1939: Was Britain prepared for war?
Britain and Rearmament in the 1930s
By 1934, Britain began to rearm in preparation for likely war in the East against Japan because they believed they would need to protect British territories in Asia, such as India. Surprisingly, Germany was not considered as a threat in the long term, while Britain was focused on its empire.
This lack of fear towards Germany and the understanding of their wish to rearm led to Britain signing the Anglo-German Naval Agreement in 1935.
By 1936, war with Germany was increasingly likely. The Royal Navy was provided with new battleships and aircraft carriers.
However, Britain was continuing its policy of appeasement, even after Germany remilitarised the Rhineland in 1936 and after the Anschluss with Austria in 1938.
By March 1939, when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, it was obvious that appeasement had failed. Churchill had been proved to be correct all along and Chamberlain finally conceded that Hitler’s action against Czechoslovakia might be "a step in the direction of an attempt to dominate the world".
By 1939, Britain was committed to building 9 battleships, 25 cruisers, 43 destroyers and 19 submarines. It must be noted that the British military receives less funding than that of Germany, and the main aim of British naval expansion at this point was to defend itself and its empire.
The Arms Race (1935-1939)
During this period, Britain planned to spend more on armaments and they created new plans for the Royal Air Force.
Meanwhile, Japan wanted greater sea power.
Germany began building newer, faster and more agile models of aircraft.
Italy also acquired and produced many aeroplanes. They built up their air force and it was able to challenge the finest in the world.
Do you think Britain was prepared for war?
Britain was never fully ready for War while Germany was able to break all the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. The British government had adopted the “Ten Year Rule” which was based on the belief that Britain will not engage in war for the next 10 years. As a result of this, it had cut its defence budget from 766 millions pounds to 102 millions pounds between 1919-32.
I think the policy of appeasement bought Hitler more time and resources for Germany's war effort, which resulted in Britain being underprepared as Germany had been able to acquire many resources from the countries they invaded.
Despite the Royal Navy being provided with new battleships and increased investment in the military in the mid-late 1930s, Britain was now less prepared for war than Germany was.
In 1938, the British Expeditionary Force was established in response to Germany’s invasion of Sudetenland.
In the event of war, the BEF will be stationed in France to prevent Germany from threatening France. Britain continued its policy of appeasement while building up its navy and army. The primary goal was defence.
By the time the war broke out in 1939, Britain was not ready for an offensive war. It had 897,000 soldiers compared to French 5 million soldiers, while Germany had prepared 13 million men ready to serve in wartime. Although Britain's navy was still slightly larger.
Britain spent 350 million pounds and Germany spent 1600 million pounds on rearmament between 1937-38.