Hitler's motives for re-militarising the Rhineland in 1936 No military installations or garrisons were permitted on the left bank within 50km of the right (the East) bank of the River Rhine. This was due to the treaty of Versailles, it was to give France a sense of security. The Rhineland situation left Germany in a weak position against France. The Abyssinian affair distracted Britain, France and the league of nations so Hitler thought that he could taking over the Rhineland without much conflict. Hitler assumed that Britain and France were too busy concentrating on Mussolini to pay him any attention. Due to tensions with Italy the French had been moving large numbers of troops away from their frontier with Germany. One fifth of the French army had been sent to the Alps and Tunisia.
Hitler's motives for re-militarising the Rhineland in 1936 Hitler said, speaking to the Reichstag on the 7th of March 1936 that Germany felt totally defenceless on their western frontier due to the strong defences of the French on their frontier. In response to the Locarno Treaty being approved by the French Chamber of Deputies (Parliament) on the 27th February 1936, Hitler moved 22,000 troops into towns beyond the West Bank of the Rhine on the 7th of March 1936 Hitler had been warned by his army that it was not strong enough to push ahead with re-militarisation should the French resist. Hitler did accept this and said thatthe 48 hours after the march into the Rhineland were the most nerve racking of my life. If the French had then marched into the Rhineland we would have had to withdraw with our tails between our legs. Hitler was influenced by the Manchurian crisis and the Abyssinian
French Reaction The French felt that Hitler was provoked by Russia and were advised not to take actions on its own. The French government took a year to decide on how they would respond to Hitler. The Germans were able to take the Rhineland from the French without conflict due to the Frenchs lack of confidence in : - fear of provoking war with Germany - fighting a war against Germany without the support of Britain and Belgium The French wanted the help of the British but an indecisive result forced the French into deciding on their own. The indecision lasted until February 1936 when the French foreign minister Flandin suggests that a formal complaint be made to the League of Nations. There was tension in the French Government, many hypothetical situations were discussed including a deal that would allow the Germans to occupy the Rhineland if they agreed not to stockpile weapons and build permanent structures. The French still failed to agree on a plan for defence and continued their policy of appeasement. When Hitler moved his troops into the Rhineland, he caused mass confusion with the French Defence Department, as they could not contact the British Defence Officials because they are on holiday. Initially the French, the French did nothing to stop the Germans, whilst their ambassador tried to contact the British Officials, but they wanted to delay involvement for as long as possible, forcing the French to make a decision.
British reaction Many individuals in British politics agreed with the French that the Franco- soviet treaty had provoked Hitler. They were Concerned about Nazi aggression however it was hoped that conciliatory approach might persuade Germany to re-enter the league and resume the aims of disarmament. British ministers thought that the military defeat of Hitler could lead to communist takeover in Germany. There was popular belief that hitter had been to severely punished at Versailles. Stanley Baldwin felt that military intervention would be out of proportion to what Germany had done. The British government were more afraid of communism over the Nazism.
Why did the British do nothing about the re-militarisation situation of the Rhineland? There are several reason to explain the British lack of reaction: Hitler claimed he was justified Britain was angry about the French alliance with Russia signed in 1935 The British felt that Hitler had some justification in claiming that remilitarisation was a defensive move to balance the mood France consulted Britain and lodged protests with the League. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin said that Britain lacked the forces to back its guarantees to France and that public opinion would not allow it. In Britain it was thought that the Germans were merely walking into "their own back yard". Hugh Dalton, a Labour Party MP who usually advocated stiff resistance to Germany, said that neither the British people nor Labour would support either military or economic sanctions.
Evaluation Hitler had significantly improved his status. Over the next two years the Germans built defences and within 18 months their rate of rearmament passed that of Britain and France. He did not agree to an Air Force Pact with Britain. He began to think he was infallible. France continued to strengthen the Maginot Line in an attempt to safeguard against future German aggression. France's alliance with Britain became strained due to Britain's refusal to stand up to Germany. French alliances with eastern European countries were undermined as France concentrated solely on defence against possible German aggression. Germany and Italy formed the Axis alliance, between Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany in July 1936. Hitler signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan in November 1936 which formed an anti-Communist alliance between the two nations. Britain promised France and Belgium help if they were invaded (reaffirming Locarno). Britain began rearming its military forces. In the Council of the League, only the Soviet Union proposed sanctions against Germany. Hitler was invited to negotiate and proposed a non- aggression pact with the Western powers.
Historiography The British historian Sir Ian Kershaw argued, in his biography of Hitler, that the initial reasons for the decision to remilitarize in 1936 as opposed to 1937 were due to Hitler's need for a foreign policy triumph to distract public attention from the major economic crisis which gripped Germany in 1935– 36. Some historians debate the relation between Hitler's decision to remilitarize the Rhineland in 1936 and his broad long-term goals. Those historians such as Klaus Hildebrand and the late Andreas Hillgruber who believe it was an "intentions" interpretation of German foreign policy see the Rhineland remilitarization as only one "stage" of Hitler's step-by-step plan or world conquest. Those historians who take a "functions" interpretation see the Rhineland remilitarization more as Hitlers unplanned response to the economic crisis of 1936 as a cheap and easy way of restoring the regime's popularity. As Hildebrand himself has noted, these interpretations are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Hildebrand has argued that though Hitler did have a set plan for world domination, that his plan was highly improvised and were influenced much by both the international stage and occurrences that were often not under Hitler's control.
Historiography Historians such as William L. Shirer in his books The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960) and The Collapse of the Third Republic (1969) (writing without benefit of access to the French documents of events, which were not opened until the mid-1970s) have claimed that France, despite possessing superior armed forces compared to Germany at this time, was psychologically unprepared to use force against Germany. American historian Stephen A. Schuker has examined the relevant French primary sources and has rejected Shirer's claims as the work of an amateur historian writing without access to the primary sources, and has found that a major factor on French policy was the economic situation.
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