Why did war break out? International relations 1929–39
Hitler’s aims and
policies with regard to the Versailles settlement. Lebensraum,
Grossdeutschland, re-armament, the Saar, re-occupation
Britain’s policy of appeasement: Chamberlain and appeasement.
The Munich Agreement and the takeover of Czechoslovakia.
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The Munich Agreement
Following Anscluss, Hitler's attention turned to the Czech region of Sudetenland. From April throughout the summer Sudeten Germans rioted and demanded that they be allowed to join Germany. In the light of alleged atrocities by the Czech Government against these ethnic Germans, Hitler ordered the Wehrmacht into positions along the Czech border and made demands for the safety of the German population.
The British Government responded to the increased tension through the usual diplomatic channels. In July Hitler confirmed that he wanted Sudetenland to be ceded to Germany and made assurances that this was his only territorial ambition. He also promised not to invade Czechoslavakia if the wishes of the Sudeten Germans were granted and the region was handed over. On September 12th the situation worsened as martial law was imposed in Sudentenland by the Czechs as a result of rioting. Hitler made it clear that the German Wehrmacht would act in defence of the ethnic Germans.
On September 15th the British prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, flew to Austria to meet with Adolf Hitler. After discussions with Hitler, Chamberlain agreed that Hitler would be allowed to take control of Sudetenland and said that he would negotiate with his cabinet and other major powers to ensure that there was a peaceful solution to the crisis and a positive outcome for the Sudeten Germans.
In the following week Chamberlain got the approval of his Cabinet for such an agreement to be made and ersuaded the Czech government that this was the only viable option, no matter how much they disliked it. On September 22nd Chamberlain met Hitler again and told him that agreement could be made for areas of Sudetenland that were predominantly German to be ceded. Hitler's response was to demand the withdrawal of Czech troops from the entire region by October 1st: a provocative move that would provide an excuse to invade the rest of Czechoslovakia if the Czechs failed to comply.
This response was not what the International community had anticipated. War now looked like a distinct possibility and initial mobilisation of troops was ordered in Britain and France. Hitler had demanded the entire region, the removal of non Germans from the area and demanded that other parts of Czechoslavakia be ceded to Poland and Holland.
In the following week Hitler contacted the British guaranteeing the safety of Czechoslovakia if the Sudetenland was ceded to Germany. This provided one last opportunity to prevent war. Chamberlain replied that he would like to continue negotiations and invited the Italian leader, Mussolini, and the French Premier to participate in negotiations. These negotiations, which did not involve a representative of the Czech government, were held in Munich on September 29th.
At the meeting in Munich the Italians presented a solution. The Sudetenland would be ceded to Germany in exchange for a written assurance from the Germans that this was the end of German territorial expansion. It offered the only way to prevent a German invasion. Chamberlain and Daladier, the French Premier, agreed. The Munich Agreement was signed the following day. The Czechs were informed of the agreement after it had been signed. When they said that they did not agree with the terms they were informed that it was binding and that if they did not comply that they would be held responsible for any war. In other words, they had no choice but to agree.
Neville Chamberlain holding aloft his copy of the Munich Agreement
Chamberlain returned to a heroes welcome and declared that he had secured 'Peace in our time'. A joint communique was issued by both the British and Germans:
"We, the German Fuhrer and Chancellor and the British Prime Minister, have had a further meeting today and are agreed in recognising the question of Anglo-German relations as of the first importance for the two countries and for Europe. We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German naval agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two people never to go to war with one another again. We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries, and we are determined to continue our efforts to remove probable sources of difference and thus contribute to assure the peace of Europe."