Source 1. Professor David Dutton,
Chamberlain and the Verdict of History’. new perspective Vol 8, No
is difficult not to feel sorry for Neville Chamberlain. For the last 30
years or more a succession of historians have striven mightily to
refurbish his tarnished reputation. They have drawn attention to the
many positive achievements of his early career - he was perhaps the most
distinguished Conservative social reformer of the first half of the
twentieth century - while stressing the almost impossible odds he faced
as Prime Minister in trying to spare his country the ordeal of a second
bloody conflict against Germany in the space of a generation. But
historians usually write for only a small section of the population.
Their impact upon the wider community is at best limited. As far as the
man in the street is concerned, Chamberlain’s reputation remains as low
as it was in 1940, the year of his death. In a poll carried out to mark
the coming of the new millennium, BBC radio established a ranking order
of the Prime Ministers of the twentieth century. Of the 19 candidates
considered - Tony Blair was tactfully excluded - Chamberlain came in in
last place but one, superior only it seemed to Sir Anthony Eden.
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Source 2. Philip M.H. Bell,
‘Appeasement’. new perspective Vol 5, No 1, p 29
A working definition
‘… To tackle the subject at all, we need a working definition. France
and Britain were the two countries most closely associated with
appeasement. Stalin and the Soviet Union also played an important role,
but to consider it would take us too far afield in a short article. The
central core of the policy of appeasement was the attempt by France and
Britain to reach a permanent settlement with Germany, and bring
stability to Europe by means of negotiation and limited concessions
rather than by resistance and the risk of war. It is important to stress
the words limited concessions. All too often appeasement is
called a policy of ‘peace at any price’, which it certainly was not.
France was obviously not prepared to hand over Alsace and Lorraine in
order to buy peace. Britain would never have dreamed of conceding Kent,
or the Orkney Islands. Appeasement meant peace at a limited price, to be
paid in territory in Eastern or Central Europe, or in other concessions
to Germany which would leave vital French and British interests intact.
As to dates, the central events relating to the policy of appeasement
took place between 1935, when Germany began open rearmament, and the
Prague coup of March 1939. A glance at the main events of this
period reveals the main aspects of the policy.
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Source 3. Dr R.A.C. Parker,
‘Chamberlain, Churchill and Appeasement’. new perspective, Vol 1,
No 3, p 26.
‘… In 1936, the foreign secretary, the elegant, ambitious
Anthony Eden, assured the Commons ‘that it is the appeasement of Europe
as a whole that we have constantly before us’. He was promising to work
to make Europe peaceful. Of course, everyone thought that to be good;
especially after the First World War had crushingly shown that war was
not at all some sort of healthy organised game. Everyone agreed on the
aim of ending war; more surprisingly in the 1920s and 1930s almost
everyone in Britain agreed on how to gain the prize of peace.
Appeasement - an Established and Popular Policy
The answer, almost everyone agreed, was to persuade the strongest nation
in Europe that everything it reasonably desired could be secured
peacefully. Germany had proved itself in the war of 1914-18 militarily
the strongest by far. Should Germans be persuaded to be peaceful by
force or by conciliation? Appeasement meant conciliation and the British
more and more chose that line in the 1920s. It began with Lloyd George,
that flexible, charming Welshman, the patron and friend of Winston
Churchill, collaborators in peace and war, who admired each other’s
intellect and who both excelled as speakers, one by verbal agility, the
other with well-prepared, rhetorical set pieces.
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Source 4 European events and appeasement
Adapted from Chris Cook and John Stevenson, The
Longman Handbook of Modern European History 1763-1991, Second
edition 1991, pp 160-164.
Jan. 30 Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany
Mar. 15 Hitler repudiates the military restrictions on Germany imposed
by the Treaty of Versailles and announces the existence of the
June 18 Anglo-German Naval Agreement. Germany undertakes
that her navy shall not exceed a third of the tonnage of the Royal Navy.
This agreement is contrary to the Treaty of Versailles
Mar. 3 Britain increases defence expenditure,
principally on the air force.
Mar. 8 German troops
in violation of the Treaty of Versailles.
May 5 Italians take Addis Ababa;
flees. Italy annexes Ethiopia.
Feb. 27 France extends
defence against Germany in NE and Rhineland area.
Nov. 5 Hitler informs his generals in the
memorandum that Austria and Czechoslovakia will be annexed as the first
stage in Lebensraum
[room for living] for Germany.
Mar. 12 German army marches into Austria. Mar. 13
Austria is declared part of Hitler's Reich.
Apr. 24 Germans in Sudetenland
area of Czechoslovakia demand full autonomy.
Apr. 29 Britain reluctantly joins France in diplomatic
action on behalf of the Czech government.
May 9 Russia promises to assist Czechoslovakia in the event of a German
attack if Poland and Romania will permit the passage of Russian troops.
Both states refuse passage.
troop movements reported on Czech border.
May 22 Britain warns Germany of
dangers of military action, but makes it clear to France that she is not
in favour of military action herself.
Aug. 11 Under British and French pressure, the Czech Prime Minister
opens negotiations with the Sudeten Germans.
Aug. 12 Germany begins to mobilise.
Sept. 12 Hitler demands that Czechs accept German claims.
Chamberlain visits Hitler at
Hitler states his decision to annex the Sudetenland on the
principle of self-determination.
Sept. 18 Britain and France decide to persuade the Czechs
to hand over territory in areas where over half of the population is
Sept. 20 The Czech government initially rejects the
Anglo-French proposals, but accepts them on the 21st.
Chamberlain meets Hitler at
Hitler demands immediate occupation of the Sudetenland and
announces 28 September for the invasion.
Sept. 23 Czechoslovakia mobilises; Russia promises to support France in
the event of her aiding the Czechs.
Sept. 25 France and Britain threaten Hitler with force unless he
Sept. 26 Partial mobilisation in France.
Sept. 28 Hitler delays invasion for 24 hours pending a four-power
conference at Munich.
At the Munich conference Chamberlain,
and Mussolini agree to transfer the Sudetenland to Germany, while
guaranteeing the remaining Czech frontiers.
Hitler and Chamberlain sign ‘peace in
our time’ communiqué [‘piece of paper’
with Hitler’s signature].
Mar, 14 Under Hitter's prompting, the Slovak leader
Tiso proclaims a breakaway
'Slovak Free State'.
German troops march into Prague and occupy Bohemia and Moravia.
Mar. 31 Britain and France promise aid to Poland in the event of a
threat to Polish independence.
Apr. 16-18 The Soviet Union proposes a defensive alliance
with Britain and France, but the offer is not accepted.
Aug. 23 Germany and the Soviet Union sign non-aggression pact, with
secret clauses on the partition of Poland.
Aug. 25 Anglo-Polish mutual assistance pact signed in London. Hitler
makes a 'last offer'
on Poland and postpones his attack until 1 September.
Sept. 1 German forces invade Poland and annex Danzig.
Sept. 3 Britain and France declare war on Germany.
in depth chronology, 1933-9 [available in the
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Source 5. John Garland,
‘Churchill and Chamberlain in May 1940’. new perspective Vol 10, No
Chamberlain had worked closely with Churchill under
Baldwin in the 1920s, when Churchill had been Chancellor of the
Exchequer and Chamberlain needed government money to promote his
reforming schemes as Health Minister. But they had never been close, as
temperamentally they were opposites - Churchill, impulsive, brilliant,
extrovert; Chamberlain, cautious, clear thinking, precise. Whereas
Halifax had been Chamberlain’s loyal lieutenant during the days of
Appeasement in the late 1930s, and was widely considered ‘a safe pair of
hands’. On 10 May 1940 Chamberlain’s job was Halifax’s for the taking;
but he refused it.
Churchill was acutely aware of the weakness of his own
political position at a time when the war was reaching a moment of
supreme crisis. On driving back from Buckingham Palace after the King
appointed him to the premiership, his bodyguard (a Metropolitan Police
Inspector) thought it polite to congratulate him on his appointment. ‘I
only wish the position had come your way in better times,’ the Inspector
continued, ‘for you have an enormous task.’ Writing many years later,
the Inspector remembered that ‘Tears came into Churchill’s eyes. He said
… “ God alone knows how great it is. I hope it is not too late. I am
much afraid that it is. We can only do our best”.’ The new Prime
Minister was under no illusions about the magnitude of his tasks, both
military and political.
immediately on his return from being appointed Prime Minister, Churchill
wrote to Chamberlain:
... my first act on coming back from the Palace is
to write and tell you how grateful I am to you for promising to stand by
me ... I am under no illusions about what lies ahead, and of the long
and dangerous defile through which we must march for many months. With
your help and counsel, and with the support of the great party of which
you are the leader, I trust that I shall succeed. The action which you
have set of self-forgetting dignity and public spirit will govern the
action of many, and be an inspiration to all.
This last sentence, contrasting Chamberlain with Asquith, concluded more
in hope than in immediate hope of realisation! Churchill continued:
In these eight months we have worked together I am
proud to have won your friendship and your confidence in an increasing
measure. To a very large extent I am in your hands - and I feel no fear
of that. For the rest I have faith in our cause, which I feel sure will
not be suffered to fail among men.
In the midst of the Churchillian rhetoric comes the almost child-like
innocence of his confession that Chamberlain holds the key to his
immediate survival - ‘... I am in your hands’. He was indeed. The
following weeks were to reveal how important Chamberlain’s support was
If Chamberlain’s approval was to be retained, Churchill needed to be
careful in constructing his new coalition government. It was necessary
for him to bring in leading figures from the Labour and Liberal front
benches. He needed to reward several close friends of his own who had
stood loyally by him during ‘the wilderness years’. But essentially, he
could not afford to jettison too many of the pro-Chamberlain ‘old
guard’, of whom Lord Halifax was (after Chamberlain himself) the most
significant figure. So Halifax was confirmed in his old post of Foreign
Secretary: Churchill, whatever his private feelings, could afford to do
no other. And it was Halifax who was to precipitate the crisis of late
May 1940 which might well have killed the Churchill government virtually
at its birth.
News from the war front was coming in by the hour as all these political
developments took place in London. Virtually all that news was very bad.
On 15 May Holland surrendered. Hitler’s right flank was now secure. Two
days earlier, after negotiating the (allegedly impassible for tanks)
Ardennes, German panzers had crossed the Meuse and were streaming across
a huge undefended area of northern France. By the 21st they had reached
the English Channel at Abbeville and were heading north towards Boulogne
and Calais. The British Expeditionary Force, and a sizeable segment of
the French army, was now cut off, with the Wehrmacht to the
landward and the sea at their backs. On the 28th Belgium surrendered.
The French, despite several visits from Churchill to try to stiffen
their resolve, were giving serious thought to a separate negotiated
peace with Hitler. In his speech to the Commons on the 13th, Churchill
had said: ‘You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is
victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory,
however long and hard the road may be, for without victory, there is no
survival.’ Two weeks later those words sounded to many, particularly
those close to the levers of power, like empty rhetoric. Britain was
facing total defeat, and something must be done to prevent that defeat.
Halifax and a compromise peace
Halifax, let it be said, was no defeatist. Loyal Chamberlain supporter
that he was, he had not backed his chief in agreeing to accept Hitler’s
Godesberg terms over Czechoslovakia in September 1938. And his attitude
can in no way be compared with the craven defeatism of Marshal Pétain or
Pierre Laval as France caved in before the German onslaught. His
aristocratic heritage and sombre outlook on life convinced him he stood
in the great Whig tradition of realism: things must be made to work,
disasters must at all costs be avoided if the continuity of British life
and traditions were to be maintained. He had been an appeaser not out of
principle but because settling international disputes by peaceful
negotiation seemed highly preferable to the carnage and destruction of
modern warfare, which might well lead to internal collapse and the
disappearance of that traditional Britain which he loved and of which he
was himself a part. His relationship with Churchill had been chequered.
They had clashed over India (where Halifax, as Lord Irwin, had been
Viceroy), and Churchill’s high flown rhetoric contrasted sharply with
Halifax’s carefully understated style. As the increasingly gloomy war
news came in as the May days lengthened, Halifax became more and more
suspicious of Churchill’s doggedly uncompromising stance. What was the
point of talking loudly about total victory when reason dictated we were
more likely to face total defeat? By the last week in May Halifax was
ready to challenge Churchill within the War Cabinet. The time had come,
he felt, for reality to confront rhetoric.
At this stage of the conflict Italy, though part of the Rome-Berlin
Axis, was still neutral in the war. Reynaud, the French premier,
battling to keep his country together and in the conflict, was anxious
that Mussolini should not take advantage of France’s difficulties and
declare war on her. Perhaps Mussolini could be bought off. Anyway, it
was worth a try. Halifax agreed. Although he was totally opposed to any
deal which would endanger Britain’s independence and sovereignty, if
Mussolini could intercede with Hitler and bring about the chance of a
negotiated peace, was it not worth taking that chance? Perhaps an
interim peace could be signed, like Britain’s Treaty of Amiens with
France in 1802, which allowed the country to build up its strength for a
final showdown with Napoleon some years later. On 27 May, when the news
that Belgium was about to surrender reached London, together with
details of the critical situation regarding the British Expeditionary
Force surrounded at Dunkirk, Halifax raised in the War Cabinet the
possibility of negotiations with Italy.
… Overnight (27/28 May) the bad news continued to mount. Belgium’s
surrender was made public. Although over 11,000 British troops had been
successfully evacuated from Dunkirk, 200,000 (together with a large
number of French) remained cut off there with the German army poised to
advance. Halifax’s strategy of negotiating with Italy seemed to be
making more and more sense as the certainty of imminent defeat loomed.
The War Cabinet met at 11.30am to discuss the Belgian surrender. It was
then adjourned until 4.00pm when the crucial argument about negotiating
with Italy would resume.
Chamberlain’s crucial choice
At the second meeting, Halifax went immediately on to the attack, and
Churchill responded vigorously. Britain would be offered no worse terms
if it went on fighting, even to defeat, than would be available from the
Axis now, he argued. Others spoke. The discussion went round and round.
At last Chamberlain intervened. The former premier, as everyone knew,
hated war. He had spent the whole of his premiership trying to prevent
it, and then when it came, attempting to keep it within civilised
limits. His instincts and temperament made him the natural ally of
Halifax. Yet he knew that if he supported his old friend and colleague,
the collapse of the government was more or less certain. In one of the
most significant and unlikely acts of his long political career,
Chamberlain made his choice. The bland language of the Cabinet minute in
no way captures the historic importance of his intervention: ‘The Lord
President [Chamberlain] said that, on a dispassionate survey, it was
right to remember that the alternative to fighting on nevertheless
involved a considerable gamble.’ That was all, but that was enough. The
minute continues, ‘The War Cabinet agreed that this was a true statement
of the case.’ Discussion continued, but the temperature had lowered
because Halifax must have realised he had lost. Chamberlain had
supported Churchill. The first victory of the latter’s distinguished
premiership had been achieved.
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Source 6. Estimated
annual expenditure on
† [in £ millions]
† Figures relate to year ending in March. Figures in this
table are taken from the Annual Estimates and include gross estimated
expenditure on warlike stores, factory construction and plant, works,
buildings and land, research, inspection and general stores such as
furniture, camp equipment, etc. They do not include military expenditure
on food, clothing, medical and educational services, payment of
personnel, etc. Owing to differences in methods of calculating the
estimates the figures for the Services are only roughly comparable.
* Figures for R.O.F.s relate only to expenditure on factory
construction and plant. Other capital expenditure and the cost of stores
supplied from trade or from R.O.F.s are included in the other three
Source 7. Professor Robert Pearce,
‘Churchill and Appeasement’. new perspective Vol 9, No 2. p 35.
Under Churchill [in 1938], rather
than Chamberlain, it is at least possible that rapid rearmament might
have led to economic collapse, as Chamberlain insisted it would. What if
Britain had entered war in 1938, that is before Hitler had taken
aggressive actions for which he had no moral claim? Public opinion in
Britain would have been far more divided, and neutral opinion less
wholeheartedly pro-Britain, than was the case a year later.
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Philip M.H. Bell,
‘Appeasement’. new perspective Vol 5, No
1, September 1999, p 31.
These motives (emotional,
strategic, economic and ideological), when added together, made up an
extremely strong case for trying to reach an agreement with Germany by
making some concessions to German demands. Behind them all lay the vital
assumption that the policy of appeasement would work. Those who
practised the policy of appeasement believed that Hitler could be
appeased, and that he was a rational statesman with limited aims -
probably the absorption into Germany of the German-speaking populations
in neighbouring countries. This proved to be a grave error. Hitler could
not be appeased. But it was not simply foolish to assume that he could,
and it is much too easy to say that if only British and French statesmen
had read Hitler’s Mein Kampf they would have known what to
expect. In fact, they had perfectly competent summaries of Mein Kampf
at their disposal. Their problem was not to know what Hitler had written
in the 1920s but to work out what he would actually do in the 1930s. On
the whole, the British tended to think that Hitler as Chancellor of
Germany would be different from Hitler as a prisoner in Landsberg jail,
and that his policies would prove more moderate than his words. In
France, Daladier took a very different view, and said repeatedly that
Hitler’s appetite would only grow by being fed, and that the real issue
in 1938 was not the frontier of Czechoslovakia but the fate of Europe.
But even Daladier never pursued his own arguments to their logical
conclusion, and continued to hope for better things. The vital basis for
the policy of appeasement, on both sides of the Channel, was the
assumption that it would work. It did not.
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Source 9. Professor Robert Pearce,
‘Churchill and Appeasement’. new perspective Vol 9, No 2. pp
Indications of disquiet among the
German military and the resignation of Beck, August 1938
… although Ewald von Kleist-Schmenzin did tell Churchill in London on 19
August 1938 that ‘if they received a little encouragement’ the generals
would refuse to march and Hitler would be overthrown within 48 hours,
this was highly improbable. With the resignation of Colonel Beck as Army
Chief of Staff that same month, opposition to Hitler’s plans collapsed.
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