The World War II Breaks OutCategory: 20th century
The reign thus thrust upon George VI was to be one of the most momentous in the history of Britain. The immediate preoccupations were with Foreign Policy. Neville Chamberlain became Prime Minister in 1937 and, faced by a new and sinister line-up, the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo “Axis”, did his best to appease its members’ power hunger. Hitler’s rearmament was proceeding apace and, on 11 March 1938, he annexed Austria. With remorseless logic he then turned to Czechoslovakia, which he had outflanked, and within whose frontiers resided some 3 million Sudeten Germans.
By mid-September 1938 it seemed that Hitler was going to take the Sudetenland by force and, on the fifteenth of that month, Chamberlain flew off to the historic interview at Bershtesgaden. Meetings followed at Godesberg on 23 September and finally at Munich on the 29th, when Mussolini and Daladier, the French premier, were also present. The outcome was that Germany acquired the Sudeten areas, while Czechoslovakia had to be content with unimpressive promises guaranteeing the integrity of her remaining territory. Back in London Chamberlain was unwise enough to characterize the Munich Agreement as promising honourable “peace in our time”. This “peace” lasted just one year.
In 1939 Hitler returned to the inexorable prosecution of his plans. In March he seized the whole of Czechoslovakia and, as a wideline, Memel. The baleful German spotlight now illuminated Poland, and Chamberlain, in a moment of truth, promised assistance if Polish independence were threatened. Hitler was demanding Danzig and railway access across the famous corridor to East Prussia and Memel.
On 23 August Britain received the dreaded and decisive news that Germany and the USSR had made an alliance, after which all communications and interviews were farcical, for the Nazis palpably wanted war. Poland was invaded on 1 September 1939 and the World War II began. Britain declared war on Germany at 11 a.m. on 3 September.