Vital Crossroads: Mediterranean Origins of the Second World War, 1935-1940

By Reynolds M. Salerno | Go to book overview

[4]

“Neither an acre of our territory nor a single one of our rights”: March—August 1939

BRITISH AND FRENCH REACTIONS TO PRAGUE

Germany's invasion of Bohemia and Moravia on 15 March 1939 occasioned a fundamental shift in some but not all aspects of British foreign policy. Although Britain had decided to ally with France and to expand the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) before the Prague coup, no commitment had been made regarding either the BEF's size or its destination. After Hitler's blatant repudiation of the Munich agreement, however, the British doubled the Territorial Army (TA) to twenty-six divisions, adopted conscription, and definitively promised to dispatch a field force to the continent if Germany attacked Western Europe. The British policy of appeasing Germany had run its course. Writing in his diary less than a week after Germany's annexation of independent Czechoslovakia, Cadogan concluded, “I'm afraid we have reached the cross-roads. I have always said that, as long as Hitler could pretend he was incorporating Germans in the Reich, we could pretend that he had a case. If he proceeded to gobble up other nationalities, that would be the time to call 'Halt!' That time has come.” 1 The British now attempted to deter Germany from starting a European war by offering a guarantee of Polish independence on 31 March. Nevertheless, Chamberlain specifically avoided committing Britain to the defense of Poland's existing borders and he adamantly refused to seek close association with the Soviet Union in order to build a broad-based anti-Fascist coalition. War against Germany remained something the British government believed it could at least postpone.

Even though British continental policy adjusted after the Prague coup, British policy in the Mediterranean remained unchanged. In fact the growing likelihood of war against Germany reaffirmed Britain's determination

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