The Spanish Civil War
The Civil war tore Spain apart from 1936 to 1939. In 1936, many of Spain’s army officers revolted against the government. The army rebels chose General Francisco Franco as their leader.
Franco’s forces were known as Nationalists or Rebels. The forces that supported Spain’s elected government were called Loyalists or Republicans. The Spanish Civil War drew worldwide attention. During the war, the dictatorships again displayed their might while the democracies remained helpless.
Hitler and Mussolini sent troops, weapons, aircraft, and advisers to aid the Nationalists. The Soviet Union was the only power to help the Loyalists. France, Britain and the United States decided not to become involved. However, the Loyalist sympathizers from many countries joined the International Brigades that the Communists formed to fight in Spain.
The last Loyalist forces surrendered on April 1, 1939, and Franco set up a dictatorship in Spain. The Spanish Civil War served as a military proving ground for World War II because Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union used it to test weapons and tactics. The war in Spain was also a rehearsal for World War II in that it split the world into forces that either supported or opposed Nazism and Fascism.
The failure of appeasement
Hitler prepared to strike again soon after Germany absorbed Austria in March 1938.
Germany territory then bordered Czechoslovakia on three sides. Czechoslovakia had become an independent nation after World War I. Its population consisted of many nationalities, including more than 3 million people of German desert. Hitler sought control of the Sudeten land, a region of western Czechoslovakia where most of the Germans lived. Urged, on by Hitler, the Sudeten Germans began to clamor for union with Germany.
Czechoslovakia was determined to defend its territory. France and the Soviet Union had pledged their support. As tension mounted, Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tried to restore calm.
Chamberlain wished to preserve peace at all cost. He believed that war could be prevented by meeting Hitler’s demands. That policy became known as appeasement. Chamberlain had several meetings with Hitler during September 1938 as Europe teetered on the edge of war. Hitler raised his demands at each meeting. On September 29th, Chamberlain and French Premier Edouard Daladier met with Hitler and Mussolini in Munich, Germany. Chamberlain and Daladier agreed to turn over the Sudetenland to Germany, and they forced Czechoslovakia to accept the agreement. Hitler promised that he had no more territorial demands.
The Munich Agreement marked a height of the policy of appeasement. Chamberlain and Daladier hoped that the agreement would satisfy Hitler and prevent war or that it would at least prolong the peace until Britain and France were ready for war. The two leaders were mistaken on both counts.
The failure of appeasement soon become clear. Hitler broke the Munich Agreement in March 1939 and seized the rest of Czechoslovakia. He thereby added Czechoslovakia’s armed and industries to Germany’s military might. In the months before World War II began, Germany’s preparations for war moved ahead faster than did the military build-up of Britain and France.
Early Stages of the War
During the first year of World War II, Germany won a series of swift victories over Poland, Demark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, and France. Germany then attempted to bomb Britain into surrendering, but it failed.
The Invasion of Poland
After Hitler seized Czechoslovakia, he began demanding territory from Poland. Great Britain and France pledged to help Poland if Germany attacked it. Yet the two powers could aid Poland only by invading Germany, a step that neither chose to take. Britain had only a small army, France had prepared to defend its territory not to attack.
Great Britain and France hoped that the Soviet Union would help defend Poland. But Hitler and Stalin shocked the world by becoming allies.
On August 23, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed a nonaggression pact in which they agreed not to go to war against each other, they secretly decided to divide Poland between themselves.
On September 1st, 1939, Germany invaded Poland and began World War II. Poland had a large army but little modern equipment.
The Polish army expected to fight along the country’s frontiers. However, the Germans introduced a new method of warfare they called blitzkrieg (lighting war).
The blitzkrieg stressed speed and surprise. Rows of tanks smash through Poland’s defenses and rolled deep into the country before the Polish Army had time to react. Swarms of German dive bomber and fighter aircraft knocked out communicators and pounded battle lines.
The Poles fought bravely. But Germany’s blitzkrieg threw their army into confusion. On September 17th, 1939, the Soviet forces invaded Poland from the east. By late September, the Soviet Union occupied the eastern third of Poland, and Germany had swallowed up the rest.
The Phony War
Great Britain and France declared war on Germany on September 3rd, 1939, two days after the invasion of Poland. But the two countries stood by while Poland collapsed. France moved troops to the Maginot Line, a belt of steel and concrete for tresses it had built after World War I along its border with Germany. Britain sent a small force into Northern France. Germany stationed troops on the Siegfried Line, a strip of defenses Hitler built in the 1930s opposite the Maginot Line. The two sides avoided fighting in late 1939 and early 1940. The Journalists called the period The Phony War.
The Conquest of Denmark and Norway
Valuable shipments of iron are from Sweden reached Germany by way of Norway’s port of Arville. Hitler feared British plans to cut off these shipments by laying explosives in Norway’s coastal waters. In April 1940, German forces invaded Norway. They conquered Denmark on the way. Britain tried to help Norway, but Germany’s airpower prevented many British ships and troops from reaching the country. Norway fell to the Germans in June 1940. The conquest of Norway secured Germany’s shipments of iron are. Norway also provided bases for German submarines and aircraft.
Chamberlain, the champion of the appeasement was resigned after the invasion of Norway. Winston Church replaced him as Britain’s prime minister on May 10, 1940. Churchill told the British people he had nothing to offer them but ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat”.
Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
was a British politician, army officer, and writer, who was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. As Prime Minister, Churchill led Britain to victory in the Second World War. Ideologically an economic liberal and British imperialist, he was a Conservative until 31 May 1904 when he crossed the floor, defecting from the Conservatives to sit as a member of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons  where he was a member of the Liberal Party from 1904 to 1924 before defecting to the Conservative Party, which he led from 1940 to 1955. Churchill represented five constituencies during his career as Member of Parliament (MP).
Born in Oxfordshire to an aristocratic family, Churchill was a son of Lord Randolph Churchill and Jennie Jerome. Joining the British Army, he saw action in British India, the Anglo–Sudan War, and the Second Boer War, gaining fame as a war correspondent and writing books about his campaigns. Elected an MP in 1900, initially as a Conservative, he defected to the Liberals in 1904. In H. H. Asquith’s Liberal government, Churchill served as President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary, and First Lord of the Admiralty, championing prison reform and workers’ social security. During the First World War, he oversaw the Gallipoli Campaign; after it proved a disaster, he resigned from government and served in the Royal Scots Fusiliers on the Western Front. In 1917 he returned to government under David Lloyd George as Minister of Munitions, and was subsequently Secretary of State for War, Secretary of State for Air, then Secretary of State for the Colonies. After two years out of Parliament, he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Stanley Baldwin’s Conservative government, returning the pound sterling in 1925 to the gold standard at its pre-war parity, a move widely seen as creating deflationary pressure on the UK economy.
Out of office during the 1930s, Churchill took the lead in calling for British rearmament to counter the growing threat from Nazi Germany. At the outbreak of the Second World War, he was re-appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. Following Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s resignation in 1940, Churchill replaced him. Churchill oversaw British involvement in the Allied war effort, resulting in victory in 1945. His wartime response to the 1943 Bengal famine, which claimed an estimated three million lives, has caused controversy, and he sanctioned the 1945 bombing of Dresden, which caused tens of thousands of civilian deaths and continues to be debated. After the Conservatives’ defeat in the 1945 general election, he became Leader of the Opposition. Amid the developing Cold War with the Soviet Union, he publicly warned of an “iron curtain” of Soviet influence in Europe and promoted European unity. He was re-elected prime minister in the 1951 election. His second term was preoccupied with foreign affairs, including the Malayan Emergency, Mau Mau Uprising, Korean War, Syrian crisis and a UK-backed Iranian coup. Domestically his government emphasized house-building and developed an atomic bomb. In declining health, Churchill resigned as prime minister in 1955, although he remained an MP until 1964. Upon his death in 1965, he was given a state funeral.
Widely considered one of the 20th century’s most significant figures, Churchill remains popular in the UK and Western world, where he is seen as a victorious wartime leader who played an important role in defending liberal democracy from the spread of fascism. Also praised as a social reformer and writer, among his many awards was the Nobel Prize in Literature
The Invasion of the Low Countries
The Low Countries- Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands hoped to remain neutral after World War II began. However, Germany launched a blitzkrieg against then on May 10, 1940. The Low Countries immediately requested Allied help. But Luxembourg surrendered in one day, and the Netherlands in five days.
The British and French forces rushed into Belgium and fell into a German trap. As the Allied forces raced northward, the main German invasion cut behind them through the Belgian Ardennes Forest to the South. The Germans reached the English Channel on May 21. They had nearly surrounded the Allied forces in Belgium.
King Leopold III of Belgium surrendered on May 28, 1940. His surrender left the Allied forces trapped in Belgium in great danger. They were retreating toward the French Seaport of Dunkerque on the English Channel.
Britain sent all available craft to rescue the troops. The rescue fleet included destroyers, yachts, ferries, fishing vessels evacuated about 338,000 troops from May 26 to June 4, 1940. The evacuation of Dunkerque saved most of Britain’s army. But the army left behind all its tanks and equipment. The remaining Allied troops in Dunkerque surrendered on June 4, 1940, in Dunkirk, France.
The Fall of France
France had expected to fight along a stationary battlefront and had built the Maginot Line for its defense. But German tanks and aircraft went around the Maginot Line. The Germans passed north of the Maginot Line as they swept through Luxembourg and Belgium and into northern France in May 1940. They launched a major assault against France on June 5th.
The blitzkrieg sent French forces reeling backward. As France neared collapse, Italy declared war on France and Great Britain on June 10th.
German troops entered Paris on June 14th, 1940. The French government had already fled the capitol. Paul Reynaud had become premier of France in March.
Reynaud wanted to fight on. But many of his generals and cabinet officers believed that the battle for France was lost. Reynaud resigned, and a new French government agreed to an armistice (truce0 on June 22nd.
Under the terms of the armistice, Germany occupied the northern two-thirds of France and as strip of western France along the Atlantic Ocean.
Southern France remained in French control.
The town of Vichy became the capital of un occupied France.
Marshal Henri Petain, a French hero of World War I, headed the Vichy government. He largely cooperated with the Germans. The in November 1942, German troops occupied all France. One of the French generals Charles de Gaulle had escaped to Britain after France fell.
In radio broadcasts to France, he urged the people to carry on the fight against Germany. The troops who rallied around de Gaulle became known as the Free French Forces.