Road to War

Under the Versailles Settlement, Czechoslovakia was created, including the Sudetenland, which had a large German population.Hitler,on its first course of territorial aggression formed a plan to annex Czechoslovakia on the pretext of occupying Sudetenland as it was a ethinic German State according to Hitler.Already merging Austria with Germany after a march in Vienna on March 14,1938,Hitler can be said to be flushing with confidence. Konrad Henlein of the Sudeten Heimfront (Home Front),held secret meetings with Hitler and in private Hitler himself agreed to annex Czechoslovakia.Now Sudetenland was a important territory for Czechoslovakia as it had most of the important industries and a good western defense border.Losing Sudetenland meant loosing Czechoslovakia.Now here is an important diplomatic war or appeasement if you name,Britain,although economocially strong,didn’t have a very strong army of size of millions which Germany later developed,but,combining power of Britain and France were large in size in 1938 to crush Germany.Infact,this fear was developed by some German diplomats,when Britain warned Germany following the May Crisis (false alarm that Germany was going to invade Czechoslovakia on 19th May 1938) that they will go War with Germany if France intervened.However Britain authorities wanted a peaceful way out and hence the policy of appeasement was conducted.Following Hitler demands,At the conference of 28 May 1938,that it was his “unalterable” decision to “smash Czechoslovakia” by 1 October of the same year and also as a result of intense French, and especially British diplomatic pressure, President Edvard Beneš unveiled on 5 September 1938, the “Fourth Plan” for constitutional reorganization of his country, which granted most of the demands for Sudeten autonomy made by Henlein in his Karlsbad speech of April 1938, and threatened to deprive the Germans of their pretext for aggression.However violent clashes in Sudentenland occurred following which British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain conceived of a plan to fly to Germany and meet Hitler, and then work out an agreement that could end the crisis.Talks do followed in September 1938(particulary In a summit at Berchtesgaden),but they were made difficult due to different viewpoints,with Hitler aiming to use the Sudeten issue as a pretext for war and Chamberlain genuinely striving for a peaceful solution.

When Chamberlain returned to Germany on 22 September to present his peace plan for the transfer of the Sudetenland at a summit with Hitler at Bad Godesberg, the British delegation was most unpleasantly surprised to have Hitler reject his own terms he had presented at Berchtesgaden as now unacceptable.Hitler than,to put an end to Chamberlain’s peace-making efforts once and for all, Hitler demanded the Sudetenland be ceded to Germany no later then 28 September 1938 with no negotiations between Prague and Berlin and no international commission to oversee the transfer; no plebiscites to held in the transferred districts until after the transfer; and for good measure, that Germany would not forsake war as an option until all the claims against Czechoslovakia by Poland and Hungary had been satisfied.A Bad Godesberg ultimatum was proposed to Britain for allowance of German annexation,however Britain rejected it (25th September 1938).Hence a great political tension occurred,as Britain again clearly warned Hitler that if France attacks (as French were honour bound to Czechoslovakia with the Franco-Czechoslovak alliance of 1924),they will also declare war on Germany.(following the rejection of Bad Godesberg ultimatum Britain started preparing for War with increased Civil defence and mobilization of British Fleet).Sensing this,the attack on Czechoslovakia,which was initially planned on 1st October 1938 was called off and Hitler changing his mind, and through the suggestion, of and through the intercession of Mussolini,asked for a conference to be held in Munich with Chamberlain, Mussolini, and the French Premier Édouard Daladier to discuss the Czechoslovak situation,which later came to be known as Munich Conference.There,on 30th September 1:30 am ,they agreed that Germany would complete its occupation of the Sudetenland by 10th October, but an international commission would consider other disputed areas. Czechoslovakia was told that if it did not submit, it would stand alone.

The Czechoslovak government, realizing the hopelessness of fighting Germany alone, reluctantly capitulated (30 September) and agreed to abide by the agreement. The settlement gave Germany the Sudetenland starting 10 October, and de facto control over the rest of Czechoslovakia as long as Hitler promised to go no further. On September 30th after some rest, Chamberlain went to Hitler and asked him to sign a peace treaty between the United Kingdom and Germany. After Hitler’s interpreter translated it for him, he happily agreed. On 30 September, upon his return to Britain, Chamberlain delivered his famous “peace for our time” speech to delighted crowds in London.Hence Czechoslovakia ceased to exist (by March 1939 all its territories were divided among Germany,Poland,Hungary and an independent Slovakia).

The reactions to Munich Agreement were quick and decisive.Hitler was declared TIME’s magazine man of the year of 1938.Some historians arugue it was a easy way out of the French government of their alliance with Czechslovakia,as French were underprepared both military and economically for a war with Germany.Daladier having himself witnessed the trauma of First World War,hence persuaded Britain to adopt diplomatic means to “peacefully” settle the Czechoslovakian issue.Had French be any prepared for the war,or had Neville didn’t follow his peaceful means,German would have sure gone.It is evident by the fact that Hitler changed his mind at the last minute for the invasion of Czechoslovakia fearing that Germany was at that time not prepared for War with both Britain and France.Infact Daladier himself believed that War was inevitable,in late april 1938 meeting he told british that Hitler’s real aim was to eventually secure “a domination of the Continent in comparison with which the ambitions of Napoleon were feeble.”Neville Chamberlain was happy to avoid war and was acclaimed heroically in Britain.Hitler,on the other hand,was furious.He felt as though he had been forced into “acting like a bourgeois politician by his diplomats and generals”,a rising indication for his mistakes of not listening to his Generals and Diplomats in the War that followed.His actions against Britain had followed the exact opposite of what he proposed in Zwites Buch of 1928,ready to go against Britain any moment.A British diplomat in Berlin was informed by reliable sources that Hitler viewed Chamberlain as “an impertinent busybody who spoke the ridiculous jargon of an outmoded democracy. The umbrella, which to the ordinary German was a symbol of peace, was in Hitler’s view only a subject of derision”.Also, Hitler had been heard saying: “If ever that silly old man comes interfering here again with his umbrella, I’ll kick him downstairs and jump on his stomach in front of the photographers”.Though Hitler professed happiness in public over the achievement of his ostensible demands, in private he was determined to have a war the next time around by ensuring that Germany’s future demands would not be met,hence leading to World War 2.Joseph Stalin,the new Soviet leader of the reformed USSR,was upset too.

The Soviets had not been represented at the conference and felt they should be acknowledged as a major power. The British and French, however, mostly used the Soviets as a threat to dangle over the Germans. Stalin concluded that the West had actively colluded with Hitler to hand over an Eastern European country to the Nazis, causing concern that they might do the same to the Soviet Union in the future, allowing the partition of the USSR between the western powers and the fascist Axis. This belief led the Soviet Union to reorient its foreign policy towards a rapprochement with Germany, which eventually led to the signing of theMolotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939.

In strict Anti Britain measures,Poland was the most important country to have,either as a satellite state or by means of annexation.Firstly,it was the first step towards the necessary “space” to the east,Hitler’s main ambitions.Secondly,Poland was important on economic consideration as it had vast food resources and could be used effectively if Britain employs Naval blockade.

Initially, the German hope was transform Poland into a satellite state, but by March 1939 when the German demands had been rejected by the Poles three times, which led Hitler to decide upon the destruction of Poland as the main German foreign policy goal of 1939.On April 3, 1939 Hitler ordered the military to start preparing for Fall Weiss (Case White), the plan for a German invasion to be executed on 25 August 1939.For the people who agreed to Germany’s aggression,it was due to the fact that Anti Polish feelings ran high among the people of Germany and they were ready for annexing Poland even if they had to pay the heavy price of war with France and Britain.Hitler on the other hand.Hitler ofcourse was much offended when Britain guaranteed independence of Poland on 31st March 2009,hence in a speech before the Reichstag on April 28, 1939, Adolf Hitler complaining of British “encirclement” of Germany, renounced both the Anglo-German Naval Agreement and the German–Polish Non-Aggression Pact.. As a pretext for aggression against Poland, Hitler claimed the Free City of Danzig and the right for “extra-territorial” roads across the Polish Corridor which Germany had unwillingly ceded under the Versailles treaty. For Hitler, Danzig was just a pretext for aggression as the Sudetenland had been intended to be in 1938, and throughout 1939, while highlighting the Danzig issue as a grievance, the Germans always refused to engage in talks about the matter.

Now Hitler had a dilemma to solve.His long term anti-britain course,which included the vastly expanded Kriegsmarine (Z Plan) and Luftwaffe would take several more years to complete,and his short term foreign policy of 1939 to occupy Poland would most probably trigger a European War with Britain and France.

Hitler’s dilemma between his short-term and long-term goals was resolved by Foreign Minister Ribbentrop who told Hitler that neither Britain nor France would honor their commitments to Poland, and any German-Polish war would accordingly be a limited regional war.Ribbentrop based his appraisal partly on an alleged statement made to him by the French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet in December 1938 that France now recognized Eastern Europe as Germany’s exclusive sphere of influence.In addition, Ribbentrop’s status as the former Ambassador to London made him in Hitler’s eyes the leading Nazi British expert, and as a result, Ribbentrop’s advice that Britain would not honor her commitments to Poland carried much weight with Hitler.In addition, the German Ambassador in London, Herbert von Dirksen tended to send reports that supported Ribbentrop’s analysis such as a dispatch in August 1939 that reported Neville Chamberlain knew “the social structure of Britain, even the conception of the British Empire, would not survive the chaos of even a victorious war”, and so would back down.The extent that Hitler was influenced by Ribbentrop’s advice can be seen in Hitler’s orders to the German military on 21 August 1939 for a limited mobilization against Poland alone.

The problems caused by the need to begin a campaign in Poland in late August or early September in order to have the campaign finished before the October rains arrived, and the need to have sufficient time to concentrate German troops on the Polish border left Hitler in a self-imposed situation in August 1939 where Soviet co-operation was absolutely crucial if he were to have a war that year (which was easy thanks to Munich Agreement and the isolation of Soviet Union).

German war planners had estimated massive raw materials shortfalls if Germany entered a war without Soviet supply.Hence On 23 August 1939, Joseph Stalin accepted Hitler’s proposal to conclude a non-aggression pact (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact), whose secret protocols contained an agreement to partition Poland.(At the signing, Ribbentrop and Stalin enjoyed warm conversations, exchanged toasts and further addressed the prior hostilities between the countries in the 1930s.They characterized Britain as always attempting to disrupt Soviet-German relations, stated that the Anti-Comintern pact was not aimed at the Soviet Union, but actually aimed at Western democracies and “frightened principally the City of London [i.e., the British financiers] and the English shopkeepers.” ). In the last days of peace, Hitler oscillated between the determination to fight the Western powers if he had to, and various schemes intended to keep Britain out of the war, but in any case, Hitler was not to be deterred from his aim of invading Poland.But it was of no avail and the Hitler declared War on Poland on 1st September 1939.

Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 September but did not immediately act. Hitler was most unpleasantly surprised at receiving the British declaration of war on 3 September 1939, and turning to Ribbentrop angrily asked “Now what?” Not long after this, on 17 September, Soviet forces invaded eastern Poland.Now a big question asked is,despite the fact the massive rearmament would still take some years to complete,why did Hitler rushed into the War.Some historians (Timothy Mason) suggest that Hitler had acute economic crisis (e.g 80 percent of oil came from New World) and hence rapid annexation would mean shortening of economic woes posed.Some other historians (William Carr, Gerhard Weinberg and Ian Kershaw) suggest that Hitler was becoming old (50 years in 1939) and hence wanted to rush and finish his objectives,fearing he has not much time left for his works (Hitler had an obsessive fear of an early death).After the European War was declared,what followed was Phoney Wars,perhaps the biggest mistake of the Allies side to not to directly engage Germany.The period of seven months from 1st September 1939 to the French Invasion on May 1940 was marked by a lack of major military operations in Continental Europe. The great powers of Europe had declared war on one another, yet neither side had committed to launching a significant attack, and there was relatively little fighting on the ground, notwithstanding terms of Anglo-Polish military alliance and Franco-Polish Military Alliance, which obliged the United Kingdom and France to take military action, in the case of the United Kingdom, in 15 days time.

While most of the German army was engaged in Poland, a much smaller German force manned the Siegfried Line, their fortified defensive line along the French border. At the Maginot Line on the other side of the border, British and French troops stood facing them, but there were only some local, minor skirmishes.Had the than strong French and British forces attacked,the minority of the German forces at the western Europe would have been crushed.One strong evidence,denoting the fact of German defence at the Western border line at 1939 is evident by the comment of Alfred Jofl at the Nuremberg Trials who said that “if we did not collapse already in the year 1939 that was due only to the fact that during the Polish campaign, the approximately 110 French and British divisions in the West were held completely inactive against the 23 German divisions.“Intial French forces advanced in the Saar offensive but were stopped 1km short of the Siegfried Line.However,one notable event in Phoney War was the Soviet Union’s offense against Finland on 30th November 1939 which was termed as Winter War.Britain and French forces immediately supported the democratic Finland leading to the expulsion of Soviet Union from league of Nations and formation of forces and aid to be supplied to Finland from Norway.However the forces were not dispatched until the winter war ended (instead being dispatched to the Norwegian campaign).The Norwegian campaign on the other hand was the first land confrontation of the Allies with the German forces.The conflict,which occurred from 9th april to 10th June 1940 led to occupation of Norway by NAZI Germany.

The primary reason for Nazi Germany seeking the occupation of Norway was Nazi Germany’s dependence on Swedish iron ore shipped from the Norwegian port of Narvik. By securing access to Norwegian ports, Nazi Germany could obtain the iron ore supply it needed for war production despite the British naval blockade of Nazi Germany.Using the pretext of Altmark Incident (sinking of German Vessel by Norway),Germans were convinced that the strategically important Norway would not be neutral and hence the landing on the port of Narvik was issued.Fighting do followed and Allies even managed to recapture the port of Narvik but it was too late as the French Invasion had already begun.Operation Alphabet which announced the withdrawl of the Allies forces from Norway (issued on 24th May),further seized Norway’s fate as Norway was eventually occupied by German forces.However two notable changes occurred in the Allies side,one which would have likely changed the course of the War.

The debacle of the Allied campaign in Norway, which actually was an offspring of the never-realised plans to aid Finland, forced a famous debate in the House of Commons during which the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was under constant attack A nominal vote of confidence in his government was won by 281 to 200,and hence On 10 May Chamberlain resigned the premiership whilst retaining the leadership of the Conservative Party. The King, George VI, appointed Winston Churchill, who had been a consistent opponent of Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement, as his successor and Churchill formed a new coalition government that included members of the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Party as well as several ministers from a non-political background. Churchill,as later showed in the course of the War,was a man of steel who never advocated peace with Germany even with crisis of occupation of Britain following French defeat.Also On 20 March, after the Winter War had ended, Édouard Daladier resigned as Prime Minister in France, due to his failure to aid Finland’s defence.Germany,by the end of winter war and the Phoney War,had built a strong military force in the western frontier and would soon,by invasion of France,would lead to a new term in modern warfare,a warfare where tanks are no longer used to support infantry but rather used as own independent means,where traditional methods of annihilation warfare were replaced by columns of mechanized forces moving swiftly through the enemy flanks catching them by surprise,BLITZKRIEG was born!

If we did not collapse already in the year 1939 that was due only to the fact that during the Polish campaign, the approximately 110 French and British divisions in the West were held completely inactive against the 23 German divisions.”

— Alfred Jofl at the Nuremberg Trials

Poland never will rise again in the form of the Versailles treaty. That is guaranteed not only by Germany, but also... Russia”

— Adolf Hitler in a public speech in Danzig at the end of September 1939.