The Mukden Incident – On 18th September 1931, part of the railway near Mukden was destroyed by a bomb. The Japanese claimed that Chinese soldiers had sabotaged the Manchurian railway in Korea, which Japan controlled, and therefore said they had been ‘forced’ to invade Manchuria to ‘protect’ Japan’s interests. Japan attacked and by February 1932, had brutally conquered Manchuria.
Meanwhile, in January-March 1932, Japan attacked and captured the city of Shanghai in China itself.
The League’s reaction - In March 1932, the Chinese nationalist leader appealed to the league and asked USA for help, however USA protested and the League did very little to help.
Reasons why the League were ineffective:
- They were economically weak
- They had no army
- They were very slow to react and producing results.
- The two strongest members (France and Britain) were reluctant to take military action
The League’s final response to the Chinese appeal was setting up a commission of inquiry under Lord Lytton. Lord Lytton sailed to China to carry out an investigation and meanwhile the league asked the Japanese to withdraw their troops from Manchuria, however they ignored this. Additionally, the Lytton Commission report took 1 year to finish (finally reported in September 1932), and the report said that Japan acted unlawfully and should be return Manchuria to China. The Japanese responded by simply ignoring the report and left the League.
The League, however, could not agree on sanctions, and Britain and France were not prepared to send an army. Not only did the Japanese stay in Manchuria, but in July 1937 they also began a full-scale invasion of China.
The Abyssinian Crisis (1935)
Cause of the Abyssinian Crisis - In December 1934, 30 Italian soldiers were killed in a border clash with Abyssinian troops. Since Mussolini wanted to build an Italian empire in Africa, he used this opportunity as an excuse to invade Abyssinia.
Britain and France were keen to avoid offending Mussolini as they saw him as a possible ally against Hitler. The League held a ballot vote based on the Abyssinia Crisis, which proved that most British people wanted to use military force to protect Abyssinia in the event of an Italian invasion. Furthermore, in September 1935, a speech was made by British foreign secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, to the assembly of the League calling for collective resistance to Italian aggression. However, this seems to have made little difference to events.
In October 1935, the Italian forces invaded Abyssinia. Not surprisingly, the Italian’s advanced army soon had the Abyssinians, who fought only with spears, in retreat. In January 1935, Haile Selassie, the emperor of Abyssinia, asked the League to arbitrate.
- In July 1935, the League banned arms sales to either side, which did Abyssinia more harm than Italy
- The League banned metal, weapons and rubber sales
- They did not close the Suez Canal or ban oil sales which would have stopped the Italian invasion - Britain and France did not close the Suez Canal because they did not want to provoke a war with Mussolini or drive him into an alliance with Hitler.
- In September 1935, it appointed a five-power committee to arbitrate.
- In October 1935, the League's committee suggested that Italy should have some land in Abyssinia. Instead, Italy's 100,000-strong army invaded Abyssinia. The Italian troops used poison gas and attacked Red Cross hospitals.
The Hoare – Laval pact
- Britain and France refused to intervene. In December 1935, news leaked out about the Hoare-Laval Pact- a secret plan made by the foreign ministers of Britain and France to end the war.
- They suggested Abyssinia should be split into two - Italy would get the best area for farming, minerals and resources.
In the end, the League did almost nothing. By May 1936, Italy had conquered Abyssinia.
Effects of the Manchurian and Abyssinian Crisis’
- It became clear that if a strong nation was prepared to ignore the League, the League could do nothing about it.
- The League's delays and slowness made it look scared.
- Sanctions were shown to be useless.
- Everybody realised that Britain and France were not prepared to use force.
- The four major powers - Japan, Italy, Britain and France - all betrayed the League.
- Smaller nations realised that the League could not and would not protect them.
- Britain and France decided that the League was useless to stop war, and followed instead the policy of appeasement.
- Hitler was encouraged to move ahead with his plans.
Germany and the Treaty of Versailles
- When signing the truce at the end of WW1, Germany thought it would be based purely on Wilson’s 14 points; however the Treaty of Versailles was a compromise between President Wilson's (USA) Fourteen Points and his desire to make a "just peace", and the French leader Clemenceau's desire for revenge.
- Germany had to accept responsibility for starting the war, and had to agree to pay for the cost of the damage (set at £6.6 billion in 1921).
- Germany's army was reduced to 100,000 men. Germany's navy had to be handed over to the victorious Allies, and Germany was not allowed to manufacture war planes or tanks in the future.
- No German troops were allowed in the Rhineland, the area of Germany closest to France.
- Alsace and Lorraine – the territory reverted to France by Germany due to the ToV.
- Germany was only allowed 6 ships, no submarines and had to get rid of their air force.
- The newly created state of Poland was given the German territories of West Prussia and Posen. The port of Danzig was placed under the control of the League of Nations.
- Eupen-Malmedy (28 June 1919): Given to Belgium by Germany under Treaty of Versailles..
- Germany was not allowed to unite with Austria (this was known as Anschluss, and it was forbidden).
- The Treaty of Versailles was a "dictated peace" as Germany was not allowed to negotiate the terms.
The policy of appeasement
The Germans hated the Treaty of Versailles and throughout the 1920s and 1930s her politicians tried to reverse the terms of the treaty. In the 1920s, Hitler and the Nazis gained support as they promised to reverse the treaty. In the 1930s when the Nazis were in power, Hitler set about reversing these terms. Britain believed that Hitler should be allowed to do this and this policy of letting the Germans take back their lands and building their armed services was called ‘Appeasement’.
When Hitler came into power in Germany in 1933, the World Disarmament Conference took place. At the conference, Germany accepted to disarm as long as all other powers also gave up their weapons. However, the French would not agree as they feared further attacks from Germany. Therefore, Germany left the conference saying there was no real desire for disarmament among major powers. Later on, in 1935, Hitler announced that he had built an air force (Luftwaffe) and that he was introducing conscription (compulsory military service). Additionally, Hitler wanted to build an army consisting of 600,000 soldiers even though the Treaty of Versailles limited Germany’s army to 100,000 men and banned conscription. However, Britain, France and Italy did not take any actions against Germany. This was the first clear sign of the policy of appeasement being used by the League towards Germany.
The Remilitarisation of Rhineland (1936)
The Treaty of Versailles stated that Germany could not station any troops or weapons in Rhineland – the area bordering France. However, Hitler argued that this left Germany open attack from the West. Therefore, on March 7th 1936, the remilitarisation of the Rhineland was brought about when Hitler sent troops into the Rhineland. The British government refused to consider sanctions against Germany. "It's only Hitler going into his own backyard," said one politician. Although the League condemned Hitler’s remilitarisation of Rhineland, they took no action when Hitler did so.
Hitler making allies
Hitler knew that if a war was to break out in the future, he needed to have allies. However Britain, France and Russia were suspicious of Hitler’s policies…
- In 1936, Germany signed the Rome-Berlin Axis with Italy. This was an informal agreement to co-operate, and later in the year they both provided support for the nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. Mussolini claimed that this agreement was the ‘axis’ (central line) of which the rest of Europe would revolve around.
- Also in 1936, Germany and Japan signed the Anti-Comintern pact, which was made so they could work together to oppose communism. Italy also joined in 1937.
- In 1939, Germany and Italy turned the Rome-Berlin Axis into a formal Military alliance called the pact of Friendship and Alliance, usually referred to as the Pact of Steel. In 1940, Japan joined this alliance and the three countries began to refer to themselves as the Axis Powers’. During WW2, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria also became Axis Powers.
- In April 1939, Stalin suggested an alliance of Russia, France and Britain against Germany, to defend Poland – the Anglo-Polish pact. Hitler would not have been able to invade Poland if taking that action would have meant war with Russia.
- Out of the blue, on 23 August 1939, Hitler made the Nazi-Soviet Pact with Stalin - a promise not to go to war with each other and (secretly) a promise to invade Poland and split it between them.
The Anschluss with Austria, March (1938)
Hitler had a major aim to create a union (Anschluss) between the two German speaking countries, Austria and Germany, so that he could continue building a Großdeutschland (greater Germany). Even though the Treaty of Versailles clearly made this union forbidden, Hitler planned to invade Austria.
The Australian chancellor, Schuschnigg, had appointed leading Nazis to positions in government hoping that the Germans would stop interfering with Austrian politics. However, in 1938, Schuschnigg met with Hitler in order to persuade him not to support nu attempted takeover. To please Hitler, Schuschnigg appointed Seyss-Inquart, a leading Nazi, to become minister of interior.
However, Schuschnigg held a plebiscite asking the Austrian public if they wished to join with Germany. Hitler was worried whether the votes would go against Germany joining Austria, therefore he demanded Schuschnigg to resign and instead Seyss-Inquart would take his place (Schuschnigg resigned on March 11th 1938). If the vote went against Germany, they would have invaded. On 12th March, German troops crossed into Austria to absorb the country into Germany.
The Austrians did not resist the German invasion and many of them welcomed it. Mussolini did not offer support to Austria and Britain and France did not intervene. The plebiscite held in 10th April 1938 showed that 99.75% of Austrians who voted supported joining Germany. Hitler saw the League’s appeasement as further proof that they were not prepared to take action to stop him.
The annexation of Sudetenland (1938)
After the takeover of Austria, it was clear that Hitler’s next target was Czechoslovakia. Hitler saw Czechoslovakia as a symbol of Germany’s humiliation in 1919. Although it had been created largely from territory in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it contained 2 million German speakers in an area on the German border called Sudetenland.
Hitler was keen to control Sudetenland because he wanted to unite German speakers and it was within Germany’s sphere of influence. Czechoslovakia’s western border came deep into German territory. Additionally, Czechoslovakia was strong militarily and economically with; an army of 34 divisions, deposits of coal and lignite (a type of fuel), and the important Skoda weapons factory. Czechoslovakia would therefore be a difficult enemy if it chose to support any opponent of Germany in war. However, most of Czechoslovakia’s military resources were in Sudetenland, so if Hitler could gain those territories, he would extend Großdeutschland (greater Germany) and also weaken a potential threat.
Hitler ordered the leaders of the Czech Nazi party to begin making demands for a role in the Czech government. At first the Czech leader made concessions however the Czech Nazis kept increasing their demands, therefore president Benes of Czechoslovakia refused to make further concessions. Hitler told Sudeten Germans he would support them if they caused further difficulties, and on September 1938, they began rioting. President Benes crushed the rioters, but knew German intervention was inevitable.
Chamberlain met with Hitler and Benes to discuss the demands. Benes realised that Britain were not willing to intervene therefore offered Hitler the parts of Sudetenland where the majority of population was German. However, Hitler did not accept this offer as he claimed that the Sudeten Germans were ‘mistreated’. Instead, Hitler insisted that all of Sudetenland must be in his possession by October 1st 1938, or he would need to invade to ‘rescue’ the Sudeten Germans.
The Munich Agreement, September (1938)
In September 1938, Neville Chamberlain met Adolf Hitler at Hitler’s home. Hitler threatened to invade Czechoslovakia unless Britain supported Germany's plans to take over the Sudetenland. After discussing the issue with the Edouard Daladier (France) and Eduard Benes (Czechoslovakia), Chamberlain informed Hitler that his proposals were unacceptable.
Adolf Hitler was in a difficult situation but he also knew that Britain and France were unwilling to go to war. He also thought it unlikely that these two countries would be keen to join up with the Soviet Union. Mussolini suggested to Hitler that one way of solving this issue was to hold a four-power conference of Germany, Britain, France and Italy.
The meeting took place in Munich on 29th September 1938. Desperate to avoid war, and anxious to avoid an alliance with Stalin, Chamberlain and Daladier agreed that Germany could have the Sudetenland. In return, Hitler promised not to make any further territorial demands in Europe.
On 29th September 1938, Hitler, Chamberlain, Daladier and Mussolini signed the Munich Agreement which transferred the Sudetenland to Germany. When Benes, Czechoslovakia's head of state, protested at this decision, Chamberlain told him that Britain would be unwilling to go to war over the issue of the Sudetenland.
In March, 1939, the German Army seized the rest of Czechoslovakia. In taking this action, Hitler had broken the Munich Agreement. The British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, now realised that Hitler could not be trusted and his appeasement policy now came to an end.
Invasion of Poland (September 1939)
Hitler invades Poland and provokes the outbreak of World War 2.