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Content Reading Guide: World War II Begins
When Adolf Hitler rose to become the dictator of Germany, he claimed the nation needed to take more areas for lebensraum (living space). According to the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was not even supposed to have an army to pursue such goals. On 3/12/1938, Hitler absorbed Austria into Germany. He asserted that there were many German speaking people in this area and they supported the transition. Hitler’s next target was Czechoslovakia. The Nazi’s claimed Germans were being mistreated in this area and took the western boundary of the Czech’s called the Sudetenland.
European nations were becoming anxious and wanted to reach an agreement for Hitler to stop invading other areas. On 9/30/1938, the Munich Agreement was achieved. Edouard Daladier, Premier of France, and Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, met with the Nazi regime to discuss a settlement on the issue. The leaders of France and Britain felt that, if Hitler was allowed to keep the Sudetenland, he will would stop invading other areas, so they agreed Germany could keep the area. Hitler broke the agreement. He falsely claimed “Germans were mistreated” in Poland and invaded the country. This was a hostile move. Britain, France, and Russia, those passive when other areas were taken, could attack if Poland fell to Hitler. On 8/23/1939, Joseph Stalin of the USSR and Hitler signed a Nonaggression Pact and agreed to divide Poland.
On 9/1/1939, German planes bombed Poland and tanks invaded after the onslaught. This vicious tactic, called blitzkrieg (lightning war), assured a quick victory. France and Britain could not respond in time. Though they had hoped that Hitler would stop after taking the Sudetenland, Hitler kept going. In 1939, Stalin invaded Poland and took the Eastern half. Even though Stalin and Hitler were not on friendly terms, Stalin was a Communist and Hitler was a Fascist, they still cooperated to avoid war with each other.
In April of 1940, Hitler took Denmark and Norway to “defend their independence,” Actually, he wanted to restrict Great Britain from using these areas. He also had taken over Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg by May of 1940. Since becoming leader of Germany, Hitler had violated the Treaty of Versailles and the Munich Agreement. It was clear he wanted nothing less than all of Europe.
On 9/3/1939, France and Britain declared war on Germany. Appeasement had failed and all-out war was the only remaining course of action. Germans sent tanks through wilderness areas thought to be impassable and invaded Allied territory. The Germans forced the Allied troops to the beach of Dunkirk. Over 300,000 French, British, and Belgium troops fled to England to escape the Nazis. Many British ships, including civilian ships, were sent to the beach of Dunkirk to rescue the troops from being slaughtered by the Nazis. Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator of Italy,was a strong supporter of Hitler. Italy invaded from the South and France fell to Hitler. Nazi’s bombed targets in London through war planes. Britain used radar to detect attacks and this prevented Hitler from successfully invading Britain. The Royal Air Force defended Britain from Germany and Charles de Gaulle set up a government in exile for France in Britain.