September 03, 2015

Today in History: Britain and France declare war on Nazi Germany over invasion of Poland (1939)

John RobsonResident Historian

On Sept. 3 of 1939, in a tight corner, British and French leaders found the courage of their convictions and declared war on Nazi Germany over its invasion of Poland. 

The tight corner was of their own making, and they are rightly and severely criticized for their timid and unrealistic approach to national security throughout the 1930s. But they do deserve praise for finally summoning the grit to do what was right.

Indeed, they especially deserve praise for summoning it given the extremely difficult spot they deserve blame for having put themselves in.


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commented 2015-09-10 04:40:42 -0400
Sam, another factor that many historians ignore was that Germany did not fight for a democracy in WW1 and it seems that many politicians wrongly assume that there is an effective democratic shadow government in waiting in any country and every country you defeat in battle or topple by undermining.

The imposed German democracy of the Weimar era was a pizza topping variety of various leftist parties with attractive but untried ideas that dragged Germany into bankruptcy. Hitler put stop payment on the reparations to France and sent in the SS (a private security company owned by a consortium of industrialists and not the regular army) when France occupied the Rhure ……. Hitler is shown in news reels from the era standing up in an open car through throngs of cheering supporters.

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Truth of the matter was that they didn’t speak out….not because they were intimidated by the Gestapo…..but because they were relieved that the Gestapo was finally doing something about the perceived enemies of the state. Disidents against Hitler’s regime were few in number….well known…and easily named.

Hitler did not have the resources to invade Poland until the Sudetan was signed over to him. With the stroke of a pen he received more than half of the tank and artillery production of Europe. Obama’s deal is actually worse than Chamberlain’s.
commented 2015-09-06 18:54:50 -0400
Many scholars have tried to determine what started WWII. Some have put the question this way : What made it possible for Hitler to come to power? The Treaty of Versailles was vindictive and reparations had to be paid to the victors. This constant draining of wealth from a country finally took its toll on the individual lives, when it came to the basic essentials of life – food. When a father comes home from work or looking for work, and has no food to give to his starving family, what does he do? Vote for more of the same, or vote for someone who promises work and food? The Treaty of Versailles (dictated by the victors) made it possible for Hitler to come to power.

commented 2015-09-03 20:56:08 -0400
The pre WW2 situation was much misread in many ways by many experts both in Britain and France. One of the biggest mistakes involved the 1930s German semi wartime style economy under Hitler. To outsiders it appeared to be a weak economy with massive deficits which were supposedly not condusive to anyone with ideas of escalating to the costs involved in fighting an outright war. What the experts couldn’t know at the time was that the German financial situation was much worse than they thought and Hitler was facing financial collapse unless he robbed many neighbouring countries of their wealth as soon as possible in 1939 and 1940.
commented 2015-09-03 20:41:34 -0400
September 01 in history Germans started WWII- I think that was a little more important date that this one mentioned in the title.
commented 2015-09-03 18:31:53 -0400
Well Vlad, my Grandfather was in Coy B, 4 Bn, OBLI as rearguard in Cassel, France helping to delay the Germans while thousands of British troops were evacuated at Dunkirk. He was captured and was a POW for 4 1/2 years. Many shots were fired, and many died. Biggest issue was the British went over there and let the French Commanders run things, poor communication, and an inability for French Leadership to make timely decisions, among other issues. Both Mulcair and Trudeau would pull a Neville Chamberlain with respect to ISIS.
commented 2015-09-03 17:49:02 -0400
wonder if trudeau, may, and mulcair would have fought the nazis, or would they think nazi and isil are just peace loving organizations and would then become neutral against them.
commented 2015-09-03 17:49:02 -0400
wonder if trudeau, may, and mulcair would have fought the nazis, or would they think nazi and isil are just peace loving organizations and would then become neutral against them.
commented 2015-09-03 17:44:08 -0400
@fraser McBurney. The number of people killed in WW II is not 100,000,000. I’ve never seen any serious historian claim a number higher than about 55 million. The accepted number used to be in the 45-50 million range until historians looking at the Soviet archives after 1991 were satisfied that previous estimates of Soviet losses, which were given as 20 million should have been in the 26.5 to 28 million range. (Apparently, many of the Soviet losses were the result of tremendously bad leadership by Stalin in the early days of the war so the Soviets claimed fewer losses than they actually experienced to spare Stalin embarrassment.)

By the very nature of war, with bodies literally disintegrating as a result of artillery, firestorms, and nuclear blasts (Hiroshima and Nagasaki), it is impossible to ever have a truly accurate count. However, by careful examination of known births and deaths, you can get a plausible estimate. If you want to stand by the number of 100 million, I’d be interested in seeing your source.
commented 2015-09-03 17:34:32 -0400
@vlad Johnson. It is simply false to say that not a shot was fired in the German conquest of France in 1940. The French and British DID fight and British and French soldiers were killed trying to hold the Germans back.

Was it shameful for France to surrender after several weeks of getting walloped by the Germans? Perhaps, but you have to understand that the French were completely unprepared for the utterly unexpected way the Germans invaded. Rather than attacking in the areas where Germans had attacked before in WWI and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the Germans attacked through the Ardennes, a heavily-forested area where it was thought impossible for them to travel with the large numbers of weapons, men and equipment that they needed. That knocked the French and British off balance from the very beginning. Also, the French had relied very heavily on fortifications imbedded within the Maginot Line and those fortifications were NOT mobile; they couldn’t just move their fortresses to block the invasion from the Ardennes.

The French had prepared to fight WW I again, a war of position based on trenches, but the Germans gave them a war of movement. The French were simply unprepared for the startling German tactics.

Also, if William Shirer was correct, the French military was deeply divided politically: apparently its senior officers were conservative while the vast majority of the rest were heavily Leftist in their politics. The Leftist soldiers apparently didn’t care to fight for leaders they thought “fascist”.
commented 2015-09-03 15:17:08 -0400
If you know your history you are watching 1936 all over again. Now that we are not standing up to Iran and it’s terrorist allies we are repeating history. The Obama administration is making the same mistakes as Britain and France made. The out come of the Second World War was the loss of 100 million lives unfortunately the out come of this non deal with Iran may cost the lives of a billion people.
You can see it coming as thousands daily stream from these God forsaken countries to the relative safe countries of Europe and just as it was in the 30s they will be refused entry
commented 2015-09-03 14:46:00 -0400
Yes, After they turned their backs on Poland instpite singning the treaty.
French’s hands hurt so bad keeping in up and high. They did not tried to fight. GB just gave away Poland to Soviets in Jalta and Teheran together with US.
GB denied Poland to be part of Victory celebration in England. Poland was 3 biggest army after US and England and after the war Polish General who fought on many battles were cleaning dishes in England. Damn Brits
commented 2015-09-03 14:36:45 -0400
Not only that Vlad, the French became the enablers of the National Socialists in providing Final Solution victims.
commented 2015-09-03 14:20:49 -0400
And then France proceeded to cut a deal with Hitler saying, “you can take out country over, just don’t hurt us”. And not a shot was fired.