After Munich, the Czechs chose not to fight. In October 1938, Hitler marched into the Sudetenland unopposed. He declared: ‘Thus we begin our march into the great German future . . .’ Hitler ruled that other land in Czechoslovakia must be given to Hungary, and Poland took back Teschen by force. The rest of Czechoslovakia was split into three powerless statelets – Bohemia, Slovakia and Ruthenia.
In Germany, Nazi oppression was growing – 8 November (Kristallnacht) saw the start of persecution of the Jews. In Britain, it was clear that it was necessary to get ready for war. A National Register was set up in December 1938 stating what everyone would do in time of war, and in February 1939 Parliament started supplying air raid shelters to the people of London.
In February, Franco finally won the Spanish Civil War. It seemed that the forces of fascism were winning everywhere. British MPs angrily shouted ‘Heil Chamberlain’ at the Prime Minister; a mood for war was growing in Britain.
Then, in March 1939, Hitler took over the rest of Czechoslovakia. He bullied Bohemia into placing itself ‘confidently’ into his hands, then German troops marched into Prague and made Bohemia a German protectorate. He took over Slovakia a week later. Chamberlain recalled the British ambassador from Berlin, and promised that if Hitler attacked Poland, Britain and France would give Poland ‘all support in their power’. In April, Italy conquered Albania, so Chamberlain made the same promise to Greece and Romania.
Europe started to get ready for war. Parliament passed the Civil Defence Act (plans to evacuate children from London), tripled spending on the defence budget, and introduced conscription. Later that month, Mussolini and Hitler signed the Pact of Steel, promising to support each other if there was a war.
Russia, also, was getting worried. In April 1939, the USSR asked Britain and France to form an alliance against Germany. But the British made a mess of the negotiations and, on 23 August 1939, Russia made instead an alliance with Hitler. In a secret clause they agreed to attack and split Poland between them.
At the end of August 1939, Hitler sent 2000 Nazis to Danzig. The Germans in Danzig rioted and demanded union with Germany. Hitler threatened war and demanded the Polish corridor. It was a familiar pattern. This time, Britain did not appease Hitler, so, on 1 September 1939, Hitler invaded Poland.
On 3 September 1939, Britain declared war on Germany.