Reoccupation of Rhineland - History

Reoccupation of Rhineland - History

On March 7th, 1936, Adolph Hitler stated that he was abrogating the Locarno pact and the German army occupied what had been the demilitarized Rhineland.

Adolf Hitler was looking for an excuse to reclaim the Rhineland from the French, which they had been occupying under the terms of the Versaille Treaty. A claim that the German had explicitly recognized in the Locarno Treaty. Hitler claimed it was Germany's right to take this action in response to the treaty signed between France and the Soviet Union. The occupation of the Rhineland put German and French troops opposite each other for the first time since World War I. Hitler announced a peace program calling for the demilitarization of both sides of the French-German borders, effectively calling on the French to give up the Maginot Line, France's only line of defense. The British and the French complained about German actions but did nothing. Churchill, who was out of power, was the loudest voice warning of a pending war.


Reoccupation of Rhineland - History

Why did war break out? International relations 1929󈞓

The Munich Agreement and the takeover of Czechoslovakia.

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What was the International response to the re-occupation of the Rhineland?

What was the significance of the Rhineland?

The Rhineland is an area of Germany that borders France. It is of economic importance and militarily is considered strategically significant. For these reasons the Rhineland had been classified as a de-militarised zone in the Treaty of Versailles: to ensure that there was a military free area between Germany and France which would prevent the future build up of armed forces. The purpose of the zone therefore being to help guarantee future peace. The de-militarised zone was reaffirmed in the Locarno Pact and also in US-German treaties.

Why did Hitler want to re-occupy the area?

The fact that German troops were not permitted into the Rhineland was quite humiliating. Though Germany had economic and Political control of the area the fact that they couldn't do as they pleased in their own country was something that frustrated many. By re-occupying the Rhineland Hitler could achieve several things. First, it would be a huge boost to national morale and a propaganda victory within Germany. Second, it would demonstrate that International opinion about some terms of the Treaty of Versailles had changed, or at least that the Allied Powers were unwilling or unable to take action should Germany take steps to alter or ignore certain conditions of the peace settlements and later treaties.

What orders did the German Troops have? Why?

On March 7th, 1936, 3 battalions of men from the Wehrmacht were ordered to cross bridges over the River Rhine and re-occupy the demilitarised zone. They had strict instructions to immediately and peacefully evacuate should there be any military response from the French armed forces. Hitler outlined what had been ordered to the Reichstag that day:

"First, we swear to yield to no force whatever in the restoration of the honor of our people, preferring to succumb with honor to the severest hardships rather than to capitulate. Secondly, we pledge that now, more than ever, we shall strive for an understanding between European peoples, especially for one with our Western neighbor nations. We have no territorial demands to make in Europe. Germany will never break the peace."

Hitler knew that he was taking a risk. This was a clear breach of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and whilst reasonably confident that the plan would succeed he later admitted that the 48 hours after the first troops marched into the area were amongst the most nervous moments of his political career. Had France responded, he would have looked foolish.

What was the German justification for breaking the Treaty of Versailles and Locarno Pact?

Hitler spoke in the Reichstag on March 7th, 1936. In his speech he justified the Re-Occupation of the Rhineland:

"Men of the German Reichstag! France has replied to the repeated friendly offers and peaceful assurances made by Germany by infringing the Reich pact though a military alliance with the Soviet Union exclusive directed against Germany. In this manner, however, the Locarno Rhine Pact has lost its inner meaning and ceased i practice to exist. Consequently, Germany regards herself, for her part, as no, longer bound by this dissolved treaty. The German government are now constrained to face the new situation created by this alliance, a situation which is rendered more acute by the fact that the Franco-Soviet treaty has been supplemented by a Treaty of Alliance between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union exactly parallel in form. In accordance with the fundamental right of a nation to secure its frontiers and ensure its possibilities of defense, the German government have today restored the full and unrestricted sovereignty of Germany in the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland." Adolf Hitler.

What was the reaction of other countries to the re-occupation of the Rhineland?

The French viewed the de-militarised zone as a crucial part of their security. It enabled them to easily occupy the Ruhr Valley in the case of probable German agression and was, to them, one of the most important clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. The Re-occupation of the Rhineland also meant that the Germans were likely to construct defences, making French pledges to Eastern European nations harder to fulfil should the need arise.

The French Foreign Minister, M Fladdin, spoke publically to announce the French response:

". . what had been violated was a treaty into which Germany had freely entered. It was a violation of a territorial character, a violation following upon repeated assurances by the German Chancellor [Hitler] that he would respect the Locarno Treaty and the demilitarized zone on condition that the other parties did the same. It was a violation committed in the very middle of negotiations . . .

If such violations were tolerated by members of the League as a whole, and in particular by the Locarno Powers, there was no basis for the establishment of international order, and no chance for the organization of peace through a system of collective security under the Covenant (of the League of Nations).

France would therefore ask the Council of the League to declare that there had been a breach of articles 42 and 43 of the Treaty of Versailles [decreeing demilitarization of the Rhineland]. As to the fact of this breach, there could be no possibility of doubt.

Once the breach had been declared by the Council, the French Government would put at the disposal of the Council all their moral and material resources (including military, naval and air forces) in order to repress what they regarded as an attempt upon international peace. The French Government expected that the Locarno Powers, in virtue of their formal obligations to render assistance, and the other members of the League . . . would act with the French Government in exercising pressure upon the author of this action.

The French Government did not by this mean to indicate that they would refuse in the future to pursue negotiations with Germany on questions interesting Germany and the Locarno Powers but that such negotiations would only be possible when international law had been re-established in its full value . . ." M Fladdin, March 10th, 1936.

What this means in reality is that they are passing the issue to the League of Nations to deal with. Why? Some early histories of the crisis suggested that it was because France was psychologicaly unwilling to wage, or risk, war. Hoewever declassified documents show tha the reasoning behind this action is less to do with the will of the French government and more to do with political neccessity. France was about to hold a General Election and was suffering major financial problems. The French Military advised that a full mobilisation would be required if forces were to be sent into the Rhineland: as provision would need to be made for a German response to any military action. This simply wasn't affordable so the French adopted a public attitude that it was down to the League to decide and that they would support whatever actions were seen fit by the League.

". the feeling in the House [of Commons] is terribly pro-German, which means afraid of war." H Nicholson, British MP.

". no more than the Germans walking into their own backyard." Lord Lothian

The British reaction was to propose talks with Hitler over the Rhineland region: something they had already proposed to hold in any case. There was dismay at the fact that Hitler had chosen to act, in breach of Treaty requirements, but no desire to go to war over the issue. The two quotes above sum up the general attitude towards the issue. What the Government proposed therefore was negotiation with the Germans over the size of any force which could be deployed in the Rhineland.

Policy Memoradum issued by Anthony Eden, British Foreign Secretary, March 8th, 1936.

"We must discourage any military action by France against Germany. A possible course which might have its advocates would be for the Locarno signatories to call upon Germany to evacuate the Rhineland. It is difficult now to suppose that Herr Hitler could agree to such a demand, and it certainly should not be made unless the Powers, who made it, were prepared to enforce it by military action. Fortunately, M. Flandin [French Foreign Minister]has said that France will not act alone but will take the matter to the Council [of the League of Nations]. This he must be encouraged to do. But we must beware lest the French public, if further irritated or frightened, get restless at such a slow and indecisive action and demand retaliatory action of a military character such, for instance, as the reoccupation of the Saar [German territory ceded to France by the Treaty of Versailles and returned to Germany in 1935]. Such a development must be avoided if possible.

While we obviously cannot object to the Council adopting . . . a 'finding' that Germany has violated the demilitarized zone provisions, this ought to be on the distinct understanding that it is not to be followed by a French attack on Germany and a request for our armed assistance under that article. . . .

We must be ready at the Council to offer the French some satisfaction in return for their acquiescence in this tearing up of articles 42 and 43 of Versailles [i.e., demilitarization of the Rhineland] and of the whole of Locarno. . . . . In the face of this fresh and gross insult to the sanctity of treaties, it will be difficult to persuade the French to sign any fresh agreement with Germany in present circumstances. . . .

We might agree to [M. Flandin's suggestion of a formal condemnation by the Council of Germany's action], but we ought to resist [measures that could include economic and financial boycott] . . . The essential thing will be to induce or cajole France to accept [negotiations with Germany]. The trouble is that we are in a bad position to browbeat her into what we think reasonableness, because, if she wishes to do so, she can always hold us to our Locarno obligations and call upon us to join with her in turning the German forces out of the Rhineland. The strength of our position lies in the fact that France is not in the mood for a military adventure of this sort. . ."


German occupation of the Rhineland

On 7 March 1936 German troops marched into the Rhineland. This action was directly against the Treaty of Versailles which had laid out the terms which the defeated Germany had accepted. This move, in terms of foreign relations, threw the European allies, especially France and Britain, into confusion. What should they do about it?

These documents reveal the motives and attitudes of the British government as they discuss their options. They are all extracts from the minutes of the Cabinet meeting on 11 March 1936.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was Anthony Eden, the Prime Minister was Stanley Baldwin.

Tasks

1. This is a document where the Foreign Secretary describes a meeting he has had with the French, Belgian and Italian governments.

  • What clues are there that the British Cabinet thought the situation was serious?
  • What was British policy for dealing with the crisis?
  • How did this policy go down with our allies?
  • Why do you think they reacted in this way?
  • What did Anthony Eden expect the allies to do next?
  • Why would this put Britain ‘in an impossible position’?

2. This is another section from the document seen in Source 1. What does this tell us about Baldwin’s attitude to:

How might each of these worries affect how Britain would deal with the crisis?

3. According to this document, why was Britain unready to go to war with Germany over the Rhineland?

4. Look at Source 4. What arguments are put here for and against economic sanctions against Germany?

5. The Foreign Secretary puts forward his suggestion for dealing with the situation:

  • What deal does Anthony Eden want to offer Germany?
  • What do you think were Eden’s motives in making this offer to Germany?
  • Did this deal abide by the terms of the Treaties of Versailles and Locarno?
  • Why do you think he didn’t consult the League of Nations?

6. British policy towards Germany at this time is called appeasement.

  • Use your answers to questions 2(a), 3(a), 4 and 5(a) to describe what appeasement was and why Britain took this line
  • Do you think Eden could have handled the situation differently?

Background

According to the Treaty of Versailles, the Rhineland, a strip of land inside Germany bordering on France, Belgium and the Netherlands, was to be de-militarised. That is, no German troops were to be stationed inside that area or any fortifications built. The aim was to increase French security by making it impossible for Germany to invade France unawares. Other terms restricted the German army to 100,000 men and the navy to just 36 ships. Germany objected to the terms of the treaty but were told to sign it or the war would begin again.

The Treaty of Versailles also set up the League of Nations, an international peace-keeping organisation. It was based on the idea of collective security, that is, the nations of the world would act together (collectively) to preserve peace. Unfortunately, one of the most powerful, the USA, did not join the League.

Germany in the 1920s was keen to get back on normal terms with other nations and signed the Treaty of Locarno. By this treaty Germany agreed to accept the terms of the Versailles Treaty, at least on her western borders. France continued to worry about their safety against Germany particularly after Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933. He had always declared his firm intention of overthrowing the Treaty of Versailles and uniting all Germans in one country, even if it led to war. Germany began to re-arm. Could France trust collective security, or should they find military allies?

In May 1935 France signed a treaty of friendship and mutual support with the USSR. Germany claimed the treaty was hostile to them and Hitler used this as an excuse to send German troops into the Rhineland in March 1936, contrary to the terms of the treaties of Versailles and Locarno. It was a gamble on his part and his generals were nervous about it. German re-armament had not yet reached a point where they felt ready to take on a well-armed nation like France.

Following the discussions described in the documents, the British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, did indeed meet the German ambassador and make his proposals. Hitler refused to withdraw his troops, and put pressure on the League of Nations to act. France was on the verge of a general election and would not act without Britain’s support. However the British people felt that the Treaty of Versailles was unfair on Germany and was over-restrictive, and so partly because of this, the British government decided to do nothing. Hitler moved on from the occupation of the Rhineland in 1936, to the annexation of Austria and the seizure of the Sudetenland in 1938, to the take-over of the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 and then Poland in September 1939.

We know that those men sitting round the Cabinet table in Downing Street in March 1936 had no idea that they were only three and a half years away from war. We must not judge them with hindsight.

Teachers' notes

The amount of background information on the treaties and the League and the need to juggle information about several countries and their attitudes all make this lesson hard. It also has to be understood that, at that time, as Eden says in Source 1: ‘our influence was greater than that of any other nation.’

However, appeasement is an important phase in British foreign policy it helps to explain why the Second World War broke out when and how it did. It also traumatised a generation of British politicians into trying to redeem themselves, from Suez in 1956 to the Falklands in 1982.

The extracts from the Cabinet minutes show how little room for manoeuvre British politicians actually had. It was going to be re-played again over Czechoslovakia in 1938, but all the key issues are mentioned here:

  • horror of war
  • unpreparedness for war
  • belief that communism was an evil to be avoided an any cost
  • mistrust of our key allies
  • weakness of the League of Nations
  • recognition that the Treaty of Versailles may have been wrong in parts and readiness to revise it
  • assumption that Hitler was a reasonable politician with reasonable demands and should be dealt with as such

For this reason, a study of the Rhineland crisis is an excellent case study of British appeasement policy.

Sources

Sources 1-5 FO 371/19892 – Minutes from the Foreign Office meeting on the Treaty of Locarno in 1936


Reoccupation of the Rhineland

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This is the seventeenth lesson I have made for AQA History GCSE 9-1 Conflict and Tension 1919-1939.

This lesson aims to explain and evaluate the Allied response to Hitler’s reoccupation of the Rhineland.

Students learn why this event was significant in the road to war and how Hitler’s gamble paid off.

They analyse video footage of the time, complete a caption competition, a true or false quiz and a text mapping exercise before they answer a 12 mark GCSE practise question (with some guidance and help if required).

As there is a lot of content in this unit, the theme of these lessons is also to recap previous events to consolidate their learning.

The resource includes suggested teaching strategies and differentiated materials and comes in PDF and Powerpoint formats if there is a wish to adapt and change.

If you like this lesson, please visit my shop where I have created lessons for the first, second and third units of the AQA course on Peacekeeping, the League of Nations and the road to war as well as a complete bundle on the whole course which can be found here: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/aqa-gcse-9-1-conflict-and-tension-1918-1939-11866475

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Reoccupation of Rhineland - History

The Rhineland is a region in western Germany that borders Belgium, France, and a section of the Netherlands. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles and the 1925 Locarno Pact clearly stipulated that it was to be made into a demilitarized zone. Although Germany kept political control of the area, the nation was not permitted to have any type of military forces in the Rhineland. Because of this, many Germans believed that they did not really have complete control of the area.

The Treaty of Versailles and The Locarno Pact

The treaties established that only Allied forces could occupy the Rhineland. The Versailles Treaty also established that all Allied armed forces would leave the Rhineland by 1935, though most withdrew by the end of 1930. The Locarno Pact reaffirmed the national boundaries stated in the Treaty of Versailles and also approved German”s admittance into the League of Nations. The “spirit of Locarno” represented hopes for future European goodwill and peace.

This demilitarized Rhineland area was important to France as it acted as a safety barrier between France and Germany. France felt it was necessary to have this in case Germany decided to take military action against them in the future. The British government thought that there a need to rethink the Treaty of Versailles, because many considered some of the stipulations in the treaty to no longer be suitable for the 1930s.

Hitler Plans for the Remilitarization of the Rhineland

In March 1933, Werner von Bloomberg, Germany”s Defense Minister, had plans drafted for the remilitarization of the Rhineland. Many of Germany”s leaders felt that remilitarization should only occur if it was diplomatically acceptable and firmly believed that it would not be possible to reinstate military force before 1937.

In 1935, Germany”s Chancellor Adolf Hitler, canceled the armed forces conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, believing that the western powers would not intercede. Hitler also figured that if he changed his efforts to the eastern areas of Europe, then France might be less willing to get involved militarily. His actions brought immediate condemnation from France and Great Britain, but neither took military action to stop Hitler.

By January 1936, Hitler had made the decision to reoccupy and militarize the Rhineland. He had originally planned to remilitarize this area in 1937, but decided to change his plans to early 1936 because of the ratification of the 1935 Franco-Soviet pact. Germany viewed the 1935 Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance as a violation of the Locarno Pact. Hitler also thought that France would have more military armed forces by 1937.

On February 12, 1936, Hitler told his Marshal Werner von Bloomberg (his Field Marshall), of his intentions. He met with General Werner von Fritsch, to find out how much time would be needed to move several infantry battalions and one artillery battery to the Rhineland area. Fritsch responded that it would most likely take at least three days to organize the plan. He also told Hitler that Germany should negotiate the remilitarization of the Rhineland because he thought that Germany”s military forces were not ready for military action with French armed forces.

General Ludwig Beck (Hitler”s Chief of the General Staff) also cautioned Hitler that their military forces would not be able to successfully defend the country if France attacked them in the Rhineland. Hitler told Fritsch that he would order all German armed forces out of the area if France intervened militarily. The Rhineland remilitarization operation was given the code name Operation Winter Exercise.

German Troops Enter the Rhineland

On March 7, 1936, Hitler denounced the Locarno Pact and ordered his German troops to reoccupy the demilitarized zone which included Saarbrucken, Aachen, and Trier. Shortly after daybreak on March 7, 1936, nearly twenty German infantry battalions, along with a small number of planes moved into the Rhineland. In total, there was about 32,000 armed policemen and soldiers who occupied the Rhineland. This was the first time that German armed forces had been in this area since the last part of World War I.

By 11:00 a.m., they had reached the Rhine River, after which three battalions crossed over to the Rhine”s west bank area. Soon after, German reconnaissance forces discovered that several thousand French troops had congregated very close to the Franco-German border. At this point, General Bloomberg pleaded with Hitler to evacuate all of their armed German forces from the Rhineland territory.

Hitler then asked if the French military forces had in fact crossed the border area, and when he was told they had not, he informed Bloomberg that they should stay the course unless the French Army crossed the border. It has been reported that even though Bloomberg was extremely nervous during the course of Operation Winter Exercise, Baron Konstantin von Neurath (Hitler”s foreign minister) remained calm and told Hitler not to withdraw the Germany Army.

After the Remilitarization of the Rhineland

The German military force that was used for this military action was rather small as they were significantly outnumbered by the French military force that was very close to the border. Later, Hitler commented that the Rhineland military operation was an extremely nerve-racking time for him. The success of Operation Winter Exercise secured Hitler”s popularity with not only his army generals, but also with the German people.

Because France had been experiencing a political crisis during this time, there was not any political leadership to focus on the remilitarization of the Rhineland. British leadership thought Nazi Germany was just entering their own backyard and that there was no need to enforce this part of the Treaty of Versailles.

Great Britain”s Foreign Office expressed frustration over Hitler”s unilateral move because they had been proposing a negotiation for Germany to remilitarize the Rhineland territory. The Foreign Office stated that Hitler had deprived them of the possibility of a concession which could have been very useful to Great Britain. Many of Great Britain”s leaders had consented to talks with France about remilitarization negotiations, but several British ministers were unsatisfied with the direction of the negotiation talks.

Following the remilitarization of the Rhineland, Hitler spoke in public about his wish to have peace throughout all of Europe. He even wanted to engage in talks with France and Belgium about agreeing to new non-aggression pacts. While doing so, Germany was very rapidly constructing their defensive fortifications along the Belgium and French borders.


Contents

  • Armistice of Compiégne (11 November 1918 – 13 December 1918)
  • First prolongation of the armistice (13 December 1918 – 16 January 1919)
  • Second prolongation of the armistice (16 January 1919 – 16 February 1919)
  • Third prolongation of the armistice (16 February 1919 – 10 January 1920)
  • 28 June 1919: Signing of the Treaty of Versailles and the Rhineland Agreement
  • 10 January 1920: Treaty of Versailles and Rhineland Agreement come into force Foundation of the Inter-Allied Rhineland High Commission
  • 1926: Withdrawal from the Northern Zone around Cologne
  • 1929: Withdrawal from the Central Zone around Koblenz
  • 1930: Withdrawal from the Southern Zone around Mainz, resulting in the end of the occupation
  • 1936: Remilitarization of the Rhineland by German troops under Hitler, on March 7.

American Forces (1918–1923) Edit

The United States occupied the central area of the Rhineland along the Mosel river and the Koblenz bridgehead. General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces (A. E. F.), created the Third US Army for this purpose, giving the command to Major General Joseph T. Dickman. In early 1919, the Third Army comprised some 250,000 men. [3] The Americans opened their headquarters in a Prussian government building by the Rhine in Koblenz. In these days, the Stars & Stripes flew over Ehrenbreitstein Fortress. [4] In July 1919, the Third Army was disbanded and replaced by the American Forces in Germany (AFG) under the command of Major General Henry Tureman Allen. After a constant troop withdrawal, the AFG comprised some 20,000 men in a reduced territory in late 1919. [5] Compared to the French occupation zone, the Americans got along with the German population much better, including a number of love affairs. General Allen took even part in saving Ehrenbreitstein Fortress from destruction by the Allied forces in 1922. [6] After more than four years of occupation, the Harding administration decided to bring the troops back home. Finally, the last Americans left their headquarters in Koblenz in January 1923. The American occupation zone was consequently handed over to the French, who from that moment on controlled the major portion of the occupied Rhineland. [7]

Belgian forces Edit

This consisted of 20,000 soldiers [ citation needed ] (five divisions) [8] with its headquarters at Aachen, [9] and with its troops stationed in Krefeld. [10] They were commanded by Armand Huyghé.

British Army of the Rhine Edit

The British Army entered German territory on 3 December 1918. [11] The British Army of the Rhine was established as the occupying force in March 1919. Based at Cologne, they published The Cologne Post.

French Army of the Rhine Edit

The French Eighth and Tenth armies originally constituted the French forces involved in the occupation. The Eighth Army was commanded by General Augustin Gérard and occupied the Palatinate. The Tenth Army was commanded by General Charles Mangin and was responsible for the rest of the French zone from its headquarters in Mainz.

On 21 October 1919, they were combined to form the French Army of the Rhine.

In 1919 France stationed between 25,000 and 40,000 French colonial soldiers in the Rhineland. [12] Some German women married African soldiers from the occupying forces, while others had children by them out of wedlock (hence the disparaging label "Rhineland Bastards") [13] and were considered by right-wing Germans to constitute a public disgrace. [14] General Henry Tureman Allen reported to the US Secretary of State that from the start of the occupation until June 1920 there were 66 cases of formal accusations against colored colonial troops, out of which there were 28 convictions, and admits there were many more unreported cases. [15] Despite these occasional cases, "the wholesale atrocities by French negro Colonial troops alleged in the German press, such as the alleged abductions, followed by rape, mutilation, murder and concealment of the bodies of the victims are false and intended as political propaganda". [16]

French occupation of Frankfurt occurred from 6 April to 17 May 1920. On the second day nine civilians were shot by Moroccan troops in an incident outside the Hauptwache. This incident was used to launch a racist campaign against the French use of colonial troops, linking the incident with allegations of wide spread assaults by Black soldiers in the French occupation army on local women [15] including accusations of systemic rape and other atrocities targeting the German civilian population and attributed mainly to Senegalese Tirailleurs. [17] The events resulted in a widespread campaign by the German right-wing press, which dubbed them as "The Black Shame" (Die schwarze Schande or Die schwarze Schmach) and depicted them as a form of French humiliation of the German nation. [18]

In 1923, in response to German failure to pay reparations under the Treaty of Versailles, France and Belgium occupied the industrial Ruhr area of Germany, most of which lies across the river on the east bank of the Rhine, until 1925. Many Germans were killed during civil disobedience protests. e.g. against dismissal of German officials. [19] [20]

Siamese Expeditionary Forces Edit

The Siamese Expeditionary Forces also participated in the occupation until 1919 with their troops being stationed in Neustadt an der Weinstraße, located in the French area.


Reoccupation of the Rhineland: International response

In 1936 German forces marched over the River Rhine into the Rhineland. The Rhineland was designated a demilitarised zone by the Treaty of Versailles. Reoccupation of the area was a breach of the Treaty and of further Treaties such as the Locarno Pact. For Hitler and the Nazi’s the reoccupation was a propaganda opportunity it also tested the resolve of the major powers. The response was muted. France had previously occupied the zone due to late reparation payments, on this occasion they expressed dismay but passed the matter to the League of Nations.

What was the International response to the re-occupation of the Rhineland?

What was the significance of the Rhineland?

The Rhineland is an area of Germany that borders France. It is of economic importance and militarily is considered strategically significant. For these reasons the Rhineland had been classified as a demilitarised zone in the Treaty of Versailles: to ensure that there was a military free area between Germany and France which would prevent the future build up of armed forces . The purpose of the zone therefore being to help guarantee future peace. The demilitarised zone was reaffirmed in the Locarno Pact and also in US-German treaties.

Why did Hitler want to re-occupy the area?

The fact that German troops were not permitted into the Rhineland was quite humiliating. Though Germany had economic and Political control of the area the fact that they couldn’t do as they pleased in their own country was something that frustrated many. By re-occupying the Rhineland Hitler could achieve several things. First, it would be a huge boost to national morale and a propaganda victory within Germany. Second, it would demonstrate that International opinion about some terms of the Treaty of Versailles had changed, or at least that the Allied Powers were unwilling or unable to take action should Germany take steps to alter or ignore certain conditions of the peace settlements and later treaties.

What orders did the German Troops have? Why?

On March 7th, 1936, 3 battalions of men from the Wehrmacht were ordered to cross bridges over the River Rhine and re-occupy the demilitarised zone. They had strict instructions to immediately and peacefully evacuate should there be any military response from the French armed forces. Hitler outlined what had been ordered to the Reichstag that day:

“First, we swear to yield to no force whatever in the restoration of the honor of our people, preferring to succumb with honor to the severest hardships rather than to capitulate. Secondly, we pledge that now, more than ever, we shall strive for an understanding between European peoples, especially for one with our Western neighbor nations…We have no territorial demands to make in Europe!…Germany will never break the peace.”

Hitler knew that he was taking a risk. This was a clear breach of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and whilst reasonably confident that the plan would succeed he later admitted that the 48 hours after the first troops marched into the area were amongst the most nervous moments of his political career. Had France responded, he would have looked foolish.

What was the German justification for breaking the Treaty of Versailles and Locarno Pact?

Hitler spoke in the Reichstag on March 7th, 1936. In his speech he justified the Re-Occupation of the Rhineland:

“Men of the German Reichstag! France has replied to the repeated friendly offers and peaceful assurances made by Germany by infringing the Reich pact though a military alliance with the Soviet Union exclusive directed against Germany. In this manner, however, the Locarno Rhine Pact has lost its inner meaning and ceased i practice to exist. Consequently, Germany regards herself, for her part, as no, longer bound by this dissolved treaty. The German government are now constrained to face the new situation created by this alliance, a situation which is rendered more acute by the fact that the Franco-Soviet treaty has been supplemented by a Treaty of Alliance between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union exactly parallel in form. In accordance with the fundamental right of a nation to secure its frontiers and ensure its possibilities of defense, the German government have today restored the full and unrestricted sovereignty of Germany in the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland.” Adolf Hitler.

What was the reaction of other countries to the re-occupation of the Rhineland?

The French viewed the de-militarised zone as a crucial part of their security. It enabled them to easily occupy the Ruhr Valley in the case of probable German agression and was, to them, one of the most important clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. The Re-occupation of the Rhineland also meant that the Germans were likely to construct defences, making French pledges to Eastern European nations harder to fulfil should the need arise .

The French Foreign Minister, M Fladdin, spoke publically to announce the French response:

“. . what had been violated was a treaty into which Germany had freely entered. It was a violation of a territorial character, a violation following upon repeated assurances by the German Chancellor [Hitler] that he would respect the Locarno Treaty and the demilitarized zone on condition that the other parties did the same. It was a violation committed in the very middle of negotiations . . .

If such violations were tolerated by members of the League as a whole, and in particular by the Locarno Powers, there was no basis for the establishment of international order, and no chance for the organization of peace through a system of collective security under the Covenant (of the League of Nations).

France would therefore ask the Council of the League to declare that there had been a breach of articles 42 and 43 of the Treaty of Versailles [decreeing demilitarization of the Rhineland]. As to the fact of this breach, there could be no possibility of doubt.

Once the breach had been declared by the Council, the French Government would put at the disposal of the Council all their moral and material resources (including military, naval and air forces ) in order to repress what they regarded as an attempt upon international peace. The French Government expected that the Locarno Powers, in virtue of their formal obligations to render assistance, and the other members of the League . . . would act with the French Government in exercising pressure upon the author of this action.

The French Government did not by this mean to indicate that they would refuse in the future to pursue negotiations with Germany on questions interesting Germany and the Locarno Powers but that such negotiations would only be possible when international law had been re-established in its full value . . .” M Fladdin, March 10th , 1936.

What this means in reality is that they are passing the issue to the League of Nations to deal with. Why? Some early histories of the crisis suggested that it was because France was psychologically unwilling to wage, or risk, war. However declassified documents show that the reasoning behind this action is less to do with the will of the French government and more to do with political necessity. France was about to hold a General Election and was suffering major financial problems. The French Military advised that a full mobilisation would be required if forces were to be sent into the Rhineland: as provision would need to be made for a German response to any military action. This simply wasn’t affordable so the French adopted a public attitude that it was down to the League to decide and that they would support whatever actions were seen fit by the League.

“…the feeling in the House [of Commons] is terribly pro-German, which means afraid of war.” H Nicholson, British MP.

“…no more than the Germans walking into their own backyard.” Lord Lothian

The British reaction was to propose talks with Hitler over the Rhineland region: something they had already proposed to hold in any case. There was dismay at the fact that Hitler had chosen to act, in breach of Treaty requirements, but no desire to go to war over the issue. The two quotes above sum up the general attitude towards the issue. What the Government proposed therefore was negotiation with the Germans over the size of any force which could be deployed in the Rhineland.

Policy Memoradum issued by Anthony Eden, British Foreign Secretary, March 8th, 1936.


1936: The Remilitarization of the Rhineland

The ill-prepared and unfortunate Treaty of Versailles (q.v.) had left the left bank of the Rhine plus an area 50 kilometres deep on its right bank permanently demilitarized by order. This order was made again at the signing of the Treaties at Locarno in 1925. Britain and Italy (!) were to be the guarantors.

German governments since 1918/19 had wished to terminate the demilitarization, for the natural reason that it decreased German authority and, worse, exposed the very centre of German industry (the Ruhr) to a possible French attack.

Almost as soon as he was made Chancellor in 1933 Hitler said he intended to deal with the situation in the Rhineland, and had in fact planned an assault for 1937. He brought this date forward to March of 1936 to take advantage of the fact that the other European powers were distracted by Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia. Italy, you will remember, was one of the guarantors of the demilitarization. First, Hitler offered non-aggression pacts to France and Belgium and other Eastern European countries. The French trade unions, press and almost all political parties despised the idea of another war so soon, and were not against the idea. The British General Staff, worn to shreds by the Great War, casually thought the Germans would be moving into their own back garden and decided to do nothing.

German re-occupation of the Rhineland therefore took place. Hitler said later that if the huge French army had counter-invaded, the Germans would have been forced to withdraw, but this was palpably one of his lies as the German army of re-occupation was under strict orders from the Fuehrer to withstand any attempt to dislodge them from their Rhineland.

Germany’s taking back of the Rhineland has been seen by historians as an essential step for Germany, and a crucial one leading to the Second World War. Its success certainly emboldened and encouraged Adolf Hitler. It also showed French lack of will and determination to fight, and this frightened other European countries and left the Little Entente, an alliance between Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia established by the Treaties of St. Germain and Trianon, 1919 and 1920 respectively – in tatters. These countries and others wondered if they should not come to terms with the Nazis, as France had shown clearly that she would not honour her pledges.


Hitler and the Rhineland, 1936 - A Decisive Turning-Point

Hitler's march into the demilitarised Rhineland heralded Churchill's 'gathering storm' – but could the Fuhrer's bluff have been called and the Second World War prevented? Sir Nicholas Hederson, who as Britain's ambassador in Washington during the Falklands crisis saw diplomatic poker eventually turn to war, offers a reassessment of the events of 1936.

We and all nations have a sense that we have come to the turning point of an age.

Hitler. March 22nd, 1936

It is tempting to look for turning points in history and try to perceive in them guidelines for later conduct. Hitler's military re-occupation of the Rhineland in March 1936, in breach of the Versailles Treaty and the freely-negotiated Treaty of Locarno, and the failure of France and Britain to offer any resistance to it, is often cited as a supreme example of where the wrong turning was taken. Eden had this precedent in view when Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal as apparently did Bush when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. It was at the forefront of Mrs Thatcher's mind when she decided to resist Galtieri's occupation of the Falklands and when she urged Bush to confront Saddam Hussein.

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