History of The Great Britain between the Wars!
When the World War I ended in November 1918, George V was the King of England and he continued to rule up to 1936.
He was succeeded by Edward VIII who ruled from January 1936 to December 1936.
Unfortunately, he was faced with a crisis when he tried to many one Mrs. Simpson, an American lady.
- Change in Government in Great Britain
- Great Britain and France
- Great Britain and Germany
- Great Britain and Soviet Russia
- Great Britain and Italy
- Great Britain and Turkey
- Great Britain and Disarmament
- Great Britain and League of Nations
1. Change in Government in Great Britain:
When the World War I ended in November 1918, George V was the King of England and he continued to rule up to 1936. He was succeeded by Edward VIII who ruled from January 1936 to December 1936. Unfortunately, he was faced with a crisis when he tried to many one Mrs. Simpson, an American lady.
The Ministry did not approve of the marriage and the Dominions also opposed it. As the King insisted on marrying the woman he loved, he abdicated on 10 December 1936. Edward VIII was succeeded by his brother George VI who continued to rule up to 1952. In spite of his handicaps, he was able to win the affection of the people.
When the war ended, Lloyd George was the Prime Minister of England and he continued to occupy that position up to 1922. Soon after the surrender of Germany, general elections were held and Lloyd George was able to win a victory and formed a Coalition Ministry. He resigned in 1922 because he lost the confidence of the people. The Bonar Law Ministry remained in power from 1922 to 1923.
It resigned on the tariff issue. Stanley Baldwin was the Prime Minister of England from 1923 to 1924. He tried to change the tariff system of the country with a view to tackle the problem of unemployment. Ramsay Macdonald formed the first Labour Ministry in 1924. As his party did not possess an absolute majority in the House of Commons, he was forced to resign after a few months.
After his fall, Baldwin formed his second Ministry in 1924 and he remained in power up to 1929 when he was defeated in the general elections, Ramsay Macdonald formed his second ministry in 1929 and he continued in office up to 1931. He resigned on account of the economic crisis which was facing not only England but the whole world.
After his resignation as the head of the Labour Ministry, he agreed to form a Nationalist Government. The new ministry consisted of Conservatives, Labourites and Liberals. Every effort was made to tackle the problem of economic depression. England went off the gold standard. The policy of free trade was given up. The Imperial Economic Conference was held at Ottawa in 1932. Efforts were made to tackle the problem of unemployment.
In 1931 was passed the Statute of Westminster which gave complete equality of status to all the Dominions. When elections were held in 1935, Ramsay Macdonald lost the confidence of the country and the Conservatives under Baldwin came to power. Baldwin played an important part in the abdication of Edward VIII.
In 1937, he was succeeded by Neville Chamberlain. The new ministry stood for peace and reconciliation. However, a policy of rearmament had to be followed on account of the threat from Hitler. Chamberlain remained in office up to June 1940, when he was succeeded by Winston Churchill who headed the Coalition Ministry during the World War II.
2. Great Britain and France:
As regards the foreign policy of Great Britain between the two Wars, although both Great Britain and France had fought together during World War I there arose differences between them after 1920. President Wilson on behalf of the United States and Lloyd George on behalf of Great Britain had agreed to guarantee the security of France against possible German aggression and thereby persuaded France to give up her claim to the Rhineland.
Unfortunately, the United States backed out as the American Senate refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles. The British Government felt that she alone was not in a position to give that guarantee and consequently, she also backed out of her commitment to France. It was natural for France to feel aggrieved and no wonder, the relations between the two countries got strained. Moreover, Great Britain and France held different attitudes towards Germany.
The view of Lloyd George was that a free and prosperous Germany was essential to civilization. Before the war, Germany was a good customer of British goods and Britain would like to restore Germany to normal conditions and thereby revive the old trade with her. There was also a realisation in the British circles that it was beyond the capacity of Germany to pay all the costs of the war.
On account of the French attitude, Lloyd George proposed to leave the question of reparations to a commission. His calculation was that the United States and Great Britain would have the controlling influence in that commission and would be able to fix a reasonable amount as reparation which was within the capacity of Germany to pay.
As the United States did not approve of the Treaty of Versailles and hence did not take part in the proceedings of the Reparation Commission, France was able to fix a figure which was beyond the capacity of Germany to pay. The Treaty of Versailles put in the hands of France the power to postpone war or even to prevent German recovery by insisting that reparation defaults which were inevitable should be punished by infliction of penalties.
When the French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr Valley in 1923, Great Britain did not approve of that action. As a result of the Locarno Treaties of 1925, Great Britain guaranteed the Franco-German and Belgo-German frontier. Great Britain agreed to become a party to the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 on the condition that she was allowed to reserve to herself the liberty of action in certain regions of the world, “the welfare and integrity which constitute a special and vital interest for her peace and safety.”
The peace of Locarno was broken by the British Government in 1929. That was partly due to the fact that public opinion in Britain was becoming restive over the subordination of Great Britain to France. The Englishmen did not like the prestige enjoyed by France in the League of Nations. They were not prepared to play the part of “Shining second” to France. The only part they were willing to play was one of an impartial arbiter between France and Germany.
The demand of the British Government was that she should henceforth occupy the centre of the “teeter” and not always sit on the French end. Lord Snowden, Chancellor of the Exchequer, attacked the French Government in 1929 at the Hague and thereby the truce of Locarno came to an end. In the Naval Conference of 1930 held in London, France blocked the way to any Five-Power Treaty whatsoever and even made a Three-Power Agreement conditional. France also attacked the Labour Government for having broken the truce of Locarno.
In spite of the growing menace from Germany under Hitler, the old policy of isolation was continued by Great Britain. It is true that Great Britain joined France and Italy at the Stresa Conference in April 1935 to denounce the Nazi rearmament and the implied threat to peace in Europe, but two months after. Sir John Simon went to Berlin and entered into the Anglo-German Naval Agreement by which Germany agreed to limit the size of her Navy to thirty-five per cent of the strength of the British Navy.
By this agreement, Hitler was able to remove the suspicions of Great Britain and thereby win her over to his own side. This agreement was against the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles which required Germany to maintain a much smaller Naval force than that allowed by the agreement. No doubt, the agreement was considered to be a master-stroke of Hitler’s diplomacy.
In spite of the differences between Britain and France on different issues, both Chamberlain and Daladier acted together in September 1938 on the occasion of the Munich crisis. Both the countries gave a joint undertaking to Poland, Greece and Rumania. France began to lean more and more on Britain and both the countries declared war against Germany on the question of Danzig.
3. Great Britain and Germany:
As regards the British attitude towards Germany after World War I, it was one of sympathy. It was felt that unless the new regime in Germany was given a fair trial, there was every possibility of a violent reaction in that country. Great Britain tried to bring Germany into the League of Nations and the same was actually done in 1926. Great Britain did not make any secret of her disapproval of the French occupation of the Ruhr Valley and this attitude continued up to the rise of Hitler in 1933.
To begin with, the attitude of the British Government towards Hitler was not one of hostility. Great Britain regarded the dictatorship as an insurance against Communism. Hitler represented himself an open enemy of Communism and it was felt that it was more in the interest of Britain to enter into friendly relations with Germany than with the Soviet Union. That partly explains the agreement of 1935 between Britain and Germany.
A policy of Anglo-German collaboration or appeasement was advocated by many prominent men in Britain. The view of L.S. Amery was that Germany’s armaments were her own affair and it was no business of others to interfere with them.
The time had come for a revision of the Covenant of the League of Nations. Similar views were expressed by the Marquess of Londonderry. He wanted the British Government to make common cause with Germany against the Soviet Union.
When Hitler scrapped in March 1936 the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles and ordered the occupation of the Rhineland by German troops, Great Britain kept quiet although it was a clear violation of the Locarno pact. In the same year, the civil war started in Spain.
General Franco and his followers were helped by Hitler and Mussolini, but Great Britain and France followed a policy of neutrality and the result was that Franco was successful. When Hitler annexed Austria in 1938, Britain did nothing. It is ironically stated that both Britain and France, like sincere widows, moaned and shouted, but otherwise did nothing.
A very difficult situation was created in Czechoslovakia where the Sudeten Germans formed an important minority. Every effort to reconcile them had failed. After the rise of Hitler in 1933, the Sudeten Germans began to look up to Germany for their absorption into that country. They were encouraged to stage demonstrations and demand the right to join Germany. On 12 September 1938, Hitler demanded the right of self-determination for the Sudeten Germans.
He declared that if the latter could not defend themselves, they would be helped by Germany. Allegation of torture and repression were leveled against the Government of Czechoslovakia. The Soviet Union proposed a conference with Great Britain, France and the United States and expressed her willingness to take part in any collective action that might be taken to defend Czechoslovakia against Germany.
However, the proposal was not accepted. The British Government asked the Government of Czechoslovakia to accept an Adviser and Lord Runciman was sent as an Adviser and accepted by the Government of Czechoslovakia. A plan was prepared which guaranteed practically everything to Sudeten Germans except their incorporation into Germany. The offer was rejected. Great Britain and France found themselves in a very difficult position.
If they supported Czechoslovakia, there was the certainty of a war in which everyone was likely to be involved. If they did not support her, she could not be expected to resist German pressure single-handed. In this war of nerves, Hitler won. Chamberlain decided to prevent war by following a policy of appeasement.
He met Hitler on 15 September 1938 and was frankly told that nothing could stop the war unless the Sudeten Germans were given the right of self-determination. He came back and conferred with the French Government. It was agreed that the only way to stop the war was to give the Sudeten Germans the right of self-determination. On 19 September 1938, Great Britain and France asked Czechoslovakia to agree to the immediate transfer to Germany of the areas inhabited by a population of more than 50 per cent Germans.
The Government of Czechoslovakia agreed to the proposal under pressure. At this moment, Hitler increased his demands which were considered unreasonable by Chamberlain and he refused to do more than merely refer them to the Government of Czechoslovakia. It was decided that if Germany immediately attacked Czechoslovakia, the latter would be supported by Great Britain and France. War preparations were ordered. British Navy was alerted. It was declared that the Soviet Union and Great Britain would stand by France if the latter helped Czechoslovakia against Germany.
On 27 September 1938, Chamberlain declared, “We cannot in all circumstances undertake to involve the whole British Empire in war simply on her (Czechoslovakia) account.” On 28 September 1938, Chamberlain told Hitler that he could have the essentials without war. On 29 September 1938, Chamberlain, Daladier and Mussolini went to Munich to meet Hitler. After prolonged discussions, the Munich Pact was signed on the night of 29-30 September 1938. Although Chamberlain declared that he had brought peace with honour, his boast was an empty one. It was a defeat of British diplomacy.
Many reasons have been given in support of the policy of appeasement followed by Chamberlain. He was deceived to believe in the assurances of Hitler that he had no further ambition beyond Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain could have learnt from the experience of the past and should not have relied upon the word of Hitler. He ought to have known that Hitler did not mean what he said. Chamberlain also knew that his country was not ready for war and he wanted time.
It is possible that if Britain had been involved in war in September 1938, she might have met with disaster. The Germans had been making preparations for war since 1933. The seriousness of the situation had not been appreciated in Britain and nothing had been done to meet the danger. Probably it was wisdom to delay and thereby have some breathing time for making the necessary preparations before going to war.
There was also a longing for peace both in Britain and France and hence September 1938 was not the opportune time to start the war. It is true that there was the possibility of the Soviet Union joining the war in September 1938 on the side of Britain and France, but the British Government did not trust the Soviet Union.
They were more afraid of the danger from Communism than from Hitler and no wonder Chamberlain preferred to come to terms with Hitler than accept the offer of Soviet help and cooperation.
When the rest of Czechoslovakia was annexed in March 1939, Chamberlain was shocked. He was not prepared for such an action by Hitler, particularly because the new area annexed contained people of non-German race.
There was a joint Anglo-French protest against Germany. Both the countries recalled their ambassadors from Berlin. The policy of Great Britain and France underwent a radical change. Instead of trying to appease Hitler, it was decided to resist him in the future.
On 31 March 1939, both Great Britain and France pledged themselves to help Poland in every possible manner. Similar guarantees were given to Greece and Rumania. Prime Minister Chamberlain indicated his intention to extend the guarantee of independence to Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland. On 26 April 1939, the British Government announced its decision to enforce conscription in the country.
On 12 May 1939, Great Britain gave a guarantee to Turkey. The guarantee given to Poland was transformed into a reciprocal treaty of mutual assistance between the United Kingdom and Poland and it came into force on 25 August 1939. On 22 August 1939, Chamberlain wrote to Hitler making it clear that Great Britain would stand by her commitments. Hitler sent a reply to the very next day in which he declared his determination to fight for the honour of his country.
On 23 August 1939, Germany entered into a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union. This was considered to be a failure of British policy. It is contended that Chamberlain did not realise the importance of entering into an alliance with the Soviet Union, which alone could help him to fight against Germany.
It is true that anti-Soviet attitudes of Poland and Rumania was also responsible for Chamberlain’s failure to come to a definite understanding with the Soviet Union, but Chamberlain’s personal responsibility for that failure cannot be denied.
He ought to have given all the concessions demanded by the Soviet Union in view of the dangers facing the world. Unfortunately, he could not give up his prejudice against the Soviet Union. To the end, he continued to hope that he would be able to come to an understanding with Germany instead of the Soviet Union. As a matter of fact, even during the negotiations between Britain and the Soviet Union, Chamberlain tried to return to his appeasement policy by offering to Germany a political partnership.
4. Great Britain and Soviet Russia:
As regards the relations of Great Britain with Soviet Russia, the two countries had entered the World War I as Allies and fought together. However, things changed after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. In 1919-20, the British forces fought in North Russia.
British forces were despatched to help the state of Estonia against Russian attacks. As the danger of invasion of Poland by Russia became imminent, Lloyd George declared that Great Britain would protect Poland with all the means at her disposal.
However, when Russia attacked Poland, Great Britain did nothing to defend her. Lloyd George entered into a trade agreement with Russia in 1921 on the express understanding that Russia would stop all propaganda against Britain.
However, the Soviet Union did not keep her word. The policy of the Third International was inimical to British interests. In 1924, de jure, recognition was given to Soviet Russia by Great Britain. In spite of that, there was a lot of resentment in England against Russia in 1926.
That was due to the fact that the Soviet Union gave encouragement to the general strike in England. Soviet intervention in the internal affairs of Britain was resented. When the Labour Party came to power in 1929, Great Britain entered into a commercial treaty with Soviet Russia and granted diplomatic status to the Soviet trade allegation. The Soviet Union joined the League of Nations. However, Stalin detested the attitude of the British Government on the question of Czechoslovakia.
After the annexation of the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, the Soviet Union was drawn more and more to the side of Great Britain and France. All the three countries joined in the denunciation of the German annexation of Czechoslovakia. The same was the case when Germany made territorial demands on Poland and also assumed a hostile attitude towards Rumania.
There was the urgent necessity of an immediate agreement between Great Britain and France on the one hand and the Soviet Union on the other for collective action against Germany and negotiations were started for that purpose. However, it was found that there were certain difficulties in the way which it might not be possible to overcome. The view of the Governments of Great Britain and France differed fundamentally from those of the Soviet Union.
Britain and France proposed a Three-Power declaration in which the signatories were to announce their readiness to help one another if one or more of them were compelled to fight against Germany as a result of German attack on Poland or Rumania. The Soviet Union stood for a binding alliance whereby the three Powers were to guarantee the integrity not only of Poland and Rumania but also of all other States on the Western border of Russia from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea.
The Soviet Union demanded a commitment on the part of each power to help the other if they went on war with Germany and also a specific outline of the nature of the Military assistance to be given in the event of such a war. The British Government was not prepared to accept such a proposal and the French Government followed the lead of the British Government. Neither Britain nor France was prepared to commit herself to war in defence of Finland, Estonia and Latvia.
This was not to the liking of the Soviet Union. Molotov, the new Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union, declared that Moscow would not make any pact on the basis of reciprocity and equality. The result was that negotiations dragged on without any result. Both Great Britain and France did not send any important person to negotiate with the Soviet Union and this was not liked by the Soviet Union.
While the Soviet Union was carrying on negotiations with Britain and France, she was at the same time carrying on negotiations with Germany. As the negotiations with Britain and France were dragging on, the Soviet Union entered into a non-aggression pact with Germany on 23 August, 1939. There was a lot of criticism of the British Government with regard to the negotiations with the Soviet Union.
To quote Lloyd George, “Negotiations have been going on for four months with Russia and no one knows how things stand today….you are dealing with the greatest military power in the world; you are asking them to come to your help; you are not negotiating terms with an enemy, but with a friendly power whose aid you want. Mr. Chamberlain negotiated directly with Hitler; he went to Berlin to see him; he and Lord Halifax made visits to Rome, but whom they have sent to Russia? They have not sent even the lowest in rank of a Cabinet Minister. They have sent a clerk in the Foreign Office. It is an insult. Yet the Government want the help of their gigantic army and air force.”
For full two years, the relations between Britain and the Soviet Union remained cold. However, things changed after the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941. Then it was that the two countries became partners in a common war against Germany and the friendly relations continued between the two countries during the World War II.
5. Great Britain and Italy:
As regards the relations of England with Italy, those were cordial to begin with. Both England and Italy became the guarantors of the provisions of the Locarno Pact of 1925. In April 1935, Italy and Great Britain met at the Stresa Conference to denounce the German re-armament. However, Mussolini resented the British condemnation of his country on the question of Abyssmia and that drove him into the arms of Hitler.
Although many efforts were made by Britain to win over Italy, there was no success. Certain agreements were made between the two countries in January 1937 and April 1938, but there was no material change in the relations between the two countries. The mission of Chamberlain and Lord Halifax to Rome in January 1939 was a failure.
6. Great Britain and Turkey:
As regards relations of Great Britain with Turkey, the Sultan of Turkey did not ratify the Treaty of Sevres and the Allies allowed him to keep Constantinople to himself. Both France and Great Britain authorised Greece to take possession of Thrace, the town of Smyrna and the adjoining country of Ionia.
The Turks revolted under Kemal Pasha. There was every possibility of a war between Greece and Turkey, but as a result of the restraint shown by Kemal Pasha and the British Government, and armistice was signed in 1922.
The Independence of Egypt was recognised. Great Britain and Turkey agreed to settle the frontiers of Iraq mutually. In May 1939, an announcement was made of the official acceptance of the treaty of guarantee between Britain and Turkey by which the Government of Ankara promised that the Dardanelles would at all times be open to the British fleet for entrance into the Black Sea for the defence of Rumania in return for the British promise of the naval defence of Turkey and particularly against Italian aggression in the Eastern Mediterranean.
7. Great Britain and Disarmament:
Between 1919 and 1939, Great Britain sincerely followed a policy of disarmament. She not only summoned, but also participated in the deliberations of the Disarmament Conference. She took an active part in making it a success. However, she failed on account of the militarism in Germany and Italy and the non-committal attitude of France and other countries. By the Kellog- Briand Pact of 1927, Great Britain agreed to outlaw war. She was also one of the signatories to the four-Power Pact of 1933. It was on account of the influence of Great Britain that the Allies evacuated the Rhineland in 1930 in advance of the stipulated period.
8. Great Britain and League of Nations:
Great Britain did not take an active part in the work of the League of Nations. That was partly due to the fact that after 1919, she disarmed herself and followed a policy of isolation from European blocs as far as possible. As the League of Nations was dominated by France and her satellites. Great Britain was not in a position to carry her point of view in the League and hence became indifferent.
When Manchuria was occupied by Japan in 1931, Great Britain did nothing to stop the Japanese aggression. The British view was that Japan had a right to Manchuria. Moreover, she was not prepared to fight for the sake of others. The same was the attitude of Britain on the question of the conquest of Abyssinia by Mussolini. It is true that the British Government was prepared to run the risk of enforcing sanctions against Italy, but as there was no cooperation from others, she could do practically nothing.