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Wednesday, 26 February 2014

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On the other hand, it was also believed at the time that Poland was a significant military force. The speed at which she collapsed came as a shock. So the case for giving a guarantee was strengthened.

The reason we shouldn't have given a guarantee is that it put all the power of timing in Germany's hands. How much better to let them go careering off to Moscow and then stab them in the back. Such behaviour would have appealed more to the the commie-riddled FDR administration than going to war over Poland.

As for the French, you must make your allies where you may. But if they'd shown any spine over the Rhineland, the whole bloody business might never have happened. Mind you, you could say the same about the British electorate and its delight in disarmament/appeasement. God knows how much of that you can blame on Keynes, on the War Poets, and on Soviet agents. Not very much, perhaps: you'd tend to be aware if you'd lost chunks of your family whatever the poets said. The trouble was that what Britain got out of The Great War was a good deal less visible than the price she'd paid.

What, I hear you say, if Germany had once again decided to knock off France first, before she careered off to Moscow? I fail to see how we'd have been any worse off then we were anyway. It's mad, it seems to me, to give your opponent the power to put you into a war at the time of his choosing. The contrast with The Great War is striking: then, Belgium had already been invaded.

The attempt to double-guess the decisions in the Great War seem futile to me, since nobody has plausible knowledge of what would have happened if we'd kept out. Keeping out worked well in 1870, after all. But then Prussia was run by a sane hard-case with (but was this knowable?) limited ambitions. Were the Kaiser's ambitions limited? God knows.

"Were the Kaiser's ambitions limited? God knows"

To get a reasonable answer to your question DM you could do a lot worse than read the following.

"Catastrophe: Europe Goes to war 1914". by Max Hastings and published by William Collins. It takes a bit of getting through the 672 pages.

Also a good [and slightly longer at 736 pages] is "1914: The Year the World Ended" by Paul Ham and published by William Heineman.

It seems that the Kaiser wanted to replace a rather benign Brit Empire with one of his own stamp and we have seen how that idea worked out 20 years after WW1 ended.

It would seem on the balance of probabilities that war was inevitable on both occasions.

Our big mistake was to overturn a thousand years of history and ally ourselves with the French.

BoE I had a good friend, now sadly Gone to God, who came to the RAN from the RN. A Lieutenant Commander in the RN before we got him. In the Mess to our amusement he always referred to the French as the "Ancient Enemy".

It seems to me that there was no alternative to Britain allying itself to France in the long run - apart from those like Mosely who thought Hitler was on the right track. If the UK had gone down that track you'd have been on your own.

DM, sticking with the run up to WWII, irrespective of whatever we might have done, the timing of war was *always* with Hitler - as it always is with aggressors. At the beginning of 1939 Chamberlain must have been fairly sure that Hitler was determined on war - but he couldn't *know it* as a definite fact. The Polish guarantee was, admittedly, a weak card to play but the fact is that it was the *only* card in his hand. If it had stopped Hitler, then 'praise the lord and pass the ammunition', but if it failed (as it did) then it simply confirmed the belief (now a dead cert!) that Hitler was determined on war no matter what.

As I said above, most people (including Stalin) reckoned that *Bolshevist* Russia was first and foremost in Hitler's mind and at the beginning of 1939 the Russian military was reckoned to be a sickly, under-nourished, enfeebled giant - enfeebled not least by Stalin's purges of its officer corps. Even at the start of 1941, **two years later**, the British JIC reckoned that Moscow would fall within 6 months, and the American equivalent gave it as a matter of weeks. So I say again, Chamberlain, from what he knew at the time, had to reckon that Russia was as Hitler described it, 'an old wreck of a building and if you kicked the door down the building would collapse', and so perhaps, just perhaps, the threat of a Franco-British army on his western flank would be enough to make Hitler stop. It wasn't, but Chamberlain couldn't know that then. In retrospect, our entry into the war in Sep 1939, which gave the Soviets a bonus year to get their act together, could not have been more perfectly timed - they survived and so did we.

The defence rests, m'lud!

BOE, your prejudicial slip is showing, dear!

"the timing of war was *always* with Hitler - as it always is with aggressors" But he wasn't an aggressor against us, it was Poland he attacked. Hell, we could have been the aggressors at our own timing, if we hadn't given the absurd Polish guarantee, which required us to be aggressors on his timing. Imagine; he and Stalin carve up Poland to their mutual satisfaction. Then what? Neither of us knows. But strictly the absurd guarantee meant we should have declared war on both those Great Socialist Criminals. We didn't, of course - which is just more evidence that the guarantee was bonkers.

I think that dearieme errs. It might have been desirable for us to retain the timing of any war in our own hands, but this was not a realistic option for Chamberlain. Both personally, and politically, he needed a mechanism which effectively forced us into war at a time of Hitler's choosing. If he had not given the guarantee, the French would in all probability not have been prepared to go to war at all (after all, they had let down their preferred allies, the Czechs). And we certainly wouldn't have started a war with Germany without the French. So, what would have happened, in the absence of a guarantee, I suspect, is that some sort of fudge would have been arrived at after a successful German invasion (perhaps the creation of puppet/rump Poland, with significant territorial gains for Germany, with some spurious guarantees of good behaviour).

I also think you err, DM, in saying "Hell, we could have been the aggressors at our own timing, if we hadn't given the absurd Polish guarantee, which required us to be aggressors on his timing."

By giving that guarantee, Chamberlain was, in effect, declaring war on Hitler. OK, it did not specify a date but which particular day of the year the challenge was picked up was not important, just the fact that the gauntlet had been thrown down. Also, the Soviets, rather craftily did not invade Poland until well after the German shad kicked off so they could claim that they were merely coming to the aid of Poland - yes, quite, God help anyone when Russia comes to your aid!

I think H's point that if we had failed to step up to the mark in early 1939 with the Polish guarantee France might well have buckled under yet another change of government to something far too friendly to Germany is a sound one.

And I repeat, *in retrospect*, the fact that Hitler was forced to spend much of 1940 dealing with us and the French whilst the Russians frantically strove to build up their army - which was so pathetic that even the Finns gave it a bloody nose - was almost a miracle.

I should add that I am not *totally* convinced that even if the Germans had attacked Russia in 1940, and even *if* they had taken Leningrad and Moscow, that the Party (with or without Stalin) would have lost its grip on the nation and surrendered to Germany. I think it fairly probable but not a 'dead cert'!

If the Polish Guarantee hadn't been given there was a chance that he'd have gone chasing off to Moscow before we and the French had gone to war at all. Hell, the French might have signed a non-aggression pact. Once he was immersed in war with the USSR, that would have been the time to find a pretext to attack him. The commies in France (and the British trade unions) might have put in a bit of effort once their beloved USSR was at risk.

I'm not prejudiced against the French - just against our alliance with them. If we hadn't been allied to the French in 1914 and thus linked to the Russians, the paranoid Prussians might not have got the idea they were being encircled. Oh wait - they were!

We should have sat the whole thing out - armed to the teeth like a hedgehog with a machine gun!

Still, this is all speculation and hindsight and our current crop of plonkers don't seem very keen on history, do they?

As a gracious host, DM, I will leave the last word to you - even if you are hopelessly wrong!

Couldn't spell the word, most 'em, BOE.

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