On November 5th 1937 a meeting would take place where Hitler would outline the situation in Europe as he saw it, and why Germany would soon have to go to war.
Hello everyone and welcome to History of the Second World War Episode 58 - Anschluss Pt. 2 - Events in Germany. This week a big thank you goes out to Esther, David, Joshua, and Paul for choosing to support this podcast on Patreon, where they get access to ad-free versions of all of the podcast’s episodes and special Members only episodes released roughly once a month. You can head on over to historyofthesecondworldwar.com/members to find out more. Since taking power Adolf Hitler had always believed that war between Germany and other powers was an inevitability, it was really just a matter of when and why. Looking back now it is easy to identify the Anschluss and the taking of Austria as the first step towards the beginning of the war, but it was not necessarily planned as such. During 1937 Hitler saw Czechoslovakia as the far greater concern, saying that it was to be “eliminated from the very beginning.” He did however never rule out the possibility of moving into Austria given the correct opportunity. In this episode we will discuss a snapshot of Hitler’s thoughts on the future course of European events, which would go down in history as the Hossbach Memorandum of November 10, 1937. We will then dive into the story of how the two most powerful military leaders in Germany would both be replaced in early 1938, removing two of the primary individuals who may have had the ability and support to stand up to and alter the actions that Hitler would take in 1938. This will then set us up for a more direct focus on the planning for the invasion of Austria next episode.
A key document that must be considered when looking at German intentions during the last years of peace is the so called ‘Hossbach Memorandum.’ This memorandum was created by Colonel Friedrich Hossbach, who was the senior armed forces adjutant on Hitler’s staff. The document is the minutes taken by Hossbach of an over four hour meeting held on November 5, 1937 between Hitler and the heads of each of the arms of the military, Fritsch from the Army, Raeder for the Navy, Goring for the Luftwaffe, and then the Foreign Minister Neurath and the Minister of War Blomberg. These were the only attendants, which was a limited group based on Hitler’s insistence due to the topics that he planned to discuss. It is maybe worth mentioning that the Memorandum was written and submitted on November 10th, so you will see that date attached to it as well. The general contents of the meeting would be in the form of a lengthy speech by HItler that covered two major topics: the economic reasons that Germany had to acquire more territory within Europe and the conditions under which this expansion would take place. To quote from the memorandum “He wished to explain to the gentlemen present his basic ideas concerning the opportunities for the development of our position in the field of foreign affairs and its requirements, and he asked, in the interests of a long-term German policy, that his exposition be regarded, in the event of his death, as his last will and testament.” Even before this meeting took place there had already been discussions about what the path to war might look like and when it might happen. For example in June 1937 Blomberg had already told the three military leaders that they needed to be ready for war to begin at any moment, because it was always a possibility that one would be launched based on foreign political developments. This meant that the entire German military apparatus needed to be ready for war at almost a moment’s notice, while also continuing to grow its overall strength towards a future conflict. Because of these concerns, the basic content of the meeting on November 5th should not have come as a huge surprise. The first section of the speech dealt with territorial and economic concerns. Basically the aim of German policy in the coming years was to ensure that the German people had room to grow, Lebensraum or space, to continue to make themselves stronger. This was of course tied into the racial superiority aspects of Nazi beliefs, with the German and Aryan people being seen as far greater stewards of the land than those around them. There were also more concrete economic concerns, with Hitler stating that as the population of Germany grew and as the standard of living in Germany increased, it was simply going to be impossible to feed everyone. It was also going to be impossible for Germany as it existed to meet its own industrial needs in terms of raw materials. Essentially, there were just real and tangible limits on the ability of Germany as it existed in 1937 to meet its own economic needs within the territory it had access to in 1937. It could increase imports, but this would give greater control of the nation over to foreign governments. This was to be rejected because “There was a pronounced military weakness in those states which depended for their existence on foreign trade.” After making it clear that these problems required an expansion of German territory, Hitler transitioned to the military side of the discussion.
The first topic of these military discussions revolved around who the real enemies were, and why they existed, another quote here “The history of all ages- the Roman Empire and the British Empire- had proved that expansion could only be carried out by breaking down resistance and taking risks; setbacks were inevitable. There had never in former times been spaces without a master, and there were none today; the attacker always comes up against a possessor.” Referring to the dreams of German expansion Hitler identified two great enemies, Great Britain and France. For the British Hitler believed that there were many items that were already weakening the Empire: Irish independence, the situation in India, and the rivalry with Italy and Japan which spread its naval resources very thin. For the French, Hitler believed that they were very quickly coming into serious political difficulties, which might tear the nation apart. Hitler believed that it was essential that Germany be in a position to take advantage of any of these problems should they provide opportunities. There were of course other nations to consider both around Europe and the Soviet Union, but by Hitler’s logic it would be events in France and Britain that would provide opportunities for expansion into the East. The key to the entire discuss about preparing for these opportunities was a question of when. Hitler focused on the time period between 1943 and 1945, which were the years that Hitler believed was the last moment that Germany could launch its war before it lost its military edge to the rearming France and Britain. Along with the rearmament of others Hitler was also concerned about problems that the Germans would have as well. With their more advanced rearmament efforts, and their resulting larger military spending, economic difficulties were on the horizon. On a more selfish note Hitler was also concerned about the aging of the party’s leaders, including himself. So because of these reasons there were two ideal cases for Germany to launch a war, the first was internal discord in France and the other was France entering a war with another nation, perhaps Italy. It was either of these events that could trigger Hitler to launch a war, but not against France, but instead against Czechoslovakia and Austria. “Our first objective, in the event of our being embroiled in war, must be to overthrow Czechoslovakia and Austria simultaneously in order to remove the threat to our flank in any possible operation against the West.” But even these objectives were on a kind of timer, “it had to be remembered that the defense measures of the Czechs were growing in strength from year to year, and that the actual worth of the Austrian Army also was increasing in the course of time.” Hitler also stated that he believed that the French and British were, at least for that moment, both in a position where they would not go to war to save either nation, especially if they were already at war with Italy. While some of these conclusions sound prophetic, there are two critical pieces to remember so that they are not over valued. The first is that Germany, as the later driver of action, could make things happen by her own actions, and by Hitler’s actions, and that is exactly what would eventually happen. The second is that the entire conversation that Hossbach was recording was based on the assumption that there would be either French internal fractures or a war with Italy, the entire set of predictions of what the other nations would do and how Germany would respond was based on this theoretical war, which never happened.
During the meeting the reactions of the other German leaders that were present were generally ones of caution. On the military side the primary concerns were the strength of the Czech fortifications that would have to be overcome in any attack and their convictions that France would never willing enter into a war with another nation that left it without the proper resources to attack Germany. As Foreign Minister Neurath simply did not believe that any war between Italy and the other nations was at all imminent, or that it was likely to occur in the near future. Hitler remained convinced though, believing that it could happen as soon as 1938, which was the very next year. While the others voiced some hesitancy in the meetings, soon after it was over they were already beginning to carry out the tasks required to prepare for its predictions. For example, Blomberg began to shift German military preparations in regards to Czechoslovakia, which had previously been defensive in nature, they were shifted to be better prepared for offensive action against the smaller nation. I am going to try something a bit different later on in this episode and to allow you to hear more of the Memorandum I have included a full read through of the Hossbach memorandum in the last half of this episode. It is an interesting lens into what Hitler believed the future events in Europe would be and why, and so I think a full read is warranted. Let me know what you think of this type of structure and I may include similar full text reads on important documents in the future, there will be many opportunities.
While plans were already shifting for what a German initiated European conflict might look like, the normal course of diplomacy continued. This meant, among many other tings, official visits from foreign officials, like the arrival of British Lord Halifax, Lord President of the Council, in Germany to meet with Hitler and other German officials. Halifax was traveling to Germany with the goal of improving relations with Germany and he was under the impression, which was bolstered by the British Ambassador Henderson, that key members of Hitler’s government, including Goring, were very keen on bringing the nations closer together. Halifax would attend a hunting exhibition put on by Goring before traveling to Berchtesgaden to meet with Hitler personally. Halifax was not the first or the last to arrival at Hitler’s personal residence with the idea of how things would go, only for those plans to be completely derailed almost from the beginning. Halifax’s primary goal during this meeting was to get Hitler onboard with a four power conference, where representatives from Britain, France, Italy, and Germany would all get in a room to hammer out some form of an agreement that would try and settle any of the outstanding problems between the nations so as to prevent a possible war. Halifax would later recount that “I said that there were no doubt other questions arising out of the Versailles settlement which seemed to us capable of causing trouble if they were mishandled, e.g. Danzig, Austria, Czechoslovakia. On all these matters we were not necessarily concerned to stand for the status quo as today, but we were concerned to avoid such treatment of them as would be likely to cause trouble. If reasonable settlements could be reached with the free assent and goodwill of those primarily concerned we certainly had no desire to block.98 There were, he concluded, “possible alterations in the European order which might be destined to come about with the passage of time.”” Hitler, as he would so often do during these types of meetings, would completely dismiss the idea that Halifax had proposed and would instead launch into a lengthy tirade about how the other nations disrespected Germany and did not treat it like the great power that it was. Halifax was not completely brushed aside, and he made it clear that if Hitler was not willing to have a more productive discussions then there was nothing more to be discussed. He would then go on to discuss the League of Nations and the possibility of re-igniting the disarmament talks that had been cast aside in earlier years. Hitler had solid excuses for avoiding those topics, claiming that until other nations like the United States were in the League of Nations it was not worth further discussions, and without a proper consideration of the German plan to abolish aerial bombing, disarmament talks were not worth discussing either. The meeting then ended and lunch was served, and soon after Halifax would head back to Munich and then London. He would report to the Cabinet about his visit on November 24th, where the following was recorded in the official record “Lord Halifax’s general conclusion, therefore, was that the Germans had no policy of immediate adventure. They were too busy building up their country, which was still in a state of revolution. Nevertheless he would expect a beaver-like persistence in pressing their aims in Central Europe, but not in a form to give others cause - or probably occasion - to interfere.” This would be the first of many instances in which British political leaders would underestimate Hitler’s desire and acceptance of war.
One of the remarkable facts about the meeting on November 5th, in which Hitler outlined so many of his long term plans and goals, was that within just a matter of a few months many of the key members who had attended would be removed from the German government and military. Blomberg, Fritsch, Neurath, and Hossbach would all be removed by early 1938, and all for different reasons. Blomberg would be the first to go, and the story of his removal is by far the most involved. Blomberg, who occupied the position of War Minister, had married the daughter of a fellow army officer in 1904, but she then died in 1929. In September 1937 he became romantically involved with a far younger woman, Fräulein Margarethe Gruhn, but the drastic age difference was not really seen as a problem. There were two real problems though, one was another man that was actively pursuing Gruhn, and the other involved Gruhn’s past activities. We will begin with the other man. This other man was far closer in age to Ms. Gruhn, and also had a totally respectable position within the government. Blomberg would approach him with the expectation that after a short conversation he would give into the demands of the older Blomberg and give up his pursuit of Gruhn. When he did not do so, Blomberg went to Goring. Goring, with his far more powerful influence within the government could make the problem disappear, and so he would. He made an arrangement with the President of the Reich Grain Office, and shortly thereafter the other man was posted to a well paid and well respected new position….in Argentina. Hermann Goring was just so helpful, kind of. Goring coveted Blomberg’s position as War Minister, and in helping Blomberg be the sole participant in the Fräulein Margarethe Gruhn sweepstakes he was allowing Blomberg to run directly into the second problem, but before the information about that second problem was publicly revealed, Blomberg would dig himself into a position from which there was no escape. Everyone knew that Gruhn was from a far humbler background than Blomberg. In December 1937, after the funeral of General Ludendorff, Blomberg would meet with Hitler to tell him that he planned to marry Gruhn, and he explained this humble background. Hitler had absolutely no problems with the marriage, and generally rejected the class based criticisms that might have been leveled against Blomberg as old fashioned and not fit for the new Germany. Blomberg and Gruhn would then be married on January 12th, 1938, Goring and Hitler would both participate in the wedding. News of the wedding, and the participation of the Fuehrer himself would be featured in newspapers around Germany. The trap was fully set, because back in late 1937 Goring had warned Blomberg that he had information about Gruhn’s past, and that they were ‘more lurid’ than Blomberg might know, and those lurid details would soon be revealed.
On January 21st, it just so happened that a very lengthy and detailed file on her past activities arrived at the desk of Count Heinrich von Helldorf, the Chief of the Berlin police. There were many details and many documents, but the simple conclusion was that Gruhn had previously been a prostitute and had posed for pornographic photographs. Among the documents was a lengthy list of these transactions, along with information about a previous theft conviction. There is something of an option question about how this information arrived on Helldorf’s desk, the exact sender is not known, although it might have been Goring or some other political opponent of Blomberg. Helldorf, realizing the possible reaction to the information if it were to become public, decided to bypass forwarding the information to the SS and instead went to the office of General Keitel, Blomberg’s assistant. Helldorff wanted to guarantee that the person discussed in the documents, which included photos, was the same as the woman who had just married Blomberg. Initially, he did not even tell Keitel why he wanted to verify her identity, just that he was hoping that Keitel would be able to verify it from a photo. When Keitel was less than sure that he could do so, Helldorf had to simply tell Keitel the full truth, bringing out the dossier that he had been given. Keitel wanted Helldorf to leave the information with him so that he could show it to Blomberg as soon as possible, but Helldorf refused, believing that he had to continue moving things forward. The next person he went to was Arthur Nebe, the chief of the Reich Criminal Police and general in the SS, but one that Helldorf trusted. Nebe would tell Helldorf that “It is evidently an attempt to destroy Marshal von Blomberg, it is a coup, well prepared and well executed, probably by the Gestapo. Do you really believe that Heydrich, who keeps files on Munich, 1938 everybody from Hitler and Göring downwards, including yourself and myself, did not know that Erna Gruhn was a prostitute.” Then Helldorf would go to see Goring the next day, Helldorf would tell Goring everything while Goring paced the room.
Goring would then take it upon himself to inform Hitler on January 24th, when he did so Hitler was apparently stunned.
Goring would then be sent to see Blomberg, making it clear that he was expected to get an immediate divorce or a full annulment of the marriage. This would be the moment when Goring’s desire for Blomberg’s position fully came into play, as he knew that if he could keep Blomberg from getting a divorce a new War Minister would have to be found. Goring, instead of mentioning the divorce/annulment option instead focused his discussion with Blomberg on the idea that the army High Command was insisting on his immediate resignation, without really mentioning that Hitler was supportive of him maintaining his position after a annulment. While this information was being delivered conversations were occurring between Hitler and others in the Reich Chancellery to try and determine who would be Blomberg’s successor at the War Ministry. The usual choice, the head of the Army, was General Fritsch, but there were some concerns about a specific file that had been created on Fritsch by the SS in 1936, which accused Fritsch of being a homosexual. Goring had of course made it a point to remind Hitler of the existence of this report in his previous discussions, just to prevent the easy elevation of Fritsch. Blomberg would then report to Hitler for what would end up being their final meeting. Hitler would make it clear that due to the marriage he had to be removed from his position, and the conversation quickly shifted to one of succession. Fritsch was instantly ruled out due to the homosexuality accusations, to which Blomberg would reply “In that case, the choice must fall on Göring.” but Hitler claimed that this was “Not Possible.” He then asked the General who had been in Blomberg’s office for quite some time and had been his assistant, which was General Keitel. Blomberg was resistant to this idea stating, “There’s no question of him; he’s nothing but the man who runs my office.” but Hitler loved the idea of such a man in the position of Minister of War and could not be dissuaded. Blomberg would later claim that Hitler had told him during this meeting that he would be brought back on when the war started, and that in fact it was likely he would be brought back after just a year away when the story had faded from the press, and he should just treat the following months as a nice long honeymoon. Keitel would be brought in to see Hitler later in the afternoon, although at the time he did not know that he was going to be picked for the succession. Instead he would first meet with Goring, who was in full campaigning mode and gathering support for his elevation to the Ministry. When Keitel would see Hitler he was told that Hossbach had to go for disobeying orders. What Keitel was not immediately told is that Hossbach had informed Fritsch of the accusations being made against him, which had prepared him for an earlier conversation with Hitler. Keitel simply knew Hossbach needed to go, and so he would. Keitel would then recommend Fritsch to replace Blomberg, at which point he was also informed of the accusations. It was at that point that Hitler directly asked Keitel to be his new War Minister and Chief of Staff.
The opportunity of replacing Blomberg would also be used as an opportunity for a much wider reshuffling of military leaders. Blomberg had informed Hitler of many generals who were less than loyal to the National Socialist government during their last meeting, and it would result in the dismissal of 14 generals and 51 other high ranking officers. Fritsch was among them, to be replaced by General Walther von Brauchitsch. Brauchitsch came with a recommendation from Keitel and could agree to take the post. All of these changes were then announced at a Cabinet meeting on February 4th, which was destined to be the last official cabinet meeting of the government. Along with the personnel reshuffle the War Ministry as it had previously existeed was destroyed, and in its place the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces, or Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, better known simply as the OKW was created, with Keitel at its head. The final person on the list of attendees to the November 5th meeting, Foreign Minister Neurath, would also be replaced in February 1938. In his case he was strongly against the clear expansionist policies of Hitler and the Nazi government, and they would have to “find another Foreign Minister, and that I would not be an accessory to such a policy.” he would then be replaced by Joachim von Ribbentrop. So, with that most of the individuals who had originally participated in the Hossbach Memorandum meeting, were gone, replaced instead by men hand picked by Hitler.
What follows is read of the full text of the translated Hossbach Memorandum. Why am I including this? It can be very easy for documents to get distorted in their meaning due to omission and cherry picking of quotes. Because of that I thought it would be interesting for me to give the full text of one of the documents I have given a lot of context to in the episode. One thing to remember is that these are the notes as taking by Hossbach Hitler adjutant, and so there may be some skew on events. If you have any questions or comments about this structure for an episode, with a primary source read through in full at the end, let me know at email@example.com. There will be many more opportunities for this kind of thing in the future.
BERLIN, November 10, 1937.
Minutes of a Conference in the Reich Chancellery, Berlin, November 5, 1937, FROM 4:15 to 8:30 P.M.
Present: The Fuehrer and Chancellor, Field Marshal von Blomberg, War Minister, Colonel General Baron von Fritsch, Commander in Chief, Army, Admiral Dr. h. c. Raeder, Commander in Chief, Navy, Colonel General Goring, Commander in Chief, Luftwaffe, Baron von Neurath, Foreign Minister, Colonel Hossbach. The Fuehrer began by stating that the subject of the present conference was of such importance that its discussion would, in other countries, certainly be a matter for a full Cabinet meeting, but he -the Fuehrer- had rejected the idea of making it a subject of discussion before the wider circle of the Reich Cabinet just because of the importance of the matter. His exposition to follow was the fruit of thorough deliberation and the experiences of his 41/2 years of power. He wished to explain to the gentlemen present his basic ideas concerning the opportunities for the development of our position in the field of foreign affairs and its requirements, and he asked, in the interests of a long-term German policy, that his exposition be regarded, in the event of his death, as his last will and testament.
The Fuehrer then continued:
The aim of German policy was to make secure and to preserve the racial community [Volksmasse] and to enlarge it. It was therefore a question of space.
The German racial community comprised over 85 million people and, because of their number and the narrow limits of habitable space in Europe, constituted a tightly packed racial core such as was not to be met in any other country and such as implied the right to a greater living space than in the case of other peoples. If, territorially speaking, there existed no political result corresponding to this German racial core, that was a consequence of centuries of historical development, and in the continuance of these political conditions lay the greatest danger to the preservation of the German race at its present peak. To arrest the decline of Germanism [Deutschtum] in Austria and Czechoslovakia was as little possible as to maintain the present level in Germany itself. Instead of increase, sterility was setting in, and in its train disorders of a social character must arise in course of time, since political and ideological ideas remain effective only so long as they furnish the basis for the realization of the essential vital demands of a people. Germany’s future was therefore wholly conditional upon the solving of the need for space, and such a solution could be sought, of course, only for a foreseeable period of about one to three generations.
Before turning to the question of solving the need for space, it had to be considered whether a solution holding promise for the future was to be reached by means of autarchy or by means of an increased participation in world economy.
Achievement only possible under strict National Socialist leadership of the State, which is assumed; accepting its achievement as possible, the following could be stated as results:-
A. In the field of raw materials only limited, not total, autarchy.
In regard to coal, so far as it could be considered as a source of raw materials, autarchy was possible;
But even as regards ores, the position was much more difficult. Iron requirements can be met from home resources and similarly with light metals, but with other raw materials -copper,tin- this was not the case.
Synthetic textile requirements can be met from home resources to the limit of timber supplies. A permanent solution impossible.
B. In the field of food the question of autarchy was to be answered by a flat “No.”
With the general rise in the standard of living compared with that of 30 to 40 years ago, there has gone hand in hand an increased demand and an increased home consumption even on the part of the producers, the farmers. The fruits of the increased agricultural production had all gone to meet the increased demand, and so did not represent an absolute production increase. A further increase in production by making greater demands on the soil, which already, in consequence of the use of artificial fertilizers, was showing signs of exhaustion, was hardly possible, and it was therefore certain that even with the maximum increase in production, participation in world trade was unavoidable. The not inconsiderable expenditure of foreign exchange to insure food supplies by imports, even when harvests were good, grew to catastrophic proportions with bad harvests. The possibility of a disaster grew in proportion to the increase in population, in which, too, the excess of births of 560,000 annually produced, as a consequence, an even further increase in bread consumption, since a child was a greater bread consumer than an adult.
It was not possible over the long run, in a continent enjoying a practically common standard of living, to meet the food supply difficulties by lowering that standard and by rationalization. Since, with the solving of the unemployment problem, the maximum consumption level had been reached, some minor modifications in our home agricultural production might still, no doubt, be possible, but no fundamental alteration was possible in our basic food position. Thus autarchy was untenable in regard both to food and to the economy as a whole.
Participation in world economy:
To this there were limitations which we were unable to remove. The establishment of Germany’s position on a secure and sound foundation was obstructed by market fluctuations, and commercial treaties afforded no guarantee for actual execution. In particular it had to be remembered that since the World War, those very countries which had formerly been food exporters had become industrialized. We were living in an age of economic empires in which the primitive urge to colonization was again manifesting itself; in the cases of Japan and Italy economic motives underlay the urge for expansion, and with Germany, too, economic need would supply the stimulus. For countries outside the great economic empires, opportunities for economic expansion were severely impeded.
The boom in world economy caused by the economic effects of rearmament could never form the basis of a sound economy over a long period, and the latter was obstructed above all also by the economic disturbances resulting from Bolshevism. There was a pronounced military weakness in those states which depended for their existence on foreign trade. As our foreign trade was carried on over the sea routes dominated by Britain, it was more a question of security of transport than one of foreign exchange, which revealed, in time of war, the full weakness of our food situation. The only remedy, and one which might appear to us as visionary, lay in the acquisition of greater living space -a quest which has at all times been the origin of the formation of states and of the migration of peoples. That this quest met with no interest at Geneva or among the satiated nations was understandable. If, then, we accept the security of our food situation as the principal question, the space necessary to insure it can only be sought in Europe, not, as in the liberal-capitalist view, in the exploitation of colonies. It is not a matter of acquiring population but of gaining space for agricultural use. Moreover, areas producing raw materials can be more usefully sought in Europe in immediate proximity to the Reich, than overseas; the solution thus obtained must suffice for one or two generations. Whatever else might prove necessary later must be left to succeeding generations to deal with. The development of great world political constellations progressed but slowly after all, and the German people with its strong racial core would find the most favorable prerequisites for such achievement in the heart of the continent of Europe. The history of all ages- the Roman Empire and the British Empire- had proved that expansion could only be carried out by breaking down resistance and taking risks; setbacks were inevitable. There had never in former times been spaces without a master, and there were none today; the attacker always comes up against a possessor.
The question for Germany ran: where could she achieve the greatest gain at the lowest cost.
German policy had to reckon with two hate-inspired antagonists, Britain and France, to whom a German colossus in the center of Europe was a thorn in the flesh, and both countries were opposed to any further strengthening of Germany’s position either in Europe or overseas; in support of this opposition they were able to count on the agreement of all their political parties. Both ‘countries saw in the establishment of German military bases overseas a threat to their own communications, a safeguarding of German commerce, and, as a consequence, a strengthening of Germany’s position in Europe.
Because of opposition of the Dominions, Britain could not cede any of her colonial possessions to us. After England’s loss of prestige through the passing of Abyssinia into Italian possession, the return of East Africa was not to be expected. British concessions could at best be expressed in an offer to satisfy our colonial demands by the appropriation of colonies which were not British possessions -e.g., Angola. French concessions would probably take a similar line.
Serious discussion of the question of the return of colonies to us could only be considered at a moment when Britain was in difficulties and the German Reich armed and strong. The Fuehrer did not share the view that the Empire was unshakable. Opposition to the Empire was to be found less in the countries conquered than among her competitors. The British Empire and the Roman Empire could not be compared in respect of permanence; the latter was not confronted by any powerful political rival of a serious order after the Punic Wars. It was only the disintegrating effect of Christianity, and the symptoms of age which appear in every country, which caused ancient Rome to succumb to the onslaught of the Germans.
Beside the British Empire there existed today a number of states stronger than she. The British motherland was able to protect her colonial possessions not by her own power, but only in alliance with other states. How, for instance, could Britain alone defend Canada against attack by America, or her Far Eastern interests against attack by Japan!
The emphasis on the British Crown as the symbol of the unity of the Empire was already an admission that, in the long run, the Empire could not maintain its position by power politics. Significant indications of this were:
(a) The struggle of Ireland for independence.
(b) The constitutional struggles in India, where Britain’s half measures had given to the Indians the opportunity of using later on as a weapon against Britain, the nonfulfillment of her promises regarding a constitution.
(c) The weakening by Japan of Britain’s position in the Far East.
(d) The rivalry in the Mediterranean with Italy who -under the spell of her history, driven by necessity and led by a genius was expanding her power position, and thus was inevitably coming more and more into conflict with British interests. The outcome of the Abyssinian War was a loss of prestige for Britain which Italy was striving to increase by stirring up the in the Mohammeden world.
To sum up, it could be stated that, with 45 million Britons, in spite of its theoretical soundness, the position of the Empire could not in the long run be maintained by power politics. The ratio of the population of the Empire to that of the motherland of 9:1, was a warning to us not, in our territorial expansion to allow the foundation constituted by the numerical strength of our own people to become too weak.
France’s position was more favorable than that of Britain. The French Empire was better placed territorially; the inhabitants of her colonial possessions represented a supplement to her military strength. But France was going to be confronted with internal political difficulties. In a nation’s life about 10 percent of its span is taken up by parliamentary forms of government and about 90 percent by authoritarian forms. Today, nonetheless, Britain, France, Russia, and the smaller states adjoining them, must be included as factors [Machtfaktoren] in our political calculations.
Germany’s problem could only be solved by means of force and this was never without attendant risk. The campaigns of Frederick the Great for Silesia and Bismarck’s wars against Austria and France had involved unheard-of risk, and the swiftness of the Prussian action in 1870 had kept Austria from entering the war. If one accepts as the basis of the following exposition the resort to force with its attendant risks, then there remain still to be answered the questions “when” and “how.” In this matter there were three cases [Falle] to be dealt with:
Case 1: Period 1943-1945.
After this date only a change for the worse, from our point of view, could be expected.
The equipment of the army, navy, and luftwaffe, as well as the formation of the officer corps, was nearly completed. Equipment and armament were modern; in further delay there lay the danger of their obsolescence. In particular, the secrecy of “special weapons” could not be preserved forever. The recruiting of reserves was limited to current age groups; further drafts from older untrained age groups were no longer available.
Our relative strength would decrease in relation to the rearmament which would by then have been carried out by the rest of the world. If we did not act by 1943-45’ any year could, in consequence of a lack of reserves, produce the food crisis, to cope with which the necessary foreign exchange was not available, and this must be regarded as a “waning point of the regime.” Besides, the world was expecting our attack and was increasing its counter-measures from year to year. It was while the rest of the world was still preparing its defenses [sich abriegele] that we were obliged to take the offensive.
Nobody knew today what the situation would be in the years 1943-45. One thing only was certain, that we could not wait longer.
On the one hand there was the great Wehrmacht, and the necessity of maintaining it at its present level, the aging of the movement and of its leaders; and on the other, the prospect of a lowering of the standard of living and of a limitation of the birth rate, which left no choice but to act. If the Fuehrer was still living, it was his unalterable resolve to solve Germany’s problem of space at the latest by 1943-45. The necessity for action before 1943-45 would arise in cases 2 and 3.
If internal strife in France should develop into such a domestic crisis as to absorb the French Army completely and render it incapable of use for war against Germany, then the time for action against the Czechs had come.
If France is so embroiled by a war with another state that she cannot “proceed” against Germany.
For the improvement of our politico-military position our first objective, in the event of our being embroiled in war, must be to overthrow Czechoslovakia and Austria simultaneously in order to remove the threat to our flank in any possible operation against the West. In a conflict with France it was hardly to be regarded as likely that the Czechs would declare war on us on the very same day as France. The desire to join in the war would, however, increase among the Czechs in proportion to any weakening on our part and then her participation could clearly take the form of an attack toward Silesia, toward the north or toward the west.
If the Czechs were overthrown and a common German-Hungarian frontier achieved, a neutral attitude on the part of Poland could be the more certainly counted on in the event of a Franco-German conflict. Our agreements with Poland only retained their force as long as Germany’s strength remained unshaken. In the event of German setbacks a Polish action against East Prussia, and possibly against Pomerania and Silesia as well, had to be reckoned with.
On the assumption of a development of the Situation leading to action: on our part as planned, in the years 1943-45, the attitude of France, Britain, Italy, Poland, and Russia could probably be estimated as follows:
Actually, the Fuehrer believed that almost certainly Britain, and probably France as well, had already tacitly written off the Czechs and were reconciled to the fact that this question could be cleared up in due course by Germany. Difficulties connected with the Empire, and the prospect of being once more entangled in a protracted European war, were decisive considerations for Britain against participation in a war against Germany. Britain’s attitude would certainly not be without influence on that of France. An attack by France without British support, and with the prospect of the offensive being brought to a standstill on our western fortifications, was hardly probable. Nor was a French march through Belgium and Holland without British support to be expected; this also was a course not to be contemplated by us in the event of a conflict with France, because it would certainly entail the hostility of Britain. It would of course be necessary to maintain a strong defense [eine Abriegelung] on our western frontier during the prosecution of our attack on the Czechs and Austria. And in this connection it had to be remembered that the defense measures of the Czechs were growing in strength from year to year, and that the actual worth of the Austrian Army also was increasing in the course of time. Even though the populations concerned, especially of Czechoslovakia, were not sparse, the annexation of Czechoslovakia and Austria would mean an acquisition of foodstuffs for 5 to 6 million people, on the assumption that the compulsory emigration of 2 million people from Czechoslovakia and 1 million people from Austria was practicable. The incorporation of these two States with Germany meant, from the politico-military point of view, a substantial advantage because it would mean shorter and better frontiers, the freeing of forces for other purposes, and the possibility of creating new units up to a level of about 12 divisions, that is, 1 new division per million inhabitants.
Italy was not expected to object to the elimination of the Czechs, but it was impossible at the moment to estimate what her attitude on the Austrian question would be; that depended essentially upon whether the Duce were still alive.
The degree of surprise and the swiftness of our action were decisive factors for Poland’s attitude. Poland -with Russia at her rear will have little inclination to engage in war against a victorious Germany.
Military intervention by Russia must be countered by the swiftness of our operations; however, whether such an intervention was a practical contingency at all was, in view of Japan’s attitude, more than doubtful.
Should case 2 arise -the crippling of France by civil war- the situation thus created by the elimination of the most dangerous opponent must he seized upon whenever it occurs for the blow against the Czechs.
The Fuehrer saw case 3 coming definitely nearer; it might emerge from the present tensions in the Mediterranean, and he was resolved to take advantage of it whenever it happened, even as early as 1938.
In the light of past experience, the Fuehrer did not see any early end to the hostilities in Spain. If one considered the length of time which Franco’s offensives had taken up till now, it was fully possible that the war would continue another 3 years. On the other hand, a 100 percent victory for Franco was not desirable either, from the German point of view; rather were we interested in a continuance of the war and in the keeping up of the tension in the Mediterranean. Franco in undisputed possession of the Spanish Peninsula precluded the possibility of any further intervention on the part of the Italians or of their continued occupation of the Balearic Islands. As our interest lay more in the prolongation of the war in Spain, it must be the immediate aim of our policy to strengthen Italy’s rear with a view to her remaining in the Balearics. But the permanent establishment of the Italians on the Balearics would be intolerable both to France and Britain, and might lead to a war of France and England against Italy -a war in which Spain, should she be entirely in the hands of the Whites, might make her appearance on the side of Italy’s enemies. The probability of Italy’s defeat in such a war was slight, for the road from Germany was open for the supplementing of her raw materials. The Fuehrer pictured the military strategy for Italy thus: on her western frontier with France she would remain on the defensive, and carry on the war against France from Libya against the French North African colonial possessions.
As a landing by Franco-British troops on the coast of Italy could be discounted, and a French offensive over the Alps against northern Italy would be very difficult and would probably come to a halt before the strong Italian fortifications, the crucial point [Schwerpunkt] of the operations lay in North Africa. The threat to French lines of communication by the Italian Fleet would to a great extent cripple the transportation of forces from North Africa to France, so that France would have only home forces at her disposal on the frontiers with Italy and Germany.
If Germany made use of this war to settle the Czech and Austrian questions, it was to be assumed that Britain -herself at war with Italy- would decide not to act against Germany. Without British support, a warlike action by France against Germany was not to be expected.
The time for our attack on the Czechs and Austria must be made dependent on the course of the Anglo-French-Italian war and would not necessarily coincide with the commencement of military operations by these three States. Nor had the Fuehrer in mind military agreements with Italy, but wanted, while retaining his own independence of action, to exploit this favorable situation, which would not occur again, to begin and carry through the campaign against the Czechs. This descent upon the Czechs would have to be carried out with “lightning speed.”
In appraising the situation Field Marshal von Blomberg and Colonel General von Fritsch repeatedly emphasized the necessity that Britain and France must not appear in the role of our enemies, and stated that the French Army would not be so committed by the war with Italy that France could not at the same time enter the field with forces superior to ours on our western frontier. General von Fritsch estimated the probable French forces available for use on the Alpine frontier at approximately twenty divisions, so that a strong French superiority would still remain on the western frontier, with the role, according to the German view, of invading the Rhineland. In this matter, moreover, the advanced state of French defense preparations [Mobiolmachung] must be taken into particular account, and it must be remembered apart from the insignificant value of our present fortifications -on which Field Marshal von Blomberg laid special emphasis- that the four motorized divisions intended for the West were still more or less incapable of movement. In regard to our offensive toward the southeast, Field Marshal von Blomberg drew particular attention to the strength of the Czech fortifications, which had acquired by now a structure like a Maginot Line and which would gravely hamper our attack.
General von Fritsch mentioned that this was the very purpose of a study which he had ordered made this winter, namely, to examine the possibility of conducting operations against the Czechs with special reference to overcoming the Czech fortification system; the General further expressed his opinion. that under existing circumstances he must give up his plan to go abroad on his leave, which was due to begin on November 10. The Fuehrer dismissed this idea on the ground that the possibility of a conflict need not yet be regarded as imminent. To the Foreign Minister’s objection that an Anglo-French-Italian conflict was not yet within such a measurable distance as the Fuehrer Seemed to assume, the Fuehrer put the summer of 1938 as the date which seemed to him possible for this. In reply to considerations offered by Field Marshal von Blomberg and General von Fritsch regarding the attitude of Britain and France, the Fuehrer repeated his previous statements that he was convinced of Britain’s nonparticipation, and therefore he did not believe in the probability of belligerent action by France against Germany. Should the Mediterranean conflict under discussion lead to a general mobilization in Europe, then we must immediately begin action against the Czechs. On the other hand, should the powers not engaged in the war declare themselves disinterested, then Germany would have to adopt a similar attitude to this for the time being.
Colonel General Goring thought that, in view of the Fuehrer’s statement, we should consider liquidating our military undertakings in Spain. The Fuehrer agrees to this with the limitation that he thinks he should reserve a decision for a proper moment.
The second part of the conference was concerned with concrete questions of armament.
HOSSBACH Certified Correct: Colonel (General Staff)