Hitler announced the formation of a German air force and required military service. In 1936, he sent troops into the Rhineland, a German region on the border with France. Hitler’s generals warn him of Germany’s military unpreparedness in the event of a military reaction from the West. These actions all challenged the Treaty of Versailles
The League of Nations lodged a formal protest against these actions but refused to consider sanctions against Germany. Neither France nor Britain responds to these acts of aggression. In fact one British official leaves Hitler with the impression that the British government is sympathetic to Germany’s situation and desire to expand.
The Italian Army, under Mussolini, invaded Ethiopia. The Ethiopian forces could not stop the invasion, and Italy annexed the country in 1936. Hitler and Mussolini soon formed a treaty of friendship known as the Rome-Berlin axis.
Ethiopia appealed to the League of Nations for help. The League voted to impose economic sanctions against Italy, including an oil embargo. The United States was asked to join the oil embargo, but Roosevelt refused to do so.
1936 Axis Alliance is Formed
Mussolini observes Hitler’s growing strength, and decides a military alliance with Germany would be beneficial for Italy. In October the two countries sign a formal agreement. One month later Hitler invites Japan to join the alliance as well. The alliance is formally known as the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Alliance.
Great Britain and France still suffering from the prolonged economic crisis of the 1930s and weakened by domestic conflicts, remained passive in the face of this threat, seeking to avert armed conflict by a policy of appeasement.
1936 – 1939 Spanish Civil War
Italy and Germany backed a military rebellion in Spain led by General Francisco Franco. They provided the Nationalists with supplies, weapons, and troops. The Nationalists eventually overthrew Spain’s democratic republic and set up a dictatorship.
Although some volunteers, including 3,000 Americans, fought against the Nationalists, only the Soviet Union officially helped. The U.S. Congress passed the Neutrality Acts in 1936 and 1937, which kept the U.S. out of the conflict.
Hitler pressured the Austrian government to join with Germany. In March, Hitler’s army crossed the border without opposition. Hitler declared a political union, or anschluss, between the two countries.
Britain and France were passive spectators as Germany expanded into Austria. The USSR requested a conference with Britain and France to discuss a possible alliance against Germany – Britain and France refuse.
Hitler wants to annex the Sudetenland, the western region of Czechoslovakia. He claimed that it belonged to Germany since there were about 3 million German-speaking people living there. Both France and Britain had promised to protect Czechoslovakia.
Hitler invites France and Britain to Munich to discuss the situation. The three countries agree that Hitler can annex the Sudetenland, as long as that is the last location he seizes. Hitler promises that this will be his last territorial demand.
Britain and France were angered over Hitler’s breaking of the Munich Pact, and declared that any further attacks by Germany on small states would trigger war. Specifically, Britain and France agree to come to the aid of Poland, if it is attacked. However, they do NOT come to Czechoslovakia’s aid. Hitler arrives at the conclusion that Britain and France will not actually help out Poland, since they have not stopped previous acts of aggression.
Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact is Signed
Realizing that the Western nations will not forma defensive alliance with them against Germany, the USSR decides to sign a non-aggression pact. This states that they will not invade each when war breaks out & that they will conquer and divide Poland between them.
With its alliances formed, Germany feels confident that they can quickly invade and take over Poland without interference from the West. So on September 1st, 1939 Hitler attacks Poland. World War II officially begins.