Thursday, September 03, 2009

Neville Chamberlain ensured Britain's victory in World War II

This post is timed to the minute. For exactly 70 years ago, on the 3rd September 1939 at 11.00am, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain solemnly informed the nation that we were at war with Germany. Winston Churchill was brought back into the Government, notwithstanding his maverick tendencies, his disloyalty and his history of defecting. He went on to become prime minister, Britain won the war, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The name Neville Chamberlain has become synonymous with appeasement, ignorance, weakness, cowardice. But it is easy to dismiss his considerable efforts and achievements, or to view him rather simplistically through the received history of the world according to Winston Churchill.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and history has always been written by the victors. And Churchill ensured that the legacy of Chamberlain is exactly as we know it. But just 20 years after ‘the war to end all wars’, what British prime minister would not have gone to very great lengths indeed to avoid another devastating war with Germany? What responsible leader would enter a bloody conflict so ill-prepared? Who would rush to declare war when the military top brass, the MoD and the Treasury are all telling you that you can neither afford it nor win?

Chamberlain followed Baldwin in subsuming foreign policy to pressing domestic issues: their strengths were in constructing the ‘One Nation’ Toryism first espoused by Disraeli, and their achievements on the home-front were impressive. The Conservative Party of the 1930s was not divided left-right or traditionalist-moderniser, but between the Baldwinian ‘scuttlers’ and the imperialists. This assisted Chamberlain in retaining the support of the Party for his policy of Appeasement (and it is easy to forget that this was Party policy with majority support): Churchill was neither trusted nor respected. Chamberlain commanded considerable loyalty, and he saw it as his duty to drag his party and country out of the path of a major war.

He therefore forced the pace in his efforts to secure a peaceful understanding with Hitler, and took great risks with his own reputation by involving himself so personally in the late stages of Appeasement. He naturally talked up the chances of peace in his speeches, even as he knew that sustaining peace was not remotely likely. This was his personal and sincere contribution to engendering the trust and harmony that he was desperately trying to achieve. Silencing his critics, including Churchill, was thus part of his foreign policy.

Best laid plans, and all that.

On the outbreak of war, Chamberlain said: “My long struggle for peace has failed.” Though he was convinced (and it may be true) that by delaying the start of what became known as World War II through the Munich settlement, he significantly increased Britain’s chances of victory. As he told the National Union in 1940:

“After the Munich agreement, the Labour Party were relieved that we had escaped the war. Now they want to know why we did not call Hitler’s bluff. If we get through this war successfully, then it will be to Munich that we shall owe it. In the condition our armaments were in at that time, if we had called Hitler’s bluff and he had called ours, I do not think we could have survived a week.”

‘Peace in our time’ provided valuable breathing space, for the Battle of Britain of 1940 was won only by a whisker, and would almost certainly have been lost had it taken place in 1938.

For this, we must thank Neville Chamberlain.

Blessed are the half-hearted war lords.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, no. Chamberlain stood for peace at any price, he ditched Czechoslovakia (a far away country of which we know nothing), and even having given Poland a guarantee, dithered for three days. As for the 'he bought us a year' hypothesis, during which we frantically re-armed, do remember that his government cancelled an order for an entire flotilla of destroyers (eight plus a leader) in January 1939. Hardly preparing for a battle of the Atlantic. As for the Battle of Britain, that reading assumes a war that started in 1938 would have gone down exactly the same path as the one that did occur. Germany wasn't ready for a battle of Britain either.

3 September 2009 at 11:25  
Anonymous oiznop said...

Your Grace,

Welcome back.

Why are anonymous communicants always such ignorant twits?

How could the man who declared war be in favour of 'peace at any price'?

I agree with your hypothesis. Churchill is idolised as 'the greatest Briton', so it's hard to get a rational examination of his failings or of Chamberlain's achievements.

3 September 2009 at 11:32  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are a number of alternative views of this period, but I think it fair to say that Chamberlain deserves to be remembered favourably for his domestic policy record particularly as Minister of Health, but unfavourably for his diplomatic record.

Had we gone to war in 1938 it is unlikely that the Dominions would have joined us - but Italy may well have stayed out as well.

Delaying til 1939 has been cited as buying enough time for the RAF to bring sufficient Spitfire/Hurricane squadrons into the front line, but by the same token, the Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht were also under-equipped and less effective in 1938.

Whereas Daladier was as nervous about going to war in 38 as Chamberlain, the "missed opportunity" of 38 was the loss of a well-equipped and well-trained ally, Czechoslovakia, who could have resisted the Germans for some time.

3 September 2009 at 11:34  
Blogger Jim Bartlet said...

I think I will settle for 'hindsight being a wonderful thing', and leave the historical debate to the more enthusiastic.

3 September 2009 at 11:53  
Anonymous Sam said...

It is silly to pretend that World War 2 would have followed the same path in 1938 that it did in 1939. During that 'extra year' that Chamberlain bought Britain to rearm, the Germans rearmed faster, introduced newer and more powerful weapons and further modernised their armed forces to create an army even better suited to blitzkrieg (mostly thanks to the additional factories and raw materials from Czechoslovakia).
The Czechoslovak army was one of the best in Europe and the series of defences along the Sudenten border would have been very difficult to crack. The German army would have found the Czechs much harder to defeat than the Polish army. While Britain may have not been ready for the Battle of Britain, I find it highly unlikely that Germany would have been in a position to fight a Battle of Britain. Also at that stage there would have been no Nazi-Soviet pact guarding Hitler's flank and providing him with large amounts of raw materials.

3 September 2009 at 11:56  
Blogger Tim Roll-Pickering said...

The Germans may have found the Czechs a hard fight but what about the Slovaks? They weren't going to die to keep a bunch of Germans Czech, they wanted their own autonomy. Czechoslovakia was not a viable state as its history has shown.

The UK was not in a position to wage war alone, or solely with the support of a small landlocked country in eastern Europe. The French were deeply reluctant to enter war in 1938 (the main reason for the Munich Agreement was to get the French out of their treaty commitments to Czechoslovakia) and even in 1939 they dragged their heals. It wasn't Chamberlain who prevaricated for two days, it was Daladier.

Remember also the British Empire and Commonwealth. The UK had troops tied down all over the world, especially because of Japan's actions in the far east, and could not commit the resources to a full scale European war. Furthermore even some of the Dominions were unlikely to enter war in 1938, and when war did come in 1939 it was touch and go if South Africa would enter (and Ireland stayed neutral). And domestic opinion was strongly anti-war - can you imagine trying to fight a total war requiring fullscale mobilisation of the population and resources with the level of opposition of, say, the Iraq War? It was very doubtful that the UK on its own could have won a war waged in 1938 in such circumstances.

Chamberlain sought peace but he also sought to shift opinion towards accepting war. The famous "piece of paper" was the first time Hitler gave his own word that could be broken. And in 1938 the issue was about whether some Germans would be allowed to be Germans, which most were not prepared to die to stop. In 1939 people saw Germany had become an aggressive expansionary state and they were prepared.

3 September 2009 at 12:15  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Firstly, I'm anonymous because the software wouldn't let me be anything else. And as a PhD student of the period, I slightly resent being insulted as an 'ignorant twit'. I come back to my point, Chamberlain was quite prepared to sacrifice another country, first of all the Sudeten land then the rest of Czechoslovakia, without doing much. Can I re-phrase, Chamberlain stood for peace at almost any price.

3 September 2009 at 12:22  
Blogger moorlandhunter said...

Your Grace,

Thanks for that, but I am inclined to think that Chambers was very reluctant to go to war in 1938 for fear of being classed as the Prime Minister who declared war just 21 years after the war to end all wars. He wished so much not to have to take us to war that he sacrificed Czechoslovakia for wish but realised that no matter how much Hitler was appeased would only to be stopped by taking us to war against his Nazis.

Can you or anyone in your domain please enlighten me as to why we never declared war on Russia when it also invaded Poland? I cannot find any worthwhile references that can shed light on this double standard politicking all those years ago nor why the left wing of the UK at the time ever denounced Russia for doing so?

3 September 2009 at 12:32  
Anonymous oiznop said...

Mr Moorlandhunter,

You should put your question to Mr Anonymous who is pulling rank with his PhD. Though you wouldn't expect a PhD student to make such sweeping generalisations that have to be rephrased minutes later. Just about all the anonymous trolls on this site are twits. You might be different, but if you can't even work out blogger (which allows you to be any name without registering - I've been doing it for years), you can't be that bright.

Your Grace,

Do you intend commenting on Blair's revelation that Alastair Campbell does God secretly?

3 September 2009 at 12:44  
Anonymous tory boys never grow up said...

This analysis of the impact of appeasement is incredibly one sided and ignores the impact it had on among other things - the Spanish Civil War, Italian fascism, the impact it had on the Russians and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the undermining of the Popular Front movement in France and elsewhere. As for saying that criticism of appeasement is with the benefit of hindsight - you will find that there was plenty of criticism at the time (although perhaps not in the ranks of the Tory Pary or in the Times or Daily Mail).

I'm all for the view that the history is not as usually as black and white as it is subsequently painted - but I'm afraid that I don't see many shades of grey in your thinking here.

If we are to learn the lessons of history perhaps those who support this view of appeasement could come up with a few examples where standing up to tyrants in their early days has not worked?

3 September 2009 at 12:46  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By your leave your Grace,

Firstly to reassure oiznop, when I tried to register, the site came up with an error message. Secondly, how is 'oiznop' somehow less anonymous? Incidentally I said PhD student, my highest degree is an MA.

For Moorlandhunter

As for declaring war on Russia, Chamberlain very nearly did. There was an expedition actually embarking in 1940 to support Finland in its war against Russia. Then Germany invaded Norway and the expedition was re-deployed.

3 September 2009 at 13:09  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your Grace,

I understand that it is now the fashion to rehabilitate people like Chamberlain upon the ground that he bought this country time.

Had he listened to Churchill the rehabilitation of Chamberlain’s reputation would not be considered a matter for serious discussion.

In a speech delivered in the House of Commons on 2 May 1935 regarding Air parity with Germany, Churchill had this to say:

‘For the last two years some of us have been endeavouring to convince His Majesty's Government of the scale and pace at which German aviation was progressing. We debated it in March 1933, on the Air Estimates of 1934, in August 1934, in November 1934, and quite recently - in March 1935. On all these occasions the most serious warnings were given by private Members who spoke on this subject, of whom I was one. The alarm bells were set ringing, and even jangling, in good time if only they had been listened to. This afternoon I am not concerned with what private Members said in giving their warning, but I am bound to address myself to the main statements and promises which were elicited on these occasions from His Majesty's Government.’

Our present prime minister should remind us of Chamberlain. Both ditherers and both spent the same amount of time being prime minister.

3 September 2009 at 13:12  
Blogger OldSouth said...

'Hindsight is a wonderful thing...' indeed!

On our side of the pond, FDR was running on the promise of keeping the US out of any European war, even to the point of actively encouraging the America First types. All forgotten with the passage of time and selective amnesia. As it turns out, he was playing for time, knowing that war was almost certainly inevitable.

But, it was made inevitable, IMHO, because the US and Great Britain neglected their duty to remain vigilant after The Great War, willing and able to confront the inevitable next totalitarian threats. I think somehow we lost faith in the basic value of our civilized way of life, so focused on our shortcomings that we lost sight of our virtues

Had we not disarmed, and been willing and able to call Hitler's bluff in the 1930's, perhaps the tragedy could have been avoided or reduced in scope.

3 September 2009 at 13:22  
Blogger moorlandhunter said...


I know about the UK supporting Finland (they had German weapons too, given to test bed some of its anti tank weapons) when Russia attacked, but it still does not answer the fact that we went to war with Germany because it invaded Poland. Russia did the same, but we never declared war on Russia. Was it because the need of the support of the powerful UK Socialist/communist movement for our war effort against the Nazis who would never have dreamt of supporting a war against their beloved socialist utopia motherland of Russia or was it because of some other reason? Anyone know?

3 September 2009 at 13:26  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Whereas Daladier was as nervous about going to war in 38 as Chamberlain, the "missed opportunity" of 38 was the loss of a well-equipped and well-trained ally, Czechoslovakia, who could have resisted the Germans for some time"
Very true. And of course it gave the Germans undamaged munition factories !!

3 September 2009 at 13:58  
Anonymous Lee said...

A timely post on an issue that has been controversial for many long years. It is indeed easy to forget how shaky Churchill's position was within the Conservative Party until the second war cabinet (Roy Jenkins' biography on Churchill is a good read on this), and to what extent consensus pointed in the wrong direction.

On Russia, I seem to remember reading about a British brigade that was set to be sent to assist the Finns but then got diverted by events (I forget whether the invasion of Norway or of Russia).

On timing, one should also recall the prospect of a military coup had Hitler faced a war in 1938. That again is very much a hindsight issue. As is the Soviet position, though they did as I understand it mobilise a number of divisions in support in '38 and have aviation geared up.

3 September 2009 at 14:01  
Anonymous non mouse said...

Moorlandhunter - I'm not an historian, but I seem to remember that we'd told them that 'if they invaded Poland' we would declare war. They did, so we did. Might the warning have been the last hope of stopping their advance - and/or of showing the world that only force would stop them?

I'm still double-taking at Your Grace's response to Churchill - who was what we needed at the time. I always felt that God had helped us by making sure of that! Any sign of anyone like him waiting in the wings nowadays? For surely we have a parallel situation in all this refusal to let us vote on withdrawal from today's franco-german domination!! (Not to mention Bliar and all his paper-fluttering re mastrict, etc).
Not long ago, I met a Japanese-American woman who was proud to have a birthday on the anniversary of Pearl Harbour. Must say I didn't understand; I've always felt a bit odd that my birthday's being today. Even more recently, though, I found out that 3 Sept. is also the Feast Day of Pope Gregory (the Great) - which made me feel a whole lot better!!!

wv: idguff.... hmm. wv #2 ... hmmm again!!!

3 September 2009 at 14:14  
Anonymous the recusant said...

A bit of history from someone who witnessed it firsthand (not me I might add).

From the start of the war the then communist party of Great Britain, with not inconsiderable moral if not financial support of the more extreme left wing of the socialist Labour party called for appeasement with Hitler and actively promoted that Britain should sue for peace. This was especially prominent in northern and Scottish towns and cities, notably Glasgow. Calling it the capitalist’s war and championing the cause of no worker being forced to fight his brother, the communists made every effort to disrupt this countries war effort by stirring up dissention and calling for strikes where they could.

After the commencement of Operation Barbarossa, overnight the slogans and the posters came down from the windows of the various communist party HQs and it suddenly became a patriotic war to support Soviet Russia and comrade Stalin, the cry of ‘Second front now’ was now the constant call of the reds and every effort was now to be directed to supplying the Soviet Union with the materials they needed to fight the unjustified invasion.

3 September 2009 at 14:45  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

...exactly 70 years ago, on the 3rd September 1939 at 11.00am...

The BBC seems to think that Chamberlain made his broadcast at 11.15 am.

•Johnny Rottenborough•

3 September 2009 at 15:20  
Anonymous sydneysider said...

There is no shame in being old .
There seems to be quite a few seniors on site recusant so no need to apologise.Why are we talking about communists?You realise that if you
perform two more miracles that there is a strong possibiity you
might be canonised.So cricket 1,
sending Megrahi to hell in the next few days or so 2, and you get to choose 3.

3 September 2009 at 15:42  
Blogger Frugal Dougal said...

Welcome Your Grace, and I hope you are well rested.

I must disagree with Quidam's comment at the top - Chamberlain knew that fighter planes were being produced too slowly due to trade-unionists following orders to slow down production on the factory floor.

3 September 2009 at 16:26  
Blogger English Viking said...

For saying that Your Grace is supposedly a Conservative, you appear a bit of a pinko today. Chamberlain was similar to the current shower in Government today, more concerned about his reputation and how 'history would judge him' than the fate of the nation and the people in it. Praise God for Churchill, and pray God for a similar figure to arise in these times.

3 September 2009 at 16:42  
Blogger The Young Oligarch said...

Lee and the recusant are both correct .

There simply was no prospect of a democratic consensus for the war in this country , far less the Dominions , in 1938 .
The nearest there was to a consensus was support for Chamberlain's , ultimately vain, quest for peace .
It was this broad support and the authority it conferred which enabled Chamberlain to remain Lord President of The Council and leader of the Conservative Party even after Churchill was made PM .

Your Grace has done well to raise this important issue .

3 September 2009 at 17:46  
Blogger James Higham said...

Not only would it have been lost in '38 but in the latter stages of the war, the Luftwaffe had some nifty craft available for its use but other things got in the way.

3 September 2009 at 18:16  
Blogger UKViewer said...

I was interested in the comment regarding needing another Churchill in our time.

In the recent past we had such a leader, Maggie, but the Tory Party got cold feet and discarded her.

Since her daughter Carol seems to be cut from similar cloth, perhaps she is waiting in the wings for the call?

3 September 2009 at 18:36  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think his brother, Sir Austen, said it best -- "Neville, you have to realise that you do not know anything about foreign policy." Anything positive for Britain's war effort was an unintended consequence.

3 September 2009 at 20:00  
Anonymous not a machine said...

It is worth considering your graces analysis and it is forgotten perhaps best forgotten that there were many who did not want what they had seen in the first WW and appeasement was on the lips of many.
We were offered a deal of keeping our empire for resourcing the germans a sort of non agression pact .

There are a few moments when Hitler could have settled and just intigrated what some thought was a better culture of high ideals , some commanders saw this as taking over and intigrating . We shall never really know why he choose not to do more diplomatic victories from a point of strength , but Blitzkrieg was as much about fear as speed.

Hitler chose his path , i am gratefull to this day that we chose ours and ensure that i remember all those lost who fought for somthing as intangable as the notion of freedom from a tryanny.

How ironic that tyranies still can be constructed in scoialist mindsets as the route to ultimate power.

3 September 2009 at 22:33  
Blogger Jim Bartlet said...

I am both humbled and impressed by the comments on here today, goodness me.

3 September 2009 at 23:17  
Blogger dutchlionfrans1953 said...

Actually Churchill wanted the war! He refused the peace-proposal of Hitler! For peace would mean the end of Churchill! And Churchill could not afford that.

So Churchill really is a warcriminal, together with general Eisenhower. Too blunt? Just go to: Ike - Churchill War Criminals Forgive me if I step on your toes. Just be willing to give these facts a chance.

I can understand that many British will rub their eyes when they read this. I also believed the common story we were told by the propaganda machine after the war. Now I found out some more that I believe to be true.

Churchill is offspring of the Rothshild banker... but do not take my word for it. And through Rothshild Churchill is related to the Royal Family!

Just read the book "Hitler was a British Agent." (and so was Stalin)

Crazy? May be. Don't close your heart, but check it out.

You will understand many things that are happening today much much better when you do.

Also: Hitler did not commit suicide, but the British secret service who had trained him at Tavistock took him out in an operation called "Operation Winnie the Pooh."

Okay, too much? I understand.

Just do your own reasearch then. Start here: Hitler Was A British Agent

Read all you can there, and listen to his interviews.

Some 55 pages of the > 500 pages book, you can read here: Pages from the book Hitler was A British Agent

This interview of one of the authors, Greg Hallet, will tell you things anout the Royal Family you probably never knew! This is part 1 of the Interview

My opologies Cranmer for these links. I do try to keep it to a minimum. This is just so wild in most people's ears, that they need to be helpen on their way. Dó grant that grace for their sakes! Thanks!

4 September 2009 at 00:21  
Anonymous Voyager said...

Chamberlain's half-brother Austen had received the Nobel Peace Prize together with Streemann. Germany and Britain had very good interwar relations even though the USSR and Germany had been engaged in rearmament since 1919 with German factories inside Russia.

MacDonald had seriously weakened British military power during his period in office and Churchill had cut back spending on the new naval base in Singapore as Chancellor.

Chamberlain had spent 6 years cleaning up the Budget after the disaster of Philip Snowden - Labour's "Iron Chancellor" and could hardly be expected to throw it all away for Colonel Beck.

Since 1904 Britain had been France's poodle in Europe plunging into 1914 on the basis of secret agreements with Paris unknown to Cabinet and Parliament in London - forget sexed-up dossiers and try outright deceit.

It was France that had treaties with Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary and NOT Britain. It was France that wanted to renege and it was France that had turned down Poland's 1935 Plan for a pre-emptive strike on Germany before Pilsudski died.

France dragged the Rapallo Guarantor Britain to Munich together with Italy to get itself off the hook. Daladier brought Chamberlain to carry the can for French surrender to Hitler in 1938.

It was Poland that was invaded on 1 September and Britain that dithered that weekend - it was Cabinet that forced Chamberlain to declare war at 11am - France waited until 5pm.

Churchill was a francophile and germanophobe who sacrificed the British Empire and put de Gaulle on the throne of France despite US objections. It may have been the only way and Chamberlain served under Churchill in Cabinet even though he as Leader of the Conservative Party until his death from cancer in November 1940.

The true victor of the Second War was Marxism and the USSR which survived another 40 years on British technological aid from Rolls-Royce and Alan Nunn May and Klaus Fuchs.

4 September 2009 at 05:46  
Anonymous Steve T said...

One thing that has to be borne in mind is that there are a continuing series of border adjustments right up until 1938. A continual process of sorting out the aftermath of the great war. Czechoslovakia was a brand new state with no history, and has since disappeared.

And this is still an ongoing process in the middle east, Iraq created out of 3 ottoman provinces , Syria out of two and so on.

Britain disarmed after the Great War, you lose the ability to influence events when you are weak.

The other thing about Chamberlain was that as chancellor he cut the defense budget to it's lowest level ever, thus helping to create that weak hand at Munich.

It' a mater of debate but in 38 we didn't have had any spitfires or hurricanes, we may well have ended up agreeing a peace.

And I've no idea why we allied with the French from 1904, it was French actions that set the scene for the Great war, as the French wanted to get their ethnic German provinces back.

4 September 2009 at 11:52  
Anonymous Voyager said...

The other thing about Chamberlain was that as chancellor he cut the defense budget to it's lowest level ever, thus helping to create that weak hand at Munich.

He did in point of fact fund the PV12 Project at Rolls-Royce to develop the Merlin engine which Ramsay MacDonald had refused to do and which led Henry Royce to fund it as PV = Private Venture 12 until Chamberlain agreed to funding in 1935.

The Me109 had its maiden flight at the 1936 Olympics powered by a RR-Kestrel engine - forerunner of the Merlin.

Chamberlain also funded Robert Watson-Watt on the National Physical Laboratory and his RDF system; and provided funding to Rolls-Royce and other engineering companies to develop Shadow Factories - RR in Crewe was paid for by Chamberlain.

The only reason Britain was short of Spitfires and Hurricanes in 1938 was that priority had been given to developing 4-engined bombers which the Germans never managed to produce....France in 1940 had a large quantity of Curtis monoplanes - Kittyhawks I believe - which were still in hangars.

Spitfires was hardly the issue until 1940 - it was the paucity of tanks that made the British Army weak - though the French had more tanks than the Wehrmacht in 1940.

The real problem for Chamberlain was how to split Mussolini with his powerful Navy from Hitler after The Pact of Steel when Abyssinia was such an issue for liberals who wanted to protest but not fight....or how to control Japan.

Ribbentrop promised Stalin India to secure the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact which isolated Britain by making the USSR and ally of Nazi Germany and allowed the Partition of Poland on 1st and 17th September 1939 while Communists did everything possible to sabotage Britain's war effort until mid-1941.

That Chamberlain could not fight Germany, Italy, Japan with Britain's inadequate military and that Churchill depended on the USA ceasing to be neutral after he had just 6 weeks of foreign currency left in 1940 shows that gambling sometimes works especially if US Naval Intelligence fails to take Japanese decrypted signals seriously ....and the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor instead of invading Eastern USSR as planned - freeing up Zhukhov's forces to re-deploy to Stalingrad.

Chamberlain was left a poor hand by MacDonald and Baldwin; Labour did everything possible to undermine defence; and Churchill had romantic notions that France would do the heavy lifting - it took Lord Gort and Dowding to save Britain from Churchill's extravagant gestures.

4 September 2009 at 12:45  
Blogger Steve Horgan said...

Good post, and certainly Chamberlain does not deserve the contempt he engenders in some quarters. I would make the point, however, that the Battle of Britain was only necessary because of German success against France in 1940. The 1938 German army had far fewer tanks than in 1940 and would have had a tough fight in Czechoslovakia that might have given France the time to go onto the offensive. For all of his good intentions Chamberlain's judgement was ultimately wrong and we demand better at the highest level of our politics.

4 September 2009 at 15:57  
Blogger dutchlionfrans1953 said...

Hitler did not declare war against Britain & France! This should be kept in mind. Britain & France declared war on Germany!

Hitler did not want war with Great-Britain! He respected Great-Britain far too much for that. That is why he allowed 330.000 troops to escape to England, against the wished of his generals.

Hitler sent an official peace-proposal with Great-Britain in June 1940. Churchill who heard of it, made sure the peace-proposal did not reach the proper people.

He immediately asked how many bombers were ready to bomb Berlin. He was told that it would not before September (the days were too long). Churchill was angry. He wanted to provoke the Germans to bomb Britain.

Oh, how the truth has suffered after the war, as lies have been propagated to make the Germans look the bad guys and the British and Americans the good guys.

Why was there a War Tribunal to bring the German high command to trial for warcrimes, when Great-Britain and the USA were guilty of far worse war crimes - just the totally unnecessary bombing of Dresden, causing over 100.000 death, mostly refugees from Eastern Europe, in a couple of hours, is a crime against humanity of enormous proportion. And the war-crminals like bobmer Harry have never been brought to trial...worse...they have been honoured as heroes... Oh, mercy...

I am sorry if I step on some toes. I do not take sides except the side of Truth, Justice and Righteousness. That is what I fight for. And therefore I hate lies, deception, manipulation, control! I will speak out against such. no matter who is guilty of it.

4 September 2009 at 16:17  
Anonymous bergen said...

Chamberlain pushed appeasement too far but it did have the result that no-one doubted that war was unavoidable when it came and that the public were grimly united in its support.Even Churchill acknowledged that as a considerable political achievement to Chamberlain's credit.

4 September 2009 at 16:19  
Blogger Horatius said...

I welcome His Grace’s comments. Too often people use hindsight and draw false conclusions.

At the time, the policy of appeasement was a reasonable one to pursue. Gradually rearmament began. People forget that the combined forces of Britain and France far outweighed those of Germany. Britain entered the war full of confidence with the greatest navy in the world and an excellent and growing RAF. Our army was small, but we are not a continental power and that is where the French were supposed to contribute. The French army had better tanks and more of them than the Germans– the problem, as it turned out, was poor leadership and tactics.

Our anonymous PhD student is right that we should not assume that events following the actual outbreak of war would have been replicated if war had come in 1938. On the other hand I get the impression that he sees things in very black and white terms. Mind you, I feel that about a lot of modern historians.

I do recommend reading AJP Taylor’s “Origin of the Second World War”, which shows Hitler not so much as a man with a plan for world domination but rather as an opportunist ready to exploit others’ mistakes to his own advantage.

Let us not forget that most Britons approved of appeasement. The feeling was that the Treaty of Versailles had been harsh towards Germany and some readjustment was appropriate. Equally the democratic parties in Germany had sought from the 1920s such a readjustment i.e. long before Hitler came to power. To take one example, few Germans accepted the loss of the predominantly German-inhabited "corridor" and Danzig. So the issue of modifying the treaty existed independently of and before the arrival of the Nazis. Stresemann for example reached an accord with France in 1925 but was clear that he wanted “to secure a peaceful change of the borders in the East”.

At the time, the policy of appeasement seemed both practical and, I must emphasise, just. The problem as we later found out was that Hitler exploited legitimate grievances for bad ends. If only western leaders had been wise enough to make concessions to democratic German politicians like Stresemann, much pain would have been avoided later.

The public attitude to appeasement changed after Hitler’s entry into Prague in March 1939. This was seen as a breach of the Munich Treaty, though in fact it was an inevitable outcome, given that Czechoslovakia had been gravely weakened and that the Slovaks had just seceded leaving a rump state. After Hitler’s march into Prague, Chamberlain gave his unconditional guarantee to Poland. I think it would have been far better to have made direct threats to Germany rather than issuing a blank cheque to a third party. Britain’s foreign policy was still supportive of concessions to Germany over Danzig and the corridor, but the unconditional guarantee to Poland just made the Poles more determined not to talk at all.

Ultimately Hitler bears responsibility for the tragedy by resorting to unprovoked aggression. Chamberlain’s speech is moving because he could rightly claim that he had spent years seeking a just and peaceful solution and had been ready up to the last moment to facilitate agreement between Poland and Germany. Britain went to war with a clear conscience.

4 September 2009 at 16:57  
Anonymous Tim said...

Here's another 70th anniversary that hasn't had much attention:

Jews who escaped Nazis as kids recreate train trip

4 September 2009 at 18:22  
Anonymous James said...

"the Battle of Britain of 1940 was won...For this, we must thank Neville Chamberlain."

Actually we should thank the Blessed Mother. England is her Dowry.


More people might know this except that, as you write, "history has always been written by the victors". (Hence since 1535 England does not have a clue about herself.)

4 September 2009 at 19:09  
Anonymous Voyager said...

Britain entered the war full of confidence with the greatest navy in the world

only by including WWI rustbuckets and not powerful modern ships like BIsmarck, Tirpitz, and the Italian battleships.....even the French Navy had to be destroyed at Oran because of the threat it posed to Britain's ageing ships with up-armoured battle-cruisers like Hood no match for modern battleships and fire-control systems

5 September 2009 at 08:02  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...what British prime minister would not have gone to very great lengths indeed to avoid another devastating war..."

Tony Blair for one. Unelected Brown for another.

john in cheshire

6 September 2009 at 14:44  
Anonymous len said...

Chamberlain whether by accident or design bought the United Kingdom time
to prepare for oncoming war.
But for me the real heroes were the boys in blue the R A F who stayed the Nazi onslaught.

6 September 2009 at 19:09  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must point out that the picture of Neville Chamberlain painted here is not quite accurate. In 1938, Neville Chamberlain did personally appease Hitler. But he did not do it to allow the air arm of the army to develop the Hurricanes and Spitfires that would inevitably save Britain. He did it because he personally believed in peace, because he sincerely thought Hitler was sincere in his promises (we want no Czech's. This will be the last territorial aquisition we make.) and believed he had a personal insite to the mind of Hitler.

In making the agreement, Chamberlain threw away a remarkable advantage. The French army was then the strongest in the world. By itself, it could have waltzed into Germany and the Germans could do nothing about it. Hitler knew it. His Generals knew it. They had plans to depose Hitler should France march. Add to that the Czech forts and the thirty divisions on the Czech frontier, which the best German estimates said could not be defeated, and it was evident that if war had been declared at that time, Hitler would have been destroyed.

March of next year, Hitler moves into Czechoslovakia. Two days later, Chamberlain abandons appeasement. He reproached Hitler with flagrant violations, not only of a treaty solemnly entered into, but of Hitler's personal word given to Chamberlain. This speach got the admiration of Churchill. The two became friends from this time onward.

It was Chamberlain who gave the guarantees to Poland, which all knew would result in a horrendous war. But as Churchill would state, "God help us, we can do no less!"

On the outbreak of war, Churchill served in Chamberlain's government. But what most do not know or remember is that after Chamberlain's government fell, Chamberlain willingly served in Churchill's government. And he did so almost till the day he died, which was just after the Battle of Britain.

Churchill's own speach to the House of Commons on the occasion of Chamberlain's death gives his real opinion of Chamberlain. "Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capacity and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged. . . Herr Hitler protests with frantic words and gestures that he has only desired peace. What do these ravigns and outpourings count before the silence of Neville Chamberlain's tomb? . . We do ourselves and our country honour in saluting the memory of one whom Disraeli would have called An English Worthy."

6 September 2009 at 23:03  
Anonymous George Warburton said...

I was told some long time ago that Chamberlain returned from Munich and told his doctor that Hitler was a maniac who should be stopped at all costs (or words to that effect). Chamberlain was probably not a well man. He died of cancer within a couple of years and the doctor, who probably accompanied Chamberlain on his travels wrote a book in which Prime Minister's views were published. From what I can find his doctor was Lord Hordley (who was doctor to anyone who was anyone) but I can find no information about a book.

The inference would be that Chamberlain was buying time.

Does anyone know anything about this?

8 September 2009 at 15:15  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What N.C did to preserve peace is highly commendable I think, but his methods were appalling! He didn't like to trust his Foreign office, hence Anthony Eden resigned and even Halifax started to disagree with him, especially after Prague. Hitler was a warlord and wanted a war, it just came sooner than he expected by 3 years. Personally, I think his narrow-mindedness is what had earned him his uncharitable portrayal, doing things (like rebuking Roosevelt) without speaking to the FO, who he should really have trusted with foreign affairs!

28 May 2011 at 08:42  

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