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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > February 2016 > Hitler vs Britain

Hitler vs Britain

From admiration and respect to fierce foe, how did the Führer’s relationship with Britain take such a bitter turn? Gavin Mortimer explains all…
EYES ON THE PRIZE August 1940: Hitler looks across the Channel from Calais, at what he believes will be his next conquest
GETTY X2

Neville Chamberlain had the measure of Adolf Hitler. Or so the British Prime Minister thought. In Chamberlain’s eyes, the Nazi leader was “The commonest little dog I have ever seen”. That was how he described Hitler to his cabinet shortly after returning from Munich in September 1938.

For a fortnight, the leaders of Britain, Germany, Italy and France discussed the future of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland – the German-speaking region that the Führer was determined to annex.

After the first conference with Hitler, Chamberlain flew back to Britain, confident that Germany would not invade Czechoslovakia. The Führer had promised that self-determination for the Sudeten Germans would suffice and, as Chamberlain confided to his sister, “I got the impression that here was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word.”

But Hitler reneged on his promise to sign a non-aggression pact, and another conference was hastily summoned. Desperate to avoid war, Chamberlain and the French Premier, Edouard Daladier, signed the Munich Agreement, in which the Czechoslovakian government – not even invited to the talks – was forced to hand over the Sudetenland to Germany. In return, Hitler would not attack the rest of Czechoslovakia.

Chamberlain returned to Britain on 30 September a hero, waving a copy of the Agreement as he emerged from his aeroplane at London Heston’s airport. “Peace for our time,” he declared.

Hitler had wanted war with the Czechs and, to that end, the German leader was disappointed with the Agreement. Nonetheless, the conference with Britain and France had been instructive. “Our enemies are little worms,” he reflected. “I saw them in Munich.”

PEACEMAKER British PM Neville Chamberlain returns from Munich in 1938, believing he has negotiated a solid peace deal with Hitler

WASTE PAPER

Within a year, Hitler would refer to the Munich Agreement as merely a “scrap of paper”, before invading Poland in September 1939.

“THE CONFERENCE HAD BEEN INSTRUCTIVE. ‘OUR ENEMIES ARE LITTLE WORMS,’ HITLER REFLECTED”

GRUDGING RESPECT

Two decades earlier, Hitler’s regard for the British Empire and its army had been one of deep – if grudging – respect. In November 1918, he heard news of the World War I armistice from his hospital bed in Pasewalk, Germany, where he was recovering from being gassed in the trenches. It was a devastating blow, what Hitler called “The greatest villainy of the century”, and he blamed Germany’s Marxists and Jews for selling out its soldiers.

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The February 2016 issue of History Revealed
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