The Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936. The European Powers signed a non-intervention pact, meaning that they all agreed not to help either side in the war. However, Italy and Germany broke the agreement and sent troops into Spain to assist the Nationalists. The Germans and Italians sent over 10,000 of their troops, weapons and Germany’s best air force. Mussolini, the fascist leader in Italy at the time, no longer wanted to stay friendly with Britain or France and so attacked Abyssinia, part of the British Empire, to increase the size if the Italian Empire. Germany, being enemies of Britain and France, supported the actions of Mussolini. As a result, Mussolini was able to capture Abyssinia and withdraw from the League of Nations.
Germany wanted fellow fascists to control Spain. Hitler wanted to give his new army and air force experience in war as well as try out the new weapons. Germany rightly believed that Britain and France would do nothing but protest against these actions. As a result of this, Italy and Germany helped enable Franco to win control of Spain by 1939. Franco had received no help from Britain or France, something that he would not forget. He was grateful to and friendly with the other fascist leaders, particularly Hitler. Hitler got to try out his new weapons and armies, perhaps in preparation for a war against the allies. Japan, a nationalistic, expansionist, anti-communist country were impressed by what they had seen from the German forces in Spain and so signed an ‘anti-comminten’ pact with Germany in 1936. The following year, Italy joined the pact and the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis was formed. Germany now had tow major allies. Hitler had achieved his aims yet again. He was even more confident for the next step in his plan.
Now that Hitler was friendly with Mussolini, it became possible to revive the plans to unite Germany with Austria, to create a new greater Germany. In November 1937 Hitler outlined plans to his generals to conquer Austria and Czechoslovakia – a vital source of raw materials. In January 1938, Hitler orders the Nazi’s in Austria to increase the violence against the Jews and other minorities. The following month, Hitler summoned the Austrian Chancellor Schuschnigg to Berlin and demanded a share in the government for the Austrian Nazi’s. Hitler threatened Schuschnigg with a German invasion of Austria. Consequently, Schuschnigg agreed to meet Hitler's demands, perhaps to escape a war.
On March 9th, Schuschnigg tried to out do Hitler by arranging a vote in Austria as to whether or not the people wanted to unite with Germany. Since 90% of the Austrian population were German, the outcome was obvious. However, Schuschnigg still hoped the people would vote against uniting with Germany. When Hitler found out he was furious. He threatened to invade Austria unless Shuschnigg resigned. Schuschnigg made one final plea for help to Britain and France. They refused. Schuschnigg had no choice but to resign. The next day the new Austrian-Nazi Government invited the German Nazis over to ‘restore law and order’ in Austria. The following day, March 13th, Hitler announced an anschluss (union) with Austria. He held a plebiscite the next month where 98% of the population voted to unite with Germany. Austria had now become a German province.
Why didn’t Britain or France answer Schuschnigg’s plea for help? Britain still thought that the Treaty of Versailles had been very unfair to Germany. They also thought that Austria, being surrounded by land, could not have been helped even if they had wanted to. France, being the weak country that they were, would not act without Britain. Britain also thought that Germany had not actually invaded Austria – they had simply entered the country, so Hitler had done nothing wrong. The only wrong Hitler did do was to break the Treaty of Versailles, which did not seem to matter to anybody anymore.
Throughout 1933-1935, Britain followed a policy of appeasement. This meant agreeing to the reasonable demands of Germany to avoid a war. Chamberlain, the British Prime minister, stuck to this policy to avoid any situation in which he may have to fight Japan in the far east at the same time as fighting Germany in the west. Chamberlain believed that a war with Germany would cause appalling damage to Britain, and so appeasement was an easier and safer option.
As a result of the events from 1933 – 1935, Hitler believed he was unstoppable. His next obvious target was Czechoslovakia.
- Why was so much international attention centred upon Czechoslovakia in the summer of 1938?
By the spring of 1938, it became apparent that Czechoslovakia was Hitler's next target.
At first Hitler's demands were only concerning the Sudetenland, the area of Czechoslovakia bordering with Germany. Over 3 million German-speaking people lived there, although the majority of them were citizens of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire not the Kaisers Germany.
By the 1930’s the German’s of the Sudetenland had many grievances, mainly due to the post war depression of 1919. They felt they were victims of Czech discrimination when they saw the Nazi regime in Germany curing unemployment and restoring the countries strength. Soon, the people wanted an Anschluss with Germany.
This gave Hitler a brilliant excuse to pursue his larger goal of the destruction of Czechoslovakia. Ever since the Czechoslovakian democracy had been created by the Treaty of Versailles, Hitler disliked it. Czechoslovakia, the Sudetenland in particular, was a valuable source of raw materials, essential to the mastery of central Europe. However, Hitler had to be careful in what action he took. Germany, by 1938 was still not ready for war with Europe and so was reluctant to use force against Czechoslovakia.
At the end of March, Hitler summoned Henlein, leader of the Sudetenland Nazi’s to Berlin. He told Henlein to cause as much trouble as he could for the Czechoslovakian government. Hitler hoped that this would encourage the British and French to abandon Czechoslovakia. Hitler believed that the British and the French had already given up on Czechoslovakia and were hoping that the Germans would deal with them when the time came.
Hitler's guesses were not far from wrong. Britain was reluctant to risk war to prevent the Sudetenland Germans from joining Germany. Chamberlain simply believed that all Hitler wanted was to unite all German-speaking people.
In May 1938 Konrad Henlein visited London and impressed the British officials. He led them to believe that the Czech government were being unreasonable. These views were reinforced by messages received by the British ambassador in Berlin, Sir Neville Henderson. His sympathies were clearly with the Germans. He was influential because his views coincided with those of Chamberlain. They both believed that Europe could be saved from a war by solving the German grievances. Henderson regarded the Czech prime minister, Eduard Benes as being small and pig headed.
The British minister on Prague, Basil Newton, supported Henderson’s views. He believed that since Czechoslovakia was such a mix of nationalities that it was an artificial creation and would not survive, even without the German pressure. It would have been unwise for Britain to go to war over a country that would fall apart. The French ambassador Sir Eric Phipps, who had also served in Berlin sent Chamberlain a stream of gloomy messages about the morale in France. Lord Perth in Italy backed up Chamberlains assumption that the relationship with Italy could be restored.
Rumours began to circulate about German military preparations near the Czech border on Friday 2oth May 1938. The next day the Czech government reacted by ordering the partial mobilisation of her armies. Britain and France also sent warnings to Germany. The rumours turned out to be false however. This put Hitler in the unusual situation of telling the truth when he denied that Germany had been preparing to attack Czechoslovakia.
The ‘crises’ had some important consequences. Hitler felt as if he had been shown up. He was annoyed that the Czechs had bought him to the attention of Britain and France when he was just carrying out a military exercise. He told his generals ‘ it is my unalterable decision to smash Czechoslovakia by military action in the near future.’ The fact that war had been so close worried the British government and caused them to step up their efforts for a peaceful settlement.
On 22 May, despite what the British government had said to the Germans two days earlier, told the French not to count on Britain to ‘ take joint military action with them to preserve Czechoslovakia against German aggression.’ The British did not want the French to think that because of the weekend crises that threats were the best way to deal with Germany. The British also pressurised the Czechs to give into the Germans over the Sudetenland.
At the beginning of august, Chamberlain sent the former cabinet minister, Lord Runciman to Prague to discuss with the Czechs how much of the Sudetenland they would be prepared to give to Germany, but he achieved nothing. Benes, the Czech president, agreed to let the Sudetenland be self governed by the German Sudetens, but Henlein was uncooperative. The Sudetenland Germans increased the violence on instructions from Berlin, providing Hitler with an excuse to invade. He stepped up the German military preparations. The press campaign against Czechoslovakia became more abusive and increasingly hysterical.
On the 12th September, Hitler whipped up German support for the Sudeten Germans with a vitriolic speech at the annual Nazi rally in Nuremberg. It was followed by further riots in the Sudetenland. The Czech government responded by declaring martial law. Henderson warned that Hitler was about to attack. Chamberlain decided to talk to Hitler personally. He flew to Bavaria in Germany and met Hitler. They both agreed that the Sudetenland should be given to Germany. However, Hitler believed that Chamberlain would be unable to persuade Benes to give up the Sudetenland, causing Britain and France to abandon Czechoslovakia. Meaning he could enjoy a short, victorious war of conquest. Chamberlain secured Hitler's promise that Germany had ‘no further territorial demands.’ He believed that the crises would be solved peacefully. Chamberlain said that he had the impression that Hitler was a man who could be trusted. HE firmly believed that war would not happen.
On the 18th September, members of the French government met chamberlain in London and agreed to the proposals for resolving the crises. They decided that areas of Czechoslovakia with a population that were over half German would be given to Germany. The Czechs were reluctant to agree. They were eventually persuaded by the fact that Britain and France said that they would not come to Czechoslovakia aid unless they agreed to the terms.
Two days later, Chamberlain flew to Godesberg to tell Hitler the news himself. To Chamberlains surprise, Hitler was not happy. He had wanted an excuse to go to war with Czechoslovakia, not a peaceful exchange. He made new demands; he now demanded that the Hungarian and Polish claims on territory should be met. He also said that the German troops should be allowed to occupy the Sudetenland on 28th September. Chamberlain was not happy with Hitler's new demands. They met again the following day but the only change Hitler was prepared to make to his demands was to delay the troops for two days before they entered Czechoslovakia. They were now back where they started.
Chamberlain returned to London and told the British cabinet on 24 September. He was convinced that Hitler was keen to secure Britain’s support and that he wanted to unite all German people and not European domination. Chamberlain believed that he had established an influence over Hitler. Chamberlain trusted Hitler and was willing to work with him. He felt that the terms agreed at Godesberg were an opportunity to end the horrors of the armaments race, despite the fact that Hitler's stakes were high. However, the next day Halifax told the cabinet that they should not accept Hitler's demands. He had already warned Chamberlain via the telephone when he was in Germany that the publics opinion was hardening in the sense of feeling that they had gone to the limit of concession. The French leaders too, when they arrived in London, were reluctant to give in.
In response to the cabinet, Chamberlain sent Sir Horace Wilson to Berlin. He was told by Hitler that Czechoslovakia would be smashed unless the demands made at Godesberg were met. Wilson reported back to the cabinet and recommended that Hitler's demands should be met. However, opposition from Halifax and Duff Cooper, the first lord of the Admiralty, forced him to give way.
By now, was seemed certain. Hitler had demanded his terms be met by 2pm on Wednesday 28th September. His terms had been rejected by the Czechs; the French said they would support Czechoslovakia.
That evening, chamberlain broadcast to the nation on the radio. He said how awful it was that Britain should be preparing for a war because of a quarrel in a far away country. He told people that war is a fearful thing and they should be clear before the start that this war was worth fighting. Chamberlain did not believe that the transfer of the Sudetenland was a ‘great issue’. He ended his broadcast by promising ‘ to work for peace to the last moment.’
Britain was now hours from a war. While Chamberlain addressed the House of Commons on 28th September, news arrived of a last minute reprieve. Mussolini had responded to British requests of mediation and persuaded Hitler to call a conference at Munich.
- Why was the Munich Agreement signed on 29th September 1938?
The Munich Conference was attended the following morning by the four great powers; Hitler, Mussolini, Chamberlain and the French prime minister Daladier. The Czechs were not invited as the powers knew how stubborn and pig headed the prime minister was, and that he would not agree to anything. The Russians were not invited either, due to their lack of involvement in the war, and the communist leader, Stalin.
The terms agreed were not much different to Hitler's original demands made at Godesberg. They decided that the Germans would enter the Sudetenland over ten days. Votes were to be held in disputed areas, and an international commission would determine the new frontiers. Czechs could not leave the transferred areas, nor could the Germans enter them. However, neither the plebiscites nor the population transfers occurred.
On 30th September Chamberlain had a private meeting with Hitler and asked him to sign a decleration promising that Britain and Germany would never go to war again and promise that a joint effort would be made in keeping the peace in Europe.
Chamberlain returned to Britain and read the decleration to the cheering public. He told the crowds that he had bought peace with honour, and believed he had secured lasting peace in Europe.
So why had an agreement been signed at the Munich Conference?
Hitler had signed the agreement as government advisors told him that Germany was not ready for a war yet. He had believed that France and Britain would not have gone to war over Czechoslovakia and so he cold rearm in secret. Chamberlain had signed the agreement to secure peace in Europe. He went to great lengths to ensure that there would not be a repeat of the atrocities of world war one. Also, the USA would not support the UK in a war against Hitler. Britain was not strong enough to fight on her own. France could not go to war without Britain, and therefore could not pursue the alliance with Czechoslovakia. France was weak and could not fight a war on her own. Italy had signed the agreement as she had agreed to Britain's request in persuading Hitler to hold one last conference at Munich, and so had raised her profile in Europe. Mussolini felt he should sign the agreement as he was now part of matters, as well as the fact that he was Hitler's ally.
The Munch Agreement was signed to keep the peace in Europe but it would still not save Czechoslovakia.
- Explain the difference reactions in Britain to the news of the signing of the Munich Agreement.
Chamberlain received delighted reactions from the British Public, as well as from a number of Germans. People were overjoyed that a war had been avoided. There was a general feeling of relief from the British press. The Daily Express wrote an article telling people to give thanks to God that their children were safe and a war had been avoided.
Many of the members of the House of Commons reflected the public opinion by congratulating chamberlain enthusiastically. However, Duff Cooper, the head of the Admiralty, resigned. He felt that the Munich terms were no real improvement on the demands Hitler made at Godesberg. He said that Chamberlain had put too much faith in Hitler's trust. Other members of the cabinet felt that the Munich Agreement only acted as breathing space and felt that Britain's re-armament should be sped up. Chamberlain disagreed as he felt that this would lead to another arms race and hoped Munich would be the start of international discussion on the abolition of bombers.
There were two main views on Chamberlain signing the Munich Agreement. People argued that he was wrong to give into the threat of force and that he had thrown away a valuable alliance with the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia had a strong and well equipped army