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Remilitarisation of the Rhineland

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Remilitarisation of the Rhineland

The remilitarization of the Rhineland by the German Army took place on 7 March 1936 when German military forces entered the Rhineland. This was significant because it violated the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Treaties, marking the first time since the end of World War I that German troops had been in this region.


Under Articles 42, 43 and 44 of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles—imposed on Germany by the Allies after the Great War—Germany was "forbidden to maintain or construct any fortification either on the Left bank of the Rhine or on the Right bank to the west of a line drawn fifty kilometers to the East of the Rhine". If a violation "in any manner whatsoever" of this Article took place, this "shall be regarded as committing a hostile act...and as calculated to disturb the peace of the world".[1] The Locarno Treaties, signed in 1925 by Germany, France, Italy and Britain, stated that the Rhineland should continue its demilitarized status permanently.[2] Locarno was regarded as important as it was a voluntary German acceptance of the Rhineland's demilitarized status as opposed to the diktat (dictate) of Versailles.[2] Under the terms of Locarno, Britain and Italy guaranteed the Franco-German border and the continued demilitarized status of the Rhineland against a "flagrant violation" without however defining what constituted a "flagrant violation".

The Versailles Treaty also stipulated that the Allied military forces would withdraw from the Rhineland in 1935, although they actually withdrew in 1930. The British delegation at the Hague Conference on German reparations in 1929 (headed by Philip Snowden, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and including Arthur Henderson, Foreign Secretary) proposed that the reparations paid by Germany should be reduced and that the British and French forces should evacuate the Rhineland. Henderson persuaded the skeptical French Premier, Aristide Briand, to accept that all Allied occupation forces would evacuate the Rhineland by June 1930. The last British soldiers left in late 1929 and the last French soldiers left in June 1930.

Long before 1933, German military and diplomatic elites had regarded the Rhineland's demilitarized status as only temporary, and planned to remilitarize the Rhineland at the first favourable diplomatic opportunity.[3] All through the 1920s and the early 1930s, the Reichswehr had been developing plans for a war to destroy France and its ally Poland, which by their necessity presumed remilitarization of the Rhineland.[4] In March 1933, the Defence Minister, General Werner von Blomberg had plans drawn up for remilitarization.[5] General Ludwig Beck's memo of March 1935 on the need for Germany to secure lebensraum (living space) had accepted that remilitarization should take place as soon it was diplomatically possible.[5] In general, it was believed by German military, diplomatic and political elites that it would not be possible to remiltarize before 1937.[6]

In his "peace speech" of May 21, 1935, Adolf Hitler stated "In particular, they [the Germans] will uphold and fulfill all obligations arising out of the Locarno Treaty, so long as the other parties are on their side ready to stand by that pact".[7] That line in Hitler's speech was written by his foreign minister, Baron Konstantin von Neurath who wished to reassure foreign leaders who felt threatened by Germany's denunciation in March 1935 of Pact V of the Treaty of Versailles, which had disarmed Germany.[7] At the same time, Neurath wanted to provide an opening for the eventual remilitarization of the Rhineland, hence the conditional hedging of the promise to obey Locarno only as long as other powers did.[7] In late 1935, Neurath started rumours that Germany was considering remilitarizing the Rhineland in response to the Franco-Soviet pact of May 1935, which Neurath insisted was a violation of Locarno that menaced Germany.[7] At the same time, Neurath ordered German diplomats to start drawing up legal briefs justifying remilitarization of the Rhineland under the grounds that the Franco-Soviet pact violated Locarno.[7] In doing so, Neurath was acting without orders from Hitler, but in the expectation that time was ripe for remilitarization due to the crisis in Anglo-Italian relations caused by the Italo-Ethiopian war[7]

German remilitarization

In early 1936, the British Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden had secretly unveiled a plan for a "general settlement" that was intended to resolve all of Germany's grievances. Eden's plan called for a German return to the League of Nations, acceptance of arms limitations, and renunciation of territorial claims in Europe in exchange for remilitarization of the Rhineland, return of the former German African colonies and German "economic priority along the Danube"[8] As such, the Germans were informed that the British were willing to begin talks on allowing the Rhineland to be remilitarized in exchange for an "air pact" outlawing bombing and a German promise not to use force to change their borders.[9] Eden defined his goal as that of a "general settlement", which sought "a return to the normality of the twenties and the creation of conditions in which Hitler could behave like Stresemann." (Gustav Stresemann was a German chancellor and foreign minister during the 1920s, much respected in Britain.)[10] The offer to discuss remilitarizing the Rhineland in exchange for an "air pact" placed the British in a weak moral position to oppose a unilateral remilitarization, since the very offer to consider remilitarization implied that remilitarization was not considered a vital security threat, but something to be traded, which thus led the British to oppose the way that the act of remilitarization was carried out (namely unilaterally) as opposed to the act itself. In January 1936 during his visit to London to attend the funeral of King George V, Neurath told Eden "If, however, the other signatories or guarantors of the Locarno Pact should conclude bilateral agreements contrary to the spirit of Locarno Pact, we should be compelled to reconsider our attitude"[11] Eden's response to Neurath's veiled threat that Germany would remilitarize the Rhineland if the French National Assembly ratified the Franco-Soviet pact convinced him that if Germany remilitarized, then Britain would take Germany's side against France.[11]

During January 1936, the German Chancellor and Führer Adolf Hitler decided to reoccupy the Rhineland. Originally Hitler had planned to remilitarize the Rhineland in 1937, but chose in early 1936 to move re-militarization forward by a year for several reasons, namely the ratification by the French National Assembly of the Franco-Soviet pact of 1935 allowed him to present his coup both at home and abroad as a defensive move against Franco-Soviet "encirclement"; the expectation that France would be better armed in 1937; the government in Paris had just fallen and caretaker government was in charge; economic problems at home required the need for a foreign policy success to restore the regime's popularity; the Italo-Ethiopian War, which had set Britain against Italy had effectively broken up the Stresa Front; and apparently because Hitler simply did not feel like waiting an extra year.[12][13] In his biography of Hitler, the British historian Sir Ian Kershaw argued that the primary reasons for the decision to remilitarize in 1936 as opposed to 1937 were due to Hitler's preference for dramatic unilateral coups de grace to obtain what could easily be achieved via quiet talks, and because of Hitler's need for a foreign policy triumph to distract public attention from the major economic crisis which gripped Germany in 1935–36.[14]

On the February 12, 1936, Hitler met with Neurath and his Ambassador-at-Large Joachim von Ribbentrop to ask their opinion of the likely foreign reaction to remilitarization.[11] Neurath supported remiltarization, but argued that Germany should negotiate more before doing so while Ribbentrop argued for unilateral remilitarization at once.[15] Ribbentrop told Hitler that if France went to war in response to German remiltarization, then Britain would go to war with France, an assessement of the situation that Neurath did not agree with, but one that encouraged Hitler to go ahead with remiltarization.[15]

On the 12th of February Hitler informed his War Minister, Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg, of his intentions and asked the head of the Army, General Werner von Fritsch, how long it would take to transport a few infantry battalions and an artillery battery into the Rhineland. Fritsch answered that it would take three days organization but he was in favour of negotiation as he believed that the German Army was in no state for armed combat with the French Army.[16] The Chief of the General Staff, General Ludwig Beck warned Hitler that the German Army would be unable to successfully defend Germany against a possible retaliatory French attack.[17] Hitler reassured Fritsch that he would ensure that the German forces would leave at once if the French intervened militarily to halt their advance. The operation was codenamed Winter Exercise. At the same time, Neurath started preparing elaborate documents justifying remilitarization as a response forced on Germany by the Franco-Soviet pact, and advised Hitler to keep the number of troops sent into the Rhineland very small so to allow the Germans to claim that they had not committed a "flagrant violation" of Locarno (both Britain and Italy were only committed to offering a military response to a "flagrant violation").[18] In the statement justifying remilitarization that Neurath prepared for the foreign press, the German move was portrayed as something forced on a reluctant Germany by ratification of the Franco-Soviet pact, and strongly hinted that Germany would return to the League of Nations if remilitarization was accepted.[18]

In January 1936, Benito Mussolini - who was angry about the League of Nations sanctions applied against his country for aggression against Ethiopia - told the German Ambassador in Rome, Ulrich von Hassell that he wanted to see an Austro-German agreement "which would in practice bring Austria into Germany's wake, so that she could pursue no other foreign policy than one parallel with Germany. If Austria, as a formally independent state, were thus in practice to become a German satellite, he would have no objection".[19] Italo-German relations had been quite bad since mid-1933, and especially since the July Putsch of 1934, so Mussolini's remarks to Hassell in early 1936 indicating that he wanted a rapprochement with Germany were considered significant in Berlin.[19] In another meeting, Mussolini told Hassell that he regarded the Stresa Front of 1935 as "dead", and that Italy would do nothing to uphold Locarno should Germany violate it.[19] Initially, German officials did not believe in Mussolini's desire for a rapprochement, but after Hitler sent Hans Frank on a secret visit to Rome carrying a message from the Führer about Germany's support for Italy's actions in the conquest of Ethiopia, Italo-German relations improved markedly.[19]

On February 13, 1936 during a meeting with Prince Bismarck of the German Embassy in London, Ralph Wigram, the head of the Central Department of the British Foreign Office stated that the British government wanted a "working agreement" for air pact that would outlaw bombing, and that Britain would consider revising Versailles and Locarno in Germany's favor for an air pact.[11] Prince Bismarck reported to Berlin that Wigram had hinted quite strongly that the "things" that Britain were willing to consider revising included remilitarization.[11] On February 22, 1936, Mussolini who was still angry about the League of Nations sanctions applied against his country for aggression against Ethiopia told von Hassell that Italy would dishonour Locarno if Germany were to remilitarize the Rhineland.[20] Even if Mussolini had wanted to honour Locarno, practical problems would have arisen as the bulk of the Italian Army was at that time engaged in the conquest of Ethiopia, and as there is no common Italo-German frontier.

Historians debate the relation between Hitler's decision to remilitarize the Rhineland in 1936 and his broad long-term goals . Those historians who favour an "intentionist" interpretation of German foreign policy such as Klaus Hildebrand and the late Andreas Hillgruber see the Rhineland remilitarization as only one "stage" of Hitler's stufenplan (stage by stage plan) for world conquest. Those historians who take a "functionist" interpretation see the Rhineland remilitarization more as ad hoc improvised response on the part of Hitler 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 "programme" for world domination, that the way in which Hitler attempted to execute his "programme" was highly improvised and much subject to structural factors both on the international stage and domestically that were often not under Hitler's control.[21]

Not long after dawn on March 7, 1936, nineteen German infantry battalions and a handful of planes entered the Rhineland. They reached the river Rhine by 11:00 a.m. and then three battalions crossed to the west bank of the Rhine. When German reconnaissance learned that thousands of French soldiers were congregating on the Franco-German border, General Blomberg begged Hitler to evacuate the German forces. Hitler inquired whether the French forces had actually crossed the border and when informed that they had not, he assured Blomberg that they would wait until this happened.[22] In marked contrast to Blomberg who was highly nervous during Operation Winter Exercise, Neurath stayed calm and very much urged Hitler to stay the course.[23]

Heinz Guderian, a German general interviewed by French officers after the Second World War, claimed: "If you French had intervened in the Rhineland in 1936 we should have been sunk and Hitler would have fallen".[24] A German officer assigned to the Bendlerstrasse during the crisis told H. R. Knickerbocker during the Spanish Civil War: "I can tell you that for five days and five nights not one of us closed an eye. We knew that if the French marched, we were done. We had no fortifications, and no army to match the French. If the French had even mobilized, we should have been compelled to retire." The general staff, the officer said, considered Hitler's action suicidal.[25]:26 Hitler himself said:

The forty-eight hours after the march into the Rhineland were the most nerve-racking in my life. If the French had then marched into the Rhineland we would have had to withdraw with our tails between our legs, for the military resources at our disposal would have been wholly inadequate for even a moderate resistance.[26]



On 7 March 1936 Hitler announced before the Reichstag that the Rhineland had been remilitarized, and to blunt the danger of war, Hitler offered to return to the League of Nations, an "air pact" to outlaw bombing as a way of war, and a non-aggression pact with France if the other powers agreed to accept the remilitarization.[27] In his address to the Reichstag, Hitler began with a lengthy denunciation of the Treaty of Versailles as unfair to Germany, claimed that he was a man of peace who wanted war with no-one, and argued that he was only seeking "equality" for Germany by peacefully overturning the "unfair" Treaty of Versailles.[28] Hitler claimed that it was unfair that because of Versailles a part of Germany should be demilitarized whereas in every other nation of the world a government could order its troops to anywhere within its borders, and claimed all he wanted was "equality" for Germany.[28] Even then, Hitler claimed that he would have been willing to accept the continued demilitarization of the Rhineland as Stresemann had promised at Locarno in 1926 as the price for peace, had it not been for the Franco-Soviet Pact of 1935, which he maintained was threatening to Germany and had left him with no other choice than to remilitarize the Rhineland.[28] Hitler made a point of stressing that the remilitarization was not intended to threaten anyone else, but was instead only a defensive measure imposed on Germany by what he claimed was the menacing actions of France and the Soviet Union.[28]

When German troops marched into Cologne, a vast cheering crowd formed spontaneously to greet the soldiers, throwing flowers onto the Wehrmacht while Catholic priests offered to bless the soldiers.[29] Cardinal Karl Joseph Schulte of Cologne held a Mass at Cologne Cathedral to celebrate and thank Hitler for "sending back our army".[28] In Germany, the news that the Rhineland had been remilitarized was greeted with wild celebrations all over the country; the British historian Sir Ian Kershaw wrote in March 1936 that "People were besides themselves with delight...It was almost impossible not to be caught up in the infectious mood of joy".[30] Not until the victory over France in June 1940 was the Nazi regime to be as popular as it was in March 1936. Reports to the Sopade in the spring of 1936 mentioned that a great many erstwhile Social Democrats and opponents of the Nazis amongst the working class had nothing but approval of the remilitarization, and that many who once been opposed to the Nazis under the Weimar Republic were now starting to learn towards supporting the Nazis.[30] To capitalize on the vast popularity of the remilitarization, Hitler called a referendum on 29 March 1936 in which the majority of German voters expressed their approval of the remilitarization.[30] During his campaign stops to ask for a yes vote, Hitler was greeted with huge crowds roaring their approval of his defiance of Versailles.[30] Kershaw wrote that 99% yes vote in the referendum was improbably high, but it is clear that an overwhelming majority of voters did genuinely chose to vote yes when asked if they approved of the remilitarization.[31]


William L. Shirer in his books The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960) and The Collapse of the Third Republic (1969) claimed that France, although possessing at this time superior armed forces compared to Germany, with 100 divisions available at full mobilization, was psychologically unprepared to use force against Germany.[32] However, American historian Stephen A. Schuker, who has examined the relevant French primary sources also argues that a major paralyzing factor underpinning the French government's unwillingness to enforce Locarno was their economic situation.[33] France's top military official, General Maurice Gamelin, informed the French government that the only way to remove the Germans from the Rhineland was to mobilize the French Army, which would not only be unpopular; it would also cost the French treasury 30 million francs per day.[34] Gamelin assumed a worst-case scenario in which a French move into the Rhineland would spark an all-out Franco-German war, a case which required full mobilization. Gamelin's analysis was supported by the War Minister, General Louis Maurin who told the Cabinet that it was inconceivable that France could reverse the German remilitarization without full mobilization.[35]

At the same time, in late 1935-early 1936 France was gripped by a financial crisis, with the French Treasury informing the government that sufficient cash reserves to maintain the value of the franc as currently pegged by the gold standard in regard to the U.S. dollar and the British pound no longer existed, and only a huge foreign loan on the money markets of London and New York could prevent the value of the franc from experiencing a disastrous downfall.[36] Because France was on the verge of elections scheduled for the spring of 1936, devaluation of the franc, which was viewed as abhorrent by large sections of French public opinion, was rejected by the caretaker government of Premier Albert Sarraut as politically unacceptable.[36] Investor fears of a war with Germany were not conducive to raising the necessary loans to stabilize the franc: the German remilitarization of the Rhineland, by sparking fears of war, worsened the French economic crisis by causing a massive cash flow out of France as worried investors shifted their savings towards what was felt to be safer foreign markets.[37] On March 18, 1936 Wilfrid Baumgartner, the director of the Mouvement général des fonds (the French equivalent of a permanent under-secretary) reported to the government that France for all intents and purposes was bankrupt.[38] Only by desperate arm-twisting from the major French financial institutions did Baumgartner manage to obtain enough in the way of short-term loans to prevent France from defaulting on her debts and keeping the value of the franc from sliding too far, in March 1936.[38] Given the financial crisis, the French government feared that there were insufficient funds to cover the costs of mobilization, and that a full-blown war scare caused by mobilization would only exacerbate the financial crisis.[38]

Upon hearing of the German move, the French government issued a statement strongly hinting that military action was a possible option.[35] When the French Foreign Secretary, Pierre Étienne Flandin, heard of the remilitarization he immediately went to London to consult the British Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, as Flandin wished, for domestic political reasons, to find a way of shifting the onus of not taking action onto British shoulders.[39] Baldwin asked Flandin what the French Government had in mind but Flandin said they had not yet decided. Flandin went back to Paris and consulted the French Government what their response should be. They agreed that "France would place all her forces at the disposal of the League of Nations to oppose a violation of the Treaties".[40] Since the French government for economic reasons had already ruled out mobilization, and hence war as a way of reversing Hitler's Rhineland coup, it was decided that the best that France could do under the situation was to use the crisis to obtain the "continental commitment" (i.e. a British commitment to send large ground forces to the defense of France on the same scale of World War I).[41] The strategy of Flandin was to strongly imply to the British that France was willing to go to war with Germany over the Rhineland issue, in the expectation that the British were not willing to see their Locarno commitments lead them into a war with the Germans over an issue where many in Britain felt that the Germans were in the right. As such, Flandin expected London to apply pressure for "restraint" on Paris.[42] The price of the French "restraint" in regards to the Rhineland provocation, an open violation of both the Versailles and Locarno treaties was to be the British "continental commitment" unequivocally linking British security to French security, and committing the British to send another large expeditionary force to defend France in the event of a German attack.[43]

During his visit to London to consult with the British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden, Flandin carried out what the Canadian historian Robert J. Young called "the performance of a lifetime", in which he expressed a great deal of outrage at the German move, stated quite openly that France was prepared to go to war over the issue, and strongly criticized his British hosts for the demands for French "restraint" while not offering to do anything for French sécurité (security). As intended by Flandin, Eden was opposed to the French taking military action, and appealed for French "restraint".[44] Not aware of what Flandin was attempting to do, French military officials urged the government to tell Flandin to tone down his language.[45] In the face of Flandin's tactics, on March 19, 1936 the British government made a vague statement linking British security to French security, and for the first time since World War I agreed to Anglo-French staff talks, albeit of very limited scope.[42] Though disappointed with the British offers, which the French felt were too little, the French nonetheless considered the pledges of British support gained in 1936 to be a worthwhile achievement, especially given that for economic reasons mobilization was not considered a realistic option in 1936.[43] Those French officials such as René Massigli who believed in the idea of an Anglo-French alliance as the best way of stopping German expansionism expressed a great deal of disappointment that Britain was not prepared to do more for French sécurité.[46] As part of an effort to secure more in the way of the long-desired "continental commitment" that had been a major goal of French foreign policy since 1919, Gamelin told the British military attaché that:

France could fight its own battles and also send some immediate reinforcements to Belgium, but only if it was known for sure that a British Expeditionary Force was on the way. The lack of such a force would mean that France might have to reconsider its commitments in Belgium and the leave the latter to fend for itself... Such action would mean conceding to Germany potential air bases, and facilities for air raids against England, to which we could scarcely be indifferent[47]

The generalissimo of the French Army, General Gamelin, told the French government that if France countered the German forces and this caused a long war, France would be unable to win fighting alone and therefore would need British assistance. The French Government, with an upcoming general election in mind, decided against general mobilization of the French Army.[48] The remilitarization removed the last hold France had over Germany and therefore ended the security France had gained from the Treaty of Versailles. As long as the Rhineland was demilitarized, the French could easily re-occupy the area and threaten the economically important Ruhr industrial area which was liable to French invasion if France believed the situation in Germany ever became a threat.[49]

United Kingdom

The reaction in Britain was mixed, but they did not generally regard the remilitarization as harmful. Lord Lothian famously said it was no more than the Germans walking into their own backyard. George Bernard Shaw similarly claimed it was no different than if Britain had reoccupied Portsmouth. In his diary entry for 23 March, Harold Nicolson MP noted that "the feeling in the House [of Commons] is terribly pro-German, which means afraid of war".[50] During the Rhineland crisis of 1936, no public meetings or rallies were held anywhere in protest at the remilitarization of the Rhineland, and instead there were several "peace" rallies where it was demanded that Britain not use war to resolve the crisis.[51]

The Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin claimed, with tears in his eyes, that Britain lacked the resources to enforce her treaty guarantees and that public opinion would not stand for military force anyway.[52] The British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, discouraged military action by the French and was against any financial or economic sanctions against Germany. Eden instead wanted Germany to pull out all but a symbolic number of troops, the number they said they were going to put in the first place, and then renegotiate.[53] An additional factor that influenced British policy was the lack of the Dominion support. All of the Dominion High Commissioners in London, with South Africa and Canada being especially outspoken in this regard, made it quite clear that they would not go to war to restore the demilitarized status of the Rhineland, and that if Britain did so, she would be on her own.[51] Ever since the Chanak Crisis of 1922, Britain had been keenly conscious that Dominion support could no longer be automatically assumed, and remembering the huge role the Dominions had played in the victory of 1918 could not consider fighting another major war without Dominion support.

The British Foreign Office for its part expressed a great deal of frustration over Hitler's action in unilaterally taking what London had proposed to negotiate. As a Foreign Office memo complained "Hitler has deprived us of the possibility of making to him a concession which might otherwise have been a useful bargaining counter in our hands in the general negotiations with Germany which we had it in contemplation to initiate".[54] Through the British had agreed to staff talks with the French as the price of French "restraint", many British ministers were unhappy with these talks. The Home Secretary Sir John Simon wrote to Eden and Baldwin that staff talks to be held with the French after the Rhineland remilitarization would lead the French to perceive that:

they have got us tied that they can safely wait for the breakdown of discussions with Germany. In such circumstances France will be as selfish and as pig-headed as France has always been and the prospect of agreement with Germany will grow dimmer and dimmer.[55]

In response to objections like Simon's, the British ended the staff talks with the French five days after they had begun; Anglo-French staff talks were not to occur again until February 1939 in the aftermath of the Dutch War Scare of January 1939. However, the rather hazily phrased British statement linking British security to French sécurité was not disallowed out of the fear that it would irreparably damage Anglo-French relations, which as the British historian A. J. P. Taylor observed meant should France become involved in a war with Germany, there would be at a minimum a strong moral case because of the statement of March 19, 1936 for Britain to fight on the side of France.[56]

Until the statement by Neville Chamberlain on March 31, 1939 offering the "guarantee" of Poland, there were no British security commitments in Eastern Europe beyond the Covenant of the League of Nations. For most of the inter-war period, the British were extremely reluctant to make security commitments in Eastern Europe, regarding the region as too unstable and likely to embroil Britain in unwanted wars. In 1925, the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Austen Chamberlain had famously stated in public that the Polish Corridor was "not worth the bones of a single British grenadier".[57][58] However, because of the French alliance system in Eastern Europe, the so-called Cordon sanitaire, any German attack on France's Eastern European allies would cause a Franco-German war, and because of the statement of March 19, 1936 a Franco-German war would create strong pressure for British intervention on the side of France. This was all the more the case because unlike the Locarno, where Britain was committed to come to France's defence only in the event of a German attack, the British statement of March 19 as part of an effort to be as vague as possible only stated Britain considered French security to be vital national need, and did not distinguish between a German attack on France vs. France going to war with Germany in the event of a German attack on a member of the cordon sanitarie. Thus, in this way, the British statement of March 1936 offered not only a direct British commitment to defend France (albeit phrased in exceedingly ambiguous language), but also indirectly to the Eastern European states of the cordon sanitaire. In this way, the British government found itself drawn into the Central European crisis of 1938 because of the Franco-Czechoslovak alliance of 1924 meant any German-Czechoslovak war would automatically become a Franco-German war, and if the latter event occurred, the statement of March 19, 1936 would create strong pressure for British intervention. It was because of this indirect security commitment via the proxy of France that the British involved themselves in the Central European crisis of 1938 despite the widespread feeling that the German-Czechoslovak dispute did not concern Britain directly.[59]

During a House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on 12 March, Winston Churchill, a backbench Conservative MP, argued for Anglo-French co-ordination under the League of Nations to help France challenge the remilitarization of the Rhineland,[60] but this never happened. On 6 April Churchill said of the remilitarization, "The creation of a line of forts opposite to the French frontier will enable the German troops to be economized on that line and will enable the main forces to swing round through Belgium and Holland", accurately predicting the Battle of France.[25]:148


Belgium concluded an alliance with France in 1920 but after the remilitarization Belgium opted again for neutrality. On 14 October 1936 King Leopold III of Belgium said in a speech:

The reoccupation of the Rhineland, by ending the Locarno arrangement, has almost brought us back to our international position before the war... We must follow a policy exclusively and entirely Belgian. The policy must aim solely at placing us outside the quarrels of our neighbours.[61]


Poland announced that the Franco-Polish Military Alliance signed in 1921 would be honoured, although the treaty stipulated that Poland would aid France only if France was invaded. Poland did agree to mobilize its forces if France did first, however they abstained from voting against the remilitarization in the Council of the League of Nations.

League of Nations

When the Council of the League of Nations met in London, the only delegate in favour of sanctions against Germany was Maxim Litvinov, the representative of the Soviet Union. The Council declared, though not unanimously, that the remilitarization constituted a breach of the Treaties of Versailles and Locarno. Hitler was invited to plan a new scheme for European security and he responded by claiming he had "no territorial claims in Europe" and wanted a twenty-five year pact of non-aggression with Britain and France. However, when the British Government inquired further into this proposed pact they did not receive a reply.[62]



  • Correlli Barnett, The Collapse of British Power (Pan, 2002).
  • Brian Bond "The Continental Commitment In British Strategy in the 1930s" pp. 197–208 from The Fascist Challenge and the Policy of Appeasement edited by Wolfgang Mommsen and Lothar Kettenacker, George Allen & Unwin: London, United Kingdom, 1983, ISBN 0-04-940068-1.
  • Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (London: Odhams, 1962).
  • J.T. Emmerson The Rhineland Crisis 7 March 1936 A Study in Multilateral Diplomacy, Iowa State University Press: Ames, Iowa, United States of America, 1977.
  • Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life (Pimlico, 2000).
  • Martin Gilbert and Richard Gott, The Appeasers (Phoenix Press, 2000).
  • Charles Cheney Hyde, 'Belgium and Neutrality', The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 31, No. 1. (January 1937), pp. 81–5.
  • Ian Kershaw Hitler 1889–1936: Hubris, W.W. Norton: New York, United States of America, 1998.
  • Rupert Matthews, Hitler: Military Commander (Arcturus, 2003).
  • W.N. Medlicott Britain and Germany: The Search For Agreement 1930-1937, Athlone Press: London, United Kingdom, 1969.
  • Harold Nicolson, The Harold Nicolson Diaries: 1919–1964 (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2004).
  • Stephen Schuker "France and the Remilitarization of the Rhineland, 1936" pp. 206–21 from The Origins of the Second World War edited by Patrick Finney, Arnold Press, London, United Kingdom, 1997, ISBN 0-340-67640-X.
  • A. J. P. Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War (Penguin, 1991).
  • J. R. Tournoux, Petain et de Gaulle (Paris: Plon, 1964).
  • Robert J. Young In Command of France French Foreign Policy and Military Planning, 1933–1940, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America, 1978, ISBN 0-674-44536-8.
  • Gerhard Weinberg The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany Diplomatic Revolution in Europe 1933–36, University of Chicago Press: Chicago, Illinois, United States of America, 1970.

External links

  • Map of Europe showing political situation during Hitler's remilitarization of the Rhineland at
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