1940: - German invasion of Norway and Denmark (April)
- German invasion of Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg (May)
- German invasion of France (May / June)
- Battle of Britain (summer)
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For Hitler, the Conference at Munich was a sign that France and Britain would not resist if he invaded Czechoslovakia.
On 15th March 1939, Nazi troops marched into Czechoslovakia. From this, the British and French had learned a hard lesson: Hitler could neither be appeased, nor be trusted.
Still the Allied forces did not declare war on Germany.
March 15, 1938. German troops enter the Czech capital city of Prague.
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The Nazi-Soviet Pact
The Nazis hated the communists and Hitler even had plans to conquer parts of the Soviet Union. However, by the end of 1938, talks between Germany and Soviet Union were opened. How was this possible?
First of all, Hitler had learned from the First World War that a two-front war should be avoided at all costs. Germany needed raw materials from Eastern Europe for military supplies, but Hitler wanted to avoid a fight with Stalin’s armies over it. Secondly, Stalin realised that he was in desperate need of allies; France and Britain had made very clear that they rejected an alliance with the Soviet Union. In August 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed; this stated that the Soviet Union would remain neutral if Hitler attacked Poland. It also contained a secret clause: Stalin and Hitler agreed to invade and divide Poland between them.
Hitler greeting Stalin after the invasion of Poland. Hitler: ‘The scum of the earth, I believe?’ Stalin: ‘The bloody assassin of the workers, I presume?’ Political cartoon published in a British paper on 21 October 1939.
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In the car: Hitler and his cronies. The roadsign: CCCP is the Soviet Union.
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The start of World War 2
Although Chamberlain guaranteed that Britain would defend Poland if Hitler decided to attack, Hitler had already started planning to invade Poland in the summer of 1939.
Hitler invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, just nine days after the Nazi-Soviet pact was signed. Against all Hitler’s expectations, England declared war on Germany two days later. Then France followed: the Second World War had begun.
On 17th September 1939, the Russians joined in to occupy their part of Poland; within weeks, Poland was defeated.
German bombers over Poland
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Slide 11 - Video
Blitzkrieg in the West
Hitler decided to force England and France into a peace before trying to conquer the Soviet Union as well. Therefore he had to conquer Western Europe first. Hitler was successful in a short period of time due to a new type of warfare, the so-called Blitzkrieg (‘lightning war’). This type of warfare relied on mobility and powerful, surprise attacks. Tanks and armoured trucks, supported by aircrafts, were used to break through enemy defence lines. Opponents were unable to respond to German pace, surprise attacks and deep penetrations. Hitler even ordered big cities to be bombed to force his opponents to surrender. Like most other countries, France’s strategy was defensive and relied on the Maginot Line: a ‘supertrench’ to defend its border. As a result, France was unable to attack Hitler.
The Maginot Line today: a monument, museum and tourist attraction.
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By May 1940, Hitler had occupied Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg. Hitler was now able to concentrate completely on France. Unlike the First World War, the French were unable to resist the German Blitzkrieg. By June 1940, France asked for a truce. Most of its territory was then occupied by Germany. Only a small area in the south, Vichy France, remained independent but cooperating with Germany.
After the French capitulation Hitler visited Paris. Here he poses in front of the Eifel Tower.
Left: Albert Speer, Hitler's architect. Note the film cameraman (bottom right), filming for the propaganda newsreel.
Victory parade: German troops march along the Arc the Triomph in Paris.
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Britain takes a stand
In May 1940, Winston Churchill succeeded Chamberlain as Prime Minister. Churchill had opposed appeasement from the start and refused every offer of peace from the Germans. To prepare for war, conscription had been introduced in 1939.
In Britain, many people, especially children and women, were evacuated to the countryside, because bombing of cities was anticipated. Gas masks were distributed and at night there was total blackout: windows had to be covered so no light came from houses to prevent enemy aircraft locating cities or industrial centres to bomb.
Hitler wanted to invade Britain, but knew that the British navy was strong. This is why he wanted to force Britain to surrender by bombing its cities; to do this, he needed to destroy the British Royal Air Force (RAF), so German bombers could operate unopposed. In the summer of 1940, the air war called the Battle of Britain started.
Londoners sheltering on a station on the underground railway during ‘the Blitz’. London was bombed on 76 consecutive nights between July 1940 and May 1941.
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The Battle of Britain
At first the German Luftwaffe dominated: hundreds of RAF planes were shot down and it was hard for the British to train enough new pilots to replace those killed in air fights. But the RAF held out and Britain survived. British aircraft then bombed Germany until the end of the war.
modern painting of British spitfires.
The British airforce was known as the RAF (Royal Air Force) while the German airforce is known as the "Luftwaffe".
London was hit hard by German bombs during what the British call: "The Blitz"
RAF pilots posing for the camera before going on a mission
The Germans used special typewriters called enigma machines to send code messages. They did not know however, that the British were able to decipher their codes. Because of this, British cities could sometimes be evacuated in time if the Germans planned to bomb them.