1938: Czechoslovakia and the Munich Conference

Hitler had signed a 10 year non aggression pact with Poland in 1934 to show it was peaceful.

It became obvious he was not peaceful when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939 after he had successfully claimed and taken possession of the Sudetenland.

Foundations of the Crisis

The crisis initially began with Adolf Hitler's rise to power and aim of remilitarisation. He also aimed at Lebensraum and expanding the German borders to include German speakers in other countries, such as the Sudetenland and Austria, and to create more living space for the Germans.

The Sudetenland Crisis

In September 1938, Hitler was demanding that the Sudetenland, who of the population, 50% (around 3 million) were Germans who claimed they were being oppressed and mistreated by the Czechs, was handed over to Germany.

The Sudetenland contained 70% of Czechoslovakia's heavy industry and it was a strong area of defence for the country, so losing this area would leave them defenceless against Germany.

Hitler encouraged them to stir up trouble in Czechoslovakia and demand for them to be allowed to join with Germany.

  • After Hitler made an anti-Czech speech in mid-September, chamberlain feared war, a war that could be worse than the devastating First World War. He believed the British military was not ready to fight Germany and the British public wished to avoid war whatever possible.

The Czech leader, Edvard Benes, became concerned that Hitler would invade his country, so he asked Britain and France to support him if it came to war. However, they were reluctant to do so and Britain sent a politician to Czechoslovakia to recommend that certain parts be given to Germany.

  • Czechoslovakia had a friendship and alliance agreement with France since 25th January 1924, while they had had an alliance with the USSR since 16th May 1935.

  • They had tried to form alliances with Britain, but they were unsuccessful.

British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, met with Hitler, declaring that the Czech government had agreed to give him certain parts of the Sudetenland. Hitler was unhappy with this settlement and demanded the whole of the Sudetenland. As Chamberlain refused, war seemed likely, so people in Britain began constructing air raid shelters.

The Munich Agreement

Mussolini helped to arrange a meeting, which became known as the Munich Agreement, between Britain (PM Chamberlain), France (PM Daladier) and Germany (FHR Hitler) in September 1938. It was agreed that Hitler be given the entire Sudetenland.

As Chamberlain returned to Britain, he was saluted as a hero as he was able to prevent war. German soldiers siezed the Sudetenland on October 1st 1938 with no shots fired.

Two days later, the Czech leader resigned.

How did the USSR react to the Munich Agreement?

Despite the USSR being in alliances with France and Czechoslovakia, they were not invited to the Munich Conference and were very disappointed at it's outcome.

Stalin felt that the USSR's defence against Germany had been compromised by the conference, believing that Hitler had been given the confidence and resources needed to put Eastwards, first into Poland and then into Soviet Russia.

The Munich Agreement convinced European powers that Britain and France were unreliable and feared a lack of action against Germany. This was especially the case for Stalin and the Soviet Union, who shocked the world as he decided to enter negotiations with Hitler.

Many Historians believe that despite their communism, the USSR was the most logical and sensible country at the time, wishing for the League of Nations to properly function as an organisation, while Britain and France only wished to use it for their own benefits.

Criticism of the Policy of Appeasement

The participating countries had attempted to avoid bloodshed by giving Sudetenland to Hitler without consulting Czechoslovakia.

Appeasement promoted aggression.