Why did the Allies allow Germany to re-arm after WWI?

I know some attempt was made to prevent Germany from being able to wage offensive war at Versailles but all that seems to have gone by the wayside over the next decade or so and by the mid 30s the Germans once again had a massive army and were as aggressive as ever. So who dropped the ball here? Why on earth did the Americans, British and French just stand by and allow German militarism to flourish after Hitler’s election? Were there no calls for intervention to ensure Germany stood by the terms of the treaty of Versailles? Looking back WWII seems totally preventable and it’s hard to understand why more steps weren’t taken to hamstring German power before it was too late.

First of all, there was a Depression going on, and no-one was willing to spend the money.

Second, and more importantly, they really, really didn’t want to fight another war.

I’d agree that Hitler was preventable as far as the raising of an army and such was preventable.


There was little political will to do so. There was this whole depression thing on and the leadership of the countries that could have called a halt - by militarily intervening - lacked both the personal strength and the political strength to do so.

Understand, in Europe WWI was seen as hugely tragic. Unless something was clearly a danger to France and England, their public wasn’t up for another war. A preventive one just wasn’t on the table. It was happening there. In Czechoslovakia. Or Poland. Or Norway or something. But it wasn’t happening to them. It wasn’t another generation of young English and French boys lying dead so who gives a damn.

By the time the political will was there Nazi Germany had it’s war machine ready to go. In hindsight, not so ready as to beat the major powers, but it was ready.

Well, first off, there were a ton of restrictions placed on Germany. They weren’t allowed to develop tanks for instance. And they didn’t…openly. Instead, they had a secret agreement with the Soviets to develop the things jointly. I can’t say how much of the program was known to the Brits and French (recall, the US was pretty isolationist post-WWI)…my WAG is that both had their own problems and issues and simply weren’t keeping up to date with what the Germans were doing secretly in the early 30’s. By the time they were I think it was a matter of calling the Germans on it and risking war or just letting it go…and they just let it go. The whole purpose of the Versailles treaty WAS to hamstring the Germans, and I think it initially accomplished that…probably even beyond initially. It forced the Germans to develop a lot in secret, and it also prevented the Germans from really modernizing their military over all. Everyone always thinks of the Germans in WWII as this high tech and highly mechanized military, but the truth was that overall their military lagged behind in a lot of aspects, and the parts that shinned were those parts they developed in secret…and they did so BECAUSE they knew they couldn’t win traditionally. They didn’t have the mechanized logistics assets and really never did…they were essentially a horse drawn infantry army with tanks and dive bombers acting as the tip of the spear.

This isn’t really the correct timeline - Germany didn’t have a massive army and become aggressive until the late 30s. In 1933 the Nazis came to power, in 1935 rearmament had proceeded enough for Germany to remilitarize the Rhineland, but it wasn’t until the Anschluss in 1938 that they really had a massive army and engaged in external aggression, and even then then the army kept growing every year until 1941.

America simply had absolutely no interest in or ability to get involved in European power politics. It’s hard for people who have spent their entire life with the US military spread across the globe and continually engaged in world-wide wars-that-aren’t-declared-as-wars to realize how isolationist the US was before WW2, but at the time the US simply had no interest in European wars, and had almost no army or air force for foreign operations anyway (the US army was larger than Bulgaria’s but smaller than Portugal’s, and had significant garrison requirements in the Pacific).

Britain and France had suffered huge losses in WW1, were still saddled with debt, and were in the middle of a global economic depression. There was no desire to spend the money or manpower to fight anyone, and a sentiment that the terms of the treaty were too harsh, that it wasn’t really reasonable for Germany to not have an army at all. German rearmament was seen as something that they were either going to have to spend a lot of money to stop, or learn to accept, and there was no will among the voters or leadership to spend that kind of money. So in 1935 the small but over treaty sized German army was allowed to move back into German territory in the Rhineland, and to keep expanding its army to a normal size.

By 1938 when Germany started getting really aggressive in Austria and later Chzechoslovakia Britain was seriously worried about defending against air attack (which was believed to be much worse than it really was), and France was still very loath to engage in military operations. It wasn’t until it was clear that Germany was now going to keep engaging in aggression that there was any will to fight, and even then France and the UK were loath and ill-equipped to do so.

With, IMO, one of the most important pieces of that growth being the capture of the Sudetenland later in 1938. German mechanized forces were limited prior to capture and integration of Czech armor. In German service, the renamed Panzer 35(t) and 38(t) were critical for the defeat of France. IIRC they were the majority of German armor. Big chunks of the German produced armor were ineffective against all but the least protected French and British light armor making the importance greater. The Panzer I was only equipped with two machine guns in the turret. The Panzer II only had a 20mm gun with questionable effectiveness against much of the opposing armor. The Panzer IV of the period had a short, low velocity, 75mm gun designed to provide close fire support not defeat armor. Only the Panzer III and Czech tanks had a main gun with reasonable effectiveness against most of the opposing tanks. Only 349 Panzer IIIs were available for the invasion of France out of close to 2.5k German tanks.

The October 1938 occupation of the Sudetenland was a key piece in German rearmament. Without it, Germany doesn’t have the equipment for the mechanized pieces of their campaign against France. That means there’s a pretty big overlap between the question in the thread title and “Why did the Allies allow Germany to occupy the Sudetenland?”

Here’s another question: why are the USA, western Europe, and other democratic countries today not doing much to contain rising aggression from China and Russia?

I bet the answer is pretty similar.

Well, no…it’s a completely different answer because we ARE doing quite a bit to contain both China and Russia. A lot more than the major European powers did to contain Germany. The US is pretty regularly doing it’s ‘Freedom of Navigation’ thingy in pretty much all of the disputed waterways. Most recently we did one in the passage between China and Taiwan in fact which riled up the Chinese quite a bit. We have also scheduled a major exercise in the South China Sea region with several regional allies next year, IIRC. Russia has been contained pretty well in it’s Ukraine expansion as well as it’s attempt to intimidate the Baltic States by NATO, especially the US which moved troops into Poland and has conducted several exercises in the region. Even when Russia drew a line in the same (sort of) in Syria and told the US et al not to retaliate against Assad we pretty much ignored them and sent in a wave of Tomahawks to make a point…which the Russians failed to respond to, even though they SAID they would shoot them down.

So, it’s not really any sort of analogy between the interwar years European powers stance wrt Germany and today wrt the US/allies stance and China/Russia.

Very interesting.

Why did the national government not withdraw the tanks prior to the occupation? Was the threat of German occupation not appreciated; or perhaps government tanks in the Sudetenland were obliged to remain there for some reason? I suppose they might have been worried that Germany would take over the entire country if that’s what it was going to take to get the tanks.

None of the above?

There’s a big chunk I can’t answer between the Sudetenland in Oct 1938 and the German attack to finish the job in March 1939. Czechoslavakia’s industrial base was heavily in the Sudetenland to include the factories. I assume there was at least some stock complete or near complete, there. The Germans then restarted the factory for the 38(t) and later assault guns based on the hull. Other factories supplied quite a bit of support for the German military buildup and war effort as well. Conquest fueled conquest.

How many the Germans picked up in 38 vs early 39 I don’t know, though.

Think of it kind of like how, after the disastrous war in Iraq in 2003-2017, America now has no stomach to launch an attack to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, even though Pyongyang’s WMD threat is far more credible than Saddam’s ever was.

North Korea’s nuclear program is a little too credible at this point. The time to attack North Korea, if that was ever appropriate, was years ago.

IIRC, in England there was considerable sympathy for Germany, that it was being punished quite enough and should be allowed to resume its natural position as a European power. After all, the Germans of the 1910’s were nothing like the evil monsters that Hitler led in the 1930’s.

But Hitler made his evil nature known and it would have been relatively easy to stop him early on. Hitler’s militarizing of the Rhineland, in violation of Treaty, in March 1936 was a critical point. Here are some British documents from that time:

If I’m reading these correctly, France and Belgium wanted to act against Germany, but the British government did not go along.

It’s my impression that France had more than enough military power on its own to repel the advance into the Rhineland (which might have been enough to topple Hitler), but lacked the will to mount the effort.

Largely because no one really cared about Hitler; at this point he was considered less of a threat to Europe than Stalin, and no worse than a lot of other autocratic rulers. “Topple Hitler” sounds like a great goal to us because we know that he’s going to go on to create the Holocaust, but that didn’t happen yet. You’re looking at ‘stop Hitler’ as a win, and figuring all of the work is done at that point, but that wasn’t the case - what happens **after **France intervenes to repel the advance into the Rhineland and Hitler gets neatly deposed? That doesn’t magically make Germany happy, or willing to keep paying reparations, and doesn’t stop Germany from wanting to rearm and remilitarize. Yeah, Hitler would probably be deposed, and Germany would back down for a few years, but is France going to want to pay to do this again every few years indefinitely?

And like someone else pointed out, look how loath Western Europe, which isn’t in a massive depression now, is to spend money on the military even though Russia is aggressively challenging NATO. It’s a really similar mindset at work.

I came in to say something similar. Britain and France diverged on how best to contain Germany; Britain generally taking a significantly softer approach than France. The collective determination to keep Germany at heel fell apart.

It is perhaps easy to not realize how trauamtized Europe was by World War I. It was not “tragic,” it was catastrophic, and the appetite for a rematch was nonexistent in England and France. Today we think of World War I as the earlier dress rehearsal for World War II. At the time it was simply the Great War, a war that was just incomprehensibly destructive. It wasn’t just that it killed an inconceivable number of people; it shattered whole empires, crumbled countries, gave rise to new, dark forces of authoritarianism, caused people to doubt the very direction of Western civilization.

Imagine if there was a limited nuclear war this week and 500 million people died. Russia effectively ceased to be, China conquered Japan, the U.S. split into two countries and there is no one left alive in Germany. You survive, but life is much worse than it used to be. In fifteen years, how easy will it be to sell you on another war?

You need to remember World War I ended with an Armistice, which is “an agreement made by opposing sides in a war to stop fighting”

The U.S. was not willing to do this in World War II–because of what happened after World War I, instead it insisted on an unconditional surrender.

I read a book written in 1933 about the (then) current condition in Europe. Hitler was described as a bit crazy but mostly harmless Was that a common opinion in '33?

They were, and as your documents indicate, also Italy. Surprisingly enough given what happened in the end, Mussolini was very wary of German rearmament and expansionism. In particular, he was absolutely opposed to the Anchluss of Austria and tried to prevent it. It’s only after those efforts failed, and after it became clear that nothing and nobody would stop Hitler that he “switched sides” for good.