HITLER'S REARMAMENT

AND ITS SUCCESS

 

Hitler’s policy of rearmament NOT ONLY increased Germany’s armed forces, it:

a. made him very popular at home

b. destroyed the Treaty of Versailles

c. undermined the undermined the principle of collective security of the League and

d. drove wedges between all his enemies.

 

The AQA syllabus brilliantly analyses – into five parts for you – Hitler’s remilitarisation of Germany.

 

1. Withdrawal from the Disarmament Conference 1933

You studied this when you studied the League of Nations' disarmament conference.

 

Meeting in 1932, the conference was already floundering before Hitler came to power, because Germany demanded gleichberechtigung (“equality of armaments”) with other countries – as the Treaty of Versailles had virtually disbanded Germany’s armed forces, parity would have meant that where others were reducing their armaments, the Germans would have in fact been increasing theirs.  Hitler, however, had no intention of having anything to do with disarmament, and in October 1933 he withdrew from the Conference and the League, blaming the French.

 

The British delegation made number of attempts were made to try to persuade Germany to return to the conference, but these only angered France (who saw them as an attempted ‘sell-out’), ending in April 1934 with the so-called ‘Barthou note’ in which French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou announced that France would no longer play any part in the Conference, but would look after its own security in whatever way was necessary.

 

This was a success for Hitler because:

a. it wrecked the conference

b. it left him free to rearm however he wanted

c. it drove a wedge between the French and the British

d. British politicians, while they were trying to persuade Germany to stay in the Conference, had agreed in principle that the arms clauses of the Treaty of Versailles were too harsh.

 

2. Non-aggression Pact with Poland, 1934

The Polish chief of state Józef Pilsudski signed a treaty with Germany, not to go to war with each other for the next ten years. This was soon followed by a trade treaty.

 

There is some evidence that in 1933 the Polish embassy in Paris sounded out the French government about the possibility of invading Germany to stop Hitler re-arming. When the French refused, the Poles made the treaty with Hitler.  Some historians dispute that this happened – there are no documents to support the theory – and just put it down to Pilsudski’s weakness.

 

Hitler liked these ‘bi-lateral’ treaties between himself and another power; this arrangement:

a. left his eastern border safe and gave him time to rearm

b. undermined the principle of collective security of the League – after the treaty Poland actively neglected the League.

c. divided the countries allied against him

d. when he was ready, he simply invaded Poland anyway.

 

3. Conscription and rearmament, 1935-6

Conscription was specifically forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. Rearmament had been going on secretly since 1933, but in 1935 Hitler took the chance and held a huge ‘Freedom to Rearm’ military rally, and in March 1935 he reintroduced conscription. 1932-9, the number of soldiers grew tenfold from 100,000 to a million, and the number of airplanes grew 200-fold from 36 to 8250.

 

This was a great success for Hitler:

a. he had guessed correctly – no country questioned his breach of the Treaty of Versailles; they backed down and his prestige grew.

b. it made him very popular in Germany – it reduced unemployment, it made Germany strong, and he had defied the hated Treaty of Versailles.

 

4. Anglo-German Naval Agreement, 1935

After the collapse of the Disarmament Conference in 1934, Hitler continued rearming. This caught the British government in a quandary, because – by the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-22 and the London Naval Conference of 1930 – the Royal Navy was fixed proportionally (10-10-7) to the navies of the USA, France and Japan. So the British could not set about increasing their navy to match the increases in the German navy.

 

There was little point in continuing to support the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles when Germany was blatantly disregarding them and nobody was prepared to go to war to stop him. In 1934 the British Foreign Office issued a memo stating that: ‘Part V of the Treaty of Versailles is, for practical purposes, dead’. Soon after, in January 1935, British Foreign Secretary John Simon wrote that it was wiser to make an agreement which accepted German rearmament but limited it by treaty, than to condemn it and watch while Germany rearmed without any regulation. Thus, the British government had already accepted the principle of a treaty with Germany when Hitler offered them a naval agreement in May 1935.

 

Meanwhile, it was not just the fact of German rearmament that frightened the British, but its nature. The German navy wanted to grow until it was equal to the French navy, with an emphasis on cruisers and submarines; this particularly frightened the British Admiralty, who thought it would be difficult to defend against in the event of a war. The Admiralty favoured a naval agreement with Germany which fixed the German navy to that of Britain’s, because it thought a German navy which was like-Britain’s-only-smaller would be easier to defeat.

 

Hitler overruled his Admirals and agreed to a percentages agreement.  In June 1935, therefore, a Treaty was signed by which the British agreed to allow the Germans to build their tonnage up to 35% of whatever the British tonnage was in the various categories of warship.

 

Hitler called the day of the signing of the treaty ‘the happiest day of his life’ – it was yet another of those successful bi-lateral agreements:

a. it secured and validated his breaking of the Treaty of Versailles.

b. it continued the undermining of the principle of collective security of the League.

c. Britain signed the treaty without consulting the French, who were furious.

d. it gave him power over Britain, because he could threaten to cancel the treaty whenever the British questioned his actions in Europe.

e. he hoped that the A.G.N.A marked the beginning of an Anglo-German alliance, but, when it came to it, he was able simply to cancel it in 1939.