Richard Overy: The timing of the war suited the Allies economically, not Germany

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Richard Overy: The timing of the war suited the Allies economically, not Germany

Post by historygeek2021 » 11 Mar 2022 07:25

In The Origins of the Second World War, Chapter 28, Richard Overy responds to the theory proposed by Adam Tooze in The Wages of Destruction that Hitler decided to go to war with the western powers in 1939 because Germany could not sustain its lead in armaments production over the Allies. Overy proposes the opposite view: It was the Allies who could not sustain their mobilization race against Germany under peacetime social conditions, so they decided to "wage war now rather than later" if Hitler could not be deterred from invading Poland.

Overy notes first of all that there is no documentary evidence to support Tooze's thesis. It is pure speculation. All the documentary evidence from the time indicates that Hitler was quite anxious to avoid war with the western powers in 1939.

Overy argues that there was strain but not crisis in the German economy in 1939, just as there had been throughout the 1930s. Reichsbank President Hjalmer Schacht warned Hitler that German military spending risked causing high inflation, so Hitler sacked him in January 1939. To tame inflation, the German government introduced various schemes to encourage saving and drive down domestic consumption. In addition, the seizure of the Czech rump state in March 1939 and the planned conquest of Poland would, in Hitler's view, allow Germany to sustain its rearmament drive until Germany was ready for war with the western powers around 1943.

In contrast, Overy argues that the Allies could not maintain a comparable level of military spending under peacetime conditions. Due to the democratic nature of their societies, the Allies could not impose restrictions on consumption without incurring unrest and political opposition. British gold reserves fell by almost half from the Spring of 1938 to the beginning of the war. The pound and franc were falling in value and Britain was running a balance of payments deficit. Overy also states that workers would complain about reduced spending on "welfare and amenities." Britain and France also believed they could fight a long war in which the German economy would steadily deteriorate following the imposition of the British blockade.

I believe Overy is correct and Tooze is wrong. The timing of the war suited the Allies economically, not Germany. The declaration of war allowed the Allies to impose the restrictions on consumption needed to sustain rearmament, and the British blockade created a raw materials crisis in Germany that drove Hitler to bet everything on one big push into the Low Countries and northeastern France. Even though the push succeeded, Germany was still dependent on imports from the Soviet Union after the fall of France. Hitler, of course, could not accept this dependence and chose instead to take the USSR's resources by force.

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Re: Richard Overy: The timing of the war suited the Allies economically, not Germany

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 11 Mar 2022 11:49

historygeek2021 wrote: the British blockade created a raw materials crisis in Germany that drove Hitler to bet everything on one big push into the Low Countries and northeastern France.
Probably disagree here but not sure.

First, your premise is debatable: Hitler didn't "bet everything" on Fall Gelb in the sense of Barbarossa, which was indeed a va banque move. I.e. he had an economic/army plan calculated to maximize Germany's land strength in Fall 1941, so could have afforded for Fall Gelb not to be a knockout blow. I don't know if you'd disagree with that, so will withhold doing the work of substantiating the viewpoint. If you mean Fall Gelb was an aggressive move made in a broad strategic context of perceived temporal urgency, I agree. But it wasn't a reckless gamble like Barbarossa.

While it is true that Hitler said "Time is not on our side" prior to Fall Gelb, he only made such remarks with reference to the US becoming a combatant or at least a massively mobilized arsenal. Hitler did not know that the US would not, in fact, massively mobilize until after France was defeated. We continued freeriding on the French military power, which was the core US defense policy for most of its first ~160 years (Rev. War, 1812, WW1, WW2). As Overy rightly notes, the Allies had to pay for American weapons at this time and they had a shortage of hard currency. While wartime social austerity freed up some cash for American weapons, the Allies got far less than what they wanted, and what Hitler feared, until Lend Lease. It's doubtful that LL would have passed absent the shock of France's sudden defeat and the prospect of Britain going down. Had Hitler somehow been assured that the US would freeride until/unless France were defeated, he perhaps would have had a lower sense of urgency.
historygeek2021 wrote:Germany was still dependent on imports from the Soviet Union after the fall of France. Hitler, of course, could not accept this dependence and chose instead to take the USSR's resources by force.
Agreed in general. Note, however, that little German-Soviet trade occurred prior to Fall Gelb and even less worked its way from raw materials to the battlefield by then. In the long run Hitler would have needed Soviet resources though.
historygeek2021 wrote:I believe Overy is correct and Tooze is wrong. The timing of the war suited the Allies economically, not Germany.
Agreed.

The problem for the Allies was they were in a bad, bad war. Slightly better rearmament would not have helped them. France had ~40% of Germany's military-age manpower and the best Britain could promise was 32 divisions at some point in 1941. Germany nearly defeated France and Britain when the latter put 90 divisions on the continent, when Germany had an Eastern Front, and when Italy was an Ally. The Allies (at least France) were going to lose this war unless the SU and/or US came to their senses very soon. It was only a matter of time.

As I've discussed here, the Allies came to understand this strategic position at varying times before the catastrophe of May 1940 - France first, Britain later. Chamberlain was a clown who couldn't get over his anti-communism and agree what every sane person saw as necessary - an alliance with the SU.

--------------------------------------

Thanks for the reminder to read Overy's Origins. I'm glad he pushed back on Tooze in this one. He's declined battle on several other topics but definitely has the better points here. I particularly like this point, which cuts through some of Tooze's inflation of the importance of finance in WW2:
Finance as such was not the main constraint on the arms race. The main
problem was one of resources: factory capacity, raw materials and labour.
Finance only became a serious problem when the shortage of resources
involved the purchase of goods from abroad, since this put great pressure on the
balance of payments and on supplies of foreign exchange and
gold.
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Re: Richard Overy: The timing of the war suited the Allies economically, not Germany

Post by wm » 11 Mar 2022 20:33

historygeek2021 wrote:
11 Mar 2022 07:25
Overy notes first of all that there is no documentary evidence to support Tooze's thesis. It is pure speculation.
Really?
Screen Shot 2022-03-11 at 20.20.06.png


historygeek2021 wrote:
11 Mar 2022 07:25
All the documentary evidence from the time indicates that Hitler was quite anxious to avoid war with the western powers in 1939.
As the deadline for Hitler’s ultimatum approached, Goebbels decided to head him off. The British and French ambassadors got to Hitler first, bringing fragrant fresh proposals. Ribbentrop was furious that war might be averted.

‘He nurtures a blind hatred of Britain,’ decided Goebbels. ‘Göring, Neurath, and I urge Hitler to accept. . . You can’t get into what may well turn into a world war over procedural issues.
Göring . . . totally shares my viewpoint and gives Ribbentrop a piece of his mind.’

‘Mein Führer,’ he blurted out over lunch in Hitler’s chancellery on the twenty-eighth, ‘if you think that the German public is thirsting for war, you are wrong. They watch its approach with a leaden sense of apathy.’

In that instant Hitler changed his mind. According to Ribbentrop’s Staatssekretär Ernst von Weizsäcker it was primarily Goebbels who persuaded Hitler to back off from war at this, the eleventh hour.

Goebbels Mastermind of the Third Reich by David Irving

historygeek2021 wrote:
11 Mar 2022 07:25
In contrast, Overy argues that the Allies could not maintain a comparable level of military spending under peacetime conditions.
Although the combined GDP of Britain and France was 150 percent of Germany and that without colonies. With colonies, it was probably 2:1.
They could always outspend Germany.
The GDP of Czechoslovakia was 14 percent of Britain's. This shows how unimportant Czechoslovakia was.
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Re: Richard Overy: The timing of the war suited the Allies economically, not Germany

Post by historygeek2021 » 11 Mar 2022 22:24

wm wrote:
11 Mar 2022 20:33

Screen Shot 2022-03-11 at 20.20.06.png
That's not documentary evidence of an intent by Hitler to go to war with the western powers in 1939. It's one piece of the economic puzzle that was presented to him in mid-1939. Tooze in the same chapter notes that military spending was slashed for the army and the Luftwaffe in 1939, while the navy received an increase in spending in 1939 for long-term projects under Plan Z. None of that makes sense if Hitler was planning to go to war with the western powers in 1939. It indicates exactly the opposite: he thought war with the western powers would not come until some point in the 1940s, so ammunition cuts could be sustained.
As the deadline for Hitler’s ultimatum approached, Goebbels decided to head him off. The British and French ambassadors got to Hitler first, bringing fragrant fresh proposals. Ribbentrop was furious that war might be averted.

‘He nurtures a blind hatred of Britain,’ decided Goebbels. ‘Göring, Neurath, and I urge Hitler to accept. . . You can’t get into what may well turn into a world war over procedural issues.
Göring . . . totally shares my viewpoint and gives Ribbentrop a piece of his mind.’

‘Mein Führer,’ he blurted out over lunch in Hitler’s chancellery on the twenty-eighth, ‘if you think that the German public is thirsting for war, you are wrong. They watch its approach with a leaden sense of apathy.’

In that instant Hitler changed his mind. According to Ribbentrop’s Staatssekretär Ernst von Weizsäcker it was primarily Goebbels who persuaded Hitler to back off from war at this, the eleventh hour.

Goebbels Mastermind of the Third Reich by David Irving
This is from the August crisis in 1939. By then Hitler had made up his mind to conquer Poland regardless of what the western Allies chose to do. Tooze quotes one speech Hitler made to his generals on August 22, 1939 saying "We have nothing to lose, we have everything to gain." That's as close as we have to a pre-war statement indicating that Hitler thought this was an economically beneficial time to go to war with Britain and France.

And David Irving is a neo-Nazi. Citing his trash is not a good look.

Edit: typo
Last edited by historygeek2021 on 11 Mar 2022 23:59, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Richard Overy: The timing of the war suited the Allies economically, not Germany

Post by wm » 11 Mar 2022 23:20

An ad hominem argument is not a good look either.
It's from a contemporary Weizsäcker's letter to his sister and from Goebbels' diary so it's indisputable.
And it's from September 1938 not from 1939.
It shows how desperately Hitler wanted war at that time.

And not only because as Mr. Tooze wrote, there was "nothing to be gained by waiting" but because his most trusted people and the Germans themselves didn't want the war.
He badly needed a convincing reason for war with the Allies and it wasn't easy. In this case, purported Czechs instrisingence later (more successfully) the declaration of war on Germany by Britain/France.

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Re: Richard Overy: The timing of the war suited the Allies economically, not Germany

Post by Peter89 » 12 Mar 2022 12:02

historygeek2021 wrote:
11 Mar 2022 07:25
In The Origins of the Second World War, Chapter 28, Richard Overy responds to the theory proposed by Adam Tooze in The Wages of Destruction that Hitler decided to go to war with the western powers in 1939 because Germany could not sustain its lead in armaments production over the Allies. Overy proposes the opposite view: It was the Allies who could not sustain their mobilization race against Germany under peacetime social conditions, so they decided to "wage war now rather than later" if Hitler could not be deterred from invading Poland.

Overy notes first of all that there is no documentary evidence to support Tooze's thesis. It is pure speculation. All the documentary evidence from the time indicates that Hitler was quite anxious to avoid war with the western powers in 1939.

Overy argues that there was strain but not crisis in the German economy in 1939, just as there had been throughout the 1930s. Reichsbank President Hjalmer Schacht warned Hitler that German military spending risked causing high inflation, so Hitler sacked him in January 1939. To tame inflation, the German government introduced various schemes to encourage saving and drive down domestic consumption. In addition, the seizure of the Czech rump state in March 1939 and the planned conquest of Poland would, in Hitler's view, allow Germany to sustain its rearmament drive until Germany was ready for war with the western powers around 1943.

In contrast, Overy argues that the Allies could not maintain a comparable level of military spending under peacetime conditions. Due to the democratic nature of their societies, the Allies could not impose restrictions on consumption without incurring unrest and political opposition. British gold reserves fell by almost half from the Spring of 1938 to the beginning of the war. The pound and franc were falling in value and Britain was running a balance of payments deficit. Overy also states that workers would complain about reduced spending on "welfare and amenities." Britain and France also believed they could fight a long war in which the German economy would steadily deteriorate following the imposition of the British blockade.

I believe Overy is correct and Tooze is wrong. The timing of the war suited the Allies economically, not Germany. The declaration of war allowed the Allies to impose the restrictions on consumption needed to sustain rearmament, and the British blockade created a raw materials crisis in Germany that drove Hitler to bet everything on one big push into the Low Countries and northeastern France. Even though the push succeeded, Germany was still dependent on imports from the Soviet Union after the fall of France. Hitler, of course, could not accept this dependence and chose instead to take the USSR's resources by force.
It is entirely possible that the European balance of power was so upset at the end of WW1 that it was only the question of time and circumstances when exactly the Germans and the Russians retake their former spheres of influence. It was also bound to start a war with France and Britain, because they saw their whole concept fall into ruins.

The doom of the colonial empires was also inevitable, and that was to be followed by an economic stagnation. Power generation in Germany would exceed that of France and Britain in the long run.

So in my opinion "General Time" worked for and against Germany at the same time. The German long-term economic prospects were much better than those of France or Britain, but it would take a decade or more, to translate that to military production. The problem with Hitler and his regime was that he basically wanted everything and he wanted everything for yesterday. By 1938 the Germans have conquered Austria, Czechia, the Memel and reintroduced conscription, struck a deal with the British to have a navy comparable to that of France, they legalized the status of the Luftwaffe, thus: they in fact had everything to challenge the British and French on the long run, without risking a war. Especially because all parties considered "strategic" bombing as a mutual deterrence. But because Germany started the war in 1939, the time started to work against them.

On the other side of the hill, the Soviet power production peaked when heavy industry and industrialization in general was carrying social development, but then it stuck there, and they were bound to lose their comparative edge some time in the '70s or '80s, when the husbanding of scientific innovation with capital reshaped the economy.
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Re: Richard Overy: The timing of the war suited the Allies economically, not Germany

Post by wm » 12 Mar 2022 13:01

The government's social and economic policy responses to the crisis situation described above were wholly reactive and unplanned, as were those of industry and the DAF. This is all the more remarkable when we consider that the basic outlines of the crisis were clearly visible early on.
By September 1936 at the latest it must have been evident that the growth rate in the armaments sector would inevitably lead to bottlenecks throughout the economy. It was easy enough to calculate, and the first warning signs were there for anybody to read.

Even if Hitler had achieved his unrealistic goals with respect to the timing and strategic preparations for the beginning of the European war ('peace' until 1942/3), his plans were doomed to fail because of the general economic and political conditions of the Nazi dictatorship.

Hitler's optimal strategy of beginning the war after 1942 was utterly unrealistic from the point of view of domestic social policy; it is simply inconceivable that the measures that were required to carry out the plans and meet the armed forces' needs in the period 1938 to 1941 could have been implemented without the pretext provided by the pressures of war. The level of armament which Hitler's plan presupposed could not have been achieved - partly because of Germany's insufficient economic reserves, but mainly because the government never succeeded in carrying out the necessary redistribution of the national product.

[D]raconian measures would have been needed to depress real wages and redistribute available manpower; otherwise the labour-intensive industries in the agricultural sector would have quickly broken down and entire branches of industry - not just individual firms - would have had to turn down armaments contracts.
These kinds of draconian measures in their turn would have encountered the silent, bitter and very effective resistance of the workers, such as had happened in October and November 1939 in spite of the war.
Social Policy in the Third Reich by Tim Mason

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Re: Richard Overy: The timing of the war suited the Allies economically, not Germany

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 12 Mar 2022 15:16

@wm you should be aware that one of Overy's most famous debates was with Mason on this very topic. IMJ Overy has the better of it, you can find the exchanges via wiki.

Even that wouldn't resolve this particular issue, as even were Madon right in the old argument, you'd still have to rebut Overy's more recent argument that France/UK faced more pressing time pressures.
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Re: Richard Overy: The timing of the war suited the Allies economically, not Germany

Post by wm » 12 Mar 2022 21:26

Well, I must frankly admit I don't even know who Overy is or was (Mason has been solidly dead for over thirty years after all), as I tend to learn things from primary sources.
The name vaguely gives me the impression of a jack of all trades concerning himself with general history.

The fact is France was trying to avoid war at all costs so really "wage war now rather than later" can't be true.
What Gamelin learned from the whole mismanaged affair was how cunningly and single-mindedly Bonnet still clung to projects for further appeasement in eastern Europe.
Whereas by the end of 1938 Gamelin had become persuaded that Hitler's aims at least directly threatened France's reputation and future great power status — perhaps even its independence — Bonnet remained eager to strike deals.
His appeasement had not been ended by the evidence of Prague and Memel that Hitler did not keep his bargains.
The foreign minister spent the summer months of 1939 in devious and complicated suggestions, inquiries and propositions designed to avoid France becoming involved in a war arising in the east.
The Republic in Danger by Martin S. Alexander
Report of the Ambassador in Paris on French foreign policy following the Munich Conference
Paris, 17 December 1938
CONFIDENTIAL
TO THE MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS IN WARSAW.
POLITICAL REPORT No. XL/3

The most important event of this period was, of course, the Franco-German declaration of 6 December 1938, signed in Paris by ministers Bonnet and von Ribbentrop. The desire of the French to improve their relations with Germany after the Munich conference, to at least the same degree as has been done by England through the announcement of the well-known Chamberlain-Hitler communique, was undoubtedly definite and strong.
However, as it now appears, the actual initiative was taken by Chancellor Hitler in his farewell conversation with Ambassador Francois Poncet. On the French side, this initiative was received very well and with obvious satisfaction, even with haste toward immediate implementation.

When the text of the declaration had been finally decided upon, the German government came up with the proposal of von Ribbentrop's visit to Paris. Minister Bonnet immediately accepted this initiative, since, having regard both for the internal situation and for foreign propaganda, he wished to impart to the declaration the most solemn character possible and to create around this event an atmosphere that would result in a deeper détente with the eastern neighbour.

when informing me of his discussions with von Ribbentrop, Minister Bonnet emphasized quite spontaneously that he had pointed out to his German partner the abnormality of both the alliance with us and the pact with Soviet Russia.

The analysis of the actual situation from a purely political standpoint must unfortunately show that neither in the attitude of the government as represented by Bonnet, nor in the statements by parliamentary politicians, nor in the press is there anything to indicate a tendency to impart a vital force to the alliance with us or to treat it today as an instrument of French foreign policy.
In fact, there is no lack of indications that, should France be required, for one reason or another, to fulfil obligations resulting from its alliance with us, the effort to evade these obligations would be undoubtedly larger than the action toward fulfilling them.

As a matter of fact, our situation in France is not the result of any deeper change in the attitude toward us. Although the bitterness dating from the period of the Czechoslovak crisis plays a minor role, the essential factor is to be found in the general attitude of France toward the entire international situation.
Since the Munich conference, France has been in the position of a loser who cannot disengage himself from the enemy pursuing him and is, thus, unable to face a new series of problems. As regards its older international obligations, France is too weak to break them off and equally too weak to acknowledge them with sufficient firmness.
Thus, France remains inert and resigned, adopting in advance a defeatist attitude to all developments in Eastern and Central Europe.

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Re: Richard Overy: The timing of the war suited the Allies economically, not Germany

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 13 Mar 2022 06:53

wm wrote:The fact is France was trying to avoid war at all costs so really "wage war now rather than later" can't be true.
1. Whether war now was more favorable than war later can be evaluated objectively without reference to France's subjective intentions. Overy's evaluation is in the objective register, AFAICS.

2. That France (and Britain) didn't want war at all is entirely consistent with them wanting to do it now rather than later, if war was inevitable (as most French/British leaders judged it to be by mid-1939).
wm wrote:Report of the Ambassador in Paris on French foreign policy following the Munich Conference
This report regards the attitude of French FM Bonnet, who was far from the deciding figure (though important) on French policy. After the MR Pact was announced, for example, there was an emergency meeting of the French cabinet on August 23 in which Bonnet advocated renouncing the Polish guarantee. Not a single minister supported him.
wm wrote:In fact, there is no lack of indications that, should France be required, for one reason or another, to fulfil obligations resulting from its alliance with us, the effort to evade these obligations would be undoubtedly larger than the action toward fulfilling them.
This has to be placed in context. In Dec. 1938 there was - as the dispatch mentions - immense French frustration over Munich. Thereafter, France started more aggressively seeking an alliance with the SU, which Chamberlain did everything in his power to thwart. France was very understandably frustrated with Britain as an ally: they were unwilling/unable to contribute much to defending France (2 divisions available at point) and were destroying France's best (only) hope of defeating Germany. France SHOULD have been telling Britain to bugger off; the passive aggression they got instead was a small pittance of what they deserved.
wm wrote:Since the Munich conference, France has been in the position of a loser who cannot disengage himself from the enemy pursuing him and is, thus, unable to face a new series of problems.
This is just abominable coming from the British FO. It's basically making fun of France for not having a moat to hide behind, for not being able to be somewhat casual about military realities because the stakes were existential for France. And all while the FO was sabotaging the only thing that could have helped France. Perfidious Albion...
wm wrote:I tend to learn things from primary sources.
Did you start in the files of the Italian ministry of finance, the German Four Year Plan authority, the British Ministry of Supply, or the German 463rd Infantry Division?

Primary sources are necessary but not sufficient unless one reads literally everything, for which there is neither the time nor the meat-embodied computing/memory power. Good scholarship creates secondary sources that allow one to read primary sources with proper context and to locate areas where further research in the archives is productive.
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Re: Richard Overy: The timing of the war suited the Allies economically, not Germany

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 13 Mar 2022 14:02

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
13 Mar 2022 06:53
2. That France (and Britain) didn't want war at all is entirely consistent with them wanting to do it now rather than later, if war was inevitable (as most French/British leaders judged it to be by mid-1939).
A primary source - although written with hindsight, to justify and to persuade:

Churchill and the Politics of War, 1940-1941

Lawlor, Sheila (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1st pub. 1994; pb edition 1995)

p.31
If only we had another year of preparation we should have been in a far stronger position and so would the French. But anyway, and whatever the outcome, it is clear as daylight that if we had had to fight in 1938, the result would have been far worse. It would be rash to prophesy the verdict of history but if full access is obtained to all the records, it will be seen that I realised from the beginning our military weakness and did my best to postpone if I could not arrest the war. But I had to fight… against both labour and liberal opposition … who denounced me for trying to maintain good relations with Italy and Japan, for refusing to back Republican Spain against Franco and for not … standing up to … Hitler at each successive act of aggression. It is they who ought to be held responsible for this fight, but they don’t admit it naturally and perhaps they will succeed in covering up their tracks …
Chamberlain to Ida, 25 May 1940 [NC 18/1/1158]

Editing by Sheila Lawlor.

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Re: Richard Overy: The timing of the war suited the Allies economically, not Germany

Post by wm » 13 Mar 2022 22:56

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
13 Mar 2022 06:53
This report regards the attitude of French FM Bonnet, who was far from the deciding figure (though important) on French policy.
Bonnet was the second most important politician in that government and maybe in France - with ambitions to become the first.
He had support not only of the Parisian political "swamp" but the big industry and big money too.
Daladier invited him to the government solely for the keep your friends close keep your enemies closer reason.
Additionally, he was an expert in foreign relations and Daladier was out of his depth there. This is why, they say, Daladier was constantly inebriated during the Munich conference.

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Re: Richard Overy: The timing of the war suited the Allies economically, not Germany

Post by wm » 13 Mar 2022 23:04

On 19 August Gauche predicted that Germany would be ready to attack Poland by the end of the month: It was not humanly possible to get closer to the truth. But the truth was now too close. The approach of war revealed a divided leadership. Publicly ministers proclaimed firmness and determination, privately they flinched from the impending conflict. Daladier and a majority believed Hitler was bluffing and all that they had to do was stand firm and indicate a willingness to talk. Bonnet and a smaller group of associates worked for a second Munich.
...
At Bonnet's behest, Daladier summoned a special war council Bonnet planned to corner Gamelin and extract from him a counsel of despair — an admission that the armed forces were not ready for war. Poland could then be jettisoned.
...
More circumspectly, Daladier was also looking for an exit. The Poles, he told the cabinet on 24 August, 'must sacrifice Danzig. They ought to have done so earlier.' He wrote a conciliatory letter to Hitler, offering his services as a mediator.
...
On 31 August Mussolini proposed a conference. Bonnet was delighted at the hope of a last-minute reprieve. Frantically, he strove to keep the Italian conference proposal in play, even after the German attack on Poland. At a confused and stormy meeting of the cabinet on 31 August, Bonnet pleaded for the conference idea. Daladier, bristling with anger and contempt, turned his back.
At dawn on 1 September, German armies invaded Poland. Hitler's aggression activated the Franco-Polish alliance of 1921 and the British guarantee of 31 March 1939. While Poland fought for her life, the French and British governments pursued Mussolini's proposal.
...
The truth was that neither Paris nor London was in a hurry to go to war. The assumption was that the war would be a long one and that nothing could be done to save Poland. For military and political reasons Daladier and Gamelin were as keen as Bonnet to delay the delivery of an ultimatum.
France went to war reluctantly - the confidence and optimism of 1914 replaced by a fatalistic 'let's finish this once and for all.'
Apart from Poland, France could count on only four British divisions.
'Never in her history would France enter a war in such initially unfavorable conditions', declared the chief of French intelligence.
Grandeur And Misery: France's Bid for Power in Europe, 1914-1940 by Anthony Adamthwaite

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Re: Richard Overy: The timing of the war suited the Allies economically, not Germany

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 14 Mar 2022 00:02

Tom from Cornwall wrote:
13 Mar 2022 14:02
written with hindsight, to justify and to persuade:
Nothing more need be said of Chamberlain's self-pitying, bad-faith rationalization here.

More could be said in his defense that I'd find plausible/reasonable: war in 1938 would not have had broad popular support and, therefore, would have been difficult to prosecute and to win. Only Hitler's post-Munich actions created such support. Via Munich, Chamberlain set Hitler up to end Western appeasement by unambiguously breaking his word and revealing his duplicity and blood-thirst.

The main problem I see in that narrative relates not to Munich but to Chamberlain's relations with the SU. As he says, he was happy to be on friendly terms with the brutal dictatorships in Japan and Italy. With the brutal dictatorship in the Soviet Union he was not, however. The explanatory variable is ideology and class interests over the interests of humanity.

He therefore was happy to see if the French could successfully do most of Britain's fighting for it. If that didn't work, Britain had other options for having others do most of the fighting for them (US and, later, the SU). Limited liability remained spiritually alive.
wm wrote:Bonnet was the second most important politician in that government and maybe in France
So what? Bonnet wasn't PM; Bonnet failed to convince a decisive coalition not to go to war (importance-ranked politicians #3-1,000 mattered more collectively than #2)
wm wrote:France went to war reluctantly - the confidence and optimism of 1914 replaced by a fatalistic 'let's finish this once and for all.'
Apart from Poland, France could count on only four British divisions.
'Never in her history would France enter a war in such initially unfavorable conditions', declared the chief of French intelligence.
Respectfully, what's your point here? Yes, France was reluctant about war - especially after the M-R Pact. They knew this was a bad military position. They eventually came to realize they had little chance of winning unless they caused the SU to collapse as well, which might make the blockade strategy viable - thus the madcap plans to Baku and intervene on Finland's side.

You seem to be analytically collapsing France's emotions about the war (basically doom) and her resolve actually to fight it unless Hitler relented on conquering Poland.
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wm
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Re: Richard Overy: The timing of the war suited the Allies economically, not Germany

Post by wm » 14 Mar 2022 20:38

It wasn't a "decisive coalition" but strong British pressure that pushed France over the edge.
In fact, on 1 September 1939, as late as that, Bonnet accepted Mussolini's mediation offer and asked him when the conference could begin.

The point is the French (and to a lesser degree the British) were pushed over the edge by events beyond their control, so it's absurd to claim that they intended to "wage war now rather than later."

The fact is the Allies created an alliance not to defend Poland or to defeat Hitler. The sole goal was to deter Hitler from more aggression. Not to fight him but to spook him.
And when Hitler refused to be deterred and declared war the alliance couldn't back down from the fight.

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