How well prepared modern Italy is for war

The second World War

Dr. Thomas Vogel

Lieutenant Colonel Dr. Thomas Vogel, born in 1959, is project division manager at the Center for Military History and Social Sciences of the Bundeswehr (ZMSBw), formerly the Military History Research Office (MGFA), in Potsdam. He has long been interested in the military opposition in the 'Third Reich' and the resistance of soldiers against National Socialism. For several years he has been dealing more intensively with various aspects of warfare in the age of the world wars, most recently with coalition warfare in particular. He has, inter alia. published: "Uprising of conscience. Military resistance against Hitler and the Nazi regime, 5th edition, Hamburg et al. 2000 (publisher and author); Wilm Hosenfeld:" I try to save everyone. "The life of a German officer in letters und Tagebüücher, Munich 2004 (ed. and author); Tobruk 1941: Rommel's Failure and Hitler's Success on the Strategic Sidelines of the 'Third Reich', in: Tobruk in the Second World War. Struggle and Remembrance, ed. v. G. Jasiński and J. Zuziak, Warsaw 2012, pp. 143-160; "A fruit knife for chopping wood." The battle for Stalingrad and the failure of the German allies on Don and Volga 1942/43, in: Stalingrad. An exhibition of the Military History Museum of Bundeswehr, edited by G. Piecken, M. Rogg, J. Wehner, Dresden 2012, pp. 128-141; A War Coalition Fails in Coalition Warfare: The Axis Powers and Operation Herkules in the Spring of 1942, in: Coalition Warfare: An Anthology of Scholarly Presentations at the Conference on Coalition Warfare at the Royal Danish Defense College, 2011, ed. v. N. B. Poulsen, K. H. Galster, S. Nørby, Newcastle upon Tyne 2013, pp. 160-176; The First World War 1914-1918. The German deployment into a warlike century, Munich 2014 (co-publisher and author).

After Hitler had "brought public and private life into line", he began to prepare the military, business and society for the coming war. Successive violations of the Versailles Treaty followed. With the "smashing of the rest of the Czech Republic" at the latest, France and Great Britain had to realize that their policy of appeasement had failed.

Hitler allows the demilitarized Rhineland to be occupied: Wehrmacht troops march into Cologne on March 7, 1936. (& copy Federal Archives)

On January 30, 1933, Hitler and the National Socialists took power in Germany. The open and brutal persecution of dissidents secured their rule within a few months. Soon they had "synchronized" public and private life in their sense.
Adolf Hitler's speech of February 3, 1933, copy of the communist intelligence service. (& copy BArch, RY 5 / I 6/10/88.)
In terms of foreign policy, Hitler pursued no less radical intentions. He had long admitted that he wanted to violently shake off the burdens and restrictions imposed on Germany by the Versailles Peace Treaty in 1919. Germany's military weakness initially forced the new Chancellor to be cautious. On February 3, 1933, only the military leadership learned of its much more ambitious goal: the conquest of "living space for the German people in the east". The generals didn't take him very seriously, but were happy to hear that he wanted to build on and upgrade the military. So the regime and the military came together at an early stage; the course was set in the direction of war.

Allegiance and war course in the state apparatus and economy

In the period that followed, the military did all it could to achieve the rearmament goals of Hitler, who of course expected more: unconditional allegiance. However, the Reichswehr and the conservative officer corps still formed a relatively independent and self-confident power factor in the state. With tactical skill and, if necessary, ruthlessly, Hitler used every opportunity to make the military submissive. The "Röhm Affair" in the summer of 1934 initially contributed to this. At that time, Hitler had the SA leadership murdered, for which the military owed him gratitude. Undisputed, it was now "the nation's sole weapon bearer". Reichswehr Minister Werner von Blomberg soon showed his appreciation. Immediately after the death of Reich President Paul von Hindenburg on August 2, 1934, he had the soldiers sworn in on Hitler as the new head of state. The new formula of the oath obliged them to "unconditional obedience".

The military leadership during the party rally of the NSDAP in September 1936 in Nuremberg. From left to right: Field Marshal General von Blomberg (Reich Minister of War), Colonel General Freiherr von Fritsch (Commander in Chief of the Army), Admiral Raeder (Commander in Chief of the Navy). (& copy Federal Archives)
Regardless of Blomberg's proximity to the regime, Hitler undermined Blomberg's position from the start in order to gain more influence over the military himself. In doing so, he made use of the traditional independent position of the army and navy, which, despite all the rivalry, were unanimous in their aversion to a strong ministry dominating armaments issues. Above all, the Luftwaffe, newly founded in 1935 under Hermann Göring, played into Hitler's hands by refusing to accept Blomberg. Still loyal, Blomberg and the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Werner Freiherr von Fritsch, dared cautious criticism of Hitler's specific war plans on November 7, 1937. When Blomberg stumbled upon his scandalous marriage the following January, Hitler dropped him. A little later, Fritsch fell victim to an intrigue by the Gestapo and was also released.

Hitler did not intentionally bring about the Blomberg-Fritsch affair, but he knew how to take advantage of it. Above all, he could now rearrange the military leadership in his mind. He took over the function of Minister of War himself, and thus also the direct supreme command of the Wehrmacht. He set up the Wehrmacht High Command (OKW) as his personal military staff. Its boss Wilhelm Keitel also received ministerial rank, but no central management competence. The commander-in-chief of the Wehrmacht of equal rank still had direct access to Hitler and received their instructions from him through the OKW.

The favorable time prompted Hitler to undertake a major "land consolidation". In order to "rejuvenate" the military leadership, twelve high-ranking generals were dismissed and another 50 senior officers were transferred. Some were seen by those in power as reactionary and politically unreliable. In addition, Hitler took on the Foreign Ministry, whose conservative diplomats he had always distrusted. Foreign Minister Konstantin Freiherr von Neurath, who had served Hitler loyally but ultimately refused to support the risky course of war, was replaced on February 4, 1938 by the "staunch" National Socialist Joachim von Ribbentrop.

Economic policy also had to serve Hitler's war policy. Economics minister Hjalmar Schacht, who has also been the "General Plenipotentiary for the War Economy" since 1935, converted the German economy for war purposes already in peacetime. The "military economy" system was supposed to subordinate all economic life to the goals of armament and the pursuit of economic self-sufficiency. Nevertheless, the regime did not go over to the state-planned economy, but limited itself to stronger regulation of the market economy, which earned it the sympathy of the entrepreneurs. Big industry in particular enjoyed profitable arms deals with the state. The Nazi economic policy initially brought workers disadvantages. The right to strike and freedom of movement were lost, wages and working conditions were dictated. But in the end they also benefited from the economic upswing as a result of armament. Unemployment, which was still high in 1933, fell drastically, of course also because of the introduction of general conscription and compulsory labor service. New social security and a modest increase in prosperity and consumption reconciled even social democratic workers with the Nazi regime.

Maps and graphics: "The way to war"


Minister Schacht resigned at the end of 1937. The policy of rearmament at any cost had almost inevitably brought a financial expert like him into conflict with Hitler. He had already been disempowered a year earlier when Hitler gave his close follower Hermann Göring far-reaching powers. The non-specialist was now supposed to make the Wehrmacht and the economy recklessly operational or ready for war as "authorized representative for the four-year plan" until 1940. With brutal methods Göring pushed the armament and self-sufficiency further, but clearly missed the ambitious goals. Worn out by armaments efforts, the German economy could only save itself from collapse and the state from bankruptcy in the war that Hitler began prematurely in 1939. As intended by him, the exploitation of the occupied territories soon made a major contribution to covering the armaments requirement, to supplying the German population and to the repayment of state debts.

Foreign policy and preparation for war

Secret additional protocol of the German-Soviet non-aggression treaty, signed by German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and his Soviet colleague Vyacheslav M. Molotov on August 23, 1939. (& copy Political Archive of the Foreign Office)
Foreign policy obstacles that stood in the way of his rearmament policy were first removed by diplomatic means. In 1933 Germany left the international conference on disarmament and also left the League of Nations. Hitler accepted the fact that it isolated itself in terms of foreign policy, especially since he achieved a great success in early 1934: By concluding a non-aggression treaty with Poland, he thwarted French alliance plans and averted the danger of a two-front war for Germany. It also made his rhetoric of reconciliation and peace appear more credible. In fact, Hitler only signed the treaty out of tactical considerations and was ready from the start to break it later.

An early attempt to incorporate Austria into the German Reich, however, failed. In July, a coup d'état by the Austrian National Socialists, supported by Hitler, failed and almost led to a military confrontation with fascist Italy. Six months later, when the Saarland decided in a referendum to reintegrate into the German Reich, Hitler triumphed again. He felt strong enough now to take a greater risk. On March 16, 1935, he announced the "establishment of the Wehrmacht" and the reintroduction of general conscription. This open breach of the Versailles Treaty challenged the victorious powers of World War I, but they were not prepared to take decisive action. A little later, Germany even achieved British concessions in a naval agreement. Encouraged by this, Hitler continued to destroy the Versailles peace order in March 1936. He terminated the Locarno Treaty and had the demilitarized Rhineland occupied by German troops - against the concerns of his own military leadership. France and Great Britain, whose military superiority Hitler still had to fear at the time, protested only weakly.

Source text

The "Hoßbach Protocol" of November 5, 1937

"Present: The Führer and Reich Chancellor, the Reich Minister of War, Field Marshal von Blomberg, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Colonel-General Freiherr von Fritsch,

the Commander in Chief of the Navy Admiral General Dr. H. c. Bikes,

the Commander in Chief of the Air Force Colonel General Göring, the Reich Minister of Foreign Baron von Neurath, Colonel Hoßbach

In the introduction, the Fuhrer stated that the subject of today's discussion was of such importance that its discussion in other countries should be before the forum of the government cabinet, but he - the Fuhrer - would refrain from considering the significance of the matter to make it the subject of discussion in the large circle of the Reich Cabinet. His subsequent remarks are the result of in-depth considerations and the experience of his four and a half years in office; He wanted to explain to the gentlemen present his fundamental thoughts about the development possibilities and necessities of our foreign policy situation, and in the interests of a broad-based German policy, he would ask that his remarks be viewed as his will in the event of his death.

The Führer then stated:

The aim of German politics is to secure and maintain the mass of the people and to increase them. So it is the problem of space.

The German masses of people dispose of over 85 million people, who, according to the number of people and the closed nature of the settlement area in Europe, represent a racial core that is so tightly closed in itself as it cannot be found in any other country and, on the other hand, has the right to larger living space than with other peoples. If no political result corresponding to the German racial core were available in the area of ​​the area, it would be a consequence of several centuries of historical development and, if this political situation persists, the greatest danger for the preservation of the German nationality at its current level. Stopping the decline of Germanness in Austria and Czechoslovakia is just as impossible as maintaining the current status in Germany itself. Instead of growth, sterilization sets in, as a result of which tensions of a social nature must set in after a number of years, because political and ideological Ideas exist only as long as they are able to provide the basis for realizing the real life demands of a people. The German future is therefore exclusively determined by the solution of the lack of space, such a solution can naturally only be sought for a foreseeable period of around 1-3 generations.

Before turning to the question of eliminating the lack of space, it should be considered whether a future-oriented solution to the German situation can be achieved by means of self-sufficiency or increased participation in the global economy.

Autarky: Implementation only possible with tight National Socialist governance, which is the prerequisite, as the result of the possibility of realization it can be determined:

A. In the field of raw materials only limited, but not total self-sufficiency.

1. As far as coal comes into consideration for the extraction of raw products, self-sufficiency is feasible.

2. Already in the field of ores the situation is much more difficult. Iron requirement = self-coverage possible and light metal, for other raw materials - copper, but not tin.

3. Fibers - self-covering, as far as there is enough wood. A permanent solution is not possible.

4. Dietary fats possible.

B. In the food sector, the question of self-sufficiency can be answered with a straight 'no'.

With the general increase in the standard of living compared to the times 30-40 years ago, an increase in demand and increased personal consumption, including by the producers, the farmers, went hand in hand. The proceeds of the increase in agricultural production had gone over to cover the increase in demand and therefore did not represent an absolute increase in production. A further increase in production under strain on the soil, which was already showing signs of fatigue as a result of artificial fertilization, was hardly possible and therefore certain, even at the highest Increase in production, participation in the world market cannot be avoided. The not inconsiderable use of foreign exchange to secure food through imports, even with good harvests, increases to catastrophic proportions in the event of poor harvests. The possibility of a catastrophe grows as the population increases, with the birth surplus of 560,000 annually also resulting in increased bread consumption, since the child is a stronger bread eater than the adult.

To meet the nutritional difficulties by lowering the standard of living and by rationalization in the long run is impossible in one continent with approximately the same standard of living. Since full consumer power came into effect with the solution of the unemployment problem, small corrections to our own agricultural production would probably still be possible, but not an actual change in the nutritional basis. This means that self-sufficiency is no longer necessary in the area of ​​nutrition as well as in totality.

Participation in the world economy: you have drawn limits that we cannot remedy. The economic fluctuations stand in the way of a secure foundation of the German situation, the trade agreements offer no guarantee for the practical implementation. In particular, it should be borne in mind that since the World War there has been an industrialization of earlier food exporting countries. We lived in the age of economic empires, in which the drive to colonization was approaching its original state again; in Japan and Italy, the urge to expand would be based on economic motives, just as in Germany economic hardship would be the driving force. For countries outside the big economic empires, the possibility of economic expansion is particularly difficult.

The boost in the world economy caused by the arms boom could never form the basis for an economic settlement for a longer period of time, which the latter would above all stand in the way of the economic destruction emanating from Bolshevism. It is an outspoken military weakness of those states that built their existence on foreign trade. Since our foreign trade goes through the sea areas ruled by England, it is more a question of the security of transport than that of foreign exchange, from which the great weakness of our food situation during the war is evident. The only remedy, which may seem like a dream to us, would be to gain a larger living space, a striving that has always been the cause of the formation of states and peoples' movements. It is understandable that this endeavor does not meet with interest in Geneva or with the saturated states. If the security of our food situation were in the foreground, the space necessary for this could only be sought in Europe, but not on the basis of liberalist-capitalist conceptions in the exploitation of colonies. It is not a question of gaining people, but of agriculturally usable space. The raw material areas are also more expedient to look for in the immediate vicinity of the Reich in Europe and not overseas, whereby the solution must have an effect for one or two generations. What should also become necessary in later times must be left to the following generations. The development of large world structures is just going on slowly, the German people with their strong racial core find the most favorable conditions for this in the middle of the European continent. History of all times - the Roman Empire, the English Empire - has shown that any expansion of space can only take place by breaking resistance and taking risks. Setbacks are also inevitable. Neither then nor now there has been abandoned space, the attacker always comes across the owner.

For Germany the question is where the greatest profit can be achieved with the least amount of effort.

German policy has to reckon with the two hateful opponents England and France, for whom a strong German colossus in the middle of Europe is a thorn in their side, with both states rejecting further German strengthening both in Europe and overseas and in this rejection on approval of all parties. Both countries see the establishment of German military bases overseas as a threat to their overseas connections, a safeguarding of German trade and, retrospectively, a strengthening of the German position in Europe.

Because of the opposition of the dominions, England could not cede her colonial possessions to us. After England lost its prestige due to the transition of Abyssinia into Italian possession, a return of East Africa was not to be expected. The goodwill of England would at best express itself in the reliance on satisfying our colonial desires by taking away those colonies that are currently would be in non-English possession z. B. Angola -. The French courtesy would move in the same line.

Serious discussion about the return of colonies to us would only come into consideration at a time when England was in an emergency and the German Reich was strong and armed. The Führer did not share the view that the Empire was unshakable. The resistance to the Empire was less in the conquered countries than in the rivals. The Empire and the Roman Empire are not comparable in terms of durability; the latter had not faced a serious opponent of power politics since the Punic Wars. Only the dissolving effect emanating from Christianity and the signs of old age that set in in every state would have made ancient Rome succumb to the onslaught of the Teutons.

Next to the English Empire there were already a number of states superior to it. The English mother country is only in league with other states and is not in a position to defend its colonial possessions on its own. How should England alone B. defend Canada against an attack by America, defend its East Asian interests against such an attack by Japan!

The exposure of the English crown as the bearer of the cohesion of the empire is already an admission that the world empire cannot be sustained in the long term in terms of power politics. Significant hints in this direction are:

a) Ireland's quest for independence.

b) The constitutional struggles in India, where England, through its half measures, gave the Indians the opportunity to use the non-fulfillment of constitutional promises as a weapon against England.

c) The weakening of the English position in East Asia by Japan.

d) The contrast in the Mediterranean with Italy, which - with reference to its history, driven by necessity and led by a genius - is expanding its position of power and thereby increasingly has to turn against English interests. The outcome of the Abyssinian War was a loss of prestige for England, which Italy was striving to increase by stirring up the Muslim world.

All in all, it should be noted that, despite all its ideological stability, the empire cannot be held in the long run with 45 million Englishmen in terms of power politics. The ratio of the population of the Empire to that of the motherland of 9: 1 is a warning for us not to let the platform in our own population become too small when expanding space.

The position of France is more favorable than that of England. The French empire is territorially better positioned, the inhabitants of its colonial possessions represent an increase in military power. But France is facing domestic political difficulties. In the life of peoples, parliamentary government takes up about 10% of the time, authoritarian about 90% of the time. After all, the following factors of power should be included in our political calculations today: England, France, Russia and the neighboring smaller states.

The only way to solve the German question could be through force, it could never be risk-free. The struggles of Frederick the Great Silesia and Bismarck's wars against Austria and France were of unheard of risk and the speed of Prussian action in 1870 kept Austria away from entering the war. If you put the decision to use force at risk at the top of the following explanations, then you still have to answer the questions 'when' and how. There are three cases to be decided:

Case 1: Time 1943-1945.

After this time, only one change to our disadvantage can be expected.

The armament of the army, navy and air force as well as the formation of the officer corps are almost finished. The material equipment and armament are modern, and if you wait a little longer you run the risk of becoming obsolete. In particular, the secrecy protection of the 'special weapons' could not always be maintained. The acquisition of reserves is limited to the current recruit cohorts, an addition from older, untrained cohorts is no longer available.

In relation to the armament of the environment carried out up to that point, we would decrease in relative strength. If we did not act by 1943/45, the lack of reserves could result in a food crisis every year, and sufficient foreign currency would not be available to resolve it. This can be seen as a 'weakening moment of the regime'. In addition, the world awaits our strike and is taking its countermeasures more and more every year. While the environment is closing off, we are forced to take the offensive.

Nobody knows today how the situation would actually be in 1943/45. The only thing that is certain is that we cannot wait any longer.

On the one hand the great armed forces with the need to ensure their entertainment, the aging of the movement and its leaders, on the other hand the prospect of lowering the standard of living and reducing the birth rate, left no choice but to act. If the Fiihrer is still alive, it is his irrevocable decision to resolve the German spatial issue by 1943/45 at the latest. The need to act before 1943/45 would be considered in cases 2 and 3.

Case 2:

If the social tensions in France were to develop into such a domestic political crisis that the latter would absorb the French army and eliminate it for use in the war against Germany, the time had come to act against the Czech Republic.

Case 3:

When France is so tied up by a war with another state that it cannot 'take action' against Germany.

In order to improve our military-political situation, in any case of a warlike involvement, our first goal must be to overthrow the Czech Republic and Austria at the same time, in order to eliminate the flank threat of any action to the west. In the event of a conflict with France, it is unlikely that the Czech Republic would declare war on us on the same day as France. To the extent we weakened, however, the willingness to participate in the war in Czechoslovakia would increase, and their intervention could be noticeable in an attack on Silesia, north or west.

If the Czech Republic was overthrown and a common border between Germany and Hungary had been won, Poland's neutral behavior in a Franco-German conflict could be expected. Our agreements with Poland were valid only as long as Germany's strength was unshaken. in the event of German setbacks, action by Poland against East Prussia, perhaps also against Pomerania and Silesia, would have to be charged.

Assuming a development of the situation, which would lead to a planned action on our part in the years 1943/45, the behavior of France, England, Italy, Poland, Russia is likely to be assessed as follows:

As such, the Fiihrer believed that there was a high probability that England, but probably also France, would have already quietly written off the Czechs and resigned themselves to the fact that this question would one day be settled by Germany. The difficulties of the Empire and the prospect of being embroiled again in a protracted European war were decisive for Britain's failure to participate in a war against Germany. The English attitude would certainly not be without influence on that of France. It was unlikely that France would proceed without British support and with the foreseen that its offensive would get stuck in our western fortifications. Without the help of England, France would not be expected to march through Belgium and Holland, which we would have to disregard in the event of a conflict with France, since it would in any case result in England's enmity. Naturally, a closure in the west is necessary in any case while our attack is being carried out against the Czech Republic and Austria. It should be taken into account here that the defense measures of the Czech Republic are increasing in strength from year to year and that the inner values ​​of the Austrian army have also been consolidated over the years. Even if the settlement of the Czech Republic in particular is not thin, the incorporation of the Czech Republic and Austria could mean the gain of food for 5-6 million people, assuming that two million people were forced to emigrate from the Czech Republic and one million from Austria Implementation succeed. The annexation of the two states to Germany means a significant military-political relief due to shorter, better demarcation, the release of armed forces for other purposes and the possibility of reorganizing troops up to around 12 divisions, with one new division for every 1 million inhabitants .

From the side of Italy no objections to the elimination of Czechoslovakia are to be expected, how its stance on the Austrian question is to be assessed, eludes today's assessment and is essentially dependent on whether the Duce is still alive.

The degree of surprise and the speed of our action was decisive for Poland's position. Against a victorious Germany, Poland - with Russia at its back - will have little inclination to go to war. Military intervention by Russia must be countered by the speed of our operations; in view of Japan's stance, it is more than questionable whether this will even be considered.

If case 2 occurs - France is paralyzed by a civil war - the situation should be exploited at any time to strike against the Czech Republic due to the failure of the most dangerous enemy.

The Fiihrer saw case 3 coming closer, which could develop out of the current tensions in the Mediterranean and which he was determined to exploit at any point in time, even as early as 1938 took advantage of the Austrian question, it could be assumed with probability that England - at war with Italy - would not decide to take action against Germany. Without British support, a warlike act by France against Germany was not to be expected.

The timing of our attack on the Czech Republic and Austria must be made dependent on the course of the Italo-Anglo-French War and would not coincide with the opening of the wars of these three states. The Fuehrer was also not thinking of military agreements with Italy, but wanted to start and carry out the campaign against the Czech Republic independently and by taking advantage of this favorable opportunity, which would only arise once, whereby the attack on the Czech Republic had to be carried out "at lightning speed".

When assessing the situation, Field Marshal von Blomberg and Colonel General von Fritsch repeatedly pointed out the necessity that England and France should not appear as our opponents, and stated that the war against Italy did not bind the French army to the extent that that it could not yet step into the scene with superiority to all of our western frontiers. Colonel General von Fritsch estimated the French forces presumably deployed on the Alpine border with Italy at around 20 divisions, so that there would still be a strong French superiority on our western border, which, according to German thinking, should be assumed to be the invasion of the Rhineland, whereby Especially the lead of France in mobilization should be taken into account and it should be taken into account that apart from the very low value of our current state of the fortifications - as Field Marshal von Blomberg particularly pointed out - the four motorized divisions planned for the west are more or less are less immobile. With regard to our offensive to the south-east, Field Marshal von Blomberg emphasized the strength of the Czech fortifications, the expansion of which would have assumed the character of a Maginot line and would make our attack extremely difficult.

Colonel-General von Fritsch mentioned that it was precisely the purpose of a study he had ordered this winter to examine the possibilities of conducting operations against the Czech Republic, with particular reference to the overcoming of the Czech fortress system; The Colonel General also stated that under the prevailing circumstances he would have to refrain from taking his foreign leave beginning on November 10th. The Fuehrer rejected this intention on the grounds that the possibility of the conflict was not yet to be regarded as imminent. In contrast to the foreign minister's objection that an Italian-English-French conflict was not yet as tangible as the Führer seemed to assume, the Führer stated that the summer of 1938 was the time that seemed possible for him. Regarding the considerations made by Field Marshal von Blomberg and Colonel General von Fritsch with regard to the conduct of England and France, the Fuehrer repeated his previous statements that he was convinced of the non-participation of England and therefore did not believe in a military action by France against Germany. Should the Mediterranean conflict in question lead to a general mobilization in Europe, we should immediately take action against the Czech Republic; on the other hand, should the powers not involved in the war declare their disinterest, Germany should initially join in this behavior.

Colonel-General Goering, in view of the Fiihrer's statements, considered it advisable to consider dismantling our Spanish military enterprise. The Führer agrees to the extent that he should reserve the decision at a suitable point in time.

The second part of the discussion dealt with material arms issues.


For the correctness: Colonel d. G. signed Hoßbach "


The "Hoßbach Protocol" is the record of Colonel Friedrich Hoßbach, Hitler's Wehrmacht Adjutant, about a meeting on May 5November 1937 in the Berlin Reich Chancellery, where Hitler explained the main features of his war policy to the heads of government and military who were present. After the war it served as evidence in the Nuremberg trials to convict the accused of preparing for a war of aggression.

Source: Files on German Foreign Policy (ADAP), Series D, Vol. 1, Baden-Baden 1950, pp. 25-32.

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In Germany, the "shameful peace" of Versailles was widely felt to be an injustice. His continued triumph over the victorious powers of the First World War therefore won Hitler great approval and a growing reputation among the Germans. Under these circumstances, criticism of the domestic violence of the Nazi regime could not prevail. At the same time, Hitler deceived the German and international public about his real intentions with assurances of peace and diplomatic tricks. The 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin provided him with a suitable stage to present himself and National Socialist Germany in a favorable light.

His now consolidated position allowed Hitler to forge an international alliance system that would serve his far-reaching war plans. Rejected by his "dream partner" Great Britain, he found natural allies in other fascist and right-wing authoritarian regimes against his main ideological enemy, the Soviet Union. The Anti-Comintern Pact, which was founded with this aim, was joined by Japan and Italy at the end of 1936 / beginning of 1937. As a result of its military expansion policy in East Asia since the early 1930s, Japan itself had come into conflict with the Soviet Union. The most important thing for Hitler was the political compromise with Italy, whose "Duce" Benito Mussolini he regarded as a role model. Both dictators proclaimed the "Berlin-Rome Axis" in autumn 1936, from which a formal alliance developed by the time the war broke out.

The new partnership immediately found a common field of action. From mid-1936 both "Axis Powers" intervened in the Spanish Civil War in favor of the coup d'état under Francisco Franco. A German expeditionary force ("Legion Condor") contributed not a little to the victory of Franco in the spring of 1939, who then joined the Anti-Comintern Pact. Through the "Legion Condor", the Wehrmacht gained valuable experience with new weapons and operational procedures under war conditions. Their ruthless air strike on the Basque city of Guernica already pointed to the future.

"Anschluss" of Austria: German troops cross the Austrian border in Schärding on March 13, 1938. (& copy Federal Archives)
The main target of Hitler's increasingly aggressive foreign policy was Germany's neighbors to the east and south-east. Infiltrated internally by the National Socialists and largely isolated in terms of foreign policy, Austria surrendered to the German invasion on March 12, 1938 without a fight. Hitler announced his "annexation" to the German Reich the next day in Vienna to the applause of a large crowd.
Poster advertising for the referendum on the "reunification of Austria with the German Reich", which took place at the same time as the election for the "Greater German Reichstag" on April 10, 1938. In this sham election, the NSDAP "won" 99.1 percent of the votes and all seats in the Reichstag. (& copy Federal Archives)
Against the renewed violation of the Versailles Treaty, France and Great Britain protested only weakly.

For years Hitler had worked towards a kind of connection with Austria. On the other hand, at the end of 1937 he decided relatively spontaneously to "switch off" Czechoslovakia, which was allied with France, at a favorable opportunity. Since then he had secretly prepared war against them. Propagandistically and diplomatically, he cornered the government in Prague with unfulfillable demands, especially those for the cession of the predominantly German-populated Sudeten areas. The impending war called France and Great Britain onto the scene in the summer of 1938. Because both countries were ultimately not ready for war, they gave in to Hitler's demands at the Munich conference at the end of September 1938.
Preparation of the Munich conference: Hitler (left) receives British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (center) on September 16, 1938 at his residence "Berghof". Right, Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. (& copy Federal Archives)
Without the support of their protective powers, the Czech government felt compelled to do so, whereupon the Wehrmacht immediately occupied the Sudetenland.

Six months later, Hitler unscrupulously revealed his real goal to the world. For flimsy reasons, he broke his promise from Munich to leave Czechoslovakia untouched after its cession. Shortly afterwards he had secretly commissioned the Wehrmacht to "smash the rest of the Czech Republic". On March 15, 1939 the time had come: