Hitler's Foreign Policy

  • Created by: Vader26
  • Created on: 19-03-22 16:50


Foreign policy was vital to Hitler's rise to power and maintaining it. His desire to unite all German speaking people into a great union struck a cord with all of Germany

From the beginning of his Chancellorship in 1933, his actions made clear to the majority of powers that he would present a challenge to the peace settlement of 1919

At all times, he presented reasonable grounds for his actions, and on occasion took gambles such as the remilitarisation of the Rhineland in 1936. This approach seemed successful until the Danzig Corridor crisis in 1939


Much of Hitler's popularity was based on his promise to 'make Germany great again' and rid Germany of the hated Treaty of Versailles

He had only a few foreign policy aims (most of which revolved around the Treaty) which were outlined in Mein Kampf:

Lebensraum, eliminate the Treaty, Volksgemeinschaft, anti-Communism, Anschluss

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Beneficial circumstances

Hitler had a head-start on his foreign policy aims:

  • International ignorance - Diplomatically, Hitler faced a favourable situation at the beginning of his Chancellorship. The world was just emerging from the depression and countries were more concerned with internal problems than problems abroad
  • Weak league - At this time, the League of Nations was seen as weak after its failure to stop Japanese aggression in Manchuria. Importantly, Hitler saw how slow the League was to react and how Japan dealt with criticism from the League. In spite of condemnation by the League of Nations, Japan simply left the organisation, showing the League's powerlessness
  • Overshadowing - Furthermore, Hitler saw that Britain and France, in addition to their economic problems, viewed Italy as the greatest problem for peace and stability since the fascist leader Benito Mussolini continually spoke of recreating a large empire like the Romans
  • Sympathy - Moreover, Hitler knew that in Britain, many people and politicians still felt that the Treaty of Versailles had been too harsh on Germany. He therefore expected not to face much opposition if he attempted to destroy it
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Disarmament Conference 1932-33

In 1932, 60 nations met to discuss ways in which their countries could disarm to reduce the chance of war. However, the Conference failed to achieve anything, mainly because of disagreements between Germany and France:

  • Germany insisted every country disarm to the lowest level - in other words, reduce their armed forces to match Germany's treatment under the Treaty
  • The French, concerned about the growth of German power, refused to co-operate
  • Hitler withdrew from the conference, placing himself in a stronger position to rearm on the grounds of equality with other nations

During 1933, Hitler announced that the German peacetime army would eventually be 300,000. He would set up a new Air Ministry to train pilots and build 1000 aircraft. While in direct contravention of the Treaty of Versailles, nothing was done to stop him

Hitler then showed his contempt for the League of Nations by withdrawing Germany's membership in October 1933

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Non-aggression Pact with Poland 1934

By making a non-aggression pact with Poland in January 1934, Hitler showed he had peaceful intentions with Europe. He promised to accept the borders of Poland (despite some German territory having been given away in the Treaty) and encouraged trade between the two countries

The Pact was set to last for 10 years and brought Hitler some distinct benefits:

  • no longer had to fear an attack from Poland
  • created a split between Britain and France; France had a treaty with Poland which covered economic agreements and the aim of following a common foreign policy. France felt that Hitler had compromised the treaty, while Britain saw it as an act of peace
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Attempted Anschluss 1934

In 1934, Hitler suffered a setback on one of his aims: the Anschluss with Austria

Hitler had been born in Braunau-am Inn in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire and therefore saw union with Austria as a natural part of his foreign policy

On coming to power in Germany, he encourage the Austrian Nazi Party to agitate for the Anschluss. Their Chancellor, Dollfuss, determined to keep Austria independent, banned the Nazis

However, the Nazis struck back

In July, they attacked the radio station in Vienna, forcing the staff to broadcast that Dollfuss had resigned before assassinating him.

Their bid for power failed due to a lack of support from Hitler who feared Mussolini. The Italian dictator regarded himself as the guardian of Austria and did not favour a strong Germany on the border with Italy. He moved 100,000 troops to the Austrian frontier to prevent a German takeover, and Hitler was forced to deny any involvement

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Return of the Saarland 1935

Following the terms of the ToV, a plebiscite was held in the Saarland on 13th January 1935

The Saar, which had been administered by the League of Nations since 1920, voted 477,000 to 48,000 to rejoin Germany

The plebiscite was conducted by the League of Nations in an open and democratic fashion. On the 1st March, the Saar became part of Germany once again

This result was pleasing for Hitler because it showed there to be support for his ideas of bringing all Germans into one nation, and gave him encouragement to follow his other foreign policy aims

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Rearmament and conscription

In March 1935 Hitler felt confident enough to announce he was renouncing the terms of the Treaty dealing with disarmament. Conscription was reintroduced and the army, navy and airforce were all built up openly. The Wehrmacht (army) was to have aroun 550,000 members

Hitler stated that he was building his forces because the two major powers surrounding Germany (France and the Soviet Union) were also building theirs. His actions were therefore determined 'self-defence'

Rearmament and conscription made Hitler popular within Germany - jobs were created and people could see Germany as a strong nation once again

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Stresa Front April 1935

German rearmament alarmed Europe, especially France

In a move to restrict rearmament, France, Italy and Britain met in Italy

They formally protested Hitler's plans to reintroduce conscription and agreed to co-operate amongst themselves to maintain peace in Europe

This show of unity, called the Stresa Front, was short lived:

  • Anglo-German Naval Treaty, June 1935 - Germany was allowed to build up a fleet to 35% of the size of Britain's and have the same number of submarines. Britain accepted Hitler's breach of the Treaty of Versailles and therefore broke the Stresa Front. To some oberservers, it seemed that Britain was condoning Germany's rearmament. It did serve to encourage Hitler to further his attempts to reverse the Treaty of Versailles
  • Italian invasion of Abyssinia, October 1935 - The invasion finally destroyed all co-operation between France, Italy and Britain. Following the Rome-Berlin Axis, Mussolini's friendship with Hitler also became closer
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Rhineland 1936

The Rhineland was demilitarised under the Treaty of Versailles. The Allies were to occupy the area for 15 years, or for longer if necessary

Allied troops withdrew from the Rhineland in 1935, and in March 1936 Hitler reoccupied it

This was a gamble for Hitler, although he was convinced neither Britain nor France, who were both pre-occupied with the Abyssinian crisis, would challenge his actions. Hitler had in fact comitted virtually his entire trained military force to the re-occupation and the commanders carried sealed orders to retreat if they were opposed in any way

His gamble succeeded. The re-occupation convined Hitler that Britain and France were unlikely to act against further aggression


The success improved Hitler's popularity, with 98.8% (of 99% electorate) voting for the Rhineland

It also had an impact on international relations. The threat made it difficult to deal with Abyssinia and they feared direct action would draw Mussolini closer to Hitler

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Alliances 1936-39

After his successes in 1935 and 1936, Hitler further strengthened Germany's position by making a series of alliances with Italy and Japan:

  • Rome-Berlin Axis - October 1936 - Italy + Germany
  • Anti-Comintern Pact - November 1936 - Japan + Italy ( + Mussolini in Nov 1937)

And later (also with Russia):

  • Pact of Steel - May 1939 - Italy + Germany (full military alliance) 
  • Nazi-Soviet Pact - August 1939 - Russia + Germany (aka. Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact)
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Rome-Berlin Axis October 1936

Italy and Germany signed what became known as the Rome-Berlin Axis in which they agreed to work together on matters of mutual interest

Mussolini was keen on closer relations with Germany after the Anglo-French opposition to the invasion of Abyssinia

The Axis was an agreement to follow a common foreign policy and stop the spread of communism in Europe

The name of the treaty suggested the affairs in Europe revolved around Italy and Germany (axis)

The Axis was strengthened by visits by Hitler and Mussolini in 1937 and 1938

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Anti-Comintern Pact 1936

In November 1936, Hitler signed a treaty with Japan, known as the Anti-Comintern Pact

Comintern means "Communist International", an organisation set up in Russia in 1919 to support the spread of communism

A year later, in November 1937, Mussolini joined the Pact

The main aim was to limit communist influence around the world, especially from the Soviet Union

However, it also provided scope for closer relations between Germany, Japan and Italy and encouraged further Japanese expansion into China

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(Successful) Anschluss 1938

After the failure of 1934, in March 1938 Hitler achieved one his aims: Anschluss with Austria

Hitler's self-confidence grew considerably after his success in the Rhineland. On 5th Nov 1937, he met his military chiefs in Berlin. This meeting lasted 3 hours and Hitler covered foreign policy. His military Colonel Hossbach, wrote up the minutes of the meeting 5 days later from notes and memory, later becoming known as the Hossbach Memorandum

War seemed firmly on the agenda

Hitler turned to expansion eastward. He was in a much stronger position:

  • He had built up the German armed forces after his success in the Rhineland
  • Mussolini, who opposed the attempt of 1934, was now an ally
  • As far as Hitler was concerned, Anschluss was justified under Woodrow Wilson's principle of 'self-determination' (people of the same language should be in one country). 96% of Austria was Germany . Hitler was born in Austria
  • The Nazi Party was in a much stronger position Austria, as the new Chancellor, Schuschnigg, had appointed Nazis into the government in return for a promise to keep Austria independent
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Anschluss Events

  • 1936-37 - Hitler encouraged the Austrian Nazi Party to stir up trouble for the government. They staged demonstrations demanding union with Germany
  • January 1938 - Hitler began to step up his campaign by ordering Austrian Nazis to bomb public buildings and stage mass parades
  • 12th Feb 1938 - Hitler invited the Austrian Chancellor, Sschuschnigg, to Germany to discuss the chaos. Schuschnigg was bullied into accepting two Nazis as members of his cabinet and closer economic ties with Germany
  • 8th Mar 1938 - On his return to Vienne, Schuschnigg decided to hold a plebiscite on the matter
  • 12th Mar 1938 - Hitler, fearing a vote againt him, acted quickly. He threatened invasion and continued to bully Schuschnigg, who resigned that day. He was replaced by Arthur Seyss-Inquart, leader of the Austrian Nazi Party, who asked Hitler to send troops to restore order. German troops marched into Austria
  • 13th Mar 1938 - The Anschluss was proclaimed
  • April 1938 - Under the watchful eye of Nazi troops, 99.75% of Austrians voted for the Anschluss
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Anschluss Results

This time, Mussolini did not protest

Britain, France and the League did protest but took no further action. In fact, Neville Chamberlain felt that Austrians and Germans had a right to be united, and the Treaty was wrong to separate them. Most Brits did not protest because the Austrians seemed pleased

British and French politicians followed a policy of appeasement and believed his demands were reasonable. This seemed a sensible way forward for Britain; many European politicians felt that Germany had been dealt with too harshy at Versailles and there was no desire to go to war again - the horrors were still fresh in people's minds. Britain and France also knew their armed forces were not in a position to wage any conflict

Once again, Hitler had broken the Treaty and got away with it. He would not stop there

After the Anschluss, Hitler turned his attention to the Sudetenland, conviced that, once again, Britain and France would accept his demands

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Sudetenland Crisis 1938

The Sudetenland Crisis of 1938 almost brought war but was resolved by the controversial Munich Agreement in September 1398


  • The Sudetenland was a part of Czechoslovakia and contained 3 million German-speaking people and had been part of the Austria-Hungary Empire before 1918
  • It contained almost 3/4 of Czechoslovakia's industry and some important armament factories
  • Hostile Czechoslovakia would make a western war impossible as he'd be fighting on 2 fronts
  • He thought the Soviet Union might use Czechoslovakia as an avenue to invade Germany
  • He wanted Lebensraum for the German people and to acquire valuable wealth and resources
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Events of Sudetenland Crisis

From April 1938, Hitler ordered Henlein, order of the Sudetenland Nazi Party, to stir up trouble in the area. German newspapers then published reports of atrocities commited against Sudeten Germans by Czech officials

Because of the 'crisis', Hitler said he would support Sudeten Germans with force if necessary

The Czechs knew that to surrender the Sudetenland would make them defenceless against Germany as all their defences against Germany were in that area. They also had an alliance with France and believed the French would support them

The crisis worsened in the summer of 1938, and Chamberlain intervened. The failure of the League of Nations meant that someone had to try to forge a peaceful solution
Chamberlain saw himself as the person to bring the Sudetenland Crisis to and end. He felt he could persuade Hitler to accept a compromise settlement and worked tirelessly in September to avoid war. He attended the three key meetings in September, and for much of the month war seemed the likely outcome

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Munich Conference

With Europe on the brink of war by the end of September, Chamberlain asked Mussolini to persude Hitler to agree to an International Conference. Hitler agreed and postponed his planned invasion of the Sudetenland

Four leaders met at Munich - Chamberlain, Hitler, Mussolini and Daladier (French PM)

Czechoslovakia and the USSR were not invited

It was agreed that the Sudetenland would be transferred to Germany, and then that Czechoslovakia's new frontiers would be guaranteed by the four powers

The day after, Hitler met Chamberlain alone and they agreed an Anglo-German Declaration

  • The two countries promised never to go to war with each other again
  • They would settle all disputes between the two countries by talks

It was a copy of this agreement that Chamberlain waved to cheering crouds on his return to England

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Results of the Munich Conference

The Munich Conference had mixed results for the countries involved

Czechoslovakia - Been deserted by its Allies and had lost its only defence against Germany along with other vital resources. Land was also lost to Hungary and Poland

Britain & France - Great sense of relief that war had been avoided

Germany - Hitler decided the Allies were unlikely to oppose him again and turned attention to the rest of Czechoslovakia. Germany acquired more than 33% of Czechoslovakia's population and most of its industry including the very large Skoda armaments works. Hitler gained confidence

USSR - Stalin was furious to not have been invited. He was convinced that Britain and France would stand back if Hitler moved against Poland and the USSR

Italy - Mussolini supported Hitler throughout the crisis and conference. Relations between the two dictators drew even closer, culminating in the Pact of Steel in 1939

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Takeover of Czechoslovakia March 1939

After the Munich Conference, the policy of appeasement began to ease off

Many realised that Czechoslovakia had been let down and that Hitler had got what he wanted

Britain condemned Kristallnacht (9th Nov 1938)

There was further suspiscion when Hitler made known his new territorial ambitions - he wanted the rest of Czechoslovakia

In March 1939, Hitler put pressure on the new Czech leader, Hacha, and threatened invasion

German troops were invited to restore order (although there was no disorder) so Hitler could not claim he had broken any international laws by securing control of Czechoslovakia

The Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia became German. Slovakia became a republic, but was actually a German puppet state

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Results of the Czech Takeover

  • Britain and France ended their policy of appeasement and agreed they had to stop further German aggression
    • Taking Czechoslovakia showed Hitler was not to be trusted; he had broken the Munich Agreement and the Czechs were not even German
    • Chamberlain felt aggrieved that he had been bamboozled by Hitler. Britain's rearmament, which had begun in earnest after Munich, started to accelerate
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Danzig & Polish Corridor March 1939

At the end of March 1939, Hitler sent troops into Memel, the Lithuanian town which had been taken from Germany at the end of WWI

Britain thought Poland may be the next to be threatened given Hitler's comments on wanting Danzig and the Polish Corridor, which had been taken from Germany, returned

The Polish Corridor had been taken to allow Poland access to the Baltic Sea and Danzig was controlled by the League of Nations

On 30th March, Britain guaranteed to safeguard Poland's borders

Hitler began to make preparations for the invasion and the plan, called Operation White, was ready by 11th April. The invasion was scheduled for 1st September 1939

Tensions between the major powers rose further in April when Italy occupied Albania, spurring Britain and France to guarantee the borders of Greece and Romania

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Pact of Steel May 1939

In May 1939, Hitler and Mussolini formed the Pact of Steel, turning their friendship into a full military alliance. The countries would:

  • support each other in war
  • plan operations together
  • bring closer economic co-operation
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Nazi-Soviet Pact 1939

Hitler seemed to go from wanting to regain German land lost to Poland to wanting to destroy it. However, in order to do this, he needed co-operation from the USSR - the country he hated most

As tension over Danzig grew, Hitler was confident that if there were any fighting, Britain and France would be unwilling to help Poland unless it was with the USSR's help. The USSR was prepared to make an alliance with the Allies, but Stalin was very careful not to commit too readily, and Britain's hesitancy to accept many points made them seem unwilling to form the alliance at all

As negotiations between Britain and the USSR stalled in August, talks between Germany and the USSR began. The Nazi foreign minister (R) met the Russian (M) and after two meetings on 23rd August formed the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. The terms included:

  • agreeing not to support any country who attacked the other
  • agreeing to consult on matters of common interest and not join any alliance aimed at each other
  • (secretly) agreeing to invade, divide and destroy Poland
  • the USSR being allowed to occupy the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
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Nazi-Soviet Pact Results

  • Hitler pleased because he had avoided war on two fronts and could take large parts of Poland with ease
  • Occupation of Poland took Hitler closer to the USSR for a future invasion
  • Stalin was pleased because the parts of Poland he took made any invasion a little more difficult
  • Removed any chance of the three western powers allying against him
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Invasion of Poland and outbreak of war

On 1st September 1939, German troops invaded Poland

The British and French governments decided to honour their obligations to Poland and gave Hitler an ultimatum: leave Poland or go to war

Hitler did not reply and on 3rd September Britain and France once again went to war with Germany

  • 3rd September - German forces had broken through Polish defences using Blitzkrieg
  • (around) 10th September - The city of Danzig taken 
  • 17th September - the USSR invades Poland
  • 28th September - Warsaw surrenders
  • 6th October - Poland ceases to exist when divided between Germany and the USSR

Despite large losses in Polish forces, about 100,000 men were able to avoid capture and made their way to Britain to fight in the Free Polish Forces for the remainder of the war

After the Polish campaign, the rest of 1939 developed into a 'Phoney War', for which there was little military action

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