Responses of Britain and France to Germany's actions

During the 1930s the British and French governments followed a policy of appeasement.

Few people wanted a repeat of the casualties of the Great War. Only a minority of the British public favoured a stronger line on foreign policy in Europe, and then only when British interests and lives were threatened. The reaction can be seen on several occasions.

The Rhineland (1936)

Winston Churchill warned of the consequences of allowing Hitler to be unchallenged. He also described the German occupation of the Rhineland as a menace to the Netherlands, Belgium and France. However:

  • Churchill’s views were in the minority at this point
  • few were willing to go to war over German troops re-entering German territory
  • the majority of the British public believed that the reoccupation of the Rhineland was a matter for France
  • the French believed they needed British support before they acted

Austria (1938)

Closer links between Germany and Austria were seen as inevitable.

Some politicians held the view that Austria generally welcomed the Anschluss (union) and that it would be futile to try and preserve Austrian independence against the wishes of the Austrian people.

There was a lack of public concern as Austria was German-speaking and had subsequently supported the Anschluss in a plebiscite.

The Anschluss was not seen as a problem by most people - it was seen as a product of the Versailles Settlement which was already widely discredited.

Only a few opinions showed serious concern that this was part of the wider scheme of expansion and aggression by Hitler. This was the view of some Conservatives, such as Churchill, and other anti-appeasers such as the cartoonist, David Low.

Churchill called the Anschluss:

A programme of aggression, nicely calculated and timed

There were also some concerns over the immediate persecution of Austrian Jews after the Anschluss.

Munich (1938)

The immediate public reaction was one of relief that war had been avoided. Many agreed with Chamberlain that the crisis was about:

a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing

This opinion was to shift over the next few months as Hitler’s actions made people realise that he could not be trusted.

The seizure of the remainder of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 convinced many that war was inevitable.