What were the long-term consequences of the peace treaties of 1919-23?

German Anger

In the 1920s the Germans called the Treaty of Versailles the ‘Diktat’, the ‘dictated peace’.

They resented:

  • the loss of so much territory, especially the splitting of East Prussia from the rest of Germany.
  • The loss of resources. The treaty took away 74% of their iron ore production and 26% of their coal.
  • Foreign occupation of the Rhineland and Saar
  • Having to accept ‘war guilt’ and pay reparations. They argued that Germany alone was not responsible for the war.
  • The fact that while other peoples were given the right of self-determination, Austians and Germans were forbidden to unite.
  • The fact that Germany was the only country required to reduce its weapons and armed forces.

Not only did the Treaty of Versailles bar the German-speaking peoples of East Prussia and Austria from living in Germany, but other treaties also cut off other groups of German-speaking peoples such as the creation of Czechoslovakia with its inclusion of the Sudetenland Germans.

These resentments were waiting to be exploited by leaders such as Hitler who appealed to the Germans’ long standing sense of national outrage.

Hitler’s beliefs and how his plans contributed to the outbreak of war:

These were laid out as early as 1924 in his book, Mein Kampf

  1. Abolish the Treaty of Versailles – he blamed the ‘November Criminals’ for the humiliating peace and promised to reverse it.
  2. Armed Struggle – Hitler believed that war and struggle were an essential part of the development of a healthy Aryan race, a Master Race.
  3. Expand German Territory – he wanted to return the land that had been taken away and allow all Germans to live in a single Germany. He wanted to unite with Austria. He also wanted to carve out an empire in eastern Europe to give extra lebensraum or ‘living space’ for Germans. This was based on the principle of the Aryan race as the Master Race. Other peoples such as the Poles in Eastern Europe were inferior, and should be forced to make way for the Master Race.
  4. Defeat Communism – Hitler blamed the Communists for helping to bring about the defeat of Germany in WWI, and that they wanted to take over Germany.

What were the consequences of the failures of the League in the 1930s?

The failure of the League in the 1930s is covered elsewhere. But there were two main consequences:

  1. It encouraged leaders like Hitler to be bolder. This can be seen in the remilitarisation of the Rhineland, where Hitler took advantage of world attention to break a term of the Treaty of Versailles.
  2. It weakened countries faith in the League of Nations. Countries such as Britain and France began to rearm, and to pursue their own policies even if they undermined the effectiveness of the League. This can be seen in the policy of appeasement, which gave into Hitler’s aggression rather than try to confront it through collective action. A specific example is in 1935 when Britain signed the Anglo-German Naval agreement, allowing Germany to rebuild its navy.

How far was Hitler’s foreign policy to blame for the outbreak of war in 1939?


Hitler’s foreign policy and how it brought war closer.

Event What Happened Result
1933, German withdraws from the Disarmament Conference of the League, and orders Rearmament. Army increased threefold to 300,000. New air ministry to train pilots and build 1000 aircraft. Germany allowed to defy Treaty of Versailles, and the League.
1935, Saar Plebiscite Held in line with Treaty of Versailles. Over 90% vote to rejoin Germany Hitler claims a triumph
1935, Conscription Compulsory military service increases army to 550,000. Britain, France and Italy form the Stresa Front condemning German rearmament.

European powers appear united against Germany….BUT…

1935 Anglo-German Naval Treaty Agreement that German Fleet can be on third the size of Britain’s and have same number of submarines Unity of Stresa Front broken. Germany allowed to breach Treaty of Versailles.
1936 Remilitarisation of the Rhineland Hitler takes advantage of distraction of European powers with the Abyssinian Crisis. Orders troops to re-occupy the Rhineland.   Prepared to withdraw if Allies make military response. France and Britain protest, but Britain refuses to support military response; France unwilling to fight alone.

Once more Hitler successfully breaches the Treaty of Versailles.

1936-9, Spanish Civil War Hitler wins Mussolini’s friendship by joining him in sending troops to support the Nationalists rebellion, led by army officers, against the democratically elected Republican government in Spain. Hitler tests his armed forces. Britain and France show their lack of willingness to get involved.
1936, Rome-Berlin Axis Alliance of Italy and Germany Strengthens Hitler and separates Italy from France and Britain.
1936-7, Anti-Comintern Pact German and Japan agree to work together against the Comintern, a Soviet agency set up to spread Communism worldwide. Italy joins in 1937 Hitler gains a powerful ally against USSR.
March 1938, Anschluss Hitler uses the excuse of trouble, stirred up by the Nazis, to send troops into Austria. 99% of Austrians vote in favour of a union of the two countries. Hitler successfully breaches Treaty of Versailles without any bloodshed, showing again the weakness of the Allies to intervene.
1938, Sudetenland Crisis Annexation of the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, followed by the invasion of the whole of the country 1939. See below. Clearest example of appeasement, and of how it had failed.   See below
1939, Nazi Soviet Pact Surprise agreement between the USSR and Germany not to attack each other. See below. Opened way to invasion of Poland
1939, Invasion of Poland Britain and France declare war on Germany. WWII begins.


Was the policy of appeasement justified?


What was appeasement?

A policy which aimed to prevent aggressors from starting wars by finding out what they really wanted and then agreeing to those demands which seemed reasonable. Followed by Britain and France for most of the 1930s when neither was willing to risk another war with an aggressive power.


Britain and appeasement

Most politicians thought it was in Britain’s interest to avoid becoming entangled in Europe’s affairs again. Most British people supported the policy of appeasement. Winston Churchill was one of the few politicians to speak out against it.


Arguments For Appeasement

  1. The Empire was more important than Europe. The Japanese threatened to attack British colonies in the Far East. Britain could not afford also to fight Germany in the West.
  2. British armed forces were not sufficiently large to fight another major war. Britain needed time to rearm.
  3. To fight a successful war against Germany, Britain needed the support of the USA and Dominions such as Australia. But they wanted to stay out of European affairs.
  4. The horror of war lived on after 1918. Public opinion strongly supported disarmament.
  5. The Government believed the next war would be fought in the air and that thousands of civilians would be killed by bombing raids. It wanted to avoid this.
  6. Many British people: a) felt guilty that the Treaty of Versailles had been too harsh, b) sympathised with the German desire to bring German-speaking peoples into one nation.


Arguments Against Appeasement

  1. Agressors have no ‘final demands’. The more they are given the more they will try to take.
  2. If Germany was allowed to become a powerful European state it would soon become a threat to the British Empire.


The Sudetenland Crisis and the Failure of Appeasement


What Happened:

Hitler’s actions

  1. He wanted to unite the German speaking majority of the Sudetenland, part of Czechoslovakia, a democratic country
  2. He also wanted the resources in the Sudetenland, and it was the first step to breaking up Czechoslovakia
  3. He encounraged Konrad Henlein, leader of the pro-Nazi Sudeten German Party, to stage protests and an uprising, allowing Hitler to say that he intended to send German soldiers in to restore order.
  4. He made it clear over the summer that he intended to make the Sudetenland part of a Greater Germany.


Chamberlain’s actions (the British Prime Minister)

  1. Britain and France had made guarantees to the Czechs that they would defend them, but
    a) Chamberlain believed in appeasement
    b)   the British people wanted peace at any price – Czechoslovakia was a small distant country
    c)   Britain needed time to rearm
    d)   He accepted Hitler’s assurance that this was his last territorial demand.
  2. Over the meetings in September 1938, Hitler increases his demands, claiming the whole of the Sudetenland.
  3. This leads to the Munich Conference, Sept 29-30
    a) France, Britain, Italy and Germany were present
    b)   Czechoslovakia and its ally, the USSR were not invited or consulted
    c)   The Sudetenland was to be transferred to Germany
    d)   Britain and Germany agree not to go to war in future (his famous ‘piece of paper’)


Results of the Munich Agreement


Europe was saved from war BUT some historians argue it would have been worth risking war when Hitler would have faced the joint forces of the Czechs, French, British and Russians
It bought time for France and Britain to rearm BUT it also gave Germany the same time




  • was deserted by its allies and fatally weakened by the loss of resources and military defences.


  • was offended by being excluded from the Munich talks
  • lost confidence that Britain and France would defend Communist Russia against Hitler, if they were not prepared to defend democratic Czechoslovakia


  • decided Britain and France were unlikely ever to oppose him by force
  • gained popularity at home and be came more determined to achieve lebensraum
  • in March 1939 invaded Bohemia-Moravia, the rest of Czechoslovakia.

End of Appeasement

  1. the invasion of the rest of Czechoslovakia showed that Hitler’s promises could not be trusted
  2. Hitler’s argument that he was only bringing Germans into Greater Germany no longer held since he was now taking over the lands of non-Germans
  3. Britain and France speeded up rearmament
  4. Guarantees were given to defend Poland, Hitler’s obvious next target, against German aggression.


How important was the Nazi-Soviet Pact?


The Pact, August 1939

  1. Publicly agreed that the USSR would not object or fight if Germany attacked Poland
  2. secretly agreed that, once Poland was overrun, the two powers would divide it between them. Thus the USSR would regain land lost to Poland in 1921.


This came as a surprise agreement between two arched enemies. Stalin had joined the League of Nations in 1934 so as to win allies against the threat from anti-communist Hitler. In the summer of 1939 there had been talks with Britain and France.


Why did tasks fail between Britain, France and the USSR?

  1. Stalin would not simply guarantee to defend Poland. He proposed a full military alliance with France and Britain.
  2. France and Britain were unwilling to agree because they:
    a) disliked Communism and did not want to defend it
    b)   suspected Stalin aimed eventually to control Eastern Europe
    c)   thought the Red Army was too weak to fight effectively
  3. Poland refused to allow Soviet troops on its soil.
  4. Stalin mistrusted Britain and France, suspecting that they would not put up a fight against Hitler. They had not resisted Hitler over the Rearmament, the Rhineland, Austria, and most importantly the Sudetenland where he had been excluded from the Munich conference.


Why did negotiations between the USSR and Germany succeed?

  1. Stalin:
    a) realised France and Britain were not serious about military talks
    b)   could not face Germany alone
    c)   could not manage to fight in Europe as well as Japan on the Manchurian border
    d)   wanted to take land in Poland
  2. Hitler needed a deal. The deadline for invading Poland was close. Neither trusted the other, but it was convenient for the moment.


Why did Britain and France declare war on Germany in September 1939?


Simply put Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 September to honour its guarantee to defend Poland, following its invasion by Hitler. Hitler had believed that as before, Britain and France would not got to war over some distant land, but he miscalculated.


On a more complex level war is declared because of a number of factors:

  1. How the resentment over the Treaty of Versailles led to the beliefs and plans of Hitler that would lead to aggression.
  2. How the failure of the League to stop aggression and uphold the treaty encouraged Hitler and others to be more aggressive. And how the weakness of the League encouraged Britain and France to follow an alternative policy in appeasement.
  3. How Hitler in particular gradually undid the terms of the treaty in his foreign policy.
  4. How Britain and France’s policy of appeasement encouraged Hitler to be bolder, how they undermined the League.
  5. How others such as Stalin contributed to bringing war closer.
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