Peace to War 1919-1939

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Anti-Comintern Pactsigned by Germany, Italy and Japan. Each pledges to support the others in conflicts against communism.


Hitler forces the Anschluss with Austria. Britain let Hitler do this. Nobody in Britain wanted a war with Germany.

In September 1938 Hitler forces Czechoslovakia to give up the Sudetenland. Britain�s Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, agrees to Hitler�s demands. Chamberlain believed that if Hitler got what he wanted, Britain could avoid war with Germany.This was called appeasement.


In March 1939, Hitler invades the rest of Czechoslovakia. Hitler and Mussolini sign the Pact of Steel. In August 1939 Hitler and Stalin sign the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Hitler invades Poland. The Second World War begins.

Hitler, Aryan supremacy and lebensraum

Hitler wanted to make Germany self-sufficient � that is, the country should be able to produce its own food and raw materials so that it did not have to depend upon other countries. This policy was known as autarky. Hitler drew up a Four Year Plan in 1936 with the aim of making Germany sel-sufficient. More raw materials, such as coal, oil, iron and other metals were produced and synthetic raw materials, such as rubber, fuel and textiles were developed. The Four Year Plan was expensive and had not made Germany self-sufficient by 1939, over a third of raw materials were still having to be imported.

When it was obvious that Germany could not achieve self-sufficiency, the Nazis decided to take over or dominate countries with the raw materials and food it needed e.g. Norway � iron ore, Czechoslovakia � metals, Ukraine � wheat, Romania � oil. This was the policy of lebensraum (living space).

This economic �need� to attack other countries matched up conveniently with long held Nazi beliefs about German superiority. Hitler promised to look for lebensraum in Eastern Europe in Mein Kampf. He justified German aggression by claiming racial supremacy over the Slavs (slaves) and Jews. By taking control of Eastern European countries Hitler was expanding German power and prestige, gaining access to cheap or free raw materials, gaining territory for the Germans and gaining an opportunity to exterminate Slavs and Jews. Hitler�s 1941 attack on the USSR was also a product of the long term Nazi hatred of communism.

Rearmament 1934-1939

After the appalling casualties of the First World War a view developed that the most effective way to avoid war in the future would be to reduce weapons through a monitored system of world disarmament. But no country was willing to give up its arms if other countries were not going to follow suit. In fact, none of the Great Powers disarmed although they all agreed to it in principle.

As Germany was still militarily weak in 1933, Hitler had to move cautiously at first. He withdrew from the Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations on the grounds that France would not agree to German equality of armaments. Hitler insisted that Germany was willing to disarm if other states agreed to do the same, and that he wanted only peace.

Germany was forced to disarm by the Treaty of Versailles, but France did not disarm at the same time, and this caused tensions between the two countries. The Germans resented the French and feared military interference. For instance, France was able to simply walk unopposed into the Ruhr in 1923 to secure reparations payments.

The Saar 1935

The Saar was returned to Germany (January 1935) after a plebiscite resulting in a 90% vote in favour. Though the plebiscite had been provided for at Versailles, Nazi propaganda made the most of the success, and Hitler announced that now all causes of grievance between France and Germany had been removed.

The Rhineland 1936

Encouraged by Mussolini�s fall out with Britain and France, Hitler took the risk of sending troops into the demilitarised zone of the Rhineland in March 1936. Though the troops had orders to withdraw at the first sign of French opposition, no resistance was offered beyond the usual protests. This was a vital step in rebuilding German power. Strong fortifications and forces here would stop France coming to the help of her East European allies.

Why did Britain and France not intervene?

France and Britain did nothing to prevent the remilitarisation of the Rhineland. The French were nervous of going to war without Britain�s backing. Many British politicians felt that Hitler should be allowed to go "into his own back garden". The British public did not yet see Hitler as a threat, rather he seemed a strong potential ally against Bolshevik Russia.

The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939

The Spanish Civil War was a conflict between Right-wing/Fascist army rebels, lead by General Franco, against the Left wing Republican government, backed by armed workers' militias. What transformed the conflict was the European/international dimension: Franco looked to Fascist German and Italy for help; the Republicans to Britain, France, then Soviet Russia.

Hitler was quick to see the opportunity and respond. He provided aircraft and 6,000 German troops. So the Republican side in Spain was forced to appeal to Soviet Russia. Stalin agreed, sending to Spain hundreds of military advisers and equipment. The Moscow-based international Communist organisation the "Communist International" ("Comintern") put out an appeal to all countries to volunteer to fight on the Republican side in International Brigades. Stalin was anxious to deprive Fascism of an easy victory; such an outcome could only strengthen Nazi Germany, Russia's potential enemy.

The Spanish Civil War ended in a Fascist victory for General Franco in 1939. Hitler had supported Franco, most notably by the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica by the German Condor Legion.

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