Peace to War 1919-1939

Godesberg � 22nd September 1938 Munich

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Godesberg � 22nd September 1938

  • Munich � 29th September 1938

    At Berchtesgaden Chamberlain made it clear to Hitler that Britain would accept self-determination for the Sudetenland. But Hitler wanted more than this, secretly he was looking for an excuse to invade Czechoslovkia and not just the Sudetenland.

    A week later Chamberlain flew to meet Hitler at Bad Godesberg to finalise the agreement made at Berchtesgaden. When he arrived he found that Hitler was not just asking for the Sudetenland�s right of self-determination, but was asking for the withdrawal of Czech troops from the Sudetenland and was also demanding territories on behalf of Poland and Hungary. Hitler had won the support of two countries who might otherwise have allied with Czechoslovakia against German aggression. Britain and France were reluctant to agree to these demands and so Chamberlain returned to London to prepare for war. For the next week tension built as each country began to mobilise. Then Mussolini stepped in with the proposal for a four-power conference in Munich on the 29th September.

    Chamberlain flew to meet Hitler, Mussolini and Daladier (of France) at Munich. Here Chamberlain gave into German claims for the Sudetenland. The Czechs were completely ignored by this decision, as were the Russians. For a brief moment Chamberlain was triumphant. He returned to Britain with his �piece of paper� which had averted war and which promised peace between Germany and Britain in the future. On October 1st Germany took the Sudetenland, and Poland and Hungary gained the territories they had been seeking. As the weeks passed the gloss on Chamberlain�s success began to fade and when Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, the policy of appeasement was seen to have failed.

    Conclusion of the Sudeten Crisis

    What are the conclusions one can draw from this episode?

    • Hitler became increasingly popular in Germany, he had achieved victory without a war and it encouraged him to look for other foreign policy successes i.e. Poland.

    • Czechoslovakia was destroyed. A small, but strong democracy had been abandoned by the Great Powers.

    • Russia had not been included in the Munich Agreement and Stalin felt compelled to come his own arrangement with Germany (Nazi-Soviet Pact 1939).

    • It can be argued that Munich saw appeasement fail, that Hitler could not be trusted. However it has been argued that Chamberlain bought time at Munich, time in which Britain could rearm for conflicts in the future.

    Czechoslovakia March 1939

    In March 1939, Hitler completed his conquest of Czechoslovakia, as he had wanted all along. Hitler took direct control of the western Czech lands, and a puppet state was set up in Slovakia. It was clear that Hitler could not be trusted from now on.

    Growing tensions and relationship with the USSR

    In the late spring and summer of 1939, Britain and Germany prepared for war. After the March annexation of Czechoslovakia, it was clear that Hitler could no longer be appeased. Reluctantly British diplomats began to put out feelers towards the USSR as a potential ally against Hitler�s Germany. An alliance with a communist state went against all British instincts, despite the looming spectre of conflict the British government was in no rush to sign an alliance. Stalin was also nervous. He suspected that Hitler would attack the USSR at some point, but he was not ready for war. Hitler wanted to attack Poland, but he did not want to fight the USSR. Stalin was not ready for war and was happy to let Hitler attack Poland, as long as the USSR gained something from it. The stage was set for the most unlikely agreement of the 1930s!

    The Nazi-Soviet Pact 1939

    Despite their political differences, both Germany and the USSR needed each other�s co-operation in the autumn of 1939. As Hitler prepared to take back the Polish Corridor, he did not want to get embroiled in a war with the USSR. Stalin was well aware of German ambitions in the USSR, but saw this pact as an opportunity to give time in order to further prepare defences and for the USSR to control an even greater buffer zone against Germany. The Pact was totally cynical on both sides. Hitler and Stalin knew they would go to war with each other eventually, but neither were ready for a war over Poland in 1939. The Nazi-Soviet Pact solved this. Hitler and Stalin agreed to divide Poland between them!

    The Nazi-Soviet Pact was a disaster for Britain. They had now lost a potential ally. The USSR was the only country that could have helped Britain stop a German invasion of Poland. In fact, maverick MP Winston Churchill had urged Britain to sign an agreement with the USSR all through the summer of 1939, despite his own suspicions of communism. Britain did not hurry the negotiations with the USSR believing that there was still time to spare. Chamberlain was wrong, Hitler had already signed a deal with Stalin.

    Poland and war

    Like Czechoslovakia, modern Poland was born out of the Paris Peace Treaties of 1919. Historically there had been a Polish kingdom, but both Germany and Russia had swallowed this up in the Eighteenth Century. The Paris Peace Treaties gave the ethnic Poles their own country again.

    Hitler disliked Poland, especially as it drove a wedge between Germany proper and East Prussia. This

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