The Road to War I

Economics and Rearmament 

In 1933, Hitler had inherited an Army which was already embarking upon substantial, but slow rearmament. He neither initiated nor did he speed up the implementation of their plans. Indeed, to many Germans, the continuity of leadership in the armed forces seemed a stabilizing force which would help tame the new political forces.

The chief military figures 

General Werner von Blomberg
Minister of Defense
General Werner von Fritsch
C-in-C of the Army
General Ludwig Beck
Head of the General Staff

This military establishment at first welcomed Hitler because they believed that they could use him to carry out their own plans. In December 1933, the army leadership proposed a peacetime army of 21 divisions (300,000 men), which would be reached gradually by 1938. Fully mobilized, a field army of 63 divisions would be created. Although the Treaty of Versailles limit was 100,000 men, the German foreign office was convinced that European governments would not object to this planned increase, if it occurred gradually. The High Command shared a similar conviction.
In May 1934, however, Hitler demanded a target of 300,000 men, and insisted it should be achieved by October of that very year. The Army High Command succeeded in having the effective date postponed to 1935, but by the end of February 1935 the Army had indeed reached a total of 280,000 men. Then, on 6 March 1935, Army Commander-in-Chief Fritsch approved a general staff memorandum, setting the peacetime army at 30-36 divisions. In his introduction of conscription on 16 March 1935 Hitler adopted this figure. But by the autumn of 1936, the Army already had expanded to 36 infantry and 3 armored divisions.
In this process, the fundamental goals and purposes of the army also evolved. As General Beck originally described the rearmament program, on 14 December 1933, it sought to provide the basis for fighting a "defensive war on several fronts with some prospect of success", The addition of three armored divisions in 1935 came out of a campaign fought by a number of officers over the years to convince the Army leadership of the need to compensate for the numerical restrictions of Versailles by increasing the Army's mobility. But the addition of these divisions necessarily shifted the emphasis away from defense even if described as "offensively conducted defense." The implications of this can be seen in a highly influential memorandum by the head of the General Staff (which was still being called the Truppenamt).

General Ludwig Beck "Considerations on increasing the Offensive Capacity of the Army, "30 December 1935

1. The present plan for building up the Army and its present organization were determined by the requirement to provide the Army initially with the necessary defensive capability for a war on several fronts.

The considerations concerning an increase in the offensive capacity of the Army raise the question, therefore, whether such an increase would not contradict this initial requirement.

Strategic defense can only be successful if it can also be carried out in the form of an attack. For this reason an increase in offensive capacity represents a simultaneous strengthening of defensive capacity. Thus, the response to such a question must be unequivocally negative. 

2. An examination of the present plan for building up the Army in terms of its offensive capacity suggests the following possible improvements: 

(a) An increase in the number of tank units envisaged (hitherto 3 brigades = 12 units, in addition to the 3 tank brigades contained in the armored divisions), in order to secure the most vital offensive capability of the field army. 

(b) The reorganization of infantry divisions into motorized divisions in order to increase operational and tactical mobility. 

3. In addition, consideration should be given to: 

(a) increasing the prospects for success of pure tank units through the feasibility of a temporary transfer of highly mobile infantry units (e.g. motorized infantry regiments)

(b) via a restructuring of the infantry. 

4. Re: Paragraph 2a (tanks):

. . . (b) A realistic goal which must be achieved and can be achieved is the formation of a sufficient number of tank units so that every army corps in peacetime can include I tank brigade with two regiments each containing 2 units i.e. 48 units in 12 army corps. Or in the future field army with 24 army corps one tank unit each would be dropped and there would be the same number of units (24), organized in regiments and brigades, as there were troops available (12 regiments with 2 units each and 6 brigades with two regiments). That also makes 48 units.

Such an increase in the number of tank units may, however. in certain circumstances have to he paid for by dispensing with the 12 anti-tank corps. However. since the tank is to some extent capable of replacing the anti-tank gun. provided it is equipped with a tank-busting weapon, this could be risked. provided we ensure that a number of anti-tank units are kept prepared in the event of war. 

A separate matter for consideration is whether the three major tasks of the armored troops: infantry support (Inf. tank). anti-tank operations, independent operational deployment in association with other motorized weapons (at the moment armored divisions), permit the use of the same types of tank and in the same combinations for all the current tank units (regiments and brigades) and for those still planned, or whether different types will have to be used . . . 

7. Re: paragraph 3a (Increasing operational and tactical mobility in the deployment of tank formations.

(a) In requesting an increase in the number of tank units we have operated on the assumption that a frontal assault on an opponent more or less equal in strength and numbers and who is encountered in a state of readiness and on terrain favorable to him can hardly expect to succeed without the participation of tanks. 

In addition, at those places where one starts out by envisaging ambitious targets these can only have a prospect of success through the commitment of strong armored formations. In such cases armored divisions appear to be the most suitable, or at least units whose composition ensures that their infantry can rapidly follow the armored formations and hold on to their gains or fully exploit them.

One can only confirm the efficacy of the current composition of an armored division on the basis of practical experience. As long as the restriction of the Army to 36 divisions prevents a further expansion of armored divisions&emdash;except at the expense of infantry divisions&emdash;it will be necessary to form additional such units.

For the time being. the only conceivable supplement to the pure tank units are motorized infantry units.... 

During the summer of 1936. the Army created a new armaments program in which, by October 1939, Germany would have a peacetime army of 36 infantry divisions &emdash; a total of 830,000 men, and a war-time field army of 4,626,000 men.
Such a program required a vast increase in the financial and economic resources, and there were signs that Germany was nearing the limits of its productive capabilities. Numerous demands were being made on labor and raw materials: the continuing Autobahn program, extensive urban development, prestige building projects such as the Nürnberg Party rally complex and numerous Gau Party buildings, and last but not least, the requirements of production for export in order to provide the foreign exchange for raw material imports essential to the rearmament drive. Not only did all these programs All these demands compete with the requirements of the three branches of the armed services, but these in turn competed against each another.
General Werner von Fritsch, Commander-in-Chief of the German Army, was deeply troubled by the pace of the rearmament program. He ordered a study of the financial, material and manpower requirements then in existence. The resulting memorandum confirmed Fritsch's worst fears. It noted that existing plans called for a military budget which required increasing funding outside the official bud get. For example, in 1937, 5.3 billion more Reichsmarks than were officially provided in the budget; and another 5.3 billion in 1938, and 5.02 billion in 1939.

Major-General Friedrich Fromm to General Werner von Fritsch, 1 August 1936

It is doubtful whether this amount of money is available. To maintain the armaments industry in good order after 1940 will require the following additional funds [that is, borrowed secretly]: 1940 -- 7.57 billion; 1941 -- 7.62 billion; 1942 -- 7.23 billion; 1943 -- 7.65 billion; 1944 -- 8.07 billion; 1945 -- 7.77 billion. For a long period, this would be intolerable. Therefore, either the Armed Forces must be put into action at the end of the rearmament period, or an amelioration of the situation obtained, so that the requirement of the degree of preparation for war can be reduced. The whole position depends on many questions outside our jurisdiction, such as the possibility of easing the situation by hugh imports from foreign countries.

As a result: 1. The General Staff should review the situation with a view to making reductions. 2. And so should the Minister of War. 

Fromm then went on to calculate the endurance powers of Germany in a war. There were 14 million men ... who in 1937 would be between the ages of 18 and 43. Of these 35% were unfit, leaving 10 million for active service. Of these, the national economy would require 3 million normally, but with the demands of armaments, 4 to 5 million should be allowed for, leaving 5 to 6 million for the armed forces. The Army needed 3.1 million; the Navy 0.09 million; the Air Force 0.3 million, i.e. 3.5 million in all, leaving 1.5 to 2.5 million at the disposal of the forces for replacement of losses. Losses in the First World War were three-quarters of the field army per year. Therefore the German Army had just enough reserves of manpower to fight a war for one year.

However, manpower was not the most critical factor. Consideration of the oil fuel needs of the German Armed Forces showed that it would be necessary to supply 246,000 tons per month. German storage capacity was 1.1 million tons. Therefore a reserve of 4.25 months could be built up. Synthetic processes were capable of producing 100,000 tons per month, so that if Germany had all fuel storages full at the beginning of the war, there would be enough fuel from all resources ... for Germany to fight for 7 months. 

These points served to emphasize the original conclusions that the whole situation was in need of review, either by the General Staff, or by the Minister of War, for what was the point of making such crippling financial outlays on a large army, when it could only fight for seven months (or get replacements for only 12 months).

General Fritsch's anxiety was shared by Hjalmar Schacht, the Minister of Economics and President of the Reichsbank, who more than any one person was responsible for Germany's brilliant economic recovery from the depression.

Minutes of the Council of Ministers,12 May 1936

Present: Chairman and Prussian Prime Minister Göring; Minister of War, General von Blomberg; Minister of Economics and Reichsbank President Dr. Schacht; Minister of Finance Count Schwerin von Krosigk; Prussian Minister of Finance Prof. Popitz

Schacht: shows the development up to now. When two years ago the decision for rearmament was taken, it was decided to carry out the financing mainly outside the means of the Ministry of Finance (i.e. not through increased taxation). This meant the commitment of the last financial reserves from the very beginning, a decision which did not seem without hazards.... 

In the course of the last two years, the program was increased more and more in its extent and speed. Thus the requirements from the Reichsbank [which was supplying the money through secret loans] was increasing steadily. It would be necessary to create, as a basis for future financing, a steady, prosperous economy, and therefore renounce the execution of other, partially irrational ideas and aims of the National Socialist Party.... Dr. Schacht has emphasized again and again, that we must follow a culturally acceptable and legal policy, which will leave the economy alone.... Yet excesses have continued; to counteract these was practically impossible, since the propaganda machinery of the Party did not permit it.... 

The main question for the future execution of the military program is, how much money can be gotten out of the business community by taxation. Perhaps 2 billion annually can be made available by long term loans from the Reichsbank. 8 to 9 billion cannot be asked for.... without resulting in severe inflation. The danger of such a development is imminent. If this road, which is so very dangerous, should be selected, Dr. Schacht would like to drop out in time.... 

The meeting failed to develop any alternative plans, and Schacht went to visit Hitler, then staying in his mountain house -- the Berghof -- overlooking Austria near the town of Berchtesgaden. A young architect, Albert Speer, was an inadvertent observer of what happened.

Albert Speer Post-War Recollection 

We guests were seated on the adjacent terrace and the large window of the salon was wide open. Hitler was shouting at his Economics Minister, evidently in extreme excitement. We heard Schacht replying firmly in a loud voice. The dialogue grew increasingly heated on both sides and then ceased abruptly. Furious, Hitler came out on the terrace and ranted on about this disobliging, limited minister who was holding up the rearmament program. 

Note by Hans Thomas of the Chancellery Office, 2 September 1936 

President Schacht called me to him today at 1:00 and requested me to forward the following to the Minister of War: Schacht returned from the Führer with the greatest anxiety, since he could not agree to the economic program planned. The Führer wants to speak at the Party Rally about economic policy, and wants to emphasize that we now want to get free from all dependence on foreign countries by our own production of German goods. Schacht requests urgently that the Minister of War warn the Führer from this step.

If the Führer emphasizes autarchy in front of the masses in Nuremberg, he will receive a great amount of applause from the audience, but with it he will bring failure to the entire commercial policy. There is only one thing needed in our bad position: the promotion of exports. Every threat against foreign countries, however, will bring contrary results.... And if we now shout out our decision to make ourselves economically independent, we will cut our own throats, because we can no longer survive the necessary transitional period. Also it must be pointed out always that German materials are at present much too expensive to be used for export, and export alone makes further rearmament possible. 

If the food supply of our people is not to be endangered, the Führer must refrain from his plan. President Schacht concluded that he again requests urgently that the Minister listen to this warning, and that he forwards it to the Minister because Schacht will not again participate in conferences on this subject.

Faced with the open opposition of the army and his Economics Minister, Hitler had to come up with something. The real thrust from both Fritsch and Schacht was not only to slow down the pace of rearmament, but also to stabilize Germany's international position. In other words, both proposed that the time had come to cast off the "Nazi" and revolutionary characteristics. Still at Berchtesgaden and smarting from Schacht's warnings that broad changes, particularly in propaganda would have to be undertaken, Hitler composed his answer. It is the only document which historians agree was written by Hitler during his 12 year rule. A copy was given to the Allies in 1945 by Albert Speer, who claimed that Hitler had handed it to him sometime during the war and suggested that he might be interested in it as a historical document.

The Four Year Plan

Adolf Hitler Memorandum, August 1936


Politics is the leadership and the course of the historical struggle for life of the nation. The aim of these struggles is the maintenance of existence. Even the ideological struggles have their ultimate causes and receive their most profound impulses from the aims of existence, determined by the national character of the nation. But religions and ideologies always give to these struggles a particular bitterness and thus confer upon them a strong historical impressiveness. They leave their imprint upon the history of centuries. Nations and countries living within the boundaries of such ideological or religious conflicts can not seclude or exclude themselves from the events. Christianity and the Great Migrations have determined the historical course of centuries. Mohammedanism has shaken the Orient as well as the West during half a millenium. The Reformation has driven the whole of central Europe within the sphere of its consequences. Since the outbreak of the French Revolution the world is driven in a continuously increasing pace toward a new conflict, the extreme solution of which is Bolshevism, the essence and goal of which is the elimination and the displacement of the hitherto leading social classes of humanity by Jewry, spread throughout the world. 

No nation will be able to avoid or keep from this historical conflict. Since Marxism -- through its victory in Russia -- has established one of the greatest empires as a base of operations for its future moves, this question has become a threatening one. A concrete offensive design, based on an authoritarian ideology, opposes a democratic world which is ideologically split.

This means of military power of this offensive design are rapidly increasing from year to year. One should compare the assumptions of military circles of 10 to 13 years ago with the actual Red Army of today in order to realize the dangerous extent of this development. One should project the results of future development within 10, 15, or 20 years in order to have an idea of the conditions which would then pertain. 


Germany will have to be regarded, as it always was, as the focus of the western world against Bolshevist attacks. I do not consider this a joyous mission but rather as a severe handicap and burden upon our national life, resulting from our disadvantageous position in Europe. But we cannot avoid this destiny. Our political position results from the following:

Presently there are only two nations in Europe which can be regarded as being firm against Bolshevism -- Germany and Italy. The other nations are either disintegrated by the democratic way of life, infected by Marxism and therefore designed to collapse from within in the discernable future, or ruled by authoritarian governments whose only strength is military power; but this means that due to the necessity of protecting the existence of their leadership against their own people by the forceful measures of the executive power, they are unable to use these armed forces outwards for the protection of the nation. All these states would be unable at any time to wage a war against Russia with any prospect of success. Therefore, in any case, apart from Germany and Italy, only Japan can be considered as a power resisting the world peril. 

It is not the aim of this memorandum to prophesy the moment at which the untenable situation in Europe will reach the stage of open war. I only want to express in these lines my conviction that this crisis cannot and will not fail to come, and that Germany has the duty of securing her existence against this catastrophe at all cost, and to protect herself from it, and that this obligation gives rise to a series of consequences involving the most important tasks ever imposed upon our people. For a victory of Bolshevism over Germany would not lead to a new Versailles Treaty, but to a definitive annihilation and even to an extermination of the German people. 

The extent of such a catastrophe cannot be estimated. Densely populated western Europe (Germany included) would, after a collapse into Bolshevism, live through the most horrible catastrophe humanity has known since the disappearance of the nations of antiquity. In the face of the necessity of warding off this danger, all other considerations must be relegated to the background as completely unimportant.


Our defense capability is based upon several factors. I give pride of place to the inner strength of the German nation itself. The German people, politically well-led, ideologically strengthened, and militarily well- organized, certainly represents today the world's most valuable resistance factor. Political leadership is assured by the National Socialist Party; ideological unity has, since the victory of National Socialism, been introduced to an extent never reached before. Based upon this consideration, it must be deepened and strengthened more and more. This is the aim of the National Socialist education of our nation. 

Military development shall be accomplished through the new army. The extent and the pace of the military development of our strength cannot be too large or too rapid. It is a major error to believe that on this point any compromise or comparison with other necessities of life could ever exist. However much the entire aspect of national life should be well-balanced, some one-sided shiftings to the detriment of other not so vital tasks is imperative at certain periods. If we do not succeed in developing the German Army, within the shortest period, to be the first army in the world in respect to training, mobilization of units, equipment and, above all, spiritual education as well, Germany will be lost. Here the basic principal is: what was neglected in months of peace cannot be made up in centuries. Thus, all other desires have to be unconditionally subordinated to this task. 

For this task means the life and preservation of life, and all other desires -- however much they might be comprehensible in other periods -- are unimportant or even dangerous, and are, therefore, to be rejected. Posterity will not ask us some day about the methods, considerations, or opinions by which we rescued the nation, but if we carried it out. And it will be no excuse someday of we explain our downfall, by referring to our moral and judicious methods which, unfortunately, caused our ruin.


 As the political movement in our nation has only one goal -- the preservation of our existence, that is the securing of all spiritual and other prerequisites for the self-maintenance of our people -- so the economy has also only this identical goal. The nation does not live for the economy or for the leaders of the economy, or for economic and financial theories; but finance and the economy, the leaders of this economy, and all theories have to serve exclusively this struggle for the maintenance of our nation. Germany's economic situation -- briefly summarized -- is the following: 

1. We are overpopulated and our country does not yield the food we need.

2. If our nation has 6 or 7 million unemployed, the food situation improves, as a result of the non-existing purchasing power of these people.... Through our National Socialist economic policy, however, approximately 20 million people gained an increase in their standard of living from a maximum average of 50 Marks a month to at least 100-120 Marks. This means an increased and understandable run on the food supply.

3. But, on the other hand, if there is no increase in employment, a high percentage of the nation would be gradually withdrawn from a body of the nation as a result of under nourishment. Therefore the most important task of our economic policy -- despite the difficult food situation -- is to see that the prerequisites for normal consumption are created through the incorporation of all Germans into the economic process.

4. Insofar as this consumption concerns items of general utility, it can be effected to a large extent by an increase in production. Insofar as this consumption falls on the food market, however, it cannot be satisfied from the sources of the internal economy. The reason is that the output of numerous products can be increased without difficulty, but the yield of our agricultural production can no longer be substantially increased. Likewise, it is impossible for us to produce artificially certain raw materials which we do not have in Germany, or to find other substitutes for them.

5. It is, however, of no importance to mention these facts again and again, that is to state that we need food or raw materials; what is decisive is to take measures which can bring a final solution for the future, and a temporary easing of conditions during the transitional period.

6. The final solution lies in an extension of our living space, and/or the sources of the raw materials and food supplies of our nation. It is the task of the political leadership to solve this question one day in the future.

7. The temporary easing of conditions, however, can be found only within our present economy:

a. Since the German nation will be increasingly dependent upon imports for its food, and likewise certain raw materials also have to be supplied from abroad under all circumstances, all efforts have to be made in order to make these imports possible.

b. The increase of our own exports is theoretically possible but actually not very probable. Germany does not export to a political or economic vacuum, but into highly competitive areas. Measured on the scale of the general international economic depression, our export trade has fallen ... less than that of other nations and countries. However, since the food import as a whole cannot be substantially reduced but rather rises, a balance must be found by other means.

c. It is, however, impossible to utilize available foreign currencies designed for the purchase of raw materials for the import of food without inflicting a heavy and perhaps fatal blow to other branches of the German economy. But above all, it is absolutely impossible to do this at the expense of national rearmament. I must reject here with the utmost vehemence the conception that a limitation of national rearmament, that is a limitation of the production of weapons and ammunition can bring an "enrichment" in raw materials which could eventually be profitable to Germany in case of war. Such a view is based upon a complete misunderstanding &emdash; to put it mildly -- of the tasks and military requirements lying before us. Even a successful saving of raw materials produced, for instance, through limiting the production of ammunition, only means that we pile up these raw materials during peacetime in order to utilize them in case of war, and we thereby deprive ourselves of ammunition during the most critical months of a war and have instead raw copper, lead, and iron ore. It would, on the contrary, be better if the nation entered the war without a single kilogram of copper in reserve but with well-supplied ammunition dumps, than to have empty ammunition dumps but with so-called "enriched" stocks of raw material.

War makes possible the mobilization of even the last metal supplies. For then it be comes not an economic problem, but solely a question of will. And the National Socialist leadership of the nation will have the will and also the determination and the severity necessary to solve these problems in case of war.

Much more important, however, is to prepare for war in times of peace. Moreover the following has to be stated in this respect: There can be no preparation whatsoever of raw material for war, just as there can be no building up of foreign currencies.... No country is able to prepare in advance the quantities of raw materials required for a war if this war should last longer than, let us say, one year. But should a nation ever be in a position to prepare those quantities of raw material for one year ahead, then its political, military, and economic leadership deserves hanging. For they are stocking up the available copper and iron instead of turning out grenades.... The quantities of war material required for a war are so large that an effective preparation of stocks for a long duration has NEVER been realized in history.

As far as the securing of supplies by means of accumulation of foreign currencies, it is obvious that -- 1. War can devaluate at any time foreign currencies unless it is held in gold. 2. There is no guarantee at all during a war of realizing the transformation even of gold into raw materials. During the World War, Germany still had very large currency assets in numerous countries. But our wise leaders were not able to use these assets to supply Germany with sufficient quantities of fuel, rubber, copper and tin. It is ridiculous nonsense to assert the contrary. For this reason, and in order to ensure the food supplies of our nation, that the following compulsory tasks must be accomplished: It is not enough to establish a raw material or a foreign currency balance, or to speak of a preparation of a war economy during peacetime, but it is necessary to ensure peacetime food supplies and above all those means for warfare which can be secured through human energy and activity.

Consequently, I draw up the following program for a final solution of our vital necessities:

I. Parallel with the military and political rearmament and mobilization of our nation must occur an economic one, and this is at the same speed, with the same determination and if necessary with the same ruthlessness. In future the interests of individual gentlemen cannot play any part. There is only one interest, and that is the interest of the nation, and only one conception, which is that Germany must be brought politically and economically to the point of self-sufficiency.

II. For this purpose, foreign currency must be saved in all those fields where needs can be satisfied by German production, in order that it may be used for those necessities which under no circumstances can be fulfilled except by imports. 

III. Accordingly, German fuel production must now be stepped up with the utmost speed and brought to definitive completion within 18 months. This task must be attacked and executed with the same determination as the waging of war, since on its solution depends the future conduct of the war and not on the stocking of gasoline supplies.

IV. The mass production of synthetic rubber must also be organized and secured with the same speed. The affirmation that the procedures are not as yet fully determined and similar excuses must not be hard from now on. The question under discussion is not whether we wait any linger; if we do time will be lost and the hour of danger will take us all unaware. Above all, it is not the task of the governmental economic institutions to rack their brains over production methods. This matter does not concern the Ministry of Economics at all. Either we have a private economy today, and it is its task to rack its brains about production methods, or we assume that the determination of production is the task of government; in which case we no longer need the private economy at all.

V. The question of production costs of these raw materials is also of no importance, since it is still more profitable for us to produce expensive tires in Germany and utilize them, than to sell theoretically cheap tires (that are made from imported rubber) -- but for which the Minister of Economics cannot grant foreign currency and which therefore cannot be manufactured because of the shortage of raw materials and consequently cannot be sold. If indeed we are obliged to build up a domestic economy in the autarchic sense -- and we are obliged to do so since the problem will certainly not be resolved through lamentations and the recognition of our needs for foreign currency -- then the price of raw materials, individually considered, does not play a decisive part.

Thus, it is necessary to increase the German iron ore production to its utmost limits. The objection that we are not able to produce a similarly cheap raw iron with German ore (which contains 26% iron) as with Swedish ores (containing 43% iron) etc., is of no importance, since we are not asked what we would prefer to do, but what we can do. The objection that in this case all German blast-furnaces will have to be transformed is also unimportant, since it does not concern the Ministry of Economics. The ministry has only to set the tasks; the national private industry has to fulfill them. If the private industry considers itself unable to do so, then the National Socialist State will know how to resolve the problem by itself....

It is further necessary to prohibit the distillation of potatoes into alcohol. Fuel must be gained from the earth and not from potatoes. Instead of this, we have the duty to utilize all possible farm area for the purposes of feeding humans or animals or for the cultivation of fibrous materials.

Further, it is necessary to make the supply of industrial fats independent of the imports within the shortest time and to meet it with our coal by-products. This problem has been solved chemically and is actually crying out for implementation. German businesses must either understand the new economic tasks or else they will prove unfit to exist any longer in this modern age, when the Soviet State builds up a gigantic plan. But in that eventuality, it will not be Germany who will be destroyed, but only some industrialists! 

It is further necessary to increase the extraction of other ores, without considering the costs, and especially to increase the production of lighter metals to the utmost limit, in order to find a substitute material for heavier metals.

Finally, it is also necessary for armament industries to utilize even now those materials which will have to be and will be used in case of war, instead of precious metals. It is better to think over and resolve these problems during peacetime than to wait for the next war and undertake only then, in the midst of other pressing tasks, those economic investigations and methodical experiments. 

In short, I deem it necessary that now, with iron determination, a 100% self-sufficiency should be attained in all those fields where it is feasible, and not only should the national requirements in these most important raw materials be made independent of the produce of other countries, but that we should also proceed to save foreign exchange which in peacetime we require for the imports of our food supply. Here, I want to emphasize, is where I see the only true economic mobilization and not in the throttling of the armaments industries in peacetime in order to save and stockpile raw materials for war. 

In addition, I deem it necessary to conduct at once a re-examination of the outstanding foreign exchange credits owned by German industry abroad. There is no doubt that the foreign capital of our industries today is quite enormous. And there is also no doubt that this is to hide the abominable intention of many men to provide for all eventualities by keeping certain reserves abroad in order to remove them from internal confiscation! I see in this a deliberate sabotage of the national economy and the defense of the Reich, respectively, and I therefore deem necessary the passing of two new laws by the Reichstag:

a. A law providing capital punishment for industrial sabotage and,

b. A law making Jewry in its entirety answerable for damage done to German industry and thereby to the German people by individual members of this criminal group. 

The only fulfillment of these tasks is in the form of a multi-year plan, making out national economy independent of foreign countries and making it possible to demand sacrifices of the German people in the field of industry and food. For a nation has the right to demand of a leadership, to which it gives blind obedience, that it tackle these problems with unheard of and resolute work, and proceed not only to talk about them and list them, but also to solve them. 

Almost four precious years have passed now. There is no doubt that by now we could have been completely independent of foreign countries in the fields of fuel, crude rubber and partly also iron ore supplies. Just as we produce 700,000 or 800,000 tons of gasoline at the present time, we could be producing 3 million tons. Just as we produce several thousand tons of synthetic rubber, we could already be producing 70,000 or 80,000 tons per year. Just as we increased our iron ore production from 2 million tons to 7 million tons, we could process 20 or 25 million tons of German iron ore and if necessary also 30 millions. There has been enough time in four years to find out what we cannot do. It is now necessary to carry out what we can do.

I herewith set the following tasks:

Germany's Military Plans

General Werner von Blomberg, Minister of War and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Directive, 24 June 1937 

MOST SECRET. Staff Officers Only 


1. The general political situation justifies the supposition that Germany need not consider an attack from any side. Indications of this are, in addition to the lack of desire for war in almost all nations particularly the Western Powers, the lack of preparedness for war of a number States, and of Russia in particular.

The intention to unleash a European War is held just as little by Germany. Nevertheless, the politically fluid world situation, which does not preclude surprising incidents, demands constant preparedness for war on the part of the German Armed Forces:

a. to counter an attack at any time
b. to make possible the military exploitation of politically favorable opportunities should they occur.

Preparations of the Armed Forces for a possible war in the period 1937/38 must be made with this in mind. They must therefore be arranged to meet various possibilities and are subdivided into:

a. general preparations
b. work on hypothetical wars which are highest on the list of probabilities....
c. special studies ... confined to the High Command.

2. General preparations cover the following:

a. permanent preparedness for mobilization...
b. work on "mobilization without a public announcement" in order to put the Armed Forces into a position to begin a war which will take the enemy by surprise....
c. work on the transport of the army in East Prussia to the Reich.
d. preparatory measures should German territory be violated suddenly by a foreign power.

3. Among the probable wars for which plans should be drafted are:

4. Special preparations are to be made to cover the following eventualities


In the preparation of responses for these probable wars, the following conditions, tasks and instructions are to be assumed: 

1. War on 2 Fronts with the main struggle in the West (RED)

Assumptions: France is the enemy in the West; Belgium may or may not join in on the side of France. It is also possible that ... France will occupy Luxembourg. In the East, all indications point to the hostile attitude of Russia and Czechoslovakia. It is expected that Poland and Lithuania will at first remain neutral. At the least, we should count on the benevolent neutrality of Austria, Italy, Hungary, and Yugoslavia. England's attitude is uncertain. 

The war will probably begin by an aggressive attack upon Germany by the French army and air force with the partial participation of the French navy. In the East, Czechoslovakia is expected to hold back temporarily, unless they are under pressure from Russia to enter prematurely, primarily by using her air force which will have been strengthened greatly by Russian aid. Russian naval units will probably also participate.

Task of the German Armed Forces: Carry out preparations so that the bulk of the army can be used against the French attack and that the defenses in the East be kept to the smallest reserve.

a. Army: The concentration of land war will be in the West. The first task will be to carry the war as close as possible to the borders of the enemy and prevent him from crossing the Rhine and the Black Forest mountains and to hold the German territory West of the Rhine and North of the Mosel as long as possible.... Security of the East and South borders of the Reich can temporarily be left in the hands of the border police and home reserves. East Prussia is to be defended, even though the political situation must reckon with the evacuation of some or most of the active military units by way of the sea into the Reich....

b. Air Force: The concentration of the air warfare will also be in the West. The first task of the air force will probably be to oppose the enemy's air force and attack their ground support units, as well as the principle armament centers of the enemy's airplane industry.... Attacks upon centers which have primary political importance (for example, Paris) must await in every case my special permission.

2. War on 2 Fronts with main struggle in the South-East (GREEN) 

Assumptions: The War in the East could begin with a surprise German operation against Czechoslovakia in order to parry the imminent attack of a superior enemy coalition. The necessary conditions to justify such an attack politically and in the eyes of international law must be created beforehand.

It is to be expected that Poland and Lithuania will remain neutral or at least waiting developments; Austria, Italy and Yugoslavia will preserve benevolent neutrality or better. Hungary will possibly join in sooner or later in Germany's attack on Czechoslovakia. France and Russia will probably open some hostile action against Germany, Russia temporarily limiting herself to naval and air strikes. The neutrality of England -- which is an absolutely essential precondition for operation GREEN -- as well as that of all the other unnamed states who are capable of undertaking military action against Germany will probably arrive against the conduct of German policy.

The task of the German Armed Forces is to make their preparations in such a way that the bulk of all forces can break into Czechoslovakia quickly, by surprise, and with the greatest force, while in the West the minimum strength is provided as rear cover for this attack. The aim and object of this surprise attack by the German armed forces should be to eliminate from the very beginning and for the duration of the warm the threat by Czechoslovakia to the rear of its operations in the West, and to take from the Russian air force the most substantial position of its operational base in Czechoslovakia. This must be done by the defeat of the enemy armed forces and the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia. 

a. Army: The bulk of the army is to participate in the attack. The start of this operation will depend on the current strength and military preparedness of the German army as well as upon the state of preparation and also the attitude taken by Poland. In working out the preparation of this operation. it is to be assumed that the political leadership will have cleared the way for German troops to march through Austrian territory.... The rear guard action in the West must be limited to the fewest possible and least valuable troops. They must make do with whatever the state of their fortifications are then in.... East Prussia is to be defended, even though the political situation must reckon with the evacuation of some or most of the active military units by way of the sea into the Reich.

b. Air Force: The great mass of the air force is to be used against Czechoslovakia and only the very smallest number of units are to be reserved in the West. The first task of the air force will be the hindering of the Czech mobilization, especially by attacking their air force and ground support organization, as well as mobilization centers and the most important transportation centers. Here, the principle job would be to destroy the Czech state in an effective manner and thus facilitate its occupation by the army. Employment of the air force should, however, be such as to spare all the industrial and factory installations which might subsequently prove useful to us.... 

SPECIAL PREPARATIONS: The following cases are to be studied within the High Command....

I. Operation OTTO: "Armed intervention in Austria in the event of her restoring the monarchy." The object of this operation will be to compel Austria by armed force to give up a restoration. Making use of the domestic political dissension of the Austrian people, there will be a march in the general direction of Vienna, and any resistance will be broken. Part of the air force will be assigned to tactical support of the army. Further units of the air force must await my further and specific decision. The question as to whether armed units of the Party will also be used must also await the decision of the head of the army. In the preparation of OTTO, the following are to be taken into account:

a. this action may take place without any activity on other fronts.

b. This action may take place in conjunction with Operation RED. It is not expected that OTTO and GREEN will take place simultaneously. Should the political preconditions for the employment of both arrive at the same time, OTTO will be postponed until the conclusion of GREEN. In the deliberation on this plan, you should take into account the possibility that OTTO might develop into GREEN. 

II. Operation RICHARD: "Warlike complications with Red Spain." In the Spanish Civil War lies the danger that, through accidental or provoked incidents, conflict may arise between Germany and Red Spain which can lead to a state of war between the two governments. Preparatory deliberations to meet this eventuality are to be instituted only by the Navy. For the army and air force, it will remain a matter of assisting White Spain with material and personnel, as has been the procedure up to now. Sections of the air force may possible be placed under the command of the navy. 

III. Operation EXTENSION RED-GREEN. The military and political assumptions used as a basis for RED and GREEN may be rendered void, if either England, Poland, or Lithuania, or all three countries mentioned join the side of our opponents from the beginning of the war. Thereupon our military position would be worsened to an unbearable, even hopeless extent. The political leadership will therefore do everything to keep these countries neutral, especially England and Poland. Nevertheless, deliberations are to be instituted by way of supplement to the strategic plans for RED and GREEN to meet the eventuality of the failure of this intention by the political leadership. The following premises are to be the basis for the study: 

a. England: England will employ all her available economic and military resources against us. She will at first support France with sea and air forces and eventually try to win Belgium and possibly Holland too as bases.

b. Poland: That Poland should take part in an opening of hostilities against us, of possible at the side of Russia, is, in view of the present political situation, more than improbable. Should it nevertheless come to this, then Poland's land concentration against Germany would take place in a form which, in essence, is known to us -- to conquer East Prussia and (in conjunction with Czechoslovakia) Silesia. With her air force, who will in addition to using parts of it against East Prussia, take part in a joint Czech and Russian attack against the Reich. And at sea she will cooperate with the Russian fleet to cut communications between East Prussia and the Reich.

c. Lithuania: Lithuania will, above all, serve the Russian air force as an advance base. An attack on land need only be reckoned with in combination with Poland or after the arrival of the Russian Army in Lithuania.

The pessimistic expectations expressed in these instructions were fully confirmed in the resulting studies. Germany was in no position to fight a war against a coalition, and any local conflict would sooner or later escalate to such a confrontation. Upon receiving preliminary orders, General Ludwig Beck, Head of the Army's General Staff, objected strongly, especially to Operation Otto:the attack upon Austria. Given Hitler's political program, Beck believed this was the most likely action Hitler would order.

General Ludwig Beck to General Werner von Fritsch, 20 May 1937

 The German Army is not prepared to run the risk of war in Central Europe. From the standpoint of material, it cannot fight any war at the present time. In case of war between Austria and Germany, France, Czechoslovakia, England, Belgium, Russia, Poland, and Lithuania must be numbered among our enemies. 

Therefore, I believe the Army cannot accept the responsibility for [preparing an operation against Austria]. 

Beck was not the only official who questioned the ineptness with in which Hitler was now turning to foreign adventures. His recalcitrant Minister of Economics predicted disaster unless a new program were designed. Moreover the foreign office professionals, especially the distinguished and experienced diplomat Constantin von Neurath and his able State Secretary Bernhard von Bülow, were constantly raising objections to ill-conceived adventurous policies. No wonder Hitler began to feel that all the traditional forces within the state were against him. 

The leading traditionalists 

Constantin Freiherr von Neurath
Foreign Minister
Foreign Minister Neurath
and State Secretary Bülow
Hjalmar Schacht
Minister of Economics

To addition to objections from these "traditionalists," the rearmament program had by now developed a momentum of its own, fueled not only by Hitler's political goals, but increasingly by the professional concerns, ambitions, and rivalry of the three armed services. The Army leadership hoped to acquire the new resources from the recently launched Four Year Plan, but there were other contenders also counting on increased funding. As Britain had begun to emerge as a potential opponent, the Navy, basing its calculations on the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935, started a program to achieve 35 per cent of the British fleet by the end of 1942. But in early 1937, Hitler ordered a further six battleships, in addition to the four already envisaged, for completion by 1944. This was not because he expected war with Britain in the immediate future. Indeed, he gave no orders to prepare for such a war and the long range nature of any time-table to complete battleships made ruled out war for many years to come. Apparently, with Britain now a potential enemy instead of an ally, Hitler believed that a fleet of ten battleships (only by 1944) would be a powerful enough deterrent against an unprovoked attack by the British. 

Thus, by the summer of 1937, it was clear that even the "moderate" naval program of building only four battleships was not on schedule. Facing growing delays and competition for resources not only from the Army but also from Göring (the ambitious head of a rival armed service, the Luftwaffe, and also responsible for both the vast Four Year Plan and the export drive) Admiral Raeder, the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, wrote desperately about the effects of these delays and of the cuts in the program which would have to be introduced because of the shortages, particularly of steel. 

Admiral Raeder to General von Blomberg, 25 October 1937 

. . . Thus, by the scheduled completion date for naval rearmament we would have at our disposal a battle fleet with only two ships of 35,000 tons, which would be neither capable of taking on any of our conceivable opponents nor would possess adequate alliance potential. The postponements and cuts would thus not only produce a considerable reduction in the Navy's readiness for war, they would also have decisive diplomatic effects in the event of a peaceful development. Since the measures in question [i.e. cuts] will have consequences going beyond my sphere of responsibilities, I consider myself unable to take on the responsibilities for proposing the overturning of the naval rearmament program I consider it necessary to secure an immediate decision by the Führer. 

Blomberg, already alarmed by Fritsch about the shortages the army faced, decided to refer the whole issue to Hitler. But Hitler had never taken the time to consider the numerous issues which were involved with these economic developments. He believed that his real gift was the ability to move the masses, and throughout 1937 he devoted far more attention to cultivating that image (recognized by Time Magazine's designation of Hitler as Man of the Year for 1936), and especially working with his favorite architect, Albert Speer, on plans for a gigantic Party Rally complex in Nürnberg.

The New Players 

Chancellor Adolf Hitler
Time Man of the Year
Albert Speer's plans
shown to Hitler
Hitler with Military
Attache Friedrich Hossbach

It was against this background, that Hitler decided to summon the major participants in the discussion to a meeting in early November 1937. The meeting was arranged by Hitler's military adjutant, Captain Friedrich Hossbach, who jotted down some notes which survived the war and became the key document presented against the defendants at the Nuremberg Trial after the war. It proved, the prosecution alleged, that they had engaged in a conspiracy for military aggression.

The Hossbach Meeting  

Colonel Hossbach Notes of a Conference in the Chancellery, 5 November 1937

Berlin, 10 November 1937 

Present: The Führer and Chancellor; War Minister, Field Marshal von Blomberg; Commander-in-Chief of the Army, General Baron von Fritsch; Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, Admiral Raeder; Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force, General Göring; Foreign Minister Baron von Neurath; and Hitler's Military Adjutant, Colonel Hossbach 

The Führer began by stating that the subject of the present conference was of such importance that its discussion would, in other countries, certainly be a matter for a full Cabinet Meeting, but he had rejected the idea of making it a subject of discussion before the wide circle of the Reich Cabinet, just because of the importance of the matter. His exposition to follow was the fruit of thorough deliberation and experience of his 4 years of power. He wished to explain to the gentlemen present his basic ideas concerning the opportunities for the development of our position in the field of foreign policy and its requirements, and he asked, in the interests of a long-term German policy, that his exposition be regarded, in the event of his death, as his last will and testament.

The Führer then continued: The aim of German policy was to make secure and to preserve the Volk community and to enlarge it. It was therefore a question of space. 

The German Volk community comprised over 85 million people and, because of their number and the narrow limits of habitable space in Europe, constituted a tightly packed Volk core such as was not to be met in any other country and such as implied the right to a greater living space than in the case of other peoples. If, territorially speaking, there existed no political result corresponding to this German Volk core, that was the consequence of centuries of historical development, and in the continuance of these political conditions lay the greatest danger to the preservation of the German race at its present peak. To arrest the decline of Germandom in Austria and Czechoslovakia was as little possible as to maintain the present level in Germany itself. Instead of increase, sterility was setting in, and in its train disorders of a social character must arise in course of time, since political and ideological ideas remain effective only so long as they furnish the basis for the realization of the essential vital demands of a people. Germany's future was therefore wholly conditional upon the solving of the need for space, and such a solution could be sought, of course, only for a foreseeable period of about one to three generations. 

Before turning to the question of solving the need for space, it had to be considered whether a solution which would hold promise for the future could be reached by means of autarchy or by means of an increased participation in the world economy. 


Achievement only possible under strict National Socialist leadership of the State, which is assumed; accepting its achievement as possible, the following could be stated as results: 

A. in the field of raw materials, there could be only limited, not total autarchy.

1.In regard to coal (as a source of other raw materials), autarchy was possible.

2. But as regards ores, the position was much more difficult. Iron requirements could be met from domestic supplies and similarly with lighter metals, but for other materials -- copper, tin -- this was not the case.

3. Synthetic textile requirements could be met from domestic supplies to the limit of timber reserves, But a permanent solution here was impossible.

4. Edible fats -- possible. 

B. In the field of food, the question of autarchy was to be answered by a flat "NO!" 

With the general rise in the standard of living compared with that of 30 to 40 years ago, there has gone hand in hand an in creased demand and an increased home consumption even on the part of the producers -- the farmers. The fruits of the increased agricultural production had all gone to meet the increased demand, and so did not represent an absolute production increase. A further increase in production by making greater demands on the soil, which already in consequence of the use of artificial fertilizers, was showing signs of exhausting, was hardly possible, and it was there fore certain that even with the maximum increase in production, participation in world trade in food was unavoidable. The non-inconsiderable expenditure of foreign exchange to insure food supplies by imports, even when harvests were good, grew to catastrophic proportions with bad harvests. The possibility of a disaster grew in proportion to the increase in population, in which, too, the excess of births of 560,000 annually produced, as a consequence an even further increase in bread consumption, since a child was a greater bread consumer than an adult.

It was not possible over the long run, in a continent enjoying a practically common standard of living, to meet the food supply difficulties by lowering that standard and by rationalization. Since, with the solving of the unemployment problem, the maximum consumption level had been reached, some minor modifications in our home agricultural production might still, no doubt, be reached, but no fundamental alteration was possible in our basic food position. Thus autarchy was untenable in regard both to food and to the economy as a whole. 


To this there were limitations which we were unable to remove. The establishment of Germany's position on a secure and sound foundation was obstructed by market fluctuations, and commercial treaties afforded no guarantee for actual execution. In particular it had to be remembered that since the World War, those very countries which had formerly been food exporters had become industrialized. We were living in an age of economic empires in which the primitive urge to colonization was again manifesting itself; in the cases of Japan and Italy economic motives underlay the urge for expansion, and with Germany, too, economic need would supply the stimulus. For countries outside the great economic empires, opportunities for economic expansion were severely impeded. 

The boom in world economy caused by the economical effects of rearmament could never form the basis of a sound economy over a long period, and the latter was obstructed above all also by the economic disturbances resulting from Bolshevism. There was a pronounced military weakness in those states which depended for their existence on foreign trade. As our foreign trade was carried on over the sea routes dominated by Britain, it was more a question of security of transport than one of foreign exchange, which revealed, in time of war, the full weakness of our food situation. The only remedy, and one which might appear to us as visionary, lay in the acquisition of greater living space -- a quest which has at all times been the origin of the formation of states and the migration of peoples. That this quest met with no interest at the League of Nations or among the satiated nations was understandable. If, then, we accept the security of our food situation as the principal question, the space necessary to insure it can only be sought in Europe, not, as in the liberal-capitalist view, in the exploitation of colonies. It is not a matter of acquiring population but of gaining space for agricultural use. Moreover, areas producing raw materials can be more usefully sought in Europe in immediate proximity to the Reich, than overseas; the solution thus obtained must suffice for one or two generations. Whatever else might prove necessary later must be left to succeeding generations to deal with. The development of greater world political constellations progressed but slowly after all, and the German people with its strong racial core would find the most favorable prerequisites for such achievement in the heart of the continent of Europe. The history of all ages -- the Roman Empire and the British Empire -- had proved that expansion could only be carried out by breaking down resistance and taking risks; setbacks were inevitable. There had never in former times been spaces without a master, and there are none today. The attacker always comes up against a possessor. 

The question for Germany was: Where could she achieve the greatest gain at the lowest cost. 

German policy had to reckon with two hate-inspired antagonists -- Britain and France -- to whom a German colossus in the center of Europe was a thorn in the flesh, and both countries were opposed to any further strengthening of Germany's position either in Europe or overseas; in support of this opposition they were able to count on the agreement of all their political parties. Both countries saw in the establishment of German military bases overseas a threat to their own communications, a safeguarding of German commerce, and as a consequence a strengthening of Germany's position in Europe. 

Because of opposition of the Dominions, Britain could not cede any of her colonial possessions to us. After England's loss of prestige through the passing of Abyssinia into Italian possession, the return of East Africa was not to be expected. British concessions could at best be expressed in an offer to satisfy our colonial demands by the appropriation of colonies which were not British possessions -- e.g. Angola. French concessions would probably take a similar line. 

Serious discussions of the question of the return of colonies to us could only be considered at a moment when Britain was in difficulties and the German Reich armed and strong. The Führer did not share the view that the Empire was unshakable. Opposition to the Empire was to be found less in the countries conquered than among her competitors. The British Empire and the Roman Empire could not be compared in respect of permanence; the latter was not confronted by any powerful political rival of a serious order after the Punic Wars. It was only the disintegrating effect of Christianity, and the symptoms of age which appear in every country, which caused ancient Rome to succumb to the onslaught of the Germans. 

Beside the British Empire there existed today a number of states stronger than she. The British motherland was able to protect her colonial possessions not by her own power, but only in alliance with other states. How, for instance, could Britain alone defend Canada against attack by America, or her Far Eastern interests against attack by Japan! 

The emphasis on the British Crown as the symbol of the unity of the Empire was already an admission that, in the long run, the Empire could not maintain its position by power politics. Significant indications of this were: 

a. the struggle of Ireland for independence.

b. the constitutional struggles in India, where Britain's half measures had given to the Indians the opportunity of using later on as a weapon against Britain the non-fulfillment of her promises regarding a constitution.

c. the weakening by Japan of Britain's position in the Far East.

d. the rivalry in the Mediterranean with Italy who -- under the spell of her history, driven by necessity and led by a genius -- was expanding her power position, and thus was inevitably coming more and more into conflict with British interests. The outcome of the Abyssinian War was a loss of prestige for Britain which Italy was striving to increase by stirring up trouble in the Mohammedan world.

To sum up, it could be stated that, with 45 million Britons, in spite of its theoretical soundness, the position of the Empire could not in the long run be maintained by power politics. The ratio of the population of the Empire to that of the motherland of 9:1 was a warning to us not, in our territorial expansion, to allow the foundation constituted by the numerical strength of our own people to become too weak. 

France's position was more favorable than that of Britain. The French Empire was better placed territorially; the inhabitants of her colonial possessions represented a supplement to her military strength. But France was going to be confronted with internal political difficulties. In a nation's life about 10% of its span is taken up by parliamentary forms of government and about 90% by authoritarian forms. Today, nonetheless, Britain, France, Russia and the smaller states adjoining them, must be included as factors in our political calculations. 

Germany's problem could only be solved by means of force and this was never without attendant risk. The campaigns of Frederick the Great for Silesia and Bismarck's wars against Austria and France had involved unheard-of risks, and the swiftness of the Prussian action in 1870 had kept Austria from entering the war. If one accepts as the basis of the following exposition the resort to force with its attendant risks, then there remains still to be answered the question "when" and "how." In this matter there were three cases to be dealt with: 

CASE I: PERIOD 1943-1945: 

After this date, only a change for the worse, from our point of view, could be expected. The equipment of the army, navy, and air force, as well as the formation of the officer corps was nearly completed. Equipment and armaments were modern; in further delay there lay the danger of their obsolescence. In particular, the secrecy of "special weapons" could not be preserved forever. The recruiting of reserves was limited to current age groups; further drafts from older untrained age groups were no longer available. 

Our relative strength would decrease in relation to the rearmament which would by then have been carried out by the rest of the world. If we did not act by 1943-1945, any year could, in consequence of a lack of reserves, produce the food crisis, to cope with which the necessary foreign exchange was not available, and this must be regarded as a "warning point of the regime." Besides, the world was expecting our attack and was increasing its countermeasures from year to year. It was while the rest of the world was still preparing its defenses that we were obliged to take the offensive.

Nobody knew today what the situation would be in the years 1943-1945. One thing only was certain, that we could not wait longer. 

On the one hand, there was the great German Army, and the necessity of maintaining it at its present level, the aging of the movement and of its leaders; and on the other hand, the prospect of a lowering of the standard of living and of a limitation of the birth rate, which left no choice but to act. If the Führer was still living, it was his unalterable resolve to solve Germany's problem of space at the latest by 1943-1945. The necessity for action before 1943-1945 would arise in cases 2 and 3. 

CASE II: If internal strife in France should develop into such a domestic crisis as to absorb the French Army completely and render it incapable of use for war against Germany, then the time would have come for action against the Czechs. 

CASE III: If France were so embroiled by a war with another state that she cannot proceed against Germany, the same. 

For the improvement of our politico-military position, our first objective in the event of being embroiled in war must be to over throw Czechoslovakia and Austria simultaneously in order to remove the threat to our flank in any possible operation against the West. In a conflict with France, it was hardly to be regarded as likely that the Czechs would declare war on us on the very same day as France. The desire to join in the war would, however, increase among the Czechs in proportion to any weakening on our part and then her participation could clearly take the form of an attack toward Silesia, toward the north or toward the west. 

If the Czechs were overthrown and a common German-Hungarian frontier achieved, a neutral attitude on the part of Poland could be the more certainly counted on in the event of a Franco-German conflict. Our agreements with Poland only retained their force as long as Germany's strength remained unshaken. In the event of German setbacks, a Polish action against East Prussian, and possibly against Pomerania and Silesia as well, had to be reckoned with. 

On the assumption of a development of the situation leading to action on our part as planned in the years 1943-1945, the attitude of France, Britain, Italy, Poland, and Russia could probably be estimated as follows: 

Actually, the Führer believed that almost certainly Britain and probably France as well had already tacitly written off the Czechs and were reconciled to the fact that this question would be cleared up in due course by Germany. Difficulties connected with the Empire, and the prospect of being once more entangled in a protracted European war, were decisive considerations for Britain against participation in a war against Germany. Britain's attitude would certainly not be without British support and with the prospect of the offensive being brought to a standstill on our western fortifications was hardly probable. Nor was a French march through Belgium and Holland without British support to be expected; this also was a course not to be contemplated by us in the event of a conflict with France, because it would certainly entail the hostility of Britain. It would of course be necessary to maintain a strong defense on our western frontier during the prosecution of our attack on the Czechs and Austria. 

And in this connection it had to be remembered that the defense measures of the Czechs were growing in strength from year to year, and that the actual worth of the Austrian Army also was increasing in the course of time. Even though the populations concerned, especially that of Czechoslovakia, were not sparse, the annexation of Czechoslovakia and Austria would mean an acquisition of foodstuffs for 5 to 6 million people, on the assumption that the compulsory emigration of 2 million people from Czechoslovakia and 1 million people from Austria was practicable. The incorporation of these two states with Germany meant, from the politico-military point of view, a substantial advantage because it would mean shorter and better frontiers, the freeing of forces for other purposes, and the possibility of creating new units up to a level of about 12 divisions, that is, 1 new division per million inhabitants. 

Italy was not expected to object to the elimination of the Czechs, but it was impossible at the moment to estimate what her attitude on the Austrian question would be; that depended essentially upon whether the Duce were still alive. The degree of surprise and the swiftness of our action were decisive factors for Poland's attitude. Poland -- with Russia at her rear -- will have little inclination to engage in war against a victorious Germany.

Military intervention by Russia must be countered by the swiftness of our operations; however, whether such an intervention was a practical contingency at all was, in view of Japan's attitude, more than doubtful. 

Should Case II arise -- the crippling of France by civil war -- the situation thus created by the elimination of the most dangerous opponent must be seized upon whenever it occurs for the blow against the Czechs. 

The Führer saw Case III coming definitely nearer; it might emerge from the present tension in the Mediterranean (as a result of the Spanish Civil War), and he was resolved to take advantage of it whenever it happened, even as early as 1938.

In the light of past experience, the Führer did not see any early end to the hostilities in Spain. If one considered the length of time which Franco's offensives had taken up till now, it was fully possible that the war would continue another 3 years. On the other hand, a 100% victory for Franco was not desirable either, from the German point of view; rather we were interested in a continuance of the war and in the keeping up of the tension in the Mediterranean. Franco in undisputed possession of the Spanish peninsula precluded the possibility of any further intervention on the part of Italy or of their continued occupation of the Balearic Islands (off the Southern coast of France). As our interest lay more in the prolongation of the war in Spain, it must be the immediate aim of our policy to strengthen Italy's rear with a view to her remaining in the Balearics. But the permanent establishment of the Italians on the Balearics would be intolerable both to France and Britain, and might lead to a war of France and England against Italy -- a war in which Spain, should she be entirely in the hands of the Whites, might make her appearance on the side of Italy's enemies. The probability of Italy's defeat in such a war was slight, for the road from Germany was open for the supplementing of her raw materials. The Führer pictured the military strategy for Italy thus: on her western frontier with France she would remain on the defensive and carry on the war against France from Libya against the French North-African colonial possessions. 

As a landing by Franco-British troops on the coast of Italy could be discounted, and a French offensive over the Alps against northern Italy would be very difficult and would probably come to a halt before the strong Italian fortifications, the crucial point of the operations lay in North Africa. The threat to French lines of communications by the Italian fleet would to a great extent cripple the transportation of forces from North Africa to France, so that France would have only home forces at her disposal on the frontiers with Italy and Germany. 

If Germany made use of this war to settle the Czech and Austrian questions, it was to be assumed that Britain -- herself at war with Italy -- would decide not to act against Germany. Without British support, a warlike action by France against Germany was not to be expected. 

The time for our attack on the Czechs and Austria must be made dependent on the course of the Anglo-French-Italian war and would not necessarily coincide with the commencement of military operations by these three States. Nor had the Führer in mind military agreements with Italy, but wanted, while retaining his won independence of action, to exploit this favorable situation, which would not occur again, to begin and carry through the campaign against the Czechs. This descent upon the Czechs would have to be carried out with "lightening speed." 

In appraising the situation, Field Marshal von Blomberg and General von Fritsch repeatedly emphasized the necessity that Britain and France must not appear in the role of our enemies and stated that the French army would not be so committed by the war with Italy that France could not at the same time enter the field with forces superior to ours on our western frontier. General von Fritsch estimated the probable French forces available for use on the Alpine frontier at approximately twenty divisions, so that a strong French superiority would still remain on the western frontier, with the role, according to the German view, of invading the Rhineland. In this matter, moreover, the advanced state of French defense preparations must be taken into particular account, and it must be remembered apart from the insignificant value of our present fortification -- on which Field Marshal von Blomberg laid special emphasis -- that the four motorized divisions intended for the Western Front were still more or less inca able of movement. In regard to offensive toward the Southeast, Field Marshal von Blomberg drew particular attention to the strength of the Czech fortifications, which had acquired by now a structure like the Maginot Line and which would gravely hamper our attack. 

General von Fritsch mentioned that this was the very purpose of a study which he had ordered made this winter, namely to examine the possibility of conducting operations against the Czechs with special reference to overcoming the Czech fortifications system; the General further expressed his opinion that under existing circumstances he must give up his plan to go abroad on his leave which was due to begin on November 10. The Führer dismissed this idea on the grounds that the possibility of a conflict need not yet be regarded as so imminent.

To the Foreign Minister's objections that an Anglo-French-Italian conflict was not yet within such a measurable distance as the Führer seemed to assume, the Führer put the summer of 1938 as the date which seemed to him possible for this. In reply to considerations offered by Field Marshal von Blomberg and General von Fritsch regarding the attitude of Britain and France, the Führer repeated his previous statements that he was convinced of Britain's non-participation, and therefore he did not believe in the probability of belligerent action by France against Germany. Should the Mediterranean conflict under discussion lead to a general mobilization in Europe, then we must immediately begin action against the Czechs. On the other hand, should the powers, not engaged in the war, declare themselves disinterested, then Germany would have to adopt a similar attitude to this for the time being. 

General Göring thought that, in view of the Führer's statement, we should consider liquidating our military undertakings in Spain. The Führer agrees to this with the limitation that he thinks he should reserve a decision for a proper moment. 

The second part of the conference was concerned with concrete questions of armaments. 

In the post-war Nuremberg Trials, Hermann Göring gave his version of the background to the Hossbach notes, and Hitler's motivations. 

Hermann Göring Testimony, 14 March 1946

As far as the technical aspect of this document is concerned, I want to say the following: Hossbach was the adjutant of the Führer, the chief adjutant. As such, he was present at the meeting and took notes. Five days later, he prepared this record on the basis of his notes. This document, therefore, contains all the mistakes which easily occur in a record which is not taken down on the spot by alternating stenographers, and which under certain circumstances contains the subjective opinions of the recorder or his own interpretations.

It contains a number of points, as I said at the time, which correspond exactly to what the Führer had repeatedly said; but there are other points and expressions which I may say do not seem like the Führer's words... 

Now what did the Führer aim at in this discussion? The Minister of War, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy and the Air Force, and the then Foreign Minister were called together. Shortly before the Führer had informed me, as I was there earlier, that he was going to call this meeting mainly in order, as he called it, to put pressure on General von Fritsch, since he was dissatisfied with the rearmament pace of the Army. he then said it would no do any harm if Herr von Blomberg would also exercise a certain amount of pressure on Fritsch. 

I asked why Neurath was to be present. He said that he did not want the thing to look too military, that as far as the commanders- in-chief were concerned it was not so important, but that he wanted to make it very clear to Commander-in-Chief Fritsch that the foreign political situation required a forced speed in armament and that for that reasons he had asked the Foreign Minister, who knew nothing about details, to come along. 

The statements were then made in the way the Führer preferred on such occasions. He went to great lengths to picture things within a large political framework, and he talked about the whole world situation from all angles; and for anybody who knew him as well as I did, the purpose which he pursued was obvious. He was quite clearly aiming at saying that he had great plans, that the political situation was such and such, and that the whole thing ended up in the direction of a stronger armament program. 

I should like to say that if the Führer, a couple of hours later, had talked to another group, for instance, diplomats of the Foreign Office, or Party functionaries, then he probably would have represented matters quite differently. 

Since the original copy of Hossbach's Memorandum has subsequently disappeared, and the copy used in the International Military Tribunal trial was apparently made late in 1942 from Hossbach's original by an Army Officer working in the Military Archives, much controversy has arisen over the authenticity of this memorandum. General Hossbach, however, survived the war and testified to its general accuracy, except that he remembered the dissenting voices as being more prolonged. In his published memoirs, Friedrich Hossbach recalled the atmosphere of the meeting, which does not come across in his notes.

Friedrich Hossbach Post-war Memoirs

At the discussion became quite heated, above all between Blomberg and Fritsch on the one hand and Göring on the other, while Hitler for the most part remained a spectator. I do not recall the substance of the dispute. However, I remember very clearly that the sharp divergence of opinion both in form and substance did not fail to make an impression on Hitler as I could see from the expression on his face In view of his attitude. the behavior of Blomberg and Fritsch must have made it clear to the Führer that his political ideas had simply produced sober and objective counter-arguments instead of applause and approval. And he knew very well that the two generals rejected any involvement in a war provoked by us. 

Two of the participants were so upset that they visited Hitler. On 9 November, Fritsch expressed concern about possible French and British intervention over any German military action. Having failed to get an appointment until , mid-January 1938 Foreign Minister Neurath then pointed out that Hitler's policy would lead to a world war. Such a development was unnecessary since many of these goals could be achieved peacefully &emdash; though somewhat more slowly . Significantly. Hitler replied that 'he had no more time'.

Although Hitler reassured both Fritsch and Neurath that he did not contemplate any immediate action, the reaction by the Head of the General Staff was certainly quite strong. 

General Ludwig Beck Handwritten Comments on the Hossbach Notes, 12 November 1937

Doubtlessly the problem of space for Germany arises primarily because of its central position in Europe and as such has always existed and will probably continue to exist for all times, and the problem has been complicated also by the territorial changes brought about by the Versailles Treaty. But one must not overlook, on the other hand, that the areas of nationalities have been stabilized in Europe for a thousand years and even longer, and fundamental changes can scarcely be implemented without the most difficult and incomprehensibly lengthy convulsions. One cannot draw parallels in Europe for the territorial changes such as Italy has carried out in Africa or Japan in East Asia. And no attempt at changes should be permitted to endanger the unity of the German people, the racial heart of Germandom. 

According to our previous views, all plans for autarchy -- such as those which underlay in part the Four-Year Plan -- were only emergency measures, and were never intended to be permanent solutions. It is certain that every attempt at autarchy which endangers in a prejudicial fashion the very future of its own possessions and substance cannot be but a misplaced solution in the long run. 

It is only too true that in view of our participation in a world economy we cannot be truly independent. But to deduce from this fact, that the sole remedy is to conquer an enlarged living space appears to me to require that we master numerous difficulties that have been too little thought out. In so far as I understand these things, we must continue for all time to participate in the highest degree possible in the world's economy, or else the German people must slowly shrivel up. 

The extent of the French and English opposition to any expansion in territory and growth in power by Germany is not misplace. But to view this opposition as irrevocable, that is insurmountable, in the face of the totally inadequate attempts till now to set this opposition aside, appears to me not justified. Politics is the art of the possible. All three nations exist simultaneously in this world, and all three are in Europe. Thus, it would be most advisable first to exhaust all possibilities to work out something among them, especially in view of the mutual power relationships. More over, such a procedure would be clever should some war break out later. 

Certainly, the British Empire is not indestructible. But it appears much more probable to me that it will continue for quite some time to be the most influential world power next to America. And therefore for the immediate future England will not stand alone but will always have allies. The short, and general remarks over England and France -- Russia as a power factor is unfortunately not mentioned at all -- have nothing whatsoever to do with the final conclusions of the "Führer." He appears to be satisfied with only one question: where will England and France, etc., stand in 1938. 

It is probably not historically correct to say that Bismarck's wars against Austria and France contained unheard-of risks; what risks were present had been amply foreseen by the statesman, who took them into account in his planning and therefore had success. The entire historical parallels here are of questionable validity. 

The chronological distinctions into three separate cases are also of questionable validity, because they proceed only upon a part of the factors which will come into play, namely those which can be known beforehand. 

CASE I: The military information is not the proper subject for a statesman and needs to be reviewed by specialists. The military- political, financial, economic, and morale issues are not even discussed at all. The conclusion that the German space question must be resolved at the latest by 1943/1945 is presented with such a lack of adequate reasoning that its effect is depressingly shattering. 

CASE II: As before, such an eventuality is considered totally unlikely -- this is only wishful thinking. 

CASE III: France will always have sufficient power at its disposal to proceed against Germany. 

To consider Austria and Czechoslovakia as land with excess profits is certainly an exaggeration. Even in the most favorable conditions, they will supply only a relatively small improvement in our potential supply of food and raw materials. 

The military-political situation possible after annexation of Czechoslovakia and Austria requires a more basic investigation. 

I do not object to the advisability of ordering investigations and inaugurating preparations that will make possible the solution of the case of Czechoslovakia (and eventually also Austria) at some opportune moment. The preconditions necessary for such an opportunity to be seized, and the considerations surrounding it, however, require a much more fundamental and comprehensive investigation than can be found in the notes of this conversation. 

General Beck's comments were part of a concerted scheme to bring pressure upon Hitler. General Fritsch and Foreign Minister Neurath discussed the gravity of the situation on 7 November, and agreed to approach the Führer to make clear the military and political impossibility of the plan he had outlined. Fritsch's remonstrances on 9 November, however, were simply waved aside, and Hitler refused to receive his foreign minister until after the Christmas holidays! In the meantime, a new strident tone clearly entered German diplomacy 

William Bullitt Notes of a Conversation with Hermann Göring, 18 November 1937

 I said to General Göring as soon as I met him that I should be extremely glad to have his ideas on the prospects of peace and war in Europe and that I wished he would begin by telling me what he thought of Germany's relations with France.... 

The sole source of friction ... was the refusal of France to permit Germany to achieve certain vital national necessities. If France, instead of accepting a collaboration with Germany, should continue to follow a policy of building up alliances in Eastern Europe to prevent Germany from the achievement of her legitimate aims, it was obvious that there would be conflict between France and Germany. 

I asked Göring what aims especially he had in mind. He replied: "We are determined to join to the German Reich all Germans who are contiguous to the Reich and are divided from the great body of the German race merely by the artificial barriers imposed by the Treaty of Versailles." 

I asked Göring if he meant that Germany was absolutely determined to annex Austria to the Reich. He replied that this was an absolute determination of the German government. The German government at the present time was not pressing this matter because of certain momentary political considerations, especially in their relations with Italy; but Germany would tolerate no solution to the Austrian question other than the consolidation of Austria within the German Reich . . . 

I asked Göring if the German government was as decided in its views with regard to the Germans in Bohemia (i.e. Czechoslovakia) as it was with regard to Austria. He replied that there could be only one final solution of this question. The Sudeten Germans must enter the German Reich as all other Germans who lived contiguous to the Reich. 

I asked if the German Government might not be content if the Czech government should accord to the Germans of Bohemia a large measure of local autonomy while keeping them under Czech sovereignty. Göring replied that such a concession on the part of the Czechoslovak government would lead to a temporary appeasement of the situation; but the autonomy would have to be real autonomy and such a solution would not be a final solution. There could be no final solution but the inclusion of these Germans within the Reich . .. 

Göring then added that the only other two considerable German Volk groups which would lie outside the borders of the German Reich, after the Germans of Austria and Bohemia had been included, would be the Germans of the South Tyrol who were now in the hands of Italy and the Germans in Poland. He did not feel that there was a sufficient number of Germans in Italy to warrant a major war for their attachment to the Reich. Similarly, the Germans of Poland would have to stay where they were because there were a considerable number of Poles in Germany and all that either Poland or Germany could expect would be that these minorities should be treated on each side of the border with the greatest human consideration. 

Germany and England 

During these days, Hitler was obviously re-considering many of his foreign policy assumptions. The new German ambassador in England, Joachim von Ribbentrop, had aruged that he could bring home a British alliance against Bolshevism. His main activity in Britain had concentrated on this approach and at first he had found a receptive climate, particularly among the upper classes. One of these, Harold Nicholson, noted in his diary on 16 July 1936 that "the majority of the National [Conservative and National Labor] Party are at heart anti-League of Nations and anti-Russian and what they would really like would be a firm agreement with Germany and possibly Italy by which we could purchase peace at the expense of the smaller states." 

Still clinging to his position, Constantin von Neurath also believed that Britain would come around, and this prediction seemed confirmed when the British government decided to seek a general settlement with Germany by meeting what they considered legitimate German grievances in Eastern Europe (Austria and Czechoslovakia) and over colonies. 

But when Foreign Minister Halifax tried to tempt Hitler with offer of limited revision of the frontiers in Eastern Europe, Hitler was only confirmed in his newly developing view of British weakness. 

German Memorandum of Hitler and Halifax, Discussion, 19 November 1937 

HALIFAX: . . . The Prime Minister held the view that it should be possible to find a solution (of our differences) by an open exchange of views. The solution of even difficult problems could be facilitated by mutual confidence. If Germany and England were to succeed in reaching an understanding or even in approaching nearer to such an understanding, it would be necessary, in the English view, that those countries which stood politically close to Germany and England should be at the appropriate time brought into our discussions. One should mention in this context Italy and France, to whom it must be made clear from the beginning that an Anglo-German rapprochement would not mean an attempt to divide France and England. The impression should not be given that the Berlin-Rome axis or the good relations between London and Paris would be prejudiced by an agreement between England and Germany. After the ground had been prepared by agreement between England and Germany, the four Great Powers of Western Europe must together create the basis upon which a lasting European peace would be built. In no case should one of the four Powers be left outside this collaboration for in that case the situation of insecurity which would arise would never find an end. 

HITLER: There were two possibilities in the shaping of relations between the peoples: 

The interplay of free forces, which was often synonymous with great and grave encroachments upon the life of the peoples and which could bring in its train a serious convulsion which would shake the civilization we had built up with so much trouble. The second possibility lay in setting up in the place of the play of free forces the rule of a "higher reason"; in this case, however, one must clearly realize that this higher reason must lead to approximately similar results to those which had followed from the working of free forces. He (the Chancellor) had often asked himself during recent years whether humanity today was intelligent enough to replace the play of free forces by the method of higher reason. 

In the year 1919 a great chance to apply this new method had been missed. At that time a solution of unreasonableness had been preferred: as a consequence Germany had been forced back on the path of the free play of forces, because this was the only possible way to make sure of the simplest rights of mankind. It would be decisive for the future whether the one method were chosen, or the other. When considering the sacrifices which would certainly be demanded here and there by the method of reason one should realize what sacrifices would have to be made, were one to return to the old method of the free play of forces. One would then realize that the former alternative cost less. 

HALIFAX: On the English side it was not necessarily thought that the status quo must be maintained under all circumstances. It was recognized that one might have to contemplate an adjustment to new conditions, a correction of former mistakes and the recognition of changed circumstances when such need arose. In doing so England made her influence felt only in one way&emdash;to secure that these alterations should not take place in a manner corresponding to the unreasonable solution mentioned by the Chancellor, the play of free forces, which in the end meant war. 

He must emphasize once more in the name of H.M. Government that possibility of change of the existing situation was not excluded but that changes should only take place upon the basis of reasonable agreements reasonably reached. If on both sides there was agreement that the world was not static, one should try to put the recognition of this fact into practice so that the energies at the disposal of mankind should be directed in mutual confidence to a common objective . . . 

LORD HALIFAX asked the Chancellor, if, subject to a satisfactory solution of pending questions, he saw any possibility of leading Germany back to a close cooperation with other nations in the League of Nations or in what respect the Covenant of the League in his opinion must be altered before Germany could once more become a member of the League. There was no doubt that the virtues of the League might have been exaggerated by its too enthusiastic supporters. Nevertheless, one must admit that the League used its influence for a peaceful method of solving international difficulties. If it was possible to put these methods into force, one would have practically realized the second alternative which the Chancellor had previously described as the "reasonable method," in contra-distinction to the free play of forces. If one were to use the League, which was an international method, the details of which one might perhaps alter, in this manner, it would have considerable effect upon the re-establishment of confidence between the nations. He therefore inquired of the Chancellor his attitude toward the League and to disarmament. All other questions fell into the category of possible alterations in the European order which might be destined to come about with the passage of time. Amongst these questions were Danzig, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. England was interested to see that any alterations should come through the course of peaceful evolution and that methods should be avoided which might cause far-reaching disturbances, which neither the Chancellor nor other countries desired.

The colonial question was doubtless difficult. The English Prime Minister adopted the attitude that it could only be solved as a part of a new start and of a general settlement . 

It has recently been argued that the explanation for Hitler's rather cool reception of Halifax was his growing belief that since Britain lacked both the strength and the will to oppose him, an alliance with Italy was more likely to free Germany's hands in South-Eastern Europe. Friendship and support for Mussolini would encourage Italy to concentrate more on the Mediterranean (and not her previous "protection" of Austria and Hungary). An alliance with Britain, on the other hand, might force Italy back into the hands of France.

On 2 December, a member of the Propaganda Ministry confidentially briefed representatives of the German press on Hitler's new views. 

Dertinger Briefing in the Propaganda Ministry, 2 December 1937

Apart from the untruthfulness of English policy . . . even an honest German-English rapprochement could offer Germany no concrete, positive advantages in the present situation. The process of German-English understanding would at best bring Germany this or that colonial strip. which it would not be able to defend in an emergency, and where based on direct German-English agreement would not be large enough to bring Germany significant economic advantages, but would be large enough to drive Belgium, Portugal and France properly into a united anti-German front. Above all in the event of German-English understanding. Italy would lose its entire basis for its Mediterranean policy and having been denuded of its German support would have to capitulate to England. The consequence would be a natural Italian attempt to achieve compensation in Central Europe. Rome will then be automatically driven to France's side. France and Italy together would then at any time be in position to obstruct Germany even in the most modest attempt at a new order in South East Europe. In this event England would not be in a position or would not want to help Germany carry out its Central European plans against Italian-French opposition. The policy of an understanding with England would therefore only bring an effective colonial success but in practice with the consequence of the impossibility of South-East European expansion. From these considerations the Führer concludes that Germany must stay unaltered at Italy's side and has no interest in coming to an understanding with England. Only so long as relations between Berlin and London are on ice is Italy in a position to conduct Mediterranean policy and therefore to submit to Germany in central Europe.

Although Hitler might still have preferred a British alliancehe was increasingly convinced thatBritish approaches to Germany were only designed to tie his hands. It is likely that the reports of Ambassador Ribbentrop in London played an important role in this reconsideration, for Hitler had developed a considerable if implausible admiration for this man. The following two documents show Ribbentrop's arugment that Britain was the real enemy and hence the necessity for closer relations with Italy and Japan , as part of a world-wide anti-British coalition.

28 December 1937 Ribbentrop's Memorandum 

I. ... For centuries England has always fought for three principles:

1. For English supremacy at sea.

2. For the inviolability of the so-called 'low countries' (Holland and Belgium) and

3. For the balance of power in Europe. 

Re: 1. World naval supremacy no longer exists. Since the Naval Agreement [of 1935] the question of naval rivalry between Germany and Britain is no longer so acute as before the War. However the following point should be borne in mind: the British Admiralty calculates that, in the event of war, the ratio of 100: 35 laid down in the Naval Agreement would in fact be at the most 60 per cent in the North Sea because normally 40 per cent of the English fleet has to remain elsewhere. If the English Admiralty had to reckon with the hostility of Italy and possibly of Japan. the figure would move still further to England's disadvantage, despite the inclusion of the allied French fleet. 

Re: 2. Following the emergence of air power, France has now joined the Low Countries ~ in line with the Baldwin thesis that England's frontier is on the Rhine. Thus. strategically, England regards the countries, Holland, Belgium, and France, as a kind of glacis for English defense. In my view, it is a fact that English foreign policy is totally linked to that of the French, which in the last few years has become increasingly dependent on the [British] Foreign Office out of fear of Germany's renewed strength. For this reason, England has done its utmost, on the one hand to discourage a Franco-German rapprochement, and, on the other hand, to prevent the weakening of France, for example through Bolshevism. 

Re: 3. Since the seizure of power by National Socialism and the rearmament of Germany, England sees the possibility of a disturbance of the previous balance of power in Europe which would remove its role as the arbiter of Europe and thereby its freedom of maneuver, and furthermore could even threaten England directly. The enduring memory of the achievements of the German Army in the war against the Allies plays an important part in these English fears. Thus, Germany is regarded.. . as the most dangerous of possible opponents. For, while other possible opponents e.g. Japan threaten important English interests, these lie in the first instance on the periphery of its empire. Italy threatens the quickest but not the only route to its most important possession, India, but Germany alone can threaten the heart of the British Empire, namely the British Isles . . .

II. Since the formation of the Rome-Berlin axis and Mussolini's visit to Germany. since the concern about the outcome of the Spanish Civil War and its incalculable repercussions on the English position in the Mediterranean, since Italy has joined the Anti-Comintern movement, and since Japan's advance into China, Britain's fears concerning a disturbance of the balance of power in Europe and in the world have generally increased. England now sees its East Asian possessions threatened by Japan, its sea route through the Mediterranean to India by Italy, and the mother country, the British Isles, by Germany. 

III. England has initially dealt with this development through its tremendous rearmament program and also through strengthening its friendly alliance with France Since the beginning of the year, England has also been attempting to secure America as a source of raw materials. ... However, England's final goal is undoubtedly to win over America once more as an ally in the event of a European conflict. 

IV. However, the main question for England, which naturally sees the maintenance of peace as the best guarantee for the maintenance of the Empire, remains as before whether it will still be possible to come to an arrangement with Germany. which secures world peace and maintains the European balance of power. It is conceivable that there are men in the English government (on the basis of my own experience and observations I doubt whether they include Chamberlain and Halifax) who still believe in the possibility of a friendly arrangement with Germany on the following basis: 

The return of some German colonies and the leaving open of a solution to the Austrian question which could prepare a peaceful Anschluß, as well as an improvement in the situation of the Sudeten Germans, possibly to the extent of granting them cultural autonomy, in return for a repetition of Germany's guarantee not to attack her neighbors and the guarantee to solve all problems with her neighbors only on the basis of peaceful negotiations; furthermore. a clear agreement at least on a qualitative limitation of air force rearmament on the model of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, for example through a ban on bombing, a limitation of bombers, and possibly a quantitative limitation through the publication and eventually limitation of the [arms] budget. 

In my view this would be more or less the maximum which those people who believe in principle in an accommodation with Germany (i.e. those who do not regard the existence of a Germany governed by the so-called expansionist National Socialist ideology as an insuperable obstacle to an Anglo-German understanding) envisage as involved in an arrangement with Germany. 

The English ruling class will today just as in the past fight to the limit, i.e. to the point of war, to defend both its important material interests and its position of power in the world so long as there is a chance of winning. England will never risk such a commitment lightly. It will always carefully weigh up the situation and if necessary postpone decisions. If at some point it has the advantage it will fight. The non-intervention by England in the Abyssinian War is in my view not the result of a lack of heroism but a result of the fact that England had criminally neglected its armaments and of the false assessment of the situation by the English Government, which believed that Italy would get bogged down there and would give up the adventure of its own accord . . . 

England has for some time considered it possible that sooner or later Germany might be compelled by the internal conditions in Czechoslovakia to intervene there and also in Austria by force. It is hoped that such a solution. particularly as regards Czechoslovakia can be prevented if at all possible. If it cannot be done, then England, which could be drawn into such a conflict at any time by a possible French intervention, wishes to make absolutely sure that it does not begin at a time when its rearmament has not reached at least a certain stage. One often hears and reads of 1939 as the year in which England can make its weight felt more. In my view, it is likely to be later, particularly in the light of the English naval program. If such a conflict broke out earlier, it would be just as inconvenient as the Abyssinian campaign last year. For this reason, the Foreign Office has been pressing Prague for a long time to improve matters in the Sudeten questions. Halifax's remark at Berchtesgaden to the effect that the status quo in Austria and Czechoslovakia cannot be maintained and in the longer term could, in view of the English concern about military conflict, be intended to prevent us from carrying out solutions by force at an inappropriate time for England, which we are allegedly intending, by offering us the prospect of English understanding and even support for a peaceful solution of these and, other (colonial) questions. The tactic of concealing one's true intentions is a long-practiced tradition in English politics. An example of this is England's attitude before the World War, when it concealed its intentions so well that 'German foreign policy collapsed with the unexpected entry of England into the war, and the fact that there are politicians today who believe that at the time England was not consciously working for the encirclement of Germany.… 

To sum up: we should have no great illusions about the further development of Anglo-German relations. Nevertheless, it seems to me correct for our future policy vis-a-vis England to be aimed at conciliation (Ausgleich). This must not, however, cause any damage to our relations with other friendly countries. 

For this reason, and with your agreement, the embassy has in the past year always treated the Rome-Berlin axis and the Anti-Comintern relationship with Japan as permanent factors of our foreign policy in our work concerning England.

2 January 1938 Ribbentrop Note for the Führer 

The hopes of those English politicians who are friendly to Germany&emdash;insofar as they are not already simply playing a prearranged role&emdash;that there can be an understanding will gradually disappear with the recognition that Germany does not want to bind herself to the status quo in Central Europe. This then raises the vital question: will Germany and England in the final analysis inevitably move into opposite camps and, one day march against each other again? In order to answer this question, one has to bear in mind the following points: 

An alteration of the status quo in the East in the interests of Germany can only be carried out by force. So long as France knows that England, which has so to speak taken over as the guarantor of France against Germany, will support her, then France is likely to march in defense of its Eastern allies, or at least it is always possible that she will do so and that will mean an Anglo-German war.… 

Italy and Japan have just as strong an interest in a strong Germany as we have in a strong Italy and Japan. The existence of the new Germany has been of great benefit to the expansionist efforts of both of them in recent years. In view of this, and of common goals which must be achieved later, it ought to be possible to get these powers to declare their solidarity with us at the appropriate time. In such a Situation, it might be possible that England would prevent France from intervening m the event of an Eastern conflict between Germany and one of her [France's] allies so that the conflict remains localized and England is not compelled to fight possibly in three different places&emdash;in East Asia, in the Mediterranean, and in Europe&emdash;under the most unfavorable conditions for its world empire. I do not think it would risk a fight for the existence of its world empire for the sake of a local Central European problem even if, in consequence, Germany was significantly strengthened In such an event, France would presumably hardly dare to attack Germany~s Western fortifications alone and without Britain . . . 

5. We must draw the following conclusions: 

1) Outwardly our declared policy should be an understanding with England, while protecting the interests of our friends.

2) Construction secretly, but with absolute determination, of a network of alliances against England, i.e. in practice a strengthening of our friendship with Italy and Japan&emdash;further, the inclusion of all states whose interests coincide with our own&emdash;close and friendly cooperation of the three great powers to this end. 

This is the only way to deal with Britain, whether or not one day we come to an agreement or into conflict. England will be a strong and tough opponent in this diplomatic game. 

6. The particular question of whether, in the event of Germany becoming involved in a conflict in Central Europe, France and thus England will intervene depends on the circumstances and the timing of the outbreak of such a conflict and on military considerations which cannot be assessed here. I have some points to make orally to the Führer on this. 

This is my view of the situation after having considered all the circumstances. I have worked for years for friendship with England and nothing would make me happier than if it could be achieved. When I asked the Führer to send me to London, I was sceptical whether it would work. However, in view of Edward VIII a final attempt seemed appropriate. Today, I no longer believe in an understanding. England does not want a powerful Germany nearby which would pose a permanent threat to its islands. It will fight to prevent it. People believe National Socialism is capable of formidable things. Baldwin recognized this and Edward VIII had to abdicate because they were not certain whether he would cooperate with a policy hostile towards Germany. Chamberlain has now appointed Vansittart, our most important and toughest opponent, to a position from which he can intervene decisively in the diplomatic game against Germany. No matter what temporary and tactically motivated attempts are made to reach an understanding with us, in future every day on which our political considerations are not based on the view of England as our most dangerous opponent will be a gain for our enemies.

Hitler's interview with Polish Foreign Minister Beck shows his shift of emphasis.

14 January 1938 Ambassador Lipski Report of Polish Foreign Minister Jozef Beck's conversation with Adolf Hitler

The Chancellor said he was glad to see Minister Beck in Berlin and for his part repeatedly stressed during the conversation that the successful development of Polish- German relations constitutes one of the rare positive factors in the present inflamed international situation....

From the egoistic point of view, Germany would welcome the weakening of France [then in the midst of still another cabinet crisis and facing the possible return of the Communist sponsored Popular Front government]; however, wisdom and a well-conceived self-interest advise against this. With the present political and economic ties between the European countries, a breakdown in a neighbor's economy might signal a Bolshevik revolution next door and should therefore be cause for concern. Distant Spain is proof of this. Germany could not remain indifferent if Communism were to appear on its Western frontier.

3. Czechoslovakia: Communism in the West is even more of a threat since there is a country bordering on Germany in the East which is yielding more and more to Moscow's influence. This country is Czechoslovakia. The Chancellor cited information received from there with reference to Soviet influence on the press, cinema, theater, etc. Czechoslovakia is one of the countries in the opinion of some in which a little flame might be fanned or extinguished at will. All those who argued this way are mistaken; when they want to extinguish the fire it is already too late and the fire overtakes them.

The Chancellor was very critical of Czech politics. He declared that Czechoslovakia is not uniform nation like, for example, Poland. The very name shows that Czechoslovakia is a nation of minorities. Its policy should be adapted there-to. But it is not, and this evokes conflicts with regard to the treatment of minorities. The Chancellor would like to find a peaceful solution here also, unless he is compelled to act otherwise.

4. Austria: Besides this difficult problem, as the Chancellor put it, there is another one which is causing him concern&emdash;Austria. If legitimist attempts take place in Austria, the Chancellor declared with absolute firmness that he would not hesitate to march immediately into Austria. This would be done as quickly as lightning. By no means would he let the Habsburgs in. This problem goes beyond Austria and concerns the territory of the Reich. In the Hapsburgs' entourage there is talk about an emperor of Germany. Religious considerations are also utilized here.

Hitler is referring here to several popular rumors that the Austrian government would restore the monarchy and that the new ruler would be the logical candidate for an alternative to Hitler in a united German-Austrian state. This was a highly improbable development, but some Catholics may well have speculated on it as an alternative to Hitler, without giving up the desired union of the two countries.

This passage of the Chancellor's statements is exceedingly decisive....

9. Germany's Internal Affairs: The Chancellor pointed to economic difficulties in connection with the necessity of feeding 68 million people. Looking at things from this angle, he considers any convulsion in Europe to be of great danger. This dictates the necessity for a peaceful policy. He elaborated in detail on the subject of creating new raw materials.

He stressed the durability of his cabinet. Some of his collaborators had been at his side for fifteen years already. The ministers of his cabinet, with a few exceptions, are not being replaced. About Schacht he said that, pressed by the Chancellor, Schacht had taken over the Ministry of Economics.... However, he had always shrunk from this department, since his profession is banking. Every six months since then, he had handed in his resignation, since he was unwilling to take the responsibility for economic matters.

By such talk, Hitler hoped to disguise the growing personnel crisis within the government, and the fact that he goes out of his way here to stress the solidarity of the cabinet shows how concerned he was with its fragility. 

In the meantime, Hitler's decisive changes in planning had already been implemented in a new set of orders sent to the armed forces less than a month after the Hossbach talks.

New Military Plans

7 December 1937 Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg, Minister of War and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces to the High Command

1. Continuing developments in foreign policy matters permits the likelihood of Operation RED to defer ever more to Operation GREEN as a probable military action. ...

3. The political preconditions for the implementation of Operation GREEN have been changed by directive from the Führer and Chancellor, and the goals of such a war have been enlarged. Previous section II is therefore to be discarded and to be replaced by a new version which will follow... The concentration of all plans for mobilization and invasion is at once to be placed on Operation GREEN.

4. I forbid, however, any measure which would be likely to spread rumors among the staff and the troops that we count on a war already in the year 1938.

Similarly, however, every measure that might damage or interrupt the anticipated and orderly enlargement of the army and its mobilization preparation is to be avoided... 

The eventual re-working of the directive was completed two weeks later. The crucial changes were in the opening paragraph..

21 December 1937 General Blomberg Directive for Operation GREEN

Once Germany has completed in all areas its full preparations for war, then the military preconditions will have been reached which will permit an aggressive war against Czechoslovakia (and thus the solution of the German space problem) to be prosecuted to a successful completion, even if one or the other of the great powers intervene against us. Among many such factors one belongs in the front ranks, namely the defensive abilities of the western fortifications, which will permit a small force to hold for a long period of time the western border of the German Reich against a many-times larger enemy force.

But the political leadership will also do all that is possible to spare Germany the risk of a two-front war and attempt to avoid any situation which Germany might not be able to master militarily or economically, in so far as can be judged. Should the situation not develop to our benefit, or do so only slowly, then the application of Operation GREEN will have to be postponed for some years. Should the situation develop, however&emdash;either through England's reluctance to enter a general European war or through England's indifference to mid- European problems, or through a conflict which breaks out between Italy and France in the Mediterranean&emdash;in which it appears likely that Germany will find no other enemy on the side of Czechoslovakia except Russia, then Operation GREEN will be implemented even before Germany reaches the stage of full preparation for war. The war aims of Operation GREEN are as before the prompt occupation of Bohemia and Moravia (the German names for the two Czech provinces) and a simultaneous solution of the Austrian question through the annexation of Austria to the German Reich. In order to reach this goal, military use of power will be employed only when other methods have failed...

Despite this directive and the study which it inaugurated, there was wide spread opposition among the officers, especially those on the staff of General Fritsch, the C-in-C of the army, and General Ludwig Beck, the head of the General Staff. In a blatant attempt to separate the other officers from these leaders, Hitler delivered a long and rambling address to a group of offices late in January 1938. No notes of this talk have survived, but a general order went out the same day and the following reconstruction gives an accurate idea of the general content.

22 January 1938 Adolf Hitler Address to Senior Officers

Rome had risen to greatness through strong leadership. The old world was conquered by new nations from the East, seeking living space in the West. However, Christianity provided a basis which prevented the onset of complete chaos and which bound people together. This was the basis of the Holy Roman Empire. It was a sign of great narrow-mindedness in this connection to refer to Charlemagne as the Slaughterer of the Saxons [a phrase frequently used by Heinrich Himmler and the SS].

He was compelled to strike down the opposition because of his policy of Christianity. It simply remained a pity that the best German blood was lost. 

In the modern age, millions saw nothing in Christianity. This was the fault of the form, not the content. Old forms had to go and be replaced by the new. The basis of this new was the demand by the masses for a social philosophy. They were less concerned with the improvement of material conditions than with the return of honor to the workers. The revolts of 1918-1919 were less about living conditions, which certainly had not been bad&emdash;perhaps they were better than in 1938&emdash;than about honor. The form of socialism attempted by National Socialism was the basis for a new structure of the state throughout the world. However, there were two forms of Socialism&emdash;National Socialism and Bolshevism. Bolshevism destroyed the existing state of affairs, while National Socialism removed what already existed and then went on to rebuild and develop.

A government on the basis of a parliament was no longer possible. Only one man could rule, and he carried the entire responsibility: "Believe me, my generals, I have had sleepless nights at times of decisions. My nerves are shattered, and I no longer sleep because of my care for Germany." In the new form of government, the question of the relationship between the executive head of state and the ceremonial head of state had still to be solved. Theoretically, it was possible for both to exist side by side, but this could happen only when the two were of the same calibre and well suited to each other as in the foundation of the Second Reich (i.e. Bismarck and the Kaiser). In reality this was seldom the case. Therefore Hitler refused to have a king as ceremonial head of state. 

The food situation was serious. There was only just enough in a good year. But the population was growing at the rate of 600,000 per annum. How was the German people to be able to feed itself? This would be possible only if the Germans were to win new space. This space would have to be created by the German people by itself by force.

Germany was in a serious plight, but there was a glimmer of hope when one observed the ruling nations of the earth &emdash;Britain, France and America. Only 40-50 million pure-blooded members of the ruling nations dominated millions of other people and huge areas of the earth's surface. There was only one nation which lived in greater unanimity, more unified in race and language, closely pressed together in the heart of Europe. This was the German nation with its 110 million Germans in Central Europe. This comparison made Hitler hopeful and eventually the whole world would and had to belong to this united block in central Europe. 

The speech apparently failed in its major goal, for few officers took it seriously. but once again coincidence and luck came to Hitler's support.

Purge of the Conservatives 

Victims and Victors 

Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg
with wife Eva Gruhn
Joachim von Ribbentrop
New Foreign Minister
General Wilhelm Keitel
Oberkommando Wehrmacht

On 11 January, Hitler and Göring had appeared as official witnesses at the marriage of the War Minister, Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg. On 23 January, Göring informed Hitler that the new wife of this highest-ranking German officer was a registered prostitute with a criminal record for pornographic pictures!

Hitler was outraged, as were most of the officers, especially those on the General Staff. While in this rage, Hitler received new documentation (supplied by Reinhard Heydrich and Göring) that General Werner von Fritsch, the C-in-C of the Army and the likely person to replace Blomberg as Minister of Defence and thus Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces was a homosexual who was being blackmailed by a criminal.

Both charges were submitted primarily to get Hermann Göring to be appointed as head of the armed forces. From the available evidence, Hitler was not in on this plot and was deeply shaken by the revelations. He resolved to remove the leading generals and ministers, many of whom were associated with the opposition to his plans. He realized at once that by pretending to be listening to his generals who were outraged over Blomberg's marriage he could actually destroy the organized power of the old High Command. And by pretending to believe the story about Fritsch, he could eliminate one of the major opponents to his intensive rearmament program

22 April 1938 Major Gerhard Engel Diary Entry

In a lengthy presentation, the Führer spoke once more about the disappointment which General Fritsch had been to him ever since 1934. He had been the retarding element in the rearmament. Even apart from what he may or may not have done in this other matter, the Führer would have had to break with him. I contradicted this and mentioned a talk Fritsch had given in 1935 which had made a great impression on me as a young regimental adjutant. But certainly Fritsch's whole outlook and personality was always "do nothing rash," for he would not allow anything to take place that might water down the army.

On 4 February 1938, Hitler announced the resignations of Blomberg, and Fritsch, as well as seven Army and six Air Force generals. In addition, forty-six generals were transferred to different positions and the leading diplomats were removed. Within the military, Hitler simply abolished the post of C-in-C of the Armed Forces, taking over those responsibilities himself. 

4 February 1938 Hitler Decree 

From now onwards I will exercise direct command over the whole Wehrmacht personally. The present Wehrmacht Office in the War Ministry will come directly under my command as the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht [Oberkommando der Wehrmacht=OKW] retaining its responsibilities and acting as my personal staff.

At the head of the Staff of the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht will be the present Chief of the Wehrmacht Office as Chief of the High Command of the Wehrmacht. His rank is equivalent to that of a Reich Minister. 

The High Command of the Wehrmacht will also fulfill the duties of the Reich War Ministry, the Chief of the High Command of the Wehrmacht will carry out the responsibilities hitherto pertaining to the Reich War Minister in my name. 

The High Command of the Wehrmacht is responsible under my direction for the unified preparation of the defense of the Reich in time of peace. 

In place of Blomberg, Hitler appointed General Wilhelm Keitel as a sort of "Chief Military Advisor", and named General Walter von Brauchitsch to replace Fritsch as C-in-C of the army. Thwarting Göring's ambitions, Hitler had thrown the whole military into a state of uncertainty. It can be considered the start of the Gleichschaltung of the army. 

But Hitler did not stop with the military. Hjalmar Schacht had already resigned as Minister of Economics in November 1937 over the pace of rearmament and the policy of autarky. His departure strengthened the authority of Göring's Four-Year Plan Office and confirmed the complete subordination of the economy to the political and strategic goals

Finally, on the same 4 February 1938, Hitler announced the appointment of Joachim von Ribbentrop as Foreign Minister in place of Neurath, who had repeatedly asked to retire after the Hossbach Meeting which had so upset him. Ribbentrop was universally detested by both German as well as foreign diplomats. For his part, he returned the hatred and proceeded at once to "coordinate" the conservative diplomatic service which had largely escaped the purges which had falled upon all the other civil service positions. With Neurath's departure, and with the subsequent removal of many key figures, a powerful check upon a policy of foreign adventurism was removed.

In retrospect, this purge of the conservatives was the regime's second turning point. In June-August 1934, it had completed the initial Seizure of Power. Now between November 1937 and February 1938 Hitler terminated his uneasily alliance with the old conservative elites. In part, this shift came out of Hitler's growing self-confidence in both foreign and military matters. In recent years, he had consistently been proved right and his conservative "expert advisers" wrong, and he now had the confidence to take the reins into his own hands. But the purge also came from Hitler's increasing awareness that his conservative ministers and military advisors were uniting against him and his announced ambitions, which they considered both extreme and hazardous. So as ever, even this purge was more in the form of a reaction by Hitler to a perceived danger, than a deliberate announcement of a new policy. 

Indeed, it is difficult to image how Hitler could have carried out this thorough elimination of the conservatives had they themselves not contributed substantially to their downfall. For the evidence indicates that Hitler knew how difficult his position had become, and he looked for some way out; as he said to General Jodl, he wanted to "switch the spot light away from the armed forces and make Europe catch its breath." With his good luck still holding, he was soon given that opportunity.

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