Almost a year ago, we talked about how Adolf Hitler took one of his first baby-steps towards bringing back Germany’s military greatness. In direct violation of the Versailles Treaty, he created an army, a navy, and an air force. He then waited for a response from Britain and France…a response that never came.
With the ringing in of the New Year, Hitler set his sights on his next conquest…the Rhineland. As you might guess, the Rhineland is that area on either side of the Rhine River, which flows through Germany. After WWI, the Versailles Treaty stipulated that it be completely demilitarized, at least for the Germans. The French and British were supposed to guard it until 1935, at which point they would also depart, leaving the area a permanent DMZ. The French and British had actually left early (in 1930), and for five years all was quiet.
But Hitler had gotten away with building a military, and now it was time to test the next boundary. Against the better judgment of his military leaders, he decided that next “step” would be to use his forces in some kind of aggressive behavior.
And so, as the sun rose on March 7, 1936, three battalions of soldiers from the army he wasn’t supposed to have (and some airplanes from the air force he wasn’t supposed to have, either) entered the Rhineland, drove to the Rhine River, and actually crossed it to the west side.
And then the French responded, massing troops on the border. The German military held its collective breath, as did the Chancellor. If the French moved in, there was no way three battalions would stand any chance at all. Furthermore, a retreat would be humiliating for the German leadership.
But the French did not move further…because of money. Military leaders presented their plan to remove the Germans, and its cost was more than France could afford with its very poor economy. It’s quite possible that the French also lacked the stomach for a confrontation with Germany, but they definitely lacked the funds.
So the Germans stayed, and another bluff, the first of several, went unchallenged. And Adolf Hitler looked like a genius yet again.
Recommended Reading: Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives