Seventy four years ago today, on the 3 September 1939, Britain and France had declared war on Germany after it ignored their ultimatums to withdraw German troops from Poland. This kicked off six long years of World War II.
Germany’s accelerating power fuelled by Hitler's aggressive acquisition of territory began in 1936 when he used his army to reoccupy the Rhineland area of Germany.
It was a risky endeavor for Hitler, because the Rhineland bordering France had been designated as a demilitarised zone by the ‘Versailles Treaty’, which had previously put an end to World War I.
Amazingly, Hitler's bombastic plan was met without resistance which encouraged him to set his sights on absorbing Austria and the German dominated Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia into his Third Reich, in 1938.
Germany's power was growing as fast as Hitler's ego, and while Britain and France never reacted with much gusto they were starting to become uneasy over Hitler's territorial ambitions. France and Britain though were unprepared for war so decided to follow a foreign policy of appeasement to try and maintain peace in Europe by making limited concessions to German demands.
Negotiations took place in Munich on September 29 1938, and Chamberlain, Hitler, and Mussolini were joined by French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier. Mussolini presented a plan which called for the Sudetenland to be ceded to Germany in exchange for guarantees that it would mark the end of German territorial expansion.
The Czechoslovaks were forced to submit when informed that should a war occur they would be held responsible.
Quickly picking up on Britain and France's fear of war, Hitler soon occupied the remainder of Czechoslovakia by the following year in March 1939. The Munich Agreement never put power-hungry Hitler off, and on August 23,1939, he announced that he had signed a non-aggression treaty with the Soviet Union. This meant that he could now invade Poland without fear of Russian resistance.
Concerned that Poland would now be swallowed up by Germany, Chamberlain concluded an Anglo-Polish military alliance on August 25, 1939 that declared that Britain guaranteed Poland's independence and vowed to come to her aid if attacked. France soon joined Britain in support of Poland.
Originally scheduled to begin in the early morning hours of August 26, the attack on Poland was delayed after Britain announced that her guarantee of Polish independence had been formalised by an alliance between the two countries on August 25. Hitler postponed his attack to September 1.
The Germans came up with a story that Polish troops had crossed their border so that they could say they were attacking in retaliation.
Tensions were now running high in Europe. Britain and France began mobilisation of their armies while Italy's Mussolini desperately tried to intervene with Hitler to forestall war.
At 9am on September 3, Britain delivered an ultimatum stating that if hostilities did not stop by 11 AM, a state of war would exist between Great Britain and Germany. Germany did not respond and at 11:15 on September 3, 1939 Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced on the radio that Britain was at war with Germany."This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final Note stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o'clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us.
I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.
You can imagine what a bitter blow it is to me that all my long struggle to win peace has failed. Yet I cannot believe that there is anything more or anything different that I could have done and that would have been more successful.
Up to the very last it would have been quite possible to have arranged a peaceful and honourable settlement between Germany and Poland, but Hitler would not have it..."
Hear Chamberlain's radio message here:
News of war came as a shock to many people in Britain and the country was ill prepared and its war potential only matched the power of Germany when combined with that of France.
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