1933: German Rearmament

In 1933, Hitler walked out of the World Disarmament Conference and quit the League of Nations as he faced opposition from leading countries in the League and at the Conference.

He had blamed France for the failure of disarmament, claiming that he could not leave his border defenceless when France refused to compromise and react by reducing their armaments.

After Hitler’s withdrawal from the World Disarmament Conference, it was clear that he aimed to rearm Germany, against the Treaty of Versailles’ terms. Germany began to openly rearm in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. Which restricted Germans armed forces to only 100,000 men in the army, no submarines or aeroplanes, and only six battleships.

How did Hitler rearm?

  • Hitler developed large and well-equipped armed forces.

    • The armed forces were able to gain experience from the Spanish Civil War. For example, the Luftwaffe was able to practice Blitzkrieg tactics which were important to their war effort in the United Kingdom (The Blitz).

  • He restored the pride and prestige that Germany had in their military.

    • Germany regained its status as one of the world’s most powerful nations.

How did countries respond?

The Stresa Front

This was an alliance/pact between Britain, France and Italy formed in April 1935. It aimed to:

  • Ensure there were no changes made to the Paris peace settlement

  • Oppose Hitler’s plans for German rearmament (which were complete violations of the peace settlement)

  • Reaffirm the Locarno Treaties

  • Maintain Austria’s independence

However, the Stresa Front's weaknesses were exposed:

  • Preventing Hitler from rearming realistically meant the members of the Stresa Front would have to launch a full-scale invasion of Germany, which none of the countries were prepared for.

  • The agreement was vague and did not even specifically mention Germany

The Anglo–German Naval Treaty

It was a bilateral agreement made between two parties without the consultation of others.

In June 1935, Only 2 months after the Stresa Front was established, Britain and Germany signed the Anglo-German naval agreement in which Germany was allowed to increase its navy to a maximum of 1/3 of the British navy. This was done without consulting Italy or France.

  • While this guaranteed that Britain would have a superior navy, Britain was allowing Germany to break a term of the Treaty of Versailles, which had severely limited the German navy.

  • Britain’s opposition to German rearmament had been effectively removed. Therefore, Hitler felt free to continue to increase the size of his army. He ordered the construction of new battleships and began to develop a large and efficient air force.

  • Hitler claimed that the Anglo German naval agreement was necessary to protect Germany and Britain was understanding to Germany's security needs.

  • Britain indirectly benefited from rearmament as they were close trading partners.

Why did Britain and France not take any action when Hitler defied the Treaty of Versailles?

  • France was in the middle of a General Election and would not act without Britain's support.

    • Anthony Eden, The British Foreign Secretary at the time, had met with the German ambassador and made his proposals. However, when Hitler refused to withdraw his troops, the British Government did nothing as the British people felt the Treaty of Versailles was too harsh.

  • Moreover, British politicians believed that a strong Germany would be a good defence against communism

    • Hitler was very persuasive and was able to convince other countries that his motives were 'peaceful and logical'.

  • Hitler justified his actions (e.g. remilitarization of the Rhineland and rearmament) by arguing that he was correcting the harsh terms of the unfair Treaty of Versailles and that Germany was simply defending itself and had the right to do so. This was accepted in Britain as many people there believed the Treaty was too harsh.