The Invasion of Czechoslovakia

Historians think that Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 was a major step in the coming of war:

  1. It utterly discredited Appeasement.  If Munich was the 'high-point' of appeasement, the invasion of Czechoslovakia showed that appeasement would never manage to stop Hitler, because Hitler simply did not keep the treaty promises he made.  Before Munich, 'appeasement' was about negotiating Hitler into being reasonable - it was after March 1939 that 'appeasement' began to acquire overtones of capitulation and weakness.

  2. It was the first time - as Chamberlain pointed out on 15 March 1939 - that Hitler had acquired a non-Germanic people.  Before March 1939, Hitler had been able to claim that his demands were reasonable, and that they only sought to redress the 'unreasonable' terms of the Treaty of Versailles (wasn't it reasonale that Germans should have the right to self-determination, as had been given to every other nation in Europe?)  The acquisition of Czechoslovakia showed that Hitler was going beyond a 'reasonable' correction of Versailles, and instead seeking to dominate central and eastern Europe.  This is why William Shirer interpreted Chamberlain's Birmingham speech on 17 March 1939 - promising to resist Hitler if he was intended this - as such a turning point.

  3. It outraged the British people.  If the British public had cheered the Munich Peace in September 1939, suddenly huge numbers of people were demanding that something be done to stop Hitler - after March 1939, many people were 'up for a war', and everybody realised that war was the only way Hitler would be stopped.

  4. A glance at the map made it obvious that Poland would be next;
    Germany March 1939
    Nobody believed that Hitler would stop with Czechoslovakia, and everybody realised that war was the only way Hitler would be stopped.

  5. Czechoslovakia was one of the few remaining democracies in central/eastern Europe.  By annexing it, Hitler was destroying a democracy - which alarmed Britain, France and even President Rossevelt of the USA.

  6. The invasion of Czechoslovakia was so obviously unjust, that it gave the British the moral high gound; when war loomed, Britain was able to go to war 'to defend the right', rather than simply for self-interest.


The Polish Guarantee

The Foreign Office official William Strang said that the Polish Guarantee was THE reason Britain went to war:

  1. It was the event which explicitly caused Britain to declare war on 3 September 1939: 'This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note stating that unless we heard from them by 11.00 a.m. that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany'.

  2. When it was made on 30 March 1939, the Guarantee was seen as a formal end of appeasement.  Appeasement was about negotiating each issue according to its merits; the Guarantee was about drawing a line.  It was a point which was NOT negotiable, and ultimately that was to cause the war.

  3. It stopped the British government making an alliance with Russia.  Stalin could see that Russia would end up going to war with Germany to keep Britain's guarantee to Poland.

  4. It stopped the British government capitulating again in August 1939.  During the Danzig crisis, on 26 August 1939, Hitler proposed a non-aggression pact which Chamberlain and the Cabinet considered.  However, the one thing the Cabinet refused to do was to allow Hitler to invade Poland, and it was on this that the proposed agreement foundered.