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View Full Version : Alternate History: Munich, 1938-Talks Break Down, War Declared


dropzone
01-16-2004, 12:54 PM
(I've had a bad record lately, with a Pitting of Arby's turning into an homage to Jamocha shakes, Curly fries, and thin slices of a gelatinous, meatlike substance more suited for IMHO or MPSIMS. I'm guessing this is debate material but if it best belongs in GQ the mods are free to move it, as if they need my permission.)

I was reading a book on fighter planes of the 1919-1939 period and the author makes the point that, as political iffy as Chamberlain's "peace in our time" appeasments in the Munich Crisis of 1938 were, Great Britain really benefitted from a two year grace period to continue its reararmament. The author shuddered to think what would have happened had Britain and France declared war in 1938.

So, what happens? Is Germany in 1938 strong enough to roll right over both France and, this time, Britain, too?

Governor Quinn
01-16-2004, 04:24 PM
Before I can continue, I must know: Who declares war on whom? Also, when, precisely, does the war start? Early in 1938, or late in that year?

Polycarp
01-16-2004, 06:43 PM
There are any number of ways this could go.

First, Chamberlain was firmly convinced of Hitler's good will; it took the seizure of Bohemia and Moravia after his guarantee of their integrity at Munich to convince him otherwise. So France would likely have been left without British support if they took a hard line. (I'm not prepared to speak of the probability of their actually doing so.)

However, the Ardennes modification of the Schlieffen Plan that led to the collapse of France in 1940 had not yet been proposed to Hitler in 1938. So presuming war broke out, you would have, initially, a World War I static front in place in the West -- until someone, presumably a German general, figured out how to make a breakthrough with tanks and/or the Luftwaffe. (There's a lot of detail in the histories about the integrated assault techniques of Germany vs. the French view which expected tanks and air to play extremely minor roles in combat, and had so structured their own armor and air as to ensure that they would not have significant roles.)

Against this, however, there's the argument that France and particularly Britain were nowhere near ready to fight in terms of materiel and troop effectiveness in 1938, and that, despite Germany ramping up at a higher rate, the year's respite is what saved them, because it meant they had time to get something ready to fight with. I don't have enough knowledge of circumstances and conditions to be able to talk effectively to this point.

Do not forget, too, that while Czechoslovakia was a relatively small country, it was armed to the teeth, had strong natural defenses, and an army of some 25 divisions to defend it with. So invasion of Czechoslovokia would not be a cakewalk, even for Nazi Germany -- especially with France on the other side making it a two-front war. And the Soviet Union was prepared to back Czechoslovakia to the extent they were willing to accept help from it -- for reasons obvious in hindsight, Benes and Mazaryk did not trust the USSR in the slightest.

But finally, the German General Staff was so opposed to going to war at the time of Munich, believing Germany was not yet ready, that they had a plan in place to overthrow Hitler & Co. -- but Chamberlain's negotiation of a peace prevented the necessity of doing so, and instead "proved" to them that Hitler was a genius, in that he'd taken a calculated risk and succeeded at it.

So you have three scenarios, and several supplemental variables to be dealt with:

1. France and Czechoslovakia go to war alone, with initially indecisive results. How this plays out depends on a multitude of factors -- can 25 Czech divisions fighting in fixed defenses hold off what Germany can afford to throw against them while combatting nearly as many French divisions as its entire army? How long will it take the Generalstab to realize the French weakness in use of armor and air, and capitalize on it? Will the French ever decide to gt a general who will go on the offensive, and what will the results be?

2. Will the comparative degree of preparedness be sufficient to cause Germany to overrun France quickly, like before the end of 1938?

3. Will the failure of negotiations and ensuing declarations of war provoke the Generalstab to launch their coup? Will it succeed? Will Germany erupt in civil war, Nazi loyalists vs. old-tradition Army loyalists? What will France and the Czechs do if this happens?

4. Given any of the above scenarios, what will Chamberlain's Britain and Roosevelt's America do in response? Remember that Churchill is still a pariah to most Brits at this point; the events that proved him right have not yet happened. And America is still largely isolationist, and the events that led many Americans to become interventionists have not yet happened.

5. What will Stalin do? Support the Czechs to the extent they'll take his help, certainly -- but they're not about to let his troops cross the country (and in any case, Poland and Romania block his access to Czechoslovakia). But in this upheaval, he may see his way clear to a power grab of the sort he actually pulled in 1940, with the Baltic States and Bessarabia (i.e., today's Moldova).

6. The Far East is not a major concern yet. Japan is still immured in China, and the events leading to a war leadership have not yet taken place. But what impact this will have on the E.T.O. is an interesting question.

Governor Quinn
01-16-2004, 08:34 PM
One item that Polycarp forgot...

Assuming that Germany invades Czechoslovakia, does Poland get involved? If they do, would a combination of Czechs and Poles in the east and French soldiers in the west be able to defeat Germany?

Bartman
01-16-2004, 09:04 PM
One item that Polycarp forgot...

Assuming that Germany invades Czechoslovakia, does Poland get involved? If they do, would a combination of Czechs and Poles in the east and French soldiers in the west be able to defeat Germany?

If Poland gets involved in an alternate timeline it would likely be on Germany's side. Poland had long standing border issues with Czechoslovakia. And the official Polish view was that Czechoslovakia was a "state doomed to fail." Historically when the Germans invaded, the Poles took advantage to resolve the border to their satisfaction. In fact this made Hitler quite happy as it help legitimize his actions to a limited degree.

Dissonance
01-16-2004, 09:12 PM
Something else to note is that Germany made extensive use of Czechoslovakian tanks from 1939-42, both those taken over from the Czechoslovakian army and additional ones produced at the Skoda factories. From here (http://www.achtungpanzer.com/pzcz.htm): PzKpfw 38(t)s were built under German supervision and they saw extensive service in Poland (3rd Leichte Division), Norway (XXXI Armee Korps), France (6th, 7th and 8th Panzer Division), Balkans (8th Panzer Division) and Russia (6th, 7th, 8th, 12th, 19th and 20th Panzer Division).The PzKpfw 35(t), which was the LT vz.35 that equipped the Czechoslovakian army in 1938, also served in the 1st Leichte Division in Poland and the 6th Panzer Division in France. In 1940-41, these two models provided ~20 to 25 percent of the German army’s tank strength, and the chassis served on much longer than that, primarily as the basis for the Marder III tank destroyer.

dropzone
01-16-2004, 11:37 PM
Before I can continue, I must know: Who declares war on whom?You tell me.Also, when, precisely, does the war start? Early in 1938, or late in that year?Let's say September 30th. Hitler has stormed out of the Four-Power Conference, closely followed by Mussolini. Take it from there.

Captain Amazing
01-17-2004, 01:05 AM
If the Munich conference fails, I don't see war happening. Hitler backs down. If he invades Czechoslovakia, he risks a two, or maybe three front war...France on the one hand, and the Soviets on the other. He also has to take the risk that Italy will come into the war. (It's not a major risk, and Italy doesn't have a large army...but Mussolini's unpredictable, and Italy's still upset about the Anschluss and worried about German claims to the South Tyrol).

Plus, he'll be diplomatically isolated. Poland and Hungary might consider joining in, but they're scared of the Soviets, and they know that if Stalin does go to war over Czechoslovakia, they're the first to fall.

Meanwhile, if France mobilizes and declares war, they're not going to go on the offensive...that wasn't French strategic doctrine at the time, and they and Germany are going to be under pressure by Britain and Italy to make peace.

Eolbo
01-17-2004, 01:54 AM
There are any number of ways this could go.

First, Chamberlain was firmly convinced of Hitler's good will; it took the seizure of Bohemia and Moravia after his guarantee of their integrity at Munich to convince him otherwise.

I have to dispute that. Chamberlain never saw the reprieve from war from Munich as anything more then a breathing space. He loathed and distrusted Hitler and in the words of one of his staff "made a face like a child being forced to swallow castor oil" whenever his name was mentioned. Rapidly intensified war preparations *preceded* the March occupation of Bohemia and Moravia. For example in February the Chamberlain government publicly committed Britain to support France militarily, initiated the first serious Anglo-French staff talks since WW1, begun organising the British Expeditionary Force, and drafted revised war plans. All of this preceded the March shock of the German occupation of Bohemia/Moravia.

While Germany grew militarily stronger between Munich and the outbreak of war, the relative growth of the military strength of France and especially Britain grew even more. Britain was far more prepared both politically and militarily for war in 1939 then in 1938. Air defences were extended and more modern fighters available which proved vital in 1940. Armaments programmes were accelerated so much so that in the critical months of 1940 British production of tanks and aircraft already *exceeded* that of Germany and given leadtimes this was thanks to the Chamberlain government not the later Churchill one.

Munich needs to be put in the context that the British Chiefs of Staff were advising Chamberlain to not fight now and that he attended the conference knowing that existing British rearmament plans meant that Britain would be in a much stronger position in 12 months time. Finally and this was of critical importance for a British Prime Minister all of the dominions except New Zealand were stating that they would not fight for Czechoslovakia in 1938 and the prospect of facing war without Canada, Australia, India and South Africa was a sobering one. The change of the political climate in 1939 removed this opposition as a major difficulty for Chamberlain.

An excellent book on this topic is "The Road to War" by Richard Overy.

Eolbo
01-17-2004, 02:26 AM
Something else to note is that Germany made extensive use of Czechoslovakian tanks from 1939-42, both those taken over from the Czechoslovakian army and additional ones produced at the Skoda factories. From here (http://www.achtungpanzer.com/pzcz.htm): The PzKpfw 35(t), which was the LT vz.35 that equipped the Czechoslovakian army in 1938, also served in the 1st Leichte Division in Poland and the 6th Panzer Division in France. In 1940-41, these two models provided ~20 to 25 percent of the German army’s tank strength, and the chassis served on much longer than that, primarily as the basis for the Marder III tank destroyer.

yep, and apart from quick makeshifts like the Marder the Germans liked that chassis so much they also developed the purpose built Hetzer on it, which served until the end of the war. From memory they built about twice as many Hetzers as Marders.