Rearmament during the 1930's

  • Created by: Hannah
  • Created on: 23-05-15 09:57

Rearmament during the 1930's


  • In 1936, a Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence was appointed.
  • Chamberlain introduced an extensive four year rearmament programme.
  • In 1935, a defence White Paper concluded that 'Additional Expenditure on the armaments of these defence services could no longer be postponed.
  • Britain had to fight a variety of wars. Had to fight a colonial war, naval war in the Far East and a European war.
  • It was key for the Naval Strength to be built up as it would protect trade links in the Far East. Air strength was also key as building bombers were cheaper than building up an actual army. A better way of avoiding war as a major aerial bombing  threat would deter Hitler and Mussolini from risking war with Britain.
  • A more sensible route was to gradually expand the forces without spending large sums of money as the weapons could become outdated if there was no major threats.
  • The British Army was supplied with modern tanks and weapons. RAF gained modern airplanes. The goverment began to build additional manafacturing capacity which even though was privately owned, was subsidised by the government.
  • The Royal Navy had five new battleships of the King George V class which modernized the existing ships.
  • The increase in rearmament in 1938-1939 came from plans made in 1935. The increase in air production each month in 1938 increased from 240 to 660 in September 1939. British aircraft production exceeded Germany, but only because they were building Spitfires and Hurricanes which were a quarter of the coast of bombers. In September 1938, the only places which had radar was the Thames Estuary. A year after there had been 20 radar stations built from the Orkney's to the Isle of Wight.
  • Chamberlain believed in preparing for the worse.
  • In 1934, the British began to spend money on the RAF and the French continued with building up the Maginot Line, the great defence line on the border with Germany. British were still suspicious of French intentions so not prepared to support Anglo-French Staff Talks.
  • Annouced in JUly 1930 that over the next five years, they will be the building of 820 planes bringing the the strength of the RAF  to 1,304 front line planes. This helped speed up rearmament after the militarization of the Rhineland March 1936.
  • Four fold increase in the number of anti-aircraft guns.


  • Britain was still in short supply of skilled labours. Rearmament would take materials away which could be used in exports to drive the economy. This meant that exports earning would decline which means less revenue for rearmament and cause the economy to overheat. Prices would rise which would lead to strikes causing another slump in the economy so Britain unable to sustain another war. The viability of British economy was a real restraint on rearmament.
  • The Government was reluctant to arm to the stage that was needed for the amount of British threat because extra military spending would take away from other more popular programmes such as housing, health and education.
  • The increase in military spending would deplore the Labour who objected to every initiative on rearmament  until the introduction of conscription in 1939.
  • Didn't want to focus on building up the army just in case that Hitler did risk war so focused on more the Navy and the Air Force.
  • Up to 1/6 of the 1937 arms programme had to be met from imports so increase military spending risking a balance of payment crisis. This could undermine Britain's ability to continue importing for rearmament.
  • From 1936-1938, the British intelligence had been exaggerating the strength of Germany. After 1938, they began to give realistic assessment.
  • Chamberlain was told that Germany was facinh an economic crisis. Therefore they would not be able to sustain or wage a war. In a long war of attrition, Britain and France economic strength and the power of naval blockade would ensure victory.
  • The Minister of the Co-ordination of was Thomas Inskip, a lawyer with no previous experience of armed forces.
  • For the rearmament programme introduced in 1936, Chamberlain placed a tax on tea which was denouced as an attack on the working class living standards.
  • As late as November 1939, British Chiefs of Staff had refused ton conduct talks with the French and fear that France could not resist Germany. Some French politicians were prepared to accept the predominance in Eastern Europe. In February 1939, committed 32 divisions to France.
  • Conservatives had spent 116 million on defence from 1926-27. Labour 110 million 1930-1931 and the National Goverment 103 million in 1932-3. Not ready at the beginning of the 1930's.
  • Britain spent 350 million in armament from 1937-8 whereas Germany spent 1,600 million. At the end of 1938, Germany had 2,800 front line planes whereas Britain had fewer than 1,000.


Could Britain have begun rearming before 1936? Not Really. in 1931, the UK was on the verge of a European Crisis due to the failure of the Austrian and German banks. There was also over 20% of the British work force unemployed in 1932. Because of high unemployment, rearmament couldn't be considered as it would lead to strikes and civil unrest. On the other hand, in 1934, after the  removal of the Gold Standard, UK  able to increase it exports. Unemployment fell to 8% in 1936 and economic growth was greater than other European countries. However, had issues with various colonies. India was demanding independence and there was the Anglo-Irish trade war which meant that Britain lost a market in Ireland as well as having to deal with the political situation in Ireland which many British politicians believed was becoming a 'nuisance'. Analysis for 1935 and 1938 suggests that members of the British Commonwealth and Central Europe trade block were trading more with each other. Any act of aggression could see the trade decline. 


Pip Dan


Also worth remembering that whilst Britain was spending less on rearmament than Germany was this was far more sustainble. Germany was overspending and ultimately this contributed to thier defeat in WWII. Whilst Britain could maintain thier spending and avoid inflation which rapid rearmament would have caused