Why did war break out in Europe in 1939?
When Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933 he promised many things, his most popular promise which appealed to the people of Germany was to abolish the Treaty of Versailles. Everyone in Germany despised the treaty for obvious reasons; under article 231 Germany was blamed solely for the First World War, the fact that there was no reason for the treaty to be imposed as Ebert had now taken over from the Kaiser, it was completely unfair leaving Germany crippled, Germany had to pay reparations of £6600million, 10% of industry and 15% of agriculture was taken away, restriction of army to 100,000 men and 13% of all German land was taken away along with all of its colonies. Hitler started breaking the treaties rules straight away, rearming, remilitarising the Rhineland etc. But just how did he gain the confidence to do all this with Britain and France breathing down his neck?
In the 1930s there were two incidents that really tested the League of Nations; the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the Italian invasion of Abyssinia. In 1931 the Japanese invaded Manchuria in response to an attack on their railway line in South Manchuria, this is now thought to have been done by the Japanese themselves. There were in fact several reasons for invading. Japan needed raw materials such as coal, iron and oil as they were lacking. Only 15% of Japan was habitable so living space was required for the growing population, Japan was suffering from depression and many people were starving, a foreign policy success would take peoples minds off of this. Japan was left out of the Treaty of Versailles when it came to giving land away so they needed to build an empire of their own. The Japanese businesses which had developed in Manchuria were set to be lost as Manchuria looked as if it was going to join China. Japan quickly removed any Chinese forces which were there and in 1932 removed the Manchuria leader and replaced him with a puppet who would obey the Japanese. Despite the League of Nations aim to protect countries from invasion and to limit wars it did nothing. Manchuria sent a cry for help and a committee was sent to write a report about the crisis, this took over a year to write and clearly put Japan in the wrong, the report was accepted within the council with 42 votes against Japan’s 1, but since Japan had veto powers in the League nothing could be done. The League did not act because of many problems; everyone was suffering from depression so preferred to sort out their own problems rather than help the Abyssinians. Japan was also very powerful, as proven in 1905 when a war was won with Russia, the British dared not act without the help of the French but they were too busy worrying about Germany to help. Both Britain and France traded a lot with Japan so did not want to make an enemy of them. It was clear to everyone around the world that the League of Nations was ineffective and unable to act on powerful countries because the countries within the League were too selfish. Hitler, although he had yet to come to power, looked on this and realised how easy it would be to push the League over.
This is a preview of the whole essay
In 1935 Italy invaded Abyssinia because Abyssinia attacked Waal Waal, an oasis, belonging to Abyssinia but occupied by Italian troops, Abyssinia decided they wanted it back and attacked. Italy responded and began invading Abyssinia. Although this was a the short term cause Italy also had several other reasons for invading. Italy was disappointed with the Treat of Versailles as it didn’t gain much land so had to gain some for itself, Italy, like everyone else, was suffering from depression and by winning a war with Abyssinia this would take peoples minds off it. Mussolini already knew how weak the League was thanks to the Manchurian crisis so had no real fear of being stopped. Italy, like the Japanese, was also short on raw materials and fertile soils and Abyssinia had both. In 1986 Italy had invaded Abyssinia where 12,000 of its soldiers were killed, Italy wanted revenge. This time the League tried to do something. Britain and France imposed economic sanctions on Italy stopping it importing goods such as oil and coal but America undermined these sanctions supplying Italy with more oil and coal. They did not impose military sanctions because Italy was too powerful, Hitler had taken power in 1933 and France was more concerned about this than Italy invading and Britain wasn’t prepared to act without French support. Both Britain and France wanted to make Italy an ally so they had protection against Germany. After this crisis and the Manchurian crisis Hitler had no reason to believe that The League or anyone was going to stand in his way when he was invading other countries and this was proven in 1936 when Hitler began his reclaiming land.
In 1936 Hitler began his policy of reclaiming German territory. He marched 10,000 troops into the Rhineland, despite the Treaty of Versailles condemning this, Britain and France did nothing, this is because they were following a policy of Appeasement. Appeasement is the policy of giving Hitler what he wanted, as long as it was reasonable, in order to avoid conflict, this was put forward by Neville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister. There were many reasons for supported Appeasement; the British or French weren’t ready for a war and needed time to make more weapons etc, nobody wanted a war again after the horrors of World War Two, Hitler was standing up to the Communists so he would as a barrier between them and the Communists, both the British colonies and the USA could not be relied upon to support of participate in a war with Germany, depression was still happening in Britain and France so they preferred to sort out their own problems first and many people believed that the Treat of Versailles was unfair and a Germany without it Germany would become peaceful. Although this isn’t how everyone felt, some people claimed that Appeasement gave Hitler too much trust and allowed him to build up his army to that greater of Britain’s and France’s, it made Hitler become more aggressive and it scared the USSR into building their army much larger as they believed Britain and France would not support them in a war with Hitler with this new policy.
After Hitler got away with this so easily it was only natural he became more confident in himself and in 1938 he took over Austria. There was already a large Nazi party in Austria and Hitler told them to stir up as much trouble as they could. The Austrian chancellor, Kurt Schuchnigg, asked Hitler to stop this and Hitler said he would, if there could be Anschluss, the joining together of Germany and Austria. Schuchnigg held a Plebiscite to see if the people of Austria wanted this but Hitler threatened to invade if this happened so Schuchnigg resigned and was replaced by a leading Austrian Nazi. The new leader called for the help of the German army to maintain peace and order. Under the eyes of the German army the Plebiscite took place and a 99% vote in the favour of Anschluss. Hitler had managed to take over Austria without firing a shot. Schuchnigg had asked for Britain and Frances help but it wasn’t given, they were following Appeasement but most people in Britain thought Germany had the right to be united with Austria anyway. Hitler grew more confident that Britain and France would not make a move against him.
Around the same time as this was happening the Homeland Party, the Nazis of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, were supplied with money and were told to create chaos, Hitler could then bring in his army saying that he was just trying to keep peace, this way he would not appear to be an aggressor. The Homeland Party leader demanded for the Sudetenland to join Germany, and gave the reason that the Germans in this area were being treated badly, but the Czechs refused and moved their army into the Sudetenland. The Czechs now looked to Britain and France to help, they had made an agreement with France where the French said they would provide military support if Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. France and Britain put forward no help and put pressure on the Czechs to make an agreement with Hitler, both Hitler and the Czechs prepared for war.
In a last attempt to avoid war Chamberlain flew to Munich to try and resolve the crisis. After two meetings it was said that Hitler should be given the Sudetenland and that the Czechs agreed with this but Hitler refused to accept it saying that the Poles and Slovaks should be given independence too. Britain, France and Germany now got together to have try and avoid war. It was decided that the Sudetenland should be given to Germany immediately as long as he promised not to invade anymore countries. Britain and France believed they had achieved peace in Europe and had solved the crisis peacefully, and Hitler was happy because his confidence grew yet again and he was given what he wanted without having to invade.
However France and Britain were very wrong, in March 1939 Hitler began the take over of the rest of Czechoslovakia, using the same excuse that Germans in Czechoslovakia were being mistreated and also that law and order was breaking down. Hitler bullied the Czechs into letting his troops in by threatening to bomb Prague. Hitler invaded mainland Czechoslovakia and it deemed on Britain and France that the Munich Agreement and Appeasement had both failed.
In August 1939, after talks between Russia, Britain and France broke down, Hitler made an agreement with Stalin called The Non-Aggression Pact despite them being natural enemies with Hitler being extreme right wing and Stalin extreme left wing. The agreement stated that Germany would not attack Russia and Russia would not attack Germany. It also said that once Hitler had taken over Poland and Eastern Europe he would divide this with the USSR. Stalin chose Germany over Britain and France because he believed Germany to be stronger and the terms of the alliance were better, with the British and French the agreement was to defend Poland from Germany so Russia might have to go to war but with Hitler they agreed not to go to war and even if a war came later Russia had more time to arm herself and the USSR gained land with Hitler. It is surprising the two made an agreement considering their political differences but both had reasons for it. Hitler wanted this agreement so Germany would not have to fight a war on two fronts, with France and Russia, and Stalin wanted this because he believed Eastern Poland should be taken into the USSR, he deemed Britain and France to be unreliable and because he needed more time to build up his armed forces.
With Hitler’s confidence growing by the minute and with assurance from the USSR they would not attack Germany if it invaded, Germany invaded Poland on 1st September 1939. Hitler wanted Poland because it was originally part of Germany but under the Treaty of Versailles it had become separate. Britain and France couldn’t let Hitler get away with this anymore, and on 3rd September they declared war on Germany, this marked the beginning of World War Two.
Although it was Hitler’s actions which led to war, many other factors were important in making the war happen, mainly the policy of Appeasement. Appeasement is the right policy to use but cannot be used with people like Hitler, if Britain and France hadn’t appeased Hitler then there wouldn’t have been a World War Two. When Hitler remilitarised the Rhineland Hitler’s orders were to retreat if attacked and this proves that the German army was extremely weak then and if attacked would have knocked Hitler’s confidence down to a minimum making him not as aggressive. On the other hand we did win World War Two, arguably, because of Appeasement and the time it gave us to arm ourselves against Hitler. The League of Nations was another big cause of World War Two, it failed to stop countries attacking aggressively against others allowing Hitler to build up his confidence. The War is ultimately Hitler’s fault for wanting to expand his empire and being so deceitful when it came to obeying treaties and agreements, although it is only fair for Britain and France to share some of the blame as they allowed Hitler to walk all over them