Hitler's next target after the Anchluss, was Czechoslovakia which had beeen created by the Versailles Peace Treaty. Hitler began to escalate his tirades against Czecheslovakia, claiming that the erhnic Germans in the Sudetenland were being mistreated. The NAZI rearmament program, the remilitarization of the Rhineland and the Anchluss with Austria came as a shock to Czecheslovakia. Even more so, the lack of response from Britain and France. The Czechs who had defensive alliance with France were prepared to fight. Even with the Anchluss, many Europeans chose to see the NAZI actions as domestic German matters. This changed with Hitler's next target--Czecheslovakia. Hitler in 1938 demanded the Sudetenland in Czecheslovakia which had a minority German population. Neville Chamberlin, the British Prime Miniister mused how terrible it was that war should be threatened by a "... quarel in a far away country by people of which we know little." A prominent member of
the British parliament displayed even more ignoramce when he told the press, "Why should we bother with those gypsies in the Balkans?", meaning the Czechs who were of course not located in the Balkans. In the end, The British and French gave in at talks held in Munich. Vhamberlain flew back to London and stepping off the plane waved the agreement signed ny Herr Hitler which he assured the waiting repoters guaranteed "Peace in our time." Churchill was apauled. Most British anf French people were releaved. One European leader, Soviet Marshall Stalin, who was not at the conference drew the conclusion that the British and French could not be trusted as potential allies against Hitler. Less well recognized is the impact on the United States. There are many unanswered questions about Munich. Some maintain that if the Allies had honored their treaty obligations that the Wehrmacht would have arrested Hitler rather than gone to war. Others argue that if Hitler had gone to war in 1938, he wluld have not only overrun France, but the Luftwaffe would have defeated the RAF.
The Republic of Czechoslovakia was proclaimed in 1918 after the Hapsburg Ausro-Hungarian Empire. The first president was Tomas Masaryk. The creation of Czecheslovakia had been urged by President Wilson and was associated with the Versailles Treaty--making the country with a large German minority an anethma to the NAZIs. The two major ethnic groups comprising Czecheslovakia weee the Czechs and the Slovaks. The Slovaks like the Czechs desired independence from the Austo-Hungarian Empire, but there were substantial cultural differences. The Slovak areas of the country were not as developed economically and thus found it dificult to compete. The Czech lands were highly industrialized and ejoyed a standard of living comparable to Western Europe. Slovakia was a largely agrarian society. The Czechs were highly secular while most Slovaks were strongly Catholic. The Czechs were generally better educated than the Slovaks and mre experience with self-government than the Slovaks. Czecheslovakia tried o pomote the industrialization of Slovakia, but these efforts achieved little success in the 1920s and the world-wide Depression in the 1930s made further efforts difficult. The open, democratic Czech state, however, offered considerable freedom for Slovaks in a Czech-dominated country. Czechoslovakia was the only east European country to remain a parliamentary democracy during the inter-War era. Even so, there were problems, not only the Czech-Slovak conflict but also problems in the substantial German minority. Especially in the 1930s with the advent of he Great Depresion, resntment grew in Slovakia over the Czech-dominated Government. Right wing groups began agitating or independence. Some Slovak Church leaders participated in the independemnce movement. mmigration increased. Another problrem was the German minority. Over 20 percent of the population was German who were mostly concentrated in the German/Austrian border regions called the Sudetenland. After the NAZIs seized power in Germany during 1933, they began to promote unrest and the German press reported real and imagined invcidents, accusing the Czechs of brutally supressing the German minority. President Masaryk was succeeded as president by Edvard Benes in 1935.
Appeasement was a foreign policy largely based on the horrors of World War I. It is most associate with Primeminister Neville Chamberlain, but in fact was a widely popular policy in both Britain and France. Much of the public in the democracies (Britain, France, and the United States) were convinced that the War had beeb maistake which should never be repeated. While this was in fact true, the resulting thinking was deeply flawed. Many peoplein tghe democracies came to think that Germany should have been appeased in 1914. That thinking simply does not follow with a Germany that wanted a more dominant position in Europe and was prepared to use war to achieve thar position. This was the situation in 1914 and in the late-1930s the situatiin was ecen more desperate. You had aGermany that did not only want more influence, but one that wanted to rule Europe and to destroy millions of innocent lives to change the ethnic map of the continent. The inter-War policy of appeasement is today a disgraced policy, largely because its assoiciation with Munich and the start of World War II. The fact is, that it might well have precented war if Chamberlain had been working with a German leader who also desired to avert war. It was beyond Chamberlain's understanding that a leader of a great European nation could actually desire a war. John Lennon wrote a beautiful song,'Give peace a chance'. It has become a theme song for the Anti-War movement and modern pacifists. It should always be remembered that Neville Chamberlain gave peace a chance. The result was the most horrific war in human history and 50 million deaths. This is a fact, not an opinion.
The Wehrmacht crossed the Austrian frontier (March 12). The Wehrmacht was enthusiastically greated by the Austria pepple. Hitler's motorcde followed in the afternoon. Hitler signed the documents officially incorporating Austria within the Reich (March 13). Hitler then entered Vienna amid general rejoycing and the peeling of church bells (March 14). Hitler after the triumph of the Ancluss remained in Vienna onlt 24 hours to savor his victory. Immediately he turned his attention toward toward Czechoslovakia.
Hitler's next target after Austria was Czechoslovakia which had beeen created by the Versailles Peace Treaty. Two weeks after the Anchluss he met with Konrad Henlein. the leader of the Sudeten Germans (March 28). He informed Henlein that he was determined to resolve the Czechoslovakian question in the forseeable future (March 28?). He advised Henlein to mske demands that the Czech Government could not accept. And if the Governent offered concenssions to make more demands. Henlein in a speech at Carlsbad made eight demands on the Czech Government (April 24). He demanded "full liberty to Germans to proclaim their Germanism and their adherenence to the ideology of the Geramns"--meaning NAZIism. What Genlein was essentially demanding was an autonomous NAZI state which would quickly join with the Reich. This would leave the Czechs without defensible borders. The British and French urged "upmost concessions" on the Czechs.
A few weeks later Hitler met with General Keitel plans for a military offensive against Czechoslovakia (April 21). He told Keitel that he did not want an attack "out of a clear sky", but instead wanted to prepare a pretext and justification. [Fest p. 550.]
Hitler was convined that the British and French would not intervene to save Czecgoslovakia. He wanted to make sure that Italy would not complicate his plans. Hitler traveled south for week-long official visit to Italy, bring with him a substantial entourage. Mussolini arranged lavish official affairs. He made a point, however, that he was not the head of state. Ths Hitler was no able to immediately arrange a personasl meeting with Il Duce. There were events with King Victor Emanuel and the Queen who both detested Hitler. Finally Foreign Minister von Ribbontrop met with Count Ciano, the Italian foreign minister, and presented him a copy of a draft treaty. Mussolini had already agreed to sign it. A little latter Hitler met with Mussolini who assured the F�hrer that Italy was indifferent to the fate of Czechoslovakia. [Ciano]
Hitler after the Ancluss steadily escalated his retoric about Czechoslovakia. The German Propoganda Ministry increasingly had German newspapers and radio stations dealt with the situatiion of Sudeten Germans. Many of the stories were lurid fabicrations designed to incite German public opinion. Hitler informed his military commanders on May 30 that, It is my unalterable decission to smash Czechoslovakia by military action in the near future." General Lidwig Beck, the Chief of the Whermacht General Staff opposed military action. He was especially concerned about American industry supplying the Allies (Britain and France) and that the United States would be much more formidable than in World War I. Hitler was not to be disuaded. General Beck resigned on August 18. [Weinberg]
After the Anchluss, Hitler began to escalate his tirades against Czecheslovakia, claiming that the erhnic Germans in the Sudetenland were being mistreated. The Sudetenland is German term for a frontier region of German-speaking people, meaning the "southern lands" in German. The Sudetenland is the area bounded by the Sudeten Mountains on the north the Erzgebirge Mountains on the northwest and the Bohemian Forest to the west. The Sudetenland was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1919 when it was awarded to a new Czecheslovakian nation created as part of the Versailles Peace Treaty. The population before World War II largely consisted of Sudeten Germans. Sudeten German leaders claimed that the Czech government discriminated against them. NAZI agitators in the 1930s were active in creating a crisis atmosphere and incidents that could be publicized in the German press.
The NAZI rearmament program, the remilitarization of the Rhineland and the Anchluss with Austria came as a shock to Czechoslovakia. They had thought that there new nation was safe in a peaceful Europe. And Hitler when he first too power pursued a moderate foreign policy. This all changed with remilitarization. And the Anschluss further increased the Czech frontier with Germany that had to be defended. Even more destressing was the lack of response from Britain and France. The Czechs had a defensive alliance with France were prepared to fight if the Germans invaded. Even with the Anchluss, many Europeans chose to see the NAZI actions as domestic German matters. This changed when Hitler's next target became Czechoslovakia. The Czechs had formidable defenses--located in the mountanous Sudetenland. Although the Sudetenland was heavily inhabited by ethnic Germans hostile to Czechoslovakia, the teraine provided a frontier that was rugged and mountainous, good defensive ground. The Czech army by itself was no match for the Germans, but not a force to be triffekled with, especially if the French attacked from the west. While small in size in comparidson to the massive army Hitler was building in Germany, it was primary composed of ethnic Czechs fiercely loyal to the the Czech Government. It was well entrenched in defensive fortificatuions taking advantsage of the mountensaous teraine of the Sudetenland. In addition it was well armed with effective anti-tank guns as well as equipped with tanks of their own. With Allied assistance, Czechoslovakia would have been a costly undertaking for the Wehrmcht. The Check defense was, however, based on the teraine of the Sudetenland. Without the mountanous terraine, the Czechs would have been unable to resist the powerful German military. And the Czech airforce was especially weak comared to the bnew German Luftwaffe.
The situation of the Sudeten Germans is a subject not often covered. The Sudeten Germans were a minority of 3 million in Czechoslovakia. They were unhappy about being a minority in a Czech state. Germans or Austrians were more used to ruleing the Czechs. They complained of mistreatment by the Czechs. Here we do not have any substantial information on oppresive Czech policies. We would welcome any information that readers might have. By 1938 the NAZI press was full of reports of Czech mistreatment of Germans. There may have been some incidents but were undoubtedly blown up out of all proportions by Goebels' Propaganda Ministry. Czechoslovakia was a democracy. The German minority was free to vote. They did and elected primarily pro-NAZI representatives. This fact should be remembered with assessing the Czech treatment of the Sudeten Germans after the War. Sudeten NAZIs staged violent incidents and the Czech police response created more material for NAZI propaganda. Hitler advised the Sudeten Germans to make demands the Czech Government could not meet. The Sudeten Germans were strongly pro-NAZI before the Anchluss, but the NAZI seizure of Austria electrified the Sudeten Germans. It was clear to many that Czechoslovakia would be Hitler's next target. NAZI agents certainly promoted disorder in the Sudetenland. But it should not be thought that the unrest in the Sudetenland was primarily caused by Hitler. There was great support in the Sudentland (as their had been in Austria) for union with Germany. A German reader writes outraged by this page. His basic point was how the Sudeten Germand suffered after the War when they were expelled by the Czechs, often with great violence. Here he is correct, but he seems to have no real problem with how the Germans treated the Czechs after Munich.
Hitler was a careful tactician, skilled in political manuevering. Ironically he hated politics. It was the mantel of warlord that he coveted. And of course it was in that role that he would prove a disastrous failure at a hotrendous price to Germant and the world. Hitler waited until Austria was firmly in his grasp before making his move on Czechoslovakia. In his meeting with Konrad Henlein. the leader of the Sudeten Germans, he carefully coached Henlein to make demand that Benes Czech Government could not grant (March 28). Henlein Sudeten German party was well financed by the NAZIs.
Sudeten German leader Henlein visited Paris and London in early May tp present the Sudeten German case. He met with both Daladier and Chamberlain, as well as other notable including Winston Churchill. The case he made was for an autonomous Sudeten state within Czechoslovakia. He apparaently made a favorable impression upon Allied officials deperate for peace. Of course what he wanted was union with Germany. And his true position was made manifest a few day after his return.
Upon Heinlein return to the Sudentenland, agitation aginst the Czech Government intensified. Municipal elections were being held. In an incedent 2daus before the voting, two NAZI agitators were killed by the Czech police (May 20). Goebels ordered German newspapers to print banner red headlines chargehng murder. Rumors circulated of massive German troop movements. Hitler may have anticipated a quick Czech capitulation and another bloodless vicgory like the Anschluss. It did not happen. Without even confrring with their French allies, the Czechs acted. President Benes ordered an emergemcy meeting of the cabinent and his military chiefs. He ten ordeed a partial mobilization. Within hours 0.4 million well armed Czech troops manded the border defenses. The Czech resolution orced the hand of the British and French. Both of which submitted diplomatic protests to the German Government. When the Germans failed to attack, Europe breathed a coolective sigh of relief. It looked at first that a show of strength had prevented war.
The issue tragically was not settled. Hitler considered the situation for severl days in isolation. When he had resolved how to proceeded he summoned his military chiefs, Foreign Ministry officials and top Party officials to a secret meeyng at the Chancellery in Berlin (May 28). This was not a conference in which Hitler sought advise, it was an audience od subordinates. He immediately informed them that it was his "unshakeable will to wipe Czechoslovakia off the map". He proceeded to launch on a discussion of his master pln to obtain Lebensraum in the East in Poland and Russia. He explined that Czechoslovakia was the first step in that process. It would have to be reuced to secure the Reich;s rear. He explained that Case Green had been drawn up by the Wehrmacht, bit there would be no war. He assured them that France even with its treaty ties with the Czechs would not fight. He was sure the Briish would not become involved and the French would never act without the British. Likewise he was sure that the Soviets would not act without the French. He told them that he had already obtained Italy's acquiesence. He gave two orders: 1) preparations to attack Czechoslovakia by October 2 and 2) accelerate preparations of degensive facilities on the Western border with France. [De Roussy de Sales, p. 563.]
While Hitler had spoken of his 'unshakeable will', we know now that he was not without doubts. Besides being unsure how the British and French would respond, he had to be concerned about his own military. He knew the military was opposed to invading Czechoslovakia because of the possibility of war. Whermacht Chief General Ludwig Beck had sent a series of memorandum to Brauchitsch outlining the military reasons that Czechoslovakia should not be invaded. Then he sent a memorandum in which he stated the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces "must" be urgetly asked to cease war preparations because the current situation was "hopeless" (July 16). Brauchitsch showed Hitler an edited version of these memos. [Shirer, p.368.] Beck resigned (August 18), but the announcement was delyed until after the Munich cris was resolved so it would not be construed as discension in the military. We do not know just how well informed he was about the extent of the opposition in the military. He knew the military objected to attacking Czechoslovakia which would have left the Western front largely unprotected. It seems unlikely that Hitler was aware that elements of the military were in effect planning a coup to prevent war. He must have concluded, however, that given the oposition of the General Staff that some plotting much be going on. We do not know what if anything the Gestapo had turned up. Hitler's concern over discession in the military probably explains a crious incident at the Berghof which Jodl noted in his diary (August 10). Hitler invited a number of ambitious younger generals, not the high command like Beck and Handler. He presumably thought that with these somewhat younger more ambitious generls on his side, any action by the high command would be greatly complicated. After a sumptuous dinner he subjected them to a three hour oratorical speech. After which he permotted questions. The general who had just been given command of the West Wall (and thus would have to face a French attack withonly minimal forces at his disposal took issue with Hitler's assessment. [Shirer, pp. 36-70.] Hitler was furious. It wasthe last time he met with generals in which they were allowed to question his orders. The primary source of inspiration at this time came from the Allies, especially Prime Minister Chamberlain who left no opportunity to assure Hitler that he was determined to avoid war. One such step was the Runciman mission. Lord Runciman was a committed apeaser. He arrived in Prague (August 4). His mission was officially to mediate between Henlein and the Czech Government. In reality he was instructed to get the Government to essentially meet Henlein's demands. His mission resulted in many concessions from the Czech Government which were answered by additional demands from Henlein. Such efforts much have given Hitler great encouragement.
Desperate to avoid war, anti-Hitler conspirators in the Wehrmacht attempted to contact the British Government. Abwehr commander Admiral Wilhelm Canaris issued a fake pasport to Gerneral Eswald von Kleist who traveled to London to brief the British. Ambassador Henderson who was sympathetic to the NAZIs urged the Foreign Office to avoid him. Von Kleist did meet with Robert Vamsittart, the Primeminister's chief diplomatic adviser. He wanted assurances from the British that they would fight if Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia. With such assurances, he explaind that the Wehrmacht would act to replace Hitler. Vamsittart informed Halifax and Chamberlain, who refused to respond. Von Kleist also spoke with Churchill who assured him thast Britain would declare war. Chamberlain was, however, opposed to appeasement. It is unclear why he chose to discount this and other initiatives. The military attache at the British Embassy in Berlin was also contacted. Theo Kordt also contacted Vamsittart with information about the developing conspiracy. Of course there was no way to be absolutely sure that such a conspiracy would really stop Hitler. Chamberlain was determined to avoid war.
It would seem prudent for a British Prime Minister faced with the possibility of war with Germany to have aggressively persued diplomatic efforts to seek support from the Soviet Unon and America. This was especially true of the Soviet Union which had treaty commitments to assist Czechoslovakia if France intervened. The Soviet Union made it clear in diplomatic contacts with the British that they were prepared to come to the aid of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain and Halifax not only did not persue these initiatives. Chamberlain personally discounted the military potential of the Soviet Union. Some observers believe that Chamberlain still hoped that the Soviet Government could be overthrown. Chambeliain hs never explained his failure to involve the Soviets. It is likely that Chambrlain hoped that appeasement would buy peace in the West and that Hitler would bring down the Soviet Government. There is, however, no real conclusive evidence of this. Ther can be no doubt, however, that the British rejection of Soviet initiatives were a factor in Hitler's ability to subsequently negotiate the Non-Aggression Pact wth the Soviets. (August 1939). President Roosevelt, unlike Stalin, could offer no actual military support. But given the industrial power of the United States and its decisive role in World War I, and the clear antipathy of President Roosevelot to the NAZIs, any responsible British Government would have ardently courted the United States. Chamberlain made no effort to do so. He no only iniitiated no initiitives of any kind, but rejected an initiative made by President Roosevelt in early 1938. And later in the year he rejected a suggestion by Churchill to approach the President. [Churchill, p 293] Again we do not know why Chamberlain failed to approach the United States. He never explained this. The only conclusion that we can draw in that Chamberlain was convinced that he was the oly one who could achieve peace in Europe. America would be important in casr of war and he was determned to maintain the peace.
Hitler was in a strong bargaining position. His rearmament program had greatly strengthened the German military--all branches. And the military spending had not been matched by the British and French. And on the ground, Britain and France were in no position to even reach the Czechs with military aid. No one at the time, however, appreciated the fatal weaknesses of the French Army, even the Wehrmacht which feared a possible war. The British Army was still tiny. Any fighting would have had to be done primarily by the French Army which was intent ion staying behind the Maginot Line. Another factor is that if the war had begun in 1938 and the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1940 rather than 1941, there would have been no T-34 tank to stiffen the Soviet defense. German Army movements were everywhere that summer, especially in southern Germany and Austria bordering Czechoslovakia. The Czechs had a highly motivated army and strong defenses, but there was no way of getting material aid to them, even if the British and French had been disposed to try. The Czechs faced a huge German Army, but it was in the air they were particularly concerned, as were the British and French. The Luftwaffe had demonstrated its prowess in Spain and its bombing capabilities. Luftwaffe Chief Herman Göring extend a 'friendly' invitation to his French counterpart (August 1938). The new chief of Staff of the Armée de l'Air Gen Joseph Vuillemin (February 1938-July 1940). What really stunned Vuillemin was Göring's demonstration of dive bombing which the French had rejected as impractical. He and his predecessor were pessimistic about the ability to stand up against the Luftwaffe, even before the visit. Göring put on quite a show, stunning Vuillemin with the Luftwaffe's capabilities. The French air military attache in Berlin, Paul Stehlin, noted that his reporting had been ignored. Even after this visit, there was no major French effort to modernize the force or bring it to a state of readiness. There was no modern equipment such as radar and very little radio communications or radio navigation equipment-. This was an area -as the RAF under Air Chief Marshall Hugh Dowding had been focused on. If the war had begun in 1938, however, the Allies would have been hopelessly outclassed in the air. According to the French Minister for Air, the French would have had 600 planes to face the Luftwaffe's 6,500 modern planes. [Freidel, p. 303.] The RAF had begun to receive new fighters, but despite Dowding's herculean efforts would have faced Luftwaffe with a fighter force that would have been mostly biplanes
British Prime Minister Neveille Chamberlain took the first step to avoid war.Chamberlain became the major spokesman for the Allies. He saw the major objective was to prevent war. Chamberlin and others of his era were revulsed by World War I. They say their responsibilities as avoiding any such tragedy. He chose to accept Hitler's claims for the ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia as legitimate. This was in part a convenient position to avoid war. But many Britions in the inter-War era came to see the Germans as having legitimate grevenices. He thought war could be prevented by appeasing Hitler. He dramatically flew to Berchtesgaden for a personal summit with Hitler.
Britain and France were understandably terrified of war. Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister mused how terrible it was that war should be threatened by a "... quarel in a far away country by people of which we know little." A prominent member of the British parliament displayed even more ignoramce when he told the press, "Why should we bother with those gypsies in the Balkans?", meaning the Czechs who were of course not located in the Balkans. It looked in September as if war was imminent.
President Roosevelt sent apersonal appeal to Hitler and the Allied leaders on September 26 invoking the Kellogg-Briand Pact which each government had pledged to resolve conflicts only by peaceful meams and asked each country not to termkinate negotiations. Chamberlin, Daladier, and Benes immediately responded affirmatively. Later Hitler responded with a belicose 18-page paper aserting that Germany had been patient, but further compromise was not possible. He ended by claiming that war and peace was out of his hands, but rested with the Czech Government. [Roseman, 1938, pp. 531-535].
Hitler's strategy was to separate the Czechs from their British And French Allies. He delivered a frenzied radio address to excite public opinion. By all accounts, he actually wanted a war. He was prepared to order a mobilization on September28 and invade Czecheslovakia on September 30. He preferred a war with just Czesoslovakia, but was preoared tio go to war against Bruitain and France. His preference was to delay war with Britain and France, butv he seems to have been willing to got o war with over Czechoslovakia. He informed the British Government that he was prepared to act without providing the specifics. [Weinberg, pp. 450-451.] He nderstood that Chamberlain more than anything wanted to precent another war and that France would not go to war without Brutain. Hitler had not yet met Chsmberlsin, but diplomatic contacts since his seizure if power gave him a very accurate view of Bakdwin's and Chamberlain's mind set. And he knew he could extract major concessions from him. He soon began to call the Briish and French leadershiop 'worms'.
The NAZIs held their annual party congress or rallies in Nuremberg during late-August or September. The 1938 rally was the 10th (tenth) Party Congress. It was the largest of all the NAZI rallies. Some 0.7 million 700,000 members of the different NAZI organizations which participated. The festivities which lasted for a week. The 10th Party Congress was named the Reichsparteitag Gro�deutschland (Rally of Greater Germany) (September 5�12). This name was due to the Anchluss (annexation) of Austria that had occurred earlier. On youth day, Hitler addressed the assembled enthusiastic Hiler Youuth menmbers, telling them, "You, my youth, are our nation's most precious guarantee for a great future, and you are destined to be the leaders of a glorious new order under the supremacy of National Socialism. Never forget that one day you will rule the world."
And by the time of the rally, Propaganda Minister Goebbels had raised the campaign agauinst Czechoslovakia to a fever pitch. Hitler always made his main speech on the last day of the rally when he used the occasion to announce and highlight his priorities. Europe awaited with dread Hitler's address, fearing it might be a declaration of war. Hitler delivered an impassioed address accussing the Czechs of terrible crimes against the Sudeten Germans (September 12). He did not announce any eminent invasion. He made it clear, however, what Gobells propaganda machine had been drumming up for several months -- he was prepared to move against Czechoslovakia. Hitler was demanding that Czechislovakia turn over the German populated Sudetenland to the Reich. Unlike Austria, the Czechs were prepared to fight. And France had treaty commitments to Czechoslovakia. This would mean war and Europe braced for it. The 1938 Rally would prove to be the last one. The 1939 raly was cabcelled hen Hitler an Stalin launched World War II (September 1939).
Czechoslovakia was the only democracy left in central Europe. It was a multi-ethnic country with the Germans as one if the ethnic minorities. All the various ethnic groups had proportional reprsentation in the Czech Parliament and legal protections. The Goebbels propaganda machine had for months been generating fictional accounts of Germans being terribly abused and mistreated by the Czechs. Gradually the charges were ratcheted up. Konrad Henlein led the Sudetendeutsche Heimatfront (Front of the Sudeten German Homeland--SH). This was actually the Sudeten NAZI Party. Hitler ordered Henlein toi create incidents that Goebbels could twuist and blow out of all proprtion to convince the German people that the Reich had to intervene to protect the Sudeten Germans. Immediately following Hitler's Nurrenberg speech, a serious incident occured in the Sudentenland. Czech police searching a hotel for hidden arms hidden were fired on by the SH. One was killed immediately. The other managed to get away. The Czechs responded with armoured cars and motars. Another policeman was killed and eight of the 10 NAZIs in the hotel. Sudeten German mobs inflamed by Hitler's speech and Henlein's agitation poured into the streets. Czech authorities declared martial law. By nightfall 21 rioters had been killed and Henlein fled to Germany for prorection. Goebbels had the German press go into ioverdrrive. Banner Heallines in Bold print appeared in newspapoers throughout the Reich condeming the Czechs as guilty if all kinds of lurid crimes. Along with reports on the incident were many other reports on the Czechs abusing the Sudeten Germans. It was clear that a German invasion was imminent. Of course German and French diplomats reported all of this to their foreign ministries.
Chamberlain was horified, fearing that just such events could cause the situation to spin out of control. Daladier contacted him suggesting joint talks. Chamberlain was determined to take matters in his own hand and telegrammed Hitler (September 14). "In view of the increasingly critical situation, I propose to come over at once to see you with a view of finding a peaceful sollution." Hitler agreed and invited himto Berchesgaden. Accompanied only by his close friend Sir Horace Wilson, and not Foreign Secretary Halifax, boarded a flight for Munich (September 15). He was met by Ambassador Henderson and the three drove to the Berghof. A 3 hour personal meeting followed with Hitler, only a German intepertor was with them. There is no written record of the conversation. Chamberlain according to his sister thought Hitler a hard man, but thought "... here was a man who could be relied upon when he had gien his word". [Feiling, p. p. 367.] The two agreed to meet again. He returned to London and conferred with the cabinent to settle how he would reply to Hitler's demands.
Premier Daladier and Foreign Minister Bonnet traveled to London (September 18). They and Chamberlain and Halifax reached agreement on a draft proposal to be immediately conveed to the Czech Government. It was essentially a demand that the Czechs surrender the Sudetenland to the Germans. Any area with a 50 percent population of ethnic Germans was to be turned over to the NAZIs. The proposal included the passage, "Both the French and British Governments recognize how great is te sacrifice thus required of Czehoslovakia. They have felt it their duty to set forth frankly the conditions essential to security .... The Prime Minister must resume conversations with Herr Hitler not later than Wednesady, or sooner if possible We, therefore, feel that we must ask for your reply at the erliest possible moment." Preident Benes was shattered when the British Ambassador in Prague presented him with the Allied proposal (September 19). message. It was nothing short of an abandonment of an ally. Czechoslovakia without the Sudentenland was indefensibele.
President Benes met with the Czech cabinent and persued all possible alternatives. They contacted the Soviets who assued them that they would come to the country's aid if France honored its treaty obligations. Chamberlain and Daladier were furious. They were determined to appease Hitler with the Sudetenland. The British and French ambassadors roustedcPresident Benese out of his bed to delier a message from their governments that id the Czechs did not accept the proposal handing over the Sudetenland that they were on their own. And Foreign Minister Hodza finally told a=Ambassador Newton that the Czech Government would acept the proposal. Elemnts in the Czech military wanted to fight, but Benes was finally convinced that this would be fruitless. A Czech coomunique announced, " We relied on the help that our friends might have given us but when the questin of reducing us by force arose ... our friends ... advised us to buy peace and freedom by our sacrifice .... The President of the Republic and our government had no other choice, for we found ourselves alone."
The Czech Cabinent reigned and President Benes appointed a non-party gvernment (September 22). Chanberlain on the same day flew to Germany to report his accomplishments to Hitler. This time he flew to Cologne on the Rhine. Hitler agreed to meet him at Godesberg so he would not have to fly so far. The meeting took place at a hotel late in the afternoon. He explained to Hitler that the Czechs had agreed to transfer the Sudetenland and that now all that was needed was to arrange procedual details for an orderly transfer, He them expected to hear some kind of favorable if not grateful respmse from Hitler. Ambassador Henderson who was present noted hat he preceived as a "slight pause" on Hitler's part. Hitler knew of the Czech decesion to surrender the Sudeteland. He thus had time to think over
his response. He did ot raise his voice, but told Chanberlain that all he had accomplished was "no longer of any use". He spoke of the suffering of the Sudenten Germans under marshall law. He explained that he now endorse clims from Poland and Hungary on Czech territory and demanded the immediate surrender of the Sudetenland. Chamberlain was astonished. He explained to Hitler that he had staked his political careet on this agreement. And that he could not possibly return to London with additional demands. Three hours of heated debate followed. Hitler lost his temper. Chamberlain controlled his. At the end, Hitler inisted on an immediate tuen over of the Sudetenland or Germany would invade. Chamberlain continued to insist that this was impossible. Chamberlain flew back to London. Historians have never explained this reaction on Hitler's part. He had the Sudetenland, why risk war over a few weks at the most. Certainly his hatred of the Czechs were a factor. Perhaps he actually wanted a war so he could prove himself as a great war leader. No one has ever explained this. The press reported that the talks had broken down. The Czechs in response mobilized (September 23) British and French officials began preparing for civil defense, digging air raid trenches. Hiter and Chamberllain exchanged written messages. Hitler and Chamberlasin met late that night. Hitler presented Chamberlain with his demands in writing. He demanded the Czechs begin to withdeaw Septemer 26 and turn the Sudentlnd over to Germany September 28. And that the Czechs leaving the Sudetenland could not take any goods with them. Atached was a map. Hours of argument followed. Then Hitler made a concession. He offered to push back the deadline to October 1.
Chanberlain expressed his graditude and the two finally departted late at night with a show of cordiality that shocked journalists who had justvreported that the talks had broken down.
British military chiefs advised Primeminister Chamberlain that over 1 million people would be killed by bombing raids in only 60 days. Military chiefsabd civilkiab authorities were convinced that the Germans would use chemical wapons (poison gs) in aerial attacks. As a result they believed that mass graves would be needed because there simply would not be enough wood for standard timber coffins. World War I had traumatized theBritish people and political leaders. Conflict with Germany thratened and evenmore terrible slaughter. Thus no one can deny Chamberlain�s motives in desiring a negotiated peace. And most British people supported Chamberlain's efforts at the time. What we now know about Hitler was not known at the time, although much was known. Some like Winson Churchill warned that caving into Hitler was a terrible mistake. The British Government began making preparations for war. Schools had been drilling children with air raid precautions. Some schools avctually begun evcuations from London and other cities. Leaflets were distributed to parents. They were advised to pack Raincoat, Blanket, Wellingtons, Shoes, Gym shoes and togs, Shirt, Vest, Pants, Stockings, Hankies, Towel, Pyjamas, Hair Brush, Tooth Brush, Toothpaste, Money, 6 Postcards, Prayer Book, Diary, Autograph Book, Playing-cards, Mouth-organ, String, Torch (flash light). One of the boys involved remembers, " One can imagine the feelings of my parents as they contemplated sending me away whilst they remained in the danger-zone. ... On a memorable day, Tuesday September 27th 1938, I went with my father up to Devonshire Hill School to be fitted with gas-masks. There was a strong smell of new rubber, and there were trestle-tables piled with cardboard boxes, and folk taking names and giving us the correct sizes. The ordinary civilian gas-mask had a single window in front, and straps which went over the head. One breathed in through the metal filter in front, and when breathing out the valve shut and the air escaped under the edges of the rubber where it made a seal with one's cheek. Warnings were issued that the masks should not be tested by putting one's head inside a gas-oven, as they were not designed to deal with coal-gas, but some folk, unaware or forgetful of the warning, did so with fatal consequences." [Hill] Despite Hitler's added demands, Chamberlain decided that war could still be prevented and decided that appeasement was still possible. He persisted in attempts to appease Hitler. After landing at Heston Airport, he met with the Cabinent (September 24). Chamberlain up until this point was able to convince the Cabinent that appeasement could overt war. The Cabinent this time was not easily convinced. Members were shocked at Hitler's response and new demands. Duff Cooper, First Lord of the Admiralty, was particularly incensed. He wanted the Prime Minister to order an immediate mobilization. There was considerable support for this among other Cabinet members. Chamberlain succeeeded in putting off a decession until the French could be consulted. Dalafdier and Bonnet were schuled to fly to London the next day. Further meetings showed a deeply divided Cabinet.
The Czechs rejected Hitler's new demands. Czech Ambassador Jan Masaryk told Chmberlain. "Agaonst the new and cruel demands my government feels bound to make their utmost resistamce and we shall do so ...."
The French seemed inclined to reject Hitler's new demands. Heated discussion followed. It was decided, however, that Chamberlain should make one last attempt to reason with Hitler (September 26).
Hitler speaking at the Sportspalast that he was prepared to use force if the Sudetenland was not haded over by October 1. He blamed the crisis on Benes and actually had kind words about Chamberlain and Daladier and insisted that the Sudetenland was "the last terrtorial demand I have to make in Europe". He said that only Germans were wanted in the Reich. "We want no Czechs." He had told Chamberlain the same thing at their meetings.
Chamberlain selected his friend Sir Horace Wilson to take a personal letter pleading for what had been originally agreed at the Berghof on Septembe 15 -- the orderly, peaceful transfer of the Sudetenland. The letter included an ultimatum if Hitler refused. Wilson met with Hitler (September 27). Wilson reported that Hitler showed little reaction, even to the ultimatum. The British Government was prepared to issue orders to the Fleet for a general mobilization.
Hitler's intrangicense led to active preparations for war. Many assumed there would be war. And this time unlike 1914, there was widespread realization what war meant, The British Army had no way of assisting the Czechs. The more powerful French Army was closer, but would have had to launch a major effort to reach the Czechs. The greatest immediate fear was the Luftwaffe in both Britain and France. Had the War begun at the time, the RAF would have begun the war with many bi-plane squadrons and without the Spitfire. Trenches were dug in London's public parks which could serve as emergency bomb shelters. Gas masks were issued to the public, including children who were shown how to use them in and drilled in school. Anti-aircraft gun positions were set up. Chamberlain spoke by radio to the British people. The Prime Minister with the memory of World War I on his mind mused to the British people in a now poignent national radio broacast--one of the most famous in history. It was a suncict expression of ppeasement. "How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing ..." Churchill was horified. Chamberlain added, "However much we sympathize with a small nation confronted by a big and powerful neighbors, we cannot in all circumstances undertake to involve the whole British Empire in war simply on her account. If we have to fight it must be on larger issues that that." A prominent member of the British parliament displayed even more ignorance when he told the press, "Why should we bother with those gypsies in the Balkans?", meaning the Czechs who were of course not gypsies or located in the Balkans and were both democratic and had both the military capacity to resist the Germans and a substantial arms industry.) Chamberlain added that he would be willing to travel to Germany a third time if peace was possible, but if any nation aspired to world domination that they would have to be resisted.
As Chamberlain spoke to the British people, a delegation from the Wehrmacht General Staff tried to meet with Hitler. He refused to see them. They left am 18-page memorandum explaining the why Germany could not prevail in a general war. Admiral Raeder did succeed in meeting with Hitler and explained that the German Navy was not ready to fight the Royal Navy.
Even after 5 years of NAZI rule, most Germans were terrified of another war. Hitler kept his war plans secret from the German people. There are some indications that if the Allies had stood up to Hitler and honored their treaty obligations to Czecheslovakia that the Wehrmacht would have arrested Hitler or killed Hitler rather than gone to war. A group of conspirators were apprently prepared on September 28 to attack the Chancellery, over power the SS bodyguard, and seize Hitler. They were apparently awaiting the orders for war. Major Wehrmacht leaders were prepared to march on Berlin to support the conspirators. The conspiracy was led by Lt. Col. Hans Oster, the deputy of Admiral Canaris, commander of the Abwehr, German military intelligence. Only the announcement that Hitler had agreed at the last minute to a four-power conference brockered by Itlalian dictator Benito Mussolini. [Parssinen] Whether the conspiracy would have actually been launched and succeeded, we do not know.
Shortly after his radio broadcast, Chamberlain received a reply from Hitler to the letter Wilson had delivered. In it Hitler offered some conceessions. Most importantly he offered to guarantee Czechslovakia's new borders. He also offered to again comsider the manner of the transfer, but did not specifically offer to adjust the time table. This was enough for Chamberlain. He immediately replied (September 28), "After reading your letter, I feel certain that you can get all essentia.s without war and without delay. I am ready to come to Berlin at once myself to discuss arrangements for transfer with you and representatives of the Czech Government, together with representatives of France and Italy if yoy desire. I feel convinced that we can reach agreement in a week." Chamberlain also cabeled Mussolini.
The conference was held at Berchegarten, Hitler's mountain top refuge. Hitler and his ally Mussolini met with Primeminister Chamberlain and Premier Daladier. The Czech government was neither invited nor consulted about the discussions.
The Munich Agreement was formally signed by Germany, Italy, France, and Britain at Munich, Germany (September 29, 1938). Britain and France acceeded to Hitler's demand that Czechoslovakia cede the German-speaking Sudetenland. The Czechs call it the Munuch Diktat. The Agreement was signed by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain for Britain, Premier �douard Daladier for France, Adolf Hitler for Germany, and Benito Mussolini for Italy. Chamberlain and Daladier consented to Hitler's demands for the partition of Czechoslovakia. The Sudetenland was to be annexed by Germany. All the Czechs got was a solemn pledge concerning the remainder of the country. The details of the Agreementb established October 1, 1938, as the date for Czechs to evacuate the Sudetenland. The Germans were authorized to occupy four districts in successive stages between October 1-7. German occupation of the Sudetenland would be completed by October 10. Additional territories populated primarily by erhnic Germans were to be identified by an international commission made up of representatives of France, Germany, Britain, Italy, and Czechoslovakia. The Commission was to supervise a plebiscite to determine the final frontier. That commission was also to organixe plebecites in other disputed territory. The Agreement also addressed Hungarian and Polish claims concerning areas of Czechoslovakia populated by ethnic Hungarians and Poles. The goal was to resolve these demands within 3 months. If this was not achieved, a new conference was to be convened. An annex to the Agreement included a pledge by Britain, France, and Germany to guarantee the new Czech boundaries. Germany and Italy refused, however, to join in the guarantee until the Polish and Hungarian minority problems were resolved.
The Czech Government with out British and French assistance had little real option, but to comply with Hitler's demands. The Czechs deserted by its allies, capitulated the following day and agreed to abide by the agreement forced upon (September 30). Czech historians debate the issue of whether their country should have resisted like the Poles were to do the follwing year. An editorial in The Times of London explained that the capitulation to Germany was for the Czech's on good. President Benes was afrid to face Germany with only Soviet backing. The terrible war which devestated Spain (1936-39) with Communists fighting Fascists terrified them. The Czech's had a not unsubstantial military, well entrenched in the Sudetenland. What they did not have was a creditable air force. Not only did they face a powerful army that they could not hope to sucessfully resist without the Allies, but they faced the prospect of having their cities ravaged by the Luftwaffe. President Benes, deserted by the Allies, agreed to the German demands and resigned.
Poland took advantage of the situation to annex the Tesin region in the north of Czechoslovakia. Tesin had a Polish minority of 75,000. Polish leaders do not seem to have understood that they were next. Hungary also acted, annexing the southern part of Slovakia and Ruthenia which had a Hungarian minority of 750,000.
Chamberlain flew back to London and stepping off the plane waved the agreement signed by Herr Hitler which he assured the waiting repoters guaranteed "Peace in our time." The photograph of him at the door of the airplane waving that piece of paper is one of the enduring images of the 20th century. Chamberlain was convinced that he had saved Europe from the horrors of war. He believed that he had successfully appeased Hitler who had assured him that the Sudetenland was Germany's last territorial demands in Europe and that any future disputes would be ressolved through negotiation. Chamberlain is today condemned by historians. This was not the case when he flew back from Munich. The British press hailed him as a hero as did the public. The tradegy of history was that Chamberlin's efforts hd it been 1914 might have prevented war, but in 1938 may have made war inevitable. He may have even prevented Wehrmmact commanders from acting against Hitler. He may have also greatly added to NAZI power when war came. There is no question that Chamberlin was a decent man. But Munich is an example of the tragic consequences that can come from defective policies. It is also an example of how peace is not always the best or even the most moral alternative.
Hitler was intent on seizing Czecheslovakia. He never explained why he changed his mind. A variety of facors may have been involved. His basic tactic was to separate Czecheslovakia from its allies. this was the same tactic Hitler used in his domestic struggles--divide and conquer. He was fully prepared tp go to war. In fact he wanted a war. He saw himself as a great war leader. Politics apauled him, it was war that appealed to him. The irony is that while he was a talented poltican, he proved to be a disastrous war leader. With Czrchoslovakia in the end had second thoughts. The unexpected firmness of Chamberlin and Daladier surprised him. Britain's naval mobilization suggested that the invasion of Czecheslovakia would mean a full scale European war, not a small, localized war. The German people disappointed Hitler. The German people were as concerned about another war as the British and French and failed to show the martial vigor he expected. They clearly did not exhibit his enthusiasm for war. The reluctance of Wehrmacht commanders as well as associates like Goering and Goebbels also caused caution. [Freidel, p. 302.]
The British and French people were relieved that war had been prevented. No one wanted another horendous world war. It was not immediately apparent that Munich meerly postponed the onset of the war. Chamberlin was trated as a hero when he flews back to London and guaranteed that he had achieved "peace in our times". He even waved the declaration that Hitler had signed to resolve all future international disputes through arbitration.
The Wehrmacht as agreed to in the Munich Agreement began moving into the Sudetenland (October 1). They were received with jubilation. Hitler followed (October 3). Wenzel Jaksch who was the leader of the Sudeten Social Democrats flew to London hoping to arrange for refugee status for leaders of his party. The German Security Services and Gestapo followed the Wehrmacht anf began arresting political opponents. The Times in London published accounts of the junilation of the Sudebten Germans along with photographs showing the cascade of flowers greeting the German soldiers. The Times editor, Geoffrey Dawson, rejected photograhs of those fleeing the NAZIs. The British offered no visas to Jaksch's colleagues. Many were arrested by the Gestpo. Others who manage to hide out in Czechoslovakia were at the demand of the German Government arrested and turned over to the NAZIs by the new Prague regime. [Fest, p. 567-68.] The Sudentland was incoporated into the Reich. One has to be careful how to assess the images of cheering Sudenten Germans welcoming the NAZIs. One of the Sudenten Germans impressed with the NAZIs was a young Oskar Schindler. He came from a Catholic family in the Sudetenland and welcomed the NAZIs. Schindler joined the NAZI Party shortly after the German annexation of the Sudetenland.
The Munich Conference had immediate results. Even after the British and French capitulated at Munich, many Czechs still wanted to resist. There was some sentiment for this among both political and military leaders. Mass meetings in Prague protested the Munich Accord. Many demanded that the Government resist. Both the nationalist and Communists wanted the Government to resist. Workers came out in force. The Czech Army had been mobilized and was ready to fight. President Bene� decided to accept the terms of the Munich accords. He looked on the bloodletting that would have resulted. The power of the Luftwaffe was undoubtedly a major factor. The Wehrmacht as agreed to in the Munich Agreement began moving into the Sudetenland (October 1). They were received with jubilation. Hitler followed (October 3). Wenzel Jaksch who was the leader of the Sudeten Social Democrats flew to London hoping to arrange for refugee status for leaders of his party. The German Security Services and Gestapo followed the Wehrmacht and began arresting political opponents. The Times in London published accounts of the junilation of the Sudebten Germans along with photographs showing the cascade of flowers greeting the German soldiers. The Times editor, Geoffrey Dawson, rejected photograhs of those fleeing the NAZIs. Capitulation to the NAZIs is not what the Czechs in the Sudetenland or beyond had expected. They thought the Czech Army aided by the Allies would resist. Thus the Czechs in the Sudetenlnd stayed put and few made plans to leave. Nir did the Czech Government make plans to care for refugees. As a result, when the Czechs announced compliance with the terms of the Munich Conference , the Czechs were surprises. And the Czechs in the Sudetenland had few options. They poured across the border with barely the shirts on their backs. They left homes, shops, and farms where their familes had lived for centuries. And along with them came Jews and anti-NAZI Germans having few illusions about what awaited them. Some 115,000 Czechs and 30,000 Germans fled across the border into what was left of Czech Bohemia. It was not just the Sydetenland that was lost. The rest of the country began to unravel. Poland took advantage of the situation to annex the Tesin region in the north of Czechoslovakia. Tesin had a Polish minority of 75,000. Polish leaders do not seem to have understood that they were next. Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia/Carpatho-Ukraine demanded autonomy.
Churchill was apauled. He issued a release at the time, " The partition of Czechoslovakia under pressure from England and France amounts to a complete surrender of the Western Democracies. He added that it will "bring peace and security meither to England nor to France. On the contrary, it will place these two nations in an ever-weaker and more dangerous situation. The mere neutrilization of Czechoslovalia means the liberation of twenty-five German divisions, which will threaten the Western Front; in addition it will open up for tghe triumphant NAzis the road to the Black Sea ..."
Hitler in total violation of the Munich agreement ordered the Wehrmacht to seize the rest of Czecheslovakia--Bohemia and Moravia. German troops marched into Prague on March 15, 1939. The Germans established a "protectorate." The Czechs people suffered during the German occupation, especially after Hitler concluded tht the Czechs were bing treated to softly and appointed the commande of the SD (SS Security Police), Reinhard Heydrich, as Reichprotector in 1941. Heydrich is known as the "The Hangman" for his penchabt for hanging opponents and histages. He was assasinated by British trained Czech agents (May 1942). Losses during World war II, however, were not as great as in many other countries, especially Poland to the north. The major exception were the Czech Jews. Czecheslovakia was the foreign country occupied by the NAZIs for the longest period. More than 70,000 Czech and Slovakian Jews were killed by the NAZIs.
Czechoslovakia's neighbors took the opportunity to make their own demands. Czechoslovakia is a nation that had never before existed. It was created out of several different national groups. The Germans in the Sudetenland were just one of those groups. Besides the Czechs and Slovaks tkere were Hungarians, Poles, and Ukranians. These other nationalities were useful to Hitler because they helped to provide some cover for the destruction of Czechoslovakia. This was needed because a German move on Czechoslovakia meant a violation of the Munich agreement. The Poles in October demanded Teschen. The Hungarians in November demanded a strip of territory with over 1 million people. Poland and Hungary seized much of the Czech territory they coveted. The Czechs also had to grant autonomy to Slovakia and Ruthenia, which was renamed "Carpatho-Ukraine". he NAZIs for a time promoted pan-Ukrainian agitation in Ruthenia, until the signinging of the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact temporarily changed the direction of German foreign policy.
Slovak leaders fearing the alternative of being divided by Germany, Poland, and Hungary, suceeded from the Czecheslovakian Rpublic and declared independence in march 1939. It was hardly independent. The Slovaks adopted the policies of the NAZIs including anbti-Semetic laws. copied the policies of Germany and had little real independence. Slovakia became a German puppet state under the pro-NAZI Jozef Tiso.
People all over Europe, including the German people, were relieved that war had been averted, but the Munich Diktat (September 1938) and especially the seizure of what was left of Czechoslovakia (March 1939) changed everything. Hitler had threatened war. And he broke his word to Chamberlain that he wanted 'no Czechs'. Even Chamberlain who wanted peace passionately saw that Hitler both could not be reasoned with and could not be trusted--although incredibly he had not given up. Perhaps even more importantly, popular opinion in Britain was changing dramatically. More and more, the British people were beginning to realize that they had no choice but to stand up to Hitler. Chamberlain may have failed, but there was one unintended consequence of his failure -- a sea change in public opinion. The British people who had wanted to avoid war at any cost, were now increasingly understanding the need to confront Hitler and by military action if necessary. Unfortunately they had not come to support rearmament early enough. The German people were unaware of this changing dynamic, nor apparently was Hitler. He still dreamed of an alliance with the British. The German people were again impressed with their Führer who brought victory after victory while avoiding war. The seizure of Czechoslovakia, however, made it clear that the British-French attempt to appease Hitler had failed. The British and French Governments saw that Hitler was intent on ruling Europe, if not the world. It was now clear that Hitler could only be stopped by military means. The Allies took no substantial act when Hitler seized the remainder of Czechoslovakia (March 1939). But the British public who were dismissive toward Winston Churchill now began to turn toward him because he had long insisted that Hitler had to be confronted. British newspapers also shifted and began criticizing Chamberlain's policy of appeasement. These were the same newspapers that months earlier had lauded him for averting war at Munich. And the opposition Labour Party which had come close to advocating unilateral disarmament now turned against appeasement. In fairness to Chamberlain, the British public was not prepared to go to war in 1938. After Munich and the NAZI seizure of the rest of Czechoslovakia, British public onion had shifted. Kristallnacht in November 1939 had only brought home to the English public the evil nature of the NAZI regime and the need to confront it. Britain and Europe would pay a terrible price for how long it took to learn that lesson. Churchill upon becoming prime-minister would muse, "I hope it is not too late." It nearly was.
The Munich Agreement had repercussioins that are still debated today. Germany gained emmensly from seizing Czecheslovakia, but they have forfeited the chance to strike when the military balance was even more strongly on their side than in 1939. The Allies gained time to prepare for the War that was clealy coming. Britain used it more effectively than the french. The Soviets concluded that the Allies were not to be trusted. America learned the consequences of military weakness. President Roosevelt moved to rearm America, laying the foundation for a massive air force and a two ocean navy. Ironically it would be this air force and the air force the British would build that would devestate German cities.
The German people were thrilled that Hitler had achieved th goal of returning th Seudeten Germasns to the Reich and accomplished it without war. He had promised to undue the Versailles Treaty and ith the remilitarization of the heinelands, the Anchluss, and Munich, he had nearly accomplished that goal--and all without war. He was widely seen as the geatest German leader since Chancellor Bismarck. After Munich, Hitler was virtully unsailble in Germany.
France did not use the respeit provided by Munich very effectively. Planes were ordered in the United States, but the orders wee fairly modest. The French ordered only 100 planes. The French aircraft industry and labor unions oposed massive contracts being given to U.S. companies. Another problem was that American aircraft companies were not tooled up for massive contracts. [Freidel, p. 308.]
Some believe that Britain un 1938 ws not prepared for war. The British used the time provided by Munich somewhat more effectively. The British ordered 400 trainers and transport planes in America. [Freidel, p. 308.] Like te French, however, the British were low to follo up on Freesident Roosevelt's efforts to purchase planes in America. As late as May 1939 the Air Ministry appeared more interested in metal sheeting than actual planes. [Freidel, p. 309.] Aircraft production was increased, espevcially Hawker Hurricanes. Some Spitfire squadrons were activated. The Home radar network was rushed to completion.
One European leader, Soviet Marshall Stalin, who was not at the conference drew the conclusion that the British and French could not be trusted as potential allies against Hitler. In fact, Stalin came to see the direction of British and French policy was to sit out a war between Germany and the Soviet Union. Stalin, in his report to the 18th Party Congress on March 10, 1939, brushed aside Western warnngs about German designs on the Ukranian breadbasket as an effort "to provoke a conflict with Germany without any visible grounds". His vision was that the "non-aggressive" states were "unquestionably stronger than the Fascist states". This was based on the widely held view that the French Army was the strongest in Europe. Stalin was convinced that the Allies failure to live up to their trraty obligations to Czecheslovakia was not a question of weakness, but by
the British and French desire to provoke a war between the Soviet Union and Germany. He stated that the Soviet Union was determined stay out of any "new imperialist war".
Not well understood at the time was that the Muinch Conference was a watershead in American diplomatic and military history. After Munich, American leaders pledged that they would ndever allow another Munich to occur. Ambassador Bullitt distilled the lesson of Munich to Presideng Roosevelt, "If you have enought airplanes you don't have to go to Berchtgaden." [Freidel, p. 303.] One impct of Munich was orders from the Allies for planes from American aitcraft. President Rosevelt was determined that the American aircraft industy become the lrgest in the orld and that is precisely what happened. While these initial Allied orders were relatively modest, they were the beginning of the massive expansion of the Americam aircraft industry. [Freidel, p. 308.] America was to create the most massive air armada in history. Time and time again one is struck by the unintended onsequences of various historical events. Here Hitler's great triumph resulted in the creaion of an air armada that would devestate Germany in a massive air campaign. American aircraft companies not only equipped the American Army Air Corps, but its allies as well. This air armada was to play a major role in the crushing of Germany and its Axis allies.
NAZI Foreign Minister Ribbentrop and newly appointed Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs Molotov on August 23, 1939, signed the Nazi-Soviet
Non-Aggression Pact. At the time of thesigning, British and French delegations were in Moscow trying to reach an understanding with Stalin. Hewas convinced,
however, that they were tring to draw him into a war with Hitler. The two countries which until that time had been bitter foes, pledged not attack each other. Any
problems developing between the two countries were to be delt with amicably. (Hitler made the same pledge to Chamberlain at Munich.) It was to last for 10 years. The Pact shocked the world and the purpose was immedietly apparent. It meant that Germany could attack Poland without fear of Soviet intervention. Thus after defeating Poland, Germany did not have to fear a full-scale European war on two fronts. What was not known at the time was that there was a secret protocol to the pact which in effect divided Eastern Europe betwen the two countries. This protocol was discoered after the end of the World War II in 1945. The Soviets continued to deny this protocol until 1989. The
NAZIs 8 days after signing the Pact invade Poland on September 1, 1939, launching World War II. Although the Soviet's did not enter the War against Britain and France, the Soviets were virtual NAZI allies as they provided large quantaies of strategic materials, especially oil. Communist parties in Britain and France opposedthe war effort. The Communst Party in America opposed President Roosevelt's efforts to expand defense spending and assist Britain and France.
Hitler came to regret his compromise. After Munich despite his stunning success, he came to feel that he had been cheated of his war. One hitorian wrires, "Hitler complauned later thtat he had been twarted from having a war in 1938 because 'the British and the French accepted all my demands at Munich'. In the spring of 1939 he explained his imptience to the Romanian foreign minister, I an now firt,' he said. 'I would rather have the war now thn when I am fifty-five or sixty.' Hitler thus revealed thar he intended to achieve his goal of European domination during a single lifetime, which he expected to be short. With his obsessive vanity, he could not trustanyone else to varry on his mission. He regarded himself as literaly irreplaceable and told his generals that the fate of the Reich depended on him alone." [Beevor]
He convinced himself to not make the same mistake he mase with the Czechss in his dealings with his next victim--the Poles. This time he insisted on dealing directky with the Polish Government wothout even attempting to involve Britain and France. Later in the final years of the War as the NAZIs faced defeat, Hitler expressed the opinion that his mistake was not to go to war in 1938. As the Russians closed in, in wrote in his bunker under Berlin, "We ought to have gone to war in 1938." [Weinberg, p. 463.] . He may well have been correct although this is a topic that military historians continue to debte to this day.
President Benes in July 1940 after the fall of ranc established a government in exile in London, like the countries invaded and occupied by the Germans in 1939-40. The British had not allowed Benes to set up a government-in-exile earlier.
Beevor, Antony. The Second World War (2012).
Ciano, Galeazzo. "May 5, 1938 entry" The Ciano Diaries 1939-43 (Garden City, NJ: 1946).
Churchill, Winston. The Gathering Storm (Boston, 1948).
Davidson, Eugene. The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (Univesity of Missouri: Columbia, 1996), 519p.
De Roussy de Sales, Raoul. ed. My New Order: Adolf Hitler's Speeches 1918-1941 (New York, 1941).
Feiling, Keith. The Life of Neville Chamberlain (New York, 1946).
Fest, Joachim C. Hitler (Vintagfe Books, New York, 1974), 844p.
Freidel, Frank. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Rendezuous with Destiny (Little Brown: Boston, 1990), 710p.
Hill, Rapph W. "1938-1939," WW2 People's War (July 21, 2005).
Parssinen, Terry. The Oster Conspiracy of 1938: The Unknown Story of the Military Plot to Kill Hitler and Avert World War II (Harper Collins, 2003). 232p.
Roseman, Samuel I. ed. Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt 1938-50, 13 Vols.
Shirer, William L. Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York, 1960).
Widner, James F. The Munich Crisis (Website created 1998).
Weinberg, Gerhard L. Foreign Policy of Hitle's Germany, 1937-1939 (1980).
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