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How was Hitler able to rearm?

How was Hitler able to rearm?


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It seems that Germany must've been under incredible scrutiny especially by the British.

How was Hitler able to rearm?

Please provide specifics on personnel and weapons classes.


To take one example, in 1935, Hitler negotiated the Anglo German Naval Treaty (details in the link).

Anglo-German Naval Agreement

This treaty "broke" the Versailles Treaty because it gave Germany naval tonnage limits ABOVE Versailles. It was a bilateral treaty between England and Germany, concluded without consulting the other Versailles signatories, especially France and Italy.

Basically, Chamberlain's Britain tolerated a few German deviations from the Versailles Treaty as long as her own interests didn't seem to be threatened. They learned too late that "a few German deviations" would add up to another world war.


Germany became a clandestine arms supplier as a way to build its own industrial capabilities, for example building U-boats for Turkey before WW2.

foreign U-boats

This included Bombers for the Swedes and fighters for the Spanish Civil War.

Swedish Junkers Torpedo Bombers

The He-115 floatplane was exported before the war to both Finland Sweden and Norway. MI.6 obtained and operated five of these Norwegian He-115 aircraft in clandestine operations against Germany during the war

He-115 history

Germany also supplied fighters and Wright Cyclone engine powered He-111 bombers to the Nationalist Chinese before WW2 and assisted the Soviets to re-arm. "The He-111 was exported and/or produced in a number of different countries. He-111s were shipped to China, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey and Bulgaria."

History of the He-111

In addition to the hardware they provided mercenary crews as a way to gain experience. Source Bund Archiv Freiburg

Russian pilot training for Luftwaffe


Hitler Comes to Power

In the early 1930s, the mood in Germany was grim. The worldwide economic depression had hit the country especially hard, and millions of people were out of work. Still fresh in the minds of many was Germany's humiliating defeat fifteen years earlier during World War I, and Germans lacked confidence in their weak government, known as the Weimar Republic. These conditions provided the chance for the rise of a new leader, Adolf Hitler, and his party, the National Socialist German Workers' Party, or Nazi Party for short.

Hitler was a powerful and spellbinding speaker who attracted a wide following of Germans desperate for change. He promised the disenchanted a better life and a new and glorious Germany. The Nazis appealed especially to the unemployed, young people, and members of the lower middle class (small store owners, office employees, craftsmen, and farmers).


Rearming Germany

This document has sworn affidavits given by Nazi leaders that detail some of the economic policies enacted in order to rearm Germany. The desires for rearmament were clear, but the Nazis needed an actual plan as to how to acquire the funds for the mobilization of the military. These plans were brought together into the “Four Year Plan,” and under the leadership of Hermann Goering. This source describes Goering’s part in rebuilding the German economy, along with other top rearmament officials, including Walter Funk and Hjalmar Schacht.

This source is an extremely useful site, because it clearly shows not only the desires for rearmament by the Nazi regime, but it details many of the policies executed by the Nazi leaders in their quest to spark the German economy and prepare the country for war. Several quotes from top Nazi personnel on this site describe the plans they enacted to rearm the nation. These plans included making German completely self-sufficient in key materials that were needed for the war (including gasoline and steel), using foreign currencies and the money of political enemies to help fund the rearmament, and also the keeping of all economic policies a secret. The secrecy desired by the Nazis was needed because they were fully aware that what they were doing was in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. In addition to all of the economic policies enacted by the leaders of the government, these quotes also describe meetings between Nazi leadership and German industrial leaders. This shows that rearmament was clearly the number one aspect of the rebuilding of the faltering German economy. It was only through these policies that the Nazis envisioned gaining enough military might to succeed in their quest to avenge the insulting Treaty of Versailles and ethnically cleanse their country.

Hitler’s Motivation for Rearmament

Quote from excerpt in Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

Volume 2: The National Socialist Movement. Chapter XV: The Right of Emergency Defense.

“To be sure, this so-called passive resistance as such could not be maintained for long. For only a man totally ignorant of warfare could imagine that occupying armies can be frightened away by such ridiculous means.”

This primary source is a quote from Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf, that clearly shows how Hitler believed that Germany would not be able to properly defend itself without the strength of trained military. Hitler is explaining that it would be foolish and unintelligent of any government to believe that complete peace and control can be maintained without military influence. This statement shows the desire that Germany would have when Hitler came to power for developing a strong military, even if this were to violate the restrictions set by the Treaty of Versailles. The quote represents also the strong desires to rearm by Hitler.

According to this quote, Hitler expresses that the necessity to rearm derived from the need to protect and expand Germany’s territory from occupying armies and not solely for purpose world power. Joined together with our primary source discussing rearmament propaganda, it appears that Hitler was attempting to create the sense Germany is constantly the victim and it is necessary to protect the country from all areas of the world, while it was impossible to trust any outisde governments. He also attempts to convey his experience and higher knowledge with his critique of “a man totally ignorant of warfare.” This quote clearly shows his desire to convince the German public that he comprehends military action and strategy better than others, and he knows how to successfully protect his fellow countrymen. One of Hitler’s most significant reasons for rearming reflected his perception of necessary protection by the military, which could only be more successful with the unifying and strengthening of the country in every aspect.

Nazi Rearmament Propaganda

Nazi Propaganda from Heer, Flotte, und Luftwaffe

This source provides Nazi propaganda from a book titled Heer, Flotte, und Luftwaffe and ties into the motivations and desires that Hitler and the Nazis had for German rearmament. There are three pieces of propaganda that portray the need for Germany to rearm in terms of defending and protecting its territory and industry from possible threats. This propaganda connects to the Nazi desire of creating a strong Germany military that could protect and defend itself when necessary from threats. The other piece of propaganda is a comparison of military funding of the great powers of the world. This links to the desire of Hitler and the Nazis to bring Germany back to the level of a world power, and ties a countries power into the amount of funding that a country puts into its military.

The Nazi propaganda pictures from this source show how the Nazis used defense and nationalist ideals to create support for their rearmament aims. They openly say that Germany needs to have a strong military in order for the country to protect its industry and borders. In this way the Nazi propaganda is related to the excerpt from Hitler’s Mein Kampf in that it states that Germany needs to rearm and build a strong military in order for Germany to protect its territory and industries. This source also provides an example of propaganda using nationalism to support the need to rearm and focus more spending on the military in order for Germany to become a world power. The propaganda pictures from this source are all related to driving forces of defense and nationalism that played a role in the Nazi desires for rearmament.


Did America Have a 'Good Relationship' with Hitler? What Joe Biden Got Right and Wrong About That History During the Debate

A t the presidential debate on Thursday, as the candidates were talking about their visions for the future, one comment about the past caught a lot of viewers’ attention.

After President Trump said that it was a good thing that he had a good relationship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, as Presidents are supposed to maintain good relationships with other world leaders, Democratic candidate Joe Biden fired back: “We had a good relationship with Hitler before he, in fact, invaded Europe, the rest of Europe. Come on.”

Some pundits shared that one-line comparison without any additional context, while others pointed to the trope known as “Godwin’s Law“: the idea that, allowed to go on long enough, any online debate will eventually end in a comparison being made to Adolf Hitler or Nazism. Other Twitter users, however, concentrated on whether the analogy was historically accurate.

So is Biden right that America had a good relationship with Hitler prior to the beginning of World War II? Yes and no.

“The relationship between the U.S. and Germany in the 1930s is very complicated and multilayered and can’t be reduced to a sound bite,” says Michael D. Hattem, Associate Director of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute and an expert on how early American politics are remembered throughout U.S. history. “While the Congress was committed to non-interventionism, the financial and corporate sector had lots of interests in Germany. A bunch of American companies like IBM [and] Coca Cola had large investments in Germany in the 1930s, and a number of them invested more heavily in Germany after Hitler came to power.”

At the heart of the matter is what one means by “America.” The American government did not have some kind of special, formalized relationship with Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler in the years following his rise to power, given a strong preference in Congress and in the White House to stay out out of European affairs after World War I. Some American businesses wanted to do business in Nazi Germany and some individual Americans did have a good impression of Hitler and felt as if he shared their values. These American Nazi groups went underground after Pearl Harbor, only to re-emerge after the war&mdashand some are still thriving today.

“I think Biden was being sarcastic when he said we had a great relationship with Hitler before he invaded the rest of Europe. We didn’t have a great relationship with Hitler but there were many Hitler supporters in the U.S.,” says Steve Ross, professor of History at the University of Southern California and author of Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America. “The America First movement was very much a pro-Nazi movement, and it was those people who said we should have a great relationship with Hitler. A contingent wanted America to remain neutral only so long as Hitler was able to rearm Germany, conquer Europe and then they wanted Hitler to conquer America or be part of an alliance with Germany.”

America First was a powerful movement that boasted a lot of influential supporters (including Walt Disney, Frank Lloyd Wright, John F. Kennedy and Gerald Ford) who weren’t necessarily pro-Nazi but were against American involvement in European affairs, a feeling prompted by the idea that the U.S. effort in World War I proved futile. The America First movement was particularly active in areas of the U.S. with large German American populations.

In addition, some Americans were drawn to Hitler’s ideas&mdashnot just his outspokenness against communism, but also his anti-Semitism and racism. The economic turmoil of the 1930s also fueled Nazi sympathizers, Ross says, as people in the U.S. looked for scapegoats to blame for the Great Depression.

American support for those abhorrent ideas was not mere talk. After Kristallnacht in November 1938, Ross says, American Nazis began preparing for a future in which they would take a key role in American politics. “Nazis in America started setting up cells and the cells were planning for the day when, what they said is, the communists would rise up to overthrow the American government,” Ross says. “When they did, the Nazi, pro-Hitler forces would rise up, defeat communism, and take over the American government. That’s what was going on in our country, but that past is largely untold because it’s an unpleasant part of American history.”

At the time, though, that thread in American life was hardly hidden. On Feb. 20, 1939, more than 20,000 people flocked to a German American Bund pro-Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden. The group displayed a massive image of George Washington in an attempt to show that “American Nazism was American,” says Hattem. “The American Nazis used aspects of the American Revolution and American history to achieve a more mainstream appeal” and to link America First’s non-interventionist outlook to Washington’s 1796 warning against getting involved in European wars.

And, just as some Americans admired some of Hitler’s views, the Nazi dictator also admired the way America did things, looking to its eugenics movement and caste system as he designed his own.

While Pearl Harbor effectively put an end to support for non-intervention on Dec. 7, 1941, that didn’t mean the American pro-Nazi groups went away. They just went underground, according to Ross. While many American troops came back from World War II with a new respect for tolerance, there were also many who expected the U.S. “to be the same as it was before the war&mdashand that meant for them that Blacks, Jews [and] people of color knew their place, and that their place was always below white Christian America. A white supremacist movement comes out of World War II that persists until this day,” he says, “and that is not talked about.”

Today, however, the influence of white supremacist movements in American life is once again on the rise. To historians, that fact is part of a story that dates back decades, and that can offer crucial context to what’s happening in 2020.

“So Hitler did have supporters in this country,” Ross says, “and they supported him after the war.”


Hitler’s Foreign Policy Revision Notes

Click the button below to download this worksheet for use in the classroom or at home.

In the east wanted:
as far as the Caucasus and Iran.

In the west:
: Flanders (Belgium) and Holland.
: Need Sweden to become colonial power.

Thought he should rule all Europe because otherwise it would fall apart as a nation.

Wanted the Sudetenland because it had:
• Coal and copper mines
• Power stations
• Good framing land
• The Skoda arms works, the biggest in Europe
• Protection, bohemian Alps and chain of fortresses.
• People there spoke German

Wanted Polish Corridor because:
– divided the country in two
– German speaking people

The Rhineland:
– wanted to rearm control over it again.

Austria:
– Hitler was Austrian (NB)
– 8 million German speaking people
– was banned by treaty of Versailles (revise treaty)
– to help make Germany strong

Nazi ideology:
– hated treaty of Versailles (harsh and unfair)
– economic problem is insufficient land to sustain needs of growing population.
– Superiority of German (Aryan) race
– Against Jews and slaves
– Hatred of communism

Planning for conquest:
Achieving doctorial power
Dealing with internal opposition – having SA, secret police, enabling act
Withdraw from Geneva conference and League of Nations.
Gaining control of army after death of Hindenburg, army or Wehrmacht. SA would be military forces.
Signed a non-aggression pact with Poland. (1934)
Recover economy through the New Plan.

In the long term:
Win over German people through education, censorship and propaganda.
Prepare German youth for future war.
Prepare German economy for war – four year plan –> 1936 – 1940
Weaken international system
Rearmament, at first secretly, but then openly

Economic planning—
– overcome depression — new plan was to satisfy middle and working class.
– Lay foundations for a stronger Germany.
– New plan introduced by Schacht:
o Imports limited
o Strengthen currency
o Increase government spending
o Reduce unemployment: Public works projects
♣ Compulsory National Labour Service
♣ Conscription (1935)
♣ Filling the jobs of Jews and political opponents with unemployed people

Removing and controlling opposition:
Trade unions, workers, women and Jews
National labour service
German Labour Front – Beauty of Labour and Strength through Joy

To prepare Germany for Blitzkrieg (defeat the opposition quickly)

Were the economic plans a success?
New plan:

– Reduced unemployment from 6 million to 1.5 million
– Increased currency value
– Depended less on imports this went against world trade project
– Bad jobs
– Workers lost rights and were controlled through organisations
– Work through conscription, no good for economy.
– Hard workers and loyal people benefited. Lack of consumer goods, long working hours made it bad. Things got better than the depression.
Four year plan:
– Reduced unemployment
– Prepared for blitzkrieg instead of bettering people
– Little consumer goods, not everyone received their promised Volkswagen.
– Depend on imports for 1/3 of their raw materials -> expansionist foreign policy.
– Economy prepared only for short termed war.

German rearmament
Hitler’s aims could not be obtained without armed forces so he worked to make them suitable for war.
Hitler had to rearm to be able to succeed. They had been the only ones to disarm so there can be some sympathy for them. Treaty of Versailles — reduced army to 100,000 men six warships of over 10,000 tonnes. No submarines or air force.

In secret meeting in 1933, it was decided that 1933-35 Germany would rearm secretly. This would include:
– 300,000 men instead of 100,000
– 1000 aircraft with secretly trained pilots
– barracks airfields and fortifications
– new air force – Luftwaffe and 2500 aircraft and 300,000 men

1933 – took Germany out from league and armament conference
army to sign oath of allegiance
signed non-aggression pact with Poland to make it seem as though Germany was no threat
conscription – MARCH 1935 – announced publicly to have 500,000 men
Franco-Soviet pact – 1935 – May
Anglo/German naval agreement – 1935 June –
This let German navy to have 1/3 of tonnage of British navy and equal tonnage of submarines.
Britain let this happen because it was to happen anyway and this way, Germany would have a limitation.
Stresa Front – admit conscription was bad. Guarantee to protect Austrian independence.
No one stopped German rearmament.
Britain had self-determination problems and did not want to spend on armed forces.
French did not stop because instead they put their money in building forts to defend from Germany Maginot Line.

Italy was close to taking an action. Mussolini would not allow Anchluss. Placed his men in threatening positions to warn Germans. 29 – 35 everything was good internationally, but by 1935 everything got uneasy.
Germans wanted the Saar because he wanted to reunite all German-speaking people. Had large resources of coal and iron and railways—resources important for German economy.

1935 plebiscite – 90% of people voted to join Germany after propaganda. After this got courage do admit to conscription.

1936 March – Rhineland, wanted it because it left Germany to open attack from Belgium, Holland and France. Insult to German self-respect. BIG GAMBLE. If French had marched into Rhineland, Germany would have to leave.

France was through political crisis, did not want to risk war. Big division between right winged and left winged. Britain said that Germany had only, “moved into their backyard”

Consequences Rhineland:
– Treaty of Versailles and Locarno treaties broken
– Germany was able to build line of forts there (west wall). So if Hitler broke treaty of
– Versailles, no military action could go against them.
– Germany protect Ruhr troops were situated on border with France.
– Weakened little entente and Franco-Czech treaty

By 1939:
– Rome-Berlin axis turned into pact of steel.
– Chamberlain had introduced appeasement
– Germany was no longer isolated, because of Italy and sympathy Britain and France had.
– Guarantees issued to defend Poland, Rumania and Greece.

Nazi-Soviet pact – start of World War II

Tripartite axis pact Sept. 1940 – Japan Italy and Germany.

Anschluss:
Forbidden by Treaty of Versailles because of self-determination. Austrians supported him. Right wing and socialists clashed in street battles, political oppositions. Attempt by Germany failed and many leaders imprisoned. League had promised to defend country, also Mussolini and the Stresa Front.

Hitler’s successes:
– Nazi totalitarian state and betterment in economy
– Remilitarisation of Rhineland
– Cooperation in Spanish civil war
– Rome/Berlin axis
– Anti–Comintern pact

Weakness of other powers: Stresa Front collapse, Anglo/German naval agreement. Maginot line, remilitarisation of the Rhineland.

Russia was in Stalin’s purges so was weak.

Leading to Austria:
1934 – First Nazi attempt to take over, failed. Italy defended Austria. Chancellor Dolfuss killed.
Mussolini would not defend Austrians after signing Rome-Berlin axis and Anti-Comintern pact.

Austrian Nazis started trouble.
Hitler made Schuschnigg, Austrian chancellor, restore Nazi party rights and free political prisoners and appoint Seyss-Inquart to be the minister of interior to give him control of police.
“England will not move a finger for Austria. France could have stopped Germany in the Rhineland.”

Steps.
Germany demanded postponement to plebiscite.
Seyss Inquart took over when Britain, France and Italy failed to help Austria.
Then invited Germany to restore order of opposing people.
13 march 1938 – announced that Austria and Germany were now a single country.
Austrian opponents were sent to concentration camps.

Reactions:
League nothing
Britain and France opposed but did nothing.
USSR was suspicious of Germany and Czechoslovakia and Poland prepared for a similar state.

Consequences:
Germany stronger.
Italy looked towards Adriatic and Mediterranean Sea. Mussolini was Hitler’s pawn.

The Czech Crisis 1938- 1939
Czechoslovakia was set up after PP settlement, self-determination. From Austria-Hungary. Buffer state against communism. Little Entente – new buffer states. Home of several nationalities. Conflicts amongst them. Slovaks + Germans against Czechs.

Konran Heinleid — German in Czechoslovakia that wanted to give Sudetenland to Germany.
Sudaten German People’s Party – Henleid meetings with Hitler and got $ from him. Hitler supported for transfer of Sudetenland to Germany.

1938, Hitler stronger because:
– army economy and people prepared for war
– stresa front failed, Britain agreed to naval agreement
– remilitarisation of the Rhineland. Security to west.
– Treaties signed with Italy and Japan.
– The Anschluss had placed Czechoslovakia like a fish in the jaws of a shark
– Soviet Union had domestic upheaval to upheaval with Stalin’s purges and the Five year Plans.
1938- Hitler instructed generals to make plans to invade. He told Heinland to make trouble in Sudetenland.

Plans:
Told generals to make plans to invade. Heinland was to make trouble as riots. Then he was to make impossible demands for independence so the Czech government would reject them and followers could make riots to show that government had no control. Then German army would maintain order, as Czechs had failed to do so.

There were two risks:
Czechoslovakia was well equipped for fighting, army only a little smaller than Germany. USSR and France would help.
France did not have good army and had failed to show resistance in 1936. In 1938 they would do less. USSR was in was with Japan and had economic and political problems. Czechoslovakia also had allies with Rumania and Yugoslavia.

1. Berchtesgaden – where Hitler told chamberlain that it was his last territorial aim in Europe and that he would be willing to go to war for the Sudetenland. Poland and Hungary also demanded borders.

2. Godesburg – Chamberlain went for Hitler to agree with a proposal, but Hitler said he wanted all of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain returned to Britain to prepare for war.

3. Munich – Mussolini was alarmed and proposed a four-power conference, France, Italy Germany and Britain, Czechs nor Russians were invited.
They agreed to:
– immediately transfer the Sudetenland to Germany.
– Later transfer to Teschen to Poland and Ruthania to Hungary.
– Britain and France to protect rest of Czechoslovakia.

Czechoslovakians were forced to sign the Munich Agreement or face Germany. Czechoslovakia had to sign because had no allies.

Hitler said it was his last claim on Europe and that Britain and Germany would never go to war.

Consequences:
– weakened Czechoslovakia. made it an easy target in 1939.
– Hungary, Yugoslavia and Rumania tried to come to terms with Germany
– Mussolini was encouraged in his ambitions for southeast Europe and looked for closer ties with Germany.
– Hitler believed Britain and France would not fight to protect rest of Czechoslovakia.
– Convinced Russians that they could not rely on British and France and would have to make their own arrangements where Germany was concerned.
– Gave Britain and France time to rearm. Germany also gained time.

End of Czechoslovakia:
Munich ended Czechoslovakia, it was stripped of defences and abandoned.
½ million Germans still living in Bohemia.

1939- Poland was next step for Germany. Anglo/French guarantee to Poland to help if Germany was to invade. Rumania and Greece were also given guarantees.

Appeasement: policy to avoid war with threatening powers, giving in to demands as long as they’re reasonable

Two phases:
mid 20’s – 37 – war must be avoided. Britain and France accepted things fairly unreasonable all together.

Chamberlain believed in taking initiative. Would find out what Hitler wanted and negotiate it.

Beginning of appeasement seen in Dawes and Young Plan and Locarno Treaties.

Why was appeasement reasonable at the time?

– Essential to avoid war after the glimpses of Sino-Japanese war and Spanish civil war, war seemed devastating. They were afraid of innocent civilians dying in bombs.
– Britain was in economic crisis, could not afford rearmament and expenses of Great War.
– British government supported by pacific public opinion. Italy and Germany had grievances. Britain should show sympathy. Remove need of aggression.
– League hopeless. Chamberlain thought only way to solve dispute was through face-to-face meetings.
– Economic cooperation would be good for both. If Britain helped economy with trouble, Germany would be grateful.
– Fear of communist Russia spreading.
– Nobody should treat Britain without respect.
– Britain did want to fight Japan in east at same time as fighting Germany in west.
– It would give Britain more time to get stronger, make Germany get scared of Britain.

Poland – September 1939:
East Prussia had been split from Germany to create a Polish corridor. Here was city, Danzig, where most people were German.

Hitler convinced Hungary to invade Ruthenia and made Czechs and Slovaks be under German protection, German troops marched into Prague. No more Czechoslovakia. Hitler moved from lebensraum, to correcting the errors of Versailles.

1 week later, Hitler took Memel from Lithuania

Chamberlain realised Hitler had lied, the Sudetenland wasn’t his last territorial objective. Appeasement was not working. Public opinion agreed.

Other Treaties:
– Dawes Plan (1924)
o USA lend money to Germany to help pay reparations. France knew she was going to get paid and let the Ruhr go.
o German currency reorganised
– Young Plan (pact of Paris) (1929)
o Reduce amount of reparations by 75% gave her 59 years to pay.
o Never worked because of Wall Street Crash
– Kellogg Briand Pact (1928)
o First only France and U.S.A
o Agree not to go to war for 5 years
o Settle disputes by peaceful means
o Included: USA, Germany, USSR, Italy and Japan.
– Washington Naval Conference (1922)
o Limit navies (British, American, French and Japanese)
o Not to build any new battleships or cruisers for 10 years.
o 5:5:5:3 ratio always kept

– both created stable economic conditions and optimism about peace. Didn’t reduce German grievances at all.

Poland:
Hitler wanted city of Danzig, where most inhabitants were German and the Polish corridor, which had once belonged to him.
Preparing to invade Poland:
– March 1939 – Hitler convinced Hungary to invade Ruthenia and Czechs and Slovaks to place themselves under German ‘protection’.
– Then marched into Prague and Czechoslovakia ceased to exist.
– 1 week later – Memel from Lithuania.

All this went against his promise of the Sudetenland being his ‘last-territorial objective.’ Chamberlain was appalled. He realised appeasement was not working. Hitler had now moved from ‘lebensraum’ to correcting the errors of Versailles. Czechoslovakia no longer had a majority German population.

April 1939 – Anglo-French guarantee to Poland – Britain and France predicted Poland to be the next victim. Hitler had reason to believe that it was a bluff (as previous pacts had failed to work, e.g. Stresa Front, Munich Agreement).

May 1939 – Pact of Steel – Germany and Italy to stand by each other through war. Was issued after Italy invaded Albania who had guarantees from other countries.

Britain and France tried to ask Russia for help, but did not pursue it.

Hitler began to consider possibilities of two front war with Russia in east and Britain and France in West, he was terrified. However, Britain and France turned down Russia’s treaty of mutual assistance.

German army was only ready to invade Poland, not ready for war. Did not want Czech affair to repeat, he knew there was to be a war, but first he had to isolate Poland.

August 23 1939 – signed Non-Aggression pact with Russia, for Russia not to attack Germany to protect Poland. As a result, Russia would get half of the Polish conquer.

Justifying the Non-Aggression pact:
– Stalin needed time to prepare for war
– Germany would be weakened by Britain and France
– Fear of two-front war with Japan
– Secured peace for 1 ½ years
– New land would protect them and help him spread communism

Hitler thought this Non-Aggression pact would make Britain and France less likely to help Poland.

Poland refused to give in to Hitler
– would fight with determination
– Every polish house to be a fortress
– Hitler will have more to lose than to gain

September 1 1939 – Hitler invaded Poland
September 3 1939 – war declared on Germany

Causes of world war two:
– failures of league
– Paris Peace settlement effect on eastern Europe
– appeasement
– weakness of League
– effects of great depression
– Hitler’s invasions
– Pacts and treaties
– USSR signing Nazi-Soviet Pact


Rearming Germany

The book Hitler’s Foreign Policy 1933-1939: The Road to World War II provides an examination of the effects of the end of the first World War and how that affected Hitler’s view of the world and the situation in Europe. It then goes on to explain how these views shaped Hitler’s foreign policy towards Europe and the international community. Germany’s actions towards Spain during the Spanish civil war is also discussed and the main reasons for the German involvement were political and economic in nature. Germany’s rearmament and the re-militarization of the Rhineland are discussed along with their roles in Germany becoming powerful enough militarily to not only defend itself, but also to expand and wage war. The development of the Luftwaffe and mechanized forces in the German military influenced the way that Hitler strategically planned and prepared for war. The author argues that the way that World War I ended shaped Hitler’s foreign policies, and that the rearmament and expansion of German military power further shaped his policies, goals, and planning for foreign relations and war.

This source is important as it shows how the rearmament of Germany was driven by the consequences of the Versailles Treaty, and Hitler’s desire to turn Germany into a world power through the development of its military. This source ties into the points of German rearmament being driven by such desires as turning Germany into a world power and removing the constraints of the Versailles Treaty. The rearming of the German military also required large amounts of raw material, and the Spanish civil war provided Hitler with an opportunity to gain rich resources for German rearmament in return for providing support to the Spanish Nationalist. There were also political reasons for this since as long as there was conflict in Spain, Great Britain and France would not be able to isolate Germany. This can be linked to the position taken by Professor Richard Overy in that Germany needed to use the economic resources of other nations through smaller wars before Germany could become involved in a major international war. It also talks about how the rearmament of Germany fit the Nazi desire of being able to protect German territory and borders. German rearmament had some help from the Weimar Republic in that they had a plan for increasing military size and preparation to work off of as well as an officer corps that was willing to participate in rearmament. The officer corps of the German military were ambitious and the Nazis rearmament plans would allow the officers to improve their careers in the military.

Weinberg, Gerhard L. Hitler’s Foreign Policy 1933-1939: The Road to World War II. New York: Enigma Books, 2009.

Hitler Breaks Treaty of Versailles

Hitler felt that The Treaty of Versailles was an unjust treaty and very unfair towards Germany. Hitler was determined to rebuild the German military by any means necessary. This source shows several key points that went into the rearming process and how Germany was able to get away with it. Hitler was able to sneak around some of the restrictions put in place such as flying civilian aircraft to train the Luftwaffe. The Treaty never said anything about training which meant that Germany could train just not have a military to put into action. Other aspects included building more than 2,000 war aircraft in secret and enlisting more than 300,000 men. Building up the military forces like Hitler was doing shows a clear sign of wanting a greater military, but first Germany had to get by France and Great Britain. Most of the rebuilding process was done in secret to conceal it from the rest of Europe. France had spent a great deal of money on defenses against Germany the main defense was the Maginot Line which is a series of defensive forts along the eastern part of France. France could not do much to stop Germany so what about Great Britain? The British did even less to stop rearmament they signed a naval agreement letting Germany have a navy, and they started appeasing Germany when aggression began. In a sense it seemed as if Britain wanted Germany to break the Versailles the British felt sympathetic because of the harsh restrictions placed on Germany. Hitler would have rearmed with or without consent from France or Britain. The desire to expand into Eastern Europe called for a plan of rearming in order to fight a war which was eminent. Again Hitler was going to rearm by any means necessary and the source show that even the great powers of Europe would not deter him.

“Germany and Rearmament.” (online forum message). History Learning site. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/germany_and_rearmament.htm (accessed October 24, 2011).

Rearming Germany Video

This video is extremely useful because it details not only the massive scale of the rearmament of Germany, but also the specific plans of the rearmament. Professor Richard Overy discusses in the video the specific problems that Hitler had in making his vision of a rearmed Germany a reality. The fact that Germany’s grandiose plans for a total war were hampered by a simple lack of raw materials helped motivate the Nazis in their quest to conquer their neighboring countries, due to the large number of resources that would be added to the rearmament effort. The video makes it clear that rearmament and the goal of being prepared for total war actually helped push Germany into the war earlier than it wanted.

This source points out that Germany was not aiming for a major war at the end of the 1930s but rather preparing for one further down the road. The finite supply of resources available in Germany played a role in the decision of Hitler to invade and attack neighboring countries to obtain economic resources to carry out a major war. According to this source there were industrial and economic forces that drove military expansion and actions in order to continue the rearmament and build up of the German military. Here there were economic and resource concerns that played a role in actions taken towards rearmament in Germany. This source relates to the journal article on the Nazi economy in that they both discuss the relation between the economy and resources of Germany and German rearmament and military aggression. There are also links between this source and Gerhard Weinberg’s article in that one of the reasons Germany became involved in the Spanish civil war was the need of material and resources to continue rearmament and prepare Germany for future conflicts, which is similar to some of the reasons that Professor Overy stated for German aggression to countries such as Russia and Czechoslovakia.

Weinberg Article

Gerhard L. Weinberg’s article Foreign Policy In Peace And War has a great section in which Weinberg discusses Germany’s rearmament policies. He describes how Germany specifically geared its rearmament towards the different wars it intended to fight. Weinberg shows that Hitler believed that every country that Germany would fight would require a different strategy and set of weapons systems. Weinberg also discusses the Nazi policy of deception and treaty-breaking in an effort to acquire the necessary materials for rearmament, and Hitler’s motivation for the war effort in general. Hitler believed that the German people were meant to rule the world, and he intended to achieve that goal through a series of wars, each of which would help better prepare Germany for the next.

This source is clearly important because the article describes many of the Nazis political and economic policies that helped rearm Germany for WWII. The political maneuvering that was needed because of the limitations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles are detailed, as well as the Nazi beliefs about how Germany could acquire the resources and funds needed to build the military back up.

Foreign Policy In Peace And War by Gerhard L. Weinberg

Jane Caplan, editor, Nazi Germany (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), pg. 196-218 isbn: 978-0-19-927687-5

Lack of Regulation leads to German Rearmament

Carroll, Berenice. “GermanyDisarmed and Rearming , 1925-1935.” Journal of Peace and Research. 3. no. 2 (1966): 114-124.

In Berenice A. Carroll’s article Germany Disarmed and Rearming, 1925-1935 we see the article attempts to explain the period of Germany being disarmed under the Treaty of Versailles up to Hitler repudiating de-armament put in place by the treaty in 1935. Carroll suggests under Hitler Germany would violate every aspect of the treaty specifically in terms of men being armed. The article gives us an ‘armament-disarmament’ eight step scale in which Carroll elucidates Germany, under the Treaty of Versailles, was disarmed to step four: which restricted them to a small army, with the purpose of only patrolling its border, in other words the army was 1% of the nation’s gross income (pg. 114). She goes on to explain that Hitler was able to rearm Germany to the point of about 6% of it’s gross national production (step 6 on the ‘armament-disarmament’ scale), Moreover she argues that Germany was able to secretly rearm up to 1935 because the League of Nations did not regulate the treaty stipulations in Germany.

In reading “Germany Disarmed and Rearming, 1925-1935” We tend to agree with Carroll in regards to Germany being able to rearm under the radar because of the lack of regulation under the Treaty of Versailles. Perhaps what proved more interesting: Hitler was only able to rearm Germany up to step six, which under Carroll’s rearmament scale is not to the level of war establishment. Yet we all know Hitler did end up waging war, perhaps we can see Hitler failed at fully rearming Germany, thus the adoption of the blitzkrieg idea. Analyzing the article we cannot help but assume Germany was not able to retain rearmament up to step eight of full war establishment, thus Hitler was forced to adjust to a new war strategy of quickly forcing war under the blitzkrieg. Moreover it seems accurate to consent with Carroll in regards to The League of Nations enabling Germany to rearm because of its lack of regulation of Germany under the treaty, however more appealing is even with the lack of regulation under the treaty, Hitler was only able to rearm up to step six when his overall goal was to fully rearm Germany surely this influenced Hitler’s plans for war.


Germany and rearmament

When Nazi Germany openly started re-armament in 1935, few should have been surprised as Hitler had made it very clear both in his speeches and in “Mein Kampf” that he would break the “unjust” terms of the Treaty of Versailles.

Hitler had made it plain what the basis of his foreign policy would be. He had clearly stated that he would :

undo what had been imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles re-unite all Germans into one nation re-arm Germany “Mein Kampf” also clearly stated what he thought of east Europeans and the Jews. Both groups were the “untermenschen” – the sub-humans of Europe who had no place in the Europe Hitler dreamed of. Eastern Europe, in the mind of Hitler, would be where Germans would find the space to live – lebensraum – where they would use the land in a modern and productive manner, thus fulfilling the belief that Hitler held that all good Germans would work off the land and produce the food that the state would need.

Hitler saw Nazi Germany as being at the centre of Europe and as the great power of Europe, the nation needed a strong military. Throughout the 1920’s, Germany had been technically keeping to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles but in reality she had been bending the rules regarding training. Versialles had not stated that Germany could not train submarine crews abroad or that pilots for the banned German Air Force could train on civilian planes. Therefore, on paper Hitler inherited a weak military but this was not in reality the case. However, Hitler knew that publicly Nazi Germany was still seen within Europe as being held to the terms of Versailles and he was determined to openly break these terms and re-assert Germany’s right to control its own military.

In 1933, Hitler ordered his army generals to prepare to treble the size of the army to 300,000 men. He ordered the Air Ministry to plan to build 1,000 war planes. Military buildings such as barracks were built. He withdrew from the Geneva Disarmament Conference when the French refused to accept his plan that the French should disarm to the level of the Germans or that the Germans should re-arm to the level of the French. Either way, the two main powers of Europe would be balanced. Hitler knew that the French would not accept his plan and therefore when he withdrew from the conference, he was seen by some as the politician who had a more realistic approach to foreign policy and the French were seen as the nation that had caused Nazi Germany to withdraw.

For two years, the German military expanded in secret. By March 1935, Hitler felt strong enough to go public on Nazi Germany’s military expansion – which broke the terms of the Versailles Treaty. Europe learned that the Nazis had 2,500 war planes in its Luftwaffe and an army of 300,000 men in its Wehrmacht. Hitler felt confident enough to publicly announce that there would be compulsory military conscription in Nazi Germany and that the army would be increased to 550,000 men.

How did Europe react to this flagrant violation of Versailles?

Essentially, the French and British did nothing. Britain was still recovering from the Depression which had devastated her economy. She could not afford a conflict. The French preferred a defensive policy against a potential German threat and she spent time and money building the vast Maginot Line – a series of vast forts on the French and German border. The most Britain, France and Italy did (at this time, Italy did not view German as a potential ally as the above was pre-Abyssinia) was to form the Stresa Front which issued a protest against Hitler’s rearmament policy but did nothing else.

It seemed that Britain was even supporting Germany’s breaking of the Treaty of Versailles. This treaty had clearly stated what Germany’s navy should be – no submarines and only six warships over 10,000 tons. In June 1935 the Anglo-German Naval Agreement was signed. This allowed Germany to have one third of the tonnage of the British navy’s surface fleet (probably the largest in the world at this time) and an equal tonnage of submarines. Why did Britain agree that Nazi Germany could break the terms of Versailles?

This event saw the start of what was to be called appeasement. It was believed that Nazi Germany would develop her navy regardless and that an official agreement between Nazi Germany and Britain would do much to foster relations between both countries. There was also a feeling in some quarters in Britain, that the Treaty of Versailles had been too harsh on Germany and that the time was right to loosen the terms as time had moved on and Europe had to live together. It was felt that this approach would satisfy Hitler and that Europe would benefit from this approach as Nazi Germany would have no reason to be angered or feel cornered by the old terms of Versailles. Such an approach would do much to stabilise Europe and end the anger felt by Germans at the terms of Versailles. Above all else, if Nazi Germany kept the1935 Agreement, Britain would have a very good idea of the size of Germany’s navy as she would know how big her navy was and could work on a third of that figure equalling the German’s navy.

However, if this agreement served any purpose it was to confuse the British public. Only two months earlier, Britain had signed the Stresa Front which had condemned Germany’s military build up. Now, Britain was agreeing that Germany could do exactly what Britain had condemned !! It also showed Hitler that he could push Britain and get away with it. Were there other aspects of Versailles he could challenge ?


Rise to power of Adolf Hitler

Discharged from the hospital amid the social chaos that followed Germany’s defeat, Hitler took up political work in Munich in May–June 1919. As an army political agent, he joined the small German Workers’ Party in Munich (September 1919). In 1920 he was put in charge of the party’s propaganda and left the army to devote himself to improving his position within the party, which in that year was renamed the National-sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei ( Nazi). Conditions were ripe for the development of such a party. Resentment at the loss of the war and the severity of the peace terms added to the economic woes and brought widespread discontent. This was especially sharp in Bavaria, due to its traditional separatism and the region’s popular dislike of the republican government in Berlin. In March 1920 a coup d’état by a few army officers attempted in vain to establish a right-wing government.

Munich was a gathering place for dissatisfied former servicemen and members of the Freikorps, which had been organized in 1918–19 from units of the German army that were unwilling to return to civilian life, and for political plotters against the republic. Many of these joined the Nazi Party. Foremost among them was Ernst Röhm, a staff member of the district army command, who had joined the German Workers’ Party before Hitler and who was of great help in furthering Hitler’s rise within the party. It was he who recruited the “strong arm” squads used by Hitler to protect party meetings, to attack socialists and communists, and to exploit violence for the impression of strength it gave. In 1921 these squads were formally organized under Röhm into a private party army, the SA (Sturmabteilung). Röhm was also able to secure protection from the Bavarian government, which depended on the local army command for the maintenance of order and which tacitly accepted some of his terrorist tactics.

Conditions were favourable for the growth of the small party, and Hitler was sufficiently astute to take full advantage of them. When he joined the party, he found it ineffective, committed to a program of nationalist and socialist ideas but uncertain of its aims and divided in its leadership. He accepted its program but regarded it as a means to an end. His propaganda and his personal ambition caused friction with the other leaders of the party. Hitler countered their attempts to curb him by threatening resignation, and because the future of the party depended on his power to organize publicity and to acquire funds, his opponents relented. In July 1921 he became their leader with almost unlimited powers. From the first he set out to create a mass movement, whose mystique and power would be sufficient to bind its members in loyalty to him. He engaged in unrelenting propaganda through the party newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter (“Popular Observer,” acquired in 1920), and through meetings whose audiences soon grew from a handful to thousands. With his charismatic personality and dynamic leadership, he attracted a devoted cadre of Nazi leaders, men whose names today live in infamy— Johann Dietrich Eckart (who acted as a mentor for Hitler), Alfred Rosenberg, Rudolf Hess, Hermann Göring, and Julius Streicher.

The climax of this rapid growth of the Nazi Party in Bavaria came in an attempt to seize power in the Munich (Beer Hall) Putsch of November 1923, when Hitler and General Erich Ludendorff tried to take advantage of the prevailing confusion and opposition to the Weimar Republic to force the leaders of the Bavarian government and the local army commander to proclaim a national revolution. In the melee that resulted, the police and the army fired at the advancing marchers, killing a few of them. Hitler was injured, and four policemen were killed. Placed on trial for treason, he characteristically took advantage of the immense publicity afforded to him. He also drew a vital lesson from the Putsch—that the movement must achieve power by legal means. He was sentenced to prison for five years but served only nine months, and those in relative comfort at Landsberg castle. Hitler used the time to dictate the first volume of Mein Kampf, his political autobiography as well as a compendium of his multitudinous ideas.

Hitler’s ideas included inequality among races, nations, and individuals as part of an unchangeable natural order that exalted the “ Aryan race” as the creative element of mankind. According to Hitler, the natural unit of mankind was the Volk (“the people”), of which the German people was the greatest. Moreover, he believed that the state existed to serve the Volk—a mission that to him the Weimar German Republic betrayed. All morality and truth were judged by this criterion: whether it was in accordance with the interest and preservation of the Volk. Parliamentary democratic government stood doubly condemned. It assumed the equality of individuals that for Hitler did not exist and supposed that what was in the interests of the Volk could be decided by parliamentary procedures. Instead, Hitler argued that the unity of the Volk would find its incarnation in the Führer, endowed with perfect authority. Below the Führer the party was drawn from the Volk and was in turn its safeguard.

The greatest enemy of Nazism was not, in Hitler’s view, liberal democracy in Germany, which was already on the verge of collapse. It was the rival Weltanschauung, Marxism (which for him embraced social democracy as well as communism), with its insistence on internationalism and economic conflict. Beyond Marxism he believed the greatest enemy of all to be the Jew, who was for Hitler the incarnation of evil. There is debate among historians as to when anti-Semitism became Hitler’s deepest and strongest conviction. As early as 1919 he wrote, “Rational anti-Semitism must lead to systematic legal opposition. Its final objective must be the removal of the Jews altogether.” In Mein Kampf, he described the Jew as the “destroyer of culture,” “a parasite within the nation,” and “a menace.”

During Hitler’s absence in prison, the Nazi Party languished as the result of internal dissension. After his release, Hitler faced difficulties that had not existed before 1923. Economic stability had been achieved by a currency reform and the Dawes Plan had scaled back Germany’s World War I reparations. The republic seemed to have become more respectable. Hitler was forbidden to make speeches, first in Bavaria, then in many other German states (these prohibitions remained in force until 1927–28). Nevertheless, the party grew slowly in numbers, and in 1926 Hitler successfully established his position within it against Gregor Strasser, whose followers were primarily in northern Germany.

The advent of the Depression in 1929, however, led to a new period of political instability. In 1930 Hitler made an alliance with the Nationalist Alfred Hugenberg in a campaign against the Young Plan, a second renegotiation of Germany’s war reparation payments. With the help of Hugenberg’s newspapers, Hitler was able for the first time to reach a nationwide audience. The alliance also enabled him to seek support from many of the magnates of business and industry who controlled political funds and were anxious to use them to establish a strong right-wing, antisocialist government. The subsidies Hitler received from the industrialists placed his party on a secure financial footing and enabled him to make effective his emotional appeal to the lower middle class and the unemployed, based on the proclamation of his faith that Germany would awaken from its sufferings to reassert its natural greatness. Hitler’s dealings with Hugenberg and the industrialists exemplify his skill in using those who sought to use him. But his most important achievement was the establishment of a truly national party (with its voters and followers drawn from different classes and religious groups), unique in Germany at the time.


The Making of Hitler’s Army

Late July 1914. A vast crowd on the Odeonsplatz in Munich, Germany, enthusiastically greets the announcement of war. In a photograph of that cheering mass, clearly identifiable, is the young Adolf Hitler, then an unknown, itinerant painter of still lifes notable chiefly for their obtuse rendering of human figures. Within days, Hitler would join the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment, which after barely two months of training shipped out to the Western Front. In the disastrous Battle of Langemarck in October 1914, it lost 3,000 killed or wounded out of its 3,600 young soldiers. Hitler was one of the regiment’s few survivors. So began Hitler’s experience with the German army.

Like all too many Germans, the Reich’s future leader found his experiences in World War I uplifting. He proved a courageous combat soldier and earned the Iron Cross, First Class, a medal rarely awarded to the enlisted ranks. But Hitler’s behavior and attitudes unsettled his superiors, and throughout the war they dared not trust him to lead other men. They did assign him to serve as a runner between the front lines and headquarters, a task ideally suited to Hitler the loner. Thus, he never rose above the rank of corporal through the course of the war. Nevertheless, his combat experiences, from Langemarck to Flanders, would mold Hitler’s attitude toward the Wehrmacht throughout World War II. In particular, the battles on the Somme in 1916 and in Flanders in 1917 deeply influenced Hitler’s understanding of war.

From our perspective at the beginning of the 21st century, the German defense of the Somme was a disaster, as its inflexible structure placed most of the German infantry well within range of British artillery, inflicting unnecessarily heavy casualties on the Frontsoldaten. In 1917 Germany introduced a far more flexible system of defense in depth, in which its infantry suffered fewer casualties but confronted greater uncertainties in terms of when to hold ground, when to pull back and when to counterattack. The new doctrine placed great decision-making responsibility on junior officers and NCOs, while introducing considerable uncertainty to the world of the common infantryman. It seems likely that Gefreiter (Corporal) Hitler found his tasks as a runner greatly hindered by the new complexities of the system of defense in depth, and his distaste for the new tactics would influence his insistence in the next war that the Wehrmacht hold every square inch of territory its troops had occupied.

We do know that Hitler, like nearly all frontline soldiers, developed contempt for the staff officers, with their crimson-striped trousers, who seemingly spent their lives in chateaus in comfort, while the Frontsoldaten suffered, bled and died in the trenches. As the British World War I combat poet Siegfried Sassoon wrote:

If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,
I’d live with scarlet Majors at the Base,
And speed glum heroes up the line to death.…
And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
I’d toddle safely home and die—in bed.

On many occasions, Hitler would later remind his generals that he had spent the war in the frontline trenches, while they had remained safely ensconced at the rear.

In the aftermath of World War I, Hitler, like many German veterans, found himself unemployed and deeply resentful of the war’s outcome. And like most Germans, he was more than willing to blame the Reich’s defeat on the politicians, the Jews and the Communists, who had supposedly stabbed an unbeaten army in the back, rather than blame the flawed strategy that had pitted the Central Powers against the rest of the world. That faulty understanding of the Reich’s 1918 defeat reverberated not only through right-wing circles, but also through the German army officer corps.

It was the army authorities who jump-started Hitler’s political career by launching him as an agitator into those cesspools of Munich, the city’s beer halls. By 1923 he had gained sufficient support in Bavaria’s bizarre political scene to launch his Beer Hall Putsch, a coup aimed at overthrowing the Weimar Republic. Backing him was the unstable General Erich Ludendorff, who with Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg had ostensibly ruled Germany in the last two years of the war. The failure of that attempt did little to harm Hitler’s longterm prospects in fact, he used his trial before a sympathetic tribunal as a forum not only to spread his message of disinformation and lies about the “November criminals”—the politicians who had surrendered Germany in 1918—but also to attack the republic itself.

Throughout the 1920s Hitler built the small National Socialist Party into an effective political organization. The Great Depression, sparked by the October 1929 Wall Street crash, provided Hitler with his great chance. The disastrous economic situation, which put more than a third of Germany’s workforce on bread lines, destroyed the political center in the disintegrating republic and led to a ferocious power struggle between the Nazis on the right and Communists on the left. Germany’s conservatives, including the army officer corps, increasingly saw Hitler as the Reich’s potential political savior, a man who could thwart the Communists and provide the nation with the unified political leadership and support the army had supposedly lacked in the last war. In the raucous electioneering of the early 1930s, Hitler repeatedly alluded to his intention to start another war, should he come to power. As he commented in a typical speech in November 1930: “When so many preach that we are entering the age of peace, I can only say, ‘My dear fellows, you have badly interpreted the horoscope of the age, for it points not to peace, but to war as never before.’”

On Jan. 30, 1933, one of the darkest days in German history, Reich President Paul von Hindenburg, the grizzled World War I hero, appointed Hitler chancellor. Pro-Nazi General Werner von Blomberg was appointed defense minister in Hitler’s new cabinet. Within a week, Hitler had met with Germany’s senior military leaders and announced the new regime’s agenda: a massive military buildup that would rend the shackles imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles. But Hitler also made clear to these generals and admirals that he was aiming for a complete overthrow of the European order that had existed since the 17th century. He cautioned them that if the French had any real leaders, they would act immediately to stifle the Nazi regime at birth.

Despite the initial comfort Hitler’s message undoubtedly brought his audience, relations between the new chancellor and the military remained rocky over the course of the first year and a half. The problem was not with Hitler, but with his followers. The stormtroopers—Sturm Abteilung (“storm section”), or SA—had played a major role in Nazi efforts to overthrow the republic with their street riots and general thuggery. Ernst Röhm, their highly decorated chief of staff and Hitler’s second in command, envisioned the SA replacing the army—a goal he sought to further against army officer corps opposition. But in early summer 1934, the army leadership gave Hitler an ultimatum: Ether he remove Röhm and downgrade the SA, or the army would remove Hitler’s Nazi regime.

Hitler got their message. During the so-called “Night of the Long Knives” in June 1934, the Führer ordered a purge of the SA leadership and took the opportunity to eliminate other enemies of his regime. Among those murdered was General Kurt von Schleicher, Hitler’s predecessor as chancellor, who had opposed the Nazis’ rise to power once too often. The army had sealed its pact with the devil, thus the generals uttered not a squeak of protest about Schleicher’s assassination by Nazi thugs. While this event paled in comparison to the murderous purges Josef Stalin was inflicting on the peoples of the Soviet Union, the 200 or so victims were bloody testimony that the rule of law had vanished from the German state.

Following this purge of the more rambunctious and ambitious members of the SA, and Hindenberg’s death in August 1934, Blomberg had the soldiers of the German army swear a direct, personal oath to Hitler—not to the Reich, not to the constitution, not to the German state, but to the Führer of the German people. It proved a fateful move, one that underlined how quickly and thoroughly Hitler had co-opted the army into the Nazi state as a willing and enthusiastic tool of the new regime.

Hitler gave his military a blank check to begin rearmament, in direct violation of the Reich’s treaty obligations. Dutifully, the army sought to build the largest ground force in central Europe, the Luftwaffe the largest air force and the navy a large fleet of battleships. Yet how the Reich’s fragile economy, which depended on exports, was going to meet these goals in the midst of history’s direst depression remained unclear. The nation possessed few natural resources and virtually no holdings of foreign reserves. Coal was the only raw material the Reich possessed in abundance. Everything else the Germans had to import. The result was that both the German economy and armed services lived a hand-to-mouth existence throughout the 1930s, confronting a series of bottlenecks caused by the nondelivery of required materials, production shortages and, after 1936, a lack of workers. Between 1933 and the outbreak of war, German industry failed to complete 41 percent of the orders the Wehrmacht had placed.

Apart from his efforts to speed the pace of rearmament, however, Hitler concerned himself little with the logistics. In his first years in power he respected the expertise of his military advisers and assumed they knew what they were doing. Virtually every Reichsmark Hitler and his economic experts could squeeze from Germany’s strained economy went straight into the military coffers.

The army leadership decided on conservative expansion of the Reich’s ground forces. Complicating its efforts was the fact that German troops had virtually no experience with armored operations, due to the restrictions imposed at Versailles, and that Germany herself had scant access to oil. Success would hinge on successful implementation of the army’s coherent combined-arms doctrine spelled out in the 1933 basic doctrinal manual Die Truppenführung (“troop leadership”), written by Generals Werner von Fritsch, Ludwig Beck and Otto von Stülpnagel —the first soon to be named commander in chief of the German army, and the second, chief of the general staff.

By 1935 Hitler had announced conscription and then creation of the Luftwaffe. The European powers remained mute. The following year Hitler decided to remilitarize the Rhineland, a step also forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. Expecting to find his generals champing at the bit, Hitler instead discovered that many, including Blomberg, opposed such a risky venture, given the army’s relative weakness. Senior leaders, concerned about their own strength and believing the French would respond forcefully, fretted about the possibility of war. Hitler, however, had calculated that the French would not act. They did not, and their cabinet collapsed, in effect absolving themselves of the responsibility for German remilitarization. For Hitler, remilitarization of the Rhineland represented a major military and political success.

For the next two years German rearmament proceeded relatively smoothly, despite the nation’s considerable economic difficulties. The July 1936 outbreak of civil war in Spain served to divert European concerns over the rising German threat. Mussolini and Fascist Italy responded immediately with major aid for Francisco Franco’s Nationalist movement in its effort to overthrow the socialist republic. The Germans also provided aid, their Junkers Ju-52s transporting the Spanish Foreign Legion from North Africa to the Spanish mainland. Hitler, however, made it clear he had no intention of sending major forces to aid Franco from his perspective, the longer and fiercer the distraction in Spain the better.

By late 1937, Germany had begun to amass considerable military forces, but the country’s economic picture was gloomier than ever. In early November 1937, Hitler called together his military and foreign policy leaders to discuss the economic problems confronting rearmament and the strategic possibilities open to the Reich. This meeting appears to have been the first—and last—occasion in the history of the Third Reich when Hitler engaged senior leaders in a serious discussion about strategic and economic alternatives.

Surviving notes from that meeting indicate that Hitler argued for an aggressive, risky foreign policy aimed at ridding Germany of its strategic and economic vulnerabilities. Specifically, the Führer identified Austria and Czechoslovakia as targets for German expansion. But he ran into substantial opposition from three key figures: Blomberg, Fritsch and German Foreign Minister Konstantin von Neurath. The trio argued that the Third Reich possessed neither the strategic position nor the military preparedness to embark on risky foreign policy initiatives they felt might well result in war.

The fallout from that meeting was swift. In January 1938, Blomberg, a widower, married a woman “with a past,” and shortly after the wedding, which Hitler had witnessed, rumors surfaced about Frau Blomberg’s less-than-proper behavior as a fraulein. Informed of Blomberg’s misalliance, leading generals went directly to Hitler and demanded the field marshal’s resignation. Hitler promptly fired Blomberg and Neurath and ordered the immediate retirement of a number of senior officers. Hitler himself assumed Blomberg’s seat at the defense ministry, which became the High Command of the Armed Forces (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, or OKW). For OKW chief of staff, Hitler picked General Wilhelm Keitel, an enthusiastic nonentity who possessed neither integrity nor honor.

Worse was to come. Heinrich Himmler and his SS thugs delivered to Hitler falsified evidence and a dubious witness suggesting that Fritsch, the army’s highly respected commander, had been involved in a homosexual tryst. Hitler dismissed Fritsch and appointed Colonel General Walther von Brauchitsch, an enthusiastic Nazi, as the new commander in chief. Himmler’s flimsy evidence almost immediately dissolved, however, presenting Hitler with a potentially explosive crisis. Most of the army’s senior generals were furious at the treatment Fritsch had received, and a number of them clamored for his reinstatement, a step Hitler had no intention of taking.

Instead, Hitler moved with a gambler’s instincts to defuse one crisis with another: Having browbeaten Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg into resigning, Hitler ordered the Wehrmacht into Austria to annex that country into the Reich. The army had made no such plans, and Brauchitsch had hardly been in office for a month. Moreover, the army was engaged in training its yearly intake of recruits and unprepared for a major operation. Nevertheless, the German army was still the German army, and within hours Chief of Staff Beck developed a plan, mobilized reservists, deployed units to the border and launched them into Austria.

Like the remilitarization of the Rhineland, the Anschluss was a considerable political coup. Masses of Austrians enthusiastically greeted the Wehrmacht, while others delightedly cooperated with the Nazis in atrocities against the resident Jewish population. The army’s performance, however, was less than stellar: A number of tanks and trucks broke down on the road to Vienna, the accident rate was appalling and the mobilization of reserves went poorly. Luckily for the Germans, the Austrians put up no resistance.

The annexation of Austria netted the Third Reich considerable strategic and economic gains. It now shared a border with its cohort in crime, Italy, and Austrian territory reached deep into the Balkans. Moreover, the Germans now surrounded Czechoslovakia on three sides. Equally important were other gains: Austrian foreign exchange holdings supported German rearmament for the next half year the large number of unemployed Austrians provided substantial assistance to an economy desperately short of workers and the Austrian army added a significant number of units to the Wehrmacht. Perhaps most important for Hitler, the Anschluss had entirely defused army senior leaders’ anger over Fritsch’s firing.

The success clearly went to Hitler’s head. Within two months, angered by Czech reinforcement of districts along the German border, Hitler ordered the army to speed planning for an invasion of Czechoslovakia, insisting the Wehrmacht be ready by Oct. 1, 1938. Again the Führer courted confrontation with some of Germany’s leading generals over the future course of the Reich’s strategy.

Beck led the opposition to Hitler’s planned invasion. The German chief of staff was certain the Wehrmacht could overwhelm Czechoslovakia in short order. But what then? A German invasion of the republic would bring on a war the Reich could not win, as the French would honor their obligations to Czechoslovakia, and the British would inevitably support them. Equally threatening were the attitudes of the Poles and the Soviets. At present, Beck continued, Germany’s only ally would be the unreliable and incompetent Italians. Finally, the Germans had yet to begin major work on fortifications in the west.

Hitler rejected Beck’s opinion, arguing—quite correctly in hindsight—that the British and French would prove reluctant to come to Czechoslovakia’s aid. But what Hitler failed to see was that if he pushed matters to war, Germany would face intervention of the Western powers, reluctant or not. The tension between Hitler and Beck simmered throughout the summer and exploded in August 1938. A number of senior generals supported the chief of staff, but few were willing to openly oppose Hitler. Some of Hitler’s junior generals also entered the fray on Beck’s behalf, but none was in a position to influence the flow of events.

Most generals hunkered down and waited to see how matters would play out. Deputy Chief of Staff Erich von Manstein wrote to Beck in August that thus far the Führer had been right on political matters, and perhaps it would be best for the chief of staff to drop his opposition to Hitler’s plans. Beck, however, stood firm and in mid-August resigned as chief of staff, to be replaced by the enigmatic General Franz Halder. (After the war, Halder was to claim he had spent August and September preparing a coup to overthrow the Nazi regime, but that the surrender of Czechoslovakia under the Munich Agreement had undermined the rationale for a coup his subsequent performance as chief of staff suggests he had plotted no such action.) Throughout September, Hitler wrangled with Halder and Brauchitsch over tactical and operational planning for the invasion of Czechoslovakia. These quarrels presaged similar arguments that would recur throughout World War II.

The acquiescence of Western leaders at Munich once again provided Hitler with an enormous propaganda victory. He did back down at the last moment and agree to a peaceful settlement to the Czech crisis—something he regretted for the rest of his life. But the conference marked a critical juncture in Hitler’s relationship with his military leaders. From this point on, those who remained in senior positions would offer no opposition to the Führer’s strategic plans and assumptions, no matter how wild and disconnected from reality.

Despite ongoing economic difficulties in the post-Munich period, Hitler made bizarre projections regarding the expansion of German military power. In fall 1938, he demanded a five-fold expansion of the Luftwaffe by 1942, a task that would have required access to 85 percent of the world’s production of aviation gas and cost the equivalent to all Nazi defense spending between 1933 and 1939. Hans Jeschonnek, the Luftwaffe’s slavishly proNazi chief of staff, typified the new breed of Nazi generals: When experts in the Air Ministry questioned the possibility of reaching such a goal, he responded, “Gentlemen, in my view it is our duty to support the Führer and not work against him.”

In early 1939, Admiral Erich Raeder’s naval staff finished the Z Plan, which proposed expansion of the German navy into a force capable of challenging the Royal Navy for control of the Atlantic. Again an overly ambitious plan collided with reality: There was no way for the Reich to acquire adequate supplies of steel, much less the dockyard capacity, to build such a fleet. Moreover, the United States would almost certainly wield its immense industrial might to counter German production with an even greater shipbuilding effort.

But Hitler ploughed ahead. No sooner had the ink on the Munich Agreement dried than the Führer initiated plans to occupy the remainder of Czechoslovakia. Six months later he struck. Using a political crisis in Prague as an excuse, he ordered the German army to occupy the entire Czech state. As German troops rolled into Prague, Hitler, on the advice of the his military escort commander, Erwin Rommel, rode confidently in an open car through the streets of the Czech capital to Hradcany castle. The action proved one of Hitler’s last peaceful public gestures.

The Western powers, particularly Britain, exploded at what they rightly regarded as Hitler’s malicious disregard for the terms of the agreement. A British guarantee for Polish independence followed in short order. That the Poles were proving particularly implacable in negotiations with the Germans added to Hitler’s fury. He announced to his intelligence chief that he would cook the British a stew on which they would choke. On April 3, Hitler ordered the Armed Forces High Command to plan an invasion of Poland. The German generals quickly fell into line. In fact, war against Poland was a popular idea with most of the Reich’s military leaders. By this time, Germany’s military leaders had largely agreed to abandon strategy and politics to their Führer and focus on the strictly military issues involved in destroying the Polish state. Hitler’s ability to reach accord with Stalin in August, thus removing the Soviet Union from the calculus of a major European war, at least in 1939, further solidified the belief among German generals that Hitler was a strategic and political genius. Given the widespread belief that the Reich had lost World War I due to domestic political troubles, most generals were confident the Nazi regime would be able to rally the home front to its cause while German troops pursued the war. So Hitler and his generals invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, embarking on a war they could not win. The German generals believed they had reached a deal with the regime in which Hitler would handle the politics and strategy, while they handled the military operations. But that deal would quickly unravel as World War II grew into a monstrous reality.

For further reading, Williamson Murray recommends: Inside Hitler’s High Command, by Geoffrey P. Megargee, and Hitler, 1936–1945: Nemesis, by Ian Kershaw.

Originally published in the December 2008 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.



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