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

By Peter Jackson | Go to book overview

10

Girding for War

IN THE spring and summer of 1939 the Daladier government adopted a policy of deterrence. The hope was that Hitler and the Nazi leadership would hesitate to risk war with a solid Franco-British alliance that had abandoned appeasement and given priority to rearmament. Crucially, however, behind hopes for deterrence lay a determination to make war if necessary. Once the decision had been made to stand up to further aggression, the French military began formulating precise plans to defeat an Axis coalition. The war plan which emerged in the spring of 1939 gave priority to securing France's frontier with Germany while at the same time waging economic warfare and forcing Germany and Italy to fight on several fronts. This was consistent with the fundamental principles on which French military planning had been based throughout the 1930s.

The reports and overviews produced by the intelligence services during the spring and summer of 1939 provided consistent reinforcement for this war plan. Intelligence appreciations confirmed the vital assumption that the German army would be incapable of breaking through the French front continu, endorsed the conviction that the German economy would not be able to sustain a long war, and played a pivotal role in the rebirth of France's eastern policy. In addition, assessments of the political situation were more positive. During the final months of peace, intelligence reports alluded with increasing frequency to evidence that Hitler faced a crisis in public support for his war policy. This information strengthened the growing conviction that Germany could be deterred by a policy of firmness.1

The more optimistic 'net assessment' produced by the intelligence services was based not on new information but instead on a more

1 For a challenging and insightful discussion of perceptions and misperceptions in
Britain, Germany, and France on the eve of war (based primarily on British and German
sources) that complements in many ways the analysis offered in this chapter, see Richard
Overy's 'Strategic Intelligence and the Outbreak of the Second World War'.

-337-

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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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