Did appeasement allow the British breathing space to rearm? I don’t think so, actually, and for two big reasons. Firstly, Chamberlain did not come back from Munich and say, “God, that was a close shave, but we’ve got this agreement, we’ve probably got a year now where we can get ready.”
He actually comes back and, even though he regrets the exuberance of peace for our time, he nevertheless refuses to accelerate British rearmament. Halifax and other cabinet ministers say, “You were very lucky this time. We must increase British rearmament,” but Chamberlain says, “But I brought back peace.”
This article is an edited transcript of Appeasing Hitler with Tim Bouverie on Dan Snow’s History Hit, first broadcast 7 July 2019.
So it was not an argument used by contemporaries, even if members of the Armed Forces were very much aware of the pitiful state that Britain’s arms were in.
It’s true, we did not have the Spitfire, we did not have the Hurricane. Even though they were being ordered, they weren’t ready yet. We didn’t have radar – all these things which made the difference between victory and defeat in the Battle of Britain.
But the breathing space was also used by the Germans. It’s not a zero sum game. They had the same opportunities, and if you look at the figures, it’s fairly clear that the Germans out-armed Britain and France, certainly on land and even in the air, as well as getting this huge trove of munitions (from the Skoda Works in Czechoslovakia).
So the breathing space argument I don’t think really holds, and not least because the diplomatic situation had become so much worse.
The Soviets make their move
The Soviet Union who, as we know, in retrospect and as some contemporaries were saying, ultimately defeated the German army in the Second World War. and without them we would have been stuffed.
The Soviet Foreign Minister was constantly urging some form of anti-Nazi alliance with the West and was rebuffed, whereas by September 1939, Stalin has made an alliance with Hitler. We’re in a diplomatically and strategically worse position in September 1939 than we were a year earlier.