My study blog

Road to war

Posted by lednum on November 6, 2006

For many years the Rhineland area had been a key industrial region of Germany, producing coal, steel and iron resources.

The Rhineland also formed a natural barrier to its neighbour and rival, France. In the event of a war, the River Rhine, if properly defended, would be a difficult obstacle for an invading force to cross.

One of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles was that the Germans would not be able to keep military forces in a 50km stretch of the Rhineland. Hitler resented this term as it made Germany vulnerable to invasion. He was determined to enlarge his military capability and strengthen his borders.

In 1935, Hitler’s plans to strengthen Germany and undermine the Treaty of Versailles were given a boost when the German-speaking Saar region voted to reunite with Germany. The region, important for coal production, had previously been removed from German control as a term of Versailles to weaken Germany industrially.

When the leading European nations did not react to this violation of Versailles, Hitler was encouraged to see how far he could go in breaking other terms of Versailles.

-In 1935 he reintroduced conscription of men into the armed forces.

-In the same year he revealed that he had built up an air-force and signed the Anglo-German Naval Agreement that allowed him to enlarge his naval forces.

-In 1936 Hitler boldly marched 22,000 German troops into the Rhineland, in a direct contravention of the Treaty of Versailles.

-Hitler offered France and Britain a 25 year non-aggression pact and claimed ‘Germany had no territorial demands to make in Europe’.

Reactions to Hitler


Britain did not act. The nation was weak economically and militarily and so did not want to commit itself to war unless it definitely had to.

-At the time, Britain was in dispute with Italy over its military campaigns in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and British forces had been moved into the Mediterranean in case Italy became aggressive. There was little Britain could do to stop Germany.

-There was a popular view that the Germans were only ‘going into their back-garden’ by re-entering an army to the Rhineland. Although the British government denounced the breaking of the terms of Versailles, they did not think it merited war.


France did not act. France was between governments when Germany re-occupied the Rhineland. The Hoare-Laval fiasco (where France and Britain tried to appease Italy’s leader Mussolini by agreeing to offer him land in Abyssinia) had been deeply unpopular and had eventually brought down the government. France could not act to stop the Germans.

-French military forces had previously been moved from the Rhine to the Alps and Tunisia because of the political tension with Italy. As such, their forces near the Rhineland were weakened.

-French generals also thought the German occupying forces were much bigger than they actually were. They would not attack without more support.

-The French would only act on Germany with Britain’s aid. British reluctance to stand up to Hitler meant the French also took no action. France placed its faith in the Maginot Line of fortifications on the Franco-German border.


Hitler had significantly improved his status. Over the next two years the Germans built defences and within 18 months their rate of rearmament passed that of Britain and France. He did not agree to an Air Force Pact with Britain. He began to think he was infallible.

-France continued to strengthen the Maginot Line in an attempt to safeguard against future German aggression.

-France’s alliance with Britain became strained due to Britain’s refusal to stand up to Germany.

-French alliances with eastern European countries were undermined as France concentrated solely on defence against possible German aggression.

-Italy formed the Rome-Berlin Axis in July 1936.

-Hitler signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan in November 1936 which formed an anti-Communist alliance between the two nations.

-Britain promised France and Belgium help if they were invaded (reaffirming Locarno).

-Austria now came under more German pressure.

-Britain began rearming its military forces.


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