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ST.

GEORGE’S COLLEGE - Y9 -IGCSE HISTORY 1


UNIT 4 – THE COLLAPSE OF INTERNATIONAL PEACE: THE ROAD TO WWII

THE ROAD TO THE SECOND WORLD WAR


Until the 1960s, the most widely accepted view about the events that led to the
Second World War was the one that said the Hitler planned all his actions step by
step since he became Chancellor in 1933. In other words, the outbreak of WWII
was the result of foreign policy planned by Hitler to take over Europe.
In the 1960s, however, the British historian A.P. Taylor came up with a new
interpretation. His view was that Hitler was a gambler rather than a planner.
Hitler simply took the logical next step to see what he could get away with. He
was bold. He kept his nerve. As other countries gave into him and allowed him to
get away with each gamble, so he became bolder and risked more. In Taylor's
interpretation it is Britain, the Allies and the League of Nations who are to blame
for letting Hitler get away with it -by not standing up to him. As you examine
Hitler's actions in more detail, you will see that both interpretations are possible.
You can make up your own mind which you agree with.

A. HITLER'S FOREIGN POLICY

When Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, the


weaknesses of the League became even more obvious. His book Mein
Kampf had set out his beliefs about the foreign policy which he thought
Germany should follow. His aims were to unite all German-speakers in
one Greater German Empire (Reich), and to take land from east
European countries. These clearly went against the Treaty of Versailles
and would involve war. So he also said Germany should rearm. In order
to hide his ambitions, and to weaken France's connections to Poland,
he signed a Non-Aggression Pact with Poland in January 1934.

ABOLISH THE TREATY OF VERSAILLES! EXPAND GERMAN TERRITORY! DEFEAT COMMUNISM!

Like many Germans, Hitler The Treaty of Versailles A German empire


believed that the Treaty of had taken away territory carved out of the
Versailles was unjust. He hated from Germany. Hitler Soviet Union would
the Treaty and called the German wanted to get that also help Hitler in one
leaders who had signed it ‘The territory back. He wanted of his other objectives:
November Criminals’. The Treaty Germany to unite with the defeat of
was a constant reminder to Austria. He wanted Communism or Bolsh-
Germans of their defeat in the German minorities in evism. Hitler was anti-
First World War and their other countries –such as Communist. He
humiliation by the Allies. Hitler Czechos-lovakia- to rejoin believed that
promised that if he became leader Germany. But he also Bolsheviks had helped
of Germany he would reverse it. wanted to carve out an to bring about the
By the time he came to power in empire in eastern Europe defeat of Germany in
Germany, some of the terms had to give extra Lebensraum the First World War.
already been changed. For or ‘living space’ for He believed that the
example, Germany had stopped Germans. Bolsh-eviks wanted to
making reparations payments take over Germany
altogether. However, most points
were still in place.
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UNIT 4 – THE COLLAPSE OF INTERNATIONAL PEACE: THE ROAD TO WWII

FAILED TAKEOVER OF AUSTRIA, 1934 International Agreements: FOR &


AGAINST Hitler’s foreign policy

Once he was securely in power in With Germany walking out of the


Germany, Hitler began to put his ideas League of Nations, and beginning
her rearmament, the western
into practice. He had noted the failure of powers began to worry.
the League to prevent Japan’s conquest In April 1935, Britain, France and
of Manchuria. After taking Germany out Italy formed the STRESA FRONT to
of the Disarmament Conference and the prevent future aggression by
League in 1933, he turned his attention Germany. However, in July 1935,
Britain and Germany signed a
to Austria. secret ANGLO-GERMAN NAVAL
In July 1934, he encouraged AGREEMENT which allowed Hitler to
Austrian Nazis to cause trouble, and then build up the German navy beyond
tried to send in German troops. But this the restrictions set by Versailles.
was blocked by Britain, France and Italy. Britain had done this partly because
it disapproved of France which had
Although Mussolini was a Fascist and so just signed an agreement with the
shared many of Hitler’s political ideas, he Soviet Union. However, this
himself (Mussolini) wanted to take land Agreement (signed without
from Austria that had not been given to consulting France or Italy),
Italy after the war. He did not want a weakened the Stresa Front.
Although Mussolini had opposed his
strong Germany to control Austria, so he attempt to achieve Anschluss with
moved Italian troops up to the border. Austria in 1934, Hitler was
Hitler was forced to back down, as the determined to get Mussolini to
German army was not ready for a major make an alliance with Germany.
During the crisis of Abyssinia, he
war.
supported Italy. Before the crisis
In September 1934, the Soviet
Union's fears about the intentions of Germany and Japan finally led it
to join the League of Nations.

REARMAMENT 1933-1936

Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933. One of his first steps


was to increase Germany’s armed forces. Thousands of unemployed
workers were drafted into the army. This helped him to reduce
unemployment, which was one of the biggest problems he faced in
Germany. But it also helped him to deliver on his promise to make
Germany strong again and to challenge the terms of Treaty of
Versailles.
Hitler knew that German people supported rearmament. But he
also knew it would cause alarm in other countries. He handled it
cleverly. Rearmament began in secret at first. He made great public
display of his desire not to rearm Germany -that he was only doing it
because other countries refused to disarm. He then followed Japan’s
example and left the Disarmament Conference as well as the League
of Nations.
ST. GEORGE’S COLLEGE - Y9 -IGCSE HISTORY 3
UNIT 4 – THE COLLAPSE OF INTERNATIONAL PEACE: THE ROAD TO WWII

In January 1935, the Saar, which contained important coal mine


and iron deposits, voted to rejoin Germany. These extra resources
allowed Hitler to speed up German rearmament, and he also
reintroduced conscription.
THE SAAR PLEBISCITE That same year, 1935, Hitler
The Saar region of Germany had openly staged a massive military
been run by the League of rally celebrating the German armed
Nations since 1919. In 1935 the forces. In 1936 he even reintroduced
League of Nations held the
promised plebiscite for people conscription to the army. He was
to vote on whether their region breaking the terms of the Treaty of
should return to German rule. Versailles, but he guessed correctly
The vote was an overwhelming that he would get away with
success for Hitler. Around 90 rearmament. Many other countries
per cent of the population voted
to return to German rule. This were using rearmament as a way to
was entirely legal and within the fight unemployment. The collapse of
terms of the Treaty. It was also the League of Nations Disarmament
a real morale booster for Hitler. Conference in 1934 had shown that
other nations were not prepared to disarm.
Rearmament was a very popular move in Germany. It boosted
Nazi support. Hitler also knew that Britain had some sympathy with
Germany on this issue. Britain believed that the limits on Germany's
armed forces by the Treaty of Versailles were too tight. The permitted
forces were not enough to defend Germany from attack. Britain also
thought that a strong Germany would be a good buffer against
Communism. These reasons made Britain sign a naval agreement
with Germany (see page 2, International agreements).

REMILITARISATION OF THE RHINELAND, 1936

Hitler's actions became bolder after 1935 and the end of the
Stresa Front (see page 2, International agreements). In March 1936,
he took advantage of the League's problems over Abyssinia and
ordered German troops into the Rhineland.
According to the Treaty of Versailles, this was to be a
permanently de-militarised zone. This term had also been ratified by
Germany in the Locarno Treaties of 1925. This action was a big
gamble, as the German High Command told him the German army
could not deal with any military action Britain and France might take
(despite rearmament Germany’s army was no match for the French
army). If he had been forced to withdraw, he would have faced
humiliation and would have lost the support of the German army.
However, Hitler believed that previous crises showed they would
take no action. He even knew the risks, but he had chosen the time
and place well: France had just signed a treaty with the USSR to
protect each other against attack from Germany. Hitler used the
agreement to claim that Germany was under threat. He argued that in
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UNIT 4 – THE COLLAPSE OF INTERNATIONAL PEACE: THE ROAD TO WWII

the face of such a threat he should be allowed to place troops on his


own frontier.
In the end, Hitler's gamble had paid off. Many people in Britain,
and in the British government, believed that as it was German
territory, the German army had a right to be there. The League
condemned Hitler's action but had no power to do anything else. Even
the French, who were most directly threatened by the move, were
divided over what to do. They were about to hold an election and none
of the French leaders was prepared to take responsibility for plunging
France into a war.

THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR


THE ROME-BERLIN-
TOKYO AXIS
After his successful re-occupation of The military cooperation
the Rhineland, Hitler continued his efforts to during the Spanish Civil War
get an alliance with Mussolini. In July 1936, brought Germany and Italy
a civil war broke out in Spain between its closer together and, in
October 1936, they signed
elected Popular Front government – the Rome-Berlin Axis. In
supported by the Communists and November, Germany signed
Anarchists- and right-wing Nationalists an Anti-Comintern Pact
rebels backed by the army and under the with Japan. Anti-Comintern
command of General Francisco Franco. means ‘Anti-Communist
International’. The aim of
The following month, Hitler and the pact was to limit
Mussolini decided to help the Nationalists Communist influence around
with troops and weapons. Hitler, in the world. It was particularly
particular, saw this as a useful opportunity aimed at the USSR. Then
to test German military equipment in Italy joined this in October
1937, these three
action and to fight communism. He also aggressive countries were
introduced a Four-Year Plan designed to joined together in what was
get Germany ready for a major war by
1940.
In 1937, as the League of Nations looked on helplessly –and only
set up a Non-Intervention Committee that nobody took seriously-,
German aircraft made devastating bombing raids on civilian
populations in various Spanish cities. The destruction of the town of
Guernica was the most terrible evidence of what modern weapons
could do.

B. The Policy of Appeasement

Britain signed the naval agreement with Germany in 1935 (see


page 2, International agreements), and when the Rhineland was
remilitarized in 1936, the British government did nothing to stop it. For
the next three years, Britain followed a policy of giving Hitler what he
wanted -a policy that became known as APPEASEMENT. Neville
ST. GEORGE’S COLLEGE - Y9 -IGCSE HISTORY 5
UNIT 4 – THE COLLAPSE OF INTERNATIONAL PEACE: THE ROAD TO WWII

Chamberlain is the man most associated with this policy, although he


did not become Prime Minister until 1937. Many other British people,
including many politicians were also in favour of this policy.

Take a look at the diagram on the following page to learn more about
the reasons why the British and French followed the policy of
Appeasement.
ST. GEORGE’S COLLEGE - Y9 -IGCSE HISTORY 6
UAt
NIT least
4 – THE Hitler is OF INTERNATIONAL PEACE: THE ROAD TO WWII
COLLAPSE
standing up to We must not
Communism – Hitler The attitude of Britain’s repeat the horrors
was not the only Empire – It was not at all of the Great War –
concern of Britain and certain that British Empire Both British and
its allies. He was not and Commonwealth states French leaders vividly
even their main worry. (e.g. Canada) would support remembered the
They were more a war against Germany. horrific experiences
concerned about the of the First World
spread of Communism War. They wished to
and particularly about avoid another war
the dangers to world Britain is not
almost at ready for
any cost.
peace posed by Stalin, war – The British believed
the leader in the USSR. that the armed forces were
ManyUSA
The saw will
Hitler as the
not not ready for war against
buffer to the
support threat
us if we of Hitler.
spreading Communism. Hitler is right, the ToV Our own economic
stand up to Hitler – problems are a
American leaders were is unfair – Many felt that
the Treaty of Versailles higher priority –
determined not to be Britain and France
dragged into another was unfair to Germany.
They assumed that once were still suffering
war. Could Britain and from the effects of
her allies face up to these wrongs were put
right then Germany would the Depression. They
Germany without the had large debts and
guarantee of American become a peaceful nation
again. huge unemployment.
support?

WHAT WAS WRONG WITH APPEASEMENT?

Britain's leaders may have felt that they had no option but to
appease Hitler, but there were obvious risks to such a policy. Some of
these were stated at the time: both the cartoonist David Low and the
conservative politician Winston Churchill criticized harshly this policy.
Others became obvious with hindsight.
It encouraged It allowed Germany to
Hitler to be grow too strong – With
aggressive – With hindsight, you can see that
hindsight, you can Germany was not only
see that each gamble recovering lost ground: it
he got away with was also becoming much
It put too much
encouraged him to more powerful
It scared than Britain
the USSR – With
trust
take ain Hitler’s
bigger risk. and France.
hindsight, you can see how
promises – With the policy alarmed the USSR.
hindsight, you can Hitler made no secret of his
see that Hitler often plans to expand eastwards.
went back on his Appeasement sent the
promises. message to the Soviet Union
Appeasement was that Britain and France
based on the would not stand in Hitler’s
mistaken idea that way.
Hitler was
trustworthy.
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UNIT 4 – THE COLLAPSE OF INTERNATIONAL PEACE: THE ROAD TO WWII

ANSCHLUSS WITH AUSTRIA

Being encouraged by his previous foreign policy successes


(rearmament & Rhineland), Hitler turned his attention to his homeland,
Austria. The Austrian people were mainly German, and in Mein Kampf
Hitler had made it clear that he felt that the two states belonged
together as one German nation. Many in Austrians supported the idea
of union with Germany, since their country was so economically weak.
Hitler was confident that he could bring them together into a ‘greater
Germany’. In fact, he had tried to take over Austria in 1934, but on that
occasion Mussolini had stopped him. Four years later, in 1938, the
situation was different. Hitler and Mussolini were now allies.

In 1938, Hitler decided to move once again against Austria. As


before, the Austrian Nazi Party had been causing riots, calling for union
with Germany. In January 1938, the Austrian government discovered a
plot which was intended to force German intervention. In February,
Hitler ordered the Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg, to allow some
Austrian Nazis to join his government, arguing that in fact only
Anschluss could sort out the problems. Although Schuschnigg at first
agreed, in March 1938 announced plans for a referendum on whether
Austrians wanted to keep their independence or join with Germany,
taking into account that neither France nor Britain agreed to help him.
Hitler did not wait for the vote to take place, he could not take any
risks and lose the ballot. Instead, on 11 March he ordered the German
army to enter Austria. This time, his excuse was that the troops had
been sent to guarantee a trouble-free plebiscite. Under the watchful
eye of the Nazi troops, 99.75 per cent voted for Anschluss.
Once more, another term of the Treaty of Versailles was violated
and the union was completed without any military confrontation with
France and Britain. But the Treaty itself was seen as suspect and the
French and the British were not prepared to go to war to defend a
flawed treaty. In fact, Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, felt that
Austrians and Germans had a right to be united and that the Treaty of
Versailles was wrong to separate them. Britain's Lord Halifax had even
suggested to Hitler before the Anschluss that Britain would not resist
Germany uniting with Austria.
In the end, Hitler's risky but decisive action had reaped a rich
reward - Austria's soldiers, weapons and its rich deposits of gold and
iron ore were added to Germany's increasingly strong army and
industry.
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UNIT 4 – THE COLLAPSE OF INTERNATIONAL PEACE: THE ROAD TO WWII

ANNEXATION OF THE SUDETENLAND: THE MUNICH AGREEMENT

The possession of Austria made it easier THE LITTLE ENTENTE


for Hitler to move against his next target, In 1925, France had
Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia was the signed the Little
wealthiest of the ‘successor states’ and had a Entente with
Czechoslovakia and the
small but modern army. The Treaties which other successor states.
had been signed with Austria and Hungary in This promised French
1920 had given the new state of help if they were
Czechoslovakia an area known as attacked by Germany.
Sudetenland. This was previously part of the But in 1938, Daladier
became Prime Minister
Austro-Hungarian Empire, and now formed the of France, and he was
Czech border with Austria and Germany. It not keen to go to war
contained over 3 million German speakers. over Czechoslovakia.
There was even a pro-Nazi Sudeten German Britain had no treaty
Party led by Konrad Henlein, and financed by with Czechoslovakia
and Neville
Germany. In March 1938, Hitler told Henlein to Chamberlain, the
make impossible demands on the Czech British Prime Minister,
government and to create more trouble in the made it clear that they
area. would not send troops
By mid-September, Hitler had with the to defend it.
British Prime Minister, Chamberlain, trying to
agree on a plebiscite to show the will of the Sudeten people. However,
a few days after this agreement, Hitler increased his demands, wanting
all the Sudetenland. He justified himself claiming that the Czech
government was mistreating the Germans in the Sudetenland and that
he intended to ‘rescue’ them by 1 October.

Britain and France were determined to avoid war over


Czechoslovakia. Instead, they decided to continue with their policy of
appeasement. In September 1938, Chamberlain flew three times to
Germany in order to prevent Hitler resorting to the use of force. At the
Berchtesgaden and Bad Godesberg meetings, Hitler continued to
increase his demands. Finally, on 29 September, the Munich
Conference began between Germany, Italy, Britain and France.
Although it was to decide the fate of Czechoslovakia, the Czechs were
not invited. The Soviet Union, which had said it would defend
Czechoslovakia if Britain and France acted as well, was also excluded.
Britain and France quickly agreed that Germany should have the
Sudetenland, and the Czech government was informed that there
would be no help from Britain and France. On 1st October, German
troops occupied the Sudetenland, which contained the important Czech
armaments firm of Skoda, without having to fire a shot. Edward Beneš,
the leader of Czechoslovakia, resigned. But the rest of Europe breathed
a sigh of relief: war was avoided. Chamberlain received a hero’s
ST. GEORGE’S COLLEGE - Y9 -IGCSE HISTORY 9
UNIT 4 – THE COLLAPSE OF INTERNATIONAL PEACE: THE ROAD TO WWII

welcome back in Britain, when he return with the ‘piece of paper’ –the
agreement- signed by Hitler.

INVASION OF CZECHOSLOVAKIA ABOLISHING THE TOV: MEMEL, DANZIG AND


THE POLISH CORRIDOR
Although the British people After the invasion of Czechoslovakia,
welcomed the Munich Agreement, Hitler turned his attention to the
they did not trust Hitler. In an Lithuanian port of Memel which its
German inhabitants were demanding
opinion poll in October 1938, 93 be returned to Germany. And so he
per cent said they did not believe did as regards other territories lost in
him when he said he had no more the Treaty of Versailles: Germany
territorial ambitions in Europe. In began to request the return of Danzig
March 1939 they were proved (run by the League of Nations as an
International free City), and the
right. Hitler’s foreign policy now building of road and rail links across
concentrated on destroying the the Polish Corridor to East Prussia.
rest of Czechoslovakia. With the Once Czechoslovakia and Memel had
country in chaos (the Slovaks were been on, it became clear to most
bullied into declaring their people that Poland was Hitler's next
target. At the end of March 1939,
independence, while Poland and Britain and France made a significant
Hungary were encouraged to make policy change, and guaranteed to
their own territorial demands), on protect Polish independence. Hitler
15 March 1939, Nazi Germany was not convinced these would be
finally invaded Czechoslovakia. acted on. However, Britain soon
afterwards announced conscription
Though Daladier did put France on for all males aged 20-21, showing
a war footing, no action was taken
by Britain or France.

WAS APPEASEMENT THE RIGHT POLICY?

Chamberlain certainly believed in Appeasement. But when it


became obvious that he had no choice but to declare war in 1939 he
did. However, Appeasement was a
DID APPEASEMENT BUY TIME FOR controversial policy at the time. It is
REARMAMENT?' still controversial today. There are
In the 1960s British historian AJP two main views:
Taylor argued that Cham-berlain • It was the wrong policy
had an exaggerated view of
Germany's strength. Taylor because it encouraged Hitler.
believed that German forces were Chamberlain's critics say that it
only 45 per cent of what British simply encouraged Hitler's
intelligence reports said they were. gambling. They claim that if Britain
But Taylor was writing in 1965 - not or France had squared up to him at
much help to Chamberlain in the
1930s. Britain had run down its the start, he would have backed off.
forces in the peaceful years of the Peace would have been secured.
1920s. The government had talked
about rearmament since 1935 but
Britain only really started rearming
when Chamberlain became Prime
Minister in 1937. Chamberlain
certainly thought that Britain's
armed forces were not ready for
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UNIT 4 – THE COLLAPSE OF INTERNATIONAL PEACE: THE ROAD TO WWII

• It was the right policy because Britain was not ready for war.
Chamberlain’s defenders say it was the only policy available to him.
They say that to face up to Hitler Chamberlain had to be prepared to
take Britain into a war. All the evidence available to Chamberlain told
him that Britain was not ready (see page 5).
C. The Nazi-Soviet Pact

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE SOVIET UNION

Hitler had already set the date for the invasion of Poland, but
wanted a pact with the powerful Soviet Union to make sure it stayed
out of the fighting. He calculated that, without Soviet help, Britain and
France would not honour their pledges to protect Poland. The Soviet
Union had been offering Britain and France an anti-Nazi alliance for
some time, but Chamberlain had rejected the offers. In part, this was
because it might provoke Germany, and because Poland was opposed
to Soviet troops crossing its territory. However, by mid 1939, there was
strong public support in both Britain and France for such an alliance.
So Chamberlain, reluctantly, agreed to open negotiations but only at a
low-level: they sent a minor official who did not have authority to make
any decisions, and had to refer every question back to London. The
talks dragged on. The Russians asked if they could send troops into
Poland if Hitler invaded. The British refused.

The negative of agreement by the British government made


Stalin begin to see German requests for a non-aggression pact as an
attractive offer. So, when the negotiations with Britain seemed to stall,
discussions began between Molotov and Ribbentrop, the Soviet and
German Foreign Ministers. The discussions were on a pact supposed to
last for 10 years that included secret clauses for the splitting of
Poland and a Soviet takeover of the Baltic States.
Stalin knew Hitler was lying about, but he did not trust the British
either –the Munich Agreement had convinced him that Britain and
France would never dare to go to war with Hitler.
Stalin had two choices:
• if he made an alliance with Britain, he would end up fighting a war
with Hitler over Poland.
• if he made an alliance with Germany, he would get half of Poland,
and time to prepare for the coming war with Germany.

He chose the latter. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of Non-


Aggression was concluded on 23 August 1939.

THE INVASION OF POLAND AND THE OUTBREAK OF WORLD WAR TWO


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On 29 August, Hitler ‘offered’ Poland the choice of peaceful


dismemberment (by negotiation) or war. Poland refused, and, on 1
September, Germany invaded Poland. Two days later, on 3 September,
Britain and France declared War on Germany. This surprised Hitler.
Britain felt able to take this action as, since defense expenditure had
increased by over 400% within the last years. In fact, Chamberlain had
used the period of appeasement to step up rearmament, in case his
policy should fail. The Dominions had also decided to drop
appeasement and support a tough stand against German aggression.

D. One war, many causes: the long-term causes of WWII

During and immediately after the Second World War the cause of
the conflict seemed very simple: the war was caused by the aggression
of Hitler. More recently, historians have argued about the part played
by Hitler. Some of them have put more emphasis on other causes,
such as the policy of appeasement or Stalin’s decision in August 1939
(the Nazi-Soviet Pact).
But there also can be identified long-term causes, events that
contributed to the outbreak of WWII that can be traced quite a long
time before the late 1930s. These could be:

THE TREATY OF VERSAILLES: Most Germans disliked the terms of the Treaty
of Versailles. They were unhappy at the way land was taken from
Germany. It was this situation which encouraged Hitler’s aggressive
policy, and British & French appeasement.

THE FAILURES OF THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS: After the First World War people
hoped that the League of Nations would sort out arguments between
states. The League and its policy of collective security did not work
well. It was unable to stop aggression in Manchuria and Abyssinia.

THE WALL STREET CRASH AND THE GREAT DEPRESSION: The political results of
the Depression made the world a more dangerous place –there was an
increase in isolationism in USA; support for the Nazi Party in Germany;
a sense of weakness in France and Britain (a crisis of the democratic
governments as they were not capable of solving the economic
situation).