Why did the Czechoslovakia issue arise?
- Only half of Czechoslovakia 15 million population was Czech. Over two million of the population was Slovaks, 750,000 Hungarian, 500,000 Ruthenians and 100,000 Poles. The largest ethnic group was the 3.25 million Germans.
- Most of the Germans occupied the Sudentenland and by 1938, many Sudenten Germans were demanding greater Home Rule or preferably a union with Germany. The Nazi's pressed encouraged the Sudenten Germans and launched bitter attacks on the Czech government.
- Benes refused the Sudenten Germans demand. If all the ethnics groups were given self determination, then they wouldn't be a Czech state left. Therefore Benes was determined to stand firm against Hitler.
Build up to the Czechoslovakia crisis
March 1938: Chamberlain annouced to the Commons that Britain's vital interest was not to become involved in Czechoslovakai as Britain had no alliance with them and had no military aid to give them. On the 28th March 1938, Chiefs of Staff reported to the Cabinet that there was no way that Britian could help Czechoslovakia. However, Chamberlain believed that Czechoslovakia was an aritifical creation and had sympathy for the Sudenten Germans. Chamberlain believed that the Sudentenland could be returned to Germany through negitiation rather than war. Surprisingly, Hitler didn't have any imminent plans for Czechoslovakia.
May 1938: 'May Crisis'- After false reports of German troop movement, the Czech army began to mobolise. Britain and France warned Hitler of making a move against Czechoslovakia. Hitler was outraged at the Czech mobilisation and the fact that the West had won a diplomatic victory which persuaded him towards a military confrontation with Czechoslovakia.
June 1938: German pressed launched a campaign against Czechoslovakia, claiming that the Sudenten Germans were being prosecuted. Daladier and Bonnet, in the midst of economic and political crisis, who more than happy for Britain to undertake the iniative as it meant that Britain was commiting itself to Eastern Europe and meant that France was able to wiggle out of its commitment with Czechoslovakia.
Build up to the Czechoslovakia crisis (Continuatio
June 1938: Runciman Mission was conducted until September. Britain proposed that a neutral mediator should be sent to try and reduce the crisis. Czechoslovakia accepted and Lord Runciman led the mission in August, a veteran Liberal politician travelled to Czechoslovakia and met with the various parties. Neither the Czechs nor the Sudenten Germans were willing to compromise and the mission achieved very little.
September 1938: Britain intelligent reported that Germany was planning a war on Czechoslovakia in early autumn. Britain was divided. Some, like Churchill believed in supporting Czechoslovakia. Many, like Chamberlain, favoured the idea of self determination for the Sudenten Germans and thought that war should be averted at all cost. Additionaly, the Dominions were hostile about the idea of going to war over Czechoslovkia. Chamberlain realised the problem of taking a divided country into war and empire into war. Hitler stepped up the pressure as he knew that Czechoslovakia wouldn't cede Sudetenland without German pressure. At the Nuremberg rallies, Hitler criticized the Czech government, demanded self determination for the Sudenten Germans and said that they wouldn't be defenceless nor adandon. As a result, martial law was declared in Czechoslovakia. Several Germans were killed and thousands fled to German with tales of brutal oppression.
- This was Chamberlain plan to fly to Germany to meet Hitler and ask what his demands really were. However this act would commit Britain to dealing with the Czech settlement.
- It was recived enthusiatically in the Commons and many Labour MP's believed to be it was stateman's like gesture.
- Chamberlain wrote a brief letter to Hitler and Hitler accepted.
- Hitler may have been flattered or uneasy at the course of the events as no one knew what would happen if war did occur.
Meeting at Berchtesgarden (15th September 1938)
- Chamberlian accepted Hitler's demand that any area within Czechoslovakia comprised with over 50% of Germans would be incorporated into Germany.
- In return, Hitler promised to not attack Czechoslovakia until Chamberlain had consulted with France and the Czech.
- Hitler assumed that the Czechs would never cede the Sudenten land and Britain would wash their hands of the situation which delighted Hitler.
- The Cabinet and the French were won over easily.
- The Czechoslovakia was angry at the situation, but without the backing of Britain and France, they had to accept the loss of the Sudentenland.
- However, Chamberlain did agree to a guarantee of what remained of Czechoslovakia in the event of it being threatened in the future by Germnay.
Meeting at Bad Godesberg (22nd September 1938)
- When Chamberlain met with Hitler again, he had new demands as he belived the ones before were insufficent. Hitlers hadn't anticipated that the Czechoslovakia would have given in so easily.
- He wanted the claims of Hungary and Poland to be dealt with. Wanted to protect the Sudenten Germans so demanded the right to occupy the Sudentenland by no later than the 1st October 1938.
- Chamberlain was still in favour of accepting the terms, but the Cabinet didn't. France didn't want to give in to Hitler and wanted to honour their commitment. Czechs found it unacceptable. Chamberlain sent an personal envoy, Horace Wilson to speak to Hitler, but it failed.
- Both Britian and France began to mobilise. Trenches were built in London Park as air raid precautions and 38 million gas masks were distributed as the threat of war became imminent.
- 27th September 1938- British ambassador asked Mussolini to persuade Hitler to a conference. Mussolinin agreed, but he wasn't sure whether it would be effective. However, Hitler accepted Mussolinin idea of a conference between Britian, France, Germany and Italy to be held at Munich to deal with the Sudenten Question.
Munich Conference (29th-30th September 1938)
- Terms: The Sudenten Germans would be given self-determination. Germans would occupy the Sudentenland in five stages over 10 days rather than one day. The precise border of the new Czech state would be determined by Britain, France, Germany and Italy. Before returning to London, Hitler and Chamberlain signed a joint decleration.
Things to Consider:
- Benes, the Czech Prime Minister, wasn't invited to the meeting.
- A joint decleration between Hitler and Chamberlain,
- When the Munich Conference was annouced in the Commons, speeches of congratulations and everyone wanted to shake Chamberlain hand. Attlee and Sinclair blessed Chamberlains mission of the prospect of imminent war had been avoided and Hitler had backdown.
- Only Gallagher, the single Communist MP spoke against Chamberlain going to Munich.
Aftermath of the Munich Conference
Criticism of Chamberlain
- Chamberlain was not convicned that Munich was going to preserve peace and knew Hitler would not be content with the gains he had made. However, he was confident he could deal with the difficult decisions which laid ahead and continued to work for peace.
- Churchill described it as a 'total and unmitigated disaster'/
- Labour MP's criticised Chamberlain from not getting better terms.
- Some Conservative were uneasy by the fact that Hitlers bullying tactic had worked. Duff Cooper, the First Lord of Admirality resigned and 30 Conservative MP's abstained rather than support the motion by which the Commons approved of the policy.
- Daily worker, Reynold News, Manchester Guardian and Daily Herald were critical. Chamberlain suffered no run of by-election disasters in 1938 as war had been adverted and peace preserved.
Aftermath of the Munich Conference
Improved relations with Germany
- Britain still held onto the prospect of a return of some of the German colonies. There were Anglo-German talks on industry, finance and tradelinks. Britain welcomes and encouraged improvement in relations between Germany and France.
- However Hitler made a number of Anti-British responses. German press made attacks on Britain. From the 9th-10th November, after a Jew killed a German diplomat in Paris, the night of Kristallnacht occured where Jewish shops and businesses were attacked throughout Germany. This appalled the British public.
Improved relations with Mussolini
- In November, Chamberlain proposed an Anglo-Italian agreement which was accepted by the Commons.
- Jan 1939, Chamberlain and Halifax met Mussolini. Chamberlain was pleased by the reception he recieved by the Italian crowd and representing a good chance of detaching Mussolini from Hitler.
Success of Munich Conference
- War had been avoided.
- From the position of military weakness, Britain had achieved its aim. Britain had no air defences and little radar.
- Germany had legitimate grievances to deal with.
- Public Opinion. Chamberlain 'Peace in Our Time'. Roosevelt 'Good Man'.
- Chamberlain felt confident that he could handle what laid ahead.
- British dominions would not go to war over Czechoslovakia.
- Hitler had to back down and not go to war. He was annoyed that he didn't get his military triumph. He was confident that he could have beaten Czechoslovakia and regretted negiotiating at Munich.
- British public was far from united in the determination to fight.
- Czech army was weak and defenceless. The German and the Slovaks were more likely to fight against the Czechs rather than with. Most of the defences were with in the Sudentenland, but were not complete. Germany could have overrun them in 10 days and French at the Magniot Line couldn't help.
- Russia may have not been able to help. Romania and Poland didn't want Soveit troops on their territory so hard to get direct help to Czechoslovakia.
Failure of the Munich Conference
- Labour MP's criticised him from not getting better terms.
- Sacrificed Czechoslovakia which was a friend.
- Allowed Hitler's bullying tactic to work.
- Czechoslovakia was now indefensible and lost 70% of its heavy industry.
- Churchill believed it was better to go to war in 1938 rather than in 1939 as Germany was less powerful as they lacked ammunition and fuel. Luftwaffe not strong enough to do air attacks. The French still had the largest army in Europe and was still well equipped.
- Many German diplomats and generals were worried at the prosect of war.
- Slovakia was now demanding their own independence.