THE BIG QUESTIONWhy had international peace collapsed by 1939?
HEADLINE QUESTIONSWhat were the long-term consequences of the peace treaties of 1919–1923?What were the consequences of the failures of the League in the 1930s?How far was Hitler’s foreign policy to blame for the outbreak of war in 1939?Was the policy of appeasement justified?How important was the Nazi-Soviet Pact?Why did Britain and France declare war on Germany in September 1939?

CONTENT THAT YOU NEED TO KNOWThe collapse of international order in the 1930s;The increasing militarism of Germany, Italy and Japan;Hitler’s foreign policy up to 1939;The Saar, remilitarisation of the Rhineland, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland;The Nazi-Soviet Pact;Appeasement and the outbreak of war in September 1939.
divide 4.JPG

Why had international peace collapsed by 1939?
What were the long-term consequences of the peace treaties of 1919-1923?
  • Germans resented the loss of territory and the demilitarisation of the Rhineland.
  • Extremists, like Hitler, were able to play on people's fears and humiliation.
  • It created weak coalition governments in the Weimar Republic, which were unable to cope with the Depression.
  • It created a feeling that Germany had been treated too harshly, leading to appeasement.
  • Japan resented the failure to gain land in Manchuria.
  • Italy was denied the territory promised in the secret Treaty of London.
  • Both Japan and Italy retaliated by seizing land in 1931 and 1935.

What were the consequences of the failures of the League in the 1930s?
  • The failure of the League to act in 1931 and 1935 led to the creation of the Axis.
  • The dictators of Germany, Italy and Japan gradually formed an alliance that the League was unable to act against.

How far was Hitler’s foreign policy to blame for the outbreak of war in 1939?
  • In 1933, Adolf Hitler ordered the German delegates to walk out of a Disarmament Conference organised by the League of Nations.
  • He stated that Germany was prepared to disarm if other nations did so as well. He then left the League immediately afterwards.
  • In January 1935, the people of the Saar, an area that had been administered by the League of Nations since 1920, voted by 477,000 to 48,000 to rejoin Germany.
  • This was a massive propaganda victory for Hitler and a reversal of the Treaty of Versailles.


  • In 1935, Hitler began rearmament. Conscription was reintroduced and the army, navy and airforce were all built up.
  • All members of the German armed forces had to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler personally.

The Anglo-German Naval Treaty
  • This was an agreement that allowed Germany to build a navy up to 35% the size of Britain's.
  • This broke the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and encouraged Hitler to go even further.

The Rhineland
  • The Rhineland had been demilitarised under the Treaty of Versailles. The Allies were to occupy the area for fifteen years, or for longer if necessary.
  • Allied troops were withdrawn from the Rhineland in 1935. The following year, Hitler reoccupied it.
  • On 7 March 1936, Germany denounced the Locarno Pacts and reoccupied the Rhineland. The crisis over the Italian invasion of Abyssinia influenced Britain not to interfere.
  • Hitler later commented:
'The forty-eight hours after the march into the Rhineland were the most nerve-racking of my life. If the French had opposed us we would have had to withdraw. Our forces were not strong enough even to put up a moderate resistance.’
  • The reoccupation of the Rhineland convinced Hitler that Britain and France were unlikely to act against further aggression
  • Britain and France were concentrating on the Italian invasion of Abyssinia.
  • Britain refused to act; one politician said that it was only Hitler going into his own backyard.

Why was Hitler able to get away with the reoccupation of the Rhineland?

The Anschluss

  • Anschluss meant the union of Germany and Austria, which had been specifically banned by the Treaty of Versailles.

Why did Hitler want to unite Germany and Austria?
  • Hitler had been born in the town of Braunau-am-Inn in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was not technically a German citizen, even though he had lived in Germany since 1913.
  • Hitler wanted to destroy the Treaty of Versailles, which he regarded as a humiliation for Germany. This would be one way of achieving his aim.
  • Hitler wanted to create a Greater Germany, which would include all German-speaking peoples. Austria was an obvious step.

The first attempt at Anschluss took place in July 1934
  • After Hitler became chancellor there was increasing Nazi agitation in Austria, until the Nazi Party was dissolved in June.
  • In February 1934, the chancellor of Austria, Engelbert Dollfuss, ordered attacks on the Austrian Socialist Party, which was then dissolved.
  • From April 1934 Dollfuss began to rule as a dictator.
  • On 25 July Nazis entered the radio station in Vienna and forced the staff to announce that Dollfuss had resigned. They then entered the chancellery and shot and killed Dollfuss.
  • The murderers were quickly arrested by the Austrian armed forces, and Italy and Yugoslavia moved forces to the Austrian border to prevent German intervention.
  • Between 1934 and 1938 relations between Austria and Germany deteriorated. In 1937, Mussolini also informed the new Austrian chancellor, Kurt Schussnigg, that Italy would not help Austria in the future.

A second crisis over Anschluss developed in 1938
  • February 12 - Schussnigg met Hitler and agreed to appoint some Nazi ministers to the Austrian Cabinet. Arthur Seyss-Inquart became Minister for the Interior.
  • March 1 - Unrest broke out in parts of Austria caused by Nazis. Soon the whole country was in chaos.
  • March 11 - Hitler sent an ultimatum demanding the resignation of Schussnigg. German troops were massed on the border. Schussnigg gave in and Seyss-Inquart became chancellor.
  • March 13 - Austria and Germany were united.
  • April 10 - A Plebiscite was held which gave a 99.75 % majority in favour of Anschluss. Austria was immediately incorporated into the German Reich.
    • The speed at which these events took place made reactions by Britain and France difficult.
    • The two countries protested, but did little more, especially as Mussolini refused to join in the protests or any possible actions.
    • The Anschluss meant that Germany now surrounded Czechoslovakia on three sides.

Czechoslovakia 1938

  • On September 12 1938 Hitler demanded self-government for the German speaking Czechs in the Sudetenland.
  • The British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, had been expecting Hitler to try to seize the Sudetenland for some time.
  • He had already decided that, as soon as it happened, he would go to meet Hitler face to face and settle the matter. Chamberlain called this Plan Z.
  • On September 15 Neville Chamberlain flew to meet Hitler at Berchtesgaden and agreed to his demands.
  • He returned to Britain and persuaded Edouard Daladier the French prime minister of the need to support him.
  • The Czech government was informed of Chamberlain's decision, but was not invited to the discussions.
  • On 22 September Chamberlain returned to meet Hitler at Bad Godesberg. But Hitler now had new demands.
  • Hitler told Chamberlain that the Sudetenland must be handed over to Germany immediately and that Polish and Hungarian claims for Czech territory must also be met.
  • Chamberlain returned to London. He believed that war was inevitable. Evacuation began in London and 1,000,000 volunteers were called for by the government.
  • But at the last moment war was avoided, the Italian dictator Mussolini suggested a four power conference.
  • The four powers, Germany, Italy, Britain and France, met at Munich on 28 September 1938.
  • They agreed to let Hitler have the Sudetenland. Hitler and Chamberlain signed an agreement that Britain and Germany would never go to war again. This was Appeasement.

divide 4.JPG

Was the policy of appeasement justified?

  • Appeasement was the belief that the Dictators could be pacified if their demands were met.
  • With the benefit of hindsight, Appeasement was a serious mistake. It failed completely, and, in fact, merely encouraged the Dictators to make even more demands.

Changing Attitudes towards Hitler
  • With hindsight it is obvious that Hitler was very dangerous indeed, but in the 1930s some people saw things differently.
  • There was a strong view that the Treaty of Versailles had been too harsh and that, therefore, it was not unreasonable to allow Hitler to break some of the terms.
  • Britain had already allowed Germany to build more warships because the reduction of the German forces in 1919 was thought to be too severe.
  • Hitler was also admired by some people for the way that he had rebuilt Germany after 1933.
  • Unemployment was cut from 6,000,000 to 500,000 and industrial production rose dramatically. This was in comparison to events in Britain where the government seemed to be doing very little.
  • Until the late 1930s the worst aspects of the Nazi rule were not made public.
  • The Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936 were used as giant propaganda exercise.
  • Visits to Germany were organised for groups of ex-servicemen from Britain where they were introduced to Hitler. He explained how reasonable his demands were.

Fears of War
  • In the 1930s more and more attention was paid to what future war would be like. People became more and more convinced that bombing would be highly dangerous.
  • Added to this was the fear of poison gas, which had been used for the first time during the First World War.
  • Bombers, high explosive and poison gas meant that the war would affect people in Britain far more than ever before.

  • Many people saw the RAF as Britain’s main defence and by the mid-1930s the RAF had few modern planes.
  • This was seen by many people as a strong argument for avoiding war at all costs. Britain needed time to build up her defences against Germany.

Memories of the First World War
  • Probably the most important reasons for Appeasement were the British people’s memories of the Great War, as it was known until the Second World War.
  • What had made these memories all the more vivid was the fact that in 1914 the war had been greeted with great enthusiasm.
  • By 1918, however, there were very few people who did not view the war with horror.
  • French governments were more inclined to oppose Hitler in 1936-38, but were afraid to do so without support from Britain.
  • France was dominated by the Popular Front, a left wing coalition, until 1938. This supported the policy of non-aggression.
  • Most French governments were coalitions, which made firm action difficult.

Why did French governments support Appeasement?

divide 4.JPG

Events in 1939

In March 1939, Hitler occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia. This was a clear violation of the Munich Agreement and showed that Hitler was not just aiming to unite all German speakers in a Greater Germany.
April 1939 Britain made defensive alliances with Romania and Poland. These meant that if either country was attacked Britain would go to war to defend them
June –
August 1939 France, Britain and the Soviet Union discussed an alliance against Hitler.
August 1939 Germany and the USSR signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

How important was the Nazi-Soviet Pact?
  • On the face of it the Nazi-Soviet Pact was a simple non-aggression pact between the two countries. They both agreed not to attack the other.
  • But the Hitler and Stalin had been bitter enemies and the agreement astounded politicians throughout Europe. It was clearly the prelude to something dramatic.
  • In fact there were a number of secret clauses that were not public. The Soviet Union agreed not to interfere when Germany attacked Poland and also would allow Hitler a free hand in Western Europe.
  • In return, Germany would allow the Soviet Union to occupy eastern Poland and would not interfere if Stalin occupied the Baltic States and Finland.
  • It was, therefore, a cold-blooded and calculated agreement to interfere in the lives of helpless and innocent people.

25 August 1939 Britain responded by signing a formal alliance with Poland.

1 September 1939 Germany invaded Poland.

2 September 1939 The British Government sent an ultimatum to Germany demanding that all forces should be withdrawn from Poland or war would be declared. This was ignored.

3 September 1939 Britain declared war on Germany.