In 1938 Hitler felt strong enought to risk his next and yet most serious gamble.
In a kind of external coup he annexed Austria. With Austria open to the German
military, the well prepared defensive positions of Czechioslovakia became obsolete
- the souther border was now open to invasion. With this in mind, Hitler now
tried to get the "Sudetenland", an area in Czechia that was inhabited by some
three million Germans.
When Chamberlain returned in 1938 from the conference in Munich, he presented a new Czechoslovakian border and a peace of paper as a result. In addition to the question of the Czech border, Chamberlain tried to ensure further peace with a document of understanding between Germany and Great Britain. Despite the impression that Chamberlain waves the plan to divide Czechioslovakia, it is this paper that Chamberlain shows on the photo (proving that "creative" journalism was already a common habit). See the original German text of this document at the end of this page. The first version of the text was proposed in English by Chamberlain. Both he and Hitler signed the translated German document.
The photo shows Chamberlain at his arrival from Munich with the Hitler-document, the map of Czechioslovakia with the parts that would go to Germany, Hungary and Poland and in the upper corner Chamberlain with Ribbentrop and (in the back) Henlein, the leader of the Sudeten, the Germans in Czechia.
AftermathWhen Chamberlain returned, he was enthusiastically welcomed by the British people, who had feared a new war. In the following three weeks he received 40.000 letters, many of them combined with gifts. His wife got some additional 12.000 letters as proof of the gratitude of the British people.
Chamberlain has managed to avoid a war in 38 - at the cost of Czechioslovakia. The following year would see a strong effort by the British to modernize and enlarge their Air Force, enabling them to win the air battle of Britain in 1940 by a margin.
Analysis - A mistake?
The effect of the Munich-treaty are twofold. On the one hand, the Czech army was perhaps the best prepared army in 1938 and had the advantage of long prepared defensive positions (although most of these could be avoided by using Austria for an offensive). However, a war might well have shown some surprises for Germany. In addition, a well planned attentate on Hitler was prepared that should take place in the very moment the war started. Most important perhaps, when Hitler occupied the rest of Czechioslovakia some month later he gained important industrial facilities, especially the Skoda-factories - the second largest tank-producing facilities of its time. Several of the German tank divisions were equipped with Skoda-tanks in the campaigns of 39/40.
On the other hand, though Germany was ill prepared for a war, Great Britain was not prepared at all. Great Britain had in 1938 no modern Antiair guns, and its fighter-force consisted of only 409 fighters - with only five squads of Hurricance (badly equipped) and one squad of Spitfire. As Churchill said in these days: "The equipment of our Air Force is miserable". British experts (Austin Hopkinson) gave the British air force three weeks before a total defeat in a war against Germany. In the following year, the expenses for civil air-defense went up by a factor of five, and large programs to expand the fighter and bomber force were issued.
More important than these programs was perhaps the fact, that in 1939 it was clear to everyone that Hitler was not interested in just correcting the injustice of Versailles. The "Reichskristallnacht" started the killing of Jews in Germany, and the later occupation of the rest of Czechioslovakia, the surprising pact with Stalin and the way Hitler threatened Poland showed that he was a danger to peace, a man who would not keep his word and could not be trusted. The sheer will to fight it out for the German populated parts of Czechia may have lacked in 38 - in 39 the danger was clear for all to see.
The original picture was published in newspapers in 1938. Available at several archives.
Remark: In the agreement about the fleetsize Germany agreed to keep its fleet tonnage to 35% of the British strength. This agreement was later cancelled by Hitler, further confirming his intentions.
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