Hitler and Rearmament
One of Hitler's first steps to power was to increase Germany's armed forces, although, at first, he did this secretly due to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.
The Disarmament Conference, 1932-34
This conference first met in February 1932. The main problem was what to do about Germany. Germany had been in the League for six years. Most people now accepted that the Germans should be treated more equally than the terms of the Treaty stipulated. The big question was whether everyone else should disarm to the level that Germany did, or whether they should be allowed to rearm to the level of the other powers.
Indeeed the Germans walked out of the conference in July 1932 when the other powers failed to agree to disarm down to the level of Germany. In May 1933 Hitler returned to the conference and promised not to rearm if 'in five years all other nations destroyed their arms'. When they refused, Hitler withdrew from the conference in October 1933 and, soon after, from the League of Nations.
Non-Aggression Pact with Poland, 1934
In January 1934, Germany signed a non-aggression agreement with Poland. This was signed for serveral reason:
- Hitler was hoping to weaken the existing alliance between France and Poland.
- He hoped to reduce Polish fears of German aggression.
- He wanted to show that he had no quarrel with Poland, only with the USSR.
IN 1935, Hitler openly staged a massive military rally celebrating the German armed forces. In the same year, he re-introduced conscription and announced a peacetime army of 550,000.
A new Air Ministry was to train pilots and buld 1,000 aircraft. He breaking the terms of the Treaty, but he guessed he would get away with it, especially after the collapse of the Disarmament Conference.
Representatives from France, Italy and Britain met in a town called Stresa where they agreed to work together to preserve the peace in Europe. They condemned the rearmament. This became known as the Stresa Front against German aggression, but it did not last long.
It collapsed due to the Abyssinia crisis, which destroyed close relations between France, Britain and Italy, and the Anglo-German Naval Treaty.
Anglo-German Naval Agreement
Hitler knew that Britain had some sympathy with Germany on the issue of rearmament. Britain believed that the limits imposed by the Treaty were too tight and that a strong Germany was a buffer against Communism.
In 1935, Britain signed a naval agreement with Germany that allowed tha Germans to build their navy up to 35% of the size of the British navy and have the same number of submarines. Britain was accepting Hitler's breach of the treaty.