How the Western democracies stumbled into war with Nazi Germany

Neville Chamberlain on one of his several visits with Hitler in 1938. On the right is Hitler’s interpreter.

The Nazi Menace: Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, and the Road to War by Benjamin Carter Hett (2020) 402 pages @@@@@ (5 out of 5)

No one really knew who would be fighting whom

The largest cast of characters ever

  • Col. Friedrich Hossbach (1894–1980), Hitler’s armed forces adjutant (liaison) from 1934 to 1938. Hossbach, who was brutally candid, was a rare individual who told the Führer the truth whether he was likely to welcome it or not. He was the author of the Hossbach Memorandum, which memorialized Hitler’s sensational address to the Nazi military and foreign policy leadership (November 5, 1937). At that event, the Chancellor declared his intention to wage war in Eastern Europe but not attack Britain and France. Hett views the meeting as a turning point in the generals’ views of Adolf Hitler, igniting wider resistance.
  • R. J. Mitchell (1895–1937), who designed the Spitfire and twenty-three other high-performance aircraft. The Supermarine Spitfire famously was major factor in the nation’s victory in the Battle of Britain.
  • Franz Bernheim (1899–1990), who brought the issue of Nazi discrimination in a petition to the League of Nations in 1933 from Upper Silesia, then part of Czechoslovakia, thus opening many eyes in the west to Nazi anti-Semitism
  • Basil Liddell Hart (1895–1970), a British army captain who gained prominence as a military historian and military theorist between the two world wars, devising the defensive military strategy adopted by Neville Chamberlain
  • Hans-Bernd Gisevius (1904–74), a major figure in the anti-Nazi resistance, a reliable chronicler of its activities, and one of its few survivors

How Neville Chamberlain viewed the coming war with Nazi Germany

  1. The defensive posture advocated by military theorist Basil Liddell Hart. Britain’s fortunes would rise or fall with the success of the Royal Navy and the RAF. Britain would send no ground troops to the Continent.
  2. Rearmament, with special emphasis on the air force. The new Spitfire and, later, other superior fighter planes would help the island nation repel Germany’s bombers. The Chain Home network of radar stations around the coast would give Fighter Command early warning of any German attack. Meanwhile, Bomber Command would prepare to pulverize German cities.
  3. Appeasement would buy time for Britain to arm for war.

Reassessing Chamberlain’s strategy

Why blitzkrieg in the west wasn’t inevitable

Ludwig Beck was chief of the German general staff from 1935 to 1938.

The generals’ resistance to Hitler

The broader perspective

About the author

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Mal Warwick

Mal Warwick

Author, book reviewer, serial entrepreneur, board member

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