The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

The World War II Breaks Out

Category: 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.

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