Hitler had four foreign policy aims.
1. Ein Reich - a "Greater Germany" - one German empire with an entirely German-speaking population.
2. Lebensraum (living space) for his empire.
3. Abolish the Treaty of Versailles.
4. Destroy communism.
Saar Plebiscite 1935
(Background: The Treaty of Versailles had put the industrially strong Saarland under the control of the League of Nations for 15 years.)
In 1935, there was a plebiscite (vote) to decide whether or not the Saar would remain separate or return to be a part of Germany.
On January 13th 1935, the plebiscite was held. There was an overwhelming result of 90% in favour of return to Germany, and so this happened.
The result was a triumph for the Nazi party. It showed that in a free election, there were people outside of Germany who hated the Treaty of Versailles; and evidently supported Hitler's regime without being threatened with violence.
It was a first step for Hitler. It confirmed his expansionist agenda for the rest of the 1930s.
Conscription and Rearmament
(Background: In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles had severely limited Germany's army. Amongst other things, conscription was banned.)
1933: Hitler became Chancellor and immediately began to re-arm. That same year, Germany then left the League of Nations.
1935: 'The Draft' or conscription is re-introduced. England and Germany sign the Anglo-German naval agreement, meaning that Germany is allowed to increase its navy to 35% of the size of England's navy.
Why did Hitler get away with rearmament?
- The League of Nations still wanted to retain good relationships and did not want to oppose.
- At this time, the crises in Manchuria and Abysinnia were a bigger problem.
- France were distracted by maintaining good relations with Italy, who they needed as an ally against Hitler.
Remilitarisation of the Rhineland
(Background: Rhineland was demilitarised as part of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles to try and prevent any threat to the French. It had always remained a part of Germany).
(March 1935: France and the Soviet Union make a pact of mutual assisstance. If one is threatened, the other assists).
March 1936: Hitler sends 22,000 troops into the Rhineland, directly contradicting the terms of the Treaty. Hitler claims that the pact threatened Germany. He was testing the resolve of Britain and France to uphold the ToV.
However, Hitler gave express orders that his troops were to back down if they met with resistance. This was unknown to the other countries. Hitler was bluffing.
At this stage, war did not seem inevitable and as the surrounding countries wanted to retain good relations, they did nothing. Hitler began to realise that he could get what he wanted with little resistance.
Anschluss with Austria - March 1938
Background: Hitler wanted anschluss (unification) with Austria as part of Ein Reich - a "greater Germany". This was directly forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. Many Austrians wanted this anschluss as it offered better economic prospects for both countries.
1934 - Hitler tries for Anschluss but is stopped by Mussolini.
1936 - Hitler, Mussolini and Japan become allies. They sign the Anti Cominterm (anti-communist) pact.
1938 - Hitler talks to Chancellor Schuschnigg, the leader of Austria and tries to persuade him that unification was the only way to solve problems in both countries. Schuschnigg appeals to Britain and France but neither country does anything. Schuschnigg then decides to hold a plebiscite (vote) to see what the Austrian people want. Hitler was concerned he would lose and so sent in troops to "ensure a fair vote". By using violence and threats, people were bullied into voting for anschluss. The results of the vote were 99.75% people in favour of Anschluss.
March 1938 - Hitler takes over Austria. Germany are in a strong position. Hitler is expanding and directly going against the Treaty of Versailles.
Munich Peace Conference
Czechoslovakia felt threatened by the anschluss of Germany and Austria, as they bordered both countries and feared invasion. Britain, France and the USSR pledge their support.
The Sudetenland was the area of Czechoslovakia that bordered Germany. It had a modern army, strong industries, forts and defences. Hitler wanted this area as it used to belong to Germany and so had many ethnic Germans. This would help to achieve some of his aims.
May 1938 - Germany threatens to fight for the Sudetenland. There is a huge war scare across Europe. Countries re-arm and prepare for war.
September 15th, 1938 - Chamberlain flies to meet Hitler in Munich. Hitler claims he only wants part of the Sudetenland. Britain and France agree to this request.
September 19th - Hitler announces he wants ALL of it. He threatens to "rescue" the Sudeten people if he does not get it - ie, war. War seems imminent.
September 29th - Britain, France and Italy decide to give it to Hitler, as part of their policy of appeasement. Hitler promises this is his final request.
Reasons why Britain and France pursued Appeasement
1. Both Britain and France vividly remembered the horrors of the First World War. They wished to avoid further conflict at any cost.
2. It was not certain that the British Commonwealth states (e.g. Canada) would support them in a war against Germany.
3. Hitler was not their only concern. They were additionally concerned with the spread of communism and the threat that Stalin posed to the rest of the world.
4. American leaders were determined not to be dragged into another war. Could Britain and her allies defeat Germanty without the guarantee of American support?
5. Many people thought the Treaty of Versailles was unfair to Germany. They assumed that when this was put right, Germany would become peaceful once more.
6. Britain and France were still suffering from the depression. They had large amounts of debt and huge unemployment.
7. The British government believed that the armed forces were not ready for a war against Hitler.
Results of the Munich Peace Conference
After Hitler was given the Sudetenland in the Munich Agreement...
Hitler and Germany believe the conference has been "an undreamt triumph". Hitler was shocked that Britain and France had agreed to his demands. Their policy of appeasement meant his aggression had been rewarded once more. Germany had gained the Sudetenland.
Czechoslovakia lost their main defences. They had lost faith in their allies (Britain and France) to protect them from further aggression.
Britain and France had secured short-term peace after the war-scare. Both countries then re-armed very quickly.
Stalin and the USSR were further alienated from European affairs as they had not been invited to the Munich conference. They had also lost faith in the West to stand up to Hitler. It seemed the West were not prepared to engage in "collective security"- a group of nations becoming allies to defend against a mutual threat.
Invasion of Czechoslovakia
After the Munich Agreement, 93% of British people (opinion polls) did not trust Hitler.
15th March 1939 - Not content with gaining the Sudetenland, German troops invade the rest of Czechoslovakia. The Czechs did not try to resist (their military bases were taken in the Sudetenland). They had been sold out by Britain and France.
This was the end of appeasement, as Britain and France realised Hitler could not be trusted.
Britain and France warned Hitler that any invasion of Poland would mean war. (Poland borders on both Germany and Czechoslovakia).
Reasons why appeasement failed
1. It allowed Germany's army to become increasingly strong.
2. The Soviet Union could be an ally against Hitler - but appeasement massively scared Stalin, as Britain and France were giving in to his enemy's demands.
4. The USSR were further alienated from potential western allies.
3. Hitler could not be trusted!
4. Appeasement directly rewarded Hitler's aggressive behaviour. It proved to Hitler that he could get away with it. Although it meant peace in the short-term, increasing Hitler's strength meant it was more likely to cause war in the long-term.
Nazi-Soviet Pact 1939
After his invasion of Czechoslovakia, Hitler wanted to expand eastwards into Poland. He does not believe Britain and France's threat to start war as they have backed down at every opportunity so far. However, if Hitler was to go to war against Britain and France, he only wanted it to be a one front war as he did not want to fight the USSR.
Meanwhile Stalin was concerned about Hitler's anti-communist agenda. He could not trust the Western powers for security (the USA and Italy were both anti-communist; the failure of appeasement to stand up to Hitler). Stalin also wanted to expand the USSR's territory into eastern Poland. He wanted to buy time, as a war with Germany seemed inevitable.
August 1939 - Molotov (Stalin's Foreign Minister) and Ribbentrop (Hitler's Foreign Minister) meet for secret negotations.
24th August 1939 - Hitler and Stalin sign the Nazi-Soviet Pact. This is a non-aggression pact, meaning that they will not attack one another. In a secret clause, they agree to partition Poland.
Invasion of Poland - September 1939
1st September 1939 - After signing the Nazi-Soviet pact less than two weeks before, the German army invaded Poland. THey were met with brave resistance, but Germany had fully rearmed and their modern weaponry was superior.
2nd September - To Hitler's surprise, Britain and France stand by their guarantee, and declare war on Germany.
17th September - The USSR invades Poland from the east. They take over the eastern half (as agreed in the Nazi-Soviet Pact), and meet the German troops at the border between the East and the West. Germany have control over the west.
The Second World War has begun.