crisis that was gripping Germany in 1935–36. (27) The German War Minister General Werner von Blomberg. (27) During a meeting between Prince Bernhard von Bülow, the State Secretary at the Auswärtiges Amt (who is not to be confused with his more famous uncle Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow) and the French Ambassador André François-Poncet on 13 January 1936, where Bülow handed François-Poncet yet another note protesting against the Franco-Soviet pact, François-Poncet accused Bülow to his face of seeking any excuse, no matter how bizarre, strange or implausible to send troops back into the Rhineland. (27) On 15 January 1936, a top-secret NKVD report was sent to Joseph Stalin entitled “Summary of Military and Political Intelligence on Germany”, which reported – based on statements from various diplomats in the Auswärtiges Amt – that Germany was planning on remilitarizing the Rhineland in the near-future. (27) The same summary quoted Bülow as saying that if Britain and France made any sort of agreement concerning military co-operation that did not involve Germany: “We would view this as a violation of Locarno, and if we are not dragged into participating in negotiations, we will not consider ourselves bound by Locarno obligations concerning the preservation of the Rhine demilitarized zone”. (27) The Soviet report warning of German plans for remilitarization was not passed on to either the British or French governments. (27) On 17 January 1936 Benito Mussolini – who was angry about the League of Nations sanctions applied against his country for aggression against Ethiopia – told the German Ambassador in Rome, Ulrich von Hassell, that he wanted to see an Austro-German agreement “which would in practice bring Austria into Germany’s wake, so that she could pursue no other foreign policy than one parallel with Germany. (27) If Austria, as a formally independent state, were thus in practice to become a German satellite, he would have no objection”. (27) By recognizing that Austria was within the German sphere of influence, Mussolini had removed the principal problem in Italo-German relations. (27) Italo-German relations had been quite bad since mid-1933, and especially since the July Putsch of 1934, so Mussolini’s remarks to Hassell in early 1936 indicating that he wanted a rapprochement with Germany were considered extremely significant in Berlin. (27) In another meeting, Mussolini told Hassell that he regarded the Stresa Front of 1935 as “dead”, and that Italy would do nothing to uphold Locarno should Germany violate it. (27) Initially German officials did not believe in Mussolini’s desire for a rapprochement, but after Hitler sent Hans Frank on a secret visit to Rome carrying a message from the Führer about Germany’s support for Italy’s actions in the conquest of Ethiopia, Italo-German relations improved markedly. (27) On 24 January, the very unpopular Laval resigned as premier rather than be defeated on a motion of no-confidence in the National Assembly as the Radical Socialists decided to join the left-wing Popular Front, thereby ensuring an anti-Laval majority in the Chamber of Deputies. (27) A caretaker government was formed in Paris led by Albert Sarraut until new elections could be held. (27) The Sarraut cabinet was a mixture of men of the right like Georges Mandel, the center like Georges Bonnet and the left like Joseph Paul-Boncour which made it almost impossible for the cabinet to make decisions. (27) Immediately, the Sarraut government came into conflict with Britain as Eden started to press the League for oil sanctions against Italy, something that the French were completely opposed to, and threatened to veto. (27) On 11 February 1936, the new French Premier Albert Sarraut affirmed that his government would work for the ratification of the Franco-Soviet pact. (27) On February 12, 1936, Hitler met with Neurath and his Ambassador-at-Large Joachim von Ribbentrop to ask their opinion of the likely foreign reaction to remilitarization. (27) Neurath supported remiltarization, but argued that Germany should negotiate more before doing so whereas Ribbentrop argued for unilateral remilitarization at once. (27) Ribbentrop told Hitler that if France went to war in response to German remiltarization, then Britain would go to war with France, an assessment of the situation with which Neurath did not agree, but one that encouraged Hitler to proceed with remiltarization. (27) On the 12th of February Hitler informed his War Minister, Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg, of his intentions and asked the head of the Army, General Werner von Fritsch, how long it would take to transport a few infantry battalions and an artillery battery into the Rhineland. (27) Fritsch answered that it would take three days organization but he was in favour of negotiation, as he believed that the German Army was in no state for armed combat with the French Army. (27) The Chief of the General Staff, General Ludwig Beck warned Hitler that the German Army would be unable to successfully defend Germany against a possible retaliatory French attack. (27) Hitler reassured Fritsch that he would withdraw his forces if there were a French countermove. (27) Weinberg wrote that: “German military plans provided for small German units to move into the Rhineland, joining the local militarized police (Landespolizei) and staging a fighting withdrawal if there were a military counter-action from the West. (27) The story that the Germans had orders to withdraw if France moved against them is partially correct, but essentially misleading; the withdrawal was to be a tactical defensive move, not a return to the earlier position. (27) The possibility of a war was thus accepted by Hitler, but he clearly did not think the contingency very likely.” The operation was codenamed Winter Exercise. (27) Unknown to Hitler, on 14 February Eden had written to the Quai d’Orsay stating that Britain and France should “enter betimes into negotiations…for the surrender on conditions of our rights in the zone while such surrender still has got a bargaining value”. (27) Eden wrote to the British cabinet that the end of the demilitarized zone would “not merely change local military values, but is likely to lead to far-reaching political repercussions of a kind which will further weaken France’s influence in Central and Eastern Europe”. (27) In February 1936, the Deuxième Bureau started to submit reports suggesting that Germany was planning on sending troops into the Rhineland in the very near-future. (27) Because François-Poncet’s reports from Berlin indicated that the German economic situation was quite precarious, it was felt in Paris that sanctions against Germany could be quite devastating, and might even lead to the collapse of the Nazi regime. (27) Along with Ribbentrop and Neurath, Hitler discussed the planned remilitarization in detail with War Minister General Werner von Blomberg, Chief of General Staff General Ludwig Beck, Hermann Göring, Army Commander-in-Chief General Werner von Fritsch and Ulrich von Hassell. (27) Ribbentrop and Blomberg were in favor; Beck and Fritsch were opposed and Neurath and Hassell were supportive, but argued that there was no real need to act now as quiet diplomacy would soon ensure remilitarization. (27) That Hitler was in close and regular contact with Hassell, the ambassador to Italy all through February and early March, showed how much importance Hitler attached to Italy. (27) Of the three leaders of the Stresa front, Mussolini was easily the one Hitler most respected, and so Hitler viewed Italy as the key, taking the view that if Mussolini decided to oppose the remilitarization, then Britain and France would follow. (27) Not withstanding Mussolini’s remarks in January, Hitler was still not convinced of Italian support, and ordered Hassell to find out Mussolini’s attitude. (27) On 22 February, Hassell wrote in his diary that the pending ratification of the Franco-Soviet pact was just a pretext, writing: “it was quite clear that he [Hitler] really wanted the ratification to use as a platform for his action”. (27) That same day, Hassell held a meeting with Mussolini, where Il Duce stated if oil sanctions were applied against Italy, he would “make Locarno disappear of its own accord”, and that anyhow Italy would not act if German troops were to enter the Rhineland. (27) At the same time, Neurath started preparing elaborate documents justifying remilitarization as a response forced on Germany by the Franco-Soviet pact, and advised Hitler to keep the number of troops sent into the Rhineland very small so to allow the Germans to claim that they had not committed a “flagrant violation” of Locarno (both Britain and Italy were only committed to offering a military response to a “flagrant violation”). (27) In the statement justifying remilitarization that Neurath prepared for the foreign press, the German move was portrayed as something forced on a reluctant Germany by ratification of the Franco-Soviet pact, and strongly hinted that Germany would return to the League of Nations if remilitarization was accepted. (27) After meeting with Hitler on 18 February, Baron von Neurath expressed the viewpoint “for Hitler in the first instance domestic motives were decisive”. (27) At the same time that Frank was visiting Rome, Göring had been dispatched to Warsaw to meet the Polish Foreign Minister Colonel Józef Beck and to ask the Poles to remain neutral if France decided on war in response to the remilitarization of the Rhineland. (27) Colonel Beck believed that the French would do nothing if Germany remilitarized the Rhineland, and thus could assure those in the Polish government who wished for Poland to stay close to its traditional ally France that Poland would act if France did while at the same time telling Göring that he wanted closer German-Polish relations and would do nothing in the event of remilitarization. (27) On 13 February 1936 during a meeting with Prince Bismarck of the German Embassy in London, Ralph Wigram, the head of the Central Department of the British Foreign Office stated that the British government (whose Prime Minister from 1935 to 1937 was Stanley Baldwin) wanted a “working agreement” on an air pact that would outlaw bombing, and that Britain would consider revising Versailles and Locarno in Germany’s favor for an air pact. (27) Prince Bismarck reported to Berlin that Wigram had hinted quite strongly that the “things” that Britain were willing to consider revising included remilitarization. (27) On 22 February 1936 Mussolini, who was still angry about the League of Nations sanctions applied against his country for aggression against Ethiopia, told von Hassell that Italy would not honour Locarno if Germany were to remilitarize the Rhineland. (27) Even if Mussolini had wanted to honour Locarno, practical problems would have arisen as the bulk of the Italian Army was at that time engaged in the conquest of Ethiopia, and as there is no common Italo-German frontier. (27) Historians debate the relation between Hitler’s decision to remilitarize the Rhineland in 1936 and his broad long-term goals. (27) Those historians who favour an “intentionist” interpretation of German foreign policy such as Klaus Hildebrand and the late Andreas Hillgruber see the Rhineland remilitarization as only one “stage” of Hitler’s stufenplan (stage by stage plan) for world conquest. (27) Those historians who take a “functionist” interpretation see the Rhineland remilitarization more as ad hoc, improvised response on the part of Hitler to the economic crisis of 1936 as a cheap and easy way of restoring the regime’s popularity. (27) The British Marxist historian Timothy Mason famously argued that Hitler’s foreign policy was driven by domestic needs related to a failing economy, and that it was economic problems at home as opposed to Hitler’s “will” or “intentions” that drove Nazi foreign policy from 1936 onwards, which ultimately degenerated into a “barbaric variant of social imperialism”, which led to a “flight into war” in 1939. (27) As Hildebrand himself has noted, these interpretations are not necessarily mutually exclusive. (27) Hildebrand has argued that although Hitler did have a “programme” for world domination, the way in which Hitler attempted to execute his “programme” was highly improvised and much subject to structural factors both on the international stage and domestically that were often not under Hitler’s control. (27) On February 26 the French National Assembly ratified the Franco-Soviet pact. (27) On February 27, Hitler had lunch with Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels to discuss the planned remilitarization, with Goebbels writing in his diary afterwards: “Still somewhat too early”. (27) On February 29 an interview Hitler had on February 21 with the French fascist and journalist Bertrand de Jouvenel was published in the newspaper Paris-Midi. (27) During his interview with a clearly admiring de Jouvenel, Hitler professed himself a man of peace who desperately wanted friendship with France and blamed all of the problems in Franco-German relations on the French who for some strange reason were trying to “encircle” Germany via the Franco-Soviet pact, despite the evident fact that the Fuhrer was not seeking to threaten France. (27) Hitler’s interview with de Jouvenel was intended to influence French public opinion into believing that it was their government that was responsible for the remilitarization. (27) Only on March 1 did Hitler finally make up his mind to proceed. (27) A further factor in Hitler’s decision was that the sanctions committee of the League was due to start discussing possible oil sanctions against Italy on 2 March, something that was likely to lead the diplomats of Europe to be focused on the Abyssinia Crisis at the expense of everything else. (27) The Wehrmacht marches Not long after dawn on March 7, 1936, nineteen German infantry battalions and a handful of planes entered the Rhineland. (27) By doing so, Germany violated Articles 42 and 43 of the Treaty of Versailles and Articles 1 and 2 of the Treaty of Locarno. (27) They reached the river Rhine by 11:00 a.m. (27) and then three battalions crossed to the west bank of the Rhine. (27) At the same time, Baron von Neurath summoned the Italian ambassador Baron Bernardo Attolico, the British ambassador Sir Eric Phipps and the French ambassador André François-Poncet to the Wilhelmstrasse to hand them notes accusing France of violating Locarno by ratifying the Franco-Soviet pact, and announcing that as such Germany had decided to renounce Locarno and remilitarize the Rhineland. (27) When German reconnaissance learned that thousands of French soldiers were congregating on the Franco-German border, General Blomberg begged Hitler to evacuate the German forces. (27) Under Blomberg’s influence, Hitler nearly ordered the German troops to withdraw, but was then persuaded by the resolutely calm Neurath to continue with Operation Winter Exercise. (27) Following Neurath’s advice, Hitler inquired whether the French forces had actually crossed the border and when informed that they had not, he assured Blomberg that Germany would wait until this happened. (27) In marked contrast to Blomberg who was highly nervous during Operation Winter Exercise, Neurath stayed calm and very much urged Hitler to stay the course. (27) The Rhineland coup is often seen as the moment when Hitler could have been stopped with very little effort; the German forces involved in the move were small, compared to the much larger, and at the time more powerful, French military. (27) The American journalist William L. (27) Shirer wrote if the French had marched into the Rhineland, … (27) in March 1936 the two Western democracies, were given their last chance to halt, without the risk of a serious war, the rise of a militarized, aggressive, totalitarian Germany and, in fact – as we have seen Hitler admitting – bring the Nazi dictator and his regime tumbling down. (27) They let the chance slip. (27) A German officer assigned to the Bendlerstrasse during the crisis told H. (27) R. (27) Knickerbocker during the Spanish Civil War: “I can tell you that for five days and five nights not one of us closed an eye. (27) We knew that if the French marched, we were done. (27) We had no fortifications, and no army to match the French. (27) If the French had even mobilized, we should have been compelled to retire.” The general staff, the officer said, considered Hitler’s action suicidal. (27) General Heinz Guderian, a German general interviewed by French officers after the Second World War, claimed: “If you French had intervened in the Rhineland in 1936 we should have been sunk and Hitler would have fallen.” That Hitler faced serious opposition gains apparent weight from the fact that Ludwig Beck and Werner von Fritsch did indeed become opponents of Hitler but according to the American historian Ernest May there is not a scrap of evidence for this at this stage. (27) May wrote that the German Army officer corps was all for remilitarizing the Rhineland, and only the question of timing of such a move divided them from Hitler. (27) May further noted that there is no evidence that the German Army was planning on overthrowing Hitler if he had been forced to order a withdraw from the Rhineland, and the fact that Mussolini utterly humiliated Hitler during the July Putsch in 1934 by forcing Germany to climb-down on Austria without leading to the slightest effort on the part of the Reichswehr to overthrow Hitler must cast further doubt on the thesis that Hitler would have been toppled if only he been forced to withdraw from the Rhineland. (27) Writing about relations between Hitler and his generals in early 1936, the American historian J.T. (27) Emerson declared: “In fact, at no time during the twelve-year existence of the Third Reich did Hitler enjoy more amicable relations with his generals than in 1935 and 1936. (27) During these years, there was nothing like an organized military resistance to party politics”. (27) Later on in World War II, despite the increasing desperate situation of Germany from 1942 onwards and a whole series of humiliating defeats, the overwhelming majority of the Wehrmacht stayed loyal to the Nazi regime and continued to fight hard for that regime right up to its destruction in 1945 (the only exception being the putsch of July 20, 1944, in which only a minority of the Wehrmacht rebelled while the majority remained loyal). (27) The willingness of the Wehrmacht to continue to fight and die hard for the National Socialist regime despite the fact Germany was clearly losing the war from 1943 onwards reflected the deep commitment of most of the Wehrmacht to National Socialism. (27) Furthermore, the senior officers of the Wehrmacht were deeply corrupt men, who received huge bribes from Hitler in exchange for their loyalty. (27) In 1933, Hitler had created a slush fund known as Konto 5 run by Hans Lammers, which provided bribes to senior officers and civil servants in exchange for their loyalty to the National Socialist regime. (27) Given the intense devotion of the Wehrmacht to the National Socialist regime and its corrupt senior officers who never got quite enough in the way of bribes from Hitler, it is very unlikely that the Wehrmacht would have turned on their Fuhrer if the Wehrmacht were forced out of the Rhineland in 1936. (27) Reactions Germany Goebbels, Hitler, and von Blomberg On 7 March 1936 Hitler announced before the Reichstag that the Rhineland had been remilitarized, and to blunt the danger of war, Hitler offered to return to the League of Nations, to sign an air pact to outlaw bombing as a way of war, and a non-aggression pact with France if the other powers agreed to accept the remilitarization. (27) In his address to the Reichstag, Hitler began with a lengthy denunciation of the Treaty of Versailles as unfair to Germany, claimed that he was a man of peace who wanted war with no-one, and argued that he was only seeking equality for Germany by peacefully overturning the unfair Treaty of Versailles. (27) Hitler claimed that it was unfair that because of Versailles a part of Germany should be demilitarized whereas in every other nation of the world a government could order its troops to anywhere within its borders, and claimed all he wanted was “equality” for Germany. (27) Even then, Hitler claimed that he would have been willing to accept the continued demilitarization of the Rhineland as Stresemann had promised at Locarno in 1925 as the price for peace, had it not been for the Franco-Soviet Pact of 1935, which he maintained was threatening to Germany and had left him with no other choice than to remilitarize the Rhineland. (27) With his eye on public opinion abroad, Hitler made a point of stressing that the remilitarization was not intended to threaten anyone else, but was instead only a defensive measure imposed on Germany by what he claimed were the menacing actions of France and the Soviet Union. (27) At least some people abroad accepted Hitler’s claim that he been forced to take this step because of the Franco-Soviet pact. (27) Former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George stated in the House of Commons that Hitler’s actions in the wake of the Franco-Soviet pact were fully justified, and he would have been a traitor to Germany if he had not protected his country. (27) When German troops marched into Cologne, a vast cheering crowd formed spontaneously to greet the soldiers, throwing flowers onto the Wehrmacht while Catholic priests offered to bless the soldiers. (27) Cardinal Karl Joseph Schulte of Cologne held a Mass at Cologne Cathedral to celebrate and thank Hitler for “sending back our army”. (27) In Germany, the news that the Rhineland had been remilitarized was greeted with wild celebrations all over the country; the British historian Sir Ian Kershaw wrote of March 1936 that: “People were besides themselves with delight … It was almost impossible not to be caught up in the infectious mood of joy”. (27) Not until the victory over France in June 1940 was the Nazi regime to be as popular as it was in March 1936. (27) Reports to the Sopade in the spring of 1936 mentioned that a great many erstwhile Social Democrats and opponents of the Nazis amongst the working class had nothing but approval of the remilitarization, and that many who had once been opposed to the Nazis under the Weimar Republic were now beginning to support them. (27) To capitalize on the vast popularity of the remilitarization, Hitler called a referendum on 29 March 1936 in which the majority of German voters expressed their approval of the remilitarization. (27) During his campaign stops to ask for a yes vote, Hitler was greeted with huge crowds roaring their approval of his defiance of Versailles. (27) Kershaw wrote that the 99% ja (yes) vote in the referendum was improbably high, but it is clear that an overwhelming majority of voters did genuinely chose to vote yes when asked if they approved of the remilitarization. (27) The American journalist William L. (27) Shirer wrote about the 1936 election: “Nevertheless, this observer, who covered the “election” from one corner of the Reich to the other, has no doubt that the vote of approval for Hitler’s coup was overwhelming. (27) And why not? The junking of Versailles and the appearance of German soldiers marching again into what was, after all, German territory were things that almost all Germans naturally approved of. (27) The No vote was given as 540, 211.” In the aftermath of the remilitarization, the economic crisis which had so damaged the National Socialist regime’s popularity was forgotten by almost all. (27) After the Rhineland triumph, Hitler’s self-confidence surged to new heights, and those who knew him well stated that after March 1936 there was a real psychological change as Hitler was utterly convinced of his infallibility in a way that he not been before. (27) France General Maurice Gamelin, the French Supreme Commander, 1936 Historians writing without benefit of access to the French archives (which were not opened until the mid-1970s) such as William L. (27) Shirer in his books The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960) and The Collapse of the Third Republic (1969) have claimed that France, although possessing at this time superior armed forces compared to Germany, including after a possible mobilization 100 infantry divisions, was psychologically unprepared to use force against Germany. (27) Shirer quoted the figure of France having 100 divisions compared to Germany’s 19 battalions in the Rhineland. (27) France’s actions during the Rhineland crisis have often used as support of the décadence thesis that during the interwar period the supposed decadence of the French way of life caused the French people to degenerate physically and morally to the point that the French were simply unable to stand up to Hitler, and the French in some way had it coming when they were defeated in 1940. (27) Shirer wrote that the French could have easily turned back the German battalions in the Rhineland had the French people not been “sinking into defeatism” in 1936. (27) Historians such as the American historian Stephen A. (27) Schuker who have examined the relevant French primary sources have rejected Shirer’s claims, finding that a major paralyzing factor on French policy was the economic situation. (27) France’s top military official, General Maurice Gamelin, informed the French government that the only way to remove the Germans from the Rhineland was to mobilize the French Army, which would not only be unpopular, it would also cost the French treasury 30 million francs per day. (27) Gamelin assumed a worst-case scenario in which a French move into the Rhineland would spark an all-out Franco-German war, a case which required full mobilization. (27) Gamelin’s analysis was supported by the War Minister, General Louis Maurin who told the Cabinet that it was inconceivable that France could reverse the German remilitarization without full mobilization. (27) This was especially the case as the Deuxième Bureau had seriously exaggerated the number of German troops in the Rhineland, sending in a report to the French cabinet estimating that there were 295,000 German troops in the Rhineland. (27) The Deuxième Bureau had come up with this estimate by counting all of the SS, SA and Landespolizei formations in the Rhineland as regular troops, and so the French believed only by full mobilization would France have enough troops to expel the alleged 295,000 German troops from the Rhineland. (27) The real number was actually 3,000 German soldiers. (27) The French historian Jean-Baptiste Duroselle accused Gamelin of distorting what the Deuxième Bureau’s intelligence in his report to the cabinet by converting the SS, SA and Landespolizei units into fully trained troops to provide a reason for inaction. (27) Neurath’s (truthful) statement that Germany had only sent 19 battalions into the Rhineland was dismissed by Gamelin as a ruse to allow Germans to claim that they had not committed a “flagrant violation” of Locarno in order to avoid having Locarno invoked against Germany, and that Hitler would never risk a war by sending such a small force into the Rhineland. (27) Albert Sarraut, the French Premier at the time of the crisis At the same time, in late 1935-early 1936 France was gripped by a financial crisis, with the French Treasury informing the government that sufficient cash reserves to maintain the value of the franc as currently pegged by the gold standard in regard to the U.S. (27) dollar and the British pound no longer existed, and only a huge foreign loan on the money markets of London and New York could prevent the value of the franc from experiencing a disastrous downfall. (27) Because France was on the verge of elections scheduled for the spring of 1936, devaluation of the franc, which was viewed as abhorrent by large sections of French public opinion, was rejected by the caretaker government of Premier Albert Sarraut as politically unacceptable. (27) Investor fears of a war with Germany were not conducive to raising the necessary loans to stabilize the franc: the German remilitarization of the Rhineland, by sparking fears of war, worsened the French economic crisis by causing a massive cash flow out of France as worried investors shifted their savings towards what were felt to be safer foreign markets. (27) The fact that France had defaulted on its World War I debts in 1932 understandably led most investors to conclude if France should be involved in another war with Germany, the French would default again on their debts. (27) On March 18, 1936 Wilfrid Baumgartner, the director of the Mouvement général des fonds (the French equivalent of a permanent under-secretary) reported to the government that France for all intents and purposes was bankrupt. (27) Only by desperate arm-twisting from the major French financial institutions did Baumgartner manage to obtain enough in the way of short-term loans to prevent France from defaulting on her debts and keeping the value of the franc from sliding too far, in March 1936. (27) Given the financial crisis, the French government feared that there were insufficient funds to cover the costs of mobilization, and that a full-blown war scare caused by mobilization would only exacerbate the financial crisis. (27) The American historian Zach Shore wrote that: “It was not lack of French will to fight in 1936 which permitted Hitler’s coup, but rather France’s lack of funds, military might, and therefore operational plans to counter German remilitarization.” An additional issue for the French was the state of the Armée de l’Air. (27) The Deuxième Bureau reported that not only had the Luftwaffe developed considerably more advanced aircraft than what France possessed, but owing to the superior productivity of German industry and the considerably larger size of the German economy the Luftwaffe had a three to one advantage in fighters. (27) Problems with productivity within the French aircraft industry meant the French air force would have a great deal of trouble replacing their losses in the event of combat with the Luftwaffe. (27) Thus, it was believed by the French military elite that should war come, then the Luftwaffe would dominate the skies, and not only attack French troops marching into the Rhineland, but bomb French cities. (27) Yet another problem for the French were the attitudes of the states of the cordon sanitaire. (27) Since 1919, it had accepted that France needed the alliance system in Eastern Europe to provide additional manpower (Germany’s population was one and half times the size of France’s) and to open up an eastern front against the Reich. (27) Without the states of the cordon sanitaire, it was believed impossible for France to defeat Germany. (27) Only Czechoslovakia indicated firmly that it would go to war with Germany if France marched into the Rhineland while Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia all indicated that they would only to go to war if German soldiers entered France. (27) French public opinion and newspapers were very hostile towards the German coup, but few called for war. (27) The majority of the French newspapers called for League of Nations sanctions to be imposed on the Reich to inflict such economically crippling costs as to force the German Army out of the Rhineland, and for France to build new and reinforce the existing alliances with the aim of preventing further German challenges to the international status quo. (27) One of the few newspapers to support Germany was the royalist L’Action Française which ran a banner headline reading: “The Republic Has Assassinated the Peace!”, and went on to say that the German move was justified by the Franco-Soviet pact. (27) On the other ideological extreme, the Communists issued a statement calling for national unity against “those who would lead us to carnage” who were the “Laval clique” who were allegedly pushing for a war with Germany because war was supposedly good for capitalism. (27) Georges Mandel in 1932. (27) The combative conservative Mandel was the only French minister to advocate war in response to the remilitarization. (27) Upon hearing of the German move, the French government issued a statement strongly hinting that military action was a possible option. (27) From 9:30 am until noon on 7 March, a meeting of the French cabinet took place to discuss what to do which ended with the conclusion that the French Foreign Minister, Pierre Étienne Flandin should meet the ambassadors of the Locarno powers to discuss their reaction. (27) Georges Mandel was the sole voice in the French cabinet demanding that France should march at once into the Rhineland to expel the German troops, regardless of the costs. (27) Later that day, another cabinet meeting was called with General-Secretary Alexis St. (27) Leger representing the Quai d’Orsay and Maurice Gamelin the military, who decided to issue the statement saying France reserved every option to oppose the remilitarization. (27) Flandin upon hearing of the remilitarization immediately went to London to consult the British Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, as Flandin wished, for domestic political reasons, to find a way of shifting the onus of not taking action onto British shoulders. (27) Baldwin asked Flandin what the French Government had in mind but Flandin said they had not yet decided. (27) Flandin went back to Paris and consulted the French Government what their response should be. (27) They agreed that “France would place all her forces at the disposal of the League of Nations to oppose a violation of the Treaties”. (27) On 8 March, the Premier Albert Sarraut went on French radio to state: “In the name of the French government, I declare that we intend to see maintained that essential guarantee of French and Belgian security, countersigned by the English and Italian governments, constituted by the Treaty of Locarno. (27) We are not disposed to allow Strasbourg to come under fire from German guns”. (27) At the same time, the French cabinet had decided that: “We will put all our forces, material and moral, at the disposal of the League of Nations…on the one condition that we shall be accompanied in the fight for peace by those who are clearly bound themselves to do so by the Rhineland pact”. (27) In other words, France would act against Germany only if Britain and Italy acted likewise. (27) Pierre-Étienne Flandin, the French Foreign Minister at the time of the crisis. (27) Since the French government for economic reasons had already ruled out mobilization, and hence war as a way of reversing Hitler’s Rhineland coup, it was decided that the best that France could do under the situation was to use the crisis to obtain the “continental commitment” (i.e. (27) a British commitment to send large ground forces to the defense of France on the same scale of World War I). (27) The strategy of Flandin was to strongly imply to the British that France was willing to go to war with Germany over the Rhineland issue, in the expectation that the British were not willing to see their Locarno commitments lead them into a war with the Germans over an issue where many in Britain felt that the Germans were in the right. (27) As such, Flandin expected London to apply pressure for “restraint” on Paris. (27) The price of the French “restraint” in regards to the Rhineland provocation, an open violation of both the Versailles and Locarno treaties was to be the British “continental commitment” unequivocally linking British security to French security, and committing the British to send another large expeditionary force to defend France in the event of a German attack. (27) During his visit to London to consult with the British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, Flandin carried out what the Canadian historian Robert J. (27) Young called “the performance of a lifetime”, in which he expressed a great deal of outrage at the German move, stated quite openly that France was prepared to go to war over the issue, and strongly criticized his British hosts for the demands for French “restraint” while not offering to do anything for French sécurité (security). (27) As expected by Flandin, Eden was opposed to the French taking military action, and appealed for French “restraint”. (27) Not aware of what Flandin was attempting to do, French military officials urged the government to tell Flandin to tone down his language. (27) In the face of Flandin’s tactics, on March 19, 1936 the British government made a vague statement linking British security to French security, and for the first time since World War I agreed to Anglo-French staff talks, albeit of very limited scope. (27) Though disappointed with the British offers, which the French felt were too little, the French nonetheless considered the pledges of British support gained in 1936 to be a worthwhile achievement, especially given that for economic reasons mobilization was not considered a realistic option in 1936. (27) Those French officials such as Quai d’Orsay’s directeur politique (Political Director) René Massigli who believed in the idea of an Anglo-French alliance as the best way of stopping German expansionism expressed a great deal of disappointment that Britain was not prepared to do more for French sécurité. (27) In a report to Flandin, Massigli warned that if French accepted remilitarization, then the Poles, the Yugoslavs and the Romanians would drift into the German orbit while Czechoslovakia would do its best to stay loyal to its 1924 alliance with France, and it would only be a matter of time before Germany annexed Austria. (27) In particular, Massigli warned if the Germans were able to fortify the Rhineland, that would essentially mean giving the Reich a free hand to expand into Eastern Europe. (27) As part of an effort to secure more in the way of the long-desired “continental commitment” that had been a major goal of French foreign policy since 1919, Gamelin told the British military attaché that: “France could fight its own battles and also send some immediate reinforcements to Belgium, but only if it was known for sure that a British Expeditionary Force was on the way. (27) The lack of such a force would mean that France might have to reconsider its commitments in Belgium and then leave the latter to fend for itself… (27) Such action would mean conceding to Germany potential air bases, and facilities for air raids against England, to which we could scarcely be indifferent.” The generalissimo of the French Army, General Gamelin, told the French government that if France countered the German forces and this caused a long war, France would be unable to win fighting alone and therefore would need British assistance. (27) The French Government, with an upcoming general election in mind, decided against general mobilization of the French Army. (27) The remilitarization removed the last hold France had over Germany and therefore ended the security France had gained from the Treaty of Versailles. (27) As long as the Rhineland was demilitarized, the French could easily re-occupy the area and threaten the economically important Ruhr industrial area which was liable to French invasion if France believed the situation in Germany ever became a threat. (27) United Kingdom See also: Policy of appeasement The reaction in Britain was mixed, but they did not generally regard the remilitarization as harmful. (27) Lord Lothian famously said it was no more than the Germans walking into their own backyard. (27) George Bernard Shaw similarly claimed it was no different than if Britain had reoccupied Portsmouth. (27) In his diary entry for 23 March, Harold Nicolson MP noted that “the feeling in the House [of Commons] is terribly pro-German, which means afraid of war”. (27) During the Rhineland crisis of 1936, no public meetings or rallies were held anywhere in protest at the remilitarization of the Rhineland, and instead there were several “peace” rallies where it was demanded that Britain not use war to resolve the crisis. (27) Ever since the economist John Maynard Keynes had published his best-selling book The Economic Consequences of the Peace in 1919—in which Keynes depicted Versailles as an unbearably harsh Carthaginian peace imposed by the vindictive Allies—an increasingly large segment of British public opinion had become convinced that the Treaty of Versailles was deeply “unjust” to Germany. (27) By 1936, when German troops marched back into the Rhineland, the majority of British people believed that Hitler was right to violate the “unjust” Versailles treaty, and it would be morally wrong for Britain to go to war to uphold the “unjust” Treaty of Versailles. (27) The British War Secretary Alfred Duff Cooper told the German Ambassador Leopold von Hoesch on 8 March: “through the British people were prepared to fight for France in the event of a German incursion into French territory, they would not resort to arms on account of the recent occupation of the Rhineland. (27) The people did not know much about the demilitarization provisions and most of them probably took the view that they did not care ‘two hoots’ about the Germans reoccupying their own territory”. (27) Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, unknown date The Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin claimed, with tears in his eyes, that Britain lacked the resources to enforce her treaty guarantees and that public opinion would not stand for military force anyway. (27) The British Chiefs of Staff had warned that war with Germany was inadvisable under the grounds that the deep cuts imposed by the Ten Year Rule together with the fact that rearmament had only begun in 1934 meant that at most Britain could do in the event of war would be to send two divisions with backward equipment to France after three weeks of preparation. (27) Additionally, fears were expressed in Whitehall if Britain went to war with Germany, then Japan, which since 1931 when Japanese had seized Manchuria from China had been making claims to be the only power in the Far East, might take advantage of the war to start seizing Britain’s Asian colonies. (27) The British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, discouraged military action by the French and was against any financial or economic sanctions against Germany, immediately meeting the French ambassador Charles Corbin to urge restraint on the French. (27) Eden instead wanted Germany to pull out all but a symbolic number of troops, the number they said they were going to put in the first place, and then renegotiate. (27) An additional factor that influenced British policy was the lack of the Dominion support. (27) All of the Dominion High Commissioners in London, with South Africa and Canada being especially outspoken in this regard, made it quite clear that they would not go to war to restore the demilitarized status of the Rhineland, and that if Britain did so, she would be on her own. (27) The American historian Gerhard Weinberg wrote that “…by 13 March that the British Dominions, especially the Union of South Africa and Canada, would not stand with England if war came. (27) The South African government in particular was busy backing the German position in London and with the other Dominion governments”. (27) Both the South African Prime Minister General J. (27) B. (27) M. (27) Hertzog and the Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King had to face domestic constituencies, respectively the Afrikaners and the French Canadians, many of whom had deep objections to fighting in another “British war” against Germany, and as such both Hertzog and Mackenzie King were staunch supporters of appeasement as the best way of avoiding such a war. (27) Neither Hertzog nor Mackenzie King wished to have chose between loyalty to the British Empire vs. (27) dealing with anti-British voters if war came. (27) Ever since the Chanak Crisis of 1922, Britain had been keenly conscious that Dominion support could no longer be automatically assumed, and remembering the huge role the Dominions had played in the victory of 1918, could not consider fighting another major war without Dominion support. (27) The British Foreign Office for its part expressed a great deal of frustration over Hitler’s action in unilaterally taking what London had proposed to negotiate. (27) As a Foreign Office memo complained: “Hitler has deprived us of the possibility of making to him a concession which might otherwise have been a useful bargaining counter in our hands in the general negotiations with Germany which we had it in contemplation to initiate”. (27) The Rhineland crisis completed the estrangement between Eden who believed that Hitler’s proposals in his speech of 7 March were the grounds for a “general settlement” with Germany, and Vansittart who argued that Hitler was negotiating in bad faith. (27) Eden and Vansittart had already clashed during the Abyssinia Crisis with Eden supporting sanctions against Italy while Vansittart wanted Italy as an ally against Germany. (27) Vansittart argued that there was no prospect of a “general settlement” with Hitler, and the best that could be done was to strengthen ties with the French in order to confront Germany. (27) The Germanophobe Vansittart had always hated the Germans, and especially disliked the Nazis, whom he saw as a menace to civilization. (27) Vansittart had supported Eden’s efforts to defuse the Rhineland crisis as British rearmament had only just began, but being an intense Francophile Vansittart urged the government to use the crisis as a chance to begin forming a military alliance with France against Germany. (27) By the spring of 1936, Vansittart had become convinced that a “general settlement” with Germany was not possible, and Hitler was seeking the conquest of the world. (27) A Foreign Office official Owen O’Malley suggested that Britain give Germany a “free hand in the East” (i.e. (27) accept the German conquest of all Eastern Europe) in exchange for a German promise to accept the status quo in Western Europe. (27) Vansittart wrote in response that Hitler was seeking world conquest, and that to allow Germany to conquer all of Eastern Europe would give the Reich sufficient raw materials to make Germany immune to a British blockade, which would then allow the Germans to overrun Western Europe. (27) Vansittart commented that to allow Germany to conquer Eastern Europe would “lead to the disappearance of liberty and democracy in Europe”. (27) By contrast, Eden saw British interests as confined only to Western Europe, and did not share Vansittart’s beliefs about what Hitler’s ultimate intentions might be. (27) Nor did Eden, the rest of the Cabinet or the majority of the British people share Vansittart’s conviction that Britain could not afford to be indifferent about Eastern Europe. (27) Though the British had agreed to staff talks with the French as the price of French “restraint”, many British ministers were unhappy with these talks. (27) The Home Secretary Sir John Simon wrote to Eden and Baldwin that staff talks to be held with the French after the Rhineland remilitarization would lead the French to perceive that: “they have got us so tied that they can safely wait for the breakdown of discussions with Germany. (27) In such circumstances France will be as selfish and as pig-headed as France has always been and the prospect of agreement with Germany will grow dimmer and dimmer”. (27) In response to objections like Simon’s, the British ended the staff talks with the French five days after they had begun; Anglo-French staff talks were not to occur again until February 1939 in the aftermath of the Dutch War Scare of January 1939. (27) Besides opposition within the cabinet, the Anglo-French staff talks generated furious criticism from David Lloyd George and the Beaverbrook and Rothermere press who fumed, as the Daily Mail put it in a leader, over “military arrangements that will commit us to some war at the call of others”. (27) Furthermore, Hitler’s Extraordinary Ambassador-at-Large Joachim von Ribbentrop had warned Baldwin and Eden that Germany regarded the Anglo-French staff talks as a mortal threat, and any hope of a “general settlement” with Germany would end forever if the talks continued. (27) However, the rather hazily phrased British statement linking British security to French sécurité was not disallowed out of the fear that it would irreparably damage Anglo-French relations, which as the British historian A. (27) J. (27) P. (27) Taylor observed, meant should France become involved in a war with Germany, there would be at a minimum a strong moral case because of the statement of March 19, 1936 for Britain to fight on the side of France. (27) Until the statement by Neville Chamberlain on March 31, 1939 offering the “guarantee” of Poland, there were no British security commitments in Eastern Europe beyond the Covenant of the League of Nations. (27) However, because of the French alliance system in Eastern Europe, the so-called Cordon sanitaire, any German attack on France’s Eastern European allies would cause a Franco-German war, and because of the statement of March 19, 1936 a Franco-German war would create strong pressure for British intervention on the side of France. (27) This was all the more the case because unlike the Locarno, where Britain was committed to come to France’s defence only in the event of a German attack, the British statement of March 19 as part of an effort to be as vague as possible only stated Britain considered French security to be a vital national need, and did not distinguish between a German attack on France vs. (27) France going to war with Germany in the event of a German attack on a member of the cordon sanitarie. (27) Thus, in this way, the British statement of March 1936 offered not only a direct British commitment to defend France (albeit phrased in exceedingly ambiguous language), but also indirectly to the Eastern European states of the cordon sanitaire. (27) In this way, the British government found itself drawn into the Central European crisis of 1938 because the Franco-Czechoslovak alliance of 1924 meant any German-Czechoslovak war would automatically become a Franco-German war. (27) It was because of this indirect security commitment that the British involved themselves in the Central European crisis of 1938, despite the widespread feeling that the German-Czechoslovak dispute did not concern Britain directly. (27) During a House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on 12 March, Winston Churchill, a backbench Conservative MP, argued for Anglo-French co-ordination under the League of Nations to help France challenge the remilitarization of the Rhineland, but this never happened. (27) On 6 April Churchill said of the remilitarization, “The creation of a line of forts opposite to the French frontier will enable the German troops to be economized on that line and will enable the main forces to swing round through Belgium and Holland”, accurately predicting the Battle of France. (27) Belgium Belgium concluded an alliance with France in 1920 but after the remilitarization Belgium opted again for neutrality. (27) On 14 October 1936 King Leopold III of Belgium said in a speech: “The reoccupation of the Rhineland, by ending the Locarno arrangement, has almost brought us back to our international position before the war… (27) We must follow a policy exclusively and entirely Belgian. (27) The policy must aim solely at placing us outside the quarrels of our neighbors”. (27) Since the leaders of Germany knew well that neither Britain nor France would violate Belgian neutrality, the declaration of Belgian neutrality effectively meant that there was no more danger of an Allied offensive in the West should Germany start another war as the Germans were now busy building the Siegfried Line along their border with France. (27) By contrast, just as before 1914, Germany’s leaders were all too willing to violate Belgian neutrality. (27) Belgian neutrality meant there could be no staff talks between the Belgian military and those of other nations, which meant that when German forces invaded Belgium in 1940, there were no plans whatsoever for coordinating the movement of Belgian forces with those of France and Britain, which gave the Germans a head-start in their offensive. (27) Poland Poland, announced that the Franco-Polish Military Alliance signed in 1921 would be honoured, although the treaty stipulated that Poland would aid France only if France was invaded. (27) At the same time that Colonel Beck was assuring the French ambassador Léon Noël of his commitment to the Franco-Polish alliance and Poland’s willingness to stand with France, he was also telling the German ambassador Count Hans-Adolf von Moltke that since Germany was not planning on invading France, the Franco-Polish alliance would not come into effect and Poland would do nothing if France acted. (27) Beck made a point of stressing to Moltke that Poland had not been allowed to sign Locarno and would not go to war for Locarno, and that as one of the architects of the German-Polish nonaggression pact of 1934 that he was a friend of the Reich. (27) Beck told Moltke on 9 March that his promise to go to war with France was “in practice, without effect” because it only came into effect if German troops entered France. (27) Weinberg wrote that Beck’s “duplicity” during the Rhineland crisis of telling the German and French ambassadors different things about what Poland would do “… did nothing for Beck’s personal reputation and involved enormous risks …” for Poland. (27) Poland did agree to mobilize its forces if France did first, however they abstained from voting against the remilitarization in the Council of the League of Nations. (27) United States During the Rhineland crisis, the isolationist American government took a strict “hands off” policy of doing nothing. (27) During the crisis, President Franklin D. (27) Roosevelt went off on a “diplomatically convenient” extended fishing trip to Florida to avoid having to answer questions from journalists about what his administration planned to do in response to the crisis in Europe. (27) The general sentiment within the U.S. (27) government was expressed by Truman Smith, the American military attaché in Berlin who wrote that Hitler was seeking only to end French domination in Europe, and was not seeking to destroy France as a power. (27) Smith’s report concluded: “Versailles is dead. (27) There may possibly be a German catastrophe and a new Versailles, but it will not be the Versailles which has hung like a dark cloud over Europe since 1920”. (27) The Soviet Union In public, the Soviet government took a strong line in denouncing the German coup as a threat to peace. (27) At the same time the Soviet Foreign Commissar Maxim Litvinov was giving speeches before the General Assembly of the League of Nations praising collective security and urging the world to oppose Hitler’s coup, Soviet diplomats in Berlin were telling their counterparts at the Auswärtiges Amt of their desire for better commercial relations, which in turn might lead to better political relations. (27) Just after the remilitarization, the Soviet Premier Vyacheslav Molotov gave an interview with the Swiss newspaper Le Temps hinting that the Soviet Union wanted better relations with Germany. (27) In April 1936, the Soviet Union signed a commercial treaty with Germany providing for expanded German-Soviet trade. (27) A major problem for the Soviet Union to go to war with Germany was the lack of a common German-Soviet frontier, which would require both the Polish and Romanian governments to grant transit right to the Red Army. (27) Despite their professed willingness to engage with the Wehrmacht, the Narkomindel tended to negotiate with the Poles and the Romanians over transit rights in the event of a war in such a manner to suggest that they wanted the talks to fail, suggesting that the Soviet hard line against Germany was just posturing. (27) The Romanians and even more so the Poles expressed a great deal of fear that if the Red Army were allowed transit rights to enter their countries on the way to fight Germany that they would fail to leave once the war was over; the Narkomindel failed to provide convincing reassurances on that point. (27) League of Nations When the Council of the League of Nations met in London, the only delegate in favour of sanctions against Germany was Maxim Litvinov, the representative of the Soviet Union. (27) Though Germany was no longer a member of the League, Ribbentrop was allowed to give a speech before the League Assembly on 19 March where he tried to justify Germany’s actions as something imposed on the Reich by the Franco-Soviet pact, and warned that there would be serious economic consequences for those states who voted to impose sanctions on Germany. (27) By 1936, a number of Eastern European, Scandinavian and Latin American countries whose economies were hard-pressed by the Great Depression had become very dependent upon trade with Germany to keep their economies afloat, which meant for economic reasons alone none of those states wished to offend Germany. (27) President Federico Páez of Ecuador gave a speech in which he declared the idea of sanctions against the Reich to be “nonsensical”. (27) At the time, the British Foreign Office estimated that Britain, France, Romania, Belgium, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union were the only nations in the entire world willing to impose sanctions on Germany. (27) The Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Polish, Dutch, Greek, Swiss, Turkish, Chilean, Estonian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Finnish ambassadors to the League all let it be known that they regarded sanctions on Germany as “economic suicide” for their countries. (27) Mussolini, who was still angry with the League sanctions applied against Italy, made a speech in which he made it clear that he definitely would not be joining any sanctions against Germany for remilitarizing the Rhineland. (27) In the fall of 1935, Britain had been able to have the League impose limited sanctions on Italy, but by the later winter of 1936, the idea of imposing sweeping sanctions on Germany—whose economy was four times the size of Italy’s, making Germany an “economic octopus” whose tentacles were everywhere around the world—was unthinkable for rest of the world. (27) Moreover, for the sanctions to work, the United States had to join in. (27) In 1935, the American government had declared that as the U.S. (27) was not a League member, it would not abide by the League sanctions on Italy, which was hardly a hopeful precedent for the idea that U.S. (27) would join in with imposing sanctions on Germany. (27) Argentina declared that it would vote for sanctions against Germany only if the United States promised to join in. (27) The Council declared, though not unanimously, that the remilitarization constituted a breach of the Treaties of Versailles and Locarno. (27) Hitler was invited to plan a new scheme for European security, and he responded by claiming he had “no territorial claims in Europe” and wanted a 25-year pact of non-aggression with Britain and France. (27) However, when the British Government inquired further into this proposed pact, they did not receive a reply. (27) Significance The remilitarization changed the balance of power decisively in favor of the Reich. (27) French credibility in standing against German expansion or aggression was left in doubt. (27) French military strategy was entirely defensive, and it had no intention whatsoever of invading Germany. (27) Instead it planned to defend the Maginot Line. (27) Its failure to send even a single unit into Rhineland signaled that strategy to all of Europe. (27) Potential allies in Eastern Europe could no longer trust in an alliance with a France that could not be trusted to deter Germany through threat of an invasion. (27) without such deterrence, the ally was militarily helpless. (27) Belgium dropped its defensive alliance with France and relied on neutrality. (27) Paris neglected to expand the Maginot line to cover the Belgian border, which is where Germany invaded in 1940. (27) Mussolini had previously pushed back against German expansion, now he realized cooperation with France was unpromising, so he began instead to swing in favor of Berlin. (27) All of France’s friends were disappointed – even the Pope told the French ambassador that, “Had you ordered the immediate advance of 200,000 men into the zone the Germans had occupied, you would have done everyone a very great favor.” With the Rhineland remilitarized, Germany started the construction of the Siegfried Line, which meant that if Germany attacked any of the states in the cordon sanitaire, the ability of France to threaten an invasion was henceforward limited. (27) Such was the impact of the remilitarization on the balance of power that the Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš seriously considered renouncing the alliance with France, and instead seeking a rapprochement with Germany, only abandoning that idea when it became clear that the price of a rapprochement with Hitler would be the effective loss of his country’s independence. (27) Likewise, King Carol II of Romania concluded that Romania might have to abandon its alliance with France, and instead accept that his country would have to move from being in the French sphere of influence to being in the German sphere of influence. (27) When William C. (27) Bullitt, the newly appointed American ambassador to France visited Germany in May 1936, he met with Baron von Neurath. (27) On 18 May 1936, Bullitt reported to President Roosevelt that: “Von Neurath said that it was the policy of the German government to do nothing active in foreign affairs until “the Rhineland had been digested”. (27) He explained that he meant that until the German fortifications had been constructed on the French and Belgian borders, the German government would do everything possible to prevent rather than encourage an outbreak by Nazis in Austria and would pursue a quiet line with regard to Czechoslovakia. (27) “As soon as our fortifications are constructed and the countries of Central Europe realize that France cannot enter German territory at will, all those countries will begin to feel very differently about their foreign policies and a new constellation will develop”, he said”. (27) Between the 15–20 June 1936, the chiefs of staff of the Little Entente of Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia met to discuss the changed international situation. (27) They decided to maintain their present plans for a war with Hungary, but concluded that, with the Rhineland now remilitarized, there was little hope of effective French action in the event of a war with Germany. (27) The meeting ended with the conclusion that there now were only two great powers in Eastern Europe, namely Germany and the Soviet Union, and the best that could be hoped for was to avoid another war that would almost certainly mean the loss of their nations’ independence, regardless of who won. (27) Weinberg wrote that attitude of the entire German elite and much of the German people, that any new war would only benefit Germany and that ending the Rhineland’s demilitarized status could only be a good thing as it opened the door to starting a new war, was an extremely short-sighted, self-destructive and stupid attitude, even from a narrowly German viewpoint. (27) Weinberg notes that Germany lost its independence in 1945 and lost far more territory under the Oder-Neisse line imposed in 1945 than it ever had under Versailles, together with millions of dead and the destruction of its cities. (27) Thus, from the German viewpoint, the best thing to do would have been to accept Versailles rather than start a new war—one which ended with Germany being totally crushed, partitioned and occupied.

Bibliography

Appendix 1 – Bibliographical Notes

Sources 7 and 8 are identical. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/hitler-reoccupies-the-rhineland Only one sentence is referenced 8, because I copied an extra sentence from it.

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