France and the Nazi Menace: Intelligence and Policy Making, 1933-1939

By Peter Jackson | Go to book overview

8

Munich

FRANCE'S ABANDONMENT of Czechoslovakia in late September 1938 has become a metaphor for short-sighted and even cowardly decision making. The Munich Agreement has served as a touchstone for historians who argue that French leaders surrendered to drift and indecision before the Second World War. This interpretation of Munich is based on two assumptions. First, that decision makers did not understand the nature of the Nazi threat. Second, that going to war with Germany over Czechoslovakia was the correct decision to take. Neither of these assumptions stand up to careful analysis, however. French civilian and military décideurs had few illusions about the nature of the Nazi regime. Most were convinced, however, that France could not make war on Germany in 1938.

The picture of the balance of power presented to decision makers by the intelligence services was central to France's Munich policy. According to Rivet, it was at this stage that 'the responsible chiefs at last sensed the need to go directly to the source of intelligence information … [and] … to bypass the many filters that stood between the organs of information and the organs of decision'.1 Both Daladier (who became Premier in April) and Gamelin held face to face meetings with Rivet over the course of 1938 and intelligence was integrated more thoroughly into policy making than at any point since the Doumergue era. Throughout French intelligence continued to produce penetrating assessments of Hitler's intentions. Its evaluations of German capabilities, however, were increasingly overblown. Once again the tendency to overestimate German military power was linked to French self-perception. An acute awareness that France was neither materially nor psychologically prepared for war underpinned a series of 'worst case' assessments of the situation across the Rhine. This trend

1 SHAT, Fonds Paillole, 1K 545, Carton 1, dr. 3, 'Note du Général Louis Rivet: Rap-
ports du SR avec le ministre', 1941.

-247-

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France and the Nazi Menace: Intelligence and Policy Making, 1933-1939
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contents ix
  • Abbreviations xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: The Intelligence Machine and the Decision Making Process 11
  • 2: French Intelligence and the Nazi Machtergreifung, 1933 45
  • 3: Intelligence and the National Socialist Gleichschaltung, 1933–1936 82
  • 4: Initial Responses to Nazi Rearmament: Intelligence and Policy, 1934–1935 109
  • 5: The Rhineland 161
  • 6: Intelligence and the Rearmament Programmes of 1936 178
  • 7: Paralysis 207
  • 8: Munich 247
  • 9: A Change in Perspective 298
  • 10: Girding for War 337
  • 11: Decision for War 379
  • Conclusion 388
  • Appendices 397
  • Bibliography 403
  • Index 435
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