Why Britain went to war (WWII)

The Threat of Germany

In the 1920s and 1930s German hatred of the Treaty of Versailles increased.  The treaty took away 13% of Germany's land and territories.  It reduced their army to 100,000 men and banned them from having an air force.  It also forced Germany to pay £6,600 million in reparations, or compensation, for the damage caused by the war.  This contributed to Germany’s serious economic problems. 

In the 1930s the Nazi Party became the largest party in the Reichstag.  Hitler promised to restore Germany's pride and military strength Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in January 1933.  He began to break the treaty straight away. Hitler withdrew Germany from the League of Nations.  This was an international organisation designed to promote collaboration between countries and a more peaceful world.  He then began to rearm.  He increased the size of Germany's army which was strictly forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles.

Henry Moody

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Rhineland Occupation

In March 1936 Hitler ordered the German army to reoccupy the Rhineland, a part of Germany given to France under the treaty of Versailles and had Allied soldiers there meant to protect France from a German invasion.

Germany's army was still small at this stage.  If Britain and France had tried to stop him then Hitler would have been forced to withdraw his troops.There was no intervention and Hitler succeeded in undoing part of the treaty, standing up to the Western powers and increasing his popularity in Germany.Other countries were also a threat to peace, with both Japan and Italy increasing the size of their empires and ignoring the League of Nations.

Henry Moody

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British Reaction to Foreign Aggression

The Peace Movement:This became very popular in England and Wales and campaigned for a peaceful outcome to the problems facing Europe. In the early 1920s they held a Peace Ballot throughout Britain.  Over 10 million people voted in supportof peace and international disarmament.  In 1936 the Peace Pledge Union was set up which showed how many people supported their cause. This contributed to the British governments policy of appeasement

Appeasement:Neville Chamberlain became Prime Minister in 1937. He knew that war was likely and passed the Air Raid Precautions Act which made plans to protect Britain from air raids. In March 1938 Hitler united Austria and Germany in the Anschluss.  It was banned by the Treatyof Versailles. He invaded when the Austrian chancellor announced a vote to see what Austrians wanted. After the German invasion, 99 per cent of Austrians voted "Yes". Britain and France did nothing. Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden resigned from the British Government in protest.  He wanted Britain to do more to stop Hitler.  He was replaced by Lord Halifax.Lord Halifax believed that war could only be prevented if Britain gave Germany what they wanted.  This was called appeasement. Hitler now made more demands.  He wanted the Sudetenland which was part of Czechoslovakia.It contained a large number of German speakers, but had never been part of Germany.    

Henry Moody

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Munich Agreement

In September 1938 Neville Chamberlain met with Hitler in Munich for a peace conference.  Four countries attended the conference - Britain, Germany, Italy and France. They agreed that Hitler should be allowed to have control of the Sudetenland, but in return should promise not to make any more demands.Hitler and Chamberlain agreed 'never to go to war with one another ever again'.

Czechoslovakia was weakened by the agreement, but Britain and France guaranteed to that they would protect the rest of Czechoslovakia from German invasion. On his return to Britain, Chamberlain stood on the steps of his plane and waved the piece of paper signed by Hitlerand said "I believe it is peace in our time."  He was welcomed by cheering crowds and many people felt (or hoped) that war had been prevented.

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Appeasement Support

The British people wanted peace and would not have supported a war in 1938.  They remembered the horrors of the First World War and didnt want them repeated.Chamberlain himself thought that another war would destroy civilisation.

People were still struggling with the Great Depression and thought that Britain would not be able to afford another war.

Many of Hitler's complaints appeared reasonable at the time. Many felt sympathy for Hitler and thought that his demands were justified. 

Chamberlain wanted a strong Germany to serve as a barrier against expansion by communist Russia. 

Britain's armed forces were not ready for a war, and they could not have helped Czechoslovakia anyway.  Some people thought that war with Germany was inevitable and that appeasement would give Britain more time to prepare. 

Many people admired Hitler. In 1938, 'Time' magazine declared him 'Man of the Year'.

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On the 15th March 1939 Hitler broke the Munich Agreement and invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia.It led to Britain abandoning its policy of appeasement.

Hitler wanted lebensraum (living space) for German people in the east.  He wanted to build the Third Reich (greater Germany) even more.By breaking the Munich Agreement Hitler sent a clear sign that maintaining peace in Europe meant nothing to him.Hitler started to turn his attention to Poland.Neville Chamberlain told Poland that if Germany invaded, they would go to war to protect them.Britain stopped following a policy of appeasement and followed a more militaristic policy.  They started to build up their army ready for war.  

Henry Moody

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Nazi Soviet Pact

Chamberlain had promised to protect Poland, but Britain had a small army and was too far away to help.In April 1939, Russia, Britain and France met to form an alliance to defend Poland. Negotiations between the four countries dragged on because Chamberlain did not like communist Russia.Poland did not want Russia to put their troops in Poland.  Stalin, leader of Russia,did not trust that France and Britain would declare war on Germany.

On 23rd August 1939, Russia swapped sides and made a pact with Germany.Through the Nazi-Soviet Pact, Stalin and Hitler agreed not to go to war with each other and to split Poland between them once it was defeated.On the 1st September 1939 German troops invaded Poland.On the 3rd September Chamberlain announced that Britain was at war with Germany.

Henry Moody

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War Preparations

The British navy was large enough to protect Britain from any invasion.The RAF was amongst the best in the world.  The RAF's fighter planes - the Hurricane and the Spitfire - were fast and agile. RADAR made it easier to detect enemy aircraft.However the RAF's bombers were not as modern. 

The British army was the least prepared.Conscription was introduced in May 1939, four months before war was declared, but the army was still short of trained soldiers, modern transport and tanks.Britain made plans for war before it was actually declared.  In 1937 the Air Raid Precautions Act was passed.This made plans for how Britain would protect itself from air attacks.The government also made plans for evacuating thousands of children from the cities.

Henry Moody

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